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.

small things…

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I spent the morning in a brain fog that simply left me feeling zombie-like. It was just the tiredness that accompanies fibromyalgia but nonetheless, immobilising. At 9am I had a nap. It was a dreaming sleep that removed the fog, if not completely restoring my sense of self. Restful and adequate sleep has eluded me most of the last 20 years. Some days I can nap and compensate but others life demands more from me. 

None of my creative endeavours will flow when I am in deep, sleep deficit. Just over a week ago I received notice from WordPress that my subscription was due, so I renewed. And then wondered why? I sometimes go ages without the muse visiting me, or without being able to act upon it when she does, because my brain is so tired it simply doesn’t want to play.

But here I am clicking along on the keyboard after my dreamy nap, wanting to tell you that there is still magic in life. That is always my intention, though my writing skill may not always accomplish the goal.

We seem to have dodged another bullet…or two. Last week we were in Adelaide, primarily for me to have my yearly oncology check. As the years tick by and things remain clear I sometimes wonder if this is a waste of resources to keep checking. But it is part of the self-care we need to do for both mental and physical reasons, not just for ourselves but for those who love us. This year was particularly difficult to organise due to Covid restrictions and regulations, but we did it…a few months late, but we did it. The bright spot is that we always get to visit with our daughter who lives in Adelaide when we go for the appointment. And that is never a small thing. A parent loves to see with their own eyes that their child, who has been through a difficult time, is doing well.

We always enjoy our time in Adelaide, good food, coffee, a little shopping, a little nature, more coffee, and a change of scenery.

This time we also enjoyed new street art that has appeared and enlivens the place.

After a couple of days in the city, I usually feel the need to get closer to nature. A botanic garden is seldom far way here. It was such a lovely morning spotting all kinds of native and wild flowers and plants, as well as some exotics. As we were leaving the Mt Lofty Botanic Garden something called me to look back, and up, the way you feel when someone across the room is staring your way. When I turned around there were eyes looking at me…from trees. Do you see them? Thinking I might be the first weirdo to have seen this, I photographed them. Turns out an Australian, artist Joshua Yeldham, observed the same thing in Aspen trees of Colorado. I have only today learned of the trees and his short film, called ‘Providence’. It was a tiny little gift to see this after having that recent experience. Had I not seen the eyes with my own, I might not have believed him when he spoke of feeling the woods looking at him. These marks are made when a limb falls off. What if the woods can see us, but by means we are yet to understand? Read The Hidden Life of Trees if you think I’m being silly. I would almost believe anything is possible after reading this.

On Wednesday, November 11 we returned home. Four days later it was announced there was a new Covid outbreak in Adelaide, where previously there had been no community transmission since April. It has now been a week since our return and we appear to have once again had good juju on our side. Yesterday we have learned of the hard lockdown of Adelaide for six days, in an effort to create a ‘circuit breaker’ and keep the virus from becoming transmitted more widely. It was brought into Australia by a person traveling from the UK and the strain is a different one than we have previously had. It appears to infect people more easily and make them infectious to others more quickly. It began in a quarantine hotel, probably from a contaminated surface, and then transmitted to a large family group. Tracing practice is gold standard and they are on top of it, but things are changing daily, of course. With holidays nearly upon us…we wait…and hope. Our governments, both state and national have looked after us during this time. That is no small thing either.

Meanwhile, I have harvested my first cherry tomato. A very small pleasure, to be sure, but very enjoyable. The garden is demanding regular care and attention at the moment as our temps hit the 40’s (105F-111F) last week. The pests are out and have my juicy morsels in their sights! I have erected shade cloth and added more watering to my schedule. The promised rain did not reach us here in town, but 15 kilometres away at the airport, where the official gauges are, they measured 14mm. Who said nature was fair? We have had more dust and hot, dry winds. With the din of cicadas whirring at high pitch, The Apocalypse is seeming more possible.

Those three small falcons that hatched high atop a sky scraper in Melbourne six weeks ago, are no longer small. The day before we left for Adelaide they looked decidedly ugly, but on our return they had nearly finished with their downy feathers, looking as if they had put on fine suits to attend their launch into the world. The next day…they were gone. I miss them, but am so happy to have seen them grow and that all three survived is a testament to the miracle of nature.

November 5, and one week later they were gone.

There is always a small thing to be grateful for, whether it is the sleep of dreams, the miracle of nature or a small red orb that disappears in a single juicy mouthful, pungent with the warmth of summer sun and dispensing childhood memories.

Appreciating small things is no small thing.

the waiting game…

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This morning on my walk I looked up and noticed in the distance over Mt. Gillen, virga falling from the clouds. We long for it to reach the ground but too often it doesn’t. We wait for rain…nearly always. Since the clouds were especially pretty and the ranges were still in sunshine I scrambled up a rocky outcrop to get a better view. And perhaps a photo.

By the time I reached the best photographic viewpoint, the virga was nearly finished. In my head, there was a niggling little voice saying ‘wait’. It brought back the memory of a recent lesson learned while photographing the wildlife in the Southern Ocean. Our generous and skilled National Geographic photographer, Ken, stood over my shoulder as I was trying to capture a particular shot of penguins. He whispered ‘Wait…….wait……wait….NOW!’. For him it was a teaching moment, for me it was a crystal clear moment of insight. Since then, I try to remember that one thing when taking photos…wait. Sometimes it is waiting for the animals to do something special, sometimes it is waiting for them to appear at all. Other times I wait for the light, because that is really what makes photographs sing, the quality of light. It is only light that makes a photograph, after all.

