Colouring my world

 It’s Autumn, and my yard is being coloured– by more than autumn leaves.

The indigenous Bleeding Heart Tree (Omalanthus populifolius) that I raised and planted shows how it got its name with its bright red veins that seem to drip to colour the lower leaves.

The first bunches of wattle blossom have burst out of their tightly fisted buds — small explosions of powdery gold, honey-scented. I grew lots of these from seeds that fell from a tree in my Aunty Mary’s front yard in Sydney; we didn’t know what sort it was, but perhaps it’s a Queensland Silver Wattle (Acacia podalyriifolia)?

The bird-sown gift of a Pittosporum undulatum tree, also indigenous, has fruited its mini cumquat bunches for the first time. How did I miss the flowers? The bird didn’t plant it in the position I’d have chosen, but this has soared to such a height so quickly that it clearly found the perfect spot for the tree — if not for me!

Tree pods


I’ve been on the road a bit lately, researching for a book.  It means I get to use my cute little tent, camping in new places. I do like the freedom of being able to stop as and where I like — affordably.

My first night was spent at Coolah, where for $7 I got a great camp site, access to a campers’ kitchen and clean amenities with hot showers. Plus the shade of a beautiful spreading tree, which was very welcome as I sweated and struggled to erect the tent in the late afternoon.

Camp set up, glass of wine in hand, I began to look more closely at my surroundings.

There were willows by the creek, and cows — and a bull — in the adjacent paddock, separated from me by a single wire that I assumed was electrified.

I don’t have much knowledge of introduced trees, and was wondering if the beauty under which I sat was an elm, when I noticed some seed pods suspended within reach. Might be nice to grow a tree like this at home!

They seemed to be the only ones on the tree; luckily I refrained from picking one long enough to realise they were not seeds. Like Indian clubs, these smooth creations were hanging from a criss-cross of spider webs.  I could just see the spider’s legs protruding from its dry leaf shelter (circled).

Once home, my I.D. attempts tell me this is a Bolas spider. The egg sacs are described as being like spindles, but the photos show them to be as rounded as these. Given that the egg sacs were about 50mm long, I was surprised to read that the spider is small — the female is 12mm and the male 2mm!

If you want to identify that spider, the Findaspider website is the place to visit.

Arty nature

The significance of ultra-abstract art often eludes me; I might appreciate it as design and colour, but it doesn’t speak to me. I don’t warm to it, relate to it, as I can to the merely abstracted, stylised, simplified, where the origin is vaguely discernible. In the latter the artist’s treatment of it stimulates my imagination more than straight realism would.

As pure visual beauty, for shape and colour and flow, I’d hang this one on my wall any day — if I had any space left around the bookshelves and existing paintings and photographs. The uncluttered look is not for me; I want everything I love where I can see it.
The cabin might be full, but I live in the midst of a forest that can dazzle me with temporary exhibitions of works of art like this one. The paint was fresh and bright after a spell of rain; a week later the colours will dull and fade, or flake off.

The artists are always ‘Anon’ but they belong to a most innovative and talented group called ‘Nature’.

Fungi frenzy

A spell of rain, summer heat, and we have steamy weather that signals to fungi to explode.

The first day of sun I walked up the track, feeling sure I’d see some new fungi.
Less than I’d expected, but spectacular enough, for low down on the burnt-black trunks of many of the stringybarks were intense dustings of orange dots.
Moving nearer, I was reminded of the dense colonies of tiny bivalve shells I have seen stuck to rocks on marine rock platforms.
As the individuals were so tiny, I had to go up really close to see their fungi features.

Several sunny days and one wild thunderstorm later, not a dot of orange is to be seen. Talk about living for the moment!

Toona baby

toona-1My little Red Cedar (Toona australis) trees are putting forth new leaves. These are of bronzed burgundy red, although the trees are not named for that, but for the rich red of the timber when cut.

Two-by-two, one pair above the last, on opposite sides of the stem, they raise themselves higher.

 
 
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I walk closer to feel the new growth, expecting softness, fragility. As I put my finger gently underneath the newest arrival, it seems to curve firmly around my finger, its strength as surprising as a new baby’s reflex — and as charming.

Wattle takeover

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Winter gold flourishes in the Wollombi Valley as I drive through on a dull day. Wattle, acacia, mimosa — our national flowering tree has many names and many species.

Not all have blooms as richly yellow as these soft powderpuff clusters, but most are hardy and quick-growing, if short-lived.

