This morning I woke just before dawn. It is Anzac Day here in Australia. Normally I would go for a walk and greet the day with gratitude for my Dad and all the other many, many men and women who served the armed forces in their country, many who gave their lives for democracy and freedom. I remember Memorial Day in Ohio, the parade with soldiers and the finish at the cemetery. Many stones would be decorated with recently laid wreaths and flowers and a small American flag.
I remember it, but I didn’t fully connect with the meaning until moving to my adopted country. Those small town remembrances, like the ones here in Australia connect us to our heritage. The fourth stanza from The Poem for the Fallen by Laurence Binyon is read here, its words ubiquitous for all who have passed and all who grieve, remember and honour…
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
We will remember them.”
I have attended ANZAC services but mostly I remember in my own way in the quiet pre-dawn hours. In my current state of incapacity I lay in bed, feet still trapped in my Frankenstein sandals, and admired the changing light outside the windows. Such a joy to be able to see trees and sky from the bed just now when I can’t walk out and find it. And then…quietly in the distance I heard the bugle sounding The Last Post from a nearby ceremony. I thought of the words above and the words that always follow them “Lest We Forget”.
On the evening of November 12 Alice Springs experienced a sudden and violent storm. It has helped me process it, to document the following 10 days or so and it seemed to me it might be of interest to others. It is not heavily edited, it is just a series of entries like a diary with accompanying photos. This is not a ‘pity party’ it is just what happens when we have these unexpected events. Ours was small compared to the many who have lost their homes and loved ones across the country and the world these last ten days…
24 Hrs after…
We have worked very hard today and with the help of several neighbours and friends are making some headway in the cleanup task. We were able to cut away enough of the large tree that fell into the courtyard and landed on my herb garden for me to uncover the herbs. I can’t believe they might even survive! Also my six week old Grevillea that was doing beautifully was smashed down flat, but when I uncovered it and stood it up this morning it looked pretty happy. We staked it and tied it to give it some extra stability and hopefully whoever comes to finish removing the tree will avoid crushing it again. There are about four suburbs that have been smashed by what really looks like a series of small tornadoes. The tops of trees are ripped off or ripped out of the ground by the roots, both typical of tornado damage, though our storm was classified as a ‘micro-burst’. Also we have a layer of red dust that was driven through the cracks of our rammed earth house and onto every surface inside. I have been dusting and wiping and vacuuming while Don has been repairing the watering system and removing branches until we are so weary we had to stop. Many people have it worse than us, which is always the case. We are grateful we are both fine and the house is intact. I did have a cry over the trees and consequently the birdsong that was absent this morning. But there has also been the kindness of neighbours to be happy about.
36 hrs after…
Unaided by sleep, but with a need to see what the storm had brought to the scenery on my morning walk, I was up early and out the door by 5.45am. As I walked out the door I was still shocked by the 20 metre tree on its side, protruding through the courtyard fence. And yet, once again I was truly grateful it had fallen exactly between our house and the neighbours. No one injured and neither house damaged. Just the fence and spa pump/filter. The large tree at the top of our sloping block had also fallen graciously, aligned with the driveway and straight across the road, hurting no one. Had it fallen back it would have smashed our house. Had the tree out the front fallen to either side it would have smashed a house. So lucky. There will be no more big trees planted on this site. Message received. After the incessant clatter of chainsaws and leaf blowers on the weekend, the silence this morning was almost disturbing…a kind of grieving, exhausted quiet.
I walked the circuit I had done a few days before. The broken trees and damaged houses were evidence I had not dreamed it. Walking down the 8th fairway I looked ahead and saw my favourite tree. Still standing. But as I neared it I realised about a third of it lay on the ground at my feet. I studied the sight and out of my mouth came words ‘I’m so sorry baby. I’m so sorry.’ I photographed it to compare to the photo I printed that was taken on my walk three days before the ‘Blow’. It would be my next painting. It was especially poignant now seeing its diminished state. I couldn’t force my feet to move, they rooted me in place while I began grieving for the tree. When I finally moved along I saw other familiar shapes that I had photographed over the years, now sadly misshapen, which is saying a lot given some of my particular favourites are bent and have rather extreme shapes to begin with. To me they were beautiful. Wabi-sabi. (Perfectly imperfect) They will be again.
