finding Amos…

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It was a warm summer morning, a welcome couple of degrees cooler than the previous one, and with just enough breeze blowing to maybe keep some of the flies away. Ever since that cruel three millimetres of rain a couple of weeks previously, the one that literally rained mud, the mosquitoes and flies had been horrendous. I can stand the occasional fly, except in my mouth–oh yes, that has happened! But when the sticky ones come in droves and crawl around the moist corners of my eyes and nose, the romantic notion of living in the Outback is quickly replaced with annoyance.

Sun cresting over the ranges looking down the valley

I’d motivated myself to walk because I had been two days without walking, my main source of exercise, and my body needed it. The sun wasn’t over the horizon yet, but the glow was stunning by the time I reached the top of the hill, only a few minutes from our house. As is my habit, I scanned the surroundings while walking down the hill into the golf course valley. A couple of weeks prior I’d looked to my left at that very spot, and there, silently trotting along, were three dingoes, about fifteen feet away from me. They were not interested in me and a minute or so later I realised why. Coming around the corner was shirtless guy and his dog out for their morning run. I’m sure this was all just a little too much urban life for the dingoes who liked the cover of night for their running.

The three amigos hurrying into the valley for cover

As I continued down the hill the sun crested the horizon. There were no other humans around at that moment so I walked, and listened. There is a point near the back of the course where the buggy path diverges into two, one to the left and one to the right, though they meet again at the same place. I saw a small dark ‘something’ in the middle of the left path. Was it moving? I got closer, expecting it to be a bird, feathers being ruffled by the breeze, perhaps. I had found dead birds in this area before. But as I got closer I realised, not only was the ‘something’ moving, it was hissing with what seemed like distress. And no wonder. A few feet closer I realised, it was a tiny kangaroo joey! This just didn’t compute in my brain. Of all the things I’d seen or ever thought I’d see, this was not one of them. Kangaroo mums usually keep their joeys safely inside the pouch…unless…perhaps it had been set upon by the dingoes! I had seen dead kangaroos in this little valley a few times, one morning I even saw a dingo feeding from a carcass. As I rushed up to grab the poor little thing, I simultaneously glanced around for immediate danger, and scanned the joey for injuries.

It seemed remarkably uninjured. And the scrub was quietly holding any secrets it might have. I held the joey close to my body, hoping it would feel the warmth through my tee shirt. It was very distressed and continued to make the hissing sound, but was not aggressive. Slowly, it began to feel the comfort in the rhythmic movement of my body walking rapidly home. Suddenly, nearby there was a young Indigenous man. He saw that I was cradling something and he came over to me. I told him I’d found it in the dirt. He was bewildered and then asked if I wanted him to take it…well actually he motioned that, I don’t think he spoke much English, as is common here. I thanked him and said ‘No, I know who to take it to’. At least I’d hoped I knew. He looked doubtful that this white-fella-woman would know how to care for it but I smiled and said thank you and wished him a good day.

A couple of minutes later I met the old Italian gentleman who walks his German Shepard most mornings. He saw what I was carrying and seemed very concerned. I told him I knew someone who could take care of it and he smiled and said ‘Oh, that’s good’ and gave me a thumbs up! His English wasn’t so great either, but at least I could speak a little Italian if necessary!

A minute or so later shirtless guy, running with his greyhound, came bounding down the hill and gave us an odd look. By this time the return walk seemed like it was taking forever with the wee one still distressed, so I just said good morning and kept moving. I imagine he wondered all day long what I was doing with a tiny joey cuddled in my arms. I know I would have!

I was on the home stretch and started trying to think of what I could put the joey in when I got it home, who I would call, and remembering gratefully this was Don’s morning to leave home later for his weekly commitment at the hospital. He would be there to help. When I got to the glass doors he saw me and came over and as he got closer he rushed to unlock it, having guessed what I was holding. “What have you got there?” I quickly explained to him what had happened and we set about on our divided tasks, he finding the phone number of The Kangaroo Sanctuary, and me finding an old pillow case or tee shirt to hold the joey.

Don took over nursing duty while I phoned the Kangaroo Sanctuary. We had visited the Sanctuary two and a half years before, and saw the love and dedication they gave their little rescued kangaroos and I knew if they couldn’t take the joey, they would know someone who could. Fortunately, Tahnee answered my call and said she was coming into to town in a little over an hour and she would collect little joey herself. This meant I could nurse the sweet little thing, and savour every moment until help arrived. As we sat quietly, joey nestled deeply into the old tee shirt, and quieted down. At one point I could feel his head, moving rhythmically, perhaps sucking on his paw, as they sometimes do. By the time Tahnee arrived, he was calmed down enough to definitely be looking for a teat to feed from. I had tried to give him a drink from a small cloth dipped in water, but he didn’t want that. He wanted the good stuff!

