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.
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.
It was a warm summer morning, a welcome couple of degrees cooler than the previous one, and with just enough breeze blowing to maybe keep some of the flies away. Ever since that cruel three millimetres of rain a couple of weeks previously, the one that literally rained mud, the mosquitoes and flies had been horrendous. I can stand the occasional fly, except in my mouth–oh yes, that has happened! But when the sticky ones come in droves and crawl around the moist corners of my eyes and nose, the romantic notion of living in the Outback is quickly replaced with annoyance.
I’d motivated myself to walk because I had been two days without walking, my main source of exercise, and my body needed it. The sun wasn’t over the horizon yet, but the glow was stunning by the time I reached the top of the hill, only a few minutes from our house. As is my habit, I scanned the surroundings while walking down the hill into the golf course valley. A couple of weeks prior I’d looked to my left at that very spot, and there, silently trotting along, were three dingoes, about fifteen feet away from me. They were not interested in me and a minute or so later I realised why. Coming around the corner was shirtless guy and his dog out for their morning run. I’m sure this was all just a little too much urban life for the dingoes who liked the cover of night for their running.
As I continued down the hill the sun crested the horizon. There were no other humans around at that moment so I walked, and listened. There is a point near the back of the course where the buggy path diverges into two, one to the left and one to the right, though they meet again at the same place. I saw a small dark ‘something’ in the middle of the left path. Was it moving? I got closer, expecting it to be a bird, feathers being ruffled by the breeze, perhaps. I had found dead birds in this area before. But as I got closer I realised, not only was the ‘something’ moving, it was hissing with what seemed like distress. And no wonder. A few feet closer I realised, it was a tiny kangaroo joey! This just didn’t compute in my brain. Of all the things I’d seen or ever thought I’d see, this was not one of them. Kangaroo mums usually keep their joeys safely inside the pouch…unless…perhaps it had been set upon by the dingoes! I had seen dead kangaroos in this little valley a few times, one morning I even saw a dingo feeding from a carcass. As I rushed up to grab the poor little thing, I simultaneously glanced around for immediate danger, and scanned the joey for injuries.
It seemed remarkably uninjured. And the scrub was quietly holding any secrets it might have. I held the joey close to my body, hoping it would feel the warmth through my tee shirt. It was very distressed and continued to make the hissing sound, but was not aggressive. Slowly, it began to feel the comfort in the rhythmic movement of my body walking rapidly home. Suddenly, nearby there was a young Indigenous man. He saw that I was cradling something and he came over to me. I told him I’d found it in the dirt. He was bewildered and then asked if I wanted him to take it…well actually he motioned that, I don’t think he spoke much English, as is common here. I thanked him and said ‘No, I know who to take it to’. At least I’d hoped I knew. He looked doubtful that this white-fella-woman would know how to care for it but I smiled and said thank you and wished him a good day.
A couple of minutes later I met the old Italian gentleman who walks his German Shepard most mornings. He saw what I was carrying and seemed very concerned. I told him I knew someone who could take care of it and he smiled and said ‘Oh, that’s good’ and gave me a thumbs up! His English wasn’t so great either, but at least I could speak a little Italian if necessary!
A minute or so later shirtless guy, running with his greyhound, came bounding down the hill and gave us an odd look. By this time the return walk seemed like it was taking forever with the wee one still distressed, so I just said good morning and kept moving. I imagine he wondered all day long what I was doing with a tiny joey cuddled in my arms. I know I would have!
I was on the home stretch and started trying to think of what I could put the joey in when I got it home, who I would call, and remembering gratefully this was Don’s morning to leave home later for his weekly commitment at the hospital. He would be there to help. When I got to the glass doors he saw me and came over and as he got closer he rushed to unlock it, having guessed what I was holding. “What have you got there?” I quickly explained to him what had happened and we set about on our divided tasks, he finding the phone number of The Kangaroo Sanctuary, and me finding an old pillow case or tee shirt to hold the joey.
Don took over nursing duty while I phoned the Kangaroo Sanctuary. We had visited the Sanctuary two and a half years before, and saw the love and dedication they gave their little rescued kangaroos and I knew if they couldn’t take the joey, they would know someone who could. Fortunately, Tahnee answered my call and said she was coming into to town in a little over an hour and she would collect little joey herself. This meant I could nurse the sweet little thing, and savour every moment until help arrived. As we sat quietly, joey nestled deeply into the old tee shirt, and quieted down. At one point I could feel his head, moving rhythmically, perhaps sucking on his paw, as they sometimes do. By the time Tahnee arrived, he was calmed down enough to definitely be looking for a teat to feed from. I had tried to give him a drink from a small cloth dipped in water, but he didn’t want that. He wanted the good stuff!