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Where land has been disturbed they colonise thickly. I pass what seems to be a plantation of wattles on a flat creekside paddock, fenced and tidily contained in rows.

Then I see it is actually a takeover of what was once some city hobby farmer’s dream vineyard. It is small, not commercial — would have produced just a few dozen bottles to share with friends, to show off his own label.

The grapevines are still there, but the wattles have shot way past them and have claimed it for their own, re-labelled it Wattle Flat.

I am a little sad, wondering what happened to the dream.

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Tree light

tree-light-1As Autumn becomes Winter, under perpetual grey skies, the intermittent thin drizzle keeps the saturated ground weeping down the hillside.

In all the dimmed-down garden and bushland, one light shines each day to greet and cheer me with its brightness.
 
My Liquid Amber tree is incandescent with warm colour, from yellow to purple and every pink and red in between, yet it still holds some green at its heart. The ambient daylight is so low my camera admonishes me to use the flash, but I trust my tree light.

This tree was burnt to a dead stick in the 2002 bushfire but it shot back from the roots and grew strongly to be the tall beauty it now is, seven years later.

I wonder if, forged in the intensity of that fire, it was given new genes, genes that hold the memory of the colours of fire, to warm my heart with the sight.
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Windfalls

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While south-east Queensland and the New South Wales north coast were hit by wild weather and floods – again – here it was much milder.

Yet when high winds follow long wet spells, the ground is saturated and trees are at risk on these ridges and slopes.
windfall-2
Those with less extensive holds from their roots or weakness at their bases can be bowled over as easily as we would flick a fallen leaf.

When the weather eased, I found that even in my fairly protected yard, part of the lemon ti-tree and two small Mudgee wattles had come down.

Fearing worse damage closer to the top of the ridge, I walked up to my gate, in case of fallen trees across the track.
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There were none, but right by that gate a fairly large tree had simply snapped off, probably partly hollowed from past fires, and now lay prostrate. Fortunately it had fallen downhill, so not across the track. 

Soon it would be tree no longer – just timber. But in the meantime, as the leaves slowly die, it will sadden me to pass it by. Like a terminal patient’s silent plea to which I have no solution, only sympathy.

Returning to Tuggerah

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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!
 

Rainbow rays


I’m being given the gift of many rainbows this winter, but they’re not in the sky. On my mountain, low cloud rising and and low sun setting makes for some spectacular combinations.

This striped beauty lasted only seconds before the last fine drifts of misty cloud dissipated. Being stuck too much at my desk at present, I was extremely lucky to have looked up at just the right time.

I’m not sure whom I’m addressing, but I have to say ‘Thanks!’ for such gifts.

A great review

Thanks to Margie Jenkin for her review of The Woman on the Mountain in the latest edition of Island, Tasmania’s justly famous magazine of arts and literature.

A good review is always gratifying, but this is the best of the lot by a long way and it makes the hard work of writing worthwhile.

Margie Jenkin is another mountain woman: she lives on Mount Wellington, the huge, brooding dolerite massif that dominates the landscape around Hobart. And she works as a ranger on the Maria Island National Park off the south-east coast of Tasmania.

There couldn’t have been a better choice of reviewer: her studies at the University of Tasmania’s School of Geography and Environmental Studies included an Honours thesis exploring sense of place through the stories of Tasmanian lighthouse-keepers and their families — so she was very much in tune with my own feelings about the the importance of place in our physical and emotional lives.

I can’t resist a couple of quotes from her sensitive and beautifully written review:

“Munro’s writing emanates strength and courage, and thoughtfulness for tomorrow. Reading her words, you are urged to reconnect with home to nurture a sense of care…”

“A complete treat, this book is daring and heroic. Munro’s narrative provides the habitat to re-visit your own ideologies and unfulfilled dreams. She reminds you that it is never too late, but warns that you must plant your seedlings soon to see them grow in your lifetime.”

You can read the full review in Island No. 113, out now, and I urge you to subscribe if you can — our literary magazines deserve everyone’s support, so visit the Island website now.

Or you can download the review as a PDF here,

My thanks to Margie once again and to Island’s editor Gina Mercer for permission to re-publish the review.

Elephant or Ent?


My block has lots of old stringybark trees, survivors of many fires, firmly grounded with their thick trunks and spreading roots.

From their wrinkled ankles to their splayed feet, they look like planted elephants.

But then, if you’re a Tolkien fan, tell me how many toes an Ent has?

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this ancient shook the forest litter off its feet and headed up the hill.