When Tahnee arrived I shared the story of finding the joey alone in the dirt and crying from distress. I explained to her there were regular sightings of dingoes in that area and she said most likely the mother was being chased and she pushed the joey from the pouch, hoping that one or the other of them would be saved. It is a survival strategy that a good Mama kangaroo would employ. She also informed me he was definitely a little boy, and that he was a ‘Euro’ which is a small variety of kangaroo. She said she could tell he was about five months old because his eyes were opened but he had no hair yet. He looked a little like an alien, in fact. He would probably just have begun poking his head out of the pouch at that stage, to get used to the sun, but he couldn’t stand or hop around yet—which was why I had found him laying down but with his head held up as he ‘hissed’. Hissing is the distress sound that a Euro makes, rather than a howl or a wailing sound other animals might make. It actually sounded a bit like wheezing, which alarmed me when I first got close to it. Tahnee said once he was calmed he wouldn’t make that sound all the time, which we had already seen when we were waiting for her to come.

Tahnee recognised me when I called for help at 6.30 that morning, as the person who owned a painting of one of their kangaroos, Queen Abi. Abi is a red kangaroo and is very cuddly and sweet with Tahnee, having been raised by her and Chris, the founder of the Sanctuary. We had actually met Queen Abi when we visited the Sanctuary. I wanted her to see the painting in person and so we showed her inside and she was amazed. She had pictured it as a much smaller work and was delighted to see that it took pride of place in our home. Once she had a look at the joey she asked if she could photograph us in front of the painting—a kind of full circle moment for all of us. She asked, very kindly if we had a name for him and I did. I told her he could be Amos. My Instagram name is ‘Amos the magic dog’, based on a name my Dad gave our lovely old cattle-dog-cross, Storm, over 18 years ago. Both Dad and Storm are gone, but ‘Amos the magic dog’ was what Dad called Storm, since he was kind of a magical little creature for both, appearing out of nowhere, and for disappearing just when you wanted him! He was magic, and so was Amos the joey, who appeared like magic at the perfect time and place for me to rescue him.

Amos the magic joey

After they left, I suddenly remembered, the old tee shirt I had pulled from the drawer was one of Don’s from Sanctuary Cove. It seemed even more likely Amos was on his destined path, two sanctuaries in one day, what are the chances? Tahnee later sent me a video of Amos lapping water from her hand. I think he is a little survivor.

that which breaks us…

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When I came to live in Australia, nearly thirty-seven years ago, hardly anyone outside of the country knew where it was. It was funny and sad at the same time. When the Olympics was held shortly after we were married I can remember reporters asking people if they knew where Australia was. Some were honest and shrugged and said ‘no’. Some said ‘yes’ and then identified it as the country, Austria, somewhere in Europe. Now we are known far and wide for the tragedy unfolding on our shores. I wasn’t going to keep writing about it, but several people have said to me that it has helped them to read some non-news words.

I have re-written this post three or four times now. The situation changes daily, both locally and nationally. It is like nothing any of us have experienced before.

10 January, clearest skies for a couple of weeks

Every morning I do a ‘mountain check’. One look and I see the air quality. That seems ridiculous to do since we are 1500 to 2000 miles away from where most of the fires are burning. But it is not just the fires, it is the drought, aided by the winds, that we are experiencing. We have some fires here, too, but because we don’t have the fuel load and because our area is not densely populated, it is a different situation. Can I see the mountain clearly or is the layer of haze still veiling it from view? Let’s just say our clear days have been so few in recent months that I’ve actually photographed the couple that we’ve had. Yesterday was one. Usually it is crystal clear blue sky here, day after day.  Two or three evenings ago, the dust and smoke haze was so thick I couldn’t tell if the sun had set or not. The smell of smoke is alarming and we are all on edge. This kind of persistent haze has never happened in the 28 years we have lived here.

Many of us are so broken hearted watching the devastation to the land and inhabitants that we love, we have a form of traumatic stress. Psychologists are telling us this is normal, because the circumstances are not. People feel helpless and because most of us are kind and compassionate, we want to stop the pain we see others experiencing. One manifestation of this has been the outpouring of food and clothing and household items donated to the victims. Sadly, this has created another crisis. The inescapable reality is that most of the victims have no place to keep anything. They have lost their homes, cars, sheds…everything. They can only use what they can keep with them in rescue accommodation, and what they can eat without refrigeration. There is still no power in many places.

The agencies helping people are urging us to give money. Someone said to me it seems soulless to offer money, but in this case it is the most useful thing those of us at distance can do. If you are inclined to give money, Donations to New South Wales Rural Fire ServiceVictoria’s Country Fire Authority and South Australia’s Country Fire Service will go towards bushfire efforts. Do not donate to anything that sounds unfamiliar because the scammers are already at work. I’m thinking there is a special place inside a firestorm for scammers, thieves and arsonists, all three of which we are seeing, thankfully only as a small minority. If you are wanting to give money to help animals, Wires and Birdlife Australia are reputable organisations, as well as the ones in this previous post

I ride a daily swell of emotion, occasionally am broken, and then regenerate. A recent occasion was a video taken on Kangaroo Island. More than a third of the island has already been decimated by fire, and the wildlife with it. Today, as I write, the fires have flared and worsened and more homes, animals and habitat have been lost. The people in the largest town were trapped and had moved to the shoreline near the water to wait out the latest fires. The video clip to which I refer was shot by a resident in the previously burned out areas as they hunted to find surviving koalas. A scan of the inside of their car revealed at least five koalas, huddled in and on top of the seats. It was a punch in the guts to see the stunned look on the poor creatures’ faces, traumatised but quietly, awaiting help. I’ve seen many photos and videos of firefighters and others giving them drinks from their water bottles, the koalas gently and eagerly accepting the help. The extreme importance of this colony of koalas is that they were a healthy, breeding population. Chlamydia has infected the koala population on the mainland for years. Experts have tried to manage it but in some areas it has effected 100% of the population. 

