I came across this statement in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s ‘Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience’ recently as I went about my daily happenings, walking busy Melbourne concrete sidewalks. I love the natural world, and for someone who prides herself on the benefits of biophilia, I realised how quickly I became disconnected from it’s benefits. I knew I experienced this state of flow when I was out in the wild, searching for precious stones, like my partner experiences whilst detecting for gold. It seemed our exploration south to the island state of ‘Tassie’ hadn’t come at a better time.
Our friends and family told us we were mad camping and fossicking for sapphires in Tasmania, just days before the winter solstice. Having visited Tasmania a couple of years ago but never stepped foot in the northern region, I was keen to spend some time travelling slowly through the wild and untouched landscape.
In true Australian style, we cruised. Stopping for whatever bakery, brewery and coffee shop pulled us into curiosity. As we neared our planned camp spot that evening, the ferns were already drenched in a soft orange light as the sun began to fade beyond the horizon. That night we sat around the campfire under frozen crystal clear skies formulating our plan for the next few days.
You see, braving the wilderness in winter not only meant we got to experience the best views without the summer crowds, we also felt like true adventurers battling the elements. In fact, a cold shower is super refreshing. It’s all about perspective. “No, I’m not freezing, I’m refreshed.” See how that works?
Scoffing down some campfire cooked banana pancakes before lugging our full bellies down towards the icy cold river, we were still slightly dazed and unsettled in our new surroundings and hadn’t given much thought to what might be awaiting us in the glassy mountain streams. Once we arrived in what we thought looked like an ideal location and set off with buckets, shovels, sieves, and—crucially—lots of snacks, in the river, it was like the whole world disappeared into stillness.
Walking further into the trees upstream, it took us to an oasis of tan coloured boulders and rich green black peppermint trees that gave way to a gentle flowing river. We used our shovels to lever underwater rocks and scooped up kilograms of smaller stones with our sieves. All the while almost submersing ourselves completely to reach into underwater holes we created by moving stones.
Once the stones are clean, we sieve them further, flipping the contents upside down carefully onto a large rock nearby, positioned in the sunlight. Starting at the centre of the pile, we examine the washed stones carefully for colour. But it’s not all we were looking for. One of my favourites is black spinel, which is a gemstone in its own right. They’re reasonably common, but very dense—the same density as sapphire. So we used it as an indicator mineral (the more spinel the higher chance of sapphires, you see, as they settle in the same places as the sapphire in the river or creek) as well as keeping the larger stones to cut later.
Fresh from the river, the precious stones are quite matte; they rolled and tumbled over hundreds of years before finally ending up in our hot little hands. It’s quite special to take these raw ingredients and turn them into beautiful things. We quickly popped them into our mouths for safe keeping—our hands were too frozen to get our pill containers out—and continued through this melodic routine like a well oiled machine until we couldn’t feel the passage of time.
Like I mentioned previously, Hungarian-American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi named the the term ‘flow’ (or as we like to call it, ‘being in the zone’) for this sensation. It’s a kind of mental state of operation where you are completely absorbed and concentrated on a task that you’re competent at. It’s a wondrous thing. Everything else falls away, your mind rests, and the results are not important — just the moment and the process at hand. Resting on top of a series of little waterfalls, and after hours spent entranced by the river, letting our winter skin breathe, and jumping from boulders we had to drag ourselves away back to the campsite.
The night was made complete with the sighting of multiple shooting stars through the night clouds as we reclined by the fire with hearty brew of mulled wine steaming away at our feet… We asserted that winter is, in fact, an awesome time to pitch a tent and enjoy close – reeeeaallll close – company.