Corona colours

As we are well into Autumn, I’d expect to be celebrating those ‘autumnal’ tones, but really only scattered parts of the Virginia Creeper are showing them. The warm weather is keeping most of it green.

It is the same with the Glory Vine that has given me such wonderful green summer shade… and still is, although I no longer want or need it.

While I wait for real Autumn, in my Corona home isolation I have been harvesting, using and preserving Summer. These colours are more in the autumn palette…

The last of my non-acidic yellow tomatoes slowly ripen on my kitchen window sill, while below them my sauerkraut quietly ferments.

Bean pods dry to brown and rattle with seeds for next summer’s crop.

My crop of about 60 Butternut Pumpkins was always within the colour range but my choko vine has produced its vivid green fruits in abundance, despite the season.

I make do with these indoor colours in a time of Corona and queer seasons. I will look for other colours outdoors to symbolise this time… 

Domestic Ups & Downs

Being confined to home doesn’t mean life is less interesting. You just have to look more.

Remember to go outside before dinner to see is there’s a sunset; autumn is a great time for sky spectacles!

And in the mornings, check out what the spiders have been up to overnight. This major engineering feat on my deck looked even more impressive when only half-lit; how was it hanging there?!

And look down.

Amongst the dull leaf litter this vibrant little Stinkhorn fungus ventures up to see what the weather is doing.  It’s one of the stinkhorn family and apparently smells like rotting meat or sewage.

Often found as a solitary specimen, it is Phallus rubicundus. Can’t imagine why…

And while looking down, I was surprised to see this decorative pair remaining in place like statues, sunning themselves together even as I walked past several times, quite close. 

Eastern Water Skinks, they are cherished residents here in town. Burnished bronze and gold and chocolate, with such delicate fingers and toes I fear for them — I’d like to think they know they are safe here. No need to bolt for cover when I appear…

Hopovers

I know nothing about grasshoppers or locusts and really had only seen the small green ones on vegetables sometimes. But at present I have several sorts inhabiting my larger plants.

These gorgeous green ones do not have wings, so they must be at nymph stage, and they have eaten large holes in plants like arrowroot.

This one on a small citrus tree has the beginnings of wings. It appears to be resting there rather than eating the leaves.

But this small yellow and brown hopper has clearly been busy munching up strength for whatever comes next.

And then I notice more in a casuarina tree, whose needle leaves do not seem like a good food source, nor even camouflage for this bright lime green hopper.

As my eyes adjust, I see several very different and much larger members  of the hopper family in the casuarina. Much better camouflage, even for such bold patterning as this fellow has.

I will need to be on guard for what this group of hopovers turn into next. I wish I knew more or had time to make more sense of this family’s lives.

So far I can afford the bits they take from my plants. I cannot yet say I have a biblical plague of locusts.

Covid-19 is quite enough.

Rain lovers

Apart from a rare slime mould visit, other denizens of my yard are taking full advantage of the almost daily shower and the warm days.

The feral Cadaghi tree (Corymbia torreliana), an escapee from Queensland’s Atherton Tableland, has shed thousands of small seed pods. On my deck they act like lethal ball bearings underfoot.

Each contains hundreds of minute seeds, smaller than grains of sand. These blow through my fly screens and onto my desk, where they are mere nuisance and a threat to my keyboard.

But outside, on the ground, with the constant moisture, they germinate. En masse.

These join the silky oak seedlings on my list of perpetual pull-outs. I can imagine the speed at which the yard would become a forest of these two trees were I not here.

It was a very large and inappropriately self-sown silky oak that loomed over my deck and had to be cut off to a stump when I first came. 

Now its large feet/roots are home to several varieties of bright fungi.

The vegie garden and the grass are hosting less flamboyant members of the always fascinating fungi family. Every day I walk around to see what new wonders have popped up.

Slime visitors

After the long drought, we have taken on tropical storms, with rain most days. Plant growth is rampant, and the lawn mower has come out of its summer/autumn/winter retirement.

But amongst all the green I spot a flash of colour in the grass. Yellow. 

Close up, it resembles several blobs of crumbed, artificially yellow battered takeaway food! But the strands of slime give it away: the first slime mould of 2020 in my yard.

This one looks like the ’Dog’s Vomit’ slime mould. 

If you haven’t struck such an oddity before, this is one of a very strange and long misunderstood group of organisms (Fuligo). While no longer classed with fungi, they are included in my Fungi field guide (by A.M.Young).

It tells me they can produce cells that can ‘move about actively and ingest food rather like an amoeba. This cell feeds and reproduces by simple fission until there are perhaps thousands of daughter cells. A chemical signal then causes these cells to combine and form the fruiting structure…’.

I always find them slightly creepy.

My book says this one’s common name is Flowers of Tan, but Dog’s Vomit is much more apt.