When Tahnee arrived I shared the story of finding the joey alone in the dirt and crying from distress. I explained to her there were regular sightings of dingoes in that area and she said most likely the mother was being chased and she pushed the joey from the pouch, hoping that one or the other of them would be saved. It is a survival strategy that a good Mama kangaroo would employ. She also informed me he was definitely a little boy, and that he was a ‘Euro’ which is a small variety of kangaroo. She said she could tell he was about five months old because his eyes were opened but he had no hair yet. He looked a little like an alien, in fact. He would probably just have begun poking his head out of the pouch at that stage, to get used to the sun, but he couldn’t stand or hop around yet—which was why I had found him laying down but with his head held up as he ‘hissed’. Hissing is the distress sound that a Euro makes, rather than a howl or a wailing sound other animals might make. It actually sounded a bit like wheezing, which alarmed me when I first got close to it. Tahnee said once he was calmed he wouldn’t make that sound all the time, which we had already seen when we were waiting for her to come.
Tahnee recognised me when I called for help at 6.30 that morning, as the person who owned a painting of one of their kangaroos, Queen Abi. Abi is a red kangaroo and is very cuddly and sweet with Tahnee, having been raised by her and Chris, the founder of the Sanctuary. We had actually met Queen Abi when we visited the Sanctuary. I wanted her to see the painting in person and so we showed her inside and she was amazed. She had pictured it as a much smaller work and was delighted to see that it took pride of place in our home. Once she had a look at the joey she asked if she could photograph us in front of the painting—a kind of full circle moment for all of us. She asked, very kindly if we had a name for him and I did. I told her he could be Amos. My Instagram name is ‘Amos the magic dog’, based on a name my Dad gave our lovely old cattle-dog-cross, Storm, over 18 years ago. Both Dad and Storm are gone, but ‘Amos the magic dog’ was what Dad called Storm, since he was kind of a magical little creature for both, appearing out of nowhere, and for disappearing just when you wanted him! He was magic, and so was Amos the joey, who appeared like magic at the perfect time and place for me to rescue him.
After they left, I suddenly remembered, the old tee shirt I had pulled from the drawer was one of Don’s from Sanctuary Cove. It seemed even more likely Amos was on his destined path, two sanctuaries in one day, what are the chances? Tahnee later sent me a video of Amos lapping water from her hand. I think he is a little survivor.
When I came to live in Australia, nearly thirty-seven years ago, hardly anyone outside of the country knew where it was. It was funny and sad at the same time. When the Olympics was held shortly after we were married I can remember reporters asking people if they knew where Australia was. Some were honest and shrugged and said ‘no’. Some said ‘yes’ and then identified it as the country, Austria, somewhere in Europe. Now we are known far and wide for the tragedy unfolding on our shores. I wasn’t going to keep writing about it, but several people have said to me that it has helped them to read some non-news words.
I have re-written this post three or four times now. The situation changes daily, both locally and nationally. It is like nothing any of us have experienced before.
Every morning I do a ‘mountain check’. One look and I see the air quality. That seems ridiculous to do since we are 1500 to 2000 miles away from where most of the fires are burning. But it is not just the fires, it is the drought, aided by the winds, that we are experiencing. We have some fires here, too, but because we don’t have the fuel load and because our area is not densely populated, it is a different situation. Can I see the mountain clearly or is the layer of haze still veiling it from view? Let’s just say our clear days have been so few in recent months that I’ve actually photographed the couple that we’ve had. Yesterday was one. Usually it is crystal clear blue sky here, day after day. Two or three evenings ago, the dust and smoke haze was so thick I couldn’t tell if the sun had set or not. The smell of smoke is alarming and we are all on edge. This kind of persistent haze has never happened in the 28 years we have lived here.
Many of us are so broken hearted watching the devastation to the land and inhabitants that we love, we have a form of traumatic stress. Psychologists are telling us this is normal, because the circumstances are not. People feel helpless and because most of us are kind and compassionate, we want to stop the pain we see others experiencing. One manifestation of this has been the outpouring of food and clothing and household items donated to the victims. Sadly, this has created another crisis. The inescapable reality is that most of the victims have no place to keep anything. They have lost their homes, cars, sheds…everything. They can only use what they can keep with them in rescue accommodation, and what they can eat without refrigeration. There is still no power in many places.
