The starry skies are so lovely going into the cold weather, and it is getting quite chilly here already. I can see the night sky from my bed through the large sliding glass doors at the front of my place. So waking up in the night is a lovely thing. Sometimes I get up, which I did last Wednesday just before 5.30am. I was admiring the stars when I saw a remarkable thing: a series of bright objects streaming to the north, one after the other at steady intervals, very low in the pre dawn sky. There were dozens of them.
I did some investigations later in the day and discovered that it was one of the Starlink commercial satellite groups and that it was very likely I saw a whole series, about 60 satellites. They all get launched together at a fairly low level for satellites and this is why they string out in a visible series as they orbit. I’ve included a link to a YouTube recording of a sighting of one of the satellite trains. I also learned there is an app which gives information about upcoming times and places from which you can get a sighting.
The funny thing is I’ve already been looking at Starlink for my own internet service, when Starlink comes online in the future. I don’t have NBN or a Telstra cable service and I’m not in a remote zone that qualifies for SkyMuster. The marketing is perfect: now Starlink seems like a thing I already “know” (kind of).
Unfortunately the phone camera doesn’t run to taking to photos of stars. But last week was lovely for the new moon in the early evening. This is last Wednesday 14 April’s new moon:
And this is last Friday April 16th’s new moon (you might need specs to see it though):
On the day in between these photos I was in Sydney to see a different night sky: a memorial service that included fireworks on the harbour. It was for a friend of mine who had died at home in Queensland with her family last year. She was about my age and the cause of death was cancer. It was a very fitting send off. She was an outgoing, free spirit. She loved sex and parties. After Hong Kong where she’d worked for years, Sydney was her great love. She had always lived round Waverton and McMahon’s Point. Her brother organised the fireworks and service for her many friends here. All her family came down from Queensland and we gathered at Balls Head Reserve after some drinks at the her local.
It was very touching. I wasn’t expecting anything really. Because I’d seen so many fireworks when I lived in the Cross, they were almost a weekly event, I had well and truly got fireworks fatigue. But it was so fitting: all her Chinese Australian friends there – some of whom are my very good friends, her years in Hong Kong and as many again in Sydney, the fireworks, her exuberance.
Afterward I spent a long time thinking about why I found the whole thing so moving. I thought it couldn’t just be the fireworks. Then I remembered that for the whole half hour we had all waited in the virtual darkness for the show to start, there had been a shadowy presence moving slowly in the water and we actually watched this for longer than we watched the fireworks display.
This is not a great photo (understatement). Just a cropped version of a bigger image. It’s the barge from which the fireworks were set off. It’s not a great picture because at the time I wasn’t thinking to photograph the barge, just the fireworks. On reflection I thought the barge, with her ashes on board, was like the ferry on the Styx. A kind of archetype across cultures, the funeral barge. It moved very slowly and solemnly getting itself into position. I think this period of quiet before the display, had quite an impact but it was only later I became aware of that. The shape of the barge, its’ somewhat foreboding silhouette against the night, reminded me of the mysterious paintings of the American painter Albert Pinkham Ryder, which I’ve loved since I was at high school when I first saw prints.
Hello MG friends, I had a really lovely trip up to Sydney last week. Thanks for making it so pleasant and I’m sorry I missed a couple of people: next time. It’s always worth just checking in with me if you have short notice availability that doesn’t match my scheduled visits. I do come to Sydney at other times and I will work around MG things where I can, no problem. This has worked well for people who visit from interstate so it’s fine by me for loyal locals to do that too xx
The April visit dates are Wednesday 28 April to Saturday 1 May.
Update on the apples: I thought this was a pretty impressive weight for an apple. This one is from one of the roadside trees near the creek.
The wild trees had no fruit at all during the four years of drought. This is the first season with fruit since the drought and the crop has been wonderful. It’s such a dilemma for me because I’d love to do something creative with the apples that are loading down the trees but um, I don’t really have what’s needed. I’m not really set up to make cider. No equipment, no space, no knowledge, no experience. Nothing insurmountable though lol. The real problem I think is the mindset. I’ve never been very domestic. I mean, I’ve never made a cake, am not into baking, never made jam, somewhat ordinary when it comes to sewing (understatement). I do love cooking though, and food 🙂 and lovely things to drink. But I’m not into “homesteading”. This is a new word for me I’ve learnt from YouTube this year. It’s an American usage to describe the escape to farm life – where people have chooks, grow vegetables, make preservatives and so on. It’s not me. I may have escaped to the country but it is for the _bush_ and the wildness, not so that I can plant a European garden, let alone one requiring the amount of work that a vegetable garden demands. That said, things grow here remarkably well and even despite my own indifference I have a flourishing kitchen garden. It’s a bit like the indoor plants I had at Potts Point. I’d never taken any interest and then somehow I ended up with a jungle of indoor plants all thriving in the sunny airy environment. When I left Potts Point many colleagues and friends came and adopted my plants, many of whom had names, and I get updates on how they are doing (like the proverbial auntie).
