Yellow

Other people’s words about … spring

After Matthew left I lost the knack of sleeping. Brighton seemed unsettled and at night it was very bright … At periodic intervals throughout the day I felt that I was drowning, and it was all I could do not to fling myself to the ground and wail like a child. These feelings of panic, which in more sober moments I knew were temporary and would soon pass, were somehow intensified by the loveliness of that April. The trees were flaring into life: first the chestnut with its upraised candles and then the elm and beech. Amid this wash of green the cherry began to flower and within days the streets were filled with a flush of blossom that clogged the drains and papered the windscreens of parked cars.

from ‘To the River
by Olivia Laing

I continue to be fascinated with the notion of seasons, and how the idea of a season is as much a cultural and traditional one as it is a quantifiable or temporal one. Here in my part of South Australia, if you were to measure the year out using temperature and climate as your basic season markers, you might say that we begin the year in January and February with dry, glaring, windy heat. In March and April the weather is often warm and dry but the wind drops off; in May and June the days grow cold, though they remain frequently sunny and still. Somewhere around July and August, the serious clouds and rain begin; in September and October there may be both storms and patchy sun; in November and December the weather is dry and warm but variable.

That, at least, would be one way to mark out the seasons where I live.

But temperature and weather are only half the picture. Plant life and animal life have their own seasons, too. In the northern hemisphere, spring is often celebrated as a season of growth and birth, much as Laing describes it so vividly in the passage above, but here in South Australia, that season of growth is far more staggered and gradual. In late July, when the temperatures are still winter-cold, the native plants begin to flower, and the birds begin to build their nests. By November, that cycle of birth and growth has already begun to slow and drop off.

And then there are the different seasonal colours. Myself, I tend to think of July and August, in my own world, as the yellow months. So many of the native plants that flower at this time of the year have yellow blossoms: acacias, guinea flowers, groundsel flowers, punty bushes, bush peas, goodenias.

Many of the plants I’ve just named were in flower on one of my latest walks in the Scrub, as you can see in the pictures accompanying this post. Everywhere I looked, from the tops of the trees right down to the ground, there were sprinklings of yellow.

So it was a yellow walk through a yellow world. Perhaps we should call this time of year the yellow season?

Out and about: after the rain

‘When you’re walking the view shifts and changes.
Walking’s a form of hope.’

from ‘The World Without Us
by Mireille Juchau

 

This year, July was exceptionally dry in South Australia. Then August blew in and it has been bitterly cold, windy and rainy ever since.

There is a manic wind whipping through the treetops today … the sort of wind that’s somewhat unsettling and leaves me feeling a bit scratchy, Belinda Jeffery writes in her August 5 entry in her wonderful cookbook-cum-nature diary The Country Coobook. And I know what she means. In the middle week of August, I spent a week in our beach house down south, and much of the time the squalls of rain were so frequent and unpredictable, there wasn’t much of a chance for me to get out.

Rain in the vineyards

Still, one morning mid-week the sun shone between showers and I risked a walk. I headed down the path that skirts the wetlands and vineyards (on one side) and the eastern boundary of the scrub (on the other) and then turned south to follow the path back into the scrub.

Flooded scrubland

Last time I walked in the area around this trail, the ground was damp but not waterlogged. But on this particular day, after the recent rains, the low-lying parts of the land had become flooded. Beyond the reeds that bordered the flooded land, I saw trees with their trunks submerged, and waterbirds diving and swooping from branch to branch.

Submerged trunks

There was even a family of ducks.

If I crouched down to peek through the reeds, I could just see the green grassy banks rising above the flooded land, further within the scrub.

Is the grass always greener on the other side?

Once I’d walked far enough south, I turned west, deep into the scrub, where there were no more floods, and where yellow blossom dotted the landscape (more about which in an upcoming post). But even as I walked, the sky darkened and the temperature dropped.

I made it home just before the next burst of rain …

Out and about: a new series

‘When you’re walking the view shifts and changes.
Walking’s a form of hope.’

from ‘The World Without Us
by Mireille Juchau

 

As I’ve mentioned before, I have two part-time jobs, which I move between each week in much the same way as I move between my two houses. One of my jobs involves editing manuscripts for an academic press, while the other involves call centre work.

