Friday, 23 November 2018

Round Each New Corner....

The road goes ever on and on, said the Hobbit, and thus it is also with work in the garden.  As you near the end of one stretch of edging, weeding, or pruning, another space presents itself to the eyes and wakens the imagination, as it asks you to attend to its particular needs or potentials.

Spade an edge clear of twisting, burrowing tendrils of grass, making a clean border twixt lawn and garden, and the neat line of fresh soil calls attention to the weeds lurking between favoured plants, or highlights the dying tussocks that now slump down across next winter's daffodils and next spring's irises.

Though the spade in your hand still has more work to do, other tools are calling - hoe, weeder, secateurs, and rake, all crying out for their chance in the sun.  A bare patch of soil is begging for a cutting, seedling or rhizome from some other, overcrowded corner of the garden.  Perhaps the shade that covers that bare patch says violets, or the bright sunlight asks for a daisy or gazania. 

A newly mowed lawn makes even a slightly dishevelled herb or flower bed look like the proverbial sore thumb - though a wind such as the one that galloped through the Blue Mountains last night and this morning will soon cover such distinctions in a carpet of tattered leaves and torn twigs, and the grass rake will stand up eagerly, hoping for employment.  And so the work begins anew - and all the while the words are gathering in an unused corner of your mind, preparing to leap onto the page when you return to your desk.

For me, the routine work of the garden - be that garden a few square metres next to the house, or a few acres of squarely spaced watermelon or pumpkin vines unfurling their first large leaves towards the sun - is a meditative time in which my mind can wander far and wide across memories both past and future, undisturbed by the demands of society. 

Characters long forgotten, or newly created, can act out their parts on the broad stage of our imagination, unfettered by mere reality, while the hoe continues inflicting its routine, repetitive destruction on the weeds that have dared colonise the territories around these favoured plants of mine.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Tempus Fugit

With all my creative efforts going into the final chapter of my novel, and most of my remaining time going into preparing for the oncoming fire season - mowing and clearing - as well as helping out with a variety of family issues, I've lost track of my blogging - again.  In the absence of any writerly thoughts to offer you, can I instead present a few instances of the beauty that surrounds me, whenever I have the good sense to get outside and enjoy it....?

Australia's own jacaranda - a white cedar about to bloom

The bush has so many tiny treasures - we just need to move slowly enough to see them

The grape vines along my garden fence, enjoying Spring rain and sunshine

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Misplaced Omniscience

Living in the moment - it is what we do, even when our thoughts are drifting back over past events, or trying to envisage or shape possible futures.  How much do we know, in this moment, of the infinite previous moments that have helped build and shape the present we live in?  We certainly cannot know our future, and can do no more than estimate possible futures.

As an author, we are, in effect, God - we know everything that each of our imaginary characters does not know, or knows only partially - we can reach out to any point in the time line of our story and amend acts, thoughts, words, and emotions, and bring to our story the logical consistency that the reader expects from us.

I could ask why the readers, in the face of the many apparently random facts and logical inconsistencies of their own lives, expect me, a mere scribbler, to produce a mini-universe that is consistent and logical, but that would be so hypocritical, given the similar demands that I have placed on so many other authors over the decades.  To be fair, I also find myself expecting such consistency and logic from my political representatives - and look how often that comes to fruition.

So, expect it, we do - thus, when working your way through that crucial second draft, keep in mind that spelling and grammar errors are possibly the least of the problems you need to be alert to.  Your editor, with pedantic eye and punishing pen, will find those, should you travel that far.

No, what you need to beware of are those leakages from your omniscient, authorial knowledge to the limited understandings held by your characters.  It is something I am constantly on watch for, as it is so easy to allow the protagonist to know something that he/she should not - at least, not at this point in the story.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I find that I need to be especially vigilant for this problem as I slide back and forth along the time line of the story I am working on.  Does anyone have an easy, guaranteed method of avoiding this sort of mistake?

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Wonders Unseen in Plain Sight

A few months ago, Spring seemed to have arrived early, but when the calendar rolled on into October, Winter reclaimed our Mountains.  The rains we had wished for so fervently began to seem endless - the parched grass and gardens suddenly flourished in a tide of verdancy and blossom, and lower parts of our yard began to squelch underfoot - the frogs loved it, though, as did our Magpie landlords, when the earthworms were forced up to the surface to swim for high ground.

Now, as the final month of Spring approaches, and the soft green leaves burst from the twigs of Plane and Oak and Alder, Summer has charged onto the scene, and the many scaly and feathered denizens of our little vale are getting their sunbaking done early, before the sun begins to bite too hard.

