Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Leaving

 A little something done to a prompt from another member of our little writing group - people whose creativity and support are most excellent to share at any time, but certainly during another Covid lock-down.........  the prompt was one word - "Leaving" - to be done as a single page, and, as such prompts always do, produced five very different approaches.  This was mine....

 


LEAVING:

When he left, he hadn't thought he might be leaving forever – that what he was leaving behind would not, one day, offer him familiar comforts upon his return home, and those he was leaving would not be waiting to warmly welcome him into their arms. Now, so many years later, he wondered how much of that long ago life would be left, should he find his way back to the place in which he had been formed.


The welcoming arms were gone, he knew – wrinkled, then withered, and, finally, crumbled into dust; only the leavings of memory remained, thin and faded and comfortless. What was left of his childhood home had been, the letter said, left to him, though how much of those past comforts might be left by now was questionable. The letter carried a date from a year left far behind; it had traveled, and waited, and travelled again – lured on in pursuit of its beneficiary by tales and wild rumours left in his wake, left in the care of someone who longed to see him again, passed on to fresh hands as that hope faded and died, time and again, down the length of a turbulent decade.


Had some recipient of the letter been prescient in their choice of place and person for its next destination, or had he somehow doubled back on his own tracks, and met it coming after him? The date, when he finally opened it, untouched by any sense of its possible significance, left him momentarily stunned, and then amused. Its contents, those few dry, terse, officious paragraphs, had left him empty of breath, heartbeat, and feeling. How long had he sat there, unaware of the world, before the senses that had left him so suddenly returned in a wave of pain and disbelief.


How had that time passed so quickly? How could he have not returned when he was needed? Why had he not kept himself informed? The answer came quickly, in the calls and laughter of his team mates, the revving of engines, and the clatter of luggage and equipment. His comrades were almost ready to leave this little oasis of safety and satiety in pursuit of the next adventure, and he would be leaving with them, no matter what the letter in his hands had to say. Whatever had been left him in that missive was from the past – the leavings of a life he could never return to, even if he wanted to.


Boots clattered down the stairs outside his room, and the door shook under the knocking of a gnarled fist. He let the letter slip from his fingers and left it to curl and blacken in the flames of the fireplace as he shouldered his gear and left the past where it belonged.

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Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Peace

 


 

 Four voices soothe the soul:

The happy chatter of the stream as it tumbles among the rocks,

Sheoaks singing the evening breeze,

The quiet mutter of flames in the camp-fire, and

The tender greeting of your beloved as you sit down beside her at the fire

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

The Second Step's a Doozy

Did I say that the journey began with a single step?  As true as that is, the next step can easily be a detour not imagined when the first one was taken - and so it has turned out.  This has been a year filled with side-tracks, diversions, and unexpected busyness.

 

When our government announced Covid lockdowns and restrictions on mingling with other people, my wife and I looked at each other and shrugged.  

"Not keen on crowds" we said to each other "and always happy pottering in our own garden and doing our own thing - sounds like we have been handed an excuse to live our lives in a fashion most congenial to us"



Within days, we found ourselves "in loco parentis" to grandchildren who had been sent home to do their studying online for an indeterminate period.  What fun!  What wonderful mental exercise for us as we reached back five decades or more to our own long lost schooldays, in search of discarded bits of geometry and algebra - it was amazing just how many forgotten formulae surfaced from the depths.  What wondrous new skills and words did we acquire as we grappled with the many and varied types of software chosen by the many and varied teachers who, only the previous week, had the pleasure of close daily learning experiences with those grandchildren, but now had to find, on short notice, ways of teaching them via the internet. Everyone involved found themselves on the proverbial "steep learning curve" - a trite business cliche that, for once, was deadly accurate.
 

 
 
So much has happened since then - in our family, our community, our country, and the wider world - and we have, like so many others, been busy just keeping up with it all.  Somehow, the time allotted to matters creative was nibbled away by the effort involved in keeping ourselves afloat, and helping other family members in worst straits than us - until the inevitable happened.  The long lapse in creative work began to feel inexcusable, and recommencing the work seemed almost impossible - the creative impulse was swamped by a sense of guilt and failure.
 