The job at the call centre doesn’t involve sales work; I work for a not-for-profit community health organisation. My calls are mostly from clients wondering what time their nurse is coming or needing an unscheduled visit from a nurse due to an unexpected health crisis, or from members of the public wanting to find out how to go about becoming a client. Around me, as I take call after call, my colleagues do the same. We work in a bubble of chatter and noise: phones ringing; people laughing or raising their voices for a client who’s hard of hearing; people taking complaints; the lunch lady ringing her bell as she pushes her trolley between desks to sell food to anyone who didn’t bring their own lunch with them.

During each shift, I am allotted a 30-minute lunch break at a stipulated time (which varies depending on what time my shift starts). There is a lunch room at the end of the corridor, with a toaster and a microwave and a dishwasher, but I rarely eat my lunch there. Though I’m proud to work for the organisation — though I enjoy the work and value what we all do there — I think of those 30 minutes as my chance to escape.

And so I wander outside the office with my lunch. Our office is on the fringes of the city, and just down the road from our building is a stretch of park land that runs between the main road and the railway track. I walk there each day, and despite the hum of traffic and the rattle of trains passing, it’s a peaceful time. Swallows dive in front of me; parrots chirp; magpies sing; mynah birds chortle.

You can’t go far in 30 minutes, and I walk briskly along the path on a designated route. Still, despite my hurry, there are moments enough in which I have the chance to notice the passing of the seasons. In the cold months of the year, the grass is long and wet and the trees sway in wild, wet winds, their branches silhouetted against the grey sky. In the hot months, the grass dies off and the sun beats down between the branches, and the birds murmur amongst themselves.

Today’s pictures come from one of those lunch breaks a couple of weeks ago: late July, early August. Officially, these months are still classified as winter, at least according to the Western calendar. I’ve heard, though, that Indigenous Australians traditionally mark the time differently, recognising more than four seasons each year — and on this walk I saw why. Despite the cold, blustery wind, and the wet grass, and the leaden clouds above me threatening squalls of rain, the native bushes along the path had begun to flower. Acacia trees were heavy with musty yellow blossom (as pictured in the top photo), and I came upon a couple of hardenbergia vines in full bloom, their vines resplendent with purple flowers (as pictured in the remaining photos).

Perhaps you recognise the words I’ve quoted at the top of this passage: I’ve quoted them before. I think the words bear repeating, here and elsewhere, which is why this is the first post in a new series on my blog — a series I’m entitling ‘Out and About’. In these posts, you’ll find pictures and thoughts that I’ve collected together after one of my frequent wanders. It’s not a new topic for my blog, really — just a new way of gathering these kinds of post together: a recognition of how much this part of my life means to me.

Walking is a form of hope, you know. It’s also a form of joy. That’s how those lunchtime walks seem to me.

Tentacles

Other people’s words about … urbanisation

Here, town finished, and countryside began. You crossed over, from pavements and shops, towards copses and streams, and meadows full of grazing cows. The streets and the fields seemed to push at each other, the city trying to sprawl further out and the fields resisting. The planners and architects and merchants would obviously win. What force had buttercups and earthworms and cabbages against the need of human beings for dwelling places, against developers’ chances to make money? Alive as a strange creature in an aquarium, the city stretched out its tentacles, grew and swelled, gobbling the pastures and hedgerows that lay in its path. Fields were bought, and new rows of houses built, and then the process repeated.

from ‘The Walworth Beauty
by Michèle Roberts

When we moved to Aldinga Beach almost twenty years ago, it was still — just, almost — a country town. Ever since then, the city has been creeping up on it. Sometimes I think the encroaching suburbs are like an oil spill, seeping down the slopes of the hills from the north, all the way into the Scrub. And so, though the rural world we live in at Aldinga Beach is very different from the nineteenth-century English one Michèle Roberts describes in the passage above, still her words seem apposite.

But the Scrub is still alive and I still go wandering through it, and whenever I’m wandering there, I feel hope. I took the pictures in today’s post one morning last week, in late July. Though the sky was grey and the temperature was chilly, the first breath of spring had wafted over the Scrub, as I hope you’ll see below.

In flower that morning were flame heath bushes …

… and …

… grass trees.

I saw the first shy showing …

… of guinea flowers:

There were green shoots everywhere …

… after the recent rains.

