Forest gifts

After all the wet weather the swamps are still holding water… and reflections. Part of the coast walk here runs beside such swamps.

Large paperbarks make sinuous shapes as they stretch across the water.

Smaller ones stand straight and double up so seamlessly in the swamp below that the eye is deceived.

But there are many tree species in this forest, and some of the eucalypts are very large… and also sinuous. They must be in flower way up high, as the forest was alive with the chirping and chittering of multiple unseen happy honeyeaters.

It is winter so only a few blossoms are to be seen, like this wattle, but the flannel flowers are getting ready, beautifully backlit in a small clearing.

The territory in between tree tops and ground is well used, like this webbed hammock.

Some plants make use of the whole tree, securely latched on, climbing from ground to canopy.

This young fig tree grew upwards, but also chooses to send down roots to anchor itself to the ground. A bet both ways, to take advantage of all this forest can offer.

It certainly offers me more gifts than my eye can take in.

Tree flowers

Camden Haven’s Kattang Nature Reserve is full of flowers right now, but they are not the expected wildflowers of Spring, and they are mostly seen looking up.

Like this Casuarina, catching the eye with bunches of rusty red amongst the green.

But these flowers won’t produce any fruit or seeds, as they are the male flowers, growing at the end of the needle-like jointed branchlets we often mistake for leaves. Casuarina leaves are actually tiny scales at each joint.

The female trees are flowering too now, but much less conspicuously, hugging the branches in small red clusters.

It is they which will develop the woody seed pods, much beloved by cockatoos. In fact, I could hear one cracking them open for the seeds; I could see it too, but it was too well-hidden and backlit for a decent photo.

Banksias are the other trees in prolific flower now. Several varieties, with flowers and seed pods large and small. The honeyeaters were having a picnic.

May Gibbs’ wicked and hairy Banksia Men still lurk as large as ever in my imagination, but the bright flower candles eclipse them here.

The banksia trees dominate the skyline here and it is hard to stop looking up, to watch where I am walking. Too early for snakes, I tell myself.

But nearing the small paperbark swamp, now flowing under the track, I do, and am startled by bright red, not tea-brown. As if in step with the Casuarina flowers of both sexes.

To complement the reds, the wet weather has favoured the banks of mosses to delight me with green while I am looking down.

No need to wait for Spring when so much is happening in Winter!

Wild edge

This wintry weather comes with warnings of dangerous surf conditions — not that I’m likely to be trying! But I did want to look at such a sea.

And it was impressive. An awesomely powerful and persistent pounding.

The waves seemed to be doing their best to demolish the coastal rocks, rising like leviathans and crashing down in a lather of white and stormy brown.

On the horizon a chorus line of clouds meekly kept its distance from all this fury.

Each rock formation offered different resistance, allowing waterfalls of varying shapes to be created by the smashed waves. There was always another coming…

The rocks always won, directing the white flows to follow their lead, with no more choice than bridal trains.

It is a testament to the hardness of these edging rocks that they are not worn down but also an explanation of how the channels in between have been created.

Cold coastal wonders

Having moved to the coast, I expected warmer climes, tempered by the nearness to the sea…

But in this recent cold snap, apparently experienced in many places unused to such low temperatures, I find myself needing to rug up at night and early mornings as much I ever did at the Mountain. 

In 2007 I did this illustration for The Woman on the Mountain (the publishers didn’t use illustrations in the end) and apart from the ‘primitive’ desktop Mac instead of my present Mac laptop, I am wearing much the same now! 

But I am near the coast so I took my new/old/2006 VW 4motion camper to Hat Head National Park recently to briefly test it out. I learnt it needs a lot of work to make it suitable for my off-grid type of camping…

While there we did part of the Connors Walking Track, along a stunning coastline where kangaroo-mown lawns slope down to dark craggy cliffs and an endlessly rippling sea.

It is always hard for me to lift my gaze from the ground, especially on an exposed headland like this, where treasures will be small and shy

Also, as I do not cope well with heights, I stay well back from cliff edges and admire the views from afar.

Up close, I could see hundreds of native yellow paper daisies, snuggled amongst the cropped grass and growing low to avoid the wind.

There were few rocks to afford extra shelter, but plants took advantage of those, with bright pigface and greener grass savouring the lesser evaporation.