As I looked at the ranges with camera poised, waiting, a small flock of Galahs wheeled by in the distance. I tapped and captured them flying in front of a tree with the ranges in the background.

I returned home, reminded of that valuable lesson months ago, and began a sort of out of my mind experience watching myself in various waiting modes. As I sat in the courtyard getting my daily dose of UV light to make vitamin D, I waited. I ruminated over the seeds I’d planted in the garden, wondering how long I would wait for this new batch to sprout. Had I waited too long to plant the new ones…perhaps…more waiting required.

Later, I peeled mandarins for breakfast, the intense citrus aroma returning me to days of Christmas passed, when as children we waited with great anticipation for that special time. I waited for the sourdough bread to become golden toast. Once covered with butter dripping through the holes and onto the plate I did not wait to eat it. Having licked the plate mostly clean, I rinsed it while looking up and out to the garden. There, two precious native lilies nodded in dappled sunlight. The blossoms were perfectly imperfect and there was no sense waiting any longer to capture that moment forever. 

Later for morning tea I sliced a serving of what has become my most savoured treat. Almond croissant. Having refused previous offers made to purchase my favourite pastry, I deemed this morning the wait was over. During the winter Don had enlightened me about a piece he read stating that some expert or other had researched and reported tea is the perfect drink with pastry or cake…not coffee. Having tested this theory with a few willing sweet sacrifices, I concluded that for me at least, it seemed correct. But perhaps a bit more research was required. And so I added the perfect amount of organic tea leaves to a pot and waited while the kettle almost boiled so as not to make the tea bitter. I waited three minutes for the tea to steep and poured a cup to marry with my long awaited sweet.

We can hold multiple things at once in our minds. That is one of our human superpowers. We can be miserable and still grateful, sad and still laughing, and we can wait for things while still doing something…and that something is breathing. Waiting can bring the best of results, if in the waiting we understand it is part of the fabric of our life. It just is.

just to be alive…

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I love it when things in my life collide with one another—in a good way. I wrote a couple of months ago (hard to believe it’s been that long) about the garden I built and planted this winter. It continues to be a revelation in all kinds of unexpected ways.

I have learned that it is better, in most cases, to plant seeds in situ, rather than be tempted by the faster route of seedlings that are bobbing their little heads fetchingly from their tiny pots in the nursery and garden centres. Seeds sprouted in the exact place they will grow seem to understand they are at home and can grow accordingly. So, given enough water and some sunshine they get on with it. Whereas seedlings, sprouted and grown in their little pots thousands of kilometres away, in most cases, in hothouse conditions or entirely different places from where they finish up, are in shock when they end their journey in the middle of dry Central Australia. Even taking all care, I’ve watched them struggle and  eventually not yield very well and then go to seed quickly. Whereas the things I’ve planted from the right, well chosen seed, take a couple of weeks longer but kick on and look hearty and the yield is very good. Don’t we all do better when planted in the right place?

I’ve also learned I can plant less than I thought, now that I have a good growing base. We are about to drown in lettuce and rocket (arugula), for example! And don’t ask why I thought I needed 7 basil plants! Must be a throwback to the Italian genes. I’ve already put away one lot of pesto in the freezer and it’s not even summer yet. I dug up and gave away one of the basil plants because things were growing into one another. My lovely friend who does little paving and brick laying jobs was the happy recipient. I traded him for some pieces of old pavers on which we could sit our pots up out of the excess water that sometimes accumulates in the saucers.

In addition to the plant growth, it appears a potential family of Magpie Larks has moved into the palm tree that overlooks the new garden bed. They are not my favourite bird in appearance or sound, which is rather strident and irritating, but there is no bird who shows more joy having a bath in the residual water after rain. And I especially love the way they patrol the garden and eat insects! Whichever of the species builds the nest, I assume the female, decided this was a friendly place to raise her chicks. I keep a bowl of water for animals, there is soil around to build the mud base of the nest, and sugar cane mulch to fluff out the upper layer, ready for eggs and long spells of sitting. We also have a lot of native vegetation to attract birds, and no pets to bother them.

Can you see the white underside of the tail of the Lark? It is near the centre of the fronds. It has wrapped mud around the palm frond and is now adding a layer of sugar cane mulch to make it comfy.
As I tend the garden I can look up (carefully) and watch the Lark’s building progress.

A few days ago I was tending my garden and there was a noisy crow sitting atop that chimney on the neighbour’s roof, only about six or so feet from the Lark who was working on the last stages of the nest. Suddenly the crow, about four times the size of the Lark, lunged at it, hoping, no doubt, to eat eggs in the nest. The little Lark loudly called out, threw her little feet in the air, flapping wings wildly to fight off the crow, just as her mate flew up from very nearby to assist and save his lady love. The crow was chastened and left immediately. I fear he will return, however. It’s a bird eat bird world out there.

Today I have seen the Lark sitting on the nest as if there might be something worth sitting for. I hope so. Or maybe she was just testing it for the fluff factor. It has been National Bird Week here and I participated in a bird count every day this week. Wouldn’t it be nice to boost the count with some little hatchlings? A bit too soon I know, but a girl can dream.