And there were other plants budding, too. Like this:

And this:

And this:

In the southwest corner of the Scrub, where the land slopes down towards the coast, the kangaroos were snoozing …

… although they weren’t best pleased when I disturbed them:

Further on, I caught a flash of gold from the corner of my eye. It was a golden whistler darting about the branches of a tree beside the sandy path.

Whistlers don’t sing at this time of the year, but their plumage is as glorious as ever (though unfortunately faintly blurred in my photos):

So, yes, the tentacles of the city are reaching out here in South Australia.

But still, the last remnants of the pre-urbanised world like Aldinga Scrub live on.

Snatched phrases on … the bush

‘The bush flex[ed] its great, porous hide as we moved,
tiny and blissfully unimportant,
between its bristles.’

From ‘Hope Farm
by Peggy Frew

I’ve been out and about a lot again recently, on foot and on my bike. The photos in today’s post are from a stroll a few weeks ago, on one of the last days of June, before the winter rains began — finally, belatedly — to fall.

I walked eastwards on this particular walk, through the scrub, towards its edge, where it borders the newest housing developments. Before those houses were built, the land had already been denuded of its natural vegetation: it was farmland for years, and then, when the land was sold off, it grew into bare, grassy paddocks.

And yet.

Despite the impact that humans have had on that land, still, as I walked over it, I swear I got a hint of Peggy Frew’s great, porous hide beneath my feet …

Meadowlands

Other people’s words on … wandering

Musing takes place in a kind of meadowlands of the imagination, a part of the imagination that has not yet been plowed, developed, or put to any immediately practical use. Environmentalists are always arguing that those butterflies, those grasslands, those watershed woodlands, have an utterly necessary function in the grand scheme of things, even if they don’t produce a market crop. The same is true of the meadowlands of imagination; time spent there is not work time, yet without that time the mind becomes sterile, dull, domesticated. The fight for free space — for wilderness and public space — must be accompanied by a fight for free time to spend wandering in that space. Otherwise the individual imagination will be bulldozed over for the chain-store outlets of consumer appetite, true-crime titillations, and celebrity crises.

from ‘Wanderlust
by Rebecca Solnit

Most of you would know by now that one of the greatest pleasures in my life is wandering: along the beach, through the Scrub. We read a great deal these days about the value of high-intensity exercise (the dreaded HIIT), and though I understand the principle — short bursts of intense exercise, in order to get your heart going — I find the practice intimidating and somewhat soulless. I’m not interested in exercising purely to become ‘fit’, or to ‘get healthy’, or to try to do something epic.

What I’m interested in is wellbeing — a concept that includes mental, emotional and spiritual aspects as well as the more obvious physical ones.

That’s why I like to wander. Wandering, for me, can be a slow stroll through the bush, or it can be a steady march along the shore. Hopping on my bike and riding places — that’s a form of wandering, too. It’s about breathing in fresh air, moving through beautiful surroundings, looking around, and — yes — musing. As Solnit points out, it’s about being unfettered in time as well as space. Musing takes place in a kind of meadowlands of the imagination, she says.

Oh, yes.

So today’s round-up of photos comes from another one of my recent wanders through the Scrub, back at the end of April. It was a dull, still day, and not many of the plants were in flower. The bush seemed stripped of bright colour: it was all earthy greens and sandy browns. The birdsong was muted, too — the whistlers don’t call much at this time of year; the shrike thrush songs are shorter and softer than in the warmer months. A crow croaked and muttered in the distance, and I heard snatches of broken magpie song.

But then I noticed the banksia trees, which were all in flower. I hadn’t seen them at first because I’d stepped in from a louder, brighter world beyond the Scrub, a world of fences and bitumen streets and painted houses. Banksia leaves are a dark, khaki green, and the flowers blend in with the surrounding vegetation, varying in colour from pale yellow, through light green, to drab brown. Their beauty is as muted as the birdsong I described above, and in order not to miss it — in order to appreciate it — you have to be willing to slow down. To stop. To muse.

And that is what I did.

The big ‘I’

Other people’s words about … the view

Sit. Quietly. Turn your awareness to your heart space.

