Spring is sprung

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My deciduous trees and the roses are risking sudden death by budding while the possum’s still about, but it’s in the forest that Spring has really made a grand entrance. Its greens and browns and greys are being splashed and draped with mauves and purples, whites and creams, as shrubs and vines flower.

The delicate Indigofera is prettier than any garden shrub, with its pinkish/mauve spires and ferny foliage.

Above it was Clematis aristata, which climbs saplings and crowns them with its drifts of white stars and new green leaves, bending them in graceful arches.

Nobody planted them, nobody tends or prunes them. They’re just part of the annual Spring show here.

But this is the Garden of Eden, so the snakes come with the flowers.

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Today I saw my first red-bellied black snake, a few metres away from my low bedroom window.

It was very fat and alert, head erect, bright of eye, but not moving quickly;  it’s still a bit chilly here. I needed to watch where it went in case it was a new co-tenant.

But no, having come through the fence to let me know to watch where I’m walking even more carefully from now, it wound its way back up the slope and out under the gate.

Nevertheless, I put my gumboots on to go over to the vegie garden, and each slinky curve of hoses half-hidden in grass was suspect!

The perversity of nature

This piece was recently broadcast on ABC Radio National’s Bush Telegraph program:

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Being hopeless with machinery, and living a long way from town, I treat any mechanically-minded visitor as a precious opportunity. There’s always some collection of moving metal parts that’s refusing to function. This time it was my pump.

I’d excused it slowing down a bit, given that the old Ajax and its partner, the Lister diesel engine, were getting on.

For nearly 30 years they’ve squatted over by my dam, ready to be cranked into action at three monthly intervals, and pump steadily up to my cement tanks on the ridge — 200 feet of head. The faithful pair would work continuously for 24 hours without complaint.

The Lister had been overhauled once, and the Ajax had its leather seals replaced once — but not by me.

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Meet my neighbours

Kookaburra winter

Moist ground, short grass, worms a-popping, birds a-watching – snap!

Kookaburras decorate my fenceposts and the bare wintry branches of my stone fruit trees.  For ages they stare intensely at a spot in the apparently motionless paddock.

The cold wind causes them to fluff up their feathers  – white, elegantly speckled and striped in brown, with those surprising azure dabs and dashes on the wings. Their flat tops ruffle and peak like punks, but they are not distracted from their task.

Their beaks are big and tough and capacious, hooked at the end. Good for catching and dismembering much bigger prey than worms, but that’s what on the menu today. Just a snack in between the morning and evening song sessions.

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Below his branch a magpie struts, keen to beat the kooka to that worm. Maggies rule here. It’s not the size of the beak that counts…

I don’t see who wins this time but they are always equally quick to react when a worm appears. Zoom!  I rarely see them disappointed – not many worms get away.

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Just beyond them a red-necked wallaby grazes steadily across the paddock outside the fence, laden pouch seeming to skim the ground as she does.

Going about her daily business, like my feathered neighbours, and not bothering about me or mine. It’s a good neighbourhood that way – and no barking dogs, whining mowers and hedgetrimmers, nor thumping music as son-of-house-four-doors-up washes family car under duress.

Fairy fungi?

Delicate yet rubbery, translucently flesh-coloured, looking more like fairy breast enhancers than fungi, these odd little cups appeared on my shadehouse ‘floor’ over a week ago and have sat there, unchanged, ever since.

Breast enhancer fungi

I love the way fungi just pop up where they’ve never been seen before, prop for a while to propagate in slow, strange and secret ways, then simply wizen and disappear.

Not so unlike human lives, I suppose.

So if the fairies are trying to look like Barbies, maybe this fungi, that came up in my orchard last Autumn, belonged to Ken?

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If anyone can identify these sexy fungi please leave me a comment . My fungi book is old and short on colour illustrations (Common Australian Fungi, Tony Young, NSW University Press, 1983).  I need a better one – any recommendations?

Rednecks — of a nicer sort

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When the sun finally remembered how to shine after all that grey sky and sleety rain, the wallabies were out to make the most of it.

There was a small gang of young male Red-necked Wallabies basking on the grass just outside my house fence, so I walked up to the fence and snapped a few. They did look up, but were too sundrowsed to bother with me and my little black clicking thing.

They are a most attractive wallaby, with soft fur, subtly coloured to give perfect camouflage in my tussock-floored forest.

Apart from their more-muscled build, it’s easy to pick the males. Note their low-hanging testicles; they hang down even lower when they are aroused.

From Chapter 4 – ‘An introduction to society’ in my book:

The most memorable courtship was heralded by violent crashing through the bush and constant grunting, sounding more like wild pigs than wallabies. Going closer to the fence to see what all the commotion was about, I saw one female flying from the very pressing advances of a big male, with five other young blades also in hot pursuit! Someone, presumably the dominant male, was grunting very loudly and vehemently.