Several days later the yellow has become a greyish mauve; now more likely to be mistaken for dried dog’s turds…

But it is not the only slimy visitor after the rain. In a much-horse-manured garden bed, crisp white snow crystals cluster and clump over a stem of my grapevine, again the slimy threads giving it away.

Others transform horse poo into snowballs. Or I could go with the food analogy and say powdered sugar…

An older one is already less snowy and within days they are all a less notable brown. Toasted desiccated coconut? 

No wonder I continue to be astonished at the intricacies and varieties that Nature holds, and sometimes shows, especially the ephemeral ones. I need another lifetime to discover more of them…

Colouring a shed

I inherited a perfectly neat and serviceable but boringly plain shed when I moved here.

It happened to be green, with a reddish trim. I fancied a Virginia Creeper might suit, but doubted it would creep up smooth tin like this.

The nursery couldn’t guarantee it would.

I took the chance.

But very slowly, those little sucker paws struggled up, with a bit of support from wires to start with, as guides.

After one year, it had managed this much.

And yet now, by its second year, it has taken over the shed beautifully, the colours matching. It gives me great pleasure to see it.

Colour aside, I do know why it has done so well, because when I emptied a compost bin nearby I found its roots had found their way in at the base.

Compost well spent!

Flush with fungi

With rain every few days and humidity almost liquid — or it is on my person! — fungi are thriving. Nothing spectacular or colourful, some rather shy and delicate, but each different in an unassuming way.

And the large colony amongst my raised garden beds is still renewing itself, growing larger and more fleshy each time.

I love flowers and foliage, but fungi are more fascinating!

From camouflage to cappuccino

Spot the odd one out amongst the horse poo and mulch chips?

I nearly didn’t. But then the choc-chip coated drumstick swam into focus and could not be unseen.

Looking about, I spotted two more beside the raised garden bed, still in the same rough mulch. It’s been so dry, I was surprised to see such healthy fleshy fungi popping up.

Next day they had opened out considerably, the choc chip look had gone, but the light dusting of chocolate powder in the top centre made them more like the creamy top of a cappuccino.

No chance of camouflage now.

These fungi may be,( I think!) Chlrophyllum molybdites, due to the drumstick start, the slightly bulbous base below ground, and the pale olive greenish gills.  I had five in total.

Next day they are flatter, darker and beginning to split, resembling a flower from above. The concentricity of the pattern is even more obvious.

If the identification is correct, this is highly toxic raw, requiring hospitalisation! Although it is recorded to have been eaten after thorough cooking… why risk it?!

Chrissy Cross

With all the rain, sun, steam, storms, humidity, wild winds we’ve been getting, no human would know when it’s safe to set up outdoor structures… let alone spiders. Likely, spiders know more.

This showy spider has decorated my back verandah railing. An intricate and very fine web is not enough for this one; it likes to add the zig-zag silky criss-cross that give it its name: the St. Andrews Cross Spider (Argiope aetheia).

An orb-weaver spider, it is gaily decorated, and for me reminiscent of some Aboriginal artwork. Even the leg colours and gradations are elegantly chosen.

The disputed theory behind the cross is that it renders the spider less obvious to predators, as a distraction.

For me it is a Christmas gift of symbolic decoration, given that my house is not festooned with fairy lights or tinsel.

So I say thank you!

Shades of purple

I am fortunate to have Jacaranda trees outside my house, splashing my skies and carpeting my road with purple. I call it purple, but is it really somewhere in between lilac and purple?

In fact, my Spring garden has many variations on a theme of purple, like the ubiquitous but still lovely Agapanthus plants, which were here.

I grew to dislike them due to municipal overuse, but that is similar to disliking Greensleeves because of Mr Whippy’s appropriation of it…

The nearby large and beautifully drooping branches of what I think is Duranta repens, commonly called Geisha Girl or Golden Dewdrop, was here, and its flowers are dark enough to be called purple.

The Plumbago I planted is much paler, not even aiming for purple and having trouble making lilac.

The Buddleia or Butterfly Bush is only slightly darker lilac, but deepens in the buds along its arching spires.

A pretty sight, although I am still waiting for the butterflies to find it!

Revisit?

Coming home after what had clearly been a wet week here, I was pleased to see my wildlife mates, including the plentiful kookaburras.

This one on the deck railing looked around at my intrusion as if he’d become used to having it to himself.

But what was he so keenly watching down below in the yard?

A turtle! I tiptoed down to see. It appeared to be scrabbling in a circle on the slight slope; was it injured?

Up closer, I decided it had use of all four legs. Noting the dried green weed on its shell, I wondered if it was the same Eastern Long-necked Turtle that had visited me very early on in my residency here. This turtle (Chelodina longicollis) is one of the snake-necked types, for obvious reasons, and a species of side-necked turtle, as it bends its head sideways into its shell rather than pulling it directly back.