Making it as far as Third Beach, I focused on the rocks there, black and round boulders, lichen-painted and dotted, multi-formed and -coloured as they were.

Yet again I wished I knew more of geology to understand how so many disparate shapes and patterns came to be together.

The tide had receded, leaving lines of tiny earth offerings… including hundreds of tiny bits of plastic, most too small for my camera to pick up. Plastic bottle tops were many and obvious, but it was these small bits that appalled me.

So it was a relief to see bird tracks large and small… although would their crops be full of such tiny plastic particles?

As we left the beach, I spotted an isolated clump of Pandanus/Breadfruit trees, propped on their sticklike legs amongst the rocks edging the sand. I am always amazed at the way small pockets of different ecosystems find their perfect niches.

And after the flood and the move, I found I’d needed that brief break as a reminder of the whole natural world of wonders out there awaiting me…

Winter’s Autumn

Autumn didn’t quite get its act together here before the end of May. But come the first really cold days (relatively, in this  climate at least) the season got the signal and the grapevine leaves really came into their colours. It’s not called ‘Glory Vine’ for nothing.

I relish the changes in deciduous vines like this, more spectacularly bright when backlit, but the external deeper reds and burgundies of the living curtain are also a visual pleasure.

Then came wintry cold winds and most of the glory ended up on the verandah, swept into the garden as a pink carpet.

But now the Crepe Myrtles have the idea and are colouring up for me in turn. These are almost as pretty as a Persimmon tree in Autumn … and given I don’t like Persimmons, smarter for me to plant.

The two varieties (white and mauve flowering) are offering me different tones and variegations, as well as rates of colouring. Position, perhaps?

No matter how much I love our native plants, I am also allowed to love these introduced showoffs, even if they are somewhat confused by the seasons. After all, in this warming world, the seasons themselves are confused. 

So are humans, given what and who are masquerading as leaders in too many countries.

It’s wise for me to focus on the natural world instead…

Winter or?

I was waiting for the last Autumn leaves to fall from my ornamental grapevine before pruning it, as I have always done.

But this crazily warm Winter weather has confused the vine into sending forth new Spring growth shoots of leaves and flowers.

All along its length the bright green new leaves have lost patience with the old brown clingers, saying  ‘Don’t you know it’s Spring?’

Only it’s not.

I check in the yard: the Mulberry tree, properly wintry bare two days ago, has lost the plot too. Good luck, I think.

The small Native Finger Lime tree is covered in tiny buds and blossoms, but this is the right time for it.

Will there be ‘right times’ ahead for deciduous plants to awake?

How would they know to stay asleep until after the last frosts of winter?

When people in T-shirts at mid-day in mid-winter’s July say ‘What a lovely day!’, I can’t agree.

‘Actually, no, I find it scary that’s it’s so warm.’

Because this is wrong, out-of-kilter; I’m a human who can put clothes on or off, buy food out of season.

Plants and insects and birds and animals are inter-dependent; species are being thrown into not just confusion, but extinction.

Now, on 1st August, I read that:

‘Tinder-dry conditions in NSW have forced the Rural Fire Service to bring forward its bushfire danger period for parts of the state’s east coast and Northern Tablelands.
Twelve areas — Armidale, Bega Valley, Eurobodalla, Glen Innes Severn, Inverell, Kempsey, Mid Coast, Nambucca, Port Macquarie Hastings, Tenterfield, Uralla and Walcha — will all start their bushfire danger period from August 1, the RFS announced on Thursday.’

Traditionally, the official start to the danger period is October 1.’

Mid Coast: that’s me. Yep, scary.

Bright spots

Rainbows always make me smile; no corporation has found a way to despoil them yet, or to capture and sell them.

In less-than-bright times, with less-than-visionary (!) leaders, I need all the bright spots Nature can offer to keep my spirits up.

And then I realised the rainbow had a second fainter image, a pale double of itself. I choose to to take that as an arc of hope: next time Australia will vote for action on climate change, and not be fooled by the spin.

It is winter at last and still very dry here but a few plants like that, and are giving me great pleasure from their abundant blooms. This beauty has been moving with me though various homes and stages of my life for over 50 years!

These orchids came from one large overgrown clump, a gift from my cousin Kerrie, who has many varieties, about five years ago,. They made six pots, and right when I most need colour and beauty in life, their graceful arching stems are offering both.

