Most of Australia seems to have had atypical summer weather. Here in the Red Centre of the country, we had turned mostly green from higher than normal rainfall. But now things are turning golden and brown again as we settle back into hot, dry summer weather. As with all climates, when the weather changes, the insects and animals modify their reproduction and their habits to accomodate. At the moment we are having a plague of tiny grasshoppers eating every non-indigenous leaf in sight. You’d think we would learn, but we want our European herbs and fruit trees so we ignore the obvious and persevere.
I did see a hopeful sign in the basil patch this week, this very well camouflaged Mantis.
The equally camouflaged caterpillar was not such a welcome sight, but I took this photo in the river bed on a weed, not at home, so I’m hoping he prefers indigenous plants, especially weeds!
Last year we got up one morning to this sight on our patio. If you spotted the ‘roo poo’ amongst the ravaged Ponytail Palm pieces, you will have guessed the culprit. There are a couple of plants in our garden which seem to regularly piss off the locals that frequent us and they let us know about it. Recently, I saw on a program called Kangaroo Dundee (filmed here, near Alice Springs by the BBC and shown around the world, apparently) that the Roos will sort of box and tear at plants to practice their fighting skills against the other males in the mob. We have also been told that sometimes they are digging at the irrigation system for water that they can smell. Since keeping the large water bowl for them, we have fewer episodes, but still the occasional misadventure.
I’m happy to report, the Ponytail Palm survived and looks like it will be a nice shape again…eventually. This photo was taken over a month ago after one of the rains.
This big ole fella was in bad shape the first time he lumbered through our breezeway. We are thinking we might need to rename it the roo-way because they use it so often and seem to think it was built just for them. He visits every so often and I see him taking long drinks at the water bowl and he relaxes in the shade. A couple of nights ago just on dark we noticed him reclining happily in the boundary area near the compost bins. It was too dark to photograph him but, the next morning as I surveyed the outer kingdom, I saw his ‘hip hole’.
I thought I’d try my hand at posting my first video because I want you to hear the beautiful song of a Pied Butcherbird, a type of Magpie. They are not a colourful specimen like the parrots, but they are handsome in their own way. They ‘carol’ (sing), from our patio and nearby trees, sometimes for half an hour at a time. This juvenile is sitting on the edge of the sink practicing its little heart out. It is one of three babies born to a mother earlier in the season and we hear them fairly often. I hasten to add, Butcherbirds (YouTube link so that you can see and hear the bird closer) are not named this for nothing. I have seen them stalk a pigeon which must have been weak, and kill it with their strong pointed beaks, and devour it until all that was left were some feathers on the grass. That is nature for you.
Finally, a couple of days ago I made my way down the dark hallway at 5.30am, turned on the office light, looked down, and there, inches from my foot was this little darling. In 16 years of living in this house I have never seen a frog inside. This is arid land, surrounded by plains and desert. Rarely do we even see them outside unless we have just had a huge rain. We have not had rain for weeks now and whether or not this little fella was confused or caught in a time warp, I have no idea. He was fine with having his portrait taken, but when it came to catching him he was quite a challenge. First of all he was barely an inch long and I was trying to be gentle so I didn’t harm him. And secondly, he PEED, all over my hand and the floor—TWICE. Eventually I managed to gently trap him in my hand and put him outside, where I hope a hungry Butcher Bird didn’t swoop down and gobble him up!
Perhaps you know the quote attributed to John Lennon: ‘Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.’ It kind of explains why my break from blogging has been a bit longer than anticipated. Our time away was very good, but the small amount of spare time I had was used to relax, and I knew you wouldn’t mind! On our second day away I received a surprise invitation to something I had only recently even heard of, and never attended…an ‘Instameet’.
As you know, I am engaged in a 365photochallenge. It involves taking a photo each day and posting it on Instagram @amosthemagicdog. Many of my photos have been picked up, with permission, by some of the Northern Territory tourism Instagram and Twitter accounts, as have many photos of others here in Central Australia. Through the efforts of @NTOutbackAus an Instameet was organised here in Alice Springs. It was to thank those of us who contribute to promoting our love for the place in which we live. It was also a chance for us to meet each other, as well as a few professional photographers who travel the country contributing from everywhere.
