Winter warmth

Much of this winter has been spent at the computer, writing more book talks. It’s cosy inside my cabin, with the slow combustion wood heater going all the time but fully banked down, as once the mud brick walls have heated up, they hold the warmth. No heat transfer at all.

But I am also out and about giving those talks, and was lucky to see this fabulously fiery grand scale sunset as I headed up through the Hunter the other week.

At home, in between deluges and dreary dampness, the Liquid Amber tree continues to hold all the colours of a sunset in its leaves. It glows even on the greyest of days.

I’ve enjoyed seeing that the roo family has been hanging about a lot lately. I took the photo on the right the other day, thinking how pretty the carpet of fallen leaves was.

But on the other side of the tree, in that same carpet, I spotted the red-bellied black snake whom I’d been blithely assuming was safely asleep. It was moving quite briskly too. Not fair! Winter is supposed to be my time of ease of mind when walking about in the bush, let alone the yard.

A  visitor to this site had said they can wake up if it gets warm, interrupt their hibernation.

So I want this slight winter warmth to go away, back to really cold for at least another month. And the snake to go back to bed.

Last Autumn colours

As the last red leaves fell from the Glory Vine, this exquisite little nest, round as tennis ball and about the same size, was revealed. It was knitted with gossamer threads and moss onto three twigs, like grandma making a sock by going round and round on her three needles.

Quite empty, it and its twiggy frame now adorn my verandah collection.

The other verandah drapery is the wisteria, the leaves now mainly butter yellow, edging to amber before they fall. It fills the window behind my desk, and as the afternoon light behind them sets them aglow it helps me bear having to be in here at the computer instead of outdoors on such beautiful still sunny days.

But yellow is also the adamant all-year-round colour of the NO GAS groups in many areas, like Bunnan and Merriwa in the Hunter.  The T-shirts are bold and un-missable, with the simplest of messages worn defiantly centre front.

This photo was taken at the May 1 Rally by friend Sandra Stewart, and sent on to me later. It’s me and my two good friends Alyson Shepherd and Doug Blackwell; although they’ve moved to the north coast from the Merriwa district, they came down to join old mates at the rally.

Yellow definitely predominated on that Autumn day!

Indian Spring

The last days of July have been warm and calm. With a month of winter yet to come, it feels like Spring.

The ground is still very damp, but the locals don’t seem to mind.

This wallaby mum lazed in the sun for hours until the treeline shade caught up with her, while her joey stayed cosy ‘indoors’ but was wide awake and curious about all the goings-on, including me.

I love the oversized translucent pink ears of joeys this age!

The false Spring was heralded by the return of a few annual visitors and residents.

The Maned Wood Duck couple made their first appearance for the year, sleekly dapper as ever. As they pottered about the yard, the younger wallabies watched with interest. ‘Welcome back,’ I called.

I had been picking jonquils earlier, especially the Erlicheers, whose scent is so sweet and strong. I had weeded amongst them a few weeks ago and had been thinking I must do the other clumps of bulbs before Spring and its attendant snake worries.

But I am too late. On the rock steps I saw my first red-bellied black of the season. Oh no, they’re back, and it’s only July 31st.

Youngish and quite lively, it slipped into partial hiding in the unweeded bulb clumps opposite the Erlicheers, and stayed there, immobile, for ages, sunsoaking like the wallaby mum. I’m afraid I couldn’t say ‘Welcome back’.

Late afternoon delights

My western mudbrick wall has only two windows, to reduce heat entering. On summer late afternoons I also draw blinds or curtains across them, to complement the outside shade efforts of the Glory Vine’s broad leaves.

Now that the full heat of summer is waning, I can begin to enjoy the effects of this late afternoon light.

One window, very high up under the gable, only receives direct sunlight very late in the day, in long slanting rays. I had covered it with cool coloured flat-based glass balls, stuck on with clear silicone, with the idea of reducing the impression of heat at least, as well as of decoration.

The other is lower, a narrow garden of stained glass rosebuds, made by a friend to my design. I love it when the vine’s green leaves echo those of glass. In Autumn they will echo the pink. It’s a kind of serendipitous value-adding, an unexpected visual double act.

And once that long light enters, tinged rose or green or fiery red, it splashes brightness and colour onto sun-shy interior objects, creating new effects — just for a few minutes. Unintended ephemeral works of art — ‘Still Life with Golden Nugget Squash’.

Forest fires

Many early colonists thought the Australian bush a drab monotone of greyish green, blinded as they still were by the vivid lime greens and emeralds of their European trees and mist-made lawns.

I hope closer acquaintance taught them to see more clearly – if they hadn’t cleared all the bush around them.

At present my forest’s greens of a million hues are lit by fiery reds and hot pinks as new spring growth announces its presence.

These small ferns (left) prefer the shadier side of the mountain but are particularly beautiful when backlit, set alight by sunshine striking into a clearing. I stopped on the muddy track to capture the moment as their individual tongues of fire flamed amongst the grass.

The sunny side of the forest holds its fires high, blazing in bunches through the dense older growth and across the sky. We may not get autumn colour, but I challenge anyone to say that our eucalypts are drab or lacking seasonal variety. These gum tips are downright pretty!

A damp end to 2009

Christmas is over and it’s been raining steadily on the mountain since Christmas night. Welcome gentle rain falling from cloud cover that is allowing a pale warm light through as well –and probably putting a light charge into the solar batteries as well.

I have moved the car out of the carport so it can have the dust washed from its once-bright red duco.

Everything green is even greener; I try not to watch the grass growing or think of the mowing ahead of me when it stops and dries out. But that’s next week.