To what extent we have contributed to climate change is still in question. What isn’t in question is that the environment is very different than it has been in living and recorded history. We have been warned over and over about erratic weather patterns, violent storms, fires and floods. We have not responded effectively. If this isn’t a wakeup call, I don’t want to see what it will take to create one. At the very least, the way we live is not a sustainable and loving way to treat our planet. This week I have learned that 2019 was the hottest and driest in Australia since records started, in 1900. Our beautiful country was uniquely adapted to its normally dry conditions, but this is beyond…

Remnants of the dust storm last night, 11 January

Last night we experienced the most violent dust storm any of us can remember. As I walked to take this photo this morning, rubbish bins and flower pots were strewn along the road, evidence of the winds. The grit in my eyes from just that five minute walk is reflected in the photo. For the second time in a week, the small amount of rain that came was in the form of mud. The windows are streaked with it, having been cleaned only five days ago from the last pitiful rainfall of 3mm (about 1/8th inch).

dirty rain

Our national broadcaster, the ABC, has aired a donation message using their theme of ‘We are One’. We are indeed. The vision was edited to show the devastation but also the positive work that is being done. Perhaps it was the shock of seeing all that vision at once, but I went into the ‘ugly cry’ and felt terribly sad for a few minutes, which helped me release some of the emotion. And then I started feeling a bit better, for seeing the ways in which our country and the world have come together. We are extraordinarily grateful for the world’s well wishes and donations. We will recover, but we will never be quite the same.

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places. –Hemingway

All photos straight out of the camera, no retouching, only cropping.

The date on this post should actually be 11 Saturday January, in case you are confused by the timing of things I refer to. Either WordPress has not figured out how to post on local times, or I have not seen how to do it. Small problems.

loving a sunburnt country…

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This is not the return (again) to blogging that I imagined. I’m moved to write to whomever have hung on and to any others who might be hearing the plight of Australia’s drought, heat and bushfires that have raged for months.

There is a well loved poem here, called My Country, by Dorothea Mackellar. Perhaps its most famous line…

I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, of droughts and flooding rains…

I think of these words each day as I dread turning on the news. Almost daily we hear of worsening fires and personal loss, as well as livestock, habitat and native animal losses. I watch it because it is uncomfortable, but not nearly as uncomfortable, I know, as for those who are living it.

We grew up in a small town. When almost anything happened, you would either know the person, the family, or know someone who knew them. That is how Australia feels to me. We are the same size as the contiguous USA, but only a tiny fraction of the population size. We have traveled all over Australia and it has always been our favourite kind of travel. So when something devastating happens, it feels like it is happening to someone we know. My heart is very heavy. I watch so I can understand the challenges and witness the triumph of humans during tragedy, as well as the horror when humans make bad decisions…like starting fires in a tinder dry country.

Parts of our country have been in drought for 5 or more years. Last year the Murray Darling River was so dry in spots that millions of fish died, towns ran out of water, farmers went out of business, entire regions suffered. Farmers have had to de-stock their stations because they are out of grazing land and feed is too expensive for them to buy when they have no income. Further, lands this dry are vulnerable to dust storms that carry topsoil thousands of kilometres, here to Alice Springs and beyond.

…Core of my heart, my country! Her pitiless blue sky, When sick at heart around us, We see the cattle die…

Fires have spread like angry beasts to wine producing regions and fruit growing areas, previously moist enough to resist them. While it is true that people who live in the bush sometimes allow too much build up of fuel on their properties, it is also true that previous fires have been more manageable. We are witnessing unprecedented heat and winds on top of drought and the results are quite literally catastrophic.

barely visible Mt Gillen this morning

A few days ago the government deployed military personal and boats to assist in areas where the power, food and water were gone and to evacuate people. Some were taking refuge in and near the water, where possible, because the fires were still threatening, having already taken hundreds of properties and an unknown number of lives. Over a thousand people have been evacuated on navy ships, while many thousands more have vacated the fire threatened regions when and if they can get petrol to do so. This is not easily possible in some areas where fuel is scarce, though being transported in, and where there is only a single highway in and out of the areas. Fallen trees and fires that have jumped roadways have necessitated road closures, trapping people in some cases.

In fires back in September/October, a huge area of koala habitat was destroyed, as were hundreds of koalas. People began bringing Koalas to the Port MacQuarie Koala Hospital and their Go Fund Me page saw generous donations from everywhere, enabling their important work for now and the future. They will be using some of the money to establish wildlife drinking stations over a wide range of lands, but the loss has still been devastating. Estimates of losses at nearly half a billion animals have shocked all of us.