I’ve been doing further chick checks on the Peregrin Falcons in Melbourne, and taking photos for those of you who don’t have time to check. There isn’t always much to see except sleeping chicks, and gathering debris. Ugh, it’s a very unhygienic looking area now. Today I was watching the three somewhat comatose chicks rearrange themselves when one in the back raised its bum and squirted poop in a very impressive arc all over the one in the front–still asleep. Siblings, eh? Feeding time is not appealing either, but very interesting. I was lucky to catch both parents there for one feeding session and snapped a screen shot for you. The female is the larger of the two and if I may anthropomorphise for a moment, looks quite unimpressed at her mate who is doing the feeding and perhaps sneaking a bite for himself? Imagine raising triplets! These two are really working hard at this parenting thing.

The female is the one in the back, looking unimpressed. The male wondering what he’s done wrong now?
Look at the size of those feet!

We have had rain. Not a lot, but enough to green the place a bit. We had 21mm a couple of weeks ago and another 6mm since. For those of you who regularly get rain this will seem like a drizzle, but here it is substantial enough to bring changes. Rain is magic for gardens and everything, in fact. It washes the leaves free of their red dust and everything looks crisp and clean again. And the smell of eucalyptus and whatever magic is in moistened desert dust is divine. The La Niña weather pattern is predicted to bring us more of the wet stuff over the coming few months and we are all feeling a bit greedy for it. We dusted off our rain gauges and send text messages…

Can someone please let us in, there’s a lot of wet stuff out here.

‘Did you get rain?’

‘Yes, we got 5mm, how about you?’

‘No, it missed us completely.’

And so on.

Good soaking rain for the garden.

The cherry tomato vines are growing like stink, the fig tree has its first babies and they are growing daily, and my lovely Bay tree that is about 15 years old and has survived my benign neglect for most of those years, has hit its stride and joined the happily growing throng.

My treasured Bay tree with chartreuse new growth.
I haven’t bought a bay leaf in over 10 years!

And finally. Filling in the spaces of time between the many and varied activities of a domestic engineer/gardener/tech consultant/sporadic blogger, I’m trying to again find my mojo as a practicing artist. To take away the intimidation of a white canvas, I cut up a cardboard box, primed it and painted a loose little scene of my beloved Spinifex Pigeons and Finches from our recent trip to Kings Canyon.

Spinifex pigeons and Finches

There are plenty of unpleasant things going on around us too, but I choose to spend as much time as possible in the realm of nature, Rilke and Mary Oliver…

Invitation

Oh do you have time

to linger

for just a little while

out of your busy

and very important day

for the goldfinches

that have gathered

in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,

to see who can sing

the highest note,

or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,

or the most tender?

Their strong, blunt beaks

drink the air

as they strive

melodiously

not for your sake,

and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning

but for sheer delight and gratitude-

believe us, they say,

it is a serious thing

just to be alive

on this fresh morning

in the broken world.

I beg of you,

do not walk by

without pausing

to attend to this

rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.

It could mean everything.

It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:

You must change your life.

—Mary Oliver

4.48

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Awake suddenly at 4.48am my first thought was THIS is the morning. I’d read that Mars would be closer than it will ever be in our lifetime on this very morning. The closest it will ever be is 60 million miles away—the farthest will be 400 million. My second thought was ‘there is no way I’ll get back to sleep, so I may as well get up and see Mars’. Not the thoughts of an intrepid astronomer.

I’d read Mars would be the brightest thing in the sky that night. I was doubtful. I was just hoping I would be able to identify it. Our skies are so clear and dark that as long as there is no cloud, things can usually be seen, but I’m no expert at identification. My feet slid along the bare, cold tiles to the western end of the house. As I opened the French door to the patio there it was, golden yellow/orange, twinkling against the navy blue sky. “I’m seeing something I will never see again. No human alive will ever see this again. Something many people on earth won’t know about, or  take time to notice, or have access to see.” And I stand there in the perfect early morning air gently ruffling my nightie and I watch Mars twinkle and I think, if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

A photo from June of my favourite slice of moon. Mars was too small for my iPhone to do justice to this morning. You will have to use your imaginations.

if this isn’t nice…

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The first of our trips to places that were rebuilding after the bush fires was a trip ‘overseas’. More specifically during a trip to Adelaide (1500k/1000miles south of Alice) to visit our daughter, we had a side trip of a twenty-five minute plane ride over water to Kangaroo Island. Most of you will remember the horrible video from last December/January that documented the decimation of the Flinders Chase National park covering the entire western portion of the island. The loss was heart breaking. At the time, Don and I were sad for the loss, but also that we had not been there yet. We thought we’d have to wait for years to be able to see it. But that was before we hatched our plan to travel to the places that wanted visitors to come and help them re-establish tourism and put some money into the economy.

Burnt coastal vegetation on the Western Coast of KI. This vegetation has not yet begun to regenerate. The wind and weather are so harsh it will take a while longer.

We were assured there was still plenty to see on the island by friends who had travelled there only weeks after the fires. They were so right. It was still gut wrenching to drive through kilometres of blackened national forest. But to go now, when things were starting to regrow was also very heartening.

As far as the eye can see–burnt trees, but greenish regrowth is appearing around the bottoms.

