Familiar faces

As at my last two homes, I see a lot of wildlife just from my decks and verandahs, perhaps because I choose homes that are part eyrie.

Not having heard kookaburras here yet, I was delighted to see this one last evening, just metres away from my side verandah. Such a handsome fellow!

Next day, I heard the unmistakable continual rusty sawing of a young Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo. Rushing out to that same verandah, I spotted him, large and loud, carrying on as only a baby magpie can beat.

This equally handsome fellow was in a Silky Oak, but where was the parent? Not in the same tree…

No, but near enough, busy in a Casuarina, ignoring the whining young. I am so happy that these familiar avian faces are appearing in my new place, making me feel more at home with each visit.

But this place is all about trees; even the clothesline is a pulley system off the high back deck, where I send my washing out into the air space between trees… past the reach of the yellow droppings of birds in the Silky Oak.

Treetop home

There have been no posts for a while as I’ve been immersed in the chaos of moving house again.

This time — the absolute last! — it was to a rural town, where I share my block with this Tawny Frogmouth, one of my favourite birds.

A quiet, retiring, serenely beautiful bird, with ‘eyelashes’ to envy. Their roosting habit is often described as ‘cryptic’, mimicking broken branches; this one is easier than usual to spot, being on its nest.

I am still waiting to hear its distinctive, if unmusical, call.

And with a few dozen Rainbow Lorikeets – not quiet. In fact they are known as ‘a noisy conspicuous bird’, whose ‘shrill screech and sharp chattering’ leave no doubt as to their presence

They are currently feeding on/decimating a big Queensland Silky Oak (Grevillea robusta) tree that is far too close to my house, so it will not be there for much longer.

(The Frogmouth’s She Oak is safe.)

Before that they were busy on a red bottlebrush tree out the front. They are the only Lorikeet with a blue head, striking against the red beak and above the orange, yellow and red bands and splashes on the predominantly green body.

One of the reasons why I will see lots of birds here is that my large block is edged on two sides by a forested wetlands reserve. I know I won’t see wallabies but have resigned myself to that wonderful Mountain stage of my life being past.

But here the rain still falls and works with the early morning sun to make diamonds to turn my mundane clothesline into regimented linear splendour. Despite the culture shock of road traffic on one side, I remain blessed.

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.

Al fresco loo

The sun on your knees, a view of birds and bush… who’d want an indoor loo? This sketch and extract is from The Woman on the Mountain, Chapter 14, ‘The Simple Life’.

‘Contrary to popular mythology, the simple life is not found in the country but in the city, where you simply pay your bills and press a button for everything you need, and you don’t have to know how any of it works or be able to fix it yourself.

‘My next self-sufficient system is sanitation. I have what is called a ‘long drop’, a big hole in the ground with my old jail’s lidded seat over it and a shelter shed over that. It was originally a metre-cubed hole, dug into bedrock with pick and crowbar in 1978. I’d assumed it would last a few years, but it’s still going. Beside the seat is a lidded enamel canister which officially says SUGAR, but as nobody takes tea there I think it’s safe from confusion with my Texta-scrawled LIME. A sprinkle of the latter now and then is enough to keep the material breaking down, while an evaporation pipe dries it out and reduces the volume.

I always thought I’d build a dry composting toilet one day, but the only real difference from my current one would be that I’d get to use the resulting compost.

A few overly civilised visitors have had difficulty using my sanitation arrangements. I’ve never asked whether this was from the dark pit yawning beneath them or the idea of communal storage, but the ensuing psychosomatic constipation was real. They couldn’t wait — or rather, they could — to get back to a proper flushing loo. I feel sorry for them, so unable to accept that they’re part of the animal world, with the same basic processes necessary for survival. They were possibly also uncomfortable without a door to shut, but the toilet faces away from the house, and they wouldn’t see the birds and trees otherwise.

Having grown up with a pan toilet — a far-too-short drop — I consider mine quite manageably distant and salubrious. That toilet, complete with harsh and unabsorbent newspaper squares impaled on a large nail, was dark and spider-scary because it wasn’t done to leave the door open; and smelly, often maggoty, because it was never emptied soon enough. When Dad worked away from home for a month once, Mum and I had to do it, and I understood why he’d kept putting it off. But that first row of orange trees, in the burial range, had the glossiest, greenest leaves, and the biggest, juiciest fruit, of all the trees in the orchard.

The disadvantage of my toilet is that it’s a fair hike up the hill when you’re in a hurry or it’s raining. If the pit ever does fill up, I’ll build the new toilet on the flat, still outdoors, perhaps reached by a covered walkway. And I’ll plant an orange tree on the old site.

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

The water word is out

After the White-faced Heron staking a claim on my pond, the word seems to have got out to other water birds that the pond is here and the surrounding lawn is soggy enough to easily poke a long waterbird beak into.

A small troupe of iridescent Straw-necked Ibis were here the other day, strutting and poking happily, until the Magpies sent all but one packing.

Then it too took off, recognising, as do most birds, that maggies rule.

I am keen to see what other waterbirds visit, now the word is out.

Shading to infinity

My Glory Vine is wearing its Autumn garb; when the leaves turn red, right? They look red, as I come out to the verandah, with the morning light behind it.

But then I step outside and look back at it and the shade of the main leaves externally is so different that I have no name for it: but no ‘red’ I can think of will fit. I mentally go through my old paintbox tubes with all the evocative names of colours. As for the small ones, well, ‘salmon’ perhaps?

