after the blow…

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On the evening of November 12 Alice Springs experienced a sudden and violent storm. It has helped me process it, to document the following 10 days or so and it seemed to me it might be of interest to others. It is not heavily edited, it is just a series of entries like a diary with accompanying photos. This is not a ‘pity party’ it is just what happens when we have these unexpected events. Ours was small compared to the many who have lost their homes and loved ones across the country and the world these last ten days…

24 Hrs after…

We have worked very hard today and with the help of several neighbours and friends are making some headway in the cleanup task. We were able to cut away enough of the large tree that fell into the courtyard and landed on my herb garden for me to uncover the herbs. I can’t believe they might even survive! Also my six week old Grevillea that was doing beautifully was smashed down flat, but when I uncovered it and stood it up this morning it looked pretty happy. We staked it and tied it to give it some extra stability and hopefully whoever comes to finish removing the tree will avoid crushing it again. There are about four suburbs that have been smashed by what really looks like a series of small tornadoes. The tops of trees are ripped off or ripped out of the ground by the roots, both typical of tornado damage, though our storm was classified as a ‘micro-burst’. Also we have a layer of red dust that was driven through the cracks of our rammed earth house and onto every surface inside. I have been dusting and wiping and vacuuming while Don has been repairing the watering system and removing branches until we are so weary we had to stop. Many people have it worse than us, which is always the case. We are grateful we are both fine and the house is intact. I did have a cry over the trees and consequently the birdsong that was absent this morning. But there has also been the kindness of neighbours to be happy about. 

36 hrs after…

Unaided by sleep, but with a need to see what the storm had brought to the scenery on my morning walk, I was up early and out the door by 5.45am. As I walked out the door I was still shocked by the 20 metre tree on its side, protruding through the courtyard fence. And yet, once again I was truly grateful it had fallen exactly between our house and the neighbours. No one injured and neither house damaged. Just the fence and spa pump/filter. The large tree at the top of our sloping block had also fallen graciously, aligned with the driveway and straight across the road, hurting no one. Had it fallen back it would have smashed our house. Had the tree out the front fallen to either side it would have smashed a house. So lucky. There will be no more big trees planted on this site. Message received. After the incessant clatter of chainsaws and leaf blowers on the weekend, the silence this morning was almost disturbing…a kind of grieving, exhausted quiet.

My favourite tree on the eighth, standing but battered.

I walked the circuit I had done a few days before. The broken trees and damaged houses were evidence I had not dreamed it. Walking down the 8th fairway I looked ahead and saw my favourite tree. Still standing. But as I neared it I realised about a third of it lay on the ground at my feet. I studied the sight and out of my mouth came words ‘I’m so sorry baby. I’m so sorry.’ I photographed it to compare to the photo I printed that was taken on my walk three days before the ‘Blow’. It would be my next painting. It was especially poignant now seeing its diminished state. I couldn’t force my feet to move, they rooted me in place while I began grieving for the tree. When I finally moved along I saw other familiar shapes that I had photographed over the years, now sadly misshapen, which is saying a lot given some of my particular favourites are bent and have rather extreme shapes to begin with. To me they were beautiful. Wabi-sabi. (Perfectly imperfect) They will be again.

When I finally reached the home stretch I was devastated to see the damage to the grove of large old gum trees, again that I had photographed only days before as the morning light shone through the trees and grasses. It hit me like a blow to the gut as I walked home into the morning sun and cool breeze. When I arrived home Don was pulling his suitcase out to load into the car for our trip to the airport. He looked at me and asked ‘how was your walk?’. I pointed toward the west, from where the storm had come, and as my mouth opened my voice cracked into tears and I said ‘Oh the trees, the trees are so devastated. My favourite tree will recover but it will not be the same.’ He encouraged me by saying ‘You can document its recovery.’ Yes, I will.

Four Days after the storm…

The birds are trying to reorganise themselves, having lost the trees in which they had nests, and the perches from which they sang and watched the neighbourhood. The Galahs have taken to sitting in a tree that will be removed in due course and they will have to move on again. They seem strangely displaced but amenable to the new circumstances at the same time.

On Wednesday after the Saturday storm I am still trying to get someone to come and take away a huge broken branch that is sitting up in the tree near the road and the top of our driveway. Have rung Emergency Services twice and consulted with the Town Council who says they can’t help because it is on private property (though I note they CAN take lots of taxes from that same private property to pay for things other than public safety). I have also called multiple tree trimmers, yet I still have this problem of a dangerous branch hanging precariously over the road and the footpath! One fellow who is still cutting trees off of houses says he will come have a look when he gets a chance and that is the closest I’ve come to getting anything done. The worry and distraction of it has me unable to do anything creative so I’m washing windows (as it rains, but only windows that are under cover, out of the rain) and vacuuming and mopping up red dirt from the floors that came in during the storm. It is some of the least fun I’ve had in a while and today it occurred to me this entire year has been given over to renovations and renewal of the house, garden, and my physical person. I’m over it but do realise we have no say in these matters, we just have to go with the flow.

The herbs that were flattened have indeed declared their will to carry on and look perky and none the worse for their ordeal. The same is true for the grevillea bush.

Day 5

This morning I walked yet another route, skirting by the Olive Pink Botanic Garden. The tree damage there is substantial too, ranging from large branches to whole trees being torn out. I have also noticed the local birds are busy trying to rearrange themselves now that their favourite roosting trees are gone. The gardener who came here to advise me about the dangling branch on the verge, was telling me after the storm on Saturday she sat out in her garden and was sure the birds sounded quite upset and disturbed by what had happened. No doubt.

Day 7

The big guns have been throwing around the debris from the storm like it is chip packets, onto backs of trucks to become green waste at the tip. The sound of chainsaws and backhoes, leaf blowers and trucks on our small urban street are almost welcome now. I know it means progress in cleaning up what we cannot deny and what is done. Part of my brain goes into denial when I look out the kitchen window at the remnants of a beautiful tree that will no longer wear bird nests nor provide perches for the dawn chorus. We all grieve in different ways and for different relationships. Life is full of grief, as the Queen reminded us ‘grief is the price we pay for loving’. So I love trees, animals and art as well as humans and good health and a dozen other things, and likewise I grieve for them, each in my own way for what they have meant.