The sustainable timber industry had forests of trees that were 95% ruined for use, but a few that were already shooting new growth. Beside this forest were dozens of grass trees. We have never traveled anywhere in Australia where we have seen as many grass trees (Xanthorrhoea australis). Interestingly, where we saw the ones that had been through the fires, they had shot enormous flower spikes, an urgent will to survive! But in areas we traveled that had not had the fires, hardly a flower spike was seen. Mother nature at her best. In some areas there were dozens of grass trees, kilometres of them along the roads even. It was staggering. Grass trees are extremely slow growing but seemingly, rather fire tolerant.

This is a closeup of some eucalyptus regrowth in one of the surviving timber forests.
It’s hard to get the perspective of how tall these flower spikes are unless you have a husband next to one! The grass trees grow very slowly. This one could be 75 years old or more!
A grass tree flower spike up close. Before it is finished it will be covered with the little white star shaped flowers.

Of course the wildlife did not fare so well. But the rangers assured us they had seen platypus, kangaroo, goannas, wombats and birds returning. As the plants grow and become a greater source of shelter and food, they expect more animals to be seen. The fur seals and sea lions were plentiful, back from their near extinction from hunters a hundred years ago. The ranger at the gate of the national park said ‘Come back and see us in 7-10 years and we will be a different place’. That seems a long time on one hand, but not so much in other ways.

Emu Bay was green and beautiful in the late afternoon.
Our very quiet welcoming committee of one, asleep on the job!

Each part of the island has a slightly different character. Emu Bay, where we spent the first two nights, is peaceful and green. There were plenty of Kangaroos, though most didn’t show themselves until it was too dark to get photos. However, upon our arrival we had only just gotten out of the car when we looked up to see a Koala, asleep in the gum tree beside the house we had rented. It was only the second wild Koala I’ve seen in the 37 years I’ve lived in Australia. Of course I’ve seen them up close in various sanctuaries around the country, but not in the wild. Much of their habitat is disappearing so they are dwindling in numbers.

This fellow was just telling me who was in charge! See up the hill, the greenery is dotted with other seals.

Seal Bay was a fun place, even when I took my eye off the task at hand and had a large male seal decide to have a run at me. The hazards of concentrating on the subject when photographing wildlife!

The skeleton of a sponge, so exotic.

The walk on the beach was very windy, but I absolutely love seeing and photographing the treasures that are washed up on the sand.

We had some delicious food at some characterful places, including Penneshaw’s The Fat Beagle (best brownie ever!), seafood selection near American River, and breakfast and lunch at Millie Mae’s Pantry (Penneshaw). Though, quite a few places were still closed from winter, and covid, and fire devastation. In each area we visited we found one or two good places to eat. And we self catered a couple of times as well. The local IGA had a good selection of fresh foods.

But one of my most lasting memories was seeing the smile that almost never left our daughter’s face the entire time we were there. It’s been a tough year for some…and a very tough year for others and the environment. Take heart, there is still joy to be had in life and remember at every opportunity the words of Kurt Vonnegut

I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is’.

When you accidentally match your breakfast to the floral centrepiece on the table and the morning light and bird calls accompany. Nice.

the collins street falcons…

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This isn’t a piece about a sports team named the Falcons…these Falcons are athletes of a different species, diving and racing up to speeds of 300kph! As you would have noticed from the last post, I’m a bit of a bird nerd. Some of my earliest memories are of my grandmother nursing an injured or fledgling house sparrow back to health. I’m sure she never realised, or would care, that the common house sparrow has come to be known as one of the most adaptable birds in the world, and very clever too! She just loved all creatures.

About a month ago I became aware of a bird project, supported by Birdlife Australia, that is rather extraordinary. It not only supports a population of Peregrin Falcons, but it has enabled the public to come along on the journey. About thirty years ago a group of avid Twitchers and lovers of the Peregrin Falcons realised that it was quite dangerous for the birds to be nesting in the nooks and crannies of the high rise office buildings in the city. (They naturally nest in crevices of rocky ledges.)  They raised money and built nesting boxes which they installed in known Falcon nesting places, one of which was located in the high rise building at 367 Collins Street in downtown Melbourne, Australia. Thirty years on the boxes were mostly deteriorated but the birds had regularly used them. So this year Birdlife Australia again raised money to build stronger, metal nesting boxes and hired a crane to help place them.

Mama falcon sitting on the eggs.

One of the long known locations, at 367 Collins Street was also the recipient of a new live stream camera! The live stream emanates from the web address at 367collinsfalcons.com.au and also is on YouTube. When I first started watching it 6 or 7 weeks ago, there were no eggs. Then, in rapid succession the female falcon laid three eggs and began the tedious task of sitting on them. Occasionally the male would come to relieve her so she could hunt for food but she did most of the sitting, so I gather. Personally, I can’t tell the two of them apart yet.

Then, on Friday just before lunch time, the chicks made their entrance into the world. I was surprised to see that Mum still sits on them and think that most of us who have had babies would have liked to sit on them once in a while to quiet them, but the rest of it, I leave to the Falcon world. The tearing up of small prey and feeding to the young ones is most unappealing, and yet, very interesting to watch as first one squawks and then another. She’s such an attentive mum.

Sitting on the chicks certainly shuts them up!