The problem for me was the Instameet happened only about 5 hours after our plane was to land from our trip. As you know there are always many things to get back into place when arriving home from time away, groceries, unpacking, washing of clothes, etc. Part of me really wanted to go along to this unique opportunity, but the introvert in me, that person who hates crowds and gatherings, sat on my shoulder saying “you can get out of it, you have an excuse”…
At 6pm atop Anzac Hill it was still very hot, 38C (100F) but I went along and found a bit of shade, and shook a few hands. Much to my surprise, some of the Instagram buddies, whose work I have enjoyed, were there and it was fun to meet them. Our hosts had provided local foods and some special guests from the local Desert Wildlife Park. In the background local performer, Andrew Langford, played the didgeridoo, which added to the very Central Australian feel of the event. People who happened along to view the sunset were intrigued, if not a little intimidated by the activities! There were even a couple of enterprising men with a drone! And then of course there were all those cameras! Who wouldn’t be a little intimidated? I’d guess about 20 or so photographers and contributors showed up, in addition to the Wildlife Park Rangers, the promotional people and other support staff. When will I learn these things are seldom as daunting as I imagine?
This, among other things, is part of the ‘adventure’ of my 365photochallenge.
(The day after the Instameet I came down with a heavy head cold which has kept me from the computer, but I have managed to struggle through the photo challenge. I will update you soon on that and our travels.)
Many of you will remember, I am a light chaser. I almost never sleep well when the full moon is in phase. This means I’m up early–‘sparrow fart’ we call it here. This morning was no different, so off I went in search of the majesty that flows when the moon is full.
I didn’t intend to chase it over hill and dale and around the outcrops, but it is a kind of drunkenness that overcomes me when I am chasing the light. So I jogged, at times, through rocks, prickles and spiky grasses to get every bit of light I could into my lens.
Here is the chase…
And I will say ‘farewell’ for a few days, perhaps 10 or so, depending on internet connections, as we take a short break from our beautiful Alice.
We have a saying around our house, ‘no news is good news’. Probably, you have used it too. We say it to reassure ourselves that when things are quiet, it is preferable to the bad news one so often receives. In recent months we’ve had quite a few bits of sad news, involving serious illness or death among family and friends. I tell you that so that you will know that my writing today is not so much written in response to events, but with an appreciation of their absence!
Deep, collective sigh of relief. Thank you.
In between the mundane, everyday events unfolding, I’ve noticed that the photography challenge has filled substantial space in my small amount of spare energy. I didn’t really know what to expect from the exercise. Only 60 days into it, I’ve already been very surprised a couple of times at opportunities and outcomes.
At the moment of taking a photo, I’m never completely confident that I’ve ‘got it’, though sometimes I am reasonably certain. Later, in the relaxed scrutiny of the shots, I decide…most are not quite there; misplaced focus, perspective could have been better, missed the right light, didn’t frame things very well. So much can, and does, go wrong.
I am an amateur and I have an iPhone as a camera, what can I expect?
But that would not be the most helpful perspective. I have a camera and a brain and the will to seek, so, what can I expect? Certainly not any of the very best photos that happened this week! I ventured out each day inviting the magic to happen, and having faith in my skills that I could handle it. But this week was as if I had an invisible, omnipotent assistant helping me in ways I still cannot fathom.
Early in the week, I had a technical breakthrough with regard to manual focus. I had been struggling for nearly a year with certain lighting situations and upon reviewing my technique, I discovered a tiny, but vital, error.
What a great life lesson, eh? When things aren’t working, have another look.
You know the saying ‘luck is preparation meeting opportunity’? Never has this wisdom been more evident to me than this week. Twice, opportunities presented themselves with wildlife shots I’ve been trying to capture for two years. The first, two Port Lincoln Parrots perched in a tree that had all its leaves eaten by grasshoppers. There were two amazing things that happened with this one, firstly, that the parrots who are quite skittish, actually seemed to pause an extra couple of moments before flying off, and secondly, that the grasshoppers had denuded the tree. If the leaves were still on the tree, the parrots would not have been nearly visible enough to be worth a photograph!