When I finally reached the home stretch I was devastated to see the damage to the grove of large old gum trees, again that I had photographed only days before as the morning light shone through the trees and grasses. It hit me like a blow to the gut as I walked home into the morning sun and cool breeze. When I arrived home Don was pulling his suitcase out to load into the car for our trip to the airport. He looked at me and asked ‘how was your walk?’. I pointed toward the west, from where the storm had come, and as my mouth opened my voice cracked into tears and I said ‘Oh the trees, the trees are so devastated. My favourite tree will recover but it will not be the same.’ He encouraged me by saying ‘You can document its recovery.’ Yes, I will.
Four Days after the storm…
The birds are trying to reorganise themselves, having lost the trees in which they had nests, and the perches from which they sang and watched the neighbourhood. The Galahs have taken to sitting in a tree that will be removed in due course and they will have to move on again. They seem strangely displaced but amenable to the new circumstances at the same time.
On Wednesday after the Saturday storm I am still trying to get someone to come and take away a huge broken branch that is sitting up in the tree near the road and the top of our driveway. Have rung Emergency Services twice and consulted with the Town Council who says they can’t help because it is on private property (though I note they CAN take lots of taxes from that same private property to pay for things other than public safety). I have also called multiple tree trimmers, yet I still have this problem of a dangerous branch hanging precariously over the road and the footpath! One fellow who is still cutting trees off of houses says he will come have a look when he gets a chance and that is the closest I’ve come to getting anything done. The worry and distraction of it has me unable to do anything creative so I’m washing windows (as it rains, but only windows that are under cover, out of the rain) and vacuuming and mopping up red dirt from the floors that came in during the storm. It is some of the least fun I’ve had in a while and today it occurred to me this entire year has been given over to renovations and renewal of the house, garden, and my physical person. I’m over it but do realise we have no say in these matters, we just have to go with the flow.
The herbs that were flattened have indeed declared their will to carry on and look perky and none the worse for their ordeal. The same is true for the grevillea bush.
This morning I walked yet another route, skirting by the Olive Pink Botanic Garden. The tree damage there is substantial too, ranging from large branches to whole trees being torn out. I have also noticed the local birds are busy trying to rearrange themselves now that their favourite roosting trees are gone. The gardener who came here to advise me about the dangling branch on the verge, was telling me after the storm on Saturday she sat out in her garden and was sure the birds sounded quite upset and disturbed by what had happened. No doubt.
The big guns have been throwing around the debris from the storm like it is chip packets, onto backs of trucks to become green waste at the tip. The sound of chainsaws and backhoes, leaf blowers and trucks on our small urban street are almost welcome now. I know it means progress in cleaning up what we cannot deny and what is done. Part of my brain goes into denial when I look out the kitchen window at the remnants of a beautiful tree that will no longer wear bird nests nor provide perches for the dawn chorus. We all grieve in different ways and for different relationships. Life is full of grief, as the Queen reminded us ‘grief is the price we pay for loving’. So I love trees, animals and art as well as humans and good health and a dozen other things, and likewise I grieve for them, each in my own way for what they have meant.
The wind is quite strong again just now and I wonder if I will ever get over the anxiety of it after last Saturday. Wind has never been my favourite of Mother Nature’s creations, and yet of course I know it is necessary, or at least unavoidable. We are the interlopers here, trying to live with nature in our unskilled human way. Hopefully when the tall trees left are trimmed and the loose debris carried away and the repairs are done I will lose this excess anxiety…and resume my normal anxiety.
The recovery is also down to Nature. I noticed this morning the little herb garden is flourishing, almost as if that smack on the head was a wake up call! Though I suspect it was more likely to be the 15ml or so rain and overcast skies we’ve had that have aided their recovery. There has been noticeable change every day since the storm. Gardens love warmth and rain and a little sun but not our usual very hot temps this time of year.
Today is a full week after the day after.
The insurance company is sending someone in a couple of days and there are no storms predicted this week. I’m feeling calmer and still mindful of those who have suffered so much worse in the terrible floods in New South Wales. Yesterday I was actually able to get into the studio again and do some creating. I began painting my favourite tree. It felt so good to be able to do something positive and especially something with a tree in it.