The agencies helping people are urging us to give money. Someone said to me it seems soulless to offer money, but in this case it is the most useful thing those of us at distance can do. If you are inclined to give money, Donations to New South Wales Rural Fire Service, Victoria’s Country Fire Authority and South Australia’s Country Fire Service will go towards bushfire efforts. Do not donate to anything that sounds unfamiliar because the scammers are already at work. I’m thinking there is a special place inside a firestorm for scammers, thieves and arsonists, all three of which we are seeing, thankfully only as a small minority. If you are wanting to give money to help animals, Wires and Birdlife Australia are reputable organisations, as well as the ones in this previous post.
I ride a daily swell of emotion, occasionally am broken, and then regenerate. A recent occasion was a video taken on Kangaroo Island. More than a third of the island has already been decimated by fire, and the wildlife with it. Today, as I write, the fires have flared and worsened and more homes, animals and habitat have been lost. The people in the largest town were trapped and had moved to the shoreline near the water to wait out the latest fires. The video clip to which I refer was shot by a resident in the previously burned out areas as they hunted to find surviving koalas. A scan of the inside of their car revealed at least five koalas, huddled in and on top of the seats. It was a punch in the guts to see the stunned look on the poor creatures’ faces, traumatised but quietly, awaiting help. I’ve seen many photos and videos of firefighters and others giving them drinks from their water bottles, the koalas gently and eagerly accepting the help. The extreme importance of this colony of koalas is that they were a healthy, breeding population. Chlamydia has infected the koala population on the mainland for years. Experts have tried to manage it but in some areas it has effected 100% of the population.
To what extent we have contributed to climate change is still in question. What isn’t in question is that the environment is very different than it has been in living and recorded history. We have been warned over and over about erratic weather patterns, violent storms, fires and floods. We have not responded effectively. If this isn’t a wakeup call, I don’t want to see what it will take to create one. At the very least, the way we live is not a sustainable and loving way to treat our planet. This week I have learned that 2019 was the hottest and driest in Australia since records started, in 1900. Our beautiful country was uniquely adapted to its normally dry conditions, but this is beyond…
Last night we experienced the most violent dust storm any of us can remember. As I walked to take this photo this morning, rubbish bins and flower pots were strewn along the road, evidence of the winds. The grit in my eyes from just that five minute walk is reflected in the photo. For the second time in a week, the small amount of rain that came was in the form of mud. The windows are streaked with it, having been cleaned only five days ago from the last pitiful rainfall of 3mm (about 1/8th inch).
Our national broadcaster, the ABC, has aired a donation message using their theme of ‘We are One’. We are indeed. The vision was edited to show the devastation but also the positive work that is being done. Perhaps it was the shock of seeing all that vision at once, but I went into the ‘ugly cry’ and felt terribly sad for a few minutes, which helped me release some of the emotion. And then I started feeling a bit better, for seeing the ways in which our country and the world have come together. We are extraordinarily grateful for the world’s well wishes and donations. We will recover, but we will never be quite the same.
The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places. –Hemingway
All photos straight out of the camera, no retouching, only cropping.
The date on this post should actually be 11 Saturday January, in case you are confused by the timing of things I refer to. Either WordPress has not figured out how to post on local times, or I have not seen how to do it. Small problems.
Months can go by and nothing extra special happens on my walks. The walks are always special to me because I love the light and tiny changes I observe along the way…neighbours having lawn sales, trees shedding their bark or leafing in the spring, flowers defying the incredibly inhospitable conditions. In fact I was attempting to photograph a spring flower on a very dusty plant when something caught my attention. I think it was the bright white amongst all the red dust covered foliage because there certainly wasn’t much movement.
There just a few feet away was a white butterfly solidly clinging to a naked branch on a naked bush riddled with sharp thorns! I decided to see if the butterfly would sit still long enough for me to get a decent shot. Turned out, this Caper White butterfly wasn’t going anywhere. As I got closer I realised there were about 9 or 10 chrysalises lined up on the same branch, and it looked as if this was the first fully fledged butterfly to emerge. The transition from caterpillar to butterfly is really one of nature’s most amazing life cycles.
There were a few Capers flying in the area and I stopped to watch, but the solitary one on the branch held tight. I realised it would have been freshly emerged and trying to dry its wings so it could join the others.
