Last night was hellish. It was preceded by a few difficult weeks and a few more are yet ahead. Keeping the lid on one’s life at the moment is more challenging than usual, even for an optimist like myself.
We were only a week out of renovations, most of which I handled on my own. This is not easy during a Pandemic when labour is in short supply and most of the skilled workers have been soaked up by the booming housing market. After six months it is done…except that one sticking door that I’ve worked on twice but still needs further attention.
Just as my anxiety was recovering, a dental issue hit. And then worsened. And now needs surgery, and I don’t mean the normal kind, I mean the anaesthesia kind that a Maxillofacial specialist performs but you have to fly interstate to have done. But first pain, then a root canal, and all the while trying to dodge the winter flu and continuing rise in cases of the latest BA4 and BA5 strains of Covid.
But returning to the hell that was Territory Day. ‘Cracker Night’ is an excuse to be wild and inconsiderate with noise, the way New Year’s Eve is an excuse to get drunk and behave badly. Over the 22 years since we have lived here the neighbourhood has deteriorated as builders have bought and transformed houses without understanding the peaceful character of the neighbourhood. The quiet, considered life we knew has been bought, but feels stolen. It is now filled with loud motorbikes, fast drivers, construction noises and late, sometimes all night parties, not to mention one very aggressive dog that lives next to us. It has been disappointing. Anyone who knows us would understand none of those things are part of our lifestyle.
Firecrackers are illegal in most of the rest of Australia except by special permit, and with good reason. But we live in the Frontier, and for 12 hours on Territory Day, July 1, fireworks are available to anyone who fronts up with the money. And worse, there are almost no restrictions for where they are allowed to be set off. From 6-11pm last night the neighbourhood hooligans did their worst. The neighbourhood pets were given anti-anxiety meds to help get through, the rest of us suffered. It was more than my nerves could endure. During the sleepless hours I was doubtful I could continue to live in a place where so little regard is given to the elderly and peaceable inhabitants.
After tossing and turning and shedding a few tears I finally propped myself up on pillows and reached for my phone as distraction. I mostly use Instagram for creative inspiration and so I opened it and there, the first thing I saw were words by the poet, Mary Oliver.
She left this earth three years ago. She would have loved that her words have lived on and have the power to help. At 4.30am, with little sleep and sad heart, I realised as soon as I read this what I must do. I must let no one steal my love for this place, these skies, trees and rocky outcrops. I must let no one steal my early morning walks with the sound of wind in the trees and the Budgies chattering overhead, or the Butcherbirds carolling across the valley.
And a little while later I bundled myself up and out into the cold winter morning and reclaimed my love.
We worked our way through all the seasons in five days over Christmas. Three days before, it was pouring rain, which we badly needed and was an absolute gift. It was also unseasonably cool. My winter track suit even made an unexpected appearance one morning, but the high humidity had me changing again before lunch time. Ok, so our version of seasons is less extreme than most, but it was still quite unusual. We went from the hottest November on record, to almost the coolest Christmas on record. We only missed by about 2 degrees celsius….it was 26C (78F) and the record was 24.2C(75F)
The additions of daughter and sausage dog added their own weather pattern to the immediate environment. When the house that I had tidied within a hair of its existence suddenly looked like a whirlwind had hit, she laughingly swept her hand through the hair and sang ‘I’m home’. I realised I had missed all of the disarray and young energy.
The river flowed energetically for the first time in a couple of years. We’ve had other trickles and teases, but nothing that would lead one to believe the water table was being replenished. This one hinted it might just happen by the time La Niña is finished with us.
There are amazing changes that happen when you live in an arid zone and the rains come. First of all the smell is delicious…once you get passed that first shower that highlights the smell of decomposing things. Eew. The eucalyptus and rain trees perfume the air like walking into the soap factory we visited earlier this year. The factory made their own herbal and other essential oil essences and I could feel myself being uplifted with every breath. It is the same here, after a good rain. Driving to pick up my husband from the airport which I hadn’t done in almost a week, felt like I had been transported to another planet—the one with green stuff on the ground and a landscape that has been sharpened by a high definition filter.
Another change that rapidly takes place is not just the growth of plants, but the very appearance of them, where previously had been barren soil and rock. The wild Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) first emerged after a rainfall of only 10ml a few weeks ago. By the time another 80ml had come, it was filling every available space and growing larger each day. Surely I had just missed it in years passed, but it seemed to be everywhere! When we visited the soap factory at Babylonstoren earlier this year, we had taken a tour of the gardens. We learned that our common jade plant, growing with abandon, was edible! I’d seen kangaroo eating the tips of it but until our guide showed it to us and mentioned it was edible, I had not equated the kangaroo experience with a human one. She said, watching what animals eat can often give us a clue to what we can eat, and then there is chocolate which is toxic to dogs. Never mind. Wild Purslane is also edible, and has a salty, slightly sour taste and a slight crunch. It reminds me of the texture (but not the flavour) of Japanese wakame salad.