“She must have been on heat to attract such a crowd of panting males, all jostling to get close to her. Their tender crescent dicks were all exposed, their balls on strings hanging low — so vulnerable, I thought, with the blady grass and tussocks and fences they were belting through.”

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Words about my book

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I seem to be spending much time away from the mountain, talking about my book, reading from it, and answering questions. Most events have been indoors, and some have been combined with food, like the first lunch at Wallsend Library, attended by about 60 booklovers, including writer Pam Jeffrey, who wrote the following review for The Hunter Writers Centre newsletter.

But the one at the Lavender Gate Cafe in Wollombi was the most fun, being semi-outdoors and sunny. It was booked out, overflowing with wining and dining readers. I felt like the Queen at a garden party!

Next Thursday (28th) I’ll be at the ABC Shop at Erina Fair, doing an interview there for local ABC radio at 11.30 and then signing books.

Here’s Pam Jeffrey’s review:

Based on her diaries and documenting her astonishing life from the 1970s to the present day, The Woman on the Mountain is a substantial and eminently readable memoir. Written in response to the often asked question of why she would live there, the book charts her journey as a young wife and mother, through a broken marriage and single parenthood, failed partnerships and now alone as a grandmother, land-owner and ‘custodian’ of the mountain. This is a task that requires the ‘man-size’ work of reforesting and tending the mountain she has grown to love over decades.

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A rosey day

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Yesterday it rained all day on the mountain, cold and lashing and miserable-making.  23mm. worth of it. From my desk window the autumn leaves of the verandah vines were dull shadows of themselves without their sunny backlighting.

Then a flash of rich red refocused the scene. A crimson rosella had landed on the birdfeeder there and was skulking amongst the dripping leaves, pecking at sodden seeds and keeping a watchful eye out for a currawong or magpie.

She flew off when a strong gust sent a cane chair flat on its face and skittering along the boards. When the rain stopped, she — or a cousin — was back, less startlingly exotic now as the vine reclaimed a little colour, though still missing the sun.

These ‘rosies’ are my main — red and blue and black, with green on the young. My flying jewels, my singing stars.

The vines are wisteria, now turning butter yellow; ornamental grape, almost bare of its pinks and reds; and Chilean jasmine (Mandevilla laxa) which is not a jasmine, is not invasive, and has the most beautifully perfumed bunches of slenderly furled white trumpet flowers in summer.

They produce the elegant long seed pods, joined in twin arcs, that you see by the rosella in the photos. Leave a comment if you’d like some seeds from it!

A question of territory

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Last week Charles Wooley interviewed me from Tasmania for his radio show, which goes out to 50 regional stations across Australia.

Clearly a discerning and intelligent man, since he loved my book – he proved to be warm, funny and empathetic as well. He especially loved the stories about the Spotted-tailed Quoll who lives and breeds in my shed.

When I put the phone down I was still chuckling at his offer to play the quoll in the unlikely event of a TV show of the book.

Not two hours later a movement about a metre inside the sunlit open doorway of the cabin caught my eye. There she was, as bold and spotty as you please, walking into my kitchen in the middle of the day!

I uttered a small squeal – not the clichéd mouse-sighting kind – just a shocked involuntary ‘What-the …!’ She glanced at me, turned, and unhurriedly waddled back out the door, her long tail held straight out behind. I got up from the desk and followed her, grabbing the camera as I went.

She hadn’t gone far. From the doorway I watched as she jumped into my ‘burnables’ bin, fossicked about, then leapt back out on to the verandah with a potential but unproductive piece of scrunched up printer paper.

I could have told her that story was no good, but it must have smelt of the buttered slice of pumpkin and walnut loaf that had sat on my desk papers at morning tea.

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I ought to be planting trees…

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It’s a glorious autumn on the Mountain. The Woman ought to be out there planting trees but is spending too much time indoors right now, doing interviews, preparing talks, because her book is out!

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The Woman on the Mountain is now in any bookshop worthy of the name. Published by Exisle Publishing, (ISBN 978 090 898 8709) and distributed by Pan Macmillan, it’s a candid meander through my life up here alone on my remote mountain wildlife refuge – answering the oft-asked question, ‘Why do you live way out there?’

The horses and the quolls and the wallabies have as large a role in the book as I do, although the defiant machines on which I depend for my self-sufficient lifestyle take up quite a few pages too.

There’s always something new and unexpected happening here in the busy natural world in which I dwell, so this site can be my ongoing notebook.

Catch what the critters got up to lately or my most recent saga of mechanical ineptitude.

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