The following morning I decided to again try my luck and chase the butterfly trail. Since there was not a single leaf left on the two bushes where I found chrysalises, I hadn’t been able to identify the plant they chose for their nursery. Fortunately, a local woman saw my Instagram post and added the identifying species of both plant and butterfly. Gold. When she said the name of the plant something seemed very familiar. I turned it over and over in my head and then looked it up online. More gold. It turned out, even though these bushes were currently without foliage, I had actually photographed one four years ago in full foliage and with a gorgeous blossom. Eureka! The plant is called Bush Passionfruit and both the blossom and the fruit hold some similarities to the domestic passionfruit. The blossom smells very sweet, has long stamen and the fruit is much smaller but sweet and usually attacked by birds and ants before humans can retrieve it! It is a well known bush food for the indigenous people. Apparently the plant recovers very quickly after the decimation of the leaves.
On that last morning it seemed I had already enjoyed the peak activity on the previous day…until I walked away and saw another, larger nearly naked bush, with caterpillars and chrysalises on it. This completed the life cycle story. Oh, except for this shot…. someone is already doing some family planning for the future!
(this post was inspired by Kim Smith whose blog is called Nature is My Therapy. She writes compelling stories about her adventures and excellent photos to accompany the words)
There is a long tradition of lawn sales in Alice Springs. In the US we called them garage sales. Either way, it’s a way of moving along items you no longer want or use so that they find new homes, and so your home is less cluttered…or has more space for new stuff, depending on your motivations. My reason for decluttering is because I have discovered I function better, and more peacefully, with less stuff to have to store, clean, use, wear, whatever. I’ve never been a hoarder or even much of a collector. I am too much like my paternal Grandmother for that. My first serious divesting of goods was over three years ago. It felt wonderful to have space in the cupboards and drawers, but I realised how difficult it is to responsibly dispose of things you no longer require. The process made me respect the act of acquiring new things much more deeply. In addition, we also have the concern of waste in the world, and how to dispose of things properly and conscientiously.
Lawn sales, a solid tradition here, are both sociable as well as practical. Some even find them fun, which they are—on the day. However, the sorting, pricing and organising preparations are more like punishment. That part can be made more fun with friends to help, but ultimately you just have to make the decisions yourself. Recently a good friend and I had a ‘team sale’ where we put things together so that it would have a larger presentation. I didn’t have nearly as much as the one a couple of years ago, because I have been pretty careful not to accumulate things again. What I had realised, however, was the first culling uncovers things that later on you can see you should have let go of as well. Hence the most recent cull and gathering of things.
photo courtesy of google
There is such an eclectic selection of things people put into lawn sales; things you have never even heard of or seen before, but suddenly yearn to own at that bargain price! There was a humorous documentary made in 1996 about the culture of lawn sales in Alice Springs. It is called ‘The Search for the Shell Encrusted Toilet Seat’. I saw it on TV all those years ago and have searched for it to watch again but have not found it. It was clever and quirky and I think surely it will find a place on YouTube or somewhere one of these days. It tells the story of someone who saw a toilet seat with sea shells ‘suspended’ in acrylic for decorative effect. If you have ever sat on one, which I have because my former mother-in-law had one, you would know they are most disconcerting. You feel like your bottom will certainly come off the worse for the experience, but in fact no lacerations were caused in the use of that seat. There are some things in life we really don’t need to experience. The fellow in the documentary prevaricates and doesn’t purchase the shell encrusted toilet seat when he first sees it. He later regrets it. But where was it he saw it? At which lawn sale of dozens had he seen it? Thus begins his search to retrace his steps through Alice’s interesting lawn sales and characters.
The view over our rooftop of the blood moon full lunar eclipse with Mars in attendance
Each sale has its own unique quality. I’ve always strived to only sell things that are well kept and clean, even if they are well used or old. My friend is the same and so the items we had were of that ilk. The starting time was 7am, and believe me when I tell you, people were parked on the street at least 10 minutes before that, so you’d better have yourself organised! We had the sale at my friend’s house about a three minutes’ walk around the corner from our house. It was the morning of the beautiful blood moon and rare full eclipse, with Mars in attendance. As I set out from our house at 6.36am and walked up our driveway, I looked back. Over the roof of our house was the beautiful sight. I hoped it was an omen for good sales!
