when I’m dead…

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Why is it we seem to have to go to the brink in life to awaken to ourselves? I don’t know anyone who escapes life’s tragedies and is wiser for that lack of experience. We seem to learn the most profound things from those big moments and near misses. But once in a while, if we pay attention, we get a moment of clarity that raises our awareness and appreciation for life, without the suffering.

Life is full of work and things to be done, or avoiding them and living down a rabbit hole—I choose the first one most of the time. By the time I exercise, clean the body, feed our household, do the most necessary of cleaning jobs and get what sleep I can, there is comparatively little discretionary time. And these days one of my joys is thinking about creating things rather than life’s big questions, which if I were going to be able to answer them, I probably would have in my 68 years on this earth. But I haven’t and probably won’t. I think about colour themes, about how to discern value more effectively, and what effects can be achieved on which kind of paper. And about trying to be honest and kind, both of which are challenging endeavours.

Some days I’m lucky enough that my morning walk helps me see a new corner of the environment  to enthuse my painting sessions. In between all of the above I keep inspiring myself with new reading, listening and viewing of other artists’ works. One morning I was listening to a podcast interview with Andrew Greig, a Scottish poet and writer. I love a Scottish accent. (Must be genetic as my paternal Grandmother’s family was named Carlisle.) What captivated me was the title of the interview ‘When I’m dead, I will love this.’ He tells a story of running home in the cold and rain from the fish and chip shop, to keep his meal from getting soggy. And he thinks, as clearly as anything, as he is running, how wonderful running and a hot fish and chip meal would be if he was dead. I get it. It left me with shivers and tears on the rims.

We whir around in our complex world full of news stories and disaster and lists of jobs and people to please, when all the time we are doing the small miraculous things that humans do. We are spellbound at sunrises, marvel at nature, rejoice when we find a key we thought we’d lost, are amazed when our children are so much smarter than we were at that age…or kinder  than we realised. These things we know. They are right in front of us every single day and we forget to look. We forget to think, ‘when I’m dead, I will love this.’

Grass growing in rock – Ardys Zoellner 6/21

**This was going to be my last blog post. I had decided…or so I thought, I had nothing left to say. But after thinking it over the last couple of weeks I’ve decided this is the one place in my life I have the most control, where I can make up most of the rules. I even pay to keep the ads off this page so that you all won’t be dogged by those who glean data to try to sell you things. I won’t try to sell you anything. This is just my experience in the world for you to take or leave as you wish. I’m going to hang around for a while.

adjustments and such..

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At long last. I am vindicated for a lifetime of keeping a precautionary stash of pantry goods. That is, I’ve always been ready for a small famine. And now Alice Springs is in lockdown. This is the first we have seen of this (having been away last year in the Southern Ocean at the start of the pandemic) and I can’t help but wonder what the thousands of caravans full of visitors here for the good weather and the free lifestyle are thinking about now!

When we returned from our trip last year, the initial lockdowns and emergency precautions had eased. We were allowed to isolate in our home for two weeks. It was a bit weird but we adjusted. Since then there has been much more weirdness to adjust to. New protocols when entering shops ranging from all kinds of strange sanitising concoctions, to scanning QR codes for better contact tracing. New phone apps to install…some that actually work. We live in interesting times.

Our masks now hang beside our hats and scarves, as if they have always belonged there. The first morning I dressed for my walk in the 4C degree temps, I donned the mask and sunglasses and then tried to open my phone to start a podcast. Why wouldn’t my phone open? Ah, face recognition was not recognising me! Not sure most people who know me would have recognised me for that matter. On the mostly empty golf course walk, I did see a couple of parents walking small children, from a distance, a lone woman walking and another one in the far distance walking her dog. The adults were all wearing masks and I was buoyed that my fellow humans and I were all working together on this thing. Before the pandemic, we only saw face masks being worn by a number of Asian migrants and tourists in the bigger cities, and sometimes in Alice Springs because we get a lot of tourists here. Beyond that, most of us didn’t dream they would become necessary for our health, let alone a fashion statement. I have a collection of them. You can now buy a face mask with just about any kind of design on it you would like. I’m pretty conservative so I go for the simple things with regard to body adornment.

The first day of our lockdown was mostly a repositioning exercise. Given we had only an hour and a half notice, Don had to quickly pack up his desk at the Uni and bring home his work paraphernalia. Being I have spent huge chunks of time at home for many months, I could only speculate if the groceries I had ordered the previous day would arrive the next day, or if the hoards of panicked shoppers would wipe out the shelves—yet again. I scoured the freezer and pantry to loosely plan replacement meals in case the grocery items didn’t appear. Most of them eventually did appear, with a few substitutions and one ‘out of stock’.

