Elegant native ducks

Lovely weather for ducks, as they say!  Enough to keep me indoors even if my radiation burnt face didn’t.

A Maned Wood Duck couple patrol the grounds here, but they are wary, hard to catch with my camera, even if I was to be quick enough to nip out in between cloudbursts. Sudden dumps of wind-driven rain interspersed with sparkling sunshine seem to be the current pattern.

The photo is of the female, but they are both handsome. The ducks reminded me of the piece about them in ‘Mountain Tails’, so here’s the sketch of the couple and a short extract:

‘…through the reeds I spotted a pair of Wood Ducks. I crept towards them, and got closer than usual, but they sensed me coming and waddled off into the mist. Keeping their heads averted as if I didn’t exist, they were muttering to each other at the disturbance. I’ve noticed that they rarely do look at me.

‘This shy and very elegant native duck is my most consistently resident waterbird.

‘The male has little patterning on his pearl-grey body, and a chestnut-brown head, with a black strip, a feathery mane, at the back of his head. His folded wings create bold dark stripes down his back. While he gets the smart tuxedo treatment, she has a more delicate feminine patterning. She’s a softly spotted greyish-brown, with white stripes across her brown head; since her mane is also brown, it’s only noticeable in profile, as an odd shape. Hence they are sometimes called Maned Wood Ducks. Until they are grown up, the young ones of both sexes look like their mum.

‘Occasionally the couple fly over to the small dam below my house yard, but they hardly get to land on the surface, trailing arrows of ripples behind them, before the bossy magpies hassle them to leave. After a lot of protesting squawks on their part and insistent cries from the maggies, the pair take wing, back over the treetops to where they belong. No outsiders allowed in the magpies’ local pool. They will allow the ducks to fossick amongst the tussocks around the dam wall for a time, but not to go in.’

Spring hits

Confined as I am to my place, unable to see what is flowering in the bush, it is a great treat to have Spring come to me.

Some of these plants are having their first Spring as residents, so I am glad to see them not only survive their potted lives, but burst into bloom!

This is a native, Philoteca myoporoides, flowering above the Bacopa ground cover.

Planted at the same time last year, this Ruby Belle variant on the native climber, Pandorea pandorana, quickly climbed right up the lattice to the top floor and has proved really too vigorous for comfortable control, but it is pretty foliage anyway, so I won’t be pulling it out. These are the first flowers I have had on it.

In the back garden strip, inherited pots of orchids were put to shelter under a tree fern. Their current starry flowers are a surprise gift!

Not a flower, but green at least, and a symbol of why I am not out bushwalking. My personal mask has been my daily companion/jailor during my month’s radiation treatment, and I now have it at home.

I am told some people grow strawberries in theirs! But I will keep it as a sculptural memento of the time: of fighting down panic as it is placed over your face and clamped down firmly to the table beneath you.

I know it is so the radiation is targeting precisely the right spots on my nose/face each time, and I appreciate that.

But as your nostrils are plugged with wet cotton wool, you must breathe through your mouth. And stay calm…

The team at Port Macquarie Cancer Unit are great and do their very best to help, but it is a fact that radiation burns the good cells as well as the cancerous ones, so my burnt face must now undergo about 10 days of escalating side effects before it can begin to heal.

I only hope it has done the intended job, as that cannot be determined.

But the lesson I learnt there was that, as my Dad used to say, ‘There are always others worse off then you, Sha!’.

Surviving the Big Wet

Many of the plants in my low garden, in ground or in pots, are turning up their toes at the seemingly endless rain, like this lavender.

Yet other things, like these fungi, can take advantage of it.

My garden is flat, and the swamp it must have once been is evidenced by the next door property, still pools of brown water. The ducks and water hens don’t mind, as they can wade and swim at ease; even the kookaburrras like to fly down and splash about.

But I realise now I ought to have raised the whole area before installing these garden beds or placing large pots down there, so bad is the waterlogging.

So I depend on pots up on my decks, like these surprisingly generous cacti. Formerly called Zygocactus truncata, they now bear the fabulous name of Schlumbergera truncata.

Having survived being inundated at my old house, where again the deck was their home, they have now burst forth into delicate yet showy blooms.

Hardy and beautiful! My sort of flowering plant.

Home birds

I have rarely seen a Sacred Kingfisher, but this gorgeously coloured bird was perched near the mangroves of the river where I live, just when I happened to walk down to see what the low tide was presenting.

From my window I often see its cousin, the Laughing Kookaburra, the largest kingfisher in the world. This morning there had been two to welcome me home.

There are almost always Pelicans to be seen here, perched on oyster racks or mud banks. The degree of flexibility of their long necks is as impressive as the accuracy with which they can use their bill tips for the cleaning going on here.

This White-faced Heron was a solitary wader through the mud and shallow water, and keen-eyed watcher.  I love that the longer feathers on its back and chest are called ’nuptial plumes!’