 
 
Now, the warnings of the scientists are again proven true, despite the wishful political thinking that had gained the upper hand, and Christmas is to be held under restrictive conditions, due to the virus once again slipping through our defences. 
 
The garden is soggy, but productive, as La Nina helps us recover from the horror and dessication of last summer's drought and bushfires - our creek is busy with minnows, crayfish, and small perch (who are growing fast) but no trout - the cicadas have had a bumper year, and the night is full of frog song. Clutches of ducklings, baby magpies, and parrots have visited our garden with their parents, learning which of the neighbourhood humans are soft touches for a bit of extra tucker. One of my 18 year old Apple Tree bonsais has flowered for the first time, and set tiny fruit.
 

 
 
The human grandchildren have resumed normal schedules, and we can allow the trigonometry and calculus to slip back into the oblivion of ancient memory - and now, with time on our hands, there is no excuse for not picking up the frayed threads and setting to work again.  Let's see what next year brings.  Ours has turned out pretty well, in the end - I hope it all comes good for you, too.

Friday, 15 May 2020

A Journey of a Thousand Smiles can Beguine with a Single Step onto the Dance Floor...

.... or down that Forest Path Less Travelled, or any other place where your imagination both yearns and fears to go.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Green Respite

It has been a  couple of months since I last posted, and for much of that time I have been carrying buckets and watering cans around my gardens, fighting a rearguard action against advancing drought and heat.  When the restricted time allowed for watering each morning has passed, it has been out with the rakes and pruning gear, refreshing fire breaks, or up the ladder, cleaning gutters of the dead needles strewn from the Casuarinas by the hot, dry winds of spring and summer.

There was one half decent fall of rain in November, and a few miserly, drizzly showers in December, before the heat grew fiercer, the wind stronger, and the moisture was sucked from the ground again. 

As 2019 entered its final weeks we watched the northern ranges of NSW burn, and then, as Christmas approached, the central ranges were aflame, along with the southern ranges and coast, as well as much of Victoria, South Australia, West Australia, and Tasmania.  Smoke became our atmosphere as gardens wilted and the younger trees and shrubs began to die.  Lawns, well, they turned tawny long ago, and were now crumbling into the dust.



The stream beside our garden, once a reliable place to fish for trout, perch and yabbies, was reduced to a few shallow, muddy, smelly puddles, from which, after the temperatures passed 40 degrees Celsius, I had to net and bury the floating carcasses of oxygen deprived fish.  The level of the lake at the head of our little Valley on the Mountain began falling faster as the water bombing helicopters joined the westerly wind in sucking up its water.



As the smoke grew thicker, ash and charred leaves began to gently drift down and sprinkle everything with grey and black. The sound of sirens became just part of the ambient noise of the Mountains, and the news grew ever more alarming. Computers were set permanently to displaying the RFS fire maps and playing the local RFS radio frequency, in the hope that it might give us sufficient warning should the fires to our north and south suddenly change course.

Across the country, houses and then whole villages were destroyed, and lives were lost, including fire fighters.  Whole towns were forced to wade or drive into the salt water as flames of a ferocity not seen before charged all the way to the back of the beach.  Other towns didn't have the luxury of lake or ocean to flee to.

In one case a surge of fiery wind flipped a ten ton fire tanker over, killing one of its crew and injuring the others.  I have been in some pretty lively fires over the years, and been singed several times in the fighting of them, but I had never seen, or heard of, anything like that before.  Trees falling on or near trucks, and crown fires sweeping overhead and forcing crews to turn on the cabin spray bars and hunker down under fire blankets - yep, not so uncommon in the world of bushfire fighting, but that was just beyond anyone's experience.

The conversation here in the Mountains turned to safe places and suitable evacuation destinations - to stay and fight, or get out now, rather than be caught in heavy traffic on the long, bush-lined, winding road to the safety of the City on the Plain. 

As the smoke grew darker and the ash fell thicker, the air tankers began their bombing runs, laying long red swathes of water and fire retardent along the village edges.  Villages once described by real estate agents as "leafy refuges from the bustle of city life" were suddenly tiny, dangerously exposed enclaves within a huge expanse of potentially explosive forest and bush.  More houses and sheds burned, and residents who had not already fled were being told to take cover as it was now too late to leave safely.