However, from the look it gave me, this one was not about to say ‘Hello, nice to see you again’ or any such. Bearing in mind that their other common name is ‘Stinker’, from the offensive-smelling fluid it emits from its musk glands if it feels threatened, I backed off.

I stayed well away, watching from a distance, with my camera zoom at the ready.

When the turtle deemed I had been gone long enough and it was safe to move, it did, unerringly turning downhill towards the wetlands’ swamps and ponds.

At a fair pace it skirted the old timber fence. There being plenty of broken bits, I knew it would find a way out. After all, it must have come in from the wetlands.

But why?

And was it revisiting? I hoped so, since an annual turtle treat would be most welcome!

Moving Dad’s place

When this was built at the Mountain, I never imagined it would have to be moved. But it has, twice.

There was no way I was leaving it behind anywhere, but the last time was too much for it.

The beach pebble chimney survived its cracking, staying vertical and attached.

But I had to patch the ferro-cement roof– and pretty rough it is.

I am waiting for it to weather grey and gather lichen, to fit in.

But on the south side the roof has fitted in here beautifully, with the moss as thick and velvety green as ever.

Here the little cabin is placed right opposite my side steps, so I can sit and look at it, say hello as I pass…

This extract from The Woman on the Mountain, of the original construction and site, will show you why:

Dad’s place
It’s a pretty good place, with a view across the dam to the bush, terrific sunsets, and a couple of wattles just in front.

Now how does that song go?… ‘It’s Ju-ly and the winter sun is shining, and the Cootamundra wattle is my friend… All at once my childhood never left me, ‘cause wattle blossom brings it back again.’

Yeah. And I got plenty of time for memories now.

My daughter often drops by for a chat, and my granddaughter brings my great-granddaughter to see me every few weeks. A right little card, she is, picks me fresh flowers every time she visits!

Much better than bein’ cooped up in one of them boxes, side-by-side with all the others, even if they do have landscapin’ and rose gardens. Give me this horse-cropped pasture any day.

We’d decided to build a cabin on my block for Dad. No reason why we three women couldn’t do it, if I kept the plan and method simple. My sisters had no building experience, but Dad wouldn’t care about rough edges and wonky lines.

As he’d been a carpenter by trade, I thought it best not to use timber; might make the mistakes too obvious, be an irritant, even for an easy-going bloke like Dad. Considering bushfires, and what was handy, a stone cabin seemed best.

I’d chosen a spot by the wattles, near some big rocks that would make perfect beer-o’clock sitting spots. My sisters arrived, and approved the site. We set to work. Citybased Sister One looked so funny in my spare gum boots and old felt hat that I wished Dad was here to see. She was to pass materials to me, while Sister Three was assigned to mixing cement.

We levelled the site, and boxed in for the slab. Our arms were aching by the time we’d mixed and trowelled and smoothed, but satisfyingly so. Sister Three went to make tea for smoko while Sister One and I watered and covered the setting concrete.

Next day we started the walls, leaving enough of the slab exposed for an all-round verandah. He’d want that to enjoy the view. It was a small cabin, but we fitted in a window on the eastern wall, for morning sun, and another on the northern wall, beside the door.

Dad loved an open fire, but Mum had put her foot down and insisted it be replaced by a less messy closed-in one, of a nasty shiny brown with a mean little mica window behind which the fire struggled for identity. It did warm the room, but not our hearts; it wasn’t even worth looking at, couldn’t conjure up a single flickering image or inspire a dreamy thought train…

So we made a big chimney on the west, where we could imagine him in front of a fine blaze, cooking his snags on it if he wanted. And making forbidden messes! Narrowing to a freestanding column, that chimney was a challenge, but ended up only slightly askew.

On the last evening of my sisters’ visit we drank to Dad as we admired our work, joking about what he’d think of it. He’d surely laugh at us girls as builders, especially Sister One who never went anywhere without makeup, and for whom a broken nail was a disaster. But for him she’d worked au natural and got dirty without complaint.

They had to return home, leaving the roof to me. Cutting tin was too hard, so I was using ferro-cement over chickenwire and hessian. Dad would shake his head at this unconventional method, but it would make a good watertight roof.

Now came the hard part. All the roofing materials ready, I went to get Dad. He had to move in now, because neither the door nor the windows of this cabin would open; my roof would close it forever.

As I carried the grey plastic sealed box I could hear small shifting gritty sounds that made me tremble; these were more than ashes.
He fitted snugly in his cabin.

I draped the hessian over the wire. He’s gone.

I hate doing this.

‘Sorry!’ I sobbed, as I worked the cement in.

Interment is… so… final.

It’s done.

Relief films over the hole in my heart.

Rest in peace, Dad.

I’ll be down for a beer tomorrow at 5.00. OK?

You can buy The Woman on the Mountain and my other books here.