For weeks we have had ‘temporarily out of stock’ notices for online shopping, so I have worked around it. Why? Because we have had literally thousands of people pulling their caravans up here from the southern states, where they hoped to enjoy the warmth and relative safety of the Northern Territory. What people don’t realise is, we are not like the southern areas where the shelves can be restocked from the distribution centres within a few hours. It is days, sometimes a week or even two before our shelves are restocked. To be honest, we have enough trouble getting goods at the best of times, and this is a bit beyond that. Which is why, I refer you back to the opening paragraph, and mostly try to keep a stocked pantry and freezer.

Don is on the greens committee for the local golf course. Since he is missing his normal rounds of golf, his version of exercise at the moment is to walk the holes and mark down the location of the valve boxes for watering. Not mentally stimulating but since the golf course has no record of them and they need one, he is doing a good deed and getting his exercise as well. One hour at a time, of course, because that is all we are allowed out for exercise. My exercise is housework and my usual stretches and morning walk.  So, nothing different. The afternoons are saved for a bit of rest, reading or movie viewing and some painting. Most recently I’ve been practicing painting lemons. We have a tree full so the reference material is to hand, but it was also a request from a special someone. I’m not doing commissions but I have told a couple of people I will notify them if I do something I think they might find interesting. Commissions give me the heebie-jeebies. For so many years I had to work for others whose agendas were mostly not invested in my self expression. Go figure. So these days I truly work on what makes me happy.

And just like that, on day 2 of our lockdown, it was over. A day early even. We almost settled into it and then there was a new normal. We wear a mask when in public and shopping but no longer have to wear one for exercise out in the open. It is precautionary, we have no community transmitted cases. My phone still doesn’t recognise me, but other than that the whole thing was of little consequence to me personally, and hopefully of good use to the public at large. I do feel for people with small businesses and families, they are the worst hit by these lockdowns. So this morning we went to our local IGA to do the shopping and put some money into the locals who own it. There is always some little thing we can do to help others, even in these unusual circumstances.

And there is painting to be done.

an affection for confection…

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I walked an hour to get a bakery item. Well, strictly speaking I only walked 15 minutes for said item because I usually go for a 30-45 minute walk each morning anyway, and the walk to The Bakery only requires about another 15 minutes. But for this particular bakery item I would walk a full hour if necessary. We do have a car but that morning I decided to combine purposes of exercise and getting the object of my confection addiction into one. As it turned out it was more of a sensory experience than I’d planned.

Tired of listening to my usual podcasts I decided to listen to an ebook I bought a while back. Michael Caine’s ‘Blowing the Bloody Doors Off’ was a good choice, interesting, entertaining and you get to hear his great voice as well. Might have been a strong undercurrent message with that title and my mood…

Fledgling Crested Pigeon (much smaller than it looks in this photo)

The thermometer read 6C, a see-your-breath nippy morning! I rugged up and took off a bit after 7am before I had a chance to change my mind. On the way out the door I grabbed the bird seed and fed the birds as well. I wondered if there were so many of them because word had spread of my heroic effort to save a young crested pigeon the day before. It had been attacked by a large crow and was traumatised as well as minus a few tail feathers, so for a few hours I watched over it and then when it suddenly came good I opened the box and it flew under the eave on the front verandah and finally off into the warm afternoon. So all his relatives may have come to thank me by eating my seed? Hmmm. Never mind, my heart is warm.

Early morning is a beautiful time of the day in late May. The sun is just coming up and casts long shafts of golden light between the shadows of the trees along the Todd River bed. So I paused often to photograph it for potential painting ideas.

Early morning along the Todd River

Recently it was Don’s turn to procure our weekly multi-grain sourdough loaf and to get each of us a sweet treat only to find my favourite almond croissant wasn’t available that day. I settled for a piece of his pistachio scroll. Life is torturous at times. I’ve been trying to hold off having the almond beauty to only every few weeks. That way my jeans still fit and it remains a  much anticipated treat and doesn’t get old hat. Who wants to eat an old hat, I ask you?

The last time Don was at The Bakery a lady in front of him asked for an almond croissant and then asked if they would shake it so that the sugar and almonds on the top fall off before they put it in the bag. If you were that person, forgive my judgment but what were you thinking??? First of all, the marzipan filling would still mean there was almond and sugar in it, and secondly, couldn’t  you do that yourself and save the hurt feelings of the poor baker who had been up since 2am baking such a heavenly treat as would make angels weep? Honestly, is it any wonder there are people like me who embrace their introversion…rhetorical question, does not need answering.

My confection addiction, Almond Croissant from The Bakery, Alice Springs

After a small bowl of fruit and yogurt studded with a couple of tablespoons of homemade granola, I carefully removed 1/3 of the croissant to finish my repast. Another third of it was consumed with a cup of tea mid-morning, and the final third was my dessert that evening after a bowl of lentil soup. Left to my own devices, I do live wild and loose.

Be well.

Note: It appears WordPress has made more ‘improvements’ to their system and this post has behaved very oddly in its assembly, so please let me know if anything is amiss…ardysz@mac.com

if I knew where I was going…

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Many times over the years Don and I have philosophised about golf being a metaphor for life. It is often uncannily so. Lately, I have been thinking of my journey with painting in much the same way.

