Tree homes

elkhorn farAs you might expect, given that I live in forest country, I love trees.
elkhorn closeup

On my place I keep planting more where they haven’t managed to regenerate by themselves after the clearing and burning and grazing of years ago.

Mostly I look at the forest as a wall, I suppose—and thus miss the individuality of the trees.

I ought to look up into my treetops more often, for koalas, not seen here since the 2002 fires.

I keep hoping, as I think I heard one a few months ago.

No koalas yet, but other things live in trees, like this beautifully healthy and quite old elkhorn high up in a casuarina.

When they get this big they can be too heavy for the tree or branch, and hence vulnerable to snapping off in a storm.

broken treeEven when a tree is totally destroyed, its trunk broken off and laid low, taken from skydweller to ground hugger, it takes on new life as host. Like this mighty ancient, which blocked the track for some time until a big enough chainsaw came along.

Where possums and birds may have lived in it before, now termites and beetles and fungi are residents.

fungoid colony
This fungus colony has taken shelter in the horizontal overhang created by what was once vertical.

Nothing is wasted in nature.

Looking up

angophora growthWhen walking along the forest tracks, I am usually so busy keeping my eyes directed downwards for snakes—and currently for the rare dry strips between the puddles—that I don’t often look up to the treetops.

And besides, to do so I’d have to stop, which is when the army of leeches gets its chance.

‘Up and at’ er!’ comes the order, and within seconds the troops are climbing up my gumboots.

But last week I did stop, and in all the years I’ve driven past this spot, I’ve never noticed this particular angophora tree.

Angophoras twist and turn by nature, but I haven’t seen one pout before!

Just another animal

kangaroos
houdini ponyWhen I feed the horses I have to tie them up so the greedy ones don’t annoy the others.

The worst is the little one, Shari, who’ll pick up the rim of the rubber bucket with her teeth and drag it away from a bigger horse, or just muscle in with her shaggy head.

I tie her up outside my house fence, just above the small dam.

There are often animals drinking there or feeding around the bank, like this family of Eastern Grey kangaroos.

Even if I’m going crook on Shari — a common occurrence — or calling the other horses to come, they remain undisturbed at the noise.

I warrant a brief interruption, a look — but oh, it’s only her — and they resume grazing. Human or horse: it’s just another animal.

By the way, anyone fancy a small fat pony, cute but cunning, and with Houdini abilities?

Budget Paradise

lotus
paradise bed
scary old manIf ever you’re passing through Wollongong (NSW) do stop in at the amazing Nan Tien Buddhist temple just south of the city.

Defiantly built right beside the freeway and towering above the industrial area of Port Kembla, perhaps to heal its surroundings, and facing the distant mountains, this is a beautiful place of terraced gardens and lotus ponds, dotted with statues of cheery bald buddhas, fat but impish baby ones, and scary old men with gargoyle eyes.

The exotic buildings and temples are elaborately decorated and include a teahouse for visitors.

Most people are day visitors, but the lesser-known treasure is the Pilgrims’ Lodge, where for less than youth hostel prices visitors can stay overnight in stylish motel-type accommodation—fluffy white towels, the lot!

There are shared basic kitchen and laundry facilities for guests to use too.

Meals are extra, and I didn’t enjoy the Chinese vegetarian fake-meat type of cuisine much, but you might. I’ll be staying there again, but eating out.

Take a look at the temple’s website here.

Mountain salon and studio

jay jay scott
This week I ferried some unusual visitors in over the rough and muddy roads to my mountain. Not Mohammed, but equally unlikely, I’d have thought.

They had driven for four hours—and would return the same way—simply to take a photograph of me. Freelance writer Rosamund Burton has written a story on me for Notebook magazine and Notebook insisted on sending a hair and makeup artist and a photographer to my house for it. They clearly like to be authentic—that is, on location and up-to-date, and professional—no happy snaps taken by me.

So Jay Jay Rauwenhoff, a freelancer who loves the variety of places to which her skill takes her, opened up her two shoulder bags and one suitcase full of pots and potions and styling tools, set up her hair and beauty salon on my verandah and proceeded to ‘make me up’ and style my hair.

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Crazy season

creepers
nashi pearsWith temperatures veering from 13 to 35 degrees, neither the fauna nor the flora know what’s going on here.

The snakes don’t know whether to hibernate or hunt, I’ve had to bring out the winter woollies, the autumn crocus are blooming and the ornamental grapevine began changing into its autumn colours only halfway through summer, while still putting out new green shoots.

On top of that we had 251mm in January: that’s nearly 10 inches, old style!! The track’s a squelchy mess, the back roof’s leaking and I’m sick of wearing gumboots.

And while I’m having a whinge, the king parrots and the crimson rosellas have eaten more than their share of nashi pears.

But I shouldn’t have worried. I’ve picked what’s left and now I’m condemned to nashi-ing for days: nashi butter, nashi and ginger jam, nashi Bavarian, nashi and date and walnut chutney, nashis in red wine…

Anyone got any more recipes?

The Goulburn goanna

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lacemonitor2On a recent Goulburn River camping trip, one visitor to the campsite was familiar: a large, long goanna, or Lace Monitor.

He checked out the cold campfire and the garbage bag, but was disappointed in our vegetarian scraps.

Fruit peelings and limp lettuce leaves just can’t compete with chop bones or pie crusts.