Now we are donating to the people who have lost everything. Most of these people were living in regional areas because they love it, but also it is less expensive. Many do not have insurance and cannot afford to rebuild. The government is working on helping them, but of course no government can afford to rebuild housing for so many lost properties. And no one can replace a lifetime of physical mementos. But with help many will be able to rebuild and move forward.

Here in Alice we have learned 2019 was our driest on record. We received only 67mm (2.6 inches) of rain where our normal is 289mm. This, after a particularly dry previous year. Our town basin water is at its lowest point ever. We have had many more dust storms than normal, and high winds much of the time in between, drying the land out further and creating poor air quality. Mostly it is not heavily laced with smoke, though sometimes it is. Areas around Alice have burned periodically over the last year. We live in a place where everything is brought from a distance where it can be grown, so we are quite vulnerable when large scale flooding, drought and fires happen. Unprecedented, sustained temperatures in excess of 40C up to 46C (114F) have taken a toll even on the native vegetation.

This morning as I write I can barely see the mountain for dust in the air. But I know the winds and heat we have had are moving south and will worsen their fires. I feel somehow complicit. There are dire warnings for this day in particular. There are still hundreds of fires burning, many out of control. If you are seeing these stories in your news, believe them. It is real, and much worse than most of us ever thought we would see. We know we are in this together, that Australians are resilient and compassionate people—even more so for the hardships suffered.

And finally, to the thousands of volunteer firefighters who make up most of the crews. I cannot imagine how exhausted you are, the horrors you have seen or the size of your hearts to protect your fellow beings. We are all enormously grateful.

An opal-hearted country, A wilful lavish land– All you who have not loved her, you will not understand–

circle of life…

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Months can go by and nothing extra special happens on my walks. The walks are always special to me because I love the light and tiny changes I observe along the way…neighbours having lawn sales, trees shedding their bark or leafing in the spring, flowers defying the incredibly inhospitable conditions. In fact I was attempting to photograph a spring flower on a very dusty plant when something caught my attention. I think it was the bright white amongst all the red dust covered foliage because there certainly wasn’t much movement.

Notice the red dust on the older leaves, but how bright the growing tips and flower are.

There just a few feet away was a white butterfly solidly clinging to a naked branch on a naked bush riddled with sharp thorns! I decided to see if the butterfly would sit still long enough for me to get a decent shot. Turned out, this Caper White butterfly wasn’t going anywhere. As I got closer I realised there were about 9 or 10 chrysalises lined up on the same branch, and it looked as if this was the first fully fledged butterfly to emerge. The transition from caterpillar to butterfly is really one of nature’s most amazing life cycles.

There were a few Capers flying in the area and I stopped to watch, but the solitary one on the branch held tight. I realised it would have been freshly emerged and trying to dry its wings so it could join the others.

the first morning and the butterfly was clinging solidly to the thorny branch.
White flashes amongst the dusty leaves

The following morning I decided to again try my luck and chase the butterfly trail. Since there was not a single leaf left on the two bushes where I found chrysalises, I hadn’t been able to identify the plant they chose for their nursery. Fortunately, a local woman saw my Instagram post and added the identifying species of both plant and butterfly. Gold. When she said the name of the plant something seemed very familiar. I turned it over and over in my head and then looked it up online. More gold. It turned out, even though these bushes were currently without foliage, I had actually photographed one four years ago in full foliage and with a gorgeous blossom. Eureka! The plant is called Bush Passionfruit and both the blossom and the fruit hold some similarities to the domestic passionfruit. The blossom smells very sweet, has long stamen and the fruit is much smaller but sweet and usually attacked by birds and ants before humans can retrieve it! It is a well known bush food for the indigenous people. Apparently the plant recovers very quickly after the decimation of the leaves.

Tiny little caterpillars feeding on the Bush Passionfruit leaves
Caterpillar about to form its chrysalis
The second morning
Bush Passionfruit in full recovery (photo Jan 2015)
I still remember its heady perfume

On that last morning it seemed I had already enjoyed the peak activity on the previous day…until I walked away and saw another, larger nearly naked bush, with caterpillars and chrysalises on it. This completed the life cycle story. Oh, except for this shot…. someone is already doing some family planning for the future!

(this post was inspired by Kim Smith whose blog is called Nature is My Therapy. She writes compelling stories about her adventures and excellent photos to accompany the words)

what stays in our hearts…

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What is it that invites us to love? Is it an invisible filament wrapping around and around, cocooning us with its energy? Perhaps it is a holographic flicker of familiarity, or simply a previously unknown glimpse of ourselves.

Once in a while we see something that shoots straight into our hearts and stays there. So it was for me with a piece of art that I recently viewed at the Art Gallery of South Australia.

For those who might be traveling to South Australia, the Art Gallery SA is well worth a look. It is a gem of a gallery. Recently they closed the main areas for a traveling exhibition of Impressionist work. During the exhibition, they used the time to reimagine their own future display of treasured works. The five main areas have now been rehung with their own collection, to great advantage. As with most things in Adelaide, the gallery is evolving and becoming its better self.

