July icing

On the first day of July I woke to our coldest morning yet this year — 4ºC — and light patches of frost.

Frost always surprises me as to where it is found and where not, but its decorative and novelty values are always appreciated here.

My favourite rock with its gloriously complex lichen adornments seemed more in place with the fine whiteness on the grass. In fact, the lichens seem brighter with the chill.

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Certain substances attract frost more than others; I know compost and mulch does, and here the fallen leaves blown into a drain are limned distinctly and individually white.

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Most of my yard doesn’t get frost but lichens appear in odd places all over it. This rock in the midst of the grass up the hill always catches my eye because of its spectacled pair.

Man-made beauty

On the way up to my Mountain, I drive around a man-made lake. It’s actually Glennies Creek Dam, but the recreational part is called Lake St Clair.

The highest knob towards the left is Mount Royal, sort of where I am heading for home.

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If you ignore the bits where the dead trees still stand reproachfully, slowly drowned, it can make a very beautiful scene. It has many moods and many weathers, from mist to cloud to white-capped waves to brilliant mirror finish.

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The mountain range catches clouds and makes it own weather. I can fantasise that I am in Scotland and this is a loch, not a man-made lake.

Morning gold

It is chilly of a morning, tempting to stay cosy under the comforting weight of the blankets — and yes, I still use woollen blankets, not doonas.

Well, those blankets just haven’t worn out, some even after 45 years, as my wedding present Onkaparinga apple green one is. My frugality dictates that until they do, I’m not replacing them.

As regular readers know, I love sunrises. I have mattress height windows facing north-east, so a gently glowing one like this was more than enough to get me to throw back the covers and rush for coat and camera to share it with you.

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Even when there are few clouds to cause a real riot, I appreciate the subtleties and the purity of the colours.

The sun itself is rising further to the east, so to the right of the photo, behind my forest.

Down here at my cabin it is barely out of darkness.

But I’m out of bed, and I will stay up. Put the kettle on, turn on Radio National — let the day begin!

Season of contrasts

Autumn, my favourite season, when crisp sunny days contrast with fire-warmed nights.  Taking a photo of the glory vine’s red leaves, it struck me that my roof embodies the contrasts inherent in my life here.

Here I sit in the midst of constantly surprising, stunning natural beauty, and yet just look at my roof, bristling with the technological and mechanical facilitators of my civilised life.

Left to right: mobile phone aerial, NBN broadband satellite dish, hot water tank, roof vent, slow combustion wood heater chimney, slow combustion wood stove chimney (half-hidden), and digital TV dish.

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Then there’s the contrast of the temperature being cool enough to fire up the leaves of the Chinese Tallow tree, but also to stoke the solar panels with energy.

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And not least, that while it’s cool enough for me to be constantly running a totally banked-down wood fire to keep the cabin cosy, the red-bellied black snakes are still  actively getting about their business of food-finding — not in my woodpile, please!

Early bird treat

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a really vivid sunrise here — and that’s not because I’ve been lazing in bed! As winter draws on, I might well do that, but the days are just perfect at present.

So this torrid beauty was an especially welcome gift — just to remind me.

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The colours alter so swiftly, you could be excused for missing out on a scene change. From bold to gold, bright to light.

Morning glories

Being up and about early has so often gifted me unexpected and ephemeral sights here that I feel I’ve missed something – or might have – when I sleep in.

At about 900 metres elevation, we do catch clouds often. They may be slow to lift, waiting for the new sun to warm them and lighten the load. But when they do, the two elements can create wonders.

At moments like these, I can see how folk might have thought they were having visions of enlightenment as the figure reaches out its arms to them.

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Even when the effect of a figure has dissipated, the long rays continue to find their way though the forest for many photogenic minutes more.

Small extras

Walking around the yard this sparkling autumn morning, I thought back over the many hopeful plantings over 35 years. I planted hundreds more than now exist, gone either from unsuitability or passionate macropod pruning, but I kept records.

I love how big many trees have grown but I also found myself noting the many small extra benefits that they offer.

This Lilli-Pilli (above) protects the bird bath so the small birds are game to land and stay to drink; they can scoot off into the dense leafiness and hide if need be.

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This avocado was grown from a seed I saved. It has flowered — finally and fewly — and I watched the sole fruit jealously, daily. But of course it went; a bird or possum got it first. However, I love that tree, culinarily unproductive as it may be, because of its growth habit.

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Its branches grow in a downwards arching manner — ‘pendulous’ or hanging — so standing inside its canopy is like being under a leafy umbrella.

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And they can be nurseries, in which butterflies can lay eggs or birds build nests. The citrus trees especially seem favoured.

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Of course they provide shade, perhaps none so conveniently as the two spreading Nashi trees outside my ‘bunkhouse’. A perfect spot for visitors to sit and listen to the silence.

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And for myself, they continue to offer not only beauty in each season, but surprises. I adore my Liquid Amber, mightily grown back after the 2002 fires. I’ve featured its bright autumn glow in many posts.

Leaving the Mountain

Failing knees (OK, old age) mean I can no longer manage here without help, so, regretfully, I am seeking a new carer for my Mountain and its creatures. Readers will know how much I love living here, but it’s time to make a move.

I need to relocate closer to family, to a more accessible small rural block. It’s best to do this while I still have some ability to re-establish as close to a self-sufficient lifestyle as I can manage.

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My 65.55 hectare property in Upper Hunter Shire, NSW, has been a dedicated Wildlife Refuge since 1980, and is now also under a Voluntary Conservation Agreement (VCA) with National Parks. The wallabies, kangaroos, echidnas, kookaburras and eagles really own the place, but they allow many other mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs and me to live here. They need to be able to trust the new humans who take over from me.