This morning I woke knowing the cooler, dryer change had come in over night. I walked before 6am and felt the cool breeze on my skin. The sun was already up and I needed sunglasses. Every day I see more tree damage that I hadn’t noticed previously. The estimate of 10,000 is probably right. The tree above and to the side of my clothesline rubs damaged branches together reminding me it will need a major trim as soon as someone is available to do it. The day is dry and breezy and a pleasure to hang sheets and clothes on the line. Most of the time I’m happy to not have a clothes dryer. I would miss the crystal sky, the sketchy clouds and the day the Wedge Tail Eagle rode the thermals above me.
Day 11 Final entry
The cleanup has begun in earnest at our place. The beaver patrol arrived before 9am yesterday and dispatched the once gorgeous Eucalyptus Sideroxylon into pieces. The skilled Kubota operator picking up each section operating delicate steel fingers and lifting it on the truck to be taken away. More grief. But relief. The grevillea was spared as was the small rosemary bush that struggled to live three times now, with serious disruptions but a will to grow.
Last evening a family of Pied Butcher Birds visited. They occasionally come to inspect the area where I feed the crested pigeons, but there is only ever seed, and they are meat/insect eaters. Seeing the largest one come up to inspect the feeding area, I quickly remembered the fresh ground beef mince I had in the fridge and grabbed a teaspoon or so of it and went outside. I slowly approached the feeding plate and the curious Butcher Bird surprisingly took a couple of steps toward me. I placed the meat on the plate in three small dabs all the while its large eyes following me. As soon as I backed away it grabbed all three dabs quickly and turned to a smaller bird to its side and fed it! Mum feeding her adolescent child. Magic.
After the good rain we had in February…rain that washed out the roads and the railway line and disrupted our lives even more than Covid…the rain that caused the river to flow and replenish the basin, the trees to be washed clean of red dust, and the grasses to grow lush and green and then turn golden…the rain that cooled the earth and peppered the sky with glorious clouds at sunrise and sunset. After that rain was when the little frog appeared.
The little frog was the size of my thumb on my small hands. At first we only heard him. Chirrrrrup. Chirrrrup. He would announce his presence for a minute or two, only once or twice in a day, or sometimes at night. He was considerate enough not to carry on for hours. A week or so after we first heard him I switched the light on in the bathroom one evening and sensed a presence nearby. I glanced over and there he was looking at me. I must have looked like the biggest giant in the world to him but he didn’t try to escape, he just looked. When I came out of the bathroom and told my husband he said ‘Did you catch him so we can return him outside?’ ‘Well, no, I didn’t want to risk hurting him.’
We had a ‘spider jar’ and now we needed a ‘frog jar’. These jars formerly held my husband’s favourite sweet treat, chocolate covered almonds. I have a slight jar fetish, mostly for glass, but for any useful shaped jar. The almond jars are plastic with screw top lids and so if you are trying to catch and release something they are not likely to break and they are light weight too. I had a spare almond jar and I retrieved it so it would be handy for the next time we spotted the frog. He was gone by the time I had returned this time.
The next time came in the middle of the night and how or why I saw him in the dark I have no idea, but I ran for the frog jar and came back to him still waiting for me, this time in the toilet bowl! I carried him outside and released him into the very large bowl of water I keep for the kangaroos and birds. The moon was bright that night and I saw him swim quickly to the bottom of the bowl and then straight up again to perch on the edge of the bowl. And stare. At me. He looked at me like he either didn’t understand or was very disappointed at his new situation. I was moved to explain to him my reasoning but I didn’t. I couldn’t speak amphibious syllables and he wouldn’t have understood.
On subsequent occasions we spotted him in the toilet bowl again but were unable to capture him for relocation. And then he relocated himself. He disappeared for the coldest part of winter and then suddenly in August at the end of Winter when it was still quite cold, he reappeared singing happily from the hand basin drain in the ensuite bathroom. Attempts to relocate him were mostly unsuccessful this time, though we did mange to catch him a couple of times. Since we couldn’t figure out how he kept getting back in again each time, we kind of gave up and learned to live with each other. He was no bother, except for the occasional ‘chirrrrup’, and even that I began to listen for each morning, a kind of checking in that everything was ok with our houseguest.