The wind is quite strong again just now and I wonder if I will ever get over the anxiety of it after last Saturday. Wind has never been my favourite of Mother Nature’s creations, and yet of course I know it is necessary, or at least unavoidable. We are the interlopers here, trying to live with nature in our unskilled human way. Hopefully when the tall trees left are trimmed and the loose debris carried away and the repairs are done I will lose this excess anxiety…and resume my normal anxiety.

The recovery is also down to Nature. I noticed this morning the little herb garden is flourishing, almost as if that smack on the head was a wake up call! Though I suspect it was more likely to be the 15ml or so rain and overcast skies we’ve had that have aided their recovery. There has been noticeable change every day since the storm. Gardens love warmth and rain and a little sun but not our usual very hot temps this time of year.

Today is a full week after the day after.

The insurance company is sending someone in a couple of days and there are no storms predicted this week. I’m feeling calmer and still mindful of those who have suffered so much worse in the terrible floods in New South Wales. Yesterday I was actually able to get into the studio again and do some creating. I began painting my favourite tree. It felt so good to be able to do something positive and especially something with a tree in it.

This morning I woke knowing the cooler, dryer change had come in over night. I walked before 6am and felt the cool breeze on my skin. The sun was already up and I needed sunglasses. Every day I see more tree damage that I hadn’t noticed previously. The estimate of 10,000 is probably right. The tree above and to the side of my clothesline rubs damaged branches together reminding me it will need a major trim as soon as someone is available to do it. The day is dry and breezy and a pleasure to hang sheets and clothes on the line. Most of the time I’m happy to not have a clothes dryer. I would miss the crystal sky, the sketchy clouds and the day the Wedge Tail Eagle rode the thermals above me.

Day 11 Final entry

The cleanup has begun in earnest at our place. The beaver patrol arrived before 9am yesterday and dispatched the once gorgeous Eucalyptus Sideroxylon into pieces. The skilled Kubota operator picking up each section operating delicate steel fingers and lifting it on the truck to be taken away. More grief. But relief. The grevillea was spared as was the small rosemary bush that struggled to live three times now, with serious disruptions but a will to grow.

Last evening a family of Pied Butcher Birds visited. They occasionally come to inspect the area where I feed the crested pigeons, but there is only ever seed, and they are meat/insect eaters. Seeing the largest one come up to inspect the feeding area, I quickly remembered the fresh ground beef mince I had in the fridge and grabbed a teaspoon or so of it and went outside. I slowly approached the feeding plate and the curious Butcher Bird surprisingly took a couple of steps toward me. I placed the meat on the plate in three small dabs all the while its large eyes following me. As soon as I backed away it grabbed all three dabs quickly and turned to a smaller bird to its side and fed it! Mum feeding her adolescent child. Magic.

Everything will be ok. Different. But ok.

Wet crested pigeon this morning.

the gift of the little frog…

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After the good rain we had in February…rain that washed out the roads and the railway line and disrupted our lives even more than Covid…the rain that caused the river to flow and replenish the basin, the trees to be washed clean of red dust, and the grasses to grow lush and green and then turn golden…the rain that cooled the earth and peppered the sky with glorious clouds at sunrise and sunset. After that rain was when the little frog appeared.

The little frog was the size of my thumb on my small hands. At first we only heard him. Chirrrrrup. Chirrrrup. He would announce his presence for a minute or two, only once or twice in a day, or sometimes at night. He was considerate enough not to carry on for hours. A week or so after we first heard him I switched the light on in the bathroom one evening and sensed a presence nearby. I glanced over and there he was looking at me. I must have looked like the biggest giant in the world to him but he didn’t try to escape, he just looked. When I came out of the bathroom and told my husband he said ‘Did you catch him so we can return him outside?’ ‘Well, no, I didn’t want to risk hurting him.’

You can see by the comparison of the tile grout to the little frog how small he was.

We had a ‘spider jar’ and now we needed a ‘frog jar’. These jars formerly held my husband’s favourite sweet treat, chocolate covered almonds. I have a slight jar fetish, mostly for glass, but for any useful shaped jar. The almond jars are plastic with screw top lids and so if you are trying to catch and release something they are not likely to break and they are light weight too. I had a spare almond jar and I retrieved it so it would be handy for the next time we spotted the frog. He was gone by the time I had returned this time.

His colour would change depending on where I found him. Don insisted there was more than one. I was certain there was not. It was in his wide dark eyes.

The next time came in the middle of the night and how or why I saw him in the dark I have no idea, but I ran for the frog jar and came back to him still waiting for me, this time in the toilet bowl! I carried him outside and released him into the very large bowl of water I keep for the kangaroos and birds. The moon was bright that night and I saw him swim quickly to the bottom of the bowl and then straight up again to perch on the edge of the bowl. And stare. At me. He looked at me like he either didn’t understand or was very disappointed at his new situation. I was moved to explain to him my reasoning but I didn’t. I couldn’t speak amphibious syllables and he wouldn’t have understood.

Thank goodness my toilet was relatively clean when I took this!

On subsequent occasions we spotted him in the toilet bowl again but were unable to capture him for relocation. And then he relocated himself. He disappeared for the coldest part of winter and then suddenly in August at the end of Winter when it was still quite cold, he reappeared singing happily from the hand basin drain in the ensuite bathroom. Attempts to relocate him were mostly unsuccessful this time, though we did mange to catch him a couple of times. Since we couldn’t figure out how he kept getting back in again each time, we kind of gave up and learned to live with each other. He was no bother, except for the occasional ‘chirrrrup’, and even that I began to listen for each morning, a kind of checking in that everything was ok with our houseguest.

And then the sightings and chirrrrupings stopped. Oh, but there it was once more and I realised I was relieved to hear it. And then it was no more. At all.

A few weeks later I was vacuuming, doing a rare clean into corners I usually didn’t bother with. What was that small dark oval shape? I leaned down and even without my glasses on I could see the desiccated silhouette of our houseguest. Even in death he had not been a bother, just crawled neatly into a corner and dried. Writing about this a couple of weeks later I have tears welling and a lump in my throat. Why should that be? There are unanswered questions. Aren’t there always? Among them I wonder, did the little frog enjoy his serenade to me each day from the echos of the basin drain? Or was it just me who enjoyed him?