The second wildlife photo that was a benchmark for me was one I’ve been trying to get for two summers. Dragonflies frequent our courtyard because of the water. I have tried and tried to photograph them but to no avail. They are even more skittish than the birds. I read that when photographing animals if you move very slowly and then stop in increments they will feel less threatened. And that is how I approached this dragonfly, as he perched on an onion stalk. I am learning the wisdom of quiet, and patience. But also I am seeing the results of an iPhone Photography course I took online last year.
The most important lesson of the course? Practice, practice, practice.
And finally, finishing a spectacular week, came this morning’s sight at sunrise. It lasted only about a minute and had I not gone for my walk, I would have missed it.
So there you have it, a ‘no news’ week, filled with tiny moments of grace.
My photo of the week may seem very underwhelming to you. But it evokes in me the moment I saw it at 5.15 in the morning. I wandered sleepily to the kitchen and turned on the light, and there, precisely laid on the counter next to the fridge and underneath the cereal cupboard, were the implements my husband would use to prepare his breakfast. The bowl, the spoon, and the knife with which he cuts the strawberries he enjoys on his cereal. The night before, after I had gone to bed, he had emptied the dishwasher, and had thoughtfully placed the items he would need in their place of use the next morning. It is the stuff relationships are made of; the little things sadly missed when someone is no longer there one day. He is not always this precise about things, but he is a very thoughtful, purpose filled person, and this was a tiny snapshot representing that part of him.
(The photo was edited using an app called Waterlogue, that I am learning to use.)
When you live in the desert and it rains, you take notice. And when it rains a lot, I photograph it! We’ve had a very wet, and cool, start to 2015, not that most of us mind. Though there are a few poor souls who are stranded out bush due to road closures. And, sadly, there is a 23 year old young man who was trying to ‘tube’ down the Todd River with a mate, and has gone missing. Messing with the forces of nature is a dangerous business.
One of the routes I take on my morning walk, is along the normally dry Todd River bed. Yesterday morning, the river was flowing heavily enough that it had crossed the Tuncks Road crossing and was heading out toward the Gap. I walked out into the middle of the river bed, which was still dry, to take a photo, as well as look back at the causeway.
“See the Todd flow three times and you’re a local,” it is said. We have been ‘locals’ since the second year we arrived, 21 years ago. But it is an ever curious sight, like a sleeping water serpent, awakening, sometimes fast and angry, other times, lazily going back to sleep again. One can see why the Indigenous people attach meaning to these events.
At 6.15 that same evening, the causeway was closed and this was the scene. Can you see the white marker behind the white car in the above photo, then again amidst rushing brown water in the photo below?
A few minutes later, we crossed Taffy Pick crossing. An hour later it was closed due to the rising water.
About 10 hours later, Taffy Pick was opened again. At Tuncks Road, the nearest causeway to our house, I shot a photo this morning, to put next to the one I took last evening from the same place.
We are predicted to receive two more days of heavy rain, as the monsoon from Western Australia bears down on us. Once the ground is saturated, as it now is, additional rain will cause the river to rise suddenly again. It is capable of flooding. We have seen it, though thankfully, our house is out of the flood zones.
A blogging friend asked me if we get lovely plants, flowers or animals to the area after such rains. At first I answered ‘No. Not really’. But I pondered further on her question. The Red Centre (as we are called) turns green, and that is a novelty, and especially beautiful against the red ochre dirt and rock. But most of the green means additional food for creatures… like mice. And mice are additional food for snakes… and you can put the pieces together. Then there are the gazillion additional flies and mosquitoes and at the moment we have a plague of mini grasshoppers that are denuding everything possible, except, of course, those flowers that give my husband hay fever!
However, there is one cute little species that appears after big rains, and that is Spencers Burrowing Frog. As you can imagine, we have few frogs here in the desert. When they do make an appearance they also make their presence known at night, calling each other in the dark ‘I’m here’… ‘I’m over here’… ‘C’mon over and let’s get jiggy with it’.