This week I have a good excuse to stay inside tapping away on the computer, working on my next book.
Beyond occasional emergency dashes I am confined within the cabin and the verandah’s dripping edges.

From here I can see the little dam rainspotted and filling back up to its reedy edges, and a young kangaroo mother and child grazing beyond the fence, their fur much darker in the rain. They seem unbothered by the weather; I assume they are warm and dry beneath their bedraggled coats.

I know we’d both prefer this to heat and fire-danger.

‘Tis the season

Not to be jolly, as we are supposed to be, but a whole mix of emotions, and mostly not even on the up scale to jolly.

Why? Because Copenhagen came so close to Christmas, and delivered such a sad affirmation of the power of the corporate and capitalist world to ignore the urgent needs of the earth and its most vulnerable nations. The gift of the rich to the poor was a callous and hypocritical thumbs-down.

It is even more despairing because leaders like Rudd and even Obama have coupled the words ‘meaningful’ and ‘agreement’ into one senseless compound word; they did not reach anything meaningful if they meant to stop global warming. It is still tokenism.

A pity the U.S. isn’t closer to sea level, or that a tsunami of reality hasn’t hit Rudd yet.

So yes, I am filled with a wide and pervasive sadness for the world, and an anger at those who are the most guilty yet the most unrepentant because they will not do what is needed to make amends; have they even said ‘Sorry’?
I chose this photo for my Christmas post because it holds that mix of light and dark layers which I think many are feeling at present.
For I do have hope. Perhaps it was foolishly optimistic to think that world leaders would have shaken off the yoke of their corporate masters just because the planet is in mortal danger – or not in one go.

After all, they did at least agree that they lived on the same planet.

The tragedy is that it would be so easy to cut emissions and turn our economies around to non-fossil fuels if our leaders and our politics were not so trammelled by the machinations of Big Business.

Yet we have seen some changes — some for the worst, looking at the the Abbott dinosaur party — so 2010 may move minds and generate ‘green’ as the only way to go for smart countries.

Nature always soothes me with its beauty and regenerative powers, so I offer this sky pic to my readers as my seasonal greeting.

I’d better offer it to my friends and family too, as I didn’t get round to sending even one Christmas card this year; somehow all those Santas and presents seemed a little obscene as I thought of the children of Africa, hearing from their leaders that the world said NO.

Peace and hope to you all,

The bounty of bulbs

bulbs-1Each year the front yard explodes with the bounty of winter-flowering bulbs: tuberoses, jonquils of at least five different types, including the highly-perfumed and multi-layered clusters of the Erlicheers, and the dainty arches of the snowdrops.

I know the latter are properly named ‘snowflakes’, but childhood memories and habits, as well as their drooping stems and rounded heads, insist they remain ‘drops’.
bulbs-2The bees didn’t care about terminology as they crawled inside each little green-dotted cup.
bulbs-3The springtime daffodils are just beginning to unfurl their papery sheaths, so for a few weeks I will have the bounty of both seasons from my bulbs.

They all grow anywhere, fight their way up through tough grass, need no care from me, continue to multiply, expanding into bigger and bigger clumps each season — and offer their collective beauty to delight my indoor days.

Returning to Tuggerah

Librarians are some of my favourite people, being book lovers like me. However, the grey-haired spinster in a drab cardigan no longer fits the bill. Nor are libraries just places of shush and half-asleep old men.

Take young, cheery and goatee-d Adam Holland and his Wyong Shire Library in the enormous Westfield Tuggerah Shoppingtown on the NSW Central Coast. 

Adam’s author talks and events welcome the community in, seat them in comfy armchairs, feed them tea and chocolate bickies and grapes, while writers like me talk about my books and read from them.  For free!

My visit there for my first book was lovely, so I was happy to return last week for Mountain Tails. And, as I had grown up on the Central Coast, and my sister Robyn has retired there, it almost feels like coming home.

It was a delight to see faces in the audience familiar to me from my last talk there.

I always enjoy the interaction during question time and the chats afterwards when I sign books. Rick Finucane from Borders bookshop in Westfields not only sold my books there but took the photos for me on my camera. Thank you, Rick!
tuggerah-rosesAn extra treat was that Adam presented me with a bunch of yellow roses and some chocolates.

Back home in my cabin that night, having just beaten nightfall and the rain, I lit the fire, arranged the roses, poured myself a glass of red wine, and indulged in a chocolate or two. You could say I felt appreciated.

Next day was grey and cold and windy, but the roses bloomed golden on my windowsill, extending the pleasure of my author talk well beyond its actual time. Thank you Adam and Tuggerah!

Autumn decor

When the wisteria leaves begin to turn their beautiful clear yellow, they suddenly justify my colour choice of bright yellow for the painted wooden chairs on the verandah.

It’s what I see through the window in front of my desk, so I’m very aware of the transition.
My verandah is as big as my small cabin, and its ‘decor’ and colour co-ordination is very dependent on the natural exterior world for which it is the transition zone.

I just love it when they work together like this and give me such new visual pleasure for even a brief time.

Living walls


Each summer my verandah grows its own walls on the west and north-west.

Although the ornamental grape and the wisteria have been pruned right back to leafless woody stems, come spring they begin to reach out for each other and interwine.

By Christmas they have made dense, multi-layered walls of greenery that keep my verandah shaded, cool and dry.


Just like man-made walls, they incorporate a window and a door, although if I am away for more than few days I return to catch them trying to fill in the gaps, tendrils searching across thin air for the other side.

Apart from their practical function, unlike shadecloth for example, they are beautiful and varied in colour and form.

And they’re free!