Melbourne weather is mostly cool-ish, ranging to muggy and warm in the summer, and I noticed yesterday as they were having a warm, humid day that rather than sitting on the chicks to keep them warm, she sat on the edge of the nesting box to shade the little darlings. This is very difficult for mum because she is always on alert for other birds or dangers that might harm her brood, and sitting with her back to the sun in order to shade the chicks is very awkward for her. I’ve only ever seen her close her eyes once, and only for a few seconds. I think she must get very tired.

Mama Falcon shading the chicks from the afternoon sun.

The last few days as I have watched the nest cam, I have been taking screen shots, which I share with you in this post. I hope you will go to the live stream and watch this special bit of nature unfolding. You can read more about the Falcons on the site as well. 

Feeding time. Notice on the back of the metal nesting box, they have the date stamped when the boxes were installed…August 2020.

dingoes and lizards and birds…oh my!

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Like most people, at the beginning of 2020, we had plans. We had the long planned for trip to the Southern Ocean and South Africa, but as the year unfolded with tragic bushfires here in Australia, we added another plan to our itinerary. We decided to spend our travels over the next year or so going to places in our country that had been ravaged by the fires. With the trip to the Southern Ocean looming and bushfires still raging, we decided to wait until we returned to start making plans to put some money back into the various places that needed it. Little did we know…

Of course by the time we returned in late March the Pandemic was declared and borders were closing faster than a safety gate. Like everyone we followed along as weekly, even daily, changes were announced toward trying to control the spread of COVID-19. So familiar is it to our daily lives that we now have a shorthand language developing. No one says COVID-19 anymore, it’s just ‘covid’… and ’iso’ instead of isolation. But as things here in Australia have eased, we have picked up our plans again to help reinvigorate tourism. Our latest trip was three days and two nights, here in our own Territory.

A couple of months ago when the Northern Territory reopened the parks, but before the borders were reopened, we were encouraged to support the reopening tourist sites and businesses. There were a limited number of vouchers offered to locals as incentives to apply toward local travels. Two other couples, and we, decided a trip to Kings Canyon (no apostrophe in case you are wondering) in Watarrka National Park could be a good place to go before the weather heated up too much. The other two couples had previously visited, but we had not. We have strategically been saving some of our travels in Australia for our dotage, when International travel no longer seemed doable, or appealing. That would be now, on both counts!

Kings Canyon is about 325 kilometres from Alice, around 4 hours driving, depending on which route you take. There aren’t many things to stop for en route, unless you enjoy the subtle desert country as we do. But there are a couple of things, as well as the unique scenery. Unfortunately it remains very, very dry here at the moment, red dust turning green trees to brown. One good rain and it would all be rinsed clean and green again. Even with the dust, I managed to find a number of wild flowers to photograph.

We visited the Henbury Meteorite Reserve as well as a classic old bush style pub called Jim’s Place. The Meteorite craters were more impressive than I expected. You could plainly see where the meteors had hit and disrupted the normal land forms. The ‘larger’ meteors were only the size of a 200 litre fuel drum, but they blasted out enormous craters, one of which grew a small ecosystem of its own because it could hold precious water after the sparse rains.

The main attraction for the trip was, of course, Kings Canyon. It certainly was beautiful, but if you were expecting something like The Grand Canyon in the American southwest, you might be a little disappointed. Still, this one required 500 steps ascending up to the top of the rim and then was a 6 kilometre walk around the rim before coming down again. It takes about 3-4 hours. I made the decision to walk the shorter, less arduous, walk through the bottom of the canyon along the creek. You know I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, but I’d been having some problems with a muscle that affected my walking and would spasm afterward and decided 500 steps up seemed a little out of my reach on this occasion.

Just a tiny bit left of centre on the top of the ridge you can see our husbands!

The other two women in the group decided to join me. We had a fun walk and conversation that easily filled a couple of hours. After we had all returned to the accommodation Don began telling me of a very curious encounter the men had as they were finishing the walk. Heading out of the canyon there is a water tap installed above a beautiful, large rock. Since they had been one of the first groups up that morning it didn’t appear anyone had used the water tap and the rock was dry. As they approached, a small Spinifex Pigeon scurrying along the path came up to one of the men’s shadows, circled around a couple of times, then scurried over to the rock, stopped, and stared back at the men. Not getting the hoped for response, the pigeon did it again. After the second time, one of the men ‘got’ the message–the pigeon wanted them to turn on the water so it could have a drink!! I’m always yammering on about how smart birds are and some of the amazing feats they’ve preformed over the years since humans have been recording such things. So Don knew this would interest me. I was also intensely envious. A Spinifex Pigeon has been at the top of my list of birds to see, and perhaps even photograph, for many years. As many times as we have been out bush in the 28 years we’ve lived in Central Australia, I had never seen a Spinifex Pigeon.

Later in the afternoon, Don and I decided to take a little walk around the grounds of the ‘resort’. As we left our room, Julie came running out from their room two doors up and called to her husband who had just driven in, “Jim, hurry, there’s a lizard trying to eat something!” We immediately wheeled around and headed toward their room too. Once on the balcony we looked into the rocks 8 or so metres away and there was a large Perentie, probably 6 feet long, dragging a rabbit down the rocks in preparation to dine al fresco. Jim was brave, approaching to about half the distance between us and the lizard and with his high quality lens got some amazing photos and video. This was a truly unusual thing to see.

