Ever since I was very young I wanted to visit Australia. I’m not sure why, out of all the places in the world I became fascinated with this destination, though I suspect it had quite a bit to do with the wildlife. I love animals. I especially love wild, exotic, and strange animals. Australia is filled with wild, exotic, and strange animals.
A couple years ago I spent 2 months in Australia. It was amazing. The scenery was beautiful. The culture was welcoming. The animals were weird. Before my trip, however, I read a book about Australia and learned something, arguably very important, about the wildlife in Australia. It wants to kill you! Sure the kangaroos and the koalas are soft and cuddly-looking and, because of that, it is easy to forget about everything else. Let’s reflect. There are jellyfish that will kill you. Snakes that will kill you. Crocodiles. Great white sharks. Spiders. There is even a sea shell that will kill you! The most venomous, most deadly animals in the world, all seem to inhabit Australia. It’s absurd! I share this not to deter anyone from making the trip, as I highly recommend it if the opportunity presents itself, nor because I am interested in presenting myself as an unencumbered adventurer who scoffs at risk and danger, which is certainly untrue. Rather, I share all of this because I think it is important to consider when trying to understand what might have been going through my head when I was awakened in the middle of the night by an unfamiliar grunting sound coming from right outside of my tent.
Correct. I spent most of my nights in Australia camping. Sleeping in a normal, nylon tent that would do very little to protect me from any of the wild animals that, presumably, are bemused by the silly American tourists who travel to their home turf expecting not to get bit, stung, or eaten. With this in mind, when as mentioned above, I was roused from my sleep by a very unfamiliar grunting noise not more than a foot from my head, I was alarmed and quite perturbed. I lay very still. I wondered if there was anything I could possibly do to protect myself from whatever unidentified horror was preparing to feast on me. I determined there was not and, with that, waited patiently for it to be over.
Obviously I made it through the night unharmed. Crisis averted. Still though, knowing how deadly Australian animals can be, I started my day not knowing if I had been in any real danger the night before. I wasn’t. I most certainly wasn’t. The grunting beast from the night before, I learned that day, was a wombat. A wombat! If you are unfamiliar with what a wombat is, I am delighted to introduce you to the species. Wombats are amazing. They are one of the many animals that only live in Australia. They kind of look like giant guinea pigs, they are extremely cute, and above all else, they are not poisonous, venomous, man-eating, aggressive, or harmful in any way.
This story reminds me how things sometimes really just aren’t what you expect them to be. That night in my tent I was not looking for inspiration, I was not contemplating metaphors, I was not hoping to find a deeper meaning in anything. I was trying to sleep. Years later though, thinking back on it, the lesson is valuable to consider. Things aren’t always what you expect them to be, but that doesn’t necessarily make them less profound or less thought-provoking. Nature inspires me to think and to wonder and, to me, that is the beauty of it.
Written by Ryan Bachrach, graduate MSW student at University of Pennsylvania, former wilderness therapy field instructor, and remarkable travel partner.