By Aven Rain Ford

This piece first appeared as a featured article in volume 95, issue one of Pelican, where it won the Editors’ Choice Award. You can view our print archive here.

I hadn’t fully appreciated the Australian bush until I visited Finland and finally wandered through the forest I had always wished to live beside.

Aulanko Nature Reserve in the town of Hämeenlinna was filled with three main breeds of tree that I remember: pine, birch, and spruce.

And they were magnificent.

These towering, uniform trees were certainly majestic enough to fulfil the vivid yearning to roam through a high fantasy forest. At every meandering visit, there was a pervading peace and undeniable wonder that was impossible for me to evade once I set foot upon the trail, no matter what thoughts had cluttered my mind when walking the town streets. The air was freezing, a temperature that suited me and my warm jacket just fine, as it gifted me the snowy winter I had only read about. The icy ground and precarious roots intruding upon the path offered just enough low-stakes adventure that I was grinning at every near trip. Pine, birch, and spruce each enclosed by swathes of their kin, alike in their shape and their straight reach upwards to the sky. Enveloped by all this natural grandeur, I was finally in the enchanted forest I’d always hoped to experience personally one day.

And yet, there was something about the homogeneity of this mystical scene that left me with a ball of warmth in my chest, which soon hatched into an irrevocable love and pride for the melting pot of the Western Australian bush. The tens upon tens of species of flora tumbling together in growth I had trekked through my whole life. The tree trunks, twirling and twisting in live humour, which fostered the possums and birds that so delighted me.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t say that one is better than the other – or even more personally preferential to me – but the stark differences between the two types of nature greatly enhanced my affection for my home bushland, something infinitely more precious than just the nature I was stuck with at birth. The beauty inhabiting the natural environments of Finland and Australia was something I, for the first time, understood to be felt in different and completely invaluable ways.

The sun, a gentle and relieving warmth in Finland, was often a surrounding heat that embraced all in Australia. Aulanko exuded an ancient weight of majesty and mystique, settled with an authoritative sternness that yet felt capable of kindness to us – the children who walk beneath the boughs. The Australian Great Southern bushland, no less old, still felt more youthful in its warm friendliness, offering companionship on more open, equal terms; something teasing and playful in each twist of a tree’s limbs that forever bore green, and the vast myriad of unique, interlocking species that survive together in what is so often a warm and harsh climate.

I guess that’s why they say travelling to attain perspective is so important. People tend not to realise how unique or glorious something is until they see a place with a different idea of the mundane.

Part of me wonders if I would have ever realised on my own that the bushland of my home is truly fantastic if I hadn’t walked through the Finnish forest of my fantasy. Mostly, though, I’m just glad I did it.

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