The Perentie is about halfway up and left of centre, about four metres from Jim.
In the centre of the lower third of frame you can see the Perentie with the rabbit…such was my equipment combined with the Perentie’s perfect camouflage, he is very hard to see.

Just when we thought we had reached peak Perentie excitement, what should appear but a Dingo!! It was very keen to share the meal and began to climb down the rocks. The Perentie was equally keen to keep the rabbit to itself. The dingo looked up and saw all of us staring and must have decided things were a little too risky for his liking and he retreated as quickly as he had appeared. The Perentie gulped down a piece of rabbit about twice the size of its head and then disappeared into the rocks. We all agreed one or both would be back to finish the meal.

A hungry dingo wanting his share!

Sure enough about an hour and a half later, both the Perentie and the Dingo reappeared. The Dingo grabbed a hunk of rabbit, stopped to quickly swallow it whole, and the Perentie came back to the remains, but must have been full from its first meal and left again soon thereafter. You can bet money by dark that evening there was no rabbit left.

About twenty minutes before sunset we headed down along the boardwalk to the area where people brought their drinks and nibbles to watch the skies and mountains in the closing light of evening. I had been crouched over some wild flowers near the boardwalk and when I stood up to finish walking to the area under the desert oak tree, I was faced with a wild dingo staring down my husband!! Don was trying to ‘shoo’ the dingo in my direction but the dingo hesitated just long enough for me to get my iphone ready. Suddenly the dingo wheeled around and headed for me. I did get a bit of video but the more amazing photo is the one I almost blindly captured as the dingo trotted within inches of me on its way to wherever dingoes go! With the canyon walks and wildlife, it was a day we would remember for a long time.

Boardwalk along the Desert Oaks to the viewing area.
What we saw from the viewing area.

The next morning, our driver (and friend) Jim, asked us if there was anything else we wanted to see before we left the area. Still intensely envious of the men’s encounter with the Spinifex Pigeon I laughingly said I would loved to have seen that. As the canyon was about 20 minutes’ drive from the accommodation I didn’t want to inconvenience everyone in pursuing my bird passion. But Jim insisted we should try and who was I to argue??

This time, as we approached, two Spinifex Pigeons came scurrying* out of the scrub and right up to us at the entrance. They raced over to the water fountains that were still dry as it was fairly early in the day. I got my iPhone ready and in position and then quickly pushed the button to allow some water down to the grate. It was like Pigeon magic, they scurried in, out and around like gleeful children in a public fountain in mid-summer.

But the men called me over to the other water tap that drained onto the rock. Once there I again squatted and got the camera settings right and Jim let the water do its magic. In seconds the Spinifex Pigeons purposefully made their way toward the water that settled into the crevices in the large rock. Whoever thought of this idea was a genius. I’m sure the birds think so too! Not only did my elusive Spinifex Pigeon appear, but another bird at the top of my list, the Zebra Finch. I had seen many Zebra Finches over the years, indeed many mornings on my walks I see them and hear their soft chirping sounds. But they are so tiny and skittish I have never been able to photograph them with my iPhone. And. there. they. were. Honestly, inside I was jumping up and down clapping hands and laughing gleefully. But outside, I was squatted and still, until my legs could no longer hold me and I had to brace myself to stand up. I’m never sure I’ve actually got the images I am after until I look at them, so I had no idea if the photos had turned out or not, but watching the action in person was enough in any case.

Zebra Finches are very tiny, would easily fit in the palm of your hand.
Spinifex Pigeons are larger than finches, but only about half the size of most pigeons people are familiar with.

Our trip to Kings Canyon was a success on many levels, the company of good friends, the beautiful desert country, the canyon itself, and the animals and flora along the way. Why wouldn’t everyone be anxious to come and see the wonderful land of Oz?

*Note on ‘scurrying’… many birds hop, some waddle, others scratch their way around the ground. Pigeons most definitely ‘scurry’. That is their comical and very endearing mode of covering ground! Watch them sometime, they always scurry.

a pony tale…

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Minutes ago I was up to my forearms in purple gloves, digging in cow manure for an earthworm. If that sounds oddly reminiscent to you, like the story of the optimist and the pessimist twins who were both given a roomful of shit for their birthday, you may be on to me. The pessimist child was sad and thought all she deserved was a roomful of shit. But the optimist sibling enthusiastically dived into the shit-filled room and declared ‘With all this shit, there must be a pony in here somewhere!’

photo from 2014, soon after which the cherry ripe plant in the back died and the herb garden began to rebel.

Last summer was a total disaster for my herb garden, and a new low point for my gardening skills in general. Admittedly, I’ve not embraced a lot of the maintenance and prep-work as I should have. Ours is a harsh climate and we were traveling more. And sometimes I’m just ridiculously hopeful. Given the chance this year to pursue my hermit tendencies has meant time to think…time to prepare, time to get my ass in gear and build a garden, albeit a small one to start with. And I have a secret weapon now that I have not always had…a gardening guru.

Here are her credentials:

Kilos of home grown tomatoes grown in the middle of winter in the desert. Need I say more? Thank you GG xx.

It all started back in April when we contracted our favourite paving genius, Scott, to pull up the old pavers in the courtyard and re-lay them, removing tree roots and other impediments to a level paving surface once again. I really didn’t need to break a hip by falling on the way to the clothesline. As we were clearing away the various piles of old pavers and bricks, left over from at least four other jobs, as well as various stacked pots, the garden beds were clearly revealed. They were in an unimpressive state of compressed soil, so poor it was hard to believe I’d been growing herbs in them for some 20 years!