Some weeks ago I painted a small experimental piece, based on a YouTube lesson I’d watched. As I was finishing it I tossed the pastel in my hand over into the little pile I’d been using and murmured to myself ‘No, no, no, I’m just not getting it’. I turned out the light and that was it for the day. The next morning I came in and looked at it with fresh eyes, expecting to loathe what I’d done, and instead realised I loved it. I had learned a very good lesson. My discouragement had been that my piece didn’t look like the artist’s in the lesson. Silly me, that’s not what I want at all! I want it to look like my style, not hers—and it does! It is not great, the composition is was not wonderful at all, but the ‘look’ of it is a step closer to what I have been dreaming of, and there it was right in front of me. I didn’t recognise it because I was so preoccupied looking for the other artist’s style.

There are many things to learn when one is creating. It is equal parts thrill and frustration. Frank Gehry, the well known architect, described it well: 

For me, every day is a new thing. I approach each project with a new insecurity, almost like the first project I ever did. And I get the sweats. I go in and start working, I’m not sure where I’m going. If I knew where I was going I wouldn’t do it.–Frank Gehry

For me it’s boring to repeat the same journey over and over. I too ‘get the sweats’ every time I start a new painting–as if my life depends on its success, which it certainly does not. Such is the standard to which I hold myself, the self flagellating behaviour I have learned, and am trying to unlearn. But once engrossed in the process everything else falls away when I get those colours in my fingers and see where both my conscious mind and intuition wants them to go. Being swept along in that flow is the payoff.

We need to explore our inner depths, solve new problems and gain new insights. Part of that for me has been the very basic task of sourcing supplies. The challenge of living in a remote area with few resources for art supplies has meant that some weeks I spend almost as much time sourcing materials as I do painting. A lack of good paper has been my biggest problem. I can order it and it will be here in two weeks, if I know what to order. Which I don’t. Until very recently, when I had completed enough painting on different surfaces to finally have a preference, I was stumbling around with this one. I watch videos and learn techniques for applying marks to a variety of surfaces. And then I practice. At this point in my learning trajectory it is hard to know if the problem is with my technique, or the surfaces…probably both! I’ve even learned how to apply a rough surface to smooth boards and papers making homemade pastel paper. Now, if the ordered supplies do not show up as scheduled, I won’t go completely without. It’s all part of the process and no doubt will change time and again over the coming years.

I’ve had a couple of worrying breaks in the process while we had more urgent things to attend to in our life. Always I reminded myself I only needed to return to the task for one minute. One break was planned–the pastel dust was a problem. I was trying to paint in the office with carpet on the floor–light carpet at that! So I made the decision to move out to the little space that is our ‘shedio’. Two thirds of the space is my studio and one third is Don’s tool shed–so christened ‘shedio’. It is not a glamorous space, but it is very practical and not unpleasant, having been renovated about ten years ago. It is surprising how far that journey is, however–those ten steps between the front door and the shedio door. And because of break-ins in the town I have to always lock the front door behind me when I’m in the shedio, and likewise the shedio door if I come into the house for a break. That transition happened a few weeks ago now and along with the new car, I’m starting to feel comfort with both situations. Always in the back of my mind, though, is the thought that if I feel pressured or lost, I only have to be there for one minute…no matter the result.

Gum tree looking over the MacDonnell Ranges

We don’t know what we don’t know. With every painting I am finding new problems to solve. Somehow the information I need to keep moving ahead comes into my life and I move forward one baby step at a time.

Sweaty hands, learning, solving problems, making preparations, small victories, crappy results, baby steps…how is art anything but a metaphor on Life?

Eucalypts at Simpson’s Gap

the slutmobile and the spider…

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It’s been a busy few weeks since I last checked in with you, promising to report more on my revived creative journey. In those weeks our 18 year old car needed some repair. Covid conditions of shipping to remote places like ours proved to make that a protracted process. It was our only car so we hired a rental for a couple of weeks. When it looked like that wasn’t going to be enough, we quickly agreed, we deserved a new car. With the money we saved from the lack of travel over the last year, happily, we could afford it. And as it turns out, so can a lot of other people. The car dealer says they are selling cars as fast as they can get them into town! It’s interesting to see what areas of the economy are leaping ahead, while others languish behind.

Fortunately, our modest needs were only for a town car that was small enough to fit into most of the parking spaces at the grocery and other places we frequent. But after sitting in the smallest car we thought we would buy, the salesman said he had one that was a step up, both in comfort and size if we wanted to sit in it for comparison—a tried and true sales tactic, I’m certain. This salesman was very laid back and applied no pressure whatever, but he didn’t have to. The minute I sat in the driver’s seat of the Corolla it was evident the comfort and amenities were better. Since we are of an age which means it may possibly be our last automotive purchase while we are able to drive, we decided to treat ourselves.