A few days after finding him I read the writing below and commend it to you now. I think it might apply to tiny frogs who find an amiable house to live in, too.

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?” —Richard Dawkins

a year of small things…

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I’ve written on this topic a few times in the past, but I hope you can stand a little more. I’ve written half a dozen draft posts over recent months, and haven’t published a single one. It’s very hard to write with perspective about things that are ongoing. This has been a challenging year for many of us, not least of which is the frog that has taken up residence in our plumbing. He/she is only the size of my thumb and when I can catch him I put him outside again, but as I write he is ‘chirruping’ loudly from the bathroom sink drain. We had a shower together yesterday, he singing to me from the protection of the drain, and me wondering if he/she is raising a noisy family!

What is equally true is the world is very very beautiful–in many ways we fail to see or allow to touch us.

We’ve had extraordinary skies this year–beautiful light, colour and clouds.

In my life the little things that have saved me almost as much as the love…small moments, tiny events, simple actions. It’s one of the reasons my day feels lacking if I can’t start it with a walk at sunrise. Yes, it helps that I’m a morning person, but this year with serious sleep deprivation even though I am awake early…sometimes very, VERY early, it has been challenging. I’ve been doing it for so long, decades now, that my body almost goes through the preparations without me having to think about it. It knows that those bird sightings and the melodious carol of the Pied Butcherbird, the beautiful skies, and the movement that relaxes my muscles and bones set me up for the day. But sleep deprivation has intervened and some recalibrations (and naps) have been required.

You can’t tell from this photo, but he really is only the size of my thumb and I have small hands.

This year has been a series of physical/medical challenges for me. Nothing life threatening, but requiring attention, time and energy to respond to. Some years are like that, have you noticed? One of the tactics I used, but didn’t realise until afterward is something the experts call ‘attention deployment’. This is when you engage in something that takes your mind away from whatever it is you want to momentarily forget. They say it is different than ignoring a thing, it is only a breather from it. It gives a little break, though it isn’t clear to me if tiny frogs are meant to be included. Earlier in the year I was cleaning out and renovating the house, while also renovating my body. Lately I’ve turned to reading, painting and experimenting with flavours in the kitchen as well as brewing my own cleaning fluid.

Nothing is too lame. What does it matter if something sounds strange? If it interests you and diverts one’s attention enough to be helpful, relaxing even–do it.

Citrus season has just finished here in Central Australia but continues for a little longer in the southern regions. Our lemon tree has been bountiful. My neighbours had to be away for five weeks or so and left the fate of the fruit on their six orange trees to ME! I water their plants and check on the house regularly and pick the fruit up off the ground so it doesn’t draw pests. With the oranges, I make orange and almond cake, that deliciously sweet and moist gluten free cake that I normally save for special outings to cafes. When I’m just eating the oranges for breakfast or snacks, I save the peels and add them to a jar that has white vinegar in it. Once the jar is filled I put a note on top of it that has the date two weeks hence when the brew will be done. The vinegar draws out the orange oil (also works with lemons) and at maturity you strain out the fruit peelings and put them in your compost, and bottle the liquid for cleaning. I have read you dilute it with water, which I have done with the lemon brew, 1/4C lemon vinegar to 1C hot water for cleaning windows. Use it with a lint free microfibre cloth and it does a brilliant job. The orange one I use 1C diluted with 1/2C water as a kitchen and sink cleaner. It works with whatever cloth you use, and the smell is delicious and it is nontoxic. Today I cleaned out our smelly letter box in which a poor little gekko had died and begun to decompose. All smells lovely again now.

Distractions? Let’s not forget a good craft or art practice. Recently our daughter attended a Cowboys-and-Cowgirls-Christmas-in-July party for her office. She sent me a photo of bedazzling her costume and told me it is ‘surprisingly relaxing’. I’m slightly trepidatious that she may be covered head to toe in sequins and rhinestones the next time I see her!

Life has always been hard. During the last Pandemic it was so much worse than now. If you want to read a novel that starts there and comes into the present, Isabel Allende’s new novel ‘Violeta’ is an interesting distraction, not a difficult read and describes lives in other times and places over a period of 100 years.

My little garden is another distraction that produces things which I can harvest from time to time. This is the third year since I built it and I now have surprise seeds that sprout like gifts from the earth and present me with chilies, lettuces and basil. The early spring/late winter dandelion leaves also add some zip to the occasional salad at the moment. I’ve left the broccoli and some of the lettuce and rocket (arugula) go to seed so the poor bees have something to eat until other things start to flower again. We’ve had the coldest Winter we can remember here in Alice, so things will take a little while to recover from frost bite. But a couple of weeks ago we had a glorious 16mm of rain which have helped bring on Spring. Meanwhile the bees enjoy the yellow flowers as well as the blue flowers of the four rosemary bushes in our garden. And little by little I’m potting up starts from winter cuttings and freshening soil and planting more natives for the bees and birds and us to enjoy.

And then there are the tiny pleasures, so easy to miss. The way the light illuminates my kitchen in the evening at the end of Winter. The little wallaby that peers at me as I eat my breakfast. The ever changing skies morning and evening.

I’m inclined to agree with Rilke.

In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer

Rilke
A recent painting inspired by the mists at sunrise as they moved from the MacDonnell Ranges after recent rain.

the luck of it…

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It was unusually cold here in Alice this July, the coldest on record. Having mentioned the low temps and heavy frost to a few people and received their surprised reactions, I thought I’d give you a little look into the cool side of life in Alice.

For several mornings the temps have been below 0 Celsius (32F). It had gotten gradually colder each morning until a few weeks ago when it hit -4C (24F). Undaunted, and unaware of immediate future events, I headed out to feed my little local group of Crested Pigeons. Don calls them my ‘adoring fans’ as they await their morning seed. Why wouldn’t they adore me, there’s not much food around on these freezing cold mornings! I love to watch them jostle and rearrange themselves to get their little share. Most mornings there are around 20 of them. After they have eaten they often ‘floof’ and perch on the steps or the brick wall and preen themselves or each other in a very satisfied way. They make soft cooing sounds and when they take off, their wings make a whistling sound due to the shape of the feathers. The little bit of orange/red around their eye and the nicely coiffed crests make them look like permanently startled little aliens. They make me smile.