Scott and his helpers came and performed their levelling magic. But something inside me was niggling…level pavers was just not enough. Those garden beds were a wasted opportunity. My large kitchen window looks out over the courtyard, which, in summer when the spa is uncovered is pleasant enough, but the other 8 months of the year it is pretty ordinary. I’d managed to grow enough herbs over the years to sustain my culinary activities, but even that had dwindled to a paltry half dead mint plant and a lonely dwarfed parsley that wanted to survive, but needed intervention.

I’m always in awe of the creativity the human brain can conjure when allowed to ramble freely. Mine began to conceive of a built up herb garden, with completely fresh growing medium and something that added beauty to the area. My good friend who I call my ‘Gardening Guru’ (GG) told me of a growing medium she had stumbled upon a couple of years ago. Manure. Surprisingly, she said that she used PURE, dried out and decomposed cow manure. Knowing she grows the most amazing vegetables every year (see above photo), my ears pricked up. Could this be my transitioning agent, from lacklustre gardener to Miss Confident Gardner 2020? God knows 2020 needs to have been a good year for something!

Like a storm in my brain, the creative waves began to gather. I measured the space of my old herb garden and calculated if I dug down about 150mm, and built a retaining wall around the area, adding about 200mm height from ground level I would have a deep enough bed to put in gravel for drainage, and 3/4 cubic metre of cow poo as my growing medium. It would be deep enough to accommodate the root systems of herbs and some small veggies, like lettuce and rocket (arugula), should I feel more adventurous. Then, came the really creative part. Could I take five different sizes and colours of bricks, blocks and pavers, in varying quantities, left over from four different jobs and build one good looking garden surround?

Transplanted parsley after about six weeks.

First things first…transplant to a pot the poor little parsley plant that had survived the summer remaining almost the same size as when I planted it, six months previously. That done, in May I began digging out the 150mm of hard, packed old garden bed. It was just awful soil, full of rocks and very poor, compacted soil. What was I thinking? Knowing my 67 year old back is not used to hard labour, and that I also did not want to agitate fibromyalgia symptoms, I went about the project very slowly and carefully, digging with a pick and shovel a bucket of dirt at a time. I would carry the bucket of dirt to areas of the garden that just needed fill, but in which we didn’t want to grow anything. Engage abdominals, fill bucket, lift with my legs and lug the bucket of crappy soil from the courtyard to the receiving area. I could only do about six or eight buckets in one session. It was hard going.

After ten days or so the base soil was removed. Next I bought gravel to put in the bottom, for drainage. Then it was time to play with my blocks. I lost count of how many different patterns I considered but eventually I reasoned that the back of the bed could use the least attractive and even broken pieces because it would nearly all be covered by soil eventually. I began placing the best blocks and bricks into symmetrical patterns at the front, and things began to fall into place. After I laid the firm base using leftover driveway pavers, I could start at the front of the area, using the best bricks to make sure it looked attractive. Of course levels had to be maintained evenly so that once it was filled with the manure, it would look even and be easy to work around. Again, this phase had to be done in a number of sessions because… bricks. are. heavy. And they had to come from three different areas around the garden, where we had neatly stacked them. Fortunately, our little red hand-truck, gifted to my husband many years ago, was my valuable friend. (Thank you Chappie)

Purple gloves have been my gardening friends for years. They are sturdy and impervious and I know where my fingers are at all times. After months of serious hand washing and sanitising, the hands didn’t need any more wear and tear. Gradually the edge took shape. When I had finished, I had only ONE piece of a paver left. Every single other spare brick and paver had been used. No one was more amazed than me. In fact, I’m sure NO one will be amazed at all! When you look at the bed, it just looks like ‘oh, yeah, that looks normal.’ End of story. I hasten to add, I was not using cement to hold it all together, that would have been one skill too far for me, I think. But Scott had said he didn’t think I would need it, and so far it appears he was right.

Next I needed the cow manure to fill the remainder of the bed. Problem. The manure that was delivered had large chunks of very hard, decomposed material. GG told me it would be fine, just water down once it was in place and then use the spade or garden fork to break it up. Sounds much easier than it is, believe me. She said hers had been well broken down when she got it, but mine was still quite lumpy. She guessed that it was probably a local source and given our very dry couple of years, there had probably not been enough moisture to foster dung beetles who would have aided in breaking it down. The earth’s ecosystem at work, or not, in my case. Once again, my trusty bucket and I began shovelling shit and carrying it. This time it was actual shit. I carried from the pile on the edge of the yard, back to the courtyard and into the hole. Engage abdominals, shovel carefully, lift with your legs and carry to destination. Eight buckets a session. Every few days I would water it down and let the moisture soak the clumps then break it up with the gardening fork or the spade. And every couple of days I gave my body a rest day.