And then the sightings and chirrrrupings stopped. Oh, but there it was once more and I realised I was relieved to hear it. And then it was no more. At all.
A few weeks later I was vacuuming, doing a rare clean into corners I usually didn’t bother with. What was that small dark oval shape? I leaned down and even without my glasses on I could see the desiccated silhouette of our houseguest. Even in death he had not been a bother, just crawled neatly into a corner and dried. Writing about this a couple of weeks later I have tears welling and a lump in my throat. Why should that be? There are unanswered questions. Aren’t there always? Among them I wonder, did the little frog enjoy his serenade to me each day from the echos of the basin drain? Or was it just me who enjoyed him?
A few days after finding him I read the writing below and commend it to you now. I think it might apply to tiny frogs who find an amiable house to live in, too.
“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?” —Richard Dawkins
I’ve written on this topic a few times in the past, but I hope you can stand a little more. I’ve written half a dozen draft posts over recent months, and haven’t published a single one. It’s very hard to write with perspective about things that are ongoing. This has been a challenging year for many of us, not least of which is the frog that has taken up residence in our plumbing. He/she is only the size of my thumb and when I can catch him I put him outside again, but as I write he is ‘chirruping’ loudly from the bathroom sink drain. We had a shower together yesterday, he singing to me from the protection of the drain, and me wondering if he/she is raising a noisy family!
What is equally true is the world is very very beautiful–in many ways we fail to see or allow to touch us.
In my life the little things that have saved me almost as much as the love…small moments, tiny events, simple actions. It’s one of the reasons my day feels lacking if I can’t start it with a walk at sunrise. Yes, it helps that I’m a morning person, but this year with serious sleep deprivation even though I am awake early…sometimes very, VERY early, it has been challenging. I’ve been doing it for so long, decades now, that my body almost goes through the preparations without me having to think about it. It knows that those bird sightings and the melodious carol of the Pied Butcherbird, the beautiful skies, and the movement that relaxes my muscles and bones set me up for the day. But sleep deprivation has intervened and some recalibrations (and naps) have been required.
This year has been a series of physical/medical challenges for me. Nothing life threatening, but requiring attention, time and energy to respond to. Some years are like that, have you noticed? One of the tactics I used, but didn’t realise until afterward is something the experts call ‘attention deployment’. This is when you engage in something that takes your mind away from whatever it is you want to momentarily forget. They say it is different than ignoring a thing, it is only a breather from it. It gives a little break, though it isn’t clear to me if tiny frogs are meant to be included. Earlier in the year I was cleaning out and renovating the house, while also renovating my body. Lately I’ve turned to reading, painting and experimenting with flavours in the kitchen as well as brewing my own cleaning fluid.
Nothing is too lame. What does it matter if something sounds strange? If it interests you and diverts one’s attention enough to be helpful, relaxing even–do it.
Citrus season has just finished here in Central Australia but continues for a little longer in the southern regions. Our lemon tree has been bountiful. My neighbours had to be away for five weeks or so and left the fate of the fruit on their six orange trees to ME! I water their plants and check on the house regularly and pick the fruit up off the ground so it doesn’t draw pests. With the oranges, I make orange and almond cake, that deliciously sweet and moist gluten free cake that I normally save for special outings to cafes. When I’m just eating the oranges for breakfast or snacks, I save the peels and add them to a jar that has white vinegar in it. Once the jar is filled I put a note on top of it that has the date two weeks hence when the brew will be done. The vinegar draws out the orange oil (also works with lemons) and at maturity you strain out the fruit peelings and put them in your compost, and bottle the liquid for cleaning. I have read you dilute it with water, which I have done with the lemon brew, 1/4C lemon vinegar to 1C hot water for cleaning windows. Use it with a lint free microfibre cloth and it does a brilliant job. The orange one I use 1C diluted with 1/2C water as a kitchen and sink cleaner. It works with whatever cloth you use, and the smell is delicious and it is nontoxic. Today I cleaned out our smelly letter box in which a poor little gekko had died and begun to decompose. All smells lovely again now.
