Saturday, October 12, 2013

Freight trains, tattoos, jujitsu and preconceptions

           When Adrian and Katie arrived at Fern Forest, I was a little intimidated. Both are muscular with thick Aussie accents, and Adrian’s shaved head and neck tattoos give him an edgy look. It took me a couple days to build up courage to ask about the tattoos, which scroll around his neck in some sort of writing.
            I approached cautiously at breakfast and he pulled back the neck of his black hoody. The tattoo on the right side is the name Isaiah, his five-year-old son. The writing on the left—Sage Amelie, his three-year-old daughter. Amelie is for the whimsical French movie about a shy waitress in Paris who does anonymous good deeds for people to make their lives better. It’s Adrian’s favorite movie—mine, too. 
            There’s sweetness in this couple.
            Sweetness aside, both Adrian and Katie are jujitsu masters, and Katie holds the title of top jujitsu female in south Western Australia. In feudal times, the samurai developed jujitsu for combat with enemies, and the fights were to the death. Eventually weapons were used, like swords, bo sticks and nunchakus.
Katie spars bare-handed. In May a clumsy opponent grabbed her by the neck and took her down, fracturing three bones in her neck. She’s on the mend now and is impatient to get back on the mat.
Adrian competes in tournaments when he’s in town—town being Bunbury, a hamlet an hour south of Perth on Australia’s southwestern coast. He’s home with Katie and the children for two weeks at a time and then flies up north to Dampier where he works two consecutive weeks as a freight train driver. There’s not much going on in Dampier except shipping iron ore around the world, mostly to China, for forging steel. Western Australia exports 22% of the world’s iron ore, and it’s Adrian’s job to drive one of the cargo trains from Dampier inland to the ore mines and back to waiting ships.
These are not ordinary trains. They’re each four miles long with six engines—three in front and three in the middle. Driving such a huge rig is a tricky business. Imagine going over a hill. Cresting the summit, the front half of the train wants to gain speed on the downhill slope while the back half is still climbing. There’s physics involved with pumping energy into the middle engines while slowing down the three in the lead. The engineers use computer programs to help them figure it out.  
The trains run all day and all night, seven days a week. It takes three days to get to the mines and three days to return. Driving is not a glamorous job, rocketing through desert brush and keeping an eye out for kangaroos and wandering cattle that hesitate on the tracks. But the train doesn’t need much tending once the rails straighten out along hundreds of miles of flat terrain, and Adrian passes the long hours watching movies on his laptop and having video chats with his family.
Luckily, the job pays well enough for Katie to stay home with the kids and to squirrel away enough for a vacation in the states while Isaiah and Sage visit grandparents. In Portland, Maine, they met up with some Australian friends—hip-hop musicians they used to play gigs with—and they jammed for a few days before coming to the Treehouse.
Hip-hop, freight trains, tattoos and jujitsu are pretty foreign to me, and it’s no wonder that at first I was circumspect around this Australian pair. But that’s the way it is with jujitsu—the idea is to use the opponent’s own energy to throw her off balance. Initially my preconceptions got in the way of seeing what good and kind people Adrian and Katie are.
On their last morning with us, Adrian took his phone out to the deck and called the children. He told them about Vermont and about staying in a treehouse. He asked them about games they had played and places their grandparents had taken them. He told them he missed them. He told them he loved them. Then he took the phone in to Katie so she could tell them, too.