Social and material exchanges
One person’s trash is another’s treasure…
The evening before, my friend had arranged things on tables, so that the following morning all we had to do was carry the tables out of the garage to the carport area. Easy. The punters swooped like hungry birds, one going immediately to the large number of CD’s and DVD’s we had, saying ‘Here they are!’ as if she had discovered gold! We haven’t played any of them in years and are not likely to, given we only have one old boom box left to play the CD’s, and nothing on which to play the DVD’s. Early on, a nicely presented and discerning woman came and very, very carefully looked over everything. She added an item at a time to her purchase pile. When she finished she had quite a stack and had to make two trips to her car. A little while later she returned, accumulating another stack of things and then departing. Finally, a while after that she returned again, buying several more items. We heard her say as she walked out of sight ‘you won’t see me again, but thank you for the great lawn sale!’
And we didn’t.
As they used to say in the newspaper in the small town I am from,
‘And a good time was had by all’.
(In the link above, to my previous post on this topic, there are references to helpful guides. In addition you may find what Courtney Carver has to say helpful. This link is for clearing your wardrobe, but she has books and other courses you may find more interesting, or you can just use her newsletter for inspiration)
To say I don’t get out much would probably be an understatement. I’m not a gadabout when we are in town. I don’t like crowds so I don’t even attend exhibition openings, choosing to go after the opening to see an exhibition. I see many amazing sights when we travel so when I’m at home, I’m at home…except… that my good friend introduced me to the Coffee Horse.
My good friend, Betty helping me solve the problems of the world! Note the rocky outcrop in the distance.
It is hard to put into exact words why the Coffee Horse has me infatuated, but it does. Betty feels the same. Some of the reasons we love living in Alice Springs are the down to earth experiences of having the bushland nearby, a thriving arts community and people wanting to ‘have a go’ at doing something a bit unusual. Coffee Horse has it all. I hope I haven’t gone and spoiled it now that I’ve let the cat out of the bag! We also like that Alice is a small enough place that you can get to know the owners of the various shops, but big enough to be anonymous if you want to be…more or less.
Of course the flip side of our isolated, small town life is that we sometimes long for the finer things the city can offer. Recently, and arguably, our best hairdresser in town closed its doors after 36 years and some of us are mourning the loss and wondering if we are doomed to be follicle-ly challenged for the remainder of our days. So, it is with great appreciation, that we have discovered another place which feels special.
Many of you will have seen or procured coffee from a ‘coffee van’. On our recent travels a coffee van in the middle of nowhere seemed like a little miracle. One coffee-less morning on a lonely stretch of road in New Zealand, my husband and I saw a handwritten sign, alerting us that we could get ‘good coffee to go’–on a stretch of road that looked highly improbable. In fact my husband stated his doubts aloud, in the form of a chuckle when I proposed we might find coffee on the road between Franz Josef and Haast. He further expressed doubt as to the quality of such a find, to which I responded, ‘you can get a very good cup of coffee from a coffee van’. Moments later, like a mirage in the wilderness, there it was, the coffee van. Festive flags motioning us with their siren-call-promise of a great coffee. It was all true. I promise. It’s not often I’m right, but on this occasion I was…absolutely.
Salted Caramel Cheesecake beacons!
Who is that hanging about over my shoulder???
Good coffee and a little sewing or reading, thank you very much.
Meanwhile back in Alice…The Coffee Horse is an unassuming, small, repurposed caravan, located on a lot with a thriving art supply and framing business. Also, located next to it on the same lot is a shoemaker. I don’t mean a shoe repairer, I mean a shoe-maker of fine custom fitted shoes, for which you have to wait. Quality takes time. His website says requests are currently closed but you can leave a contact when there is an opening. Good for him. Sprinkled about the grounds is evidence of the creative hearts that have passed through this place—sculptures made from ‘junque’ and repurposed items —one person’s trash is another’s treasure…
At the back of the lot, behind the outbuildings, sits one of Alice’s many rocky outcrops. Sometimes when we are sitting and soaking up the winter sun, or shaded from the heat in summer, you can see kangaroos hopping through the scrub. Now you don’t get that in a city cafe!
People from all around this light industrial area come to fill their ‘keep cups’ and have a break from their day.Some buy the custom made pottery cups, or opt for the standard, mismatched mugs and cups. The coffee that fills them is second to none. Decaf is my poison of choice and it is as good as any I’ve ever had. They make lovely toasted sandwiches (I’ve heard) and their vegan, grain-free treats are delicious (I’ve dabbled). There is no loud music playing, just the coming and going and quiet conversations of patrons. Some quietly indulge in a book, or sewing, others have their heads down in their phones, though I don’t see that very often. Most people are quietly chatting and laughing. It is a happy place. Even Alison, who operates this little oasis, gets a short break now and then. You can find the Coffee Horse on Instagram. Her new creation opens at a second location, near Watch This Space Gallery, next week. It will be called the ‘Silver Brumby’–a ‘brumby’ is a wild horse. We will check it out and report back to you.
