Out and about: dragons & damsels

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

from ‘The World Without Us
by Mireille Juchau

 

I wasn’t expecting anything special on my most recent walk in the Scrub. It was mid-February, a warm Sunday at the end of a warm week, after a very warm January. I figured everything in the Scrub — bushes, birds, animals — would be going through what I always think of as mid-summer somnolence.

But things in the Scrub were thriving. Passing sea box bushes resplendent with red berries (above) and sheoak trees whose branches were clustered with woody fruit (below), I walked south, towards the little lagoon just behind the boundary fence that runs along Acacia Terrace.

Damselflies skimmed the (somewhat scummy) surface of the water, and a pair of ducks paddled amongst the reeds in the lagoon. As I followed the curve of the bank around to the other side of the pond, I saw a family of kangaroos lazing in the shade of the nearby bushes, one of them poised upright, ears pricked, standing sentry.

There was a bush in flower that I’d never seen before, too — I think it was a hakea, though I’m not entirely sure. Its white flowers reflected the bright summer sun so that the petals seemed to glow.

And just outside the Scrub, perched on an upright stump by the side of the road, a little dragon caught my eye.

He (or she, I’m not sure) was very still, so still that I thought at first he was an oddly shaped twig sticking out at the top of the stump. We regarded each other silently for quite some time — I, fascinated, he, less so — before I turned to go.

I swear I could feel that dragon’s eyes on me all the way home …

Reflections

Other people’s words about … landscape

Paul had read somewhere that a landscape itself has no meaning. That it was more a mirror and anything you saw in it or felt were your own thoughts or feelings being reflected back at you.

From ‘The Windy Season
by Sam Carmody

I’ve heard it said that a person’s eyes are like mirrors to the soul, but I’ve honestly not heard landscape described before in this way. And yet it makes instant sense to me.

I’ve written before about how, when I first moved to the area of Aldinga Beach, what I saw, all I saw, was the coast. That’s partly because the line of coast is stunning around the Aldinga and Port Willunga area, with its rugged, crumbling limestone cliffs and wide white sands and deep blue seas. It’s partly also because my partner is a surfer and so our life together has been, right from the start, about the sea rather than the bush.

But partly, I think — mostly, in fact — it’s because I didn’t know what else to look for, back then. I came to Aldinga with my own particular thoughts and feelings and expectations, and what I expected to see was reflected right back at me.

The first time I strayed from the beach to wander through Aldinga Scrub I did so more out of curiosity than anything else, knowing nothing more than that it was a small, much-squabbled-over, highly politicised piece of bushland close to home. Then, later, I turned to the Scrub again, seeking solace. I was trying to encourage myself to find an external landscape to wander through, rather than the internal landscape I seemed, neverendingly, to be pushing through.

And I found what I’d been seeking, although I had to teach myself at first.

Take grass trees, for example, which seemed to me at first ugly, prickly, alien things with strange spear-like growths protruding awkwardly from their crowns. Now I see how there are delicate white flowers clustered on those spears at certain time of the year; I hear how insects and skinks scuttle, hidden, protected, beneath their prickly leaves; and I notice how, at every turn of the sandy path in the Scrub, there is a grass tree in a different stage of growth, from the early clusters of stalky green grass to the grey thickets of rotting bark that mark decay and death.

Or take a midsummer day in the Scrub, like the recent one on which I took all the photos in today’s post: the kind of day when the only flowers in evidence are the last clusters of common everlasting, those scraggly, tough little flowers that look like ragged, paper-petalled daisies. In the high, midsummer sun, those petals are the brightest, purest white I’ve ever seen in the bush. I didn’t see that in the early days, either.

So, yes, the landscape of the Scrub I see now is different from the one I saw ten years ago, and in that sense, it is a mirror: it always has been.

Will you forgive me if I use the term ‘meaning-making’ here? I am neither an academic nor a scholar, and in any case, I am thinking of making meanings, in this context, in a psychological rather than a semiotic sense. For me, what I’ve just described above is a process of meaning-making that is both deliberate and joyful: it deepens my life.

And that is the kind of mirror I’ll always be happy to look into.

Snatched phrases on … birds

‘It was eluding her again: the essence of bird.’

From ‘Nest
by Inga Simpson

I love this sentence. Jen, the protagonist of Nest, is an artist, and in this passage she is trying to draw a fairy wren.

I’m not an artist; in fact, I’m spectacularly untalented when it comes to drawing. But I know the feeling of trying to capture — in a photograph, perhaps, or in conversation, or in writing — what you see when you see a bird. To say that a bird flies, or that it sings, or that it is beautiful is true, but those descriptions come nowhere near to capturing what a bird really is, or how it makes you feel.

The essence of bird. Perhaps it will always elude me, as it does Jen. Perhaps that’s part of the fascination.

Exquisite

Other people’s words about … surfing

[My wife Caroline] was reading on a hotel balcony directly above the break. The waves were head-high, barely clearing the rocks on the sets. After every ride, I would look up. Caroline’s nose would still be in her book. I would yell. She would wave. She saw none of my rides. When I finally came in and complained, she tried to explain, not for the first time, how exquisitely boring it was to watch surfing. The lulls between sets seemed to go on for hours. There had been, it was true, some fairly long lulls.