Distractions? Let’s not forget a good craft or art practice. Recently our daughter attended a Cowboys-and-Cowgirls-Christmas-in-July party for her office. She sent me a photo of bedazzling her costume and told me it is ‘surprisingly relaxing’. I’m slightly trepidatious that she may be covered head to toe in sequins and rhinestones the next time I see her!
Life has always been hard. During the last Pandemic it was so much worse than now. If you want to read a novel that starts there and comes into the present, Isabel Allende’s new novel ‘Violeta’ is an interesting distraction, not a difficult read and describes lives in other times and places over a period of 100 years.
My little garden is another distraction that produces things which I can harvest from time to time. This is the third year since I built it and I now have surprise seeds that sprout like gifts from the earth and present me with chilies, lettuces and basil. The early spring/late winter dandelion leaves also add some zip to the occasional salad at the moment. I’ve left the broccoli and some of the lettuce and rocket (arugula) go to seed so the poor bees have something to eat until other things start to flower again. We’ve had the coldest Winter we can remember here in Alice, so things will take a little while to recover from frost bite. But a couple of weeks ago we had a glorious 16mm of rain which have helped bring on Spring. Meanwhile the bees enjoy the yellow flowers as well as the blue flowers of the four rosemary bushes in our garden. And little by little I’m potting up starts from winter cuttings and freshening soil and planting more natives for the bees and birds and us to enjoy.
And then there are the tiny pleasures, so easy to miss. The way the light illuminates my kitchen in the evening at the end of Winter. The little wallaby that peers at me as I eat my breakfast. The ever changing skies morning and evening.
I’m inclined to agree with Rilke.
In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer
January 1st, my traditional walk to see in the new year, and all was bright, dare I say, promising. And then I caught myself, not hoping for too much, just focusing on that moment of sunrise, welcoming in the day/month/year. So many of us are being reserved and not expecting much that is different and yet clinging to a small shred of hope that things will begin to ease somewhat this year. I can’t even imagine what it was like for the world to live with polio for 12 years before there was a vaccine for it. We are all pretty weary. I can hear it in people’s language and tone. Even for those of us who have not suffered severely, we have still been effected. In our case here in the Centre of Australia, the virus has really only just arrived to a great degree. We are living with a mask mandate, lockout and regulations too numerous to mention. Because things are so bad in the southern states our supply of food and other things have grown more inconsistent. But not desperate.
The last few months of 2021 I meant to write a kind of ‘catch up’ post for the year. I like for the blogs I follow to catch me up every now and then on what they have been doing and how their life has gone. But I didn’t. So here is a bit about my last year with a few suggestions for this year. My journey learning to paint with pastels continues, though the end of the year saw quite a few bumps and delays in the development of things, partly because I took a course for 6 weeks. Briefly, I learned a few things however mostly it was a refresher in basic colour theory, value and composition. These were valuable but I realised when I finished the course that the style of work the artist taught wasn’t taking me in the direction I wanted to go. Also, I realised all of the participation in the Facebook group (required) was just too time consuming and not productive for me. So I took myself off, back into my own direction and I can feel it is the right thing to do. But now I need time to be doing it without travel and without quarantines and PCR tests soaking up time.
Reading proved to be a handy diversion for all the liminal time presenting itself this year. I thought I’d share with you the titles of my favourites and a very brief explanation in case you are interested. There were a few books that were good but I hesitate to recommend in the current climate of disease and death, so I won’t, and a number of disappointments that I either finished and was disappointed in how they were resolved, or just didn’t finish at all. My feeling is, life is too short to read a book that just isn’t doing it for me. So I don’t. A couple of years ago I started to realise my favourite genre was memoirs. However, this year I refined my search to ‘well written memoirs that read like novels’, and then I got off on a little tangent of well-written-memoirs-about-hiking. Goodness knows I wasn’t expecting that. I’m not a hiker but as you know I do like a good walk, so perhaps I’m living vicariously with this type of book. Whatever the reason, I hoovered through the last three selections like nobody’s business. Here’s the list, commencing in Jan 21, finishing Dec 21:
The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G.B. Edwards – this is an older book and reads like a memoir, though the author insisted it wasn’t – life on the island of Guernsey around WWII. It is not exciting but it is a good story and written in a way I could picture everything about the place and people and the voyeur in me enjoyed it.