I feel very sorry for them braving these cold temps this week. Can you see in the photo how cold everything looks? Or is it just me?

As I ventured onto my usual route around the golf course I began to notice more and more frost settling. The grass was crunchy and crisp under foot. I stopped to take a few photos but honestly, the tips of my fingers felt like they might get frostbite so I hustled on home within half an hour.

After breakfast and a shower I made a cup of tea to sip while checking emails. Once finished I walked the empty cup to the kitchen. And there out the window was water where it shouldn’t be…pouring down the pavement in the courtyard. My gaze scanned the area back toward the source of the flow and sure enough, a pipe had burst. Having no idea what to do first I contacted Don who had the car and came straight home from his desk at Uni. Meanwhile I called my usual plumber. They weren’t answering their mobile number or their office, which is usually a bad sign. Once someone called me back, he gave me the bad news…22 others were ahead of me in the queue.

They know me and I took their advice to sit tight because probably no other plumber would be able to get to me either, such was the case load across town. Even the golf course fairway in front of our house had a burst pipe. The plumber asked me to send him a photo of the damage situation, which I did immediately. Aren’t phones a convenient thing at times??

I quickly realised, though, if this had happened a week later, we would be in Adelaide for me to have the dental surgery, and it might have been days before anyone had seen the situation, let alone thought to turn off the water. Lucky us, I thought.

Don arrived home and turned off the water at the meter. So no water for me that day, which completely changed my plans for cooking and cleaning. Don left and I began to think. I hadn’t saved a jug of drinking water. I went next door to see our neighbour, and ask if I could get a jug of water, which would keep me from having to turn the water back on in case the worst happened and we had no service until the following day, which was what the plumber had said would probably happen. I hadn’t yet projected into the future the issue that would arise around using the toilets! A failure to plan is a plan for failure??

Once at the neighbour’s house I explained to him what happened and he looked at the photo and said ‘I can help you’. Oh, no, no, I don’t want to impose on you. He insisted it was no imposition and he would follow me home and have a look. He decided he could cut off the offending blow out and cap the pipe, which would mean I could turn the water back on until the plumber could get to us. Within about 40 minutes he had returned and made the repair. We turned the water on and not a drop leaked. What luck, not to mention a good neighbour. He’s helped me out of a few difficult situations, and I return the favours–like the time they were away and their little dog escaped its care givers several kilometres away, and was wandering around outside home in the heat. We spent a snuggly afternoon together in the air conditioning.

Meanwhile I busied myself in the kitchen, packing up a couple of my special brownies for he and his wife, and a jar of special ‘brew’ that I have started making with the orange peels from the same neighbour’s orange trees. They have about six trees and enough oranges to feed the entire street, but lucky me is allowed to harvest whenever I want to. And they have an open invitation to harvest our limes and lemons when they are in season. They are frugal and lovers of fresh food so I knew they would be interested in the orange cleaner I’d been making. Within a few weeks of each other I’d seen articles about making cleaner from orange peels and white vinegar on both Gardening Australia TV show, and on Instagram. I had started a jar of it in early June and already strained and was using it with great success. So I filled a small jar full for the neighbour to try as well.

About half an hour after our neighbour left, the plumber called and said he had a break in the action and he could come immediately if I was home. I was. He did. Within another 40 minutes the repair had been fully completed and I had water again! The plumber who showed up to do the work was not the one I’d spoken to on the phone, but he had been here a few times. For a long while when he would come to do work, he had a tale of deep sadness after his wife left him and was not letting him see his son. He had welled up with tears one day when he was here, and I had listened and tried to give him some hope. When he arrived that day, he had his son with him, since it was still mid-year school holidays here. He seemed very happy and glad to be doing the job for me. It made me wonder if he had stuck his hand up to come and help me…because perhaps I had helped him. We never know these things.

How lucky was I that day?

It seems to me there are a number of different kinds of luck. The serendipity of good luck are those times of near misses, the car almost hit you, the branch nearly fell on you, your newborn is a good sleeper etc. Then there is the not good looking luck, to which we are more challenged to respond. Then there is the luck we make for ourselves. We make a decision and there are outcomes. Sometimes we even don’t make decisions, and this has outcomes as well. If we live with intention and try to open our eyes to what is happening in the moment, we can choose to throw the peels in the bin, or to make orange and vinegar cleaner…and share it. We can be thoughtful and respectful to neighbours and workers, or not. If that is luck too, then count me in.

I’m not even kidding you a tiny bit, I finished this post and looked at my email inbox and the first thing that came up was an ad for an Apple original film called “Luck”. Do you think the muse is playing with me?

No. You can’t have that.

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Last night was hellish. It was preceded by a few difficult weeks and a few more are yet ahead. Keeping the lid on one’s life at the moment is more challenging than usual, even for an optimist like myself.

We were only a week out of renovations, most of which I handled on my own. This is not easy during a Pandemic when labour is in short supply and most of the skilled workers have been soaked up by the booming housing market. After six months it is done…except that one sticking door that I’ve worked on twice but still needs further attention.

The crescent moon in June.

Just as my anxiety was recovering, a dental issue hit. And then worsened. And now needs surgery, and I don’t mean the normal kind, I mean the anaesthesia kind that a Maxillofacial specialist performs but you have to fly interstate to have done. But first pain, then a root canal, and all the while trying to dodge the winter flu and continuing rise in cases of the latest BA4 and BA5 strains of Covid.

But returning to the hell that was Territory Day. ‘Cracker Night’ is an excuse to be wild and inconsiderate with noise, the way New Year’s Eve is an excuse to get drunk and behave badly. Over the 22 years since we have lived here the neighbourhood has deteriorated as builders have bought and transformed houses without understanding the peaceful character of the neighbourhood. The quiet, considered life we knew has been bought, but feels stolen. It is now filled with loud motorbikes, fast drivers, construction noises and late, sometimes all night parties, not to mention one very aggressive dog that lives next to us. It has been disappointing. Anyone who knows us would understand none of those things are part of our lifestyle.