Creator of the Coffee Horse, Alison, soaking up some winter sun.
Who would have thought a young woman with an old repurposed caravan could draw me out of my house and into an alternative comfort zone?
In Alison’s words ‘May the horse be with you!’ And with you Alison…and with you.
**I have not received any payment or even free coffee for this post, I just thought you might enjoy this slice of Alice Springs life.
Just after the sun had broken over the horizon, sending a few bleak wintery rays across the grasses in front of the house, I looked out the expanse of windows that stretch the width of the west facing end. There, about 30 feet in front of the windows, silent and purposeful, strode a lone Dingo. So quiet, the neighbourhood dogs even missed a good chance to raise the alarm. So quiet, I later wondered if I had seen it at all. Nearly the same colour as the dried, blonde grasses, only the dark spot of his eye and his nose and the sunlit hairs on the ridge of his back and the plume of the tail shone his shape. Perfect camouflage.
Lingers in my mind’s eye like a dream.
I set out for my walk moments later, in the direction the Dingo was heading. A single lone Dingo was probably nothing to be concerned about since I wasn’t walking a small dog that might be mistaken as breakfast. I kept my eye on the tall grasses walking over crisp, frosted ground, down the desolate back of the golf course on a Sunday morning. No further sightings. I wondered…is this the new normal of our cohabitation? The Dingo casually strolls through the neighbourhood while I keep a watchful eye and go for my morning walk.
Stranger things have happened.
The day before, a small mob of Wallabies had converged on our patio, scratching themselves thoughtfully, studying the windows…the same windows on the world through which I had seen the Dingo. The two adults and two joeys probably saw their reflections, or maybe some slight movement inside as I adjusted myself for a better view of them. Most likely the reflections of the rocky outcrop and sky behind them was their point of interest. It must be very confusing for them. Imagine if we all became focused on what was behind us rather than moving forward. The Wallabies were not seduced. Slowly they moved up the breezeway that gave them safe passage to the bottom of the driveway and within a few hops of the road. If they cross the road safely, which has always happened in the 20 years we have lived here, there is only one row of houses and then they are back in the bush again.
With the Dingoes.
Almost 40 years ago, I looked out of another expanse of windows. It was a whole lifetime ago for me–for the world. I was high atop the World Trade Center in New York City. The place was called ‘Windows on the World’. We were there for a cocktail reception for a national gathering of Television Promotion Managers and Art Directors. Below, an enormous world of skyscrapers, tiny ships and cars, and even tinier humans, spread out for many miles. They went about the business of the world. And now, I watch the business of Mother Nature where species learn to live with one another and it is survival of the fittest. No trace or photos of any of it, just what my brain has selectively conserved. Why would this memory visit me now? Why can I remember conversing with two fellows from Australia, one from Sydney, one from Wollongong, forty years ago, but have trouble remembering what I had two days ago for breakfast?
How do we reconcile the worlds within us? For the most part it is an unconscious process. But now and again we tell stories and make art and that turns something with seemingly no purpose into something of value.
Still dark, I lay in bed, door open to the cool early dawn air. Musical tones, almost conversational, and a little eerie, drift in from not far away. The dingoes are back.
pied butcher bird
Pied Butcher Bird practices her beautiful song for quite a long while. I stretch and bend my body toward functionality, which is my morning practice. The piercing song sinks deep into my psyche. I wonder what theunfortunately named bird was singing about? A nice insect it had just consumed? A good place to perch? Come here…this garden has no cats or dogs and they keep a nice bowl of water too.
I set off on my morning walk…listening to a favourite podcast. The episode was from Krista Tippett (On Being) interviewing beloved Irish poet, Michael Longley. More and more, I find myself being drawn to poets and their concise artistry.
The interview started with Michael Longley quoting his own favourite poet:
“There’s a line by John Clare that I adore. I love John Clare. I revere him. “Poets love nature, and themselves are love.” And I believe that with all my heart. And part of writing is adoration. For me, celebrating the wildflowers or the birds is like a kind of worship.”