Flesh Wounds by Richard Glover – makes a person look at their own family differently, I suspect.
The Dog Who Came to Stay by Hal Borland – a lovely dog story with a nice ending (trust me)
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn – I ate this up. Great story and very real people with very real struggles, hiking the Southwest Path in England.
The Silent Wild by Raynor Winn – The next chapter of life for the two people of The Salt Path. Almost as good, and still well worth reading.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson – This made me chuckle and the story and factual information along the way was very interesting to me. It is about hiking The Appalachian Trail in the eastern USA. If you’ve seen the movie (and I don’t advise it) read the book, it is so much better.
I have kept up the garden I built in May 2021. Probably typical of most gardeners, whether novice or experienced, I tried a few new things—had some failures but a few successes. I’m sure I would have been more successful but I’m not a real gardener, to be honest. I think I might do more except for the heat. Working in the heat depletes me and consequently, I have no energy for other things. However…with fairly consistent, but minimal, effort I have become the Queen of Greens! My best efforts other than with herbs, have been with beets and chard/silverbeet. Also rocket/arugula grows like crazy, but a little of that goes a long way with me. As you can see in the photo, Don’s lime tree has filled in the espaliered branches nicely and we are hoping next season to see some limes on it. In a year when our grocery stores have not been able to keep up consistent supplies of fresh vegetables, the silverbeet has proved very handy. It has about finished now that we are into the very hottest part of summer and I will let things rest until March or April when the weather cools a bit again.
Just over a week into the new year I walked the same path at the same time of the morning as on the first day, noting that the sun was already rising later, which augers well for those of you wishing for longer, warmer days in a few months, and those of us wanting cooler weather as well. Far in the distance I heard a human voice, calling out—loudly. I thought perhaps they called a dog as sometimes people let their dogs off leash to run about in the early hours when no one else is about. But the shouting continued, as if a one sided conversation was happening. I squinted into the dawn lit path ahead (see above photo for approximate lighting) and eventually a small figure appeared, shouting and gesticulating in the direction of the hills, and walking briskly. Being the only other human in sight I decided to err on the side of caution in case the person was drunk or unwell, and I quickly changed route. Reasonably certain I had avoided any possible problem, I walked briskly in the same direction as the other person was headed but on parallel paths, rather than the same path. About two thirds of the way home I had to cross over and again heard the shouting voice. When I turned she was only a few feet over my shoulder and suddenly quiet. It was a young, maybe 20 year old indigenous woman, not appearing drunk and in fact quite tidy and attractive looking. But so close… I wondered how, almost like an apparition, she had made up that distance and was just over my shoulder. As soon as I was passed her she veered onto a different path and began loudly talking again, but not shouting as before. I had seen enough to know she wasn’t wearing earphones or carrying a mobile phone, and then I realised…she had been talking to the spirits of the land. Some of the more traditionally raised indigenous are taught to talk to the spirits, especially if they are moving through someone else’s land. They are telling the spirits what their business is and telling them to behave, which was why she had seemed to shout at the hills and valleys along the path. Once I realised what was going on and she meant no harm, I thought ‘I want some of that!’ I want to shout at the spirits and tell them to ‘shape up, stop messing with us and let us live without all your tricks and surprises’. Maybe this should be added to our armoury in dealing with the pandemic. It might be a bit loud, but it wouldn’t hurt anyone and it might make us feel better.
* Today, September 1 is the first day of Spring, also Wattle Day. The golden wattle are in blossom in the southern states but here I have captured our version of green and gold (our national colours), featuring wild budgerigars and the winter’s dried, golden grasses. I’ve been feeling a little poetic lately too…and by the way, a ‘chatter’ is what a large flock of budgies is called!
This is not the return (again) to blogging that I imagined. I’m moved to write to whomever have hung on and to any others who might be hearing the plight of Australia’s drought, heat and bushfires that have raged for months.