Earlier, as I walked to the village shops, I found one of our resident Magpies "spread-eagled" on a patch of dry mulch at the foot of the hedge.  For one horrified moment I looked at a pile of ruffled, outstretched, black and white feathers that looked like it had been put to its rest with a cricket bat, but as soon as I spoke, his head rose.  He looked over one fluffed up shoulder as if to say "do you mind?" and settled back to his repose in the sunshine.  He was in the shade when I returned, quietly practicing a tune for future display.

I was reminded of a thought that comes to me around this time every year.  What a wonder it is to be able to walk down a tree-shaded avenue when the sun is casting so much heat in my direction; if it weren't for those delicate green membranes that stretch out from twig and branch to capture that sunlight, life would be far less pleasant.

The sunlight that would make the pavement too hot to walk upon, or sear the grass and herbs that lurk in the coolness beneath the spreading tree-branches, is caught and broken up by that fragile leaf. 

Some is thrown back into the air to give us the lush greens that delight our eyes, and some is locked up in chemical bonds that join simple molecules of water and carbon dioxide into basic sugars, a result of the photosynthetic micro-factories that make up so much of each leaf.

How much of that heat does a leaf gather from the sunlight and conceal in the valence bonds of the sugar it creates? 

Put a match to a dried leaf, or to a pile of leaves, come Autumn, and warm your hands by the flame for a while - quite a bit, isn't it? The leaves feed the twigs and branches, and build a world so different from the one that would exist without them.  Truly wonderful stuff, all that heat captured and stored safely for future use as food for caterpillars, or sheep, or cattle - or as mulch to nourish and nurture other plants.

Monday, 29 October 2018

If a picture paints a thousand words....

If a picture paints a thousand words, how few words can I use to describe succinctly the beauty in an image such as this?

White sunlight shattered and scattered into its rainbow parts, reflecting from blood red Waratah blossoms, framed by translucent copper sprouting along a plum twig, amid shadow-dappled, chlorophyll-glossed leaves breathing verdant life and beauty into the garden.

See how that flower calls to the eye, even from a distance, surrounded and almost hidden by a tangled quilt of branches, twigs, leaves, needles, and shadows.  It wants to be seen, no matter how thoroughly the other plants may try to conceal it.  Such beauty cries out for a story, and I have encountered several stories explaining the vivid colour of the Waratah.

In one, the flower - once white - is stained red with the blood of a Wonga Pigeon that is wounded by a hawk while seeking its mate.  In another, the red is given to the flower by the blood of a Black Snake that is wounded defending a human child of its totem - while a third story has the flower coloured red by a fiery cataclysm of falling stars.

How old are such stories?  For how long have our ancestors being weaving words to pass on to their descendants the stories of the beauty of the world we all live in?  What is it that drives us to record and describe the world we see - to pass our observations on to those far away in space and time? 

What exactly were they trying to tell us with those stories?

Now cameras are now ubiquitous, and many people use pictures with minimal captions or no words at all, allowing the picture to tell the story or ask the question.  Are cameras displacing descriptive writing?  Often, yes - or so it seems.  But what does a picture tell us if there is no story accompanying it, or embedded in it, meshing into a wider culture that the viewer knows and understands?

Before cameras there were other images - before written or printed words, there were images - paintings on cave walls, carvings, images on wood or clay or stone or bark - representations to assist in the remembering and telling of stories.  Such methods are still in use, and just as DVDs failed to eliminate vinyl records from the world, and ebooks have had to live along side the paper-leaved books they were supposed to be replacing, modern technology will not eliminate our need to create images with our hands and our tongues.

For, in the end, what do we have with which to show others that we were here, thinking and feeling and loving, but the images we offer in the words we speak or sign, or the images we scratch or draw or paint? And will they understand what we offered them?

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Rainy Day Reading

Wet weather, as well as helping the garden, provides a wonderful excuse for settling somewhere dry and comfortable, and reading.  This month I indulged in a couple of works about great writers who are no longer with us, and one by another very successful author who is still at it.

As my current "major work" in progress is a crime/thriller, the appearance of "The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett" at the returns desk was just too tempting, and I just had to borrow it. 

Whether you are intending to write crime stories or not, this is a worthwhile read - his well known contemporary, Raymond Chandler, described Hammett as "the ace performer".

Nathan Ward takes us deeply into the life of this great writer, and the swirling, chaotic life of the United States during the first four decades of the twentieth century - he shows us a man with deep flaws, incredible determination and persistance in the face of dreadful setbacks, and amazing story-telling abilities.

