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!

Water works

Where I had lived for the past 4 years it had rained a lot — and very often only there, in that exact part of this spectacular valley, while adjacent areas missed out.

Where I live now has been hanging out for some of that rain, with the ponds almost dry and even this sole duck wandering the roads looking for wetter pastures.

But after a week of wet days, some deluges and much drizzle, the wetlands flood mitigation works below my place is roaring with white water, the channels are overflowing and smoothing pathways through the Wandering Jew ground cover that dominates.

This makes beautiful patterns with the water — and can be forgiven for the moment for its invasiveness.

Not to be forgiven are the tides of plastic rubbish waiting to swell and overflow their pools.

Waiting to catch them is this steel rubbish trap, through which the water pours, into the stormwater drain that runs under the road to the next creek. These traps are why my house will hopefully not be flooded ever again, as it was in the 70s, long before these water works were undertaken and the forest planted around them.

The solitary road-running Black Duck has found the freshened and filled ponds, but so far no other water birds can be seen.

Having just watched some of ‘Drowning in Plastic’, a BBC series on our appalling plastic waste and what it is doing to our waterways and water creatures, I am aware how lucky we are to have those traps to stop even this amount of plastic heading down to the Manning River and out to sea

Duck Trails

The swamp/pond in the reserve below my block generally looks like a smooth bowling green. But now and then I see dark tracks through the algae topping carpet.

Going closer to investigate, I see two handsome Black Ducks entering the water, joining another bird that from a distance I assume will be a Purple Swamp Hen.

The ducks begin effortlessly gliding across the pond, trailblazing as they go. The trails close back over quite quickly. I could see four Black Ducks on the pond in all.

Black Ducks (Anas superciliosa) are common all over Australia. For once, males and females are similarly striking: the black eye stripes, peach cheeks and stunning individually outlined feathers, with a flashy emerald green ‘speculum’ hiding amongst them.

The other lone waterbird has me baffled. The colours aren’t right on the head and that distinctive yellow/lime beak has me beat. Could it be a Coot in a particular phase? Can anyone help?

From swamp to stream

Normally I have a view of a swamp, algae covered except where ducks forge a path. It’s the most permanent of a deliberately created wetlands complex of often dry depressions, built for flood mitigation with metal traps to catch debris.

I don’t usually get to see white water or hear it rushing through the forest, yet after a few days of welcome heavy rain, my swamp is transformed as it does its job of moving water.

Weedy sinks are pools, low-lying parts of the forest are semi-submerged and a small creek has found a path through the bottom of my garden.

And I know you’ve probably seen enough of these fungi, but I love that they are so prolific, with new colonies appearing every few days in this wet weather.

Water is Life!

Harnessing sunshine

When planning to move to the bush back in the late 1970s, the main company I knew where one could get items essential for the alternative life, like a manual stone mill for grinding flour, was Self-Sufficiency Supplies, then in Newcastle. It was run by Brian England.

Amazingly, that company is still going, based in Kempsey, and with Brian still at the helm. The world has at last caught up with Brian’s vision, and his company is renowned, as their signs say, as ‘Solar Experts’.

I’d written several Owner Builder Magazine stories where Self-Sufficiency Supplies had installed the solar electricity systems and heard nothing but praise for Brian and team. He is also the winner of the 2015 National Solar Installation Award and was inducted into the Solar Hall of Fame in 2016.

So naturally it was Brian I called for my first step in making my new home as self-sufficient as possible.

My north-facing roof could fit 16 panels, a 4KW system, grid-connected for the time being.

Once a safe path was devised across and along my unsupported bullnose verandah roof, team members Jamie Metcalf and Sean Paterson erected the support frames.

It was afternoon and the day had well and truly heated up by the time Sean installed the first panel. He’d already spent far too much time inside my overly hot roof space helping run the cables, but seemed to always wear a smile regardless.

It was late in the day as he carried the last panels up to Jamie.

For the whole day electrician Dave Aulsebrook had been working below on what looked like complicated wiring.

Brian England was there to supervise and be consulted on any curly issues; he says that each team member is pretty much a ‘jack of all trades’.

Finally my neat control board on the verandah was complete, ready to be programmed and set to work, converting sunlight into power.

Those of you who have read The Woman on the Mountain know I was on stand alone solar for 20 years, so it has felt weird and wasteful not to be doing that.

Whilst I am still grid-connected, using it as backup, my electricity supplier, Powershop, will give me about 12.8 c per KW I feed in. Check Powershop out if you haven’t already, top marks for flexibiilty in buying and pricing and communication as well as green credentials… and mention my name please if you switch! (Enova are good but had said they couldn’t supply here.)

After a long and hot day, my smiling Solar Experts had set my system up, checked it out and explained the manuals. They packed their gear, ready to drive back the several hours to Kempsey.