Now imagine you’re sitting on a small wooden bench with yourself. Imagine you’re doing so in that space in the centre of your chest. There you are, sitting to your right, the little nattering humanoid that you are, berating yourself for eating too much at lunch and debating whether to hang the washing out or not. This little nattering self is your little ‘i’. You (the big ‘I’) can watch it all. Yep, there you are, sitting quietly, looking out at a view, over treetops down to an ocean. On your little bench. Together. You’re just hanging, nowhere to go, nothing to do. The two of you …

From ‘First, We Make the Beast Beautiful
by Sarah wilson

It was my friend and fellow blogger, Anne, who first alerted me to the appeal of benches — I mean, real benches, in real life. In her ‘Bench Series‘, she posts photos of benches that she’s snapped from all over the world. I’d never really looked at benches before, except as convenient things to sit on while I rested and took a moment to enjoy the view before me. Now I find myself noticing them (and photographing them) all the time.

The kind of bench Sarah Wilson describes in the passage I’ve quoted above, though, is a metaphorical bench, one that you can only find within yourself. It’s a place where you can sit while you encounter, and learn to accommodate, your two selves: the busy, superficial, language-oriented self that churns out thoughts night and day, and the deeper, quieter, wordless self that lies beneath all the nagging chatter.

The idea of the two selves isn’t unique to Wilson. It’s an idea common to many systems of thought, one we’ve all become more familiar with since the recent popularisation of mindfulness-based practices and therapies. But I particularly like the way she uses the image of sitting on a bench to explain it. It’s a simple, vivid, accessible reminder of how easy it is to get caught up in (and believe) your own thoughts. 

A thought, after all, is only that: a thought. It may be true; it may not. Thoughts and the truth exist independently of each other. When I first came across this idea (here), it seemed both counterintuitive and revolutionary to me. I’m still grappling with it.

Wilson again:

And then it might occur to you that your little mate ‘i’ is just that — a little mate sitting next to you. And that this Big ‘I’ is who you really are. It feels deep and close and yet so vast.

Okay, I’ll admit I winced, at first, when I read these words. First, I’m not sure that the quieter self (the one Wilson calls the Big ‘I’) is deep or close or vast — or, indeed, in any way somehow ‘better’ than any other part of our self. I think that it just is.

Second, I was troubled by her use of the phrase little mate both to describe the thinking self, and to distinguish that self from the non-thinking self. I found the phrase overly colloquial, like some kind of condescending attempt to make a difficult concept more user-friendly to her less educated readers. But I have slowly come to feel the opposite way about her wording. The word mate implies friendship: it implies love, acceptance, forgiveness. Also fun. That’s helpful, I think. Why vilify a part of yourself, when you can instead smile and make friends with it?

Wilson uses meditation to find her bench. As you know, I don’t. But I don’t think that matters. What matters is that you know the bench exists — and that you know how to find it, however you get there.

And whether or not your prefer your benches real (like the ones in the photographs I took for today’s post, both of which are to be found in Aldinga Scrub) or whether you prefer them metaphorical, I wish you many sun-dappled, peaceful benches of your own in your life, wherever you happen to be.

The beast

Snatched phrases (on being present)

Do the anxiety. Then leave it there. This is our challenge.

from ‘First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Story about Anxiety
by Sarah Wilson

Simple words, huh? They apply to all manner of ills, I think — not just anxiety. They are about staying in the present: doing the hard stuff when it comes up, not questioning it or agonising over it … and then leaving it behind and moving on.

There are no solutions to anxiety out there, Wilson argues further on: no cures or fixes. So you just do it …

… and then you leave it.

This makes great sense to me.

Today’s photos? They’re from one of my latest wanders in the Scrub, a couple of weeks ago: mid-March. It was a still, grey afternoon, and when I first began to walk, the colours seemed drab, and the birdsong was muted, and the air felt unkind and cold.

But as I wandered on, I began to see a few flowers despite the greyness, and I came upon a kangaroo, which stiffened at my bumbling approach and then bounded away. I heard the sea murmur somewhere through and beyond the thicket of trees, and a magpie began to carol, low and soft.

I had done my day, and I had left it there, and things were fine. Just fine.

Differentiation

Other people’s words about … wild animals

As Paul and I were cresting the last hill, as I was squinting into the darkening woods to make out the path, a couple of deer lifted their heads at once and differentiated themselves from the trees.