As well as the Purslane multiplying, the Naked Lady lilies positively raced toward the heavens with each day of cloud and rain. The day the cloud cleared, they opened their pinkness to the world. Their life is brief but there is no sadness to it. The blushing blossoms nod in the breezes, rejoicing a short, happy life.
Once the rain stopped, the cloud cleared fairly quickly but unfamiliar humidity remained heavily in the air and morning dew sparkled on the newly emerged green shoots. Insects flourished too, everything from mosquitoes to flying ants, bees, dragonflies and bush flies, a veritable feast for birds. We’ve already discovered a few intruders, attacking the refreshed garden. And so it goes. Temperatures returned to the more normal range, but on the very tolerant side through Christmas, and headed toward hot for the New Year. It was a wonderful break.
My usually quiet days turned to a happy mixture of baking and cooking, sausage cuddling, the occasional short nap, tv viewing, drinks with friends, gift exchanges and basking in love. Four days and a hundred photos later, the house was suddenly silent again. Only the orchestra of Pied Butcher birds and Cicadas singing, and the tumbling of the washing machine remained. There was no warm little body squirming into my lap, no funny quips or gorgeous smiles from our daughter, no reliable assistance and generous compliment from my husband. Armed with ham sandwiches and Christmas baking, at day break they slipped quietly out of the driveway and began their 1500 kilometre journey to her home. Faced with a pile of clothes, sheets and towels to wash, only the sheets now remain. Her perfume clings to them. Maybe they can wait until the scent has faded to nothing. Then I will be able to bear washing them. This was the first time in 8 years she had been able to be here for Christmas. Of all the years, this one would have been my choice.
Long may the memory last.
**The long drive happened because the airlines are not yet transporting animals and there was no place Allison could leave Leni while she came home. Her lovely Dad offered his driving services and flew down to drive with her north, and home again, and then flew home from Adelaide. It was a big effort for all of us, but so worth it.
We recently flew to Adelaide to attend the graduation of our daughter upon completion of her Master’s Degree at the University of Adelaide. We had a fantastic few days together, basking in an extended moment of shared achievement.
Mum and Dad, 2001
A few weeks ago when I was organising my photos I came across another graduation. It was just as special but from a different perspective. My 76 year old Dad graduated with his GED (General Education Development), or High School equivalency degree in 2001. I couldn’t be there for that one, but I was proud of him, just the same. Dad had joined the army when he was 17 and had never finished High School. He spent five years in the army during WWII and afterward life moved on and somehow he just never returned for his secondary diploma. I realised many years later this had always bothered him. But it hadn’t kept him from encouraging his children to seek higher education. He was very proud the day he walked across the stage and collected that diploma.
Wonderful as that is, he did not do it alone. He had our Mother, helping him study, and beside him on the day. Our parents are often beside us when we achieve great things, if not physically, certainly meta-physically! I am hopeful that our daughter feels our Presence beside her as she reaches goals in her life. (God knows we all hear our Mother’s voices in our heads, often at times when we wish we didn’t!)
Room for 2 please? Endota Spa, Adelaide
Herbal tea and a decadent snack
The day after our graduation celebrations, I received an early Mother’s Day surprise. She had booked us for a Mother/Daughter pedicure session! It was so fun, and so special. I couldn’t help but reflect, when I was growing up we had no such luxuries, which I could have shared with my Mother. But I know, that she knows, she is loved. We still exchange emails every single day. For a few minutes each day, I focus on her, to share my day with her and she shares with me what transpired in her day. Often it includes our tender thoughts and love for each other.
Selfie with Mom’s iPad!
Even if we are half a world away from our Mothers, the gift of time creates a Presence that supersedes the need for a present, though, when it is in the form of pampered toes, is very much appreciated!
We have eyes to see, of course. But what do we see? As I was going through the grocery store this morning I could see that some of the veggies were a bit passed their prime. I could see the ‘use by’ date on the dairy products, that there was no fish I particularly fancied, which of the sun-dried tomatoes looked best to me. I could see the potential danger in the display that hung out in the aisle a little too far, as well as the young woman stocking the shelves, who smiled at me.
It’s true I could have ascertained most of these things if I was blind, or had no eyes. I could use my other senses, or ask someone to help. But I would have missed the woman’s smile, regardless.