Then the weather, at least on our Mountain, turned, and in less than two weeks we have had more rain than fell in the final three months of 2019.  RFS stations across much of the state have "stood down" and for the first time in many, many weeks, their roller doors are closed - their tankers quietly parked inside.  In Victoria, the battle continues, while in parts of Queensland, the fire fighters have retired but the SES is now flat out dealing with storms and flooding.  Oh, Australia....

At first glance, the green we Mountains Folk are accustomed to has returned.  The air no longer smells of charred bush, and the lawn mower had its first exercise since very early spring.  Dig deeper though - scratch among the mulch for example and find dry pockets of soil, or wander down to the barely trickling creek and look at its exposed, muddy banks, and it is obvious we have received a respite rather than a complete reprieve. Three or four days of hot westerly wind and we could be facing the fires again.



But for the moment, we are enjoying the cool and damp.  The ducks who normally lived by the shady pool down stream from the orchard had left us, but are back now that the water has returned to their favourite bathing spots - and little swirls show where, somehow, a few minnows survived the worst couple of weeks when the creek had only one small but shaded pond left for them to swim in. 

Perhaps, in a season or two, there will be redfin perch in our pools again, but I doubt the water will ever again be consistently cool enough to keep trout happy and healthy.

Our Magpies are happily finding food on their own account, instead of relying on scraps of mince from us to keep their younglings half satisfied.  We even had a visitor not seen before - a juvenile Ibis.



The grandkids wanted to name it Bin Chicken, but we settled on Binni - and he or she did a fine job of thinning out the snails and slugs that reappeared all over our garden within a couple of days of the first good rainfall.


Binni appears to have moved on again.  If the rain keeps falling, as it is again just now, we might be able to move on from this awful time and enjoy regrowth and green shoots.  If only our "leaders" would also move on from whatever venal or ideological fixation it is that has crippled their willingness to deal with the all too evident, looming disaster that is climate change.  Oh, Australia...

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Aflame

The lovely rain I described in my last post - almost two months ago - was followed by only a few showers before the heat and dry wind swept in from the west, bearing the hopes, dreams, and topsoil of generations of farmers with it.  Those winds, as they whirled and tore at our gardens, have sucked most of the remaining moisture from our soil - Jamieson Creek no longer sings to us, but merely seeps down between exposed banks and tree roots, creeping towards the falls, and Lake Burragorang beyond.

It wasn't long before the smoke followed the dust, heralding the onset of one of our nastier fire seasons.  The Valley on The Mountain is so far unscathed by fire, apart from one escaped campfire in the scrub behind the lake.  The warnings of Catastrophic fire weather kept many of the usual tourists back down in The City on The Plain, and many of our local people decided it would be a good place to spend a couple of days, too.  We were fortunate that only a few, small fires broke out in the Blue Mountains this week, though they kept the firefighters and residents busy enough.

From any high point around here, in recent days, the huge clouds of smoke from the Gospers Mountain fire have made a startling curtain across the northern horizon.  Other days, The City has been invisible in a pall of smoke and air pollution, and I am glad my lungs are operating in a different part of the atmosphere.

My writer's conscience, despite the lack of blog posts in recent months, had not been bothering me as much as usual - this partly because of the progress I am making with the final edit of my current attempt at a novel, and partly because keeping the gardens alive, reconstructing an ageing and decrepit deck, tearing down old fencing, and filling vacant spots at the library have all but drowned it out.  Until now, when, suddenly, it has been awakened by circumstance.

With the worsening of the fire season has come the regular barrage of toxic politicking and trolling that inevitably launches itself at the throat of any who dare ask or suggest the question "Is this weather/fire danger/drought being made worse by climate change?"

Some of the nastier and loonier responses have come from our former Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, who dismissed the deaths of two people in the fires with the observation that they "most likely voted Green" - a comment that carried with it the unspoken implication that their deaths were thus their own fault for supporting the wrong political party. 

Could he say with certainty that they voted that way?  Well, no, but it doesn't matter because Barnaby was off on a new tangent, blaming the bushfires on changes to the sun's magnetic fields.  Does he really believe any of this nonsense? 

Probably not, but it serves to stir up certain parts of his support base for whom labels like "Greenie" or "Conservationist" or "National Parks" are triggers guaranteed to induce a frothing, apoplectic rage at those "others", while making sure that they are more likely to vote for Barnaby in the future.