Those words pulled me in and for the remainder of the walk I was absorbed in a sort of reverie of someone else’s experiences, uniquely expressed, yet similar to my own. That is what art hopes to achieve, something previously unidentified, but immediately recognisable.
The Wedge Tail Kites (large birds of prey) circled above me, occasionally landing near enough to see how large they were. Some are big enough that my neighbour carries a golf club to chase them away, lest their carnivorous tendencies see her young puppy as breakfast!
In my ears, unfolded ‘The Vitality of Ordinary Things’.* Even thinking about it now reminds me of my own strong connection with tiny and ordinary pieces of life. It has only been in the last decade or so that I have recognised my own fascination with this side of life. I think it has always been there. I just hadn’t realised it was a theme—perhaps not had the mental space to see it.
Once you see a thing, it cannot be unseen.
Home again. My daily habit is to water the rosemary plants, growing in pots along the patio. I lifted the metal watering bowl we keep in the outside sink. A sizeable, andnearly expired, lizard had curled up underneath and was still–eyes closed, but not yet dead. Poor thing, what is there to do? I picked it up gently and placed it in the shade of the vines, surrounding the rosemary pots, hoping it wasn’t too late for it to revive. Its response was not encouraging. As you know, I’m sympathetic to the lizards around here and this was one I didn’t often see–about three times the length of a gecko and with lovely patterned skin. After laying his limp body in the shade, I dribbled a little water over him. Eyes still shut, he looked dehydrated, hovering near death. I suspect he had crawled into the sink for water and then couldn’t get out again. It happens sometimes, and with our hot weather, anything that small can dehydrate quickly.
I felt sad, and more than a little worried for him, having lost Bernie so recently.
Wanting to know…and yet fearing how the lizard fared, I waited a few hours to check on him. I carefully picked through the vines to peek and see if by some miracle he had revived. ‘My stars and garters!’, as my Aunt used to say! There he was blinking back at me. He looked almost normal and not in a huge rush to scurry away. And me with no camera.
But I have a pen.
How much more of an ordinary thing can one do, but to interact with nature? Then again, how much more of an extra-ordinary thing can one do but to save a life?
Anything, however small, may make a poem; nothing, however great, is certain to. –Edward Thomas
likeness of rescued lizard
*for the uninitiated, Michael Longley has the most gentle and calm Irish voice and explains so well the creative life of a poet as well as some of the complexities of life in Northern Ireland. He is an agnostic, so if this bothers you, try to put it to one side. You will see that he is deeply reverent and impishly delightful. The link I have given is so that you can listen to the interview on the computer or read the transcript, or see the title and find it in your podcast app. I have to say, though, it is his lovely, lilting voice that enhances his thoughts and humour, so if you can listen. It is worthwhile.
(note: it is annoying that WordPress needs to put a different date on this, than when I am actually posting it here in Australia, but that seems to be the way it works. It is April 1, 2018 here)
I admit to being rather uninspired to take photos lately. Possibly because I have other creative things on my mind…possibly…just because. But the moon was so super bright, and apparently ‘blue’, this morning… I shot out of the house and up and down rocky outcrops following its journey’s end across the sky as it lightly touched the sharp, molten edge of the ranges and then disappeared.
Nature, the universe and all its inhabitants inspire artists of all kinds, I’m certain. The golf course where we live is highly regarded both for golf and for its surrounding beauty. And I am among its most appreciative observers. However, a person needs to watch carefully where they are walking, while keeping an eye on the bright spherical prize, or else you will go ass over appetite pretty quickly, not to mention twist something vital to mobility. I am a Light Chaser, so I risk it. The price of being able to indulge this scramble is staying fit enough to pick carefully, but quickly up the lightly worn paths the kangaroos use (judging from the droppings…) and along the ridge. It is an art.
Eventually, when the sun had nearly erased the contrast between sky and moon, I came down from the ridge and walked toward home. The tiniest of wildflowers were in blossom, from timely rains a few weeks ago. They would nearly fit on the head of a pin. Across the way the funny ole Galahs were doing their civic duty on a small knoll, crunching a favourite of theirs, the ‘three corner jacks’. They are horrible, large prickles and in this instance, no one begrudges the Galahs their preferences!
On the home stretch I spied a crested pigeon feather in the red dirt, with tiny tufts of green grass, again results of the recent rain. Around it, tiny dried purple flowers, blown along the way from a ‘Geisha’ bush several metres away.
What a marvellous and memorable walk, while in my ears played an interview * with literary thinker Maria Popova and astrophysicist Natalie Batalha.