A few weeks ago my dear 86 year old Mother was recovering from her second eye surgery in four months. She has glaucoma, a disease that runs in our family. She had been told more than a year previously that the condition was worsening and she would need to consider eye surgery, if she was to retain her vision. At the time she was caring for our Dad and couldn’t even contemplate the ‘down time’ to have the surgery, nor was it quite called for yet. But soon after he died, she was told there was no time to waste. The pressure in her eyes had soared and the doctor said the only option was the surgery. Imagine, in her grief and fragile state of mind, what it was like to contemplate surgery on her eyes… the windows on her radically changed world.
At first she actually wavered about putting herself through what she knew would be yet another difficult challenge. And then, suddenly, she changed her mind and decided to go ahead. The first surgery went fine but the recovery was more difficult than she anticipated. Three months on and the doctor pronounced her well, and scheduled the surgery for the second eye. As she was recovering from it, a less invasive procedure than the first one, she wrote me an email (a feat in itself, only a few days out from the surgery). It was short, but said so much… “I got this surgery so I could see you when I tell you I love you.”
If there is a better reason for us having eyes, I don’t know it.
Today is my niece’s wedding day. She is my only niece and she is a dear young woman and I would love to have been at her wedding, but circumstances don’t allow it. I have seen some photos of the preparations and they are considerable. The wedding is taking place at my brother’s farm and he has worked hard for months to get everything just perfect. Because that’s how he rolls! He is like our father in that way.
And 30 years ago this passed June, my own Dad was working hard to finish the patio he had been building for FOURTEEN years, so that we could have our small wedding reception there. In fact, the day before we walked down the isle, I was on my hands and knees staining the concrete ‘maiden’ that was the central piece of the fountain he built. (see photo of our five year old daughter standing next to ‘the maiden’ in the snow, about 10 years after our wedding)
‘The Maiden’ and The Child, 1993
At the time, I was somewhat euphoric with pre-marriage bliss, and was not worried about my manicure. But also, I was kind of panicked, wondering if it would actually be finished in time. Inside the house my cousin and Mother were baking the wedding cake. We were rebels, it was a carrot cake, before those kinds of cakes were popular. My cousin, her husband and three boys had travelled all the way from Wyoming to Ohio to attend, and just as importantly, for her to bake my wedding cake. She and I shared a room in our family home for a year and we are truly as close as any sisters could be, but really, flying halfway across the country to bake a wedding cake is above and beyond! AND she had already made the sugar flower decorations beforehand, and carried them with her. I’m still in awe.
My cousin’s beautiful cake creation
My best friend had to drive from Michigan to southern Ohio to be my Maid of Honour and our Best Man flew from Australia to take part! Friends came from Florida and Chicago too, so the far points of the country, and the world, were well represented for such a small gathering. There were only 42 friends and family at our wedding but we kept it small because big would have been too complicated and too expensive. It cost us the sum of a bigger wedding just for the airfares and expenses to get married and move me to Australia, but regardless, we would have gone for small.
Bird’s eye view of the reception (yes, my Dad faced and laid every piece of that stone wall!)
I had been living in Florida and had resigned my job and sold nearly everything I owned and packed the rest up and shipped it to Australia, a country I had yet to lay eyes on for the first time. It took months of preparation since I was also applying for a resident’s visa and working full time and corresponding with my husband-to-be 10,000 miles away, while planning our small wedding. It was a lot, but love carries us through these things.
My parents and us at the church
My Dad was painfully ‘torn’ throughout the lead up to the wedding. He didn’t want to let his only daughter down so he persevered with the patio, but he hated that I was going to Australia to live. Hated it. At the rehearsal he refused to walk me down the isle and until the wedding, I had not known if he would do it or not. At the last moment he acquiesced and grabbed my arm and asked ‘what do I do?’ (since he had not participated in the rehearsal!) I said, ‘Don’t worry, follow me.’ Later, at the reception, which was a non-alcoholic event, his friend spirited him away from the main activity and got him a bit ‘tipsy’ so that when we were leaving the reception Dad leaned over and whispered in my ear ‘keep your panties on!’ My Dad was known for speaking his mind but that one was a surprise.
A large bouquet makes the bride’s waist look smaller!
I reflect now and think it was all perfect and hope that my niece feels the same about her day in 30 years. I see my brother who loves his daughter and think back on the love of my father and I see both the similarities and the differences in the two men. Being truly loved is one of life’s greatest treasures, certainly both my niece and I share that gift.
Today when I wish so much I could be elsewhere I think back to my Dad’s advice… I’m just putting my ‘big girl panties’ on and thinking good thoughts.
