September, 24 2010
Karratha
William L Fox
Writing

We drop off Larry at the airport in the morning, then wander around as the guys photograph the subdivisions and industrial structures around Karratha, like cement batch plants. Unlike the humungous structures of the mining and port facilities, these are the everyday civic machines needed to construct homes and shopping centres. In a way it's a relief from the large-scale footprint of humans, but just as poignant a commentary on how we shape the world: the fenced green lawns juxtaposed with the ‘unimproved' landscape on the other side; a shopping cart abandoned at the edge of a housing development; the oddly elegant piles of trash in a junkyard.

Before catching our plane back to Perth we drive into Dampier for a last look around. While the guys photograph harbour operations that they'd flown over the day before, Mollie and I go tide pooling. At first I don't think there's much in the water, which is what I would expect in an industrial harbour, but Mollie beckons me over to her side and I squat down to see what she's found. The bottom of the pool is littered with pebbles, which I then realize are small snail shells. One of them moves, the claws of a small hermit crab just visible as he pulls himself along. Then I see another shell moving. "They're all moving," exclaims Mollie. And sure enough we see that the entire bottom is in motion.

It's the same lesson I've been given everywhere I've gone. Slow down and look carefully. You'll find life where you least expect it, from mosses in the Antarctic to Arctic char in the far north to wizened sticks in Chile's Atacama Desert that turn out to be viable shrubs. The world never sits still,   and as the botanist Melissa Iszard told me one day on a volcanic island at the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, "Life wants to live." It occurs to me that humans aren't so different from the hermit crabs dragging around their houses and finding a niche to occupy. We carry our society with us, all of us, housed in our ideas about the nature of the world, bumping up against other beliefs, other realities.

I stand at the shore thinking how much I'd like to come back to see how these crabs fare during the next few years. I'd like to know what happens to the boulders behind the fence, see what Loreen and her friends will be painting, and whether or not Curtis will film the uranium hill being taken apart. I would value seeing the things that wouldn't change, too. The orange glow of the Weano Gorge, the susurration of the desert oaks in the wind, and the quick turn of a dingo's head. But if nothing else, I'll have the photographs to remind me.

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