Let me digress a bit. The aforementioned 18 year old Barina (Holden/General Motors) was purchased new when our daughter was testing to get a driving license. The agreement was that we would purchase it, in all its spearmint-metallic-green-glory, and that when she decided to purchase a car, she could buy it from us, knowing she would have a car that was looked after and that she could afford. There were a few errors in judgement on her part (and an obvious one in ours!) that meant the car had a couple of dings in it, which we had deemed a fools errand to repair, given that many people will open their doors and not care if they dent the car next to them. So the dings stayed.

Then one night our daughter drove the car to a party. Alice can be a rough ole town at times. Lately we have been all too aware of it as our house, and many others, have had attempted break-ins. On this particular night about 15 years ago, a young woman set her sites on revenge when she thought Allison was flirting with her ex-boyfriend. Seeing Allison get out of the mint green chariot was all the inspiration she needed. Allison returned to the car after only dropping off a friend and visiting for few minutes to discover the rear windscreen wiper wobbling at a very odd angle, the radio antennae broken off and the word ‘slut’ keyed into the relatively new paint. We knew who it was because as most criminals do, she had to brag about her handiwork to someone, and that someone was friends with one of Allison’s friends and by the next morning it had gotten back to us. But we couldn’t prove it. So we paid for the antennae and the windscreen wiper to be replaced but we were loath to repair the paintwork, for obvious reasons. Allison’s detractor was still in town and she had friends.

When Allison decided to buy a car, it was not the dinged up Barina she longed for, but a flashy, used silver Honda, one of the early hybrid cars. Right thinking, but wrong car and wrong time of her life to make that expensive decision. Live and learn, right? We have generally let her make these decisions on her own with some guidance but knowing whatever we tell her she must do, she would do the opposite back then.

So, for the ensuing 15 years we have driven the small mint green car, emblazoned with ‘Slut’ on the side. Fortunately you could only read the word when the car was very clean. Living in Alice Springs, a car is rarely that clean. Dust storms see to that. I have always felt it was good penance, for what I wasn’t sure, to have to drive the slutmobile around town for all to see. No one would claim I was living beyond my means, nor that I had exquisite taste, and I never had to worry about someone stealing it or parking it where someone would ding the paint! The years caused the paint to chalk and peel and the poor little thing looked like it was peeling from a bad case of sunburn. But when we bought the Corolla, they actually paid us $1000 for the 18 year old Barina, that was clean on the inside, generally in good driving condition and had only 54,000 kilometres on the clock! It will have a new life with someone else and served us well.

My deepest anxieties have been realised, however, learning to drive a brand new car with all the advances that the automotive industry has made in the last 18 years, not to mention that it is about six inches wider and about 20 inches longer than the old car. It really adds a layer of anxiety to my days that I could do without. 

Take the day recently, when I went to the grocery store…

In my relatively calm and controlled life there is not much that scares me more than a big Huntsman spider in the house or a deadly Eastern Brown snake in the house both which I have experienced…unless it is either species in the CAR! That morning as I pulled into the parking space (having backed in and was so proud of myself) I looked toward the passenger window and crawling down the outside of the window was a large huntsman spider the size of the palm of my hand. I tried to get out of the car quickly so that the spider couldn’t crawl across the car and get inside. They do bite but are not aggressive or terribly poisonous but I didn’t fancy testing that bit of scientific knowledge. And the shock of having one drop down from the roof of the car into one’s lap, could easily cause an accident.

I did my shopping and stopped at the pharmacy and by the time I returned to the car I’d forgotten about the spider. After putting things in the boot I came around to the driver’s door and there was that blinking spider again! Shivers. The only thing I had to swipe at it was my grocery list so I swiped—trying to get it off the car. But they JUMP. So it jumped back to the windscreen and across to the other side of the car again. I walked around and found it, cleverly trying to flatten itself out so as not to be seen. I took one last careful aim and swiped at it and it disappeared.The other worst outcome. Where had it gone? I quickly tried to locate it and thank goodness it was on the ground out in front of the car a couple of feet. I quickly got into the car and closed the door. Because I had backed into the space I pulled out fairly quickly and left Mr Spidee behind.

Clearly my days of penance are not over. 

Updating you about my continuing creative efforts will wait for another day.  Have a great week.

take a minute…

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I have been psyching myself up and out–for months, years even, trying to re-establish an art practice. I have gone the way of the parent who decided to stay at home and raise a child(ren) and then never went back to work outside the home. Having done freelance work from home for years I thought I would just naturally drift back into that once the child had left home. But the husband was used to someone to run the home while he traveled for work, and the child didn’t leave home until she was 23…and then there was breast cancer. The practice was well and truly buried. Deeply.

I drifted from dribs and drabs of painting, to jewellery making, to various crafts but I never developed a discipline. That was probably because I didn’t have to. But something in me really wanted to. It felt like I wasn’t finished yet. I’d gleaned all these amazing shapes and colours and textures from living life where I wanted to be and it felt like they were meant to live through me in another form.