After we had viewed the main galleries we entered one of the smaller galleries and it was there I was smitten. I can’t remember if I gasped or not, but if I didn’t I should have! I know I stopped for a couple of seconds to try to take in what I was seeing. The object of my initial shock, and immediate attraction, drew me in. Was it real? Was it fake? What was it there to tell?

Thirty five years ago in the Adelaide Zoo, a baby giraffe died. It was kept in the freezer of the Queen Victoria Museum in Launceston, Tasmania, until an artist, jeweller, and taxidermist named Julia deVille discovered it seven years ago.fullsizeoutput_4ffe

Julia deVille commissioned another artist, Kate Rhode, to create the ‘vitrine’ (glass display case) that holds her sensitively posed and adorned creature. All of the jewellery was created using precious metals and jewels especially for this purpose. Perhaps more than most of the art I have seen in my life, this impacted me for its sensitive execution, and thoughtful inspiration. Julia deVille’s question to the world is:

‘why do we divide animals into arbitrary categories such as food, pets, pests, entertainment, endangered and protected species?’IMG_0569

To my thinking, this gorgeous creature would have perished to dust, or lay forever in a cold dark freezer with no one knowing it had ever existed. Instead, it has a new life. It was always one of nature’s works of art, but now it is also a human work of art. 

Always in my heart, whenever I want to visit.

The work is titled ‘Mother is My Monarch’ and these words accompany it:

Mother is My Monarch,

She is the folds of the universe in which I lie and all becomes still

Truth and Royalty

Reverence and the Revered

Feline Lepidoptera*

Mother Monarch

I hail thee

(*Lepidoptera refers to an order of insects including butterflies)

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fallow…

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delicate detail in light and shadow

Anyone who grew up in the country knows the wisdom of letting a field lay fallow. But if you didn’t grow up in the country you might think a fallow field has nothing much happening. The plot just sits. Wasted real estate. Like a quiet person who may not say much, it doesn’t mean nothing is going on under the surface. A field in fallow still receives rain and sun, may even be planted with a crop that is never harvested, but gets plowed under to help replenish the soil with nutrients. It is a time of restoration.

Humans have our fallow periods. If we are wise enough to not flog our impatient selves over the seeming lack of accomplishment, we can reap enormous benefits from a period of allowing our inner selves to replenish. Our life force comes bubbling to the surface again, renewed. In my experience this can happen over a period of weeks, months or even years. Thoughts and feelings weave in and out of our consciousness as an idea or skill develops into something more fully formed and ready to express itself. But it cannot be hurried. And in my case, it would seem, it cannot be directed. It takes as long as a piece of string, and it goes where I have not been before.

The curious thing is the ingredients that contribute to the end result. It is often very mysterious. It seems to have nothing to do with the final outcome, but contributes to the process the way subtle ingredients contribute to a delicious stew. Have you noticed the difference in flavour of a slow cooked stew that has bubbled on the stove all day long, versus one cooked by faster means?

A slow renewal would describe much of my previous year. Toward the end, only a few weeks ago while we were traveling in the Southwest of the United States, I began to realise the time was not so much a fallow period as a gestation. What has been birthed is a stronger, more energetic self with fresh thoughts, inspiration and appreciation. It feels like the look of drought ridden land, a week or so after a good rain. And  the ‘entrapped nerve’ in my foot is nearly healed. It was taking the long, slower road, of exercise, stretching, rest and shockwave treatments that did the job. I opted to try this less invasive route, rather than the steroid injections. There were moments I doubted I would feel this good again, but I tried not to let this override my thoughts of recovery. An excellent and positive podiatrist and tenacity on my part have won the day. Through the months I finally gave myself over to the process and embraced quieter pursuits with a mind open to various possible outcomes.

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Mud lark frolics in opportune bird bath after the recent rain

You may think I had forgotten you. And writing. Some will have moved on and forgotten this little blog altogether. Understandable. From my end it is often counterproductive to try and confine these changes into some tidy little paragraphs of significance, when they are still busy forming themselves. Of course this process is ongoing, but once in a while it is intensive, as the last 10 months or so have been for me. It seemed better to wait for a time when things felt more fully formed to try and describe what had gone on.

There is no time like one’s birthday to reflect. So, last week on the first day of my 67th year (or is it the last day of my 66th year?) it was the light, the textures and the small everyday things that shone. I missed walking more than I had missed anything in a long time. Just walking. Taking the time to rehabilitate my mobility has not only taught me new things, it has reminded me to appreciate the Now, and the wee, small things.

As Mies van der Rohe said, God is in the detail. A light chaser knows this.

viewer, reader, twitcher, life…

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morning light on volunteer basil plant

It is true, that our misery occurs, not because of what happens to us, but the way in which we react to it. Wiser persons than me have said this in very many different ways, but this is how I say it to you.

I shared with you months ago that I was seeking treatment for plantar fasciitis**, an inflammation of the fascia on the bottom of the foot. Over the last few months I have learned more than I ever wanted to know about the manifestations of plantar fasciitis, as well as the treatment. I’ve learned a bunch of other things as well, among them…patience.