Somewhere during this stage of things I realised my fitness was improving. I began to look around toward continuing the activity once the herb garden was established. I finished up with some extra manure, so I decided to dig up the other small areas and incorporate the remaining manure into them. I could feel my courtyard beginning to love me back. After previous success with water rooted basil cuttings, I began to make cuttings of some succulents I had bought last summer but not known how to care for properly. What was left were some wilted branches, which I snapped off and put into water. Presto, I now have 10 perky cuttings all with roots, six of which are planted into pots for future transplanting. Then I took my mostly dead, wholly root-bound mint and divided it into three clumps (mint will survive almost anything, even me) and planted those into pots of fresh potting mix. They have bounced back like curls in a hair commercial. Totally giddy with success, I gratefully accepted my next door neighbour’s offer of seeds from her very interesting looking basil that has purple tips on green leaves. I scattered them into pots of fresh mix and I have lots of tiny green leaves poking their heads up.

Other smaller garden beds after their makeover but before planting. My ‘nursery’ is growing in the foreground.
The plant on the wire frame behind the garden is a newly acquired lime tree that is specially adapted to growing in a pot. We are attempting to espalier it so that its arms grow along the frame. The large pot is the transplanted parsley, the pots either side are the results of the mint being divided and nourished. The small orange pot and the black one beside it hold tiny cotyledons of basil plants grown from my neighbour’s seeds. The lush growing medium is the once doubtful looking, lumpy cow manure, ready for planting.

We are still a couple of weeks away from planting seedlings, due to frost risk, but I am hopeful. The nursery of seedlings grows, the growing medium becomes more lush by the day, and my soul has been gently lifted by the effort and achievement. GG and I realise, we are at our best when maintaining our positivity (see others who find solace in nature here and here )

So, what does digging around my garden wearing purple gloves, looking for a particular earthworm have to do with this story?

As I was preparing the last little space of garden bed to receive its share of the cow poo makeover, I moved the rescued, and completely transformed, pot of parsley from the bed, up out of the way of the digging. As I did so, there was a lovely fat earthworm enjoying the moisture. Not wanting to cut him in half with my spade, I carefully picked him up and placed him in the new bed. After consulting GG as to whether I’d done the right thing, she suggested he might like a more moist area. So I donned the purple gloves and raced back outside to retrieve him and place him elsewhere that is consistently moist. But I was too late. He had already made himself at home and disappeared into the moist manure, hopefully to enjoy many years of happy digging. In fact, maybe that will make two of us. Nature shows us in myriad small ways how to dig around and be grateful and move forward. I’m always looking for my pony.

Yours truly,

A Hopeful Gardener

(future updates to come…)

the valley…

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the valley…

This is the valley about five minutes’ walk from our house. I’m there most mornings ahead of the golfers, so, very early. The sun is not fully up and it is tingeing the mountains various shades of pink and orange that if you painted it people would say ‘that doesn’t look real’. But in person it does.

In this valley each morning I listen to the Pied Butcher Birds carolling to each other, practicing their glorious songs for all to hear. The Kites sweep the sky looking for early morning prey. Dingoes are ghosting along, dissolving into the scrub as if they are apparitions. On days when there are no dingoes I see kangaroos gliding across the fairways, racing to secret themselves away for a daytime sleep.

Occasionally I see other humans, some walking their dogs around the trails and we smile and greet each other—fellow nature lovers out in the wee hours. And just now the wee hours are hovering around freezing, zero if you are in the metric school of thought, 32 if you are of the Fahrenheit persuasion. I leave a trail, my breath blowing a pale white cloud after me as I puff up the hill to warm stiff muscles more quickly. At the crest of the hill, this valley stretches out its arms, never failing to impress still drowsy eyes.

It was down near the back of the buggy trail in this valley six months ago that I found the tiny, five month old joey, hissing and crying bitterly in its life threatening circumstance. I scooped him up, carrying him in my tee shirt, hurriedly back to the top of the hill and home to call for help. The Kangaroo Sanctuary came in an hour or so to collect him and we named him Amos. We surmised that his mother, in a bid for one or the other of them to survive, had jettisoned him from her pouch and into the cool air on the dusty track. Miraculously, he had escaped notice until I arrived.

A couple of days later I walked that trail again and could smell death all around. At least two bodies lay decaying in the hills of the valley. It was not a smell you would mistake. It saddened me to know that the little joey’s mum was probably one of them. For a while I couldn’t walk that way again.The reality was just too visceral.

For a couple of weeks the Kangaroo Sanctuary sent me regular photos and news of dear little Amos. He was healthy and had even started to grow some hair! And then, a week before we departed on our trip to the Southern Ocean, a message from the Sanctuary…Amos had suddenly declined and within less than two days had died. They told me this is the way it happens. Mostly they survive, but when they die, it is sudden, and for no apparent reason they can identify.

Can you see the difference, the photo on the left was about three weeks after the one on the right–hair!

I could scarcely believe how much I had bonded with little Amos and how very sad I was that his life had ceased. I cried off and on all day when I found out. It was probably just as well that I couldn’t allow myself too much time to grieve because we had to prepare for the trip.

There has been so much sadness and hardship in the world since then, that I have not wanted to write this to you. Putting another sad thing out into the world seemed unnecessary, and probably still is, so I apologise. I kept waiting and hoping there would come some kind of clarity to me for the reason I would be chosen to save the tiny life and then have it taken away again. None came.

And then I remembered what Tahnee at the Sanctuary had said to me ‘You can take comfort in knowing he was safe and loved when he passed.’ His end was not violent, it was quiet and warm and in loving care. 

Sometimes there are just no other reasons, there is just love.