Long-necked and long-legged, it was most elegant in its wading, double-imaged in the almost still water.

So I am back home on the coast, where the birds are perhaps no less bizarre than in the Desert Uplands.

Moving mountains

I would like to introduce everyone to my new home surroundings, and to my new mountain, which will be featured often in my blogs. It is Dooragan, or North Brother, near Laurieton. I am near both river and sea and two national parks, so I look forward to exploring and sharing sunrises, sunsets and clouds, and plants and creatures of sea, sand and rocks, mangroves, swamps and mountain forests.

Why am I here? Partly by force of nature.

It seems like an eternity, but is about six weeks since I woke up about 6.30 a.m., swung my feet over to stand on the carpet… and found that my bed was standing in water.

Floodwater.

Was I actually awake?! How could this be  real?

In water to my knees, I grabbed the torch I kept on my bedside table, and shone it about. The water certainly felt real; it looked real. 

Yet I was incredulous.

This was not supposed to happen; I had been unable to get flood insurance due to the zoning, but I had not worried as my neighbouring ‘constructed wetland’ forest had been a ’90s flood mitigation measure that had worked ever since.

Wading out into the hall, my torch showed two yellow discs bobbing about in. The halved skins of a passionfruit, they’d have been in my compost bin in the kitchen… I passed a large container of corn chips that would have been in a cupboard down there…

This was real all right.

Over the night of March 19 the flooded creek/river had silently far exceeded its expected reach, snuck up the hill on which my house sat, and into my house.

At 8.30 that night I’d checked and there was water only in the lowest bottom corner of my large yard, a not unusual occurrence.

I slept soundly. There was no sound, no SMS alert or warning, no knock on the door.

While up to mattress height in the bedroom part of my house, in the lower part (two steps down) it was up to kitchen bench height, and my fridge and furniture … and compost bin contents… were floating about.

My garage, further downhill, was flooded far higher; it was full of tools and camping gear, and most precious of all, the carefully stored boxes of my own books, taped with chalk inside to absorb any moisture, placed on pallets to avoid any dampness… !! They were now just a pile of mush. 

Irreplaceable. Heartbreaking.

As the SES boat took me and my few hastily grabbed possessions out, I only managed to take the above two photos.

My car in the carport even lower down was under many metres of water, and next day as the water receded, it was clear it would be a write-off… as it was.

When I was allowed back in, SES volunteers helped me take out heavy items like sodden mattresses. Once family could get through other flooded roads, days later, we frantically threw out ruined items large and small, and broke apart lower swollen cupboards and furniture to get the stinking clothes and books and albums out before worse mould set in. 

Fixed carpets were ripped up, large mats removed with hope they could be washed and salvaged. 

My grandkids dried and separated pages and peeled off photos in the oldest family albums… again, irreplaceable.

Several mountains of dumped belongings formed out the front, to be picked up by a Council excavator and loaded into trucks. Things like the fridge and washing machine looked OK, but were irretrievably ruined.

It took weeks to empty the place, but the cleaning began apace.  Friends and family were wonderful; some washed many loads of linen and clothes, others washed down walls with vinegar; others washed cupboard contents deemed OK to use again, like crockery and pans; I mopped the timber floors… five moppings so far!

Many of you know of this disaster that befell me because my friend David ran a fundraiser, and while I did not look at that until weeks later, a truly humbling number of people donated to help me out. I would not have managed without those funds and I am overwhelmed with gratitude to everyone, whether they gave $10 or much more. Knowing that such kindness and emotional support was out there helped me greatly.

I have since had to pay to have done, and do myself, certain flood-damage remedial work on the house, but being mostly built of timber and timber-lined, it has come up well. Only one added-on room was plasterboard… a costly mess. 

Once the underfloor foamboard insulation I’d installed was removed, the old floorboards slowly dried and uncupped. Amazing.

Chipboard does not cope with inundation well either… but the new vanity looks nice.

I’d been planning to sell and move to this smaller place on the coast. Folk had been booked to look at my lovely furnished and decorated house on the very Monday after the flood; in preparation I’d de-cluttered and put things in lower cupboards and moved much to the garage. A double punch to the guts for me; now what did I have to show or sell?

But a few weeks later, they still wanted to look at the empty and cleaned house, despite my being in process of touching up and fixing.

They made an offer; I accepted, and in a few weeks it will be theirs. Only one more trip for me back to finish painting… and say goodbye.

So now I live here. It’s small, but I write this first blog post here looking into the tops of a paperbark forest, I hear lorikeets in blossom-feeding frenzy, a goanna waddled through the carport the other day… and I have but to turn my head to see the river and that Mountain.

Silver linings indeed…

I am tired, exhausted really, but I can see they will be a comfort once I get past the shock, which has not quite hit as I have been so very busy. 

Again, thanks to everyone for your support and good wishes. 

Deck extras

The late afternoon sun lit up these exquisite decorations on my deck railing wire.

