Fern Forays

"I start to think among the plants," Oliver Sacks.

From Oaxaca to Blackheath in Ferns

Oliver Sacks was many things — neurologist, reader, writer, swimmer, thinker, partner to Bill, and a fern enthusiast too. Sacks' fascination with ferns features in Oaxaca Journal, which tells of his journey to southern Mexico in early 2000.

With a neurologist's eye for detail and an uninhibited sense of wonder we could all do with, in Oaxaca Journal Sacks recounts his 'fern foray' with 'botanical companions'. Companions Sacks characterises as "a splendid group...enthusiastic, innocent, uncompetitive, united in our love for ferns."

Sacks describes his trip as "a wonderful fern adventure, with novelties and surprises, great beauty at every point" — but of course, it becomes more than that.

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During his time in Oaxaca, Sacks — in discovering the region's botany, culture, people, and history — ponders the profundity of immersion in an unfamiliar place. 

"The fern tour is turning out to be much more than a fern tour," he writes. "It is a visit to another, a very other, culture and place."

The dedication in Sacks' Oaxaca Journal is for his 'botanical companions' and for us all. It reads:

For the American Fern Society
and for plant hunters, birders, divers, stargazers, rock hounds,
fossickers, amateur naturalists the world over.

While it is the Oaxaca fern foray we read of in Oaxaca Journal, Sacks' delight in ferns was nurtured in regular trips closer to home. Sacks often visited the botanical gardens of New York City. There he spent time "discharg[ing] the tensions of the day", and writing.

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Walking and Thinking Among the Plants

Having just finished reading Oaxaca Journal, it was Sacks and his ferns on my mind during my weekend trip out to Blackheath in the Blue Mountains. Like when you hear a word for the first time, and then suddenly notice it everywhere, the ferns that have always been there caught my attention in a new way.

 Govetts Leap overlooks the Grose Valley in the Blue Mountains National Park. This is where I started my hike (well, after walking from Blackheath train station to this point. From Govetts Leap you can take the Cliff Top track to Evan's Lookout.

Govetts Leap overlooks the Grose Valley in the Blue Mountains National Park. This is where I started my hike (well, after walking from Blackheath train station to this point. From Govetts Leap you can take the Cliff Top track to Evan's Lookout.

 The Cliff Top track runs from Govetts Leap to Evan's Lookout in the Blue Mountains at Blackheath.

The Cliff Top track runs from Govetts Leap to Evan's Lookout in the Blue Mountains at Blackheath.

Walking the Cliff Top track from Govetts Leap to Evans Lookout

The Cliff Top walking track takes you from Govetts Leap to Evans lookout. It runs parallel to the cliff edge and offers a dramatic panoramic view across the valley. The walk is 6km return.

 Track sign on the Grand Canyon loop walking track in the Blue Mountains National Park.

Track sign on the Grand Canyon loop walking track in the Blue Mountains National Park.

The Grand Canyon track at Blackheath

Once you arrive at Evans lookout you can add an extra section onto your hike by taking the Grand Canyon track, which starts (and ends) at Evans lookout. It's a six kilometre loop of glorious greenery — big old moss-covered trees, running streams, a waterfall or two, and plenty of ferns.

The walk from Govetts Leap to Evans Lookout, around the Grand Canyon track and back to where you began at Govetts Leap is about 12km all up.

Of course you needn't tackle Cliff Top and Grand Canyon tracks together, but it does make a good full day walk — particularly if you're commuting via train and walking to the start of the track from Blackheath Station. Govetts Leap lookout, and the start of the Cliff Top track, is an easy 3km walk from the station.

All up, the walk from Blackheath Station, along the Cliff Top track, past Evan's lookout, around the Grand Canyon track, and then back along Cliff Top, and then through Blackheath returning to the train station will run you about 18km.

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