I have only just twigged that, for me, this time around, is a much longer process of healing than my first encounter of it some 15 years ago…if, in fact, it will heal at all. It is nothing ‘serious’, as when I had cancer, except that it is. It has threatened the quality of my life significantly. Since October my movements have been very, very curtailed. Even though I had faithfully followed the stretches, the shoe and orthotic support recommendations etc, progress has been slow and frustrating.

Until…

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My collection of shedded gecko skins

I renewed an old acquaintance with a man called ‘Dances with Wolves’, felt a kinship in pain from the death of a tree (Avatar), wept at the horrors of Japanese treatment of soldiers in WW II (The Railway Man), delighted in the wisdom of a Maremma guarding penguins (Oddball), learned about historic figures like Queen Victoria (Victoria and Abdul) and Winston Churchill (Darkest Hour), and felt the anguish of a person who suffers greatly from a wrongdoing they cannot change (Japanese Story). I’ve wept with William Thackeray’s (Hugh Grant) friends for at least the 10th time (Notting Hill), and been completely charmed by a bear named Paddington. I have seen that the chasm of differences that sometimes exist between humans can be traversed more easily than the tinier things that separate us.

Through the porthole of reading I have been allowed inside the suffering and resilience of people who have survived the worst day of their lives (Any Ordinary Day – Leigh Sales). I have gone on a journey with the child of alcoholic and abusive parents, and seen him triumph (Boy Swallows Universe – Trent Dalton). For some ‘light’ relief I learned a new way to meditate that had an immediate and profound effect (The Tapping Solution – Nick Ortner). And then I plunged back into the gritty, horrific reality of someone doing something I could never do (The Trauma Cleaner – Sarah Krasnostein).

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daily twitcher, caffeine and landscape fix

I also became a ‘twitcher’ and joined the week-long annual Aussie Backyard Bird Count with Birdlife Australia. I’ve always been a bird lover, but taking more time to sit and watch has made me keener. ‘The Genius of Birds’ by Jennifer Ackerman has given me a deeper appreciation for their habits, humour, intelligence and social structures.

I’ve taken fewer photos in recent months, having not previously realised how dependant on mobility I had been for inspiration. I began to look more carefully at the light, and the detail in my own surroundings. Experimenting taught me a couple of new editing processes as well.

Our daughter sent us a jigsaw puzzle that has occupied a few hours, so far…. it is a hard one! The photo is by Australian Wildlife Photographer Georgina Steytler who is based in Western Australia. (@georgina_steytler on Instagram). Her photos are stunning and she also works toward conservation. A portion of the cost of the puzzle goes to Georgina and other artists whose work you can select to be made into puzzles as well, @jigsaw_gallery on Instagram.

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light coming into the kitchen in a rare moment of cooking

The summer weather has not been kind to us. We have broken record after record from heat duration and intensity. If ever there was a summer to have to ‘sit things out’ this one would have been an easy choice for me! Since cooking has been very unpleasant, both for the time on my feet, and the heat, I’ve created quite a few meals in the way of salads. I’ve been grateful for some resources in my freezer, and also sourced some new recipes online. The new barbecue/grill that my husband bought before Christmas, and his willingness to use it, has been a godsend!

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feather amongst the withering leaves and bark from summer heat

So. What have I learned?

  • To love and respect my body more.
  • To spend more time reading.
  • New Depths of Compassion.
  • New depths of Patience
  • To live in the present more. I was anxious. I’m less so now, focus in the present.
  • I was reminded that Things/People are often not what they seem.
  • To try and keep an open heart about every situation. We never know what a journey will teach us.

I close with this favourite quotation, because it seems so appropriate, and because once in a while there is a celebrated artist/person whose passing deeply stirs me. With sincere appreciation to you dear reader, and for the wisdom and words of the great poet, Mary Oliver who died last week…

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.

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new editing technique using double exposures and distressedFX app on iPhone

 

**The plantar fasciitis has had a complexity to it called ‘nerve entrapment’. As well as the standard PF treatment of stretches, foot massage, strapping, sturdy shoes, orthotic inserts, I have had a nerve block and saline injections to the foot and area around the nerve. That had only minimal impact so I am currently having a series of ‘shock treatments’ to the bottom of the foot to try and ‘encourage’ the tissue to heal itself. Cortisone injections are not a panacea for this condition, but may provide temporary relief, tho are very limited in their use. The journey is ongoing. I am grateful for it all.

ode to joy…

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Early Saturday morning, three days before Christmas, I decided to do my holiday grocery shopping, hoping that only a small top up here and there would be necessary for a week or so after. The produce section was the main focus of my effort, sourcing in season fruit and organic vegetables to the degree that I could. We live in a place where none of it is grown, so we never know what the gods of long haul delivery will bring us! One of the veggies on my list was broccoli. The organic version had been full of moth eggs earlier in the week when I bought it, so I went straight for the regular kind. I don’t care for extra protein in my broccoli and the tedium to clean the eggs and the moth damage out of the broccoli is just more trouble than it’s worth, given that it costs more than double the regular.

