Winter or?

I was waiting for the last Autumn leaves to fall from my ornamental grapevine before pruning it, as I have always done.

But this crazily warm Winter weather has confused the vine into sending forth new Spring growth shoots of leaves and flowers.

All along its length the bright green new leaves have lost patience with the old brown clingers, saying  ‘Don’t you know it’s Spring?’

Only it’s not.

I check in the yard: the Mulberry tree, properly wintry bare two days ago, has lost the plot too. Good luck, I think.

The small Native Finger Lime tree is covered in tiny buds and blossoms, but this is the right time for it.

Will there be ‘right times’ ahead for deciduous plants to awake?

How would they know to stay asleep until after the last frosts of winter?

When people in T-shirts at mid-day in mid-winter’s July say ‘What a lovely day!’, I can’t agree.

‘Actually, no, I find it scary that’s it’s so warm.’

Because this is wrong, out-of-kilter; I’m a human who can put clothes on or off, buy food out of season.

Plants and insects and birds and animals are inter-dependent; species are being thrown into not just confusion, but extinction.

Now, on 1st August, I read that:

‘Tinder-dry conditions in NSW have forced the Rural Fire Service to bring forward its bushfire danger period for parts of the state’s east coast and Northern Tablelands.
Twelve areas — Armidale, Bega Valley, Eurobodalla, Glen Innes Severn, Inverell, Kempsey, Mid Coast, Nambucca, Port Macquarie Hastings, Tenterfield, Uralla and Walcha — will all start their bushfire danger period from August 1, the RFS announced on Thursday.’

Traditionally, the official start to the danger period is October 1.’

Mid Coast: that’s me. Yep, scary.

Bright spots

Rainbows always make me smile; no corporation has found a way to despoil them yet, or to capture and sell them.

In less-than-bright times, with less-than-visionary (!) leaders, I need all the bright spots Nature can offer to keep my spirits up.

And then I realised the rainbow had a second fainter image, a pale double of itself. I choose to to take that as an arc of hope: next time Australia will vote for action on climate change, and not be fooled by the spin.

It is winter at last and still very dry here but a few plants like that, and are giving me great pleasure from their abundant blooms. This beauty has been moving with me though various homes and stages of my life for over 50 years!

These orchids came from one large overgrown clump, a gift from my cousin Kerrie, who has many varieties, about five years ago,. They made six pots, and right when I most need colour and beauty in life, their graceful arching stems are offering both.

And while not at all colourful, as so perfectly camouflaged in their casuarina tree, these two Tawny Frogmouths make me smile every time I see them. Not every day, not always in the same fork, and not always as a pair, although lately they have been. I think they are beautiful.

But a bright spot in my day — and my life — whenever they choose to inhabit my place.

Winter exotica

Plants from cuttings and broken-off bits, of unknown future flowerings, all find a home with me. This beauty came from a community fundraiser where bits from very old plants in the Wingham courthouse garden were propagated for sale.

What a bold and beautiful and very contemporary blooming it turned out to be harbouring!

My cousin Kerrie gave me a large overgrown lump of strappy leaves and roots a few years ago, an orchid that needed dividing.

They filled five pots, and this year three have arching flower spears. How tropical they look on my mid-winter Wingham deck!

A long look into the heart of one fills me with admiration at the restrained yet jungle-wild patterning, the carefully balanced shapes.

My Chain-of-Hearts plant has accompanied me on each house/garden move for. It likes the situation here and is thriving.

But I don’t recall it having an autumnal colour event, where each leaf tries on a different shade. No matter, I am most appreciative… and grateful.

Wintry work

This drawing was meant for Chapter 5, ‘Living for Weekends’, of The Woman on the Mountain.

We’d moved there into the still very basic cabin, and I’d taken the writing work from my old design firm…

In a way it’s as if I remained part of the company even after I’d left and moved back here for good. They used to call me ‘our woman on the mountain’, as one says ‘our man in New York’, although the connotations of gumleaves and gumboots were probably less impressive.

They had to tolerate a long and turbulent teething period in those pre-email communication days. We were using a program called Carbon Copy (I think) where my computer linked to theirs via a primitive modem. I’d try to get the modem to work on my dreadful phone line, waiting for that magic sound, the electronic gargle of a successful connection. Someone had to sit at a computer at their end to receive it, and stay there to respond, even if it was unbelievably slow. I’d be sitting here trying to get it through, never sure if the person down there had given up, or wandered off to make a coffee or take a phone call. To find out, I’d have to disconnect and ring them, as I only had one line. Then we’d have to start all over again. Hair-tearingly not ideal.

I think that was when I first discovered the release to be derived from screaming Charlie Brown one-liners — ‘A-a-a-a-rgh!’ — from the verandah.

… But at least I was living and working here, even if conditions weren’t ideal. … I’d be shivering at my desk at the other end of the cabin from the combustion stove. Working on the computer, I’d be wearing fingerless gloves, beanie, thick socks and boots, tights, leggings, long woollen skirt, singlet, skivvy, woollen jumper, vest, cardigan and shawl, with a rug over my knees. Dead elegant — and cold. I cursed again the uninsulated roof.’

I have copies of The Woman on the Mountain which you can buy at a special price here.

Winter blooms

Kind of creepily flesh-like, with its pairs of pointy-toed pink ‘legs’ and that gaping orifice;  kind of disgustingly gooey, with those red wet lumps, which yet are almost like the secretions of raw wounds.

The pink fleshy stems add to the plant or animal dilemma (hence the ‘phalloid’ species). But the ‘yuck’ factor increases at this stage of its life, as its spore-slime glistens in the centres, like faecal flowers.