It took 13.7 billion years for the atoms to come together to create the portal to the universe which is my physical self. –Natalie Batalha
And there I was, my ‘physical self’, perhaps only accidental atoms, but able to experience perfection.
*This link is for the WEB page interview that you can either read or listen to, if you are so inclined. Podcast is ‘On Being’ with Krista Tippett, episode titled ‘Cosmic Imagining, Civic Pondering’
If you wish to see the photos larger you can just click on them. I used no filters or editing, these photos are as they came from my iPhone 6 camera.
Years from now, those of us who are still living in Central Australia will be sagely commenting ‘Remember that horrible heat in the summer of 2018?’
My view of the rain relief approaching.
‘Remember how it finished with a huge weather system from the northeast, slowly turning the skies grey and blanketing the earth with reviving rains and cooler breezes?’ ‘Why, I remember the mountain, cloaked in clouds and heavy mist, disappearing for nearly two days.’
And so it happened.
I know friends and family tired of me writing ‘it’s been another stinking hot day’ and ‘I am so tired, the heat just drains me’. But damn it, I was right!! It turns out during the three months of summer (Dec 1 to Feb 28) we had record breaking heat. Instead of the usual average of 13 days of 40+ (104+F) temps, we had 39. Thirty-nine. And for those keeping records we learned the average daily temps for those three months was 38.2 (100F)…the hottest summer in 76 years of keeping records.
And this morning, 12 March, it was a crisp, cool 16c (60F). The air is clean, the colours intense and the arid lands at their best, refreshed by rain. Nearly…probably…almost worth the journey to get here.
Somewhere in the middle of the heat waves shimmering up from the ground, our bearded dragon departed. I wonder now if it was even too hot for her and she flung herself into the path of a four wheeled dragon slayer, flying around the bend near our place. Near the spot where our lovely dog met his doom seven years ago.
I was returning from my morning walk and there, in the middle of the road lay an unnaturally flat bearded dragon, the size and colour of Bernie. There is a funny Australian colloquialism ‘flat out like a lizard drinking’, which alludes to being very busy. I’ve never seen a lizard drinking, but presumably one must go very flat to reach the water and it is very busy thereafter getting some water into it. This was no drinking lizard, in reality, or metaphorically. Just flat.
I waited a few weeks to see if perhaps it was another local bearded dragon that had succumbed to the urban beast. We’ve had a few in the area. But there has been not the slightest sign of Bernie. I decided to posthumously give her a unisex name in deference to the possibility that I am wrong about her sex. The naming makes her memory more specific. To me. (Bernie is short for Bernadette…or Bernard should he/she reappear wearing boxers or something…)
a change of scenery from the rosemary bush
I missed Bernie a surprising amount and was quite sad at this turn of events. Her silhouette no longer quietly adorned the Callistemon tree, nor did her head peek out of the rosemary bush. She no longer scampered around the patio to seek cover under the Singapore Daisy vines. So…with my still developing skills, I decided to honour Bernie. After a bit of sketching, and with some artistic license, I had a sort of caricature that I was happy with. But I couldn’t quite figure out how to create a texture for the skin that I liked. After a frustrating session at the drawing board one day, I decided to get completely away from the project and turned on the television. The Antiques Road Show was on and within a minute or two there appeared an antique lamp, in the shape of a dragon, that made me sit up in stunned acknowledgement. There was the texture I needed for Bernie. Back to the drawing board I went. Literally.
It made me realise that I enjoy the mental gymnastics of solving drawing problems, as much as the actual drawing. Often I will leave a piece for days, even weeks, as I turn over in my mind various objectives and options. It is so much more interesting to contemplate than what I’m making for dinner. It is not unlike writing this blog in that way. Even though I have written few in recent weeks, I’m constantly turning over ideas and writing bits and pieces, taking photos and auditioning scenarios about which to write. Bernie is worthy.
Vale Bernie, Bearded Dragon of the Fairway. It has a certain ring to it.
A favourite podcast from recent weeks: On Being with Krista Tippet interviews poet Mary Oliver. Also, here is Mary reading her exquisite poem, Wild Geese.
Recent discovery as told to me by my Optometrist: When eyes feel tired and dry, wet a face washer (washcloth) with very warm water and gently rub the eyelids, upper and lower, for about a minute. It is surprisingly restorative. Apparently it unclogs oil glands on the edges of the lids and thus enables more moisture to be kept on the eye, making it less dry and uncomfortable.