The stories we tell

Lately I’ve been reading about … river red gums

I didn’t just notice the river red gums, but also the cracked mud of receding water, rotting gum leaves, greater eastern egrets, kingfisher, heron, ibis, ducks, emus, kangaroos, wild horses, wasps and flies. I even saw (threatened) Murray cod foraging in the shallow water along the lake’s bank, and quickly learnt to look for them at the centre of the ripples of golden tannin their fins sent out. It was the first time I’d seen them surface, amphibian-like, in this manner. The effect was prehistoric. A single galah feather caught in a spider web stretched, strong as rope, between two river gums, waved gently in the corner of my vision.

From ‘Biyala Stories
by Sophie Cunningham

Each month this year, I’m taking a walk through the Aldinga Scrub — the same walk each time, along the Coral Lichen Circuit, which follows a gentle, undulating loop through the Scrub, with spots that overlook both the coast (to the west) and the hills (to the east) — to watch the seasons ring their changes on the landscape. I’ve walked the Scrub so often, taken pictures of the trees and the flowers, listened to the birdsong and the sound of the waves in the distance, to the wind moving through the trees. But I want to know the Scrub better, to know it intimately, to witness it. I want to know its intricacies — the kinds of intricacies that Sophie Cunningham describes so beautifully in the passage I’ve quoted above.

Cunningham’s essay is about the river red gums that grow in the part of the world where she lives: Melbourne (mostly), Victoria. It’s a thoughtful, erudite, poetic essay, at least in part about the stories these trees can tell us, the stories they might add to our own (human) narrative if we were able to listen. (You can read it here.) It came to me, as I read her essay, that I don’t know the stories of the trees in my own part of the world, this part of the world I’ve said so often and so glibly that I love.

Aldinga Scrub: January.
SA blue gums.

The trees of the Aldinga Scrub, like the river red gums in Cunningham’s essay, are struggling to survive. So are the plants of the Scrub, the birds and the animals. Their survival is threatened by many things, including encroaching housing developments; farming practices that have, since World War II, diverted the natural water flow away from the Scrub to nearby crops; pollution; climate change; islandisation; the spread of weeds from people’s carefully curated gardens and lawns.

I’m neither a scientist nor an ecologist; I can’t use any particular knowledge or training to save the trees or the plants or the birds on a large scale. But I can keep witnessing the Scrub: wandering through it, posting pictures of it here on my blog and my Instagram feed, sharing, in the process, the things I see and learn, the passage of the seasons, the stories I discover.

I can ensure those stories don’t go untold. That, at least, is a start.

Aldinga Scrub: February.
Above: Old man’s beard and bent tree trunk.
Below: Bracken fern, dying off in the summer heat, and grass tree spear.

For anyone who’s curious, Cunningham mentions in her essay that she has an Instagram account in which she posts a daily picture of a tree. I thought this was a splendid idea, so I searched for her account and found it here.

Arctic Dreams

Other people’s words about … birds

Birds tug at the mind and heart with a strange intensity. Their ability to flock elegantly as the snow goose does, where individual birds turn into something larger, and their ability to navigate over great stretches of what is for us featureless space, are mysterious, sophisticated skills. Their flight, even a burst of sparrows across a city plaza, pleases us.

From Arctic Dreams
by Barry Lopez

Why do we love birds?
Because they fly.
They sing.
They live wild amongst us.
Yes, indeed, they please us …

Birdwatching without leaving home

Other people’s words about … birdwatching

Often, the people who ask [what kind of bird my pet rook is] are the same ones who, by worthy, rapt and enthusiastic attention to wildlife programmes on television, know the minutest workings of the inner lives of polar bears, of anteaters, hummingbirds, frogs. They’ve seen unfurled before their eyes the most intimate transactions in the lives of other creatures, wooing, mating, birth, all in magnificent colour and irresistible detail, each undreamt-of habit, each hitherto opaque, obscure aspect of nesting or feeding or defecation, but will say, ‘What is it?’ when confronted with the one bird they see every day, making me reflect yet again on the oddness of humanity, which, in its desires and its yearnings, wishes to find life on other planets, other civilisations, but knows so little of the civilisations around it.

From Corvus: A life with birds
by Esther Woolfson

So true.
I love birds, though I’ve never travelled overseas to see one.
Even the commonest seagull can make me marvel.