Firecrackers are illegal in most of the rest of Australia except by special permit, and with good reason. But we live in the Frontier, and for 12 hours on Territory Day, July 1, fireworks are available to anyone who fronts up with the money. And worse, there are almost no restrictions for where they are allowed to be set off. From 6-11pm last night the neighbourhood hooligans did their worst. The neighbourhood pets were given anti-anxiety meds to help get through, the rest of us suffered. It was more than my nerves could endure. During the sleepless hours I was doubtful I could continue to live in a place where so little regard is given to the elderly and peaceable inhabitants.

After tossing and turning and shedding a few tears I finally propped myself up on pillows and reached for my phone as distraction. I mostly use Instagram for creative inspiration and so I opened it and there, the first thing I saw were words by the poet, Mary Oliver.

She left this earth three years ago. She would have loved that her words have lived on and have the power to help. At 4.30am, with little sleep and sad heart, I realised as soon as I read this what I must do. I must let no one steal my love for this place, these skies, trees and rocky outcrops. I must let no one steal my early morning walks with the sound of wind in the trees and the Budgies chattering overhead, or the Butcherbirds carolling across the valley.

And a little while later I bundled myself up and out into the cold winter morning and reclaimed my love.

June Full moon through trees and rocky outcrop.

what can go wrong…

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NOTE: I was putting finishing touches on this piece when Russia invaded Ukraine. It is not my intention to ignore the state of world affairs. I do, however, feel that whatever light and kindness we can contribute to a sometimes brutal world, is a worthy pursuit, so in that spirit I have decided to publish it, with a few changes. I hope it serves useful purpose.

Change is a funny thing. It wants to be done, but in its own way. A couple of months ago, our current series of changes started because we need new carpet. But to replace carpet you must move everything that sits on the carpet. (I guess this also applies to invading a country. To bring in the new, or return an old regime, the current occupants must be displaced or at least severely disrupted.)And since we are not as young as we used to be, I could see this was a big task. It occurred to me one day that if I reduced the amount of belongings in the cupboards, I could move much which was on open shelves into cupboards, thus making the movement of furniture easier. And of course I reduced the amount on the shelves before moving what remained, into the freshly cleared cupboards. Once we decided to do a declutter and new carpet, we also realised our walk-through wardrobe needing updating. The lighting has always been inadequate and the shelves and rails are an inefficient use of space. Thus grew a side project, having new shelves built and tiles to replace carpet on the cupboard floor. Isn’t this what we have all heard about? You paint a wall, and suddenly the adjacent wall looks dingy? And off you go into a domino effect of updating and refreshing…or invading another country, evidently.

In the beginning, back in early January when our events started, daily changes to life threatened anxiety levels, appetite, sleep. The pastel painting had nearly ground to a halt. Counterintuitively, I became obsessed with needing to clear out our living space, even though at first, it didn’t appear to need it. It was something I had control over, which is nothing to be disregarded in our current world. And even more true every passing day. So every day for weeks I have minimised, decluttered and tossed what no longer seems useful. I hasten to add, if you had walked into my house you would not have thought it cluttered. There was even space in most of the cupboards. But what was here, was excess to needs. It clogged the energy highways…just as the rain clogged the literal highways into Alice Springs. Just as delusions of grandeur or testosterone clogged the brain cells of Russian leaders.

I’m a maker. I always have been, even as a child. I need materials with which to make things, whether it is sewing, mosaic, art, jewellery or any number of other bygone interests. However, once I have learned whatever it is I’ve needed to know from a passion, I’m often done with it. The trouble is–realising when that end has come, because very occasionally I do return to something for another burst of making. However, never have I felt the need to invade another’s space to assume control of their interests. But for a time, creative energies had slowed to a trickle. (One of the good things about learning from life as you age is that you can sometimes feel when the time is right for something, invasions being the exception, which seem to always be a wilful act of Ego.) I had a deep feeling reassuring me ‘once you have cleared the way, creative energies will return’. In fact when I was only about halfway there, I began to feel tiny bubbles of energy fizzing through my insides. I wonder, do tiny bubbles of energy surge through a certain Russian leader’s insides at the moment?

I had another large clean out five years ago. How could there still be this much that needs to go? It is interesting when you start down this road how much you see once the process has been initiated. I shudder to think what other applications this practice might have… Back then, it was too soon to let go of some things, so I made the decision to hold on to them for a while. (And perhaps this has been true of Putin and his strong love of Russian culture, he just wasn’t ready to let go of control over it.) But most of the clutter, I just couldn’t see back then. Truthfully, hardly any of it has been acquired in the subsequent years after the first declutter. Most of it has been with me for years and years. And I now wonder if it has somehow been a comfort to me—a reassurance of a former life in another country, raising a child, being a different person—sort of? What would Putin do?? People from my parents’ generation had this idea that their children would value and want what they had to leave them. And certainly that is true in some cases, but mostly we have noticed that children seldom value the same material possessions as their parents. It certainly doesn’t seem as if many of the younger generation in Russia want whatever is to be gained by invading Ukraine.

Just as I began the declutter, this phrase came into my awareness…

‘Clutter is the result of not making decisions…and procrastination.’

It clarified my mental processes like a bolt, and slotted me squarely into the process. I had become weary, as are many millions of people living through the last couple of years. I realised I didn’t care about holding on to ‘stuff’ any more, except what I’m using or what truly enhances my life. It was pointed out to me, it takes energy to ‘hold on’. And so it does. Holding on to things takes a lot more effort than letting it go. Apparently in extreme cases, it also requires killing people and destroying their lives to recover what was no longer yours to hold on to.

In a couple of months when the weather has cooled my friend and I will have one giant lawn sale. I’m lucky she is in the same place as me, both mentally and physically, and so together we have enough to supply the local lawn sale attendees with many bargains, a couple of times over! This is not about making money, it is about freeing energy which is at a very low ebb, and more valuable to me than a few dollars.