So, back to the apples dilemma. I have been busy doing some landscaping to improve water retention on the little bush block. I don’t know if any of you might have heard of swales? Basically it’s a ditch that follows the contour line of a slope. It’s big in the permaculture tradition where they grow edible things on the swale itself. I have built a few of these in a terrace series (about 20 metres long, half a metre wide, a metre deep), and so far they have been very effective. They fill with water and drain slowly, keeping the surrounding slope hydrated.
I have planted the downhill side of the swales with native plants. I’m confident the wild grasses will just move back in by themselves. Whenever I’ve got through chipping some of the branches and trees that came down in the December cyclone storm***, I fill the swales with woodchips. (Woodchipping is not a wildly interesting task so this is taking me a while.) But I had the thought that the woodchips in the swale would compost much faster if there was some better organic material in the mix. Apples!
So I collected these apples earlier in the week, just from two somewhat weedy looking trees that were standing together and forming a little thicket by the side of the highway. I counted them as I put them in the bags (in lots of 100) and this haul is a bit more than 1000 apples. The smaller red ones tasted lovely, the green ones were a bit sour. I put them all in the swales and covered them with woodchips for maximum compost effect! (I lie, some of them I kept to give to Erik the excellent goat.)
*** This storm was on 1 December last year, I’m not sure if I posted about it. It was quite spectacular, trees down, no power, flooded roads, we were cut off for a couple of days and lost many beloved trees. The mature trees here are survivors of a very big bushfire that came through in the 1960s. They tend to be regrown around burnt out trunks so their cores are weak, often termite infested. They are snappy gums anyway, so a fierce storm is inevitably going to take them down. The locals were having a facebook discussion afterward of the very typical “I remember the storm 12 years ago (bla bla)” type of country discussion, and one very senior woman said, “well I’ve lived here 40 years and I’ve never seen anything like, even the rooster nearly laid an egg”. Legit cyclonic storm.
Following on from the last post I couldn’t find on the internet exactly the final passages that I was looking for from Gerald Durrell’s charming book. But I did find something related which I thought I’d post to remind people who know the book. On reflection the book seems altogether too innocent a thing to recall in these difficult times.
This summary review has been written by a person who does home schooling, which is very apt considering Durrell’s book is an account of his childhood during five brilliant school-free years on Corfu in the years before the war, filled with variety and the wonder of the natural world.
Durrell did have private tutors though, as the reviewer reminds us in this quote and final note:
“One day, Mr Kralefsky, one of Gerald’s tutors, informed Mother that he had taught Gerald as much as he was able and the time had come for him to go somewhere like England or Switzerland to finish his education:
‘In desperation I argued against any such idea; I said I likedbeing half-educated; you were so much more surprisedat everything when you were ignorant.’
Mother was adamant and so the family returned to England with the words of a [Swiss] border official, ‘One travelling Circus and Staff’ written on their ‘Description of Passengers’ document.”
I know I put this book reference up because I was amused by the Swiss border official. But incidentally, looking at this summary review, I’m reminded it took me until first year university to discover this idea of education for myself, when a philosophy tutor, responding to me in a tutorial when I’d commented that perhaps it was a good thing we first read the great thinkers as part of the basic curriculum, had said, well maybe not, maybe it was a good thing to experience ideas thinking you are the first person to uncover these truths. His idea was a complete revelation to me. I may well have fancied myself liberated by a creative “free school” high school education but I was deeply conservative – maybe even conformist lol!
Dear friends, thanks to so many of you for understanding that I am just having to keep things low key for the foreseeable future. You are always welcome to get in touch any time though, I am not going anywhere 🙂
Meantime I have a visit booked for Sydney 24, 25 and 26 March. I am also still visiting Canberra and Wollongong, and locally in the Southern Highlands, on an ad hoc basis. While I am in Sydney at other times from time to time, it’s not for MG.
My last post had a photo of the black swan Harold looking all moody and elegant in the middle distance behind the bullrushes. I have great news: he finally flew away, it would have been about Valentine’s day. So his gammy foot did not hold him back. He has launched into his own life finally and will be somewhere out there finding swan friends.
So while going out with my kayak on the water is still as nice as ever I miss seeing Harold doing his thing. There are always other diversions though, such as blackberries (terrible pest but lovely fruit).
