Written by J. Mitchell Brown
y sister, bless her heart, is not a big traveler. She doesn’t like driving any further than Columbia, and getting her to even do that can be like pulling hippopotamus teeth. And she flat hates to get on an airplane.
Oh, she’s been a few places. It’s not like she’s a hermit or anything. She’s been to Boston and New York and hopped across the pond to Europe. But the build up for these trips is always incredible. For months in advance the anxiety builds up until you are fairly sure she will stroke out on you as she walks down the jetway.
I didn’t help matters much the time I escorted her and my wife, niece, and mother to New York for some holiday shopping and a show. I used to travel extensively, and as a result was more often than not upgraded to First Class on my flights for being such a loyal sucker...I mean, customer. Well, when it was time to board our flight to La Guardia; I took Mom by the arm and led her down the jetway to the First Class seats that I had snagged for her and me. The rest of my entourage followed me and were dismayed, to say the least, to learn that their cramped quarters were 30 rows behind our little spacious paradise. I tra-la-la’d a polite little sibling rivalry laugh to my sister as I pointed towards the back of the plane. It was a well calculated move. Her disdain for air travel coupled with my sly little seating slight on her resulted in some phenomenal “If Looks Could Kill” glares. I still get tickled thinking about that.
Her disgust and fear of getting from point A to point B by air is what caused an unfortunate reaction from me when she broke the news to me recently that she was going to Australia.
“Didn’t you hear me?” she asked.
“Huh?” I replied.
“I said I’m going to Australia!”
“Oh. Oh, yeah. Australia.” I stammered.
“Well, aren’t you even a little bit excited for me?”
“Oh. Sure, sure.”
“Well, what’s your deal then? You’re standing around all stupid looking.”
“Isn’t it, like, a 15 hour flight to get there? From the west coast?”
“Oh, son of a beesting!! I never thought about how we were going to get there.”
And that’s when the anxiety for this trip began.
I took them to the airport in Savannah on a Friday morning. My father and I, being avid fans of aviation and technology, knew from the Internet exactly what flights they were going to be on and were planning on tracking them as far as we could, using some Internet accessible FAA radars. I also knew that their flight from LA to Sydney, Qantas flight number 11, was leaving at 11 PM west coast time.
I bade them farewell and conscientiously decided not to tell my sister that just the week before, during takeoff, Qantas flight 11 blew four of its tires on takeoff
out of LAX and had to abort. I figured it wouldn’t do her, or her fellow passengers, or crew members, much good to know that.
The next day, at around noon, I sat down at the computer to check on their progress. Their flight was located about 1500 miles southwest of Hawaii. They had traveled 4500 miles from LA and were moving at about 600 miles per hour. Then I saw it. To my disbelief, they still had 3500 miles to go!
My sister and brother in law had been traveling for more than 24 hours and they still had a distance to go that was bigger than our country is wide. If that didn’t put some things into perspective for me about the size of our world, then nothing would. It also convinced me that I would do good to scan the headlines all day for a report of a woman being sedated or euthanized on an Australian-bound jetliner. If she hadn’t snapped yet, it was certainly imminent.
The ten or twelve days that they were on the other side of the world, on another continent and in the southern hemisphere (looking at different starts all week), flew by, and before I knew it, I was picking them up (late, I hate to admit) at the Savannah airport. My sister didn’t have any taser marks or bruises from cat-o-nine-tails, so I figured the crew made the return trip OK, too.
Shortly thereafter we were crowded around her table in her kitchen drinking wine and going through all the loot she brought us home like it was Christmas in April. There were bottle openers and change purses made out of kangaroo, uh, hides. There were T-shirts and hats. I finally got me a didgeridoo (something I didn’t even know existed until the week prior, but desperately needed once I knew what it was...my apologies to my Huger Cove neighbors who hear my didgeridoo lessons...I’m getting better.
The photographs, however, do more to explain her journey than any story, map, or brochure ever could. We laughed because out of several hundred pictures she took, there might be a dozen that actually have her or my brother in law in them. There are a few wide view shots of the landscape or skylines. There’s even a nice one of an Aborigine playing his didgeridoo. But the majority of them are of the plants and gardens. Ah, a true character trait from our mother. How refreshing!
I have been fascinated non-stop with the photographs of plants that I recognized being used in ways I would never have thought of and of plants I don’t recognize, but are common down under and I’m desperately trying to find around here. (Mom did find me a kangaroo fern from one of her suppliers, which is killer cool.) The scale of some of these plants floored me. Imagine an Australian tree fern growing to 12 feet tall! Now I know why they named it a “tree” fern. These things were so big they had bark. And incidentally, my sister’s travels made me realize how short sighted I am regarding plants. While deep down I know that a lot, if not most, of the plants in my garden got their origins from some other continent, I’ve never really thought about their journey to our country and how they got established here. “Australian tree fern” was nothing more than a name to me for my big ol’ fern that I have planted out back. Who was the first guy to bring that plant over here?
Well, I might have an answer to that, too. My sister had a pen pal way back when she was itty-bitty. It was a girl from Australia. To keep a long story short, those two hooked up while in Australia. The pen pal is now an agronomist with the Australian government. She and my sister had a fabulous evening together and my sister was able to get some answers to a bunch of questions, not the least of which was regarding a packet of seeds that she had bought during a tour of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney.
“I hope you’re not planning on taking those home with you, mate,” the pen pal said.
“Sure! Why not?” my innocent and naïve sibling said.
“Crikey! Because it’s illegal!” the native Aussie suggested.
“Really?” my soon-to-be-a-smuggler sister asked. “It’s just a packet of seeds. Who’ll ever know?”
My grandfather, in all his wisdom, once told me if I was ever to break a law, to make sure that it was a federal one. When I asked why, he said it was because federal prisons were more like day camps compared to the state pen. (I never did ask him why he knew such a fact.)
Now, whether my sister smuggled the packet of seeds or not...as we sat around her table, all I could think was If breaking a federal law is better than breaking a state law, how does breaking an international law fare?
If you’re wondering why smuggling seeds and plants is such a bad idea, think cogan grass. And if you don’t know what that is, tune in next month and I’ll explain all about it to you.