And while not at all colourful, as so perfectly camouflaged in their casuarina tree, these two Tawny Frogmouths make me smile every time I see them. Not every day, not always in the same fork, and not always as a pair, although lately they have been. I think they are beautiful.

But a bright spot in my day — and my life — whenever they choose to inhabit my place.

Winter exotica

Plants from cuttings and broken-off bits, of unknown future flowerings, all find a home with me. This beauty came from a community fundraiser where bits from very old plants in the Wingham courthouse garden were propagated for sale.

What a bold and beautiful and very contemporary blooming it turned out to be harbouring!

My cousin Kerrie gave me a large overgrown lump of strappy leaves and roots a few years ago, an orchid that needed dividing.

They filled five pots, and this year three have arching flower spears. How tropical they look on my mid-winter Wingham deck!

A long look into the heart of one fills me with admiration at the restrained yet jungle-wild patterning, the carefully balanced shapes.

My Chain-of-Hearts plant has accompanied me on each house/garden move for. It likes the situation here and is thriving.

But I don’t recall it having an autumnal colour event, where each leaf tries on a different shade. No matter, I am most appreciative… and grateful.

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.

Winter blooms

Kind of creepily flesh-like, with its pairs of pointy-toed pink ‘legs’ and that gaping orifice;  kind of disgustingly gooey, with those red wet lumps, which yet are almost like the secretions of raw wounds.

The pink fleshy stems add to the plant or animal dilemma (hence the ‘phalloid’ species). But the ‘yuck’ factor increases at this stage of its life, as its spore-slime glistens in the centres, like faecal flowers.

And indeed, from a distance, these fungi do look like red flowers scattered amongst the grass in the paddock. But flies, not bees, are attracted to that brown goo by the ‘rotting meat odour’ of this stinkhorn fungi, Asero? rubra,  commonly called Red Starfish, for obvious reasons. The flies obligingly carry away some spores on their feet to deposit elsewhere and spread the species.

Interestingly, this was the first fungus recorded for Australia, collected by Labillardière in 1792 beside Recherche Bay in Tasmania. He named it for its stellar shape, so why not Astero?? Typo?

The paddock is also blooming with lilac, or mauve if you prefer, in the brief beauty of this fungus before it fades to beige.

It is also plentiful.

My winter wildflower meadow is a wild fungi paddock.

Who needs Spring?

Fortunately some of the most sweetly scented bulb blooms are at their best in Winter. Erlicheer are my favourite, on the plant and in a vase. They have naturalised and multiplied here, need no care, and the critters don’t eat them. In other words, a wonder plant!

spring-flowers-2

Next to my bird bath I planted this Lilli-Pilli to provide some cover for the sipping or bathing birds. The bonus for them — and me — is its abundant crop of pinkish-mauve berries. They make a great ‘flower’ arrangement indoors too, keeping their colour for weeks.

spring-flowers-3

But even the bare vines on my Winter verandah are beautiful in their shapes. The wisteria and the ornamental grape intertwine and twist around themselves and each other to provide a decorative lacework that’s better than any static iron verandah ‘lace’.

winter-flowers-4

I suspect it won’t be long before I lose that linear treat, as the wisteria seems about to bud. Hang on, there’s still a whole month of Winter to go.

Winter birds

A yellow Robin has appeared, flicking itself from one bush or tree or tree guard to another, more like a wind-blown leaf than a bird in flight.

It stays still in any one place for such a short time that it’s hard to get a photo of it. When it lands on the ground you only see its grey back. Usually I see one on its own but I have now spotted two at the same time, although you wouldn’t say they were together.

It appears not to have the grey throat of the illustration in my book, so although on its past seasonal visits I’ve called it a Southern Yellow Robin, now I’m not sure. Could it be a Pale Yellow Robin?

Then one time I heard it make a sound it sat on a small bare tree and went ’ ding, ding, ding, ding,ding, ding…’, non-stop, unvarying, sounding like my Thai temple bell in a stiff breeze.

winterbird-2

The magpies and the kookaburras are still about in abundance, although, like this kooka, they get in a huff at all the windy weather we’ve been having. I love the way to kookas go all punk and fluffily fat to keep warm.

winterbird-3

Of course the most envied critters here on cold wintry days are the pouched babies…