It was an interesting observation…as my purge and energy renewal continued, the rains and flooding subsided. After a few weeks the flow of groceries and goods, back to the Centre of the country and our town, began to return to normal. The macro and the micro happening simultaneously, as it sometimes does right in front of us…and has continued to do with recent eastern European invasions.

With the decluttering came a new mantra…

‘Get out of your head, and get into the moment…’

This is the typical process we introverts try to balance all the time. The culling decisions are all in my head but the results enable me to rearrange things, make them work better in the physical space. Things I hold on to are right there in sight so that I will readily see them next time I’m looking. I found that so helpful when I decluttered my wardrobe contents five years ago. I can pack a bag in about fifteen minutes now, though I laugh as I write this sentence since the world I desire to travel in is getting smaller by the week. I’m certainly glad our visit to Russia is in the Past.

Here are a few brief observations from the process that might help you:

  • Know your ‘why’ (do you want your domicile more orderly, easier to clean, or maybe you want more energy, or to take over a whole other country?)
  • Set an end date but give yourself plenty of timeas you uncover, you will find more places to conquer.
  • Do a little bit every day, whether cleaning one shelf or drawer, or gradually moving troops into place. In my case I set a time goal of an hour a day. Some days I did more and toward the end there was less to do, but I hardly missed a day.
  • Phone a friend. I have found it easier to have a friend to do these things with, or at least someone to consult, especially when the going gets tough and you feel a bit overwhelmed. It is always easier for someone else to think clearly and see your stuff without the accompanying emotional baggage. Friends in a bubble of delusion are perhaps not the best to consult, however.

Getting out of my head and transitioning to the practical moment is great, but I also appreciate that I now have more space in my head (so to speak) for creative thoughts, that are now threatening to be overwhelmed with more suffering in the world. To date, the new cupboard drawings (done by me) have been sent to the cabinet builder who has committed to installation in May. The carpet has been ordered and is committed to being installed in April. My purge is nearly finished, save the lawn sale…but I am truly shaken inside that other purges are not. I’ve located an electrician to install new lighting, and a tiler to replace the cupboard carpet with tiles. What could possibly go wrong from here?

fresh off the easel…MacDonnell Ranges

my summer of wintering…

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For many years I have tried to reframe my feelings of the months that I grew up experiencing as winter. I’ve heard other people who grew up in the northern hemisphere, but now live here in Australia, express similar feelings. We always feel out of step with Northern traditions that are seasonally based and from which we see iconic images based in the Northern seasons. After all, I spent 30 years having a cold Christmas, plus a few more reinfections on visits since then. After 38 years in some of the hottest places in Australia, my body and psyche still can’t quite connect the months with the weather and traditions. Or is that what is really going on?

I remember that first Christmas in sub-tropical Darwin, standing around a pool in 33C (91F) heat and 70% humidity, searching for a bit of shade and talking to people who were still strangers to me. And there was alcohol, lots and lots of it! We never even had a glass of wine for Christmas when I was growing up, so the whole thing just seemed wrong…sunburn, strangers and beer!

But Christmas and the idiosyncratic northern traditional decorations placed in the sunny, southern environment have been the least of my concerns over the decades since that first year. What I have repeatedly noticed is a desire to hibernate during these months. I get my chores done in the cooler part of the day and during the 100+F heated afternoons, I darken the shades and try to stay cool inside the house. Even better if I can nap…and read…and not do anything very energetic. And lately I find I don’t even want to eat very much, and certainly not cook!!

My most recent discovery as I nap and read, has been the book ‘Wintering: the power of rest and retreat in difficult times’ by Katherine May. It has been enlightening about what constitutes Winter and the traditions of wintering which are also restorative measures, some even suggestions you might get from a good friend. The author is not judgemental, and in fact is quite self deprecating, but generous in sharing what she has learned. 

The one thing she did not exactly address is for someone transplanted, in a completely different climate and place who cannot seem to transition to the local seasonal differences. Sometimes exotic plants can survive seemingly hostile environments, so why not me? At times I’ve wondered if I might have to surrender and leave this hot arid place. But each time we have a break and I come back to the place we have lived for 29 years, I’m so glad to be here that I put all thoughts of leaving to the back of my mind. Most recently as we flew back into Alice after Christmas in Adelaide, I looked out the airplane window at the heat haze and the half moon and recognised the beauty I now know as home.

Heat haze and half moon–flying into Alice

Just as I began writing about Wintering, another theory dovetailed into the mix of thoughts–this one from a podcast. Charlie Gilkey (The Good Life Project podcast) is an expert at coaching people. He says we all have ‘seasons’ of varying productivity levels. For him summer is his ‘stupefication season’.—meaning, low productivity, low focus, depressive even. It was a true revelation because it is the same for me, but I thought I was the only one. For years I’ve noticed all I want to do in summer is hibernate. I have been thinking it was something about longing for the winter I grew up with, but I now realise, it is more about where I am now. The intense heat depletes me. I have recognised that the decluttering project in which I’m currently engrossed, seems to fit perfectly into the energy level and mental attention I have for things right now. And that is what Charlie recommends too, fit your activities to your seasonal levels, however they work for you. It kind of makes sense on a very practical level–while I’m inside so much in the summer (perhaps you in the winter) to have an activity that requires me to be inside and that is imminently flexible. I can do a lot or a little and organise things any way I want them in any given day! Yay!

Gilkey further talked about people having circadian rhythms throughout the day, which I already knew about for the physical body, but they apply to the mental processes as well. We can benefit from recognising and planning around these on a daily practice. People like me who are ‘larks’ and have the most energy in the morning are best to do things that require focus between the hours of 7am and 1pm. I’ll have to work on that one. I should be doing my art work then, but I do all my other jobs then, which means the art I produce in the afternoons is probably wanting for better attention. Of course this isn’t always possible because Life gets in the way, but he also says you can account for that in whatever schedule you try to set up. I’m not so much into ‘schedules’ at this stage of life, but I am mindful of energy levels and patterns and try to work with them. You can allow for some mornings to be taken with other things, but in those afternoons when you may not be as sharp, you could ready your materials for the next morning session. He also suggests whenever your ‘stupefaction season’ is, to try and do less. In the six weeks or so since piecing May’s Wintering ideas together with Gilkey’s rhythms in life, I’ve felt more at ease and, strangely, been happier and more productive with the very selective goals I’ve identified.