In recent years I’d have a burst of creative energy or ideas once or twice a year but somehow I couldn’t convert it to a sustained practice that was taking me on the journey of discovery I wanted to have. What to do?

Not even the stay-at-home days of the pandemic had given me the push forward I needed. I searched and read and listened and scrolled to get inspired. While all of that was interesting, I had not yet figured out how to convert it to a practice.

One podcast inspired me to take an online course presented by an artist who came to her practice in her middle life. I enjoyed the course but when it was over once again I found myself with a few new skills and no practice, no direction.

The next time I was inspired by an online course, I was not even that successful. I followed the instructor’s lead, but realised it just wasn’t my thing. The next course I never even started. I loved the idea and his lessons were good but it just didn’t float my boat. Once again, it felt like I would be working in his style, rather than developing my own.

The holidays came and I was back to doing what I’ve become pretty good at, being a homemaker, wife and mother. I love all those things and don’t want to abandon them, but I want more. So when the holidays were over and I had caught up on rest, I was back to trying to get myself inspired. I thought what was lacking was inspiration so I followed more people on Instagram, watched YouTube, read inspiring stories and occasionally visited my drawing table with sporadic and unfulfilling results.

And then on January 14th came a TED talk. Even they had been falling a little flat for me in recent months. Everyone was trying to communicate their idea of something great. I didn’t want someone else’s ‘great’, I wanted my own. The TED recommendation came via email, and didn’t interest me. But I scrolled down the same page. An unassuming small talk by a woman I’d never heard of, piqued my curiosity. ‘The one minute secret to forming a new habit’…and it was only ten minutes long. I was in.

The talk was given by a novice video editor presenting from home, as per the covid-norm, and so it was a little annoying, but I kept telling myself, ten minutes is not that long unless you are having root canal work done, so hang in there. She stated her case for taking one minute out of every day to establish a new habit. Her new habit had been running. Her only stipulation? You have to be okay if you suck at it! C’mon, that is doable, right? I can suck with the best of them! That very day I began. I would take one minute and sit at my drawing table and doodle. To be honest, from day one, I took more than a minute. And I did suck most of the time. But I loved that sitting down, and embracing the suck-ness freed me up to keep coming back. It wasn’t about the quality of the work, it was about showing up.

Every day I sat down, and curiosity would take over. In seconds I was wondering what this colour or this mark would look like with that one and where it would all lead. And I reminded myself it didn’t matter if it sucked, I was just establishing the habit. Even the days when I didn’t feel like doing it, I sat down and did a little something.

After a few days my mood lightened. I felt happier within myself. Maybe it was just coincidence, I thought. After a week or so I noticed that I was having more creative moments throughout the day. I would look at something and immediately wonder what kind of drawing or painting that would make. I was taking more photos again, and not to post on Instagram, but as reference for potential drawings or paintings.

On day 10 I had taken a striking photo of the light at sunrise, of the houses and trees that we see from our place. That day I made the first pastel work that I have ever liked out of several attempts in years gone by. The next day I went back to sucking again.

Even though this piece was one of my very first it is still a favourite for the energy and simplicity of the image.

But the day after that, I still showed up for another minute…and another minute…and then more than a minute and then more than an hour! I couldn’t believe this simple change could make such a big difference so easily. Soon I found myself watching YouTube videos to learn how to use the soft pastels that are my new enthusiasm. Watching the videos was not included in my one minute session, that was in addition to the one minute, which by then, were almost never only one minute but stretched into half hours and more.

This was an early piece and I still didn’t have a grasp on how to layer the pastels, but I started learning rapidly.

I began to employ a little trick I used to use when painting more regularly. Years ago I’d noticed if I began a painting and had it, say, two thirds completed, enough to see where I was going with it, I would walk away from it for a day or two and then come back. It beckoned to me to come back and finish it, so it got me back into the studio again. This time, I found that I would not fret about how much time I had spent on an image, but I could leave it to return to later. As I walked in and out of the room, passed the table, I would glance at it and mull it over all the remainder of the day. Then, fresh with enthusiasm I would return and finish it next day. For many artists this doesn’t work. They find the mood is broken and they can’t get back into the flow of that work again. But in my case, it works. For me it’s important to self evaluate, not judge the work good or bad, but evaluate effective procedures and practices, study the colours and composition so I can modify things or use the time to advantage.

This was also a fairly early piece. I was just beginning to grasp how to work with the pastels.

For me, this little one minute change relegated my relentlessly judgemental self to a position that was much less inhibiting. It reduced the task to the smallest increment and allowed that to be crappy. I just had to show up. I’m good at showing up, just not very kind to myself about the results—or I wasn’t, until now! I will be writing more about my journey which is now beginning the sixth week. 