Spotting us, he headed up the nearest tree and splayed himself like a brooch across its broad trunk. He is so long it is hard to fit him in the camera lens: the bone-pale tip of his tail is cut off.

He doesn’t like my close clicking and moves higher up the tree.

He must greet the holiday season with very mixed reactions: possibilities of interesting tucker, but what nuisances people are, never minding their own business, always staring, pointing, exclaiming, clicking, forcing him up trees when he has work to do!
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Rocks rule

As my mountain is not of sandstone, the sandstone ridges and gorges through which the Goulburn River meanders (when it isn’t rushing along in flood!) provided visual treats that no manmade sculptures could rival. The range was staggering.

boulder

Mighty boulders, long broken off, rolled far from their parent cliffs, rested at odd angles in a sea of grass, gathering lichen and inviting fancies of petrified creatures.

small cave

On the slopes, small and perfect grottoes, protected, glowing pure white or golden, offered shelter to wallabies.

big cave

Less common were the very large caves, stepped, sand-floored, roofed with intricate honeycombs of differing colours and materials – and these must have once offered shelter for humans.

track

And humans had been here. Elsewhere in the National Park there are apparently caves with Aboriginal paintings on the walls. There was evidence of later occupation, and typically, of greater impact.

Off a management track, an uphill offshoot, faint and overgrown, became an old wagon track, hewn – not blasted – out of the rock to reach the ridge and continue over the plateau to the next valley.

I hope that determined settler found the effort was worth it. The rock remains indifferent to that blip in its time.

Angophora camping

Between Christmas and New Year the Suzuki and I and a friend went camping in the Goulburn River National Park.

The camp site itself was far more civilised than I’d expected: mown grass around moss-capped and lichen-patinaed rocks emerging at different levels in best landscaping style, under beautiful big angophora trees that leant and twisted over all.

campsite

There were even fireplaces, tables and a pit toilet that was almost as good as mine except that it had a door, so no view!

Unfortunately the river was in high brown flood, with quite large casuarinas laid flat in its current. No chance of swimming.

I was expecting this camping experience to be like at my place only more primitive and by a river, but I had to adjust to the fact that it was actually more public, for other people came and camped under the angophoras, not really close by, but even so I felt crowded!

angophora

But the surrounding bush offered much to look at, not least the erratic but amazingly intense blooming of the angophoras, with their clouds of clotted cream blossom on arching or drooping branches.

Envirowiki

windfarmThe Envirowiki website was started in late August, 2006. It’s slowly getting bigger, but it needs your help!

For it to become a great resource for environmental and social justice activists of all hues, people like you need to help out.

It is now available in several languages, so take a look and make an entry on your pet topic.

Sunset moon

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mountain sunsetMy last full moon teamed up with the sun for a brief pas de deux between their respective acts.

To my north-east, the soft pinks and blues of a reflected sunset are always more delicate than the vibrant western reality, but this time the former won my attention, with a pearl of a moon rising above a long low cloud bank over the mountains.

Until the final curtain fell, the changing light was the most evident feature, with my foreground garden and forest turning to black, demanding the flash on my camera, while on the far stage the blues intensified and the pinks flushed dark rose and lilac before reaching for the deep purple of late twilight.

Through all this light and colour action the moon simply stayed where she was, steadily gaining a more luminous prominence, biding her time until the sun would have finished its flamboyant exit display — and it would be her stage alone, with no light but her own.

To the west the sun’s act always lasts longer, bolder and brighter — but it cannot ever dance with the moon.

My last picture shows the ‘real’ sunset.

Summer slime

This summer is atypically steamy for my altitude (around 1000 metres or 3250 feet) and I am seeing strange phenomena that appear to be related to this new climate.

Not the least of which are these surreal deposits, spotted only in one small area up the hill from my cabin.

Several white blobs stood out amongst the greens and greys. Going closer, I saw that clumps of grass stalks were coated – or being coated?– with a sort of slime, translucently white, soft, yet firm enough to hold shape, some still dripping.

‘Ectoplasm’ was my first thought, thinking of the Ghostbusters film. It was immediately dismissed of course.

But had these rather disturbing gobs come from above, been dropped or spat? Or were they oozing up the stalks from the leaf litter below?

slimemould1

Then I noticed that a nearby stone bore an equally strange blob of speckled grey slime.

Half a metre away, a twig was smothered in what appeared to be a combination one, white on grey.

slimemould2

slimemould4

They all had to be some sort of spore.

The grey one was tough and rubbery to the touch, the white felt like powdercoated soft jelly.

Grass stalks collapsed under the latter’s weight as the day heated up, the powder darkened to cream.

slimemould3

By next day they were all grey.

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slimemould6

It turns out they are Slime Moulds, from an extraordinary group of organisms called Myxomycetes — neither plant nor animal nor fungi. With more than 1000 species of these ‘intelligent slime’ identified, I am struck that I had not only never seen them (that I am aware of) but had never heard of them.

What a rich world!

Apparently they suddenly get together in a mass of protoplasm and ooze along very, very, very slowly, feeding until ready to start producing spore.

Most are brightly coloured and their forms are vastly varied – one of which has led to it being named ‘dog’s vomit’ slime, since that was the explanation usually given to its appearance.

Check out these sites if you want to get to know slime moulds better:

Great photo gallery

Nice short explanation by a Canadian botanist