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.
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.
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

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.

Tree decorations

When a tree dies it becomes something else here: a home, for birds if big enough, and for insects, fungi and lichens.

Some seem more appealing to the latter than others, like this fantastically decorated tree.

It stood out amongst the tree trunks of the forest, even in the mist. And this was on north-western side of the trunk, not the south, as I’ve always been told they prefer.

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The softness of she-oaks

Some consider the Australian bush harsh. Even in my rich mountain forests, there are areas where the dry furrowed bark of big stringybark trees dominate, with only bare ground and rocks, sticks and dry leaves beneath.

But it cannot be called harsh where she-oaks of any sort grow. These trees, properly called casuarinas, have what appear to be delicate bunches of slender drooping leaves.

Only they are virtually leafless, with the ‘leaves’ reduced to small teeth or scales arranged around the branchlets that we see as leaves.

The red she-oak timber, once used for shingles, is now prized for cabinetry. Most of the casuarina family burn with great heat and were in demand for bakers’ ovens.

But for me the standing trees have greatest value, rain or shine, for they grace the bush with their elegance, filter sunlight like fine lace, and turn raindrops into diamonds.
she-oak raindrops

Natural art

bark sculpture
In the Giant Snow Gum Walk in Coolah Tops National Park, I saw this strange suspended sculpture ahead. A cocoon?

Pink one side, elephant grey on the other, it proved to be a strip of intensely wrinkled bark. I could see the mould that made it on the tree trunk above.

Artlessly natural, as we say, or naturally arty?
bark scar

Giant snow gums

The Giant Snow Gums Walk in Coolah Tops National Park took me into a world totally new to me.

Here Eucalyptus pauciflora grow tall and straight, not low and blizzard-racked like the sort of snow gum I had in mind, as in the Snowy Mountains.

This open forest has a lower storey of a strange wattle, slender dark trunks bearing no lower branches beneath their oriental umbrellas of bluish-green.

To me their fluid shapes have a rather sinister frozen-in-action look. And are they whispering to each other up there as they lean towards each other?

Or are they receiving instructions to let me pass or not? Perhaps from the gargoyle mouth on the mighty snow gum just ahead?

Forest fruit

rosewood thicket
rosewood fruit
rosewood seedsMy forest does not have much understorey but in the damper dips and gullies there are always pockets of a small tree—scentless rosewood, Synoum glandulosum.

It has made its presence very evident lately because of its profusion of clusters of pinkish red fruit.

Unfortunately for me they are not as succulent and appetising as they look, being really only fleshy seed capsules.

They remind me of mini-pomegranates—but only visually.

These are now splitting open into three sections to reveal orange-red seeds, which birds seem to like.

A rainforest pioneer, it is one of the few I do not need to raise and plant as, with help from the birds, it has looked after its own future very satisfactorily.

Tree homes

elkhorn farAs you might expect, given that I live in forest country, I love trees.
elkhorn closeup

On my place I keep planting more where they haven’t managed to regenerate by themselves after the clearing and burning and grazing of years ago.

Mostly I look at the forest as a wall, I suppose—and thus miss the individuality of the trees.

I ought to look up into my treetops more often, for koalas, not seen here since the 2002 fires.

I keep hoping, as I think I heard one a few months ago.

No koalas yet, but other things live in trees, like this beautifully healthy and quite old elkhorn high up in a casuarina.

When they get this big they can be too heavy for the tree or branch, and hence vulnerable to snapping off in a storm.

broken treeEven when a tree is totally destroyed, its trunk broken off and laid low, taken from skydweller to ground hugger, it takes on new life as host. Like this mighty ancient, which blocked the track for some time until a big enough chainsaw came along.

Where possums and birds may have lived in it before, now termites and beetles and fungi are residents.

fungoid colony
This fungus colony has taken shelter in the horizontal overhang created by what was once vertical.

Nothing is wasted in nature.