It was a lyrical scene and if I was an artist, I’d have tried to capture it.
Late Friday afternoon we arrived at our rented property just outside the Riverland hamlet of Cadell. Smeared by the blue-grey fuzz of saltbush the flat ground was already seared dry despite the wet winter.
A friend once observed that even improbable landscapes have beauty, you just need to unlock your eyes and mind. But if not for our great river dissecting the countryside these towns, including sleepy Cadell, wouldn’t exist.
With the merciless spring wind shoving through but the sky a hopeful azure I stopped our car by the iron gate. Sandalmere, the swinging-sign announced. Freshly greeting our latest holiday digs, we were again on that privileged, effervescent cusp.
Pushing open the passenger door Claire then tended the gate. Spectating through the windscreen I was swiftly transfixed as my view had the compositional elements for a Heidelberg School by McCubbin or Streeton: native bush; rural cottage; iron gate; elegant wife.
How fantastic to be surprised by your partner; to momentarily see them anew; to be jettisoned and allow wonder to take command?
Claire loosened the chain and opened the gate.
At this instant time paused and a thousand bright thoughts presented themselves, as a succession of gratitudinous waves. It was an arresting image.
For decades Claire had wrestled with gates in different ways and in various locations, so I revered her as she did this now, for me, for herself, for us.
We talk often of the film The Descendants during which George Clooney’s character Matt says to his wife Elizabeth, “As a spouse your job is to make their passage through life easier” and this maxim’s become a shared aspiration. Claire’s gatekeeping might’ve seemed a minor gesture, but against the lengthening arc of our intertwined lives it twinkled like a solitary star.
With the gate opened Claire looked back at the car where the tinting meant I was likely an indistinct figure behind the dark glass. Nonetheless she smiled wholeheartedly as I engaged first gear; a smile that swept the world away like a flimsy film set. Still beaming, this was magnified in the gilded light by her Audrey Hepburn sunglasses and frolicking hair.
The gate was safely latched and with Claire reaching the car door, I was tempted by that ancient lark: as her hand grasped for the handle, lurch the car forward! Go on, how wacky. Of course, this is what both of us would’ve done, probably did do many times back in those murky, disappearing decades. Although it’s the automotive equivalent of a whoopee cushion, sometimes it’s disappointing if not attempted. It’s now funnier as an ironic gag than in its earliest comedic form.
Later, over our weekend I’d finally enact this antique prank but not on our initial entrance for I was enchanted by a brief vista of deep, resonating beauty: Claire at the gate.