Doing less and relaxing about it is my new approach for this time of year. If that isn’t ‘Wintering’ and practicing rest and retreat in troubling times, I don’t know what is. This is my new way of summering.

(Apologies to both May and Gilkey for overlaying their ideas, if this is offensive. It has been so helpful to me and I wanted to share…)

one year ends, another begins…

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January 1st, my traditional walk to see in the new year, and all was bright, dare I say, promising. And then I caught myself, not hoping for too much, just focusing on that moment of sunrise, welcoming in the day/month/year. So many of us are being reserved and not expecting much that is different and yet clinging to a small shred of hope that things will begin to ease somewhat this year. I can’t even imagine what it was like for the world to live with polio for 12 years before there was a vaccine for it. We are all pretty weary. I can hear it in people’s language and tone. Even for those of us who have not suffered severely, we have still been effected. In our case here in the Centre of Australia, the virus has really only just arrived to a great degree. We are living with a mask mandate, lockout and regulations too numerous to mention. Because things are so bad in the southern states our supply of food and other things have grown more inconsistent. But not desperate.

January 1, 2022

The last few months of 2021 I meant to write a kind of ‘catch up’ post for the year. I like for the blogs I follow to catch me up every now and then on what they have been doing and how their life has gone. But I didn’t. So here is a bit about my last year with a few suggestions for this year. My journey learning to paint with pastels continues, though the end of the year saw quite a few bumps and delays in the development of things, partly because I took a course for 6 weeks. Briefly, I learned a few things however mostly it was a refresher in basic colour theory, value and composition. These were valuable but I realised when I finished the course that the style of work the artist taught wasn’t taking me in the direction I wanted to go. Also, I realised all of the participation in the Facebook group (required) was just too time consuming and not productive for me. So I took myself off, back into my own direction and I can feel it is the right thing to do. But now I need time to be doing it without travel and without quarantines and PCR tests soaking up time.

‘Naked Ladies’ after a small rain shower.

Reading proved to be a handy diversion for all the liminal time presenting itself this year. I thought I’d share with you the titles of my favourites and a very brief explanation in case you are interested. There were a few books that were good but I hesitate to recommend in the current climate of disease and death, so I won’t, and a number of disappointments that I either finished and was disappointed in how they were resolved, or just didn’t finish at all. My feeling is, life is too short to read a book that just isn’t doing it for me. So I don’t. A couple of years ago I started to realise my favourite genre was memoirs. However, this year I refined my search to ‘well written memoirs that read like novels’, and then I got off on a little tangent of well-written-memoirs-about-hiking. Goodness knows I wasn’t expecting that. I’m not a hiker but as you know I do like a good walk, so perhaps I’m living vicariously with this type of book. Whatever the reason, I hoovered through the last three selections like nobody’s business. Here’s the list, commencing in Jan 21, finishing Dec 21:

  • The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G.B. Edwards – this is an older book and reads like a memoir, though the author insisted it wasn’t – life on the island of Guernsey around WWII. It is not exciting but it is a good story and written in a way I could picture everything about the place and people and the voyeur in me enjoyed it.
  • Flesh Wounds by Richard Glover – makes a person look at their own family differently, I suspect.
  • The Dog Who Came to Stay by Hal Borland – a lovely dog story with a nice ending (trust me)
  • The Salt Path by Raynor Winn – I ate this up. Great story and very real people with very real struggles, hiking the Southwest Path in England.
  • The Silent Wild by Raynor Winn – The next chapter of life for the two people of The Salt Path. Almost as good, and still well worth reading.
  • A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson – This made me chuckle and the story and factual information along the way was very interesting to me. It is about hiking The Appalachian Trail in the eastern USA. If you’ve seen the movie (and I don’t advise it) read the book, it is so much better.

I have kept up the garden I built in May 2021. Probably typical of most gardeners, whether novice or experienced, I tried a few new things—had some failures but a few successes. I’m sure I would have been more successful but I’m not a real gardener, to be honest. I think I might do more except for the heat. Working in the heat depletes me and consequently, I have no energy for other things. However…with fairly consistent, but minimal, effort I have become the Queen of Greens! My best efforts other than with herbs, have been with beets and chard/silverbeet. Also rocket/arugula grows like crazy, but a little of that goes a long way with me. As you can see in the photo, Don’s lime tree has filled in the espaliered branches nicely and we are hoping next season to see some limes on it. In a year when our grocery stores have not been able to keep up consistent supplies of fresh vegetables, the silverbeet has proved very handy. It has about finished now that we are into the very hottest part of summer and I will let things rest until March or April when the weather cools a bit again.

Just over a week into the new year I walked the same path at the same time of the morning as on the first day, noting that the sun was already rising later, which augers well for those of you wishing for longer, warmer days in a few months, and those of us wanting cooler weather as well. Far in the distance I heard a human voice, calling out—loudly. I thought perhaps they called a dog as sometimes people let their dogs off leash to run about in the early hours when no one else is about. But the shouting continued, as if a one sided conversation was happening. I squinted into the dawn lit path ahead (see above photo for approximate lighting) and eventually a small figure appeared, shouting and gesticulating in the direction of the hills, and walking briskly. Being the only other human in sight I decided to err on the side of caution in case the person was drunk or unwell, and I quickly changed route. Reasonably certain I had avoided any possible problem, I walked briskly in the same direction as the other person was headed but on parallel paths, rather than the same path. About two thirds of the way home I had to cross over and again heard the shouting voice. When I turned she was only a few feet over my shoulder and suddenly quiet. It was a young, maybe 20 year old indigenous woman, not appearing drunk and in fact quite tidy and attractive looking. But so close… I wondered how, almost like an apparition, she had made up that distance and was just over my shoulder. As soon as I was passed her she veered onto a different path and began loudly talking again, but not shouting as before. I had seen enough to know she wasn’t wearing earphones or carrying a mobile phone, and then I realised…she had been talking to the spirits of the land. Some of the more traditionally raised indigenous are taught to talk to the spirits, especially if they are moving through someone else’s land. They are telling the spirits what their business is and telling them to behave, which was why she had seemed to shout at the hills and valleys along the path. Once I realised what was going on and she meant no harm, I thought ‘I want some of that!’ I want to shout at the spirits and tell them to ‘shape up, stop messing with us and let us live without all your tricks and surprises’. Maybe this should be added to our armoury in dealing with the pandemic. It might be a bit loud, but it wouldn’t hurt anyone and it might make us feel better.