Across all forms of media, but especially the internet, the old straw men are set up and knocked over, as the trolls manufacture posts to "prove" that the fires are all the fault of the "Greenies" who have obstructed all forms of hazard reduction until the inevitable firestorms erupt - or are the fault of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, who have "locked up" the Parks to prevent any burning off occurring in them.

My experience is the opposite of those lies.  I did twenty years of service with the VBFB and RFS, as well as some paid firefighting with NP&WS, in a rural area that consisted of entangled farms, State Forest, weekend properties, and National Parks.

My brigade had a large membership, and was one of the busiest in the shire - indeed, one of the busiest in the Hunter Valley.  We regularly worked with NP&WS on hazard reductions in and around the adjacent National Parks, and they helped us whenever they could - despite being perpetually understaffed.  The claims that no HRs happen in Parks is just completely untrue.  NP&WS not only planned these things well ahead, but talked to us about what they hoped to acheive.

As for those detestable Greenies that so quickly raise Barnaby and Co's blood pressure - many members of my brigade and the neighbouring brigades espoused Green or conservationist political views.  Did they vote Green?  I wasn't looking over their shoulders at the ballot box, but some of them did hand out Green how to vote cards, so probably.

The brigades in our sector were peopled by people - community members - of various genders - male and female, straight and gay - young (16) and old (up to almost 80) - from a variety of ethnic, cultural, belief, and non-belief backgrounds - and from all across the educational and social spectrum of Australian society.

They were all, no matter what political or personal labels some might like to pin on them, there when needed, sweating in the smoke and flames and dust and diesel fumes, risking their very lives for the sake of the community, near and far.  They attended small hazard reductions, huge blazes, long campaign fires, out of area responses to fire, flood, and other emergencies.

They attended house fires, air crashes, car crashes - some fatal, truck fires, flood rescues, and looked for lost bushwalkers and missing children.  They cut steps down steep hillsides to help the ambulance teams reach motorcycle riders who had unexpectedly parted ways with their machines and ended up in the bottom of a gulley, down among the thorns and death adders.

They worked all night with their own chainsaws, as well as the ones from the fire tankers, clearing away hundreds of fallen trees along the main road and private driveways, checking on the safety of every resident in the district, after a tornado carved a 40 km long scar through the forests and farms of our area.

Those "Greenies" that Barnaby and his ilk so despise and condemn lived in the bush too - they turned out with the rest of the brigade (Green, Liberal, Labor, Democrat, Country Party, or donkey voter) to carry out hazard reductions and other fire mitigation preparations, and they looked after their own properties and kept an eye on their neighbours welfare too.

When politicians write off people or classes of people by applying a sneering label to them, they are treating the whole community with contempt, and dodging their own obligations as elected members of our governing class to work for the benefit of all our people - not merely for themselves.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Revival

Has it only been three weeks since last I posted here?  To my writing conscience it feels like it has been months that a quiet little voice has been trying to push its way through the hubbub that has been life of late, demanding that I do what I had committed to do, and publish each week.  That little voice, though, was not strong enough to drown out the other jobs that were calling for attention- some scheduled, some not, some deemed urgent by me, or by other people, and most of them taking more time than originally allotted to them.

But now, after so many dry, windy, soil-baking months, proper rain has fallen on our Valley on The Mountain, and the creek, for so long timidly creeping down between bare banks towards the falls, is singing and dancing down the rocks and through the reeds.  The flush of chilly water has the Eustachius out their muddy lairs in search of mates, and the Cherax too will soon be doing the same. 

My ungrateful gardens, so long struggling despite what seemed to me to be an huge investment in time, effort, and water, have responded to the snow and rain by leaping to attention.  Blossom and leaf-bud have gone from dormant to bursting over night, and cabbages that seemed unwilling to grow at all have suddenly tripled in size.  Tardy irises that seemed ready to give up the ghost are hurling flower stems in every direction and crab apples are blessing the bees with an unexpected abundance of nectar.

Now, a walk in the garden, instead of being a way to build an ever longer list of chores to be done, is a brilliant, scented, soothing blessing of what is, and inspiration for the future. 

Though that list of things to do is still there, I guess - so back to the editing..........