And yet, a few metres further along, they choose more burnished shades, with only red herringbone veins.

On the eastern side they are opting to hold on to green, to refuse to give in to one red shade, choose reds only in blotches, or restricted to edges.

Twining through the Glory Vine on this side is the Mandevilla Laxa, (right) whose slender pendulous leaves are showing gold and red shades for the first time, with clearly defined stages and veins. How odd that they are donning Autumn garb more here nearer the coast than they did not at 3,000 feet?

I miss the Wisteria’s golden contribution from those days so I am welcoming this… and all the subtle shades to infinity that Autumn can offer, even here in subtropical Australia.

Morning benediction

Most times I am awake and risen early. Some days it’s more worth it than others. Like today, as the sun rose in just the right spot over the escarpment to be split into morning glory rays of benediction by a perfectly placed tall tree.

Within minutes the sideways rays grew longer, the view brighter. The day was here.

All too soon it settled into the more usual lovely misty layers gently steaming skywards, with only a faint ‘hand of god’ ray visible.

Worth getting up before sunrise to catch that moment? Oh yes.

Watery wins

The delicately feathered lilac curls of the native Melaleuca thymifolia are a relief as well as a delight to see, as these swamp-loving small shrubs have only been in for about six months.

They will only grow to about 2 metres and will hide my shed from view for verandah sitters.

Willows love water and my little willow is now taller than me. I did plant it to help soak up a wet spot, and so it does. It will be a magnificent summer shade tree in years to come.

I had bought the cheapest ($30) little fountain I could find online, as a tester. I am amazed at how much it enhances my little pond, adding sparkles and ripples and splashes, varying its spray height with the strength of the sun. I have come to regard it as a little creature, part of the pond life, and I enjoy watching its varied moods. It even works in a sun shower.

The mosses are thick and glowing like furry jewels, with tiny golden fungi flowers bringing bursts of sunshine on a grey day.

While appreciating the bonuses it brings, I am as sick of the rain as this Willy Wagtail, who may not be able to see the watery wins as I do.

But of course with the sort of showers and sun roundabouts we’ve been getting, we are at least blessed with a rainbow now and then.

Moving mountains again

The time has come for me to leave another beautiful mountain area. After only two and a half years here, I am not embedded in the country as I was at my Mountain, which owned me for 36 years. I still grieve for the loss of the Mountain.

I had thought four acres would be a downsizing from 135 acres, but I had overlooked the difference between semi-alpine bushland and subtropical ex-dairy land. I became primarily a landscape gardener instead of a writer.

Writing is my priority in the next stage of my life, especially the fourth book that has been proving so difficult, but that must be written.

The peace and natural beauty of here has gently weaned me away from living amongst wallabies instead of people and I have made good friends (humans) within this unusually vibrant and sympatico community. I won’t move too far from them, but I feel I may now be able to cope with having houses next door.

So if you know of anyone looking for a green haven, please pass this on!

Information here.

October storms

September was wet enough, but appropriately gentle.

October is delivering its rain in tropical tantrums, with sunshowers and rainbows and start-stop deluges.

This double rainbow appeared on the very first day of the month, to announce how things were going to be.

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A week later and we were treated to another fulsome beauty. Sadly, no pot of gold has ever been found by me, however hard I’ve looked.

The plants love the frequent drinks — not that they need extra encouragement to grow here. Weeds like dock are over my head already.

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This wallaby approves of the state of my ‘lawn’ at least.

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The swallow family don’t seem to mind being alternatively drenched and baked. Like me, they have to make the best of what the gods deliver…

Morning glories

Spring is here, with welcome rain freshening the creek, which had slowed and dropped alarmingly.

Having only one tank here, when I used to have four, is nerve-wracking.

Nights are still cool enough for a fire, and mornings are bright and crisp.

Not so crisp as to make me want to stay in bed, however. I am happy that the light is waking me up earlier, so sunrises are back on my radar.

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Dews are heavy of a morning, bringing endless varieties of bejewelled webbing designs.

The grand she-oaks are especially favoured, with one branch bearing an unusual flag-shaped web.

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The small Acacia Baileyana wattle that I planted only months ago had not been forgotten. 

It hasn’t flowered yet, but who needs flowers when you have strings of pearls?

Transplants of the heart

Back in my old Mountain home, the verandah grew a living green blind each summer, blazed red and pink in autumn, and leaflessly let in the sunshine all winter.

Naturally, I took cuttings of this Ornamental Grape to bring with me.

They survived the trip and the transplant and here they are flagging their first autumn on their new verandah home.

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The other decoration on this verandah are the intricate spiderwebs between the uprights, only visible when delineated by a fine morning mist.

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The spiders do other useful work, such as binding the leaves of the little Nagami Cumquat into a neat parcel.

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With great difficulty I also brought with me my Dad’s Place. It was built by me and my sisters to house his ashes.

Not having been designed to be mobile, it weighed a ton.

But here it is, resettled, its lavender and wormwood plant settings fast making it look less newly transplanted. My grandkids have decorated the steps and verandah for him.

Fittingly, behind it is a terracotta chimneypot from my childhood farm, Dad’s orchard venture. I never saw it on a chimney, but I always loved it and I have carted it about for over 50 years. It lived in the rockery at the Mountain for the last 35.

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Here the southern face of its ferro-cement roof has grown a velvety green moss. I consider this makes up for the ridgeline crack it suffered in the move.