I have not missed a single day, but if I do, I will know how to begin again.

watching and the watcher…

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This time last year we were watching large swathes of Australia burn. I rescued a little kangaroo joey, that sadly died a few weeks later, too. As we watched the very disturbing video of our country on fire and the animals and humans in deep distress, so began a year of not wanting to turn on the news, but being afraid not to. I felt powerless. Of course things only got worse in that regard, as the year went on. I tried to focus on the things I could do something about…self, home, communications, donations and everyday life.

One very gratifying thing I did was donate to The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital. They have done something that few recipients of my donations have done over the years. They send updates via their ‘go fund me’ page and by email. The most recent update brought tears to my eyes and I thought you would find it interesting to read. One of the main targets, funded by the donations, are drinking stations used not just by koalas, but other wildlife as well. It’s fills the most basic of needs, water, in a very dry land. And it involves humans to keep them maintained, which seems like a great way to raise our consciousness about what we can do. So here is their lovely update.

Mulla Mulla are lovely wildflowers, in varying colours from purple and fuschia to greenish yellow.

We are still reaping some rewards from the rains at Christmas, though we’ve had days filled with hot, dry wind and so things are drying out and looking tired again. There is no real rain in sight, but we watch the horizon with hope.

Cicadas are having a bumper year, if the number of nymph shells I’m seeing, and the deafening din are indicators. They are incredibly hard to see until they are lying dead on the ground. I gaze up at the trees and can never find them, though the tree is screaming with their presence. I did watch one flying a few days ago–a strange noisy blur as it went singing along overhead. I’m sure I’ve come across some mythological tale of the sound of cicadas being used to drive one of the gods insane. What chance does a mere mortal have? At least the carnivorous birds will be feasting well. Here is another little treat for your viewing pleasure, the work of artist Lucienne Rickard in Tasmania. She has spent the passed sixteen months drawing exquisite images of extinct Tasmanian animals and then erasing them for her Extinction Studies. Get the reference? In some cases she spent over a hundred hours doing a detailed drawing of an animal, and then erasing it while viewers watched on. Recently on her Instagram feed @luciennerickard she drew the loveliest life size image of a cicada nymph, not included in the extinction studies, just for ‘fun’. Her work is really superb and I highly recommend having a look.

Speaking of carnivorous birds…a family of Pied Butcherbirds (Cracticus nigrogularis) has settled around our place for the time being. They are mostly insect and small animal feeders, and they have the most beautiful song, similar to that of a Magpie. The two youngsters are nearly the size of the parents, which are about the size of crows, but their behaviours are that of teenagers–still wanting parents to feed them, and still wandering about, curious to test all kinds of things in the environment. One day a young one found its reflection in our windows and it pecked at the image, trying to get a response. The parent came along and tried to distract it, but the youngster was determined, so the parent must have thought, ‘Well there’s one that’s occupied for a while, I’ll go check on the other one!’ and flew away. Eventually the teenager departed, but it was back the next morning, peering into the glass deeply, turning its head side to side trying to figure out that alternate Universe on the other side.

Watching the watcher.

I feel a kinship with that young Butcherbird sometimes…wondering if there is some great intelligence watching me peer into the everything-ness, trying to figure out what to do with life on my side of the glass.

all the weather and love too…

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We worked our way through all the seasons in five days over Christmas. Three days before, it was pouring rain, which we badly needed and was an absolute gift. It was also unseasonably cool. My winter track suit even made an unexpected appearance one morning, but the high humidity had me changing again before lunch time. Ok, so our version of seasons is less extreme than most, but it was still quite unusual. We went from the hottest November on record, to almost the coolest Christmas on record. We only missed by about 2 degrees celsius….it was 26C (78F) and the record was 24.2C(75F)

The additions of daughter and sausage dog added their own weather pattern to the immediate environment. When the house that I had tidied within a hair of its existence suddenly looked like a whirlwind had hit, she laughingly swept her hand through the hair and sang ‘I’m home’. I realised I had missed all of the disarray and young energy.

The river flowed energetically for the first time in a couple of years. We’ve had other trickles and teases, but nothing that would lead one to believe the water table was being replenished. This one hinted it might just happen by the time La Niña is finished with us.

The normally dry Todd River five days ago after the last rain of 2020. Today it is dry again.

There are amazing changes that happen when you live in an arid zone and the rains come. First of all the smell is delicious…once you get passed that first shower that highlights the smell of decomposing things. Eew. The eucalyptus and rain trees perfume the air like walking into the soap factory we visited earlier this year. The factory made their own herbal and other essential oil essences and I could feel myself being uplifted with every breath. It is the same here, after a good rain. Driving to pick up my husband from the airport which I hadn’t done in almost a week, felt like I had been transported to another planet—the one with green stuff on the ground and a landscape that has been sharpened by a high definition filter.