I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, of droughts and flooding rains…
I think of these words each day as I dread turning on the news. Almost daily we hear of worsening fires and personal loss, as well as livestock, habitat and native animal losses. I watch it because it is uncomfortable, but not nearly as uncomfortable, I know, as for those who are living it.
We grew up in a small town. When almost anything happened, you would either know the person, the family, or know someone who knew them. That is how Australia feels to me. We are the same size as the contiguous USA, but only a tiny fraction of the population size. We have traveled all over Australia and it has always been our favourite kind of travel. So when something devastating happens, it feels like it is happening to someone we know. My heart is very heavy. I watch so I can understand the challenges and witness the triumph of humans during tragedy, as well as the horror when humans make bad decisions…like starting fires in a tinder dry country.
Parts of our country have been in drought for 5 or more years. Last year the Murray Darling River was so dry in spots that millions of fish died, towns ran out of water, farmers went out of business, entire regions suffered. Farmers have had to de-stock their stations because they are out of grazing land and feed is too expensive for them to buy when they have no income. Further, lands this dry are vulnerable to dust storms that carry topsoil thousands of kilometres, here to Alice Springs and beyond.
…Core of my heart, my country! Her pitiless blue sky, When sick at heart around us, We see the cattle die…
Fires have spread like angry beasts to wine producing regions and fruit growing areas, previously moist enough to resist them. While it is true that people who live in the bush sometimes allow too much build up of fuel on their properties, it is also true that previous fires have been more manageable. We are witnessing unprecedented heat and winds on top of drought and the results are quite literally catastrophic.
A few days ago the government deployed military personal and boats to assist in areas where the power, food and water were gone and to evacuate people. Some were taking refuge in and near the water, where possible, because the fires were still threatening, having already taken hundreds of properties and an unknown number of lives. Over a thousand people have been evacuated on navy ships, while many thousands more have vacated the fire threatened regions when and if they can get petrol to do so. This is not easily possible in some areas where fuel is scarce, though being transported in, and where there is only a single highway in and out of the areas. Fallen trees and fires that have jumped roadways have necessitated road closures, trapping people in some cases.
In fires back in September/October, a huge area of koala habitat was destroyed, as were hundreds of koalas. People began bringing Koalas to the Port MacQuarie Koala Hospital and their Go Fund Me page saw generous donations from everywhere, enabling their important work for now and the future. They will be using some of the money to establish wildlife drinking stations over a wide range of lands, but the loss has still been devastating. Estimates of losses at nearly half a billion animals have shocked all of us.
Now we are donating to the people who have lost everything. Most of these people were living in regional areas because they love it, but also it is less expensive. Many do not have insurance and cannot afford to rebuild. The government is working on helping them, but of course no government can afford to rebuild housing for so many lost properties. And no one can replace a lifetime of physical mementos. But with help many will be able to rebuild and move forward.
Here in Alice we have learned 2019 was our driest on record. We received only 67mm (2.6 inches) of rain where our normal is 289mm. This, after a particularly dry previous year. Our town basin water is at its lowest point ever. We have had many more dust storms than normal, and high winds much of the time in between, drying the land out further and creating poor air quality. Mostly it is not heavily laced with smoke, though sometimes it is. Areas around Alice have burned periodically over the last year. We live in a place where everything is brought from a distance where it can be grown, so we are quite vulnerable when large scale flooding, drought and fires happen. Unprecedented, sustained temperatures in excess of 40C up to 46C (114F) have taken a toll even on the native vegetation.
This morning as I write I can barely see the mountain for dust in the air. But I know the winds and heat we have had are moving south and will worsen their fires. I feel somehow complicit. There are dire warnings for this day in particular. There are still hundreds of fires burning, many out of control. If you are seeing these stories in your news, believe them. It is real, and much worse than most of us ever thought we would see. We know we are in this together, that Australians are resilient and compassionate people—even more so for the hardships suffered.
And finally, to the thousands of volunteer firefighters who make up most of the crews. I cannot imagine how exhausted you are, the horrors you have seen or the size of your hearts to protect your fellow beings. We are all enormously grateful.