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This sanctuary for man and beast offers rare peace and privacy in a rich mountain forest world where the wildlife is unafraid and abundant, the sky is close, and the springs are permanently generous. I shall miss the privacy and the unlimited water; I can only hope for the peace, and at least visits from wildlife.

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The wildlife have it sorted naturally, but I’ve set up here for self-sufficient living for humans too, with stand alone solar power and springfed water supply. Its temperate climate, good rainfall and good soil mean the potential is enormous. 

For such human use, a 12.24 hectare area is excluded from the VCA, enclosing all the many improvements, like the dams, 92,000 litres tank storage, gravity-fed watering systems, my charming (yes, I do say so myself!) owner-built two-bedroom mudbrick cabin, large shed, carport, glasshouse, bunkhouse (sleeps 5-6), and a separate colorbond clad and insulated cabin.

There’s far too many advantages to list here, so if anyone is genuinely interested in becoming the new carer for my Mountain — as in considering buying it — please email me for full details, more photos, price and directions. No merely curious queries please!

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Photos of me and the cabin interior by G Beeche

Shrinking pond world

As in much of Australia, it’s been dry and hot here.

My small dam is really a large pond. Unlike my main dam, it is not springfed, but filled by runoff plus what is collected from my shed roof and piped to it. Both rely on rain of course – and we’ve had almost none.

So the levels in the pond have dropped severely and half of the pink waterlily world at the western end is on dry mud, not floating at all. Their roots would be in deeper dampness, but for how long?

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I am worried about the creatures who live in this water, the longnecked tortoises and the frogs especially. Except in the deeper centre, much of the pond resembles a brown and weedy stew more than cool water.

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As yet, the waterlilies look healthy, as pure and pretty as ever. I see some small plops and bubbles around the dinner dish leaves, so something is lively enough under there.

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I recall the charming little green frog prince I saw here years ago. I go closer, and am delighted to see another. Now all we both need is rain.

Moonrise surprise

It was still daylight, the last of the day’s excessive heat finally withdrawing as the sun sank over the western horizon. 
I was lolling on the verandah couch, home brew in hand, grateful for the fitful cooler breezes reaching me.

When I stood up, I saw that, literally behind my back, the moon had risen in a fully blue sky. It looked to be a perfect sphere.

And close by, a tiny bright dot to which I involuntarily sang the childhood rhyme, ‘Star light, star bright’, and made my wish.

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But closer up, it’s another small sphere, as equally visible as the moon. No star, but Venus, the brightest natural object in the night sky after the Moon. 

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I’m not the only one to mistakenly wish on this ‘star’ as Wikipedia says that:

Venus reaches its maximum brightness shortly before sunrise or shortly after sunset, for which reason it has been referred to by ancient cultures as the Morning Star or Evening Star.

Of Kings and Kookas

Although there is no fruit left on my trees, the King Parrots are still hanging around, always startlingly bright amongst grey gums and stringybarks. They haven’t been very vocal, but in any case they’d be outdone by the Kookaburra Kids, who have been driving me nuts!

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I finally tracked down one of these sources of endless unmusicality. Just sitting, emitting…

As I bemoaned in The Woman on the Mountain, about all the whinging kids here in summer, although I no longer have a fence for them to sit on:

But without doubt the slowest developers are the kookaburra kids. My place has many older trees and good nesting holes — I have lots of kookaburras. In the breeding season, there are dozens of young ones about, sitting in groups from three to six, turning every raised object in the garden into totem poles, and all muttering. They have a totally flat delivery and are hopeless at learning the words, as all they have is a creaky ‘Hah, hah, hah, hah …’ ad nauseam.

Listening to their progress is more painful to the ear than violin practice, for they saw away relentlessly throughout the next trainee stage, ‘Oo-wah, oo-wah, oo-wah! Oo-wah, oo-wah, oo-wah!’ It seems to last a month, despite plentiful demonstrations from parents and relatives of how to get all the rises and falls of the proper song right.

Ending at home

I am so glad to be home for the end of 2013. Since September we have all reeled from one Abbottrocity after another.

I need some peaceful time where the protected Nature here can make me briefly forget how much it is under attack elsewhere, like at Bimblebox.

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So the camper is off the ute and the wallabies have reclaimed it as just another shelter.

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In their usual fashion, the critters here step up their ownership levels if I am away too long. This time it’s the wretched possum.

He’s been taking the odd lemon but now he’s eating my oranges. They’re not ready but I’ll have to pick the lot anyway, or I’ll get none.

His most unwelcome habitation here not only means stains of possum pee on the ‘guest room’ ceiling, but I get no fruit. The parrots leave me enough not to mind their share, but with a possum about…

Not a single Nashi when normally I get hundreds, no peaches, no nectarines.

How I miss my possum-eating quoll.

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I am grateful for the flowering plants that neither the wallabies nor the possums eat — so far — like the Chaste Tree, the hydrangeas and the waterlilies, but my fruit and vegies are for eating, for sustaining my life here.

So how about the vegies, you ask? Well, I found that the bush rat has burrowed under the vegie garden netting and uprooted large parsley plants and lettuces and gnawed the turnips.

All minor annoyances, I know, compared to what others are threatened with.

I can only hope that 2014 will see the awakening of more people to the permanent damage the Federal and state governments are doing to their people, the land and water, and the planet.

These ‘leaders’ have become so extreme and blatant that one can only hope they have enough rope to ………………

Bring on the next election.