Another change that rapidly takes place is not just the growth of plants, but the very appearance of them, where previously had been barren soil and rock. The wild Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) first emerged after a rainfall of only 10ml a few weeks ago. By the time another 80ml had come, it was filling every available space and growing larger each day. Surely I had just missed it in years passed, but it seemed to be everywhere! When we visited the soap factory at Babylonstoren earlier this year, we had taken a tour of the gardens. We learned that our common jade plant, growing with abandon, was edible! I’d seen kangaroo eating the tips of it but until our guide showed it to us and mentioned it was edible, I had not equated the kangaroo experience with a human one. She said, watching what animals eat can often give us a clue to what we can eat, and then there is chocolate which is toxic to dogs. Never mind. Wild Purslane is also edible, and has a salty, slightly sour taste and a slight crunch. It reminds me of the texture (but not the flavour) of Japanese wakame salad.

As well as the Purslane multiplying, the Naked Lady lilies positively raced toward the heavens with each day of cloud and rain. The day the cloud cleared, they opened their pinkness to the world. Their life is brief but there is no sadness to it. The blushing blossoms nod in the breezes, rejoicing a short, happy life.

Once the rain stopped, the cloud cleared fairly quickly but unfamiliar humidity remained heavily in the air and morning dew sparkled on the newly emerged green shoots. Insects flourished too, everything from mosquitoes to flying ants, bees, dragonflies and bush flies, a veritable feast for birds. We’ve already discovered a few intruders, attacking the refreshed garden. And so it goes. Temperatures returned to the more normal range, but on the very tolerant side through Christmas, and headed toward hot for the New Year. It was a wonderful break.

My usually quiet days turned to a happy mixture of baking and cooking, sausage cuddling, the occasional short nap, tv viewing, drinks with friends, gift exchanges and basking in love. Four days and a hundred photos later, the house was suddenly silent again. Only the orchestra of Pied Butcher birds and Cicadas singing, and the tumbling of the washing machine remained. There was no warm little body squirming into my lap, no funny quips or gorgeous smiles from our daughter, no reliable assistance and generous compliment from my husband. Armed with ham sandwiches and Christmas baking, at day break they slipped quietly out of the driveway and began their 1500 kilometre journey to her home. Faced with a pile of clothes, sheets and towels to wash, only the sheets now remain. Her perfume clings to them. Maybe they can wait until the scent has faded to nothing. Then I will be able to bear washing them. This was the first time in 8 years she had been able to be here for Christmas. Of all the years, this one would have been my choice.

Long may the memory last.

**The long drive happened because the airlines are not yet transporting animals and there was no place Allison could leave Leni while she came home. Her lovely Dad offered his driving services and flew down to drive with her north, and home again, and then flew home from Adelaide. It was a big effort for all of us, but so worth it.

memorable, forgettable, edible…

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I’ve been thinking of you. Hoping the demands of the season are not weighing too heavily. With that in mind I have a few things for you to think about in between wrapping, baking and decorating–because apparently it is no longer good for us to multi-task.

Last March, after the pandemic was declared but before we were home yet, we were having an adventure, isolated as we were, in the middle of the Southern Ocean. Around March 10, 11, 12 we visited an archipelago mostly known for the name of its largest island, Tristan Da Cunha. Due to Covid-19, we were not allowed to actually set foot on the island, as had been planned. But we viewed it from aboard zodiacs on several fascinating visits. The British holding is one of the most remote populated islands in the world. A week or so ago an article came into my awareness, that this tiny little population of about 250 people has announced that almost 700,000 sq km of its waters will become a marine protected area (MPA), the fourth largest such sanctuary in the world. It is always a thrill to see such news, but doubly so when it is a place you have seen with your own eyes. When you click on the article here and scroll down, you will see a sunset photo with albatross, that is very similar to one I took from the deck of our ship, shown below. (Do go see the photo of Rockhopper penguins, they are the funniest…think of Ramone in Happy Feet)

The next interesting thing that I have come across is touted as ‘the most striking images of 2020’–subjective, I know. However, if you take the time to read the articles paired with each of the eleven photos, you will have a deeper appreciation of why they may be considered such striking images. I’ll leave you to your own thoughts, but at the very least it is a noteworthy collection, recalling the incredible events of the year.

And then there was the podcast that nearly blew my tiny mind. In an interview with a scholar of ancient Mesopotamia and Cuneiform writing I learned that Noah’s Ark was actually round. Round! You can listen to Irving Finkel’s detailed description of how he learned this fact here. (Or watch the YouTube video here, it is even more entertaining!)

On a more local news front, the little garden project I began in May, at the beginning of last winter, has limped through the hottest November on record. And I do mean limped. Things went to seed, or burned in the sear of unseasonal heat. New seeds have failed to even sprout. Pests have been persistent and much of the time invisible to my untrained eye, except when I see the after effects by way of withered or newly munched leaves looking like lacy green decorations rather than viable edibles. I only use organic and non-toxic methods to get rid of diseases and pests, otherwise I wouldn’t want to eat them. In one case, however, my persistence has paid off. Call me Popeye, the spinach is very happy now.