Their instinct draws them to water and, unfortunately, our spa is a natural target. But the chlorine in it will kill them pretty quickly. I rescued this little fellow this morning but am not sure he will survive the chlorine exposure. Not that he is likely to survive very long anyway. Their main objective is to mate and promulgate the species, and that will be done in a few weeks, after which all will go quiet again.
Spencers Burrowing Frogs have the ability to absorb large amounts of water (and presumably chlorine—eek!) and store it between their muscles. Burrowing Frogs vary in colour and markings and have digging ‘implements’ on the side of their back feet. In dry times they dig down backwards into the sand in search of a moist spot where they can sleep until heavy rain awakens them from their slumber. A short burst of activity then follows (he-he, we can guess what kind of activity!). Up to the surface they climb, feed and reproduce, before the water disappears.
There is nothing more humbling than living in a place where you witness the power of nature and its cycles so closely. It is a local phenomenon for many people to turn out and watch and photograph the river, for it is such a fleeting miracle of nature. When it disappears underground again, we have the added comfort of knowing our water supply is being replenished.
As my husband succinctly put it. “We’ve had enough rain now… but there will be more. It is the way it always happens in Australia.”
Except for the four days our daughter visited, my kitchen was not a festive place in December. Our weather was very hot… and unusually humid.
We were away in Sydney exactly during the siege, exactly in, and near, Martin Place. It has left me reeling a bit.
My Kitchen Mojo is still a no-go.
I have never before, in my 31 years living in the Northern Territory, seen ‘clotted cream’ in the grocery. Am sure the out of date milk in the fridge in Darwin heat may have looked the part a time or two… but to see it for purposeful procurement, was a first!
This gorgeous SOLIDTEKNIKS cast iron pan made its way into my kitchen via our lovely daughter. Of course it was the one and only thing on my Christmas list, which either says a lot about my lack of needs, or speaks highly for the pan, so we’ll go with the latter. The learning curve with the pan is a bit steep. I’m screwing up a lot. Eggs hate it. Yes, I have consulted a learned friend as well as two websites on the matter, and I’m closing in on the secret, but I’m not there yet. All suggestions welcome! I found out about this beautiful cookware via one of our IMK group, accomplished cook and kitchen guru, Bizzy Lizzy.
Our daughter had my kitchen humming during her visit. It was 41 C (106 F) the day she and I had planned to bake fruit cakes and roast pork belly with roasted veggies.
My overheated brain forgot to remind me to photograph the fruit cakes, but it was such a pleasure to watch Allison so confidently making her favourite Jamie Oliver pork belly recipe I certainly didn’t miss a chance to photograph that. It was delicious!
I also discovered this new coconut yogurt in the grocery store, expensive, but delicious, and still cheaper by about 25% than the health food store version, though it does have a very small amount of sugar in it!
This is my short IMK post for this month… we live in hope that the food gods will smile on me in 2015. There are a few tentative glimmers here and there. New Year’s Day breakfast was a success, but you’ll have to wait until next month for that photo. It may be the only one I have!!
My very best wishes to you all! Be sure to call around to Celia’s place at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial to see what’s happening in the kitchens around the world!
I’m giving you a break from travel talk because I’m so tickled with a recent development here at Chateau ‘Z’. While we were away, a kangaroo adopted us! We see mobs (that is what a group is called) of kangaroo all the time, but we’ve never had a particular one visit us so consistently. He’s been around the neighbourhood for a while but lately he has decided the patch of gazanias I’ve left growing for kangaroos to eat during lean times, and the water bowl I keep full, suit him quite well. He isn’t here every day, but regularly makes an appearance. The tip of his tail is damaged, which easily identifies him but doesn’t seem to slow him down. I love watching him take off at a fast clip. They move with such grace, and agility, and in a way that is unlike any other animal. My friend tells me that often the older males get booted out of the mob and live on their own, like this one seems to be.
I’ve been sneaking around with my iPhone taking photos for you. The above shot was taken through the vertical blinds. He would never let me get this close to him normally.
He drank for a long time at the bowl of water, probably 8-10 minutes the other day, then he hopped onto the golf course and nibbled grass for half an hour or so.