As I approached the broccoli bin, a strapping young Aussie man bent over it examining the choices carefully. He picked one up and put it back, then another, and finally chose one. But as he held the chosen one, his serious face dipped down, looking and inspecting more. Ever so carefully. Finally he chose a second one. As he stood up, towering over me (I’m very short on one end) and began to walk away, I quickly said to him “Oh, those are the two I wanted!” He looked at me and said very sweetly “Oh, really?” I laughed and said, “No, no, I’m just joking!” His face broke into a relieved, open-mouthed smile and he chuckled as he walked to his trolley…or maybe that was clucking at what a mad loser he’d just encountered…hard to say.

A lady and I nearly collided trolleys but we finally got our signals right and as we passed in the aisle I said to her, “These things need turn signals”. It’s an old joke, but it made us both laugh. I joked with another fellow that we were ‘doing the dance of the trolleys’ and he laughed as well.

By this stage I suppose I was in danger of being hauled off to the looney bin, or at the very least being pulled up for misdemeanour merriment. But, unbridled, my mirth knew no bounds.

There were numerous other people at whom I smiled warmly. Some mirrored the radiance, others looked stunned, as if they could not even consider a smile. Perhaps I did look a little out of place. Finally, at the checkout, the staff member who was looking after the self-check-out registers, and I, exchanged smiles and best wishes for the season. It occurred to me that what could have been a stressful shopping trip was made very fun because I could connect with people in a light hearted way. It may have even improved their day, who’s to say?

As I drove home, I realised I was genuinely relaxed. At Christmas!! And for the weeks leading up to it as well. This was unfamiliar territory. Some weeks ago I realised I was teetering on the edge of depression, as many people do this time of year. What is the saying ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten’. I needed to make some changes. About the time I took that decision, or probably because I took that decision, some things came into my life to assist me. Have you ever noticed how that can happen? I discovered a new (to me) meditation technique which worked for me from the first time I tried it. I began my early morning walks again, though my foot is still quite sore. The walking is just so good for me mentally. We are all different. Because these things were good for me does not mean they would be good for everyone else, or anyone else.

Others may look forward to finding just the right gift for everyone on their list. They might revel in cooking foods that everyone looks forward to all year long, or writing that family newsletter to keep in touch with everyone. But for me, I knew I needed to say ‘no’. No to most of the gift giving, all the decorating, baking, card sending…so that I could say ‘yes’ to giving myself space to find my inner joy again.

We have had unprecedented high temperatures so far this summer, up to 43 and 44C (109+ F). The traditional Northern Christmas, celebrated with decorated pine trees, snowy landscapes and mountains of food hot from the oven just doesn’t translate well to this hot, arid zone climate. As I sit here, sipping my iced coffee in air conditioning, having gotten my chores out of the way before the day gets too hot, I’m thinking of those very sensible countries who practice ‘siesta’. I can see more serious relaxation in my future, and a little bit of celebration with close friends. I always have plenty to be grateful for, but this year I will add something else to the list. I will celebrate the gift I have given myself…the space to rekindle inner joy.

My warmest and very best wishes of the season to you all. I’m sending along my very favourite of all the season’s greetings…

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land of the Basque…

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Spanish cheese and marmalade on homemade bread at the market…Don’s little treat

It’s not a new concept that there are many ways to learn things. There have been theories around for decades about ‘multiple intelligences’, different ways each of us have of internalising information. I was a very poor history student in high school and university. I would memorise the events and dates and regurgitate them at appropriate times to achieve passing grades. But almost none of it stayed with me in a useful way. I couldn’t understand the relevance. In fact, it wasn’t until the last decade that places and dates and people became more real and relevant for me. As we have traveled, watched some excellent TV programs and movies, and I have occasionally read a tangential volume relating to some aspect of our travels, I have begun to gain some perspective.

 

In 1937 during the Spanish Civil War, Generalísimo Francisco Franco did a deal with Mussolini and Hitler to bomb the area known as the Basque country. Some say it was in order to eliminate one of the key communication centres for the republican forces, most abhorred the methods. The bombings were controversial since it was a military action against a town of civilians. The town and a disputed number of inhabitants were all but wiped out from the bombings. Afterward Franco was able to move in and take the Basque region, and its people, for Spain. This destruction inspired a number of artists to create pieces, including one of Picasso’s most famous paintings, Guernica.

Fast forward 81 years…

We began our recent trip flying to London then to Bilbao in the Basque region of Spain, and then by car to Donostia-San Sebastián. Our intentions were to recover from the jet-lag-cotton-wool-in-head thing while exploring someplace new. On our way from Australia we were delayed in London because a tyre on the plane needed changing. These things always seem to happen when you are on a tight deadline, or when you’ve just been traveling for 22 hours straight. Still…you want the tyres on the plane to work.