We stared at them, and they at us, for a full thirty seconds without moving. They multiplied as we looked at them. There were three at first, then there were four, then there were five. They were the exact color of the bark and leaves –- gray brown –- but the skin around their eyes was red. I felt the breeze on their backs lift the braid from my chest and set it down over my shoulder.

‘They’re going to get us,’ Paul whispered. He reached for my hand.

‘They’re a herd,’ I reminded him. ‘They’re afraid of us.’

Two more appeared. Paul shivered.

From ‘History of Wolves
by Emily Fridlund

When I walk in the Scrub, particularly at certain times of the day, I am always conscious that I might encounter a roo or too. There are traces of them throughout the Scrub.

Sometimes a kangaroo appears before me in plain sight — in a clearing in a patch of sunlight, enjoying the last rays of the sun, joey in pouch.

But sometimes there are roos in front of me all the time, without my even realising it. I don’t know what alerts me to them then. It might be the faintest rustle in the leaves around me, or a slight movement — an ear-twitch, perhaps. Sometimes a sense comes over me, simply: a dawning awareness that I am not alone any more, that I am being watched, and regarded, and assessed.

Kangaroos are not naturally aggressive towards humans, as far as I know, or not during encounters like this. But still, like all wild animals, they are protective of each other and of their young. And so, when I come across a roo or two (or more) in this way — when they differentiate themselves from the bushes around them, as Linda, the narrator in the passage above, beautifully puts it — I make sure to stop and take one or two steps back. I let the kangaroos know I’m not a threat. We regard each other a while, creature to creature, acknowledging each other. It’s not fear I feel then, like Paul, the little boy in the quote above: it’s respect.

And then I move on, leaving them to their world, re-entering my own.

Inhabitant

Other people’s words about … noticing

Over the last year I have discovered a passion for birds and wildflowers in particular, along with the ever-present kangaroos. I love the texture of bark, the colour of leaves and mosses, I’m utterly fascinated with the fact that I can walk around our small patch of natural bushland each day and find something I’ve never noticed before. Or find something I have noticed before, but it catches my eye for a different reason.

from ‘Fifteen Acres: A Small Slice of Paradise‘ blog
by Lisa from Central Victoria, Australia

I came across Lisa’s blog only recently and instantly realised she is a kindred blogger. Her blog documents her growing understanding of, knowledge about, and love for all the species of native flora and fauna that live on her block of land in rural Central Victoria. I get the feeling that Lisa has learned about her patch of land in the same way I’ve learned about Aldinga Scrub — by walking through it day after day and simply observing.

Like Lisa, I didn’t expect to become fascinated by the plants and creatures living on my doorstep. It just happened. I didn’t even know about Aldinga Scrub until after we moved to Aldinga Beach: it was the beach — with its beautiful cliffs, its blue waters, its fish-inhabited and bird-dotted reef, its wide sands — which initially attracted me.

The first time I walked through the Scrub, I was just curious. I had heard that it was the last remnant of original coastal bushland in South Australia, and so I wanted to see what it was like. A year later, going through another phase of feeling inexplicably agitated and uncomfortable in my own skin, I decided to try walking through the Scrub more often. I thought that, if I made the effort to look outwards at the world around me instead of looking inwards into my own seething internal landscape, I might find solace.

And I did.

A small kind of miracle happened as I walked through the Scrub over and over. As I wandered, I began to wonder. As I wondered, I stopped. As I stopped, I observed. As I observed, I noticed, as Lisa puts it. And then, at last, I started to see and to learn.

Something else happened, too. I began to inhabit the world around me during those walks. Inhabitation — it’s a powerful word. Maybe it’s pretentious. Maybe it’s corny? And yet that’s how it feels.

It never stops, this seeing, learning, wondering, inhabiting. That’s another kind of miracle.

The pictures in this post are photographs I’ve taken over the years on my walks through the Scrub. Here you can see it in its many moods, its many seasons, its many tempers. I don’t know if my photographs can convey the wonder I felt as I took them, or the remembered sense of discovery I feel now when I return to them, but I hope that they convey, at least, the deep joy that my wandering has brought me.

That’s the thing, you see — noticing is both a humble and a joyful process. It’s a privilege to inhabit this kind of joy.