Later on I went to empty scraps into the compost bin (foreground of the photo, sorry!) only to discover him about to make himself comfortable for an afternoon snooze. I tippy-toed back into the house, still carrying the scraps, and exchanged them for my iPhone. I tippy-toed out again and carefully sneaked the phone around the corner of the studio in hopes he would not notice it. He appeared to be about to rest, and then a minute later, I got a shot of him in full resting position.
It is such fun to have the privilege to watch him close up. I hope he continues to visit us regularly, but he is a wild animal adapting to an urban environment, and anything can happen. Do you think we should name him or is that tempting Fate?? Leave a suggestion if you do, and if he continues to visit we’ll give him a moniker!
Meanwhile—hooroo! (Australian slang for ‘goodbye’)
‘There’s no better way to kill a bad product than with good advertising.’ When I worked in advertising that phrase was our way of reminding ourselves to stay true in what we said about our product, but also, to try our best to make sure the product was good in the first place. If we launched very clever, successful ads and people responded and bought the product, which turned out to be a dud, word would spread fast!
Every time I hear the phrase ‘In these uncertain times…’ I think ‘that is advertising a lie’. Humans have never lived in certain times. I doubt there even exists such a thing in a parallel universe! All that we know about life is, at best, that certain things may be likely to happen, or not. The only certainty that may possibly exist for us is in this moment. Not a nanosecond from now, or an hour from now, but now… oops… gone.
What is my certain moment, is not your certain moment.
It is to our detriment that we buy into this well advertised concept, that somewhere out there, was, or might one day be, certain times. It is a bad product of faulty thinking.
Yesterday I was diagnosed with glaucoma, and partial sight loss in the lower portion of my visual field–both eyes. This was the third in a series of tests, so there is no doubt. For half the day I morphed through four of the five stages of grief and loss… denial… anger… bargaining and sadness. We’ve all been there.
I took the eye drops the doctor said for me to start ‘immediately’.
I went to bed. Stuck at sad.
This morning I woke, if not happy, at least aware of the many times in life I have been lucky. It was an unusually warm morning for the middle of winter, so I grabbed my camera to greet the sunrise. The amazing colours and cloud formations put everything into perspective again. The power of the thing that is bigger than us, more beautiful than artists can replicate, reassures me– restores me. All things are possible, and as they should be, if not always as they are advertised to be.
Stage five: acceptance.
In the wise words of Bob Dylan…
“The Times They Are A-Changin'”
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.
(I shot all these photos on my walk this morning, isn’t it incredible the spectrum of light, shadow and colour?)
Most people assume we don’t really have seasons here in Central Australia. They would be wrong. It is Autumn here now, and for the last few weeks I have been inspired… giddy… okay, obsessed, with the changes in the light as it skims the mountains, is filtered by cloud, washes the kitchen bench, highlights the garden. My husband chuckles at me photographing food in the morning and late afternoon light in the kitchen. Then he calls me to see the odd shaped clouds or the colour of the sky at sunset.
The nights have cooled and the days no longer require air conditioning in the house. We can come out of hibernation from the heat and intense sun. We often get a bit of rain this time of year, usually to spoil the Easter weekend camping experience! Easter was later this year, however, and the rain came at its usual time, so everyone is happy. When you only receive about 200mm (8 inches) of rain in a year and you get 100mm in one week, it grabs your attention.
Months of red dust rinsed from the leaves, filling up the basin until the dry river bed was replenished, and began to flow. See the Todd flow thrice and you are considered a ‘local’. I have lost count. There is always palpable excitement as locals, and tourists alike, flock to the river to see and photograph it during a few days of flow. And then it is gone again. It retreats underground like a great, mysterious serpent.
Our causeway dissolved into river and was blocked for a short while, so we had to travel an extra five minutes into town. The ‘hardship’ is worth it! All is dry again now, and all that remains is the proof of what transpired; fresh blades of new grass, green leaves resplendent, and a few dewy, morning remnants of moisture hovering above ground.
And there is the light. Always, there is the light that is so inspiring. Below is a gallery of photos I hope will bring some light to your life.
(if you move your curser over each photo you will see the titles pop up, and if you double click on the photos you can see them full size)