And indeed, from a distance, these fungi do look like red flowers scattered amongst the grass in the paddock. But flies, not bees, are attracted to that brown goo by the ‘rotting meat odour’ of this stinkhorn fungi, Asero? rubra,  commonly called Red Starfish, for obvious reasons. The flies obligingly carry away some spores on their feet to deposit elsewhere and spread the species.

Interestingly, this was the first fungus recorded for Australia, collected by Labillardière in 1792 beside Recherche Bay in Tasmania. He named it for its stellar shape, so why not Astero?? Typo?

The paddock is also blooming with lilac, or mauve if you prefer, in the brief beauty of this fungus before it fades to beige.

It is also plentiful.

My winter wildflower meadow is a wild fungi paddock.

Who needs Spring?

Fortunately some of the most sweetly scented bulb blooms are at their best in Winter. Erlicheer are my favourite, on the plant and in a vase. They have naturalised and multiplied here, need no care, and the critters don’t eat them. In other words, a wonder plant!

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Next to my bird bath I planted this Lilli-Pilli to provide some cover for the sipping or bathing birds. The bonus for them — and me — is its abundant crop of pinkish-mauve berries. They make a great ‘flower’ arrangement indoors too, keeping their colour for weeks.

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But even the bare vines on my Winter verandah are beautiful in their shapes. The wisteria and the ornamental grape intertwine and twist around themselves and each other to provide a decorative lacework that’s better than any static iron verandah ‘lace’.

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I suspect it won’t be long before I lose that linear treat, as the wisteria seems about to bud. Hang on, there’s still a whole month of Winter to go.

Winter birds

A yellow Robin has appeared, flicking itself from one bush or tree or tree guard to another, more like a wind-blown leaf than a bird in flight.

It stays still in any one place for such a short time that it’s hard to get a photo of it. When it lands on the ground you only see its grey back. Usually I see one on its own but I have now spotted two at the same time, although you wouldn’t say they were together.

It appears not to have the grey throat of the illustration in my book, so although on its past seasonal visits I’ve called it a Southern Yellow Robin, now I’m not sure. Could it be a Pale Yellow Robin?

Then one time I heard it make a sound it sat on a small bare tree and went ’ ding, ding, ding, ding,ding, ding…’, non-stop, unvarying, sounding like my Thai temple bell in a stiff breeze.

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The magpies and the kookaburras are still about in abundance, although, like this kooka, they get in a huff at all the windy weather we’ve been having. I love the way to kookas go all punk and fluffily fat to keep warm.

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Of course the most envied critters here on cold wintry days are the pouched babies…

Winter appetites

As the grass grows more slowly, the wallabies and roos are being driven to eat plants they don’t regularly fancy. 

This wallaby was being very intense about one of the rosemary bushes, which are all grotesquely pruned each winter to leggy topknots.

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Several branches were held firmly together in his paws while he stripped them. Still holding these, he then stretched up to seize yet another with his mouth. ‘Greedy beast!’ I muttered through the window.

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Hearing me, he dropped the branches and turned around with an expression of great innocence.

H-mm. I wonder if rosemary-fed wallaby would be a gourmet dish like rosemary-fed lamb?

Just kidding.

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.

Winter warmth

These last few winter weeks have been my ideal weather: warm, still days and cold nights, no bushfire or snake worries. Getting cosy at night with my wood fires, by day enjoying a sun that doesn’t try to fry my skin in an unguarded instant.

My wallaby mates love it, and the in-pouch joeys of all ages have the best situations, snug against the faint chilly edges, sunsoaking with Mum.

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I feel as rich as I ever wish to be when my solar batteries are on float and I have a full woodpile for the nights.

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All I need now is some free time to take my Gypsy camper away on a proper holiday – one not dictated by book talks. She’s waiting more patiently than I am. In fact, she’s been sitting there so long she’s growing a green tinge on her southern side.

Winter Mountain

After a few weeks away, I was keen for the rainy days to end so I could walk about and see what had changed since Autumn had become Winter. And at 8ºC on the verandah, Winter it sure was.

A sunny day, the wallabies busily stripping my shrubs as usual, revealed that some of my introduced trees were fully bare, but the best loved, the Liquid Amber, stood grandly glowing still.

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My verandah view was now all twining arms and pendant seed pods, soon to be collected before I prune the vines.

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Walking through the bush, I spotted a rogue vine, a garden escapee: this banana passionfruit twining up a tree in the rainforest gully. I’d reluctantly removed the vine years ago as the birds were taking the fruit and spreading the seed. I’ll have to pull this out, despite its pretty flowers and healthy growth.

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I’d hoped for lots of fungi, but I only saw these tiny ones (left) on the splitting bark at the base of a large Blue Gum. I saw several such trees, all with fabulous colour combinations and shapes. Weird and wonderful!

Wallaby wipe-out

We all know how mothers have to be on the ball to keep an eye on the young. This was borne home to me afresh by my wallaby mates lately.

After days of dreary chilly rain, the sun came out.

The only wallabies that seemed even half-awake were the mums with toddlers.

This one had a very young joey, still mostly pink and hairless. I have since seen it hop out of the pouch for brief second or two; it’s all legs!

 

But as for the rest of the gang? Lolling, lazing, drying out, cleaning up — or just snoozing. En masse, apart from the mums needing to have their eyes open, they were wiped out by the morning sun, laying out the tails and warming those pale tummies.

They are very good at doing a total flop in a sitting position. I wish I could!