The artist missed a few of the joining spots but otherwise turned my wire netting into a diamond-paned leadlight.

I am so admiring of the symmetry and discipline… and grateful for the beauty.

The actual deck railing supports my passionfruit vine but also proved useful as a brief vantage point for this solo King Parrot. 

It didn’t stay long, but flew to the aerial clotheslines you see here, gathered together the front two lines and perched on them both at once! 

Then it flew down to my vegie garden for the less wobbly perch of a tomato stake.

Such a beautiful and bright parrot. This rear view shows the deep blue feathers that are often unnoticed.

I am a big fan of multi-functioning, so I’m very glad to see my deck useful for the wildlife.

Xmas dressing

Not much is flowering in the garden. Nor is my Christmas Bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum), but it looks like it is, and these bracts that follow the small cream flowers are its main claim to fame. Mine aren’t as red as some, but people still stop and ask may they cut some for Christmas.

Its starry pinkness stands out against the darker trees around it, and does look a little festive.

But while that tree is dressing up, another in my yard is undressing for the summer season. The Queensland invader, the Cadaghi tree (Corymbia torelliana), is shedding its bark in showy patches to reveal its pale green skin.

Handsome, but dangerously successful as a feral plant, I find it hard to mind it as a tree, except when its millions of seed pods rain down like ball bearings on my deck.

Yet the shameless way it is stripping off its old bark right now is a visual treat. Wish I could do the same with my old bark…!

Unwelcome Spring?

As the orchids have been flowering over winter, they do not fill me with foreboding. Especially when bedecked with post-rain diamonds, I love seeing them outside my study window.

Not so the too-early signs of Spring, like the Ornamental Grape Vine, shooting and blossoming already. For after Spring comes Summer. Both are associated for me — and for many others — with heat and bushfires.

I love the fragrance of Freesias. I try not to regret their ephemeral nature or their harbinger of Summer status and wish hard that they naturalise here. In general bulbs do not seem to flourish in this sub-tropical climate, whereas at the Mountain they were my annual treat, great clumps of them coming up all through the lawn, untouched by the wallabies.

The little Cumquat trees offer both a visual and taste treat; I pick one bright globe and eat it every morning after I visit my Frogmouth friends. This Nagami variety has a sweet skin and tart flesh, so you get both sensations as you bite into it.

The lavender too cannot be blamed for blooming so profusely, and the bees love it for doing so in a winter short of flowers.

Who can resist sweet-smelling Freesias and Lavender?  I quash my forebodings… begone doom and gloom, for the moment… and enjoy small vases of them about the house. Inhale. Smile.

Perpetual gardening

This garden bed may look like one big mess, when in fact it is a cornucopia of gifts that ensure I will have ongoing vegetables and herbs to pick and eat.

All I have to do is allow the plants to live their full life span, to get long and leggy, flower and go to seed. Like the beautiful blue borage, ringed by new plants, like toddlers around their mother’s skirts. These I will dig up and plant as a border elsewhere.

My favourite salad green is rocket, (left) so I depend on these tall and healthy plants providing next summer’s crop. 

Last summer’s lettuce (right) was allowed to be so straggly it fell over, but not before scattering its tiny seeds. So here are its progeny, to be picked as thinnings as they grow.

I could not eat enough of the Asian greens I planted, so most will have to be dug in as green manure, but a few will grace the garden with their yellow posies until I am sure of the next crop being bestowed on my garden, wherever their seeds choose to fall.

The Cos lettuce flowers are not showy, but the sole surviving plant, a veritable Leaning Tower of Cos, is cherished for its anticipated contribution to my table.

And this mass of Continental Parsley is the result of just one seeding plant last year. I should have thinned them, but instead I revel in the lushness, harvest them in great handfuls and treat them as a green vegetable. You can’t have enough parsley!

At least I can’t.

And all free… you just have to not mind a lack of order, of straight rows of plants.

Winter’s Autumn

Autumn didn’t quite get its act together here before the end of May. But come the first really cold days (relatively, in this  climate at least) the season got the signal and the grapevine leaves really came into their colours. It’s not called ‘Glory Vine’ for nothing.

I relish the changes in deciduous vines like this, more spectacularly bright when backlit, but the external deeper reds and burgundies of the living curtain are also a visual pleasure.

Then came wintry cold winds and most of the glory ended up on the verandah, swept into the garden as a pink carpet.

But now the Crepe Myrtles have the idea and are colouring up for me in turn. These are almost as pretty as a Persimmon tree in Autumn … and given I don’t like Persimmons, smarter for me to plant.

The two varieties (white and mauve flowering) are offering me different tones and variegations, as well as rates of colouring. Position, perhaps?

No matter how much I love our native plants, I am also allowed to love these introduced showoffs, even if they are somewhat confused by the seasons. After all, in this warming world, the seasons themselves are confused. 

So are humans, given what and who are masquerading as leaders in too many countries.

It’s wise for me to focus on the natural world instead…

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… 

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!