An opal-hearted country, A wilful lavish land– All you who have not loved her, you will not understand–
I often take photos for Instagram or EyeEm, but for some reason I don’t end up using them on the blog. This morning when I read Ailsa’s travel theme of ‘hills’ I wanted to play along and share some recent photos that you may not have seen, or maybe won’t mind too much seeing again, in a larger format.
This place is so beautiful, and especially so in the early morning light when all of these photos were taken. It is truly soul stirring every time I see the beauty of the light on this land.
Here, where the sky and land are so expansive, it is hard to appreciate one without the other.
The hill, the tree, the moon and the sky
This very unusual cloud formed one morning, over the hills, and then in a few minutes was gone again. The hills often seem to influence cloud formation, so while this may seem like a cloud photo, it is also about the hills.
dramatic cloud above the hills
It seems impossible to me to take a scene of the surrounding ranges for granted when the light is so insistent that you pay attention. On this particular cloudy morning, there was a hole in the cloud behind me, and through it came this tract of light in front of me, lasting only a short while, as if to say ‘look at me’.
dramatic morning light on the hills
Sometimes the landscape speaks to me of olde world landscapes painted by the masters, and I can’t resist editing them to match my fantasy. The hills don’t really need me to intercede, of course, they are beautiful just as they are.
morning light on the hill, edited using DistressedFX app
Thank you for viewing ‘my hills’ in Central Australia. If you would like to see more hills from around the world, click on over to Ailsa’s page where more beauty awaits you.
Today is Planetark National Tree Day in Australia. As most of you know I love trees and photograph them often. It might even be genetic; my father grew Christmas Trees for a living! Here’s a little reflecting of some passed tree portraits:
Melaleuca leucadendra, Weeping paperbark
Evening at Honeymoon Gap, Christmas Day (not a photo of the day)
Cue the dramatic theme from Jaws…da-dum, da-dum… Alice Springs has been in the grip of an invisible threat…the Gidgee. Friday morning we awoke to a smell of very strong LPG gas throughout the house. It was alarming at first, until we realised, outside it was worse. That was the clue. It was the annual invasion of the Gidgee, or Acacia Cambagei. Releasing their odours far and wide these trees always raise comments and pulled faces among the residents; but this particular day, when we had heavy cloud cover and rain to trap the smells close to the earth, it was extra special–as in awful.
Still shrouded in cloud Mt Gillen
Revived ferns in the rocks with cloud covered Mt Gillen behind
My plan to have eggs for breakfast was abandoned for something that didn’t require the gas cooker to prepare them. Ugh. In fact, eating itself was almost abandoned, except that I am a hungry girl in the mornings! After breakfast we went into town to buy groceries. There was no escaping the smell as it even permeated the processed air in the grocery store. But outside was worse. We returned home feeling quite bilious.
The local ABC radio announcer swears she left a note for her husband before going to work on the early shift to ‘have the gas bottle checked today’, due to the smell! She is new to town and has not experienced the joys of the Gidgee. Nor have most of us experienced it quite to this degree. I pity the poor tourist who has lobbed into town for a few days, wondering why the travel literature did not warn of the smell of Alice Springs!
I sacrificed myself to the challenge of locating a Gidgee tree to show you. Smelly though they are, finding one proved difficult, as they are fairly nondescript in appearance. Since they are an Australian native tree I thought my best chance to photograph one would be at Olive Pink Botanic Garden. If I could smell it, I could find it. But it was more difficult that it sounded; in fact, gave myself a headache sniffing it out. I tramped the trails and studied the tree names, pointing my nose skyward like an animal tracking its prey. Sniff, sniff. No Gidgee here.
As I searched– the Sturt Desert Pea…
White Cypress Pine…
White Cypress Pine with moisture and light
Bush Tomato blossoms with moisture
Eucalyptus Orbifolia with moisture drops
…revealed their droplets of adornment, remaining after the rain and cool temperatures. These were rare sights in our normally arid lands.
Acacia Cambagei, or Gidgee, or stinking tree!
And then all at once ‘ugh’ there it was, that repugnant aroma at once a happy discovery, but also instantly making me sick again. I had sniffed it out–literally. Fortunately the intense smell that blanketed the town only lasted while the cloud cover was low. The now localised aroma was at least escapable. And so I did, escape home to warn you…beware the grip of the Gidgee!