Leafless

Other people’s words about … winter light

The sun was like a moon in this country, and in its light I felt as if I was looking at everything through a pearl. It was cold and the trees had no leaves. I had never seen a leafless tree before.

from ‘Sleeping on Jupiter
by Anuradha Roy

I love this description by Anuradha Roy of a Northern Hemisphere winter, as seen through the eyes of a young Indian woman accustomed to living in the tropics. I remember feeling the same way myself when I left Australia in my twenties to travel through Britain, Europe and North America (and, later, elsewhere). For a year I lived and worked in Germany, as I’ve mentioned once before, in a small industrial town in Nordrhein-Westfalen, not far from Dortmund and Dusseldorf. To begin with, from November through to April, before my German was fluent enough for me to find another job, I worked in a factory.

Leafless tree on Gedville Street,
between the coast and the railway station

During those winter months in Germany, I rose each day just before six o’clock and walked through the dark streets of town to the station, where I caught a train and then a bus to the factory district. My shift started at around seven-thirty, but daylight didn’t filter through the glass panels of the workshop ceiling until well after nine-thirty. I left work at four o’clock — first back on the bus and then onto the train; then back on foot through the streets towards the fourth-floor apartment I shared with a German friend. By the time I reached the door that led from the street of our apartment building into the stairwell, the sky had darkened again.

I thought, as I shuttled from home to railway station to bus to factory and then back in reverse, that I might never see broad daylight again.

Dove in leafless tree

The trees that lined the street on which I lived during those months were European trees, native to the area, and so they were deciduous. Their leafless, bare branches formed stark silhouettes against the grey apartment buildings and the grey, clouded sky. It didn’t snow, but even in the few hours of daylight we were granted, the sun stayed hidden, a faded white ball in that streak of grey sky. Everything seemed cold and grey. I, too, felt cold and grey.

Leafless tree leaning into a house near Largs Bay School

Though Australia does have a few native deciduous trees, most native vegetation is evergreen. And so, even though the winters here in South Australia can at times feel very grey, most leafless trees — like the ones I photographed to accompany today’s post, all of which grow in the neighbourhood where I live — are imports from countries like Germany: cousins of those trees that lined the streets of the town where I worked all those years ago.

Leafless tree on the school oval
on Gedville Street

I’m a home-body these days. I love the Australian sun. I love the wide arch of sky and the shifting, glittering, restless ocean. I love the grey-green leaves of eucalypts, the drooping pods of acacia trees, the red bristles of bottlebrush flowers, the golden needles of the sheoaks. I couldn’t live anywhere else now. This is home to me.

Travelling brought me a lot of joy, though, and it taught me things I could never have learned if I’d stayed at home. My love for this place is a part of what my travels taught me, I think. Those bare-branched trees were a gift. They led me back home.

Even leafless trees don’t seem leafless here
when you look at them closely!

A prayer

Other people’s words about … the view

At the back of the hotel was a garden. Along its edge ran an earthen pathway pillared by palms. it ended in a low iron gate. They had not noticed the gate before, but now they saw it opened directly onto the beach. Stepping through the gate, they were confronted by the white and blue of ocean and beach in limpid morning light. Bare-chested fishermen were pushing wooden boats into the surf, chanting prayers together for luck. Women in fluorescent knee-high saris walked past in pairs and threes, with fish-baskets on their heads.

From ‘Sleeping on Jupiter
by Anurahda Roy

First, an update: we didn’t go camping at Yorke Peninsula during my fortnight of annual leave as we’d planned, after all. For a variety of reasons, it was impossible to get away. Instead, we spent the two weeks flitting back and forth between our main home in Taperoo (a coastal suburb twenty kilometres north of Adelaide, where most of my jetty photos originate) and our old beach shack at Aldinga (a coastal suburb forty-five kilometres south of Adelaide, where many of my other beach photos come from). So the view from the steps down to the beach was different from the one I’d anticipated, though it was still a view to revel in.

A view to revel in

I complained recently about my dread of autumn and winter, those months of the year I always think of as the grey months. But my complaints this year were premature. Sometimes in South Australia, in the early weeks of autumn, the wind dies off, giving way to still, sunny days; endless blue skies; cold, clear nights. That’s how it’s been here for the last four weeks. I could not have picked better weather for a holiday by the sea, even without the campfires I’d hoped for.

One afternoon at Aldinga I took a walk heading south along the beach, beyond the spot where cars are permitted to drive onto the beach to launch fishing boats. It was one of those days where the horizon — that mysterious line between the sky and the sea — seems almost invisible. A boat glided over the surface, somehow suspended between the two, and the headland in the distance was shrouded in a mist of sea spray. The sea changed colour as I walked, from opaque blue, to glassy blue, and then to silver.

Tyre tracks in the sand
Invisible horizon
Gliding boat
Sea spray shrouding the headland
Opaque blue
Glassy blue
Silver and shining

As I walked, I thought about the words I’ve quoted right at the top of this post. I write about the beach here on my blog as a place, always, of beauty and wonder: a place where I swim and stroll, wander and wonder. But that’s a very Western, privileged, twenty-first-century way of viewing it, isn’t it? The beach in the world Anurahda Roy describes — modern-day India — is another place entirely; and her sea is a different entity. In her world, the sea provides the means for people to strive to make a living, and the making of that living obscures the beautiful view.

I am lucky enough, mostly, not to feel the need to chant a morning prayer for luck, as the fishermen in Roy’s passage do. But if I were the praying type, I would utter a prayer of thanks for the view of the beach I had that day, and for every day I get to live by it.

Snatched phrases (on the world at our feet)

‘If he put his feet in to the water here at the beach in Jarmuli,
he was dipping them in the universe.’

From ‘Sleeping on Jupiter’
by Anuradha Roy