In the case of the cherry tomatoes, I have failed miserably. I think by the time I figure the cost of the shade cloth, the tomatoes’s share of the pest control sprays, and the original seedlings, each of the 12 tomatoes I harvested before the plants died cost me about $2.75. I will be buying tomatoes from now on. And I will not be judgemental of tomato growers if there are a few blips of availability or quality in the grocery.

Herbs are growing well, except for parsley which has decided it really doesn’t want to play in this heat. Chillies have been a massive success, so much so that I harvested two cups of them in two weeks and had to make chilli sauce to use them all, and there are still over a dozen fresh chillies on the plant for day to day use. Score!

Not to labour the point, but… it’s been a year of uncertainty at the very least. At worst it has been a time to delve into our inner resources. Deeply. I truly wish each of you a peaceful holiday season and a new year of hope and strength.

Fear, uncertainty and discomfort are your compasses toward growth.–unknown

(just as well)

a year to be thankful…

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Poetry…Art…such small words holding such enormous and mysterious content. I grew up in awe of my grandmother’s poems and her brother’s art and have spent most of my life trying to make and understand both. Every birthday our cards would contain one of her works. They are saved in a box I can see from where I work right now. I would never throw them away because they were part of our shared story and my heritage. 

Her simple kind of poetry was all I understood for many years. Somewhere in High School when we studied Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare, poetry lost me. But I kept looking for it. I have collected a few favourite poems in the last couple of decades. Occasionally I’ve shared them here with you, but few whose work I consistently relate to. Mary Oliver is a favourite, also Kahil Gibran (Grandma also liked his work). Recently I have discovered a poet whose work has so moved me, I listened to the interview with him three times over and intend listening again…and possibly another time after that. I bought his most recent work ‘how to love a country’ because it spoke to me of both the country of my birth and the country of my self discovery. It is a very fun interview and if you are not too busy making pumpkin pie and basting turkey, I highly recommend it here.

Richard Blanco was conceived in Cuba, born in Spain and migrated with his family when he was 45 days old to Miami, Florida. Many times when asked about my unusual name, I have told people ‘my family heritage is Italian and German and I was born in America but have lived most of my life in Australia’. As far as I know my parents never asked the person whose name I have, where it came from. Maybe in the early 1950’s one didn’t ask such questions. All I have been able to find out is perhaps it is ancient Greek. If all of that doesn’t make me a citizen of the world, I don’t know what will. Richard tells people ‘I was made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, and imported to the United States’. I understood immediately.

I found, after all these years, that I could love narrative poetry–poetry that tells a story…in particular, his narrative poetry. This week of America’s Thanksgiving, in this year of two thousand and struggles, I thought would be a good time to share the work of Richard Blanco. At my first Thanksgiving in Australia there were only two native Australians out of twelve at our table. Having shared Thanksgiving dinners with Australians, visiting nationalities and Immigrants, I can relate to the many humorous questions and explanations of the traditions. If you want to hear his reading of their family experience, below, (which I highly recommend) go to the link above and download it or go to your favourite podcast provider and download On Being with Krista Tippett/Richard Blanco.

América

“A week before Thanksgiving
I explained to my abuelita (granny)
about the Indians and the Mayflower,
how Lincoln set the slaves free;
I explained to my parents about
the purple mountain’s majesty,
‘one if by land, two if by sea’
the cherry tree, the tea party,
the amber waves of grain,
the ‘masses yearning to be free’
liberty and justice for all, until
finally they agreed:
this Thanksgiving we would have turkey …
[laughter]
as well as pork.

[laughter]
Abuelita prepared the poor fowl
as if committing an act of treason,
faking her enthusiasm for my sake.
Mamà set a frozen pumpkin pie in the oven
and prepared candied yams following instructions
I had to translate from the marshmallow bag.
The table was arrayed with gladiolus,
the plattered turkey loomed at the center
on plastic silver from Woolworths.
Everyone sat in green velvet chairs
we had upholstered with clear vinyl,
except Tío Carlos and Toti, seated
in the folding chairs from the Salvation Army.
I uttered a bilingual blessing
and the turkey was passed around
like a game of Russian Roulette.
‘DRY’, Tío Berto complained, and proceeded
to drown the lean slices with pork fat drippings
and cranberry jelly–‘esa mierda roja,’ he called it.
Faces fell when Mamá presented her ochre pie—
pumpkin—calabasa—was a home remedy for ulcers, not a dessert.
[laughter]
Tía María made three rounds of Cuban coffee
then abuelo and Pepe cleared the living room furniture,
put on a Celia Cruz LP and the entire family
began to merengue over the linoleum of our apartment,
sweating rum and coffee
sweating rum and coffee until they remembered—
it was 1970 and 46 degrees—
in América.
After repositioning the furniture,
an appropriate darkness filled the room.
Tío Berto was the last to leave.”

While this may not be the year where we get everything we want, it may be the year to be thankful for everything we have.