The western tier surrounds us as I type. My wife, Elena, is driving. Mountain ridges loom and shift into each other with the car’s motion, casting mighty shadows everywhere, while in the back, our 3yr old sleeps.

Her name’s Cielo. Spanish for Sky and Heaven. It seemed perfect. Elena’s Venezuelan. I had been woodcutting in the highlands of Tasmania, and came to the mainland to sweep her out of her city life. We ended up in the Otway Rangers of Victoria, where I went to work in the bush harvesting, while she fruit picked, and we lived where we could.

One afternoon, lost in after work grime and summer heat, I asked her what the word for the ‘sky’ was? She said ‘cielo’. I told her that was a great name for a child.

I had always wanted one, but had given up a decade ago. On being a father, on finding love. It had to be real, or not at all. I had rolled the dice on all-or-nothing, and assumed I had lost, so was bumming around the logging tracks and back roads of wild lands, drinking, doing things legal and illegal to get by, waiting to die.

My wife saved me. No doubt.

When Cielo came along, I couldn’t expunge my need for hard labour, but everything else shifted. By then I was track building, dragging them across the continent, showing my wife her new land while I worked above sleet-peppered coastal cliffs, then, next month, hacking through the barbed vines of tropical Queensland gorges.

It’s a hard life. No social network, no stability, never knowing where we’ll live next, where we’ll go, how we’ll get buy. Living in shitty little tents until we find a home.

But with lows, there are highs.

From day one, we took off after work to waterfalls, spring fed rivers, random drives to nowhere towns up in the moon-like landscape of the tiers, cruising through deserts, and, more so, befriending the varied people of these landscapes. These things became our child’s television. What I wanted to inspire in her. Motion, wonder, work. A love of life.

Cielo was not yet a year old when as a gift to her, I decided to write a children’s book a day, complete with art direction, for a year. And put them on the internet for everyone, for free. To, one day, teach her wonder, imagination, storytelling. To share these things with her future world. To leave her a legacy of commitment to task.

During that year I averaged 4 hours sleep a night. Broke my back in three places playing Aussie Rules football, spent a week in hospital when the tropical jungle beat me, got work in the Antarctic waters down south, during winter, as an oyster farmer. Yet, every day, after work, there was Cielo and my wife. There were our daily adventures. There was weather. And each night, the stories came. Not a day was missed.

We even went to Venezuela to meet the family, somehow, crossing a boarder bridge from Columbia, as night fell, pushing through milling crowd all trying to beat lockdown.

I found being there hard. The restriction of it. A nation in turmoil. But seeing Elena come into full bloom around her kin was an impossible joy. To see the happiness our child brought them was a joy.

Sometimes I almost saw the younger me finding people that would take me between the cracks, but Cielo was and remains my journey now. The motion I crave comes from watching her grow.

Cielo was 1 ½ by the time we got back. The year long challenge of a book a day finished. I got another job track building in southern Tassie. It was nowhere. Spectacular, raw. They flew my work mate and I in with a helicopter, and gave us cabins, but I found a goat track through a shrubby plain, and over a rocky mountain that took me down to a bay, near where I parked. 10kms up and over, give or take. Four landscapes, as if they were four countries.

On the first night, staying in the cabin, time slowed, screamed at and badgered me with its waste. I wasn’t seeing the little things. The way Cielo sighs, waddles, the expressions you can’t put into words. I wasn’t around the love Mum and daughter shared. So after that one night without them, each arvo I ran out. In work boots, over rock, through dense bush. If I gave it EVERYTHING, I could get to the car before the overgrown track got too dark to see, drive for 30 minutes to get to a sealed road, that would then follow an inlet for fifteen minutes more, so I could see Cielo before she went to bed, and get up at 4:30 am to drive to the goat track, and then run the 10kms over and back in each morning.

To see her smile. To meet them both at the beach. To embrace my wife.

Some people thought I was mad, but they just didn’t get it. It wasn’t a chore, or even a task. It was a need. A thing of worth. Something my life had been missing while waiting to die.

Those 20kms framing 9 hours of breaking rocks.

Every day, Cielo gives me so much. As she grows, I hope to teach our child that stubbornness can be a positive thing. If we ever find a way to stay still, I hope she knows her start was rough, full of road dust, but glorious.

I hope she understands passion and love.

by Matt Zurbo

Cielo: 365 kids books in 365 days