Meanwhile, be well.

Talk to the hills…that ghost gum looks like a true survivor.

call me late for dinner…

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What if the most important thing in life is to figure out what we really think, want, feel? What if our biggest problem is the influence others wield over us, be they close acquaintances, family or far away aspirational figures, because we don’t know what we want? This thought occurred to me as I was packing my suitcase. Why did I want to take that particular piece of clothing—for comfort, to please someone else, or maybe just convention—you can’t be seen in anything but a dress if you are a certain age—or something equally ridiculous. And right then my brain exploded with the knowledge that I’ve been doing this all of my life, with e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

And then the thought, ‘but is this always a bad thing?’

It has taken nearly two years for Covid to finally exert its weight on me enough that I feel like a drowning woman at times. And I know I’m lucky. But still… still there are these constant decisions one must make to protect, nurture and grow oneself, not to mention the responses to nurture, protect and respond to those close to us. If you are an introvert and a ‘Highly Sensitive Person’ (HSP is a thing, researched and published by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D) this is a thick layer of complexity added to our already complex human existence, now compounded by layers of the Covid Effect.

I know some of you are struggling too, I’ve read your emails and blogs and this is effecting all of us in some way. At the time of writing, to go to South Australia and back here to Alice Springs again we have to have an approved border arrival document, a vaccination certificate to show upon arrival, a downloaded and set up G2G app so they can track us, and a negative covid test result within 72 hours of returning. We are triple vaxxed, so it is different for those who cannot be vaccinated or who choose not to be. As we recently experienced traveling to Adelaide to have tests done, the travel restrictions impact access to hospitals (where both tests were performed), causing us to add a week to our time away, and the costs that incurred. There are cancelled flights to rebook as the airlines attempt to get up and running again and are struggling to be viable. These times require great flexibility and knowing one’s inner strengths and sensitivities helps with that.

The first time I had to wear a mask in March 2020, it nearly set off a panic attack for me—sweaty palms and arm pits and shallow breathing on top of jet lag was not a great start. So I have been very grateful not living in a place where, until recently, I had to wear one much at all. During the times we’ve had to wear them we started bantering about the advantages of mask wearing—to ease the discomfort probably. I began to compile a list and thought it might be a bit of fun for you to see it.

If you wear a mask…

  • You don’t have to cover your mouth when yawning (handy)
  • You don’t have to worry that you have food in your teeth (my favourite)
  • You don’t have to worry if your nose is running
  • You don’t have to worry that there are foreign objects in your moustache (not me, personally…)
  • You don’t have to clean behind your ears (the bands do it for you?)
  • You don’t have to trim or wax your moustache (again, I’ve had help from a certain moustached person in my life on this one…)
  • Don’t have to tweeze stray hairs on your chin (yep, me all the way)
  • Don’t have to wear lipstick (me too, not him…)
  • Don’t have to wear makeup on lower half of your face (except if you are going somewhere you can remove the mask and then you have this kind of two-toned look to your face)
  • It helps to stop biting your nails (it’s just too obvious to flip up your mask to nibble a digit, ya know?)
  • You can whisper expletives and no one will know what you said (goodness knows I have to repeat most of what I say anyway!)
  • If anyone asks what you said you can clean it up and lie (ok, I may have done this once…)
  • You don’t have to worry about using breath mints
  • If you have a tongue like a giraffe you can pick your nose with it and no one will see (anonymous contributor–long spotty neck, tho)
  • If you lose a front tooth no one will know
  • It covers your mouth, agape, as you study the daily restaurant specials menu on the wall (c’mon we all do this…)
  • When you fall into that ugly sleep on the plane, you don’t have to worry about the drool out the corner of your mouth (contributed by a friend…)
  • When correctly fitted, a mask seems to hold up the ever drooping folds under my chin (ok, wishful thinking…)

I’m sure you can add a thing or two to this list. Or start another list of things not to do when wearing a mask, my personal favourite is ‘sneeze’. Don’t do it, very messy and gross.

The thing is, life is a very messy journey trying to figure out how one feels about everything, if they feel anything, even. Sometimes, having no response is what I wish for, because being highly sensitive seldom allows for that. I’m hoping you have some time to do whatever makes you feel peaceful and authentic in the coming months. I’ll be wearing my mask until I feel ok to remove it and not transmit covid to anyone, because call me late for dinner, but don’t call me prematurely de-maskulated.

(If you agree or don’t agree with mask wearing is not my purpose here. These are my views and a bit of fun and if you have your own views you can play along nicely or start your own blog.)

to see…

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I wrote the first poem, just as it describes, after cataract surgery when we were in Adelaide. We had been home a few weeks when the event in the second poem below happened…

See For Me

The day after my husband had eye surgery
He couldn't see things very well.
He loves a little sweet thing for afternoon tea,
So when he asked me if I would go
And look at the little baked item in the cafe window
And tell him what it was, I did.
I returned to the table and told him it was not
A scroll, as he had thought it was,
But it was 'his kind of thing'.
His eyes looked hopeful and he said 'What?'
It is a chocolate chip, salt and hazelnut cookie.
I could tell he was happy being married to
Someone who knew his kind of thing.
Gecko Toes

It was early in the morning
as I saw the object, pale
and delicate, in the middle
of the kitchen bench.
Gecko skin, familiar
but nonetheless fascinating,
complete with tiny toes.

Cats bring gifts to their owners.
Sometimes inanimate,
but usually dead...
mouse
lizard or
bird...but I have
no cat.

And so after 38 years
of marriage to a human
who pays attention,
I have a new treasure
to photograph
or paint or just admire
as I often do.

The lenses inserted where the clouded cataracts were removed, give his eyes a shiny crystalline appearance. What he sees is wonderful for both of us.