On purpose

Other people’s words about … meaning

Some people … believe they have to find their purpose to live fully … [But] it is perfectly fine — and in fact recommended — to simply live each of your moments fully and marvel at it all. What if that is your purpose?

From ‘The Energy Guide
by Dr Libby Weaver

I am not much one for self-help books, these days, especially ones that focus on how to find happiness or health. I don’t think — as I did when I was younger, as young people so often do — that health and happiness are things you can seek out or earn, or that they are things you can, or should, feel entitled to.

But I do like Libby Weaver’s words here, even though her book falls squarely into that category of books I’ve just derided. I like her words because what else does it make sense to do other than to simply live each of your moments fully, no matter what each of those moments is like, or what is happening during it? What better thing can we do as we live out our days than marvel at it all?

Weaver goes on to say:

Consider that the real purpose of anyone’s life is to be fully involved in living. Be present for the journey. Act on what you care about.

You could call the attitude Weaver is advocating mindful, if you so chose. Or you could call it sensible. Or humble. Or grateful. Whatever you call it, I think it’s an attitude worth cultivating.

Winter sunrise: be present.

Because unlike health and happiness, unlike riches and freedom, unlike love and success, unlike youth and beauty, unlike wisdom and intelligence, being fully involved in living is achievable. It’s not always easy, but it’s possible.

And that, I think, is a good place to start.

Chasing clouds

‘It took me years to see that path and to find my pace.
When I finally got moving, I hoped I might be able to run forever.’

From ‘The Long Run’
by Catriona Menzies-Pike

We’ve had an unusually dry, cold winter in South Australia this year — the driest, I heard recently, since the mid-1960s — and so the days in the last few weeks have been mostly clear and crisp. Global warming and environmental concerns aside, I love this weather.

And here’s a first — I have even grown to love the short days this year!

Sunrise, bird, tree.

Some mornings, I get up around 6 am, and go for a run before work, as the sun rises. Running before breakfast, I’ve discovered, is a completely different beast from running later in the day: sleepy and not yet well-fed, I run more slowly (which may not seem possible, but apparently is) but also somehow more smoothly. It is as though the calm of the night, the deep, rhythmic breathing of sleep, still hang over me. I feel light, buoyant, in my body and in my mind, as though I’m still moving through my dreams. My joints are loose and easy, and the exertion of the run seems somehow separate from me, not part of the dream I’m in.

Meanwhile, as I run along the esplanade path or by the shore, the sky grows rosy to the landward east; and the sea turns from silver, to grey, to blue, to the west; and the scent of the sand drifts up to me, filled with chill and damp; and sometimes a sliver of moon hangs above the tops of the pine trees lining the coast.

And I know that I’m awake. Alive. Grateful to be here.

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 …

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!

Darkness encroaching

Other people’s words about … winter

Minutes after that the sun came out: brilliant, stunning us all. Still, it was no surprise when we were let out of school a half hour early due to the windchill. I made my way home from the bus stop at a rigid trot. I crunched along the snow-packed trail, felt the wind come off the lake in blasts, heard the pines groan and creak overhead. Halfway up the hill, my lungs started to feel raggedy. My face changed into something other than face, got rubbed out. When I finally got to the top of the hill, when I slowed down to brush ice from my nose, I turned and saw a puff of exhaust across our lake. I had to squint against all that white to make it out.

From ‘History of Wolves
by Emily Fridlund

Many years ago, I spent a winter in Michigan in the USA. For a whole month, the temperature did not lift above zero degrees Celsius. Having lived in South Australia most of my life, I had never seen a lake freeze over before. I walked across the surface of the frozen water, and grasped for the first time the meaning of the term ‘windchill’, a term I realised I had never understood before. A little way further out, a fisherman sat in a folding camp chair with his line cast down into a carved-out pool at his feet. I thought of taking a photograph, but my hands grew numb in the few seconds it took me to take off my gloves and fiddle with the lens on my camera. How can you grow so cold so quickly? It didn’t seem possible.

My American friends, knowing my love of ice cream, suggested taking me to the ice cream parlour in their local town, but it was shut down for the winter. We did a quick march up and down each side of the main street to look at the ice sculptures standing outside the shops. I kept expecting them to melt. I am Australian: I expect ice to melt. That’s just what it does.

For me, Emily Fridlund’s words, which I’ve threaded above and below throughout this post, capture the essence of that winter I spent in the northern hemisphere.

Overhead each afternoon we could hear the Canada geese coming back. We could hear them giving directions, labouring through wind currents, setting down their Vs. When the sun had just about set, we turned around, Paul lagging, getting farther and farther behind, so as the day grew truly cold –- miniature winter setting in, the way it does at night in April –- I put the backpack on … and we headed back toward his house on the lake.

What a lovely phrase, don’t you think?: Miniature winter.

Here in South Australia, where our climate is temperate, we don’t have four distinct seasons. Autumn is the beginning of what I always think of as the grey months. Our native trees are mostly evergreen, so they don’t shed their leaves; the weather simply grows windy, rainy and cold. As winter approaches, the days grow greyer still, and the hours of daylight shorten. The sky seems to sink lower over the earth, closing everything in. The world grows monochrome.

But then, in the middle of March, the temperature shot up to fifty and miraculously stayed there. Within a couple of weeks, the south slope drifts had eroded to stalagmite pillars. A wet sheen appeared across the surface of the ice, and in the late afternoons you could hear the whole lake pop and zing. Cracks appeared. It was warm enough to gather wood from the pile without mittens, to unfreeze the latches on the dogs’ chains with the heat of your fingers.

This time of the year — the first days of March, the very beginning of autumn — I always grow nostalgic for summer. Down the road at the beach, the sea is still warm enough to swim in, and the sand crumbles soft and dry and warm beneath my bare feet. A sense of urgency comes over me as I look up at the upside-down bowl of blue sky above me. I murmur spells at it, trying to make it stay.

The grey months are coming but not yet, not yet.

Note:
The pictures accompanying today’s posts are photos I’ve taken over the last few years during the South Australian winter. It may look as though I used black-and-white film, but I didn’t. That’s just the way it is.

Life cycle

I’ve talked before about my love of grasstrees.
In the last few weeks, walking through the Scrub,
I’ve glimpsed grasstrees at all stages of their life cycle.

Some were growing and establishing themselves:

DSCN2064

DSCN2067

Some were flowering:

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DSCN2219

And some were dying and decaying:

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DSCN2059

At each stage of their life
grasstrees seem to me unique, strange, prehistoric …
and beautiful.

Trailblazers

Another path to follow

Often, when I wander through our local patch of Scrub, I encounter kangaroos.
The kangaroos there aren’t particularly tame:
alerted to my presence several metres away, they go still, ears erect.
We stare at each other respectfully — at least on my part — and, yes, cautiously.
And then they bound away.
Sometimes, though, I am only aware of their presence by the hints they leave behind.

Kangaroo footprint near the entrance to the Scrub
Kangaroo footprint near the entrance to the Scrub

Somehow, these kangaroos co-exist with us and our lives
while still treading their own paths.

Kangaroo path through the scrub
Kangaroo path through the scrub

I feel honoured to cross their path from time to time.