I was seated in the waiting area beside a couple of middle aged American fellows who kindly offered me a newspaper article they had been reading and finished. When we learned the flight had been delayed by at least an hour, they began to chat with me, something I normally don’t encourage when I am a captive audience. But they had been kind in offering me the newspaper article on how birds cope with heat (don’t judge–living in a hot place and being a bird lover it was interesting to me!), so I felt I should be polite. They were on the way to Pamplona and then to San Sebastián and Bilbao. As we swapped ideas for eating places, they gave us one for San Sebastián. It’s hard to know which freely offered tips are ones to follow up on, but in our initial explorations the evening we arrived, we found the place and Flat Tyre Guy’s recommendation did look interesting.

 

The first morning in Donostia*, we had a fantastic time wandering around the town, stumbling upon the Saturday markets and more importantly, my favourite fruit…fresh figs. Unbelievable as it sounds to those who know my love for fresh figs, I had forgotten it was late summer in Spain, and they might still be available. Having had little breakfast (the hotel only served continental pastries and fruit–bananas and apples–none of which I could eat) I zeroed in on a gentleman selling figs and, ‘dos, por favor’ later, we were looking for a seat on which to sit and enjoy our jammy, purple treasures. Conveniently adjacent to the market was a small square with lovely gardens and mosaic seats.  It was the essence of Spain. The figs were as sweet and juicy as any I have eaten and that goes back 45 or so years when I first tasted them in Rome!

Continuing on we decided to re-scout the location of the restaurant the fellow traveler had shared. Most lunch places don’t open or start serving before one o’clock. We relaxed into people watching for a while and then we spied the nearby travel bureau. We found a couple of brochures with local information and tours. Unusual to our experience most of the tours included entry fees into places, but not transport to get there. You were expected to get your own self there! This seemed like extra work that contravened our primary objective for San Sebastián, so we abandoned that idea.

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Morgan Restaurant, Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain

By the time one o’clock arrived we were both pretty hungry. Being first on the scene at opening time meant we got a seat, but normally one would need a booking. The restaurant was small with long shared tables and had a menu that was arranged two ways, two courses and drink for one price, or three courses and drink for another price…we opted for two courses, which was 25.50€ per person. We each ordered a drink, me water and hubby wine, which we assumed was a glass, but which turned out to be a BOTTLE. Fortunately, since I only had the water, I could assist with the bottle of wine! However, the unplanned rosè did not do anything to relieve my cotton-wool-brain!** The food was of a very high standard and so for about $90 Australian we had an amazing meal including very nice rosè! It was a restaurant we would have never found on our own so, ‘Flat Tyre Guy’, wherever you are, thank you for the recommendation for Ristorante Morgan!

After lunch we wondered out into the shaded laneway and up to the nearby public square where we had sat and people watched before lunch. In our absence activities had evolved and a large group had gathered around a small group of musicians.They were singing and swaying en masse to the tunes; some dancing, some with arms around each other’s waists as they sang from small songbooks. This was obviously an activity familiar to them, as were the songs and such was the passion with which they sang, it moved me to tears. It’s not often I spontaneously cry in a foreign country in the middle of a crowd, but once in a while it happens. I’m thinking back at the moment I stepped off the bus in Gallipoli. I dissolved into tears and I don’t even know anyone from that battle. Other people tell me this phenomenon happens when we are in places like Normandy or Gallipoli, where huge numbers of lives are lost. I wonder…

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A few enjoyed dances…

 

Ok, they might have been jet-lag-cotton-wool-rosè tears, but the emotion was deeply felt. It reminded me what a privilege it is to be able to travel, and that there are countries and people who are willing to share themselves with strangers. We later learned the songs were Basque folk songs. Thank goodness the Basque people and their lovely food and folk songs survived and thrive today. And thank goodness my perspective is forever changed.

 

*Donostia-San Sebastián is the full name of the city, but Donostia is the Basque name and San Sebastián is the Spanish name.

**cotton-wool-rosè-brain is why I failed to take any photos of the lovely plates of food. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

a curious woman sees…

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Windows and openings fascinate me. Have you ever caught yourself watching what goes on, beyond the place you are occupying, only to suddenly realise you might be prying? We are curious creatures. Perhaps, it is the downside of the creation of glass. It lets in the light, but also encourages the wandering eyes of the observant…not to mention cameras.

Occasionally, over the years, I have taken a photo of a scene through a window or opening. But this trip I decided, where possible, to document what I saw as often as I could. Sometimes I didn’t want to invade privacy so I looked but did not photograph. Once I took a photo when the sign said ‘no photos’. Such a rebel. I assumed it was referring to the goods within the woollen mill, not the actual window or beautiful scene framed beyond. Surreptitiously, I tapped.

No woollens were harmed in the making of this photo…

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Melin Wlan Woollen Mill, Snowdonia National Park, North Wales

Looking over the collection of images I realise I have captured a layer of reality that may have otherwise only been experienced subliminally. The seen, and almost seen, the imagined, the incomplete and the exquisitely lighted. Ephemeral. To explain them too much would be to deny you, your own imaginative wonderings, so I’ve only included brief titles and categories. Share your thoughts…

(click on any photo and it will enlarge)

the ecclesiastical…

 

the places…

the unusual…

the food…

people…

the uncategorised…

the weather…

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Boston, Massachusetts, tail end of the hurricane