He also takes us into the murky world of US politics at a time when organized labour movements were engaged in frequent, often violent, conflict with employers. Hammett's brief experiences as an operative with the Pinkerton Agency are a real eye-opener, and left him deeply disillusioned with many aspects of society, authority, and politics.  It gave me, as an Australian, a deeper understanding of the reasons behind the way many crime-writers have portrayed authority figures in the US.

Another slim volume - "No Time to Spare" by Ursula K Le Guin - is a collection of excerpts from her blog, and was published shortly before her death.  Not much I can say about it other than it is really worth a read. 

She was a great writer, her blogging - taken up late in life, with a certain degree of reluctance - is fascinating, and whether you are an aspiring writer, or simply a lover of her work, this is worth a look.  It even gave this Non-Cat Person some new and interesting insights into the life and thought processes of cats.  To my children and step-children - this is not a request for a kitten, ok?

For those who are aspiring writers, including those who may turn their nose up at his work, can I also recommend Stephen King's memoir - On Writing?  I enjoyed some of his earlier works, have not read many of his later ones, but this book - another slim volume - is excellent, for many reasons.  The first part is mostly memoir, and even if you feel you do not need or wish to know the story of his life, persist - it meshes deeply with the "how to write" part.  If you skip the first half, you will end up wanting to double back, so take the time up front.

One part of King's book gave me great satisfaction; I have often told people that a novella he wrote early on, using the pseudonym "Richard Bachman" and called "The Long Walk"was his best piece - I was tickled to find him declaring that he too regarded it as his finest work.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Looking Up

Two weeks ago I was enjoying the verdancy produced by the late September rains, while worrying it would not be enough to break the drought.  196 mm of rain later (almost 8 inches) and two almost continuous weeks of low cloud, rain, and dampness creeping into everything, and the lake is overflowing, the creek is carrying tons of water over the Falls towards Lake Burragorang, and life is flourishing.  The true owners of our Spring garden are now over-running all corners of it.....

The constant downpours sent many of the marauding molluscs up the tree trunks, but the flood they were fleeing did not eventuate, and now they are coming back down to munch on the tastier parts of the vegetation.....

The rain of this month alone has deposited almost 600,000 litres of water - 600 tons - on our property, and more is seeping in from the places uphill.  The frogs are calling in great numbers, the birds are excited, and I am jumping at sudden skittering noises among the leaves, as I walk around the place. 

After encountering that Copperhead a few weeks ago, my snake-alertness levels have risen.  Also rising fast are the numbers of tiny Skinks that are seeking warmth and food in every corner of the garden.  So far, the rustling and skittering has all been from those tiny, scaly slivers of lizard, dashing for cover as I crash about.  Their parents and grandparents seem to know me well enough not to bother spoiling their sunbaking when I pass, but the tiny ones seem to fear everything that moves - and rightly so, as many of our birds would see them as a perfect snack for the squalling nestlings constantly calling for food, and the smaller snakes, too, would not pass up such opportunities.

When I walk to the village in the mornings, I often pass some time chatting with our local baker - if that is the right term, as he does a lot more than just bread and pastries.  He has been cooking german style food in the same place for decades, and is known well beyond this neighbourhood.  The other morning, as he was opening the big, canvas umbrellas that shelter the outdoor tables between his front door and the street, he told me that one of the things he loves about Australia is that, no matter what the season, he always has flowers in his garden.

He's right - we live in a wonderfully fortunate place.  His home town was somewhere well into the hills and forests of Bavaria, and he has often told tales of the great depths of snow that would pile up around and upon the buildings.  At times, it was possible to open a window on the upper floor of his mother's house and step straight out onto level snow.  That depth of cold is unthinkable to someone like me, who grew up on the Cumberland Plain, and was astounded if there was frost on the lawn.

Here in the Blue Mountains, which most Sydney-siders regard as the cold place up the other end of the M4 Motorway, we see seasonal waves of brilliant blossom roll through our gardens, providing highlights above and amid a constant flourishing of so many different plants, native and exotic.  In fact, the poorest time for blossoms is late Summer, when even the "cold" mountains can wilt under 35 to 45 degree (Celsius) heatwaves, and week-long blasts of hot wind from the interior of the continent.

Still, late Summer is a great time for the Roses, and, in my back garden, there will usually be a sea of yellow as the Pumpkins - intentional and self sown - make their annual dash for immortality, and keep the bees happy in the process.  It is a wonderful world we live in, may we all treat it kindly.