My complaints were trivial, actually, not deeply felt. Caroline indulged my surf fever, even its most juvenile moments, beyond anything I had a right to expect, and I consciously tried never to lose sight of that fact. As indifferent as she was to the ocean and all things surf, our life together was braided with waves. They were a backdrop, a gravitational force, and rarely far away.

From ‘Barbarian Days’
by William Finnegan

Like William Finnegan and his wife Caroline, my life with my partner (and my dog) is braided with waves. I was a suburban child: we had a swimming pool in our backyard, which we swam in on hot summer days after school. The beach was a half-hour car trip away, and my parents reserved it for winter time: long walks in the wind and drizzle, wrapped in coats and scarves and gloves.

After I left home, and after I came home from my years-long travels overseas, I lived in a series of share households by the beach. I met my partner in my late twenties, when he was in his mid-thirties. We began to fall for each other very soon after we met, and only a few weeks after he had come into my life, he took me on a trip to the coast down south. It was Christmas, and his parents needed help towing and setting up their caravan for their annual holiday in the caravan park at Port Elliott. Later, after the caravan was set up and his parents were settled, we slipped away to the beach for some time alone.

And so our life together by the beach began.

Because of my partner’s lifelong passion for surfing, our holidays and camping trips have always been ocean-based. We have spent time in Yorke Peninsula (and indeed, I took the photos in today’s post on our latest trip to Yorkes, in mid-November), Eyre Peninsula, Western Australia, and various spots in our own coastal area, Fleurieu Peninsula; and when we are on holiday, in between the time we spend together on the beach and in the caravan (or, in the early days, the tent), my partner slips off to surf.

As Finnegan so succinctly puts it, the waves are a backdrop, a gravitational force to our lives; they are rarely far away.

I smiled with rueful recognition when I read Finnegan’s description of his wife Caroline’s indifference to all things surf. Oh, yes. But I suspect that, despite everything, Caroline is also grateful for the things that life with a surfer has brought her. As for me, the lifestyle I now lead, living by the coast, camping on cliffs that overlook the sea, wandering lonely shores, is one I am intensely grateful for.

If I had my time all over again, I would choose this life, over and over again.

I would choose it, as I do now, with astonishment and joy.

Snatched phrases on … sweet air

‘The air was sweet and clear: it went in like good wine.’

From ‘The Essex Serpent’
by Sarah Perry

I’m kind of obsessed with fresh air at the moment, for reasons I’ve mentioned before.

So here, without more ado …

… are some photos from a recent weekend down at our beach shack in Aldinga …

… as I wandered out and about …

… breathing in, like the animals all about me …

… the sweet and clean air.

Out and about: field of flowers

‘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.’

from ‘Wanderlust
by Rebecca Solnit

I nipped down to our house in Aldinga for a couple of days recently, and just had time for a quick cycle to the bakery on my bike for fresh ciabatta and then for a brisk walk the following day.

I think cycling is a form of wandering, don’t you?

Cycling home past the supermarket, I noticed that the field of gazanias was out in bloom again.

As I remarked around the same time last year, gazanias are noxious weeds in our parts …

… but they never fail to lift my spirits.

The air that you breathe

Other people’s words about … air quality

It was terribly hot that summer. Mr Robertson left town, and for a long while the river seemed dead. Just a dead brown snake of a thing lying flat through the centre of town, dirty yellow foam collecting at its edge. Strangers driving by on the turnpike rolled up their windows at the gagging, sulphurous smell and wondered how anyone could live with that stench coming from the river and the mill. But the people who lived in Shirley Falls were used to it, and even in the awful heat it was only noticeable when you first woke up; no, they didn’t particularly mind the smell.

from ‘Amy & Isabelle
by Elizabeth Strout

Recently, after several members of staff in one of my workplaces became sick over the course of consecutive shifts, the part of the building in which we work was shut down, due to what has been deemed an ongoing air quality issue.

That particular office is on the upper floor of a fully air-conditioned building: one of those buildings where you can’t open a window even if you want to. I have always struggled with this: I believe, right down to my core, that breathing temperature-controlled, recycled air will never, ever be equal to breathing air that drifts in through an open window. I continue to believe this even though the air outside the windows in that building is itself compromised by petrol, diesel and exhaust fumes from the nearby main road.

To me, the most pernicious aspect of all of this is the habituation. Like the residents of Shirley Falls in the quote above, when my colleagues and I first walk into work at the beginning of a shift, we notice things in the air that we stop noticing after we’ve been at work for a while. Like them, we don’t particularly mind the smell of our workplace. Or not consciously, anyway.

Luckily for me, I have a place to escape to, and I did so the first weekend after our workplace was shut down, going on another of my strolls through the Scrub, another of my wanders out and about. I took the photos accompanying this post (of vanilla lilies, grass trees, acacias and boobiallas all newly in bloom) on that very walk.

In the Scrub, at least, the air I breathe always seems sweet.