And also interesting flowering plants, including this small pink flannel flower which scrambles down the rock and hangs over the water in one place. I have never seen this flower before. My gf sent me an article saying that it is apparently not common and generally will only grow after bush fires in higher altitudes. It is exceptionally lovely.
And I have a new animal friend, a white goat. He’s very philosophical looking, perching calmly out on the high rocky outcrops in the day, or tucked away in a protected sunny spot early in the morning. I think he’s basically feral. And also something about him makes me think he could be a senior goat lol. I’ve been taking him carrots (when I remember), and leaving them at the same place I’ve seen him in the early mornings.
There are quite a few water dragons on the rocks too. I was paddling up the centre of the waterway and saw what I thought at first was a stick, but then it was moving, so I thought water dragon swimming from one side to the other. As I approached the reptilian head and neck, I swear in an instant it changed its’ body language expression from: “dum dee dum doo daah …(minding my own reptile business, swimming along delicate little head high up and out at an angle)”, to “crikey what’s that”, and then “yikes, I am outta here!” as it saw me, heaved to an urgent stop and lurched away. It was a red bellied black snake. The deep red showing up as it turned.
And all this story telling about creatures reminds me of the end of the book by Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals. It never gets old. I will find it and post a copy.
A few people have asked about the swans, so this is an update on that important situation 🙂 You see here the last remaining swan. At first one adult and three fledglings disappeared. They were spotted on a large billabong about 15 minutes drive from here. For quite a while one of the adults remained with the two smaller offspring. Then it appeared there was only one gosling left and the adult seemed to come and go intermittently. Now we have only the one young swan left. He seems to have befriended the resident ducks and coots and grebes and is hanging around with them when I see him, which is most days I am here. I was given a kayak for Christmas and often paddle on the water now. At first he could not fly to escape approaching boats, he would just do an ungainly running and flapping thing without effective lift off. It became apparent he has some kind of lameness in one of his feet so he can’t get the power to propel himself in the same way as the other swans. In recent times he has managed to get aloft, though he stays to about 5 metres above the water, no higher. I called this last swan Harold after the poem Child Harold by Lord Byron (who was himself lame).
Just confirming friends that I am in Sydney next week. I am so incredibly grateful we have not experienced covid the way so many places have. Also I do have some time still available later on Wednesday 27 January 2021.
Dear friends, Thanks so much for the lovely gifts and the good wishes over Christmas New Year. It’s been beautiful here in the country with waves of different coloured wildflowers from one week to the next, following on from so much rain. I’ve never seen it so lovely. A close relative died before Christmas and it’s been a very sad time. Even when you have known someone is dying for a long time there seems to be no accounting for the level of emotion when that time actually arrives. Also some family members are more evolved than others and each can be playing out their own unresolved drama so right at a time that sensitivity would be the right thing, there isn’t any. I have to say I’ve found it all very difficult and it’s taking me a while to recover. My plan has been to visit for the short week after Australia day, which would be Wednesday 27 January to Sunday 31 January 2021. I’m very wary of the developments with the virus though. I cannot understand how the the crowds can be allowed to go to the cricket today. And I do not understand why the vaccines are not approved and issued now. So can we agree I’m planning to come but it might have to be postponed? Absolutely none of us wants to get the virus!
On a happier note, I had the loveliest visit to Wollongong in December. The storms have been so dramatic in recent times and that day was no exception. Here is a clip from the beach in the evening. This panning shot up into an intensely coloured sky really reminds me of the cinematography in an Australian film called My First Wife. I saw the film years ago late one night on SBS, maybe someone else will remember it too. The sky above the beach was very colour saturated and stormy and the fast scanning movement of the camera evoked the main character’s searching. It was beautifully done, with wheeling gulls (like this clip), and an intense choral music sound track (the main character was a music teacher). This clip is much more peaceful though, like my state of mind when I was down there with all the waves surging up onto the sand and round me :-).
It rained steadily all last night, which is just wonderful. I had the window open because it’s not cold, and I could hear the rain when I woke occasionally. Apparently there was a great thunderstorm with dramatic lightning in Sydney overnight.
In the morning I was up early and the rain had stopped. The shrike thrush was visiting in the trees close to the house. It was such a nice surprise because she hasn’t been around forever. And it reminded me I need to do this post.
A while ago I promised to post a little video I had made of the shrike thrush calling. I had posted this clip way back in June on the Twitter account, but had not then posted here as well.
This video was taken from the front door. It was early June 2020 and the recorded temperature was – 2 (might have been -3, I am a bit rusty). At that time the shrike thrushes were the dominant residents in the trees close to the tiny house. It’s a lovely call isn’t it? I’d post the longer version of the clip but I don’t think my website likes the data load required for video.