The last thing I saw before turning out the light last evening and getting into bed was the outline of my husband’s work boots where he left them in the courtyard. It is often the little things that endear our loved ones to us isn’t it? As I looked at them neatly placed at the end of the ladder he is not yet finished using, there was something about that scene that caught in my throat, and even today nearly brings tears to my eyes. They are his well-loved, well worn RM Williams boots (laughing sides, so named for the elastic in the sides of them) that have had numerous repairs so that he can continue to wear them. He loves simple things and is very loyal (even to boots). He would have thought about where he left them, so as to not be in the way, but to be handy for finishing the job he started… even though he is a thousand miles away for a few days. And what, I thought, if he didn’t make it back to fill those boots again? Why would I think such a terrible thought? Perhaps because I know how life can change dramatically in a minute. Perhaps because I cherish our life and the man that fills those boots. Be grateful. That is today’s message. X
As I write this during a brief visit to Darwin, it is nearly incomprehensible how I came to live here thirty years ago. Perhaps if I recount the story to you, it will seem more real…
Don and I grew up in the same little town in southern Ohio, a whole other lifetime ago, it now seems. We knew each other and our families because growing up in a Midwest town of 2500, everyone either knew you or knew of you. The former was usually better than the latter! We had good friends in common, but more pertinent to our history (and fate) was that Don had worked for my Dad. Anyone who knew my Dad will tell you he tolerated no nonsense from anyone, and especially when it came to his daughter. I won’t say that is exactly why we never dated because to be perfectly honest, I was ‘jail bait’ in those days, at 4.5 years his junior. So, in this case, knowing of each other was the more discretionary path.
Years passed and I graduated high school just when Don was graduating from Ohio State University. We saw each other briefly and he told me he was off to Australia. Wha??? Australia had a shortage of math and science teachers and was recruiting from the UK, Canada, and the USA. If a person ‘signed up’ the Australian government would pay their way over and back as long as they stayed a minimum of two years. I told him to write to me and, being the good letter writer I have always been, I wrote back when, eventually, he did write. In those days it took weeks to get a letter from Australia to the USA, and it was nearly a month if you asked a question before you received the answer by return mail!
We lost touch for a while. He moved about 18 times in the first 10 years he was in Australia, because that is what many young, single people did in those days. He kept the same job, just moved his few boxes of possessions from flat to shared house. Before I knew it, I was finished with my Uni education and was working hard in the television business as an artist, and traveling whenever I could. My cousin, who is more like my sister, married Don’s best mate from high school, and even though they had moved to Wyoming they came to Ohio for visits and caught up with lots of folks in town. Once, when she was visiting Ohio I mentioned I’d had a series of dreams in which Don was the central figure! They were right out of the blue as I’d had no contact with him for a few years. Even at the age of 27 I was beginning to understand that there are no coincidences in Life, only things we do not understand. During this conversation, Donna said ‘We just saw his Mother and she gave us his address, would you like it?’ I may not believe in coincidence, but I am always surprised at the inventiveness of the Universe to give us what we need, when we need it.
Shortly after this, as fortune would have it, my new boss at the TV station, WKRC in Cincinnati, encouraged me to look for work elsewhere as they wanted to hire all new people. TV can be almost as brutal and soul destroying as politics at times. As with most of life’s changes it all worked for the best and I found another job that took me to Denver, Colorado. A couple of months after writing, I received an answer to my letter which Don described as being ‘a bolt out of the blue’. Indeed. He was going to be in Ohio for Christmas, as was I. Since he usually visited my parents when he was in the US anyway, he said he’d pop around while I was in town for those few days.
I can still remember seeing him from the kitchen window of my parents’ home when he walked up the driveway, and feeling a bit giddy and excited. All that without a word spoken!! As he was leaving the house I made the statement that sealed his fate! “On your way back to Australia, why don’t you stop in Denver and spend a few days?” And then a couple of weeks later, he sealed my fate, by doing it! So Denver was where we properly fell in love…with the annual Stock Show as background, no less!! But we neither one breathed that four letter word until after he had left to return to Australia. We had four perfect days together and it was agony when I took him to the airport. Then, about 48 hours later, the phone rang and it was a fairly inebriated Donald on the other end, calling collect from Singapore and professing his love for me! It was the making of a script for a movie! Perhaps Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams will be interested…
Shortly thereafter I moved to a new job in West Palm Beach, Florida. We wrote letters (phone calls were so expensive in those days) all year long, scheming how we would see each other again. Finally, we agreed to meet for Christmas (1981) in Hong Kong. Oh wow, I marvel now at the strength given me to make that trip… That ill-fated trip, as it turned out…. You will have to wait a day or two for the next instalment. Though I do realise you know the ending, remember the road of true love never runs smoothly, and it wouldn’t be a good movie script without a little heartache 😉