Saturday, 11 October 2008

LED thrills

by M in JaM

I feel amazed by the LEDs coming onto the market. This photo shows our latest find: an array of bright LEDs. It uses 1/10 the power of the incandescent bulb next to it, ie, less than 2w compared to 20w.

Depending on solar power, we appreciate energy efficient devices. Until last month, we tolerated that incandescent bulb in our pantry. A little power hog. We rationalised that it didn't matter as it wasn't ever turned on for long. Everywhere else, we made the switch to compact fluoros several years ago. Then a friend gave J an LED torch that surprised him with its brightness. Upon further investigation, he found even more efficient LED replacements for the compact fluoros in our house. We haven't made a complete switch to LEDs as they do cost more in the short term. The little LED array in the pantry has a slight blue-ish cast to the light, but we found LEDs which provide a "warmer" light that we can plug into existing sockets (for compact fluoros) in the living room.

You probably would find it difficult to find a 12v 20w incandescent bulb these days. I may keep this one to use when darning socks.

Our LED source (no affiliation except as a friend):
The LED Shop Australia

Monday, 15 September 2008


by M in JaM
A Katrina Collateral Damage Party
for Charles Bazzell

21 September 2008

If you can get to New Orleans, go to BazzFest where you'll find great music, free jambalaya, amazing people and a chance to make a bid in a silent auction for artworks by amazing local artists. Friends of Charles Bazzell organised this benefit for him and I wish we could be there. This is one time when Australia really does feel like the ends of the earth. If you go, say hello to Charles from Melissa and Jerry. And let the Good Times roll!

One Eyed Jacks

Music by
George Porter Jr
Bad Roads
Lil' Queenie
John Sansone
Dickie Landry
Jon Smith
Larry Seibert
CC Adcock & the Lafayette Marquis
David Egan & 20 Years of Trouble
Jesse Dalton & the Road Kings
Jimmy MacDonell
John Mooney

Silent Art Auction: works by
Francis Pavy
John Geldersma
Dickie Landry
Jill Grisamore
Jimmy MacDonell
Charles Bazzell

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Spinning as Hurricane Gustav approaches N.O.

by M in JaM
My withdrawn state lasted the month of August! Yikes. I had a birthday in the interim and also managed to hurt my knee. I've just about recovered from both experiences. I feel Spring in the Air and look, we're getting a few moths as the weather warms. The moth above does not infest wool, so I can like it.

As a birthday present, J gave me hand-dyed fibres (tops for handspinning) from Ewe Give Me The Knits: one top of Blue Face Leicester wool blended 50/50 with bamboo and another of merino blended with soy, also 50/50. I've never before had the opportunity to spin BFL, bamboo or soy. And my inexperience shows....

I've started spinning the BFL/bamboo blend. First up, a sample skein from the palest end of the top and knitted into a small bag as a swatch.

I like the sheen of this yarn which you can see better in the photo below.

The rest of the top's fibres have more intense colours. I want to make a pair of socks, so I divided the top lengthwise. Each half should be enough for one sock.

Sock 1: spin two singles, each on its own bobbin, and then ply them together. I used two approaches to pre-drafting the fibres prior to spinning. You can see below that one single has many, short colour segments while the other has the same colour pattern but fewer, longer colour segments. When plied together, the colour patterns of the two singles "beat" together in a sort of fractal way. At least that's the plan....

Next part of the plan: learn to cast on and knit a sock toe-up. I like choosing the challenges in my life. Life has a way of presenting them unasked for.

Spare a thought for the people of New Orleans, our friend Charles among them, who have struggled against incredible odds in the attempt to rebuild and have now been ordered to evacuate New Orleans as Hurricane Gustav approaches, three years after Katrina.

Monday, 4 August 2008

A Daily Walk

by J in JaM

Well actually, it's twice a day walk, in the morning after coffee and a quick Internet mail check and again before sunset. The dog acts as our main motivator to walk about 1.5 kilometers twice a day, for a total distance of 3km (about 2 miles).

We usually start by going up to our water tank (with a quick check on water level) and then continue along our fenceline to the back of the property. Then we head downhill to Moon Creek which only flows a few months of the year. Moon Creek joins Toy Creek in a 100 meters or so. Toy Creek runs most of the year but reduces to a series of Billabongs (pools of standing water) during the Dry Season, leading up to Christmas. (When the monsoon season begins, frogs lay great masses of eggs in Moon Creek.) From Toy Creek we walk uphill to the country road and short distance back to our gate. Then it is about 300 meters back to the house.

We've been doing this walk for almost twenty years and during that time, great trees have fallen and floods have changed the nature of Toy Creek. After Cyclone Larry three years ago, the number of birds was greatly reduced but they have recovered. Each year is different but the pattern of summer monsoon rains followed by a dry winter continues and we will continue to walk our daily walk as long as possible.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Winter Woolies

by M in JaM

My Auntie asked for a recent photo. This is for you, Auntie!

My neighbour, Jude, created my hat. It feels perfect in the cold weather we're having. I get compliments on my hat when I wear it to town. Jude used a variety of yarns to crochet and knit various bits and bobs, then pieced the work together on a model head to get the right shape before sewing everything together. I love my one-of-a-kind hat! Next year Jude plans to go to the Alice Springs Beanie Festival. Sounds like just the place for such a creative person!

I've worn my knitted fingerless mittens (free pattern) at the keyboard on cold mornings this winter. We may get frost tomorrow morning. This photo shows a white pair I made for a friend. I knitted them with a fine (thin and smooth) wool yarn to show off the lace pattern and I like the way they look. I found the yarn in an op shop and dyed most of it which I figured would be hard on any moth eggs that might be hiding, always a consideration before yarn gets stashed and stored. I've made myself an identical pair, but in turquoise. Having worn them, I want to knit another pair using a thicker and fluffier yarn to make the mittens warmer. Comfort takes precedence over style at this time in my life.

As I go through my current spell of low motivation, I find comfort in knitting cotton dishclothes. They cause zero brain burn. Likewise I find kumihimo (braiding) a calming, repetitive activity that I can do, little by little. And gazing into a fire does wonders for quieting the mind. I know this withdrawn period won't last.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Lorikeets & Grevilleas

by J in JaM

This morning while having my coffee, I noticed that Rainbow Lorikeets were feeding in a large native Grevillea just outside the kitchen window. I wanted to try taking some pictures of the local birds with our new digital camera. Lorikeets are a noisy bird, gregarious and fun to watch while feeding on the pollen and nectar in the blossoms the native Grevilleas. They have specialized brush-tipped tongues just for this job. They are messy feeders and often snip off the Grevillea blossoms while holding it with one foot and after they have slupped up the pollen and nectar, discard the blossom. The ground under some of our native Grevilleas is littered with blossoms.

We all see very high quality images on TV from the best wildlife photographers and when I attempt this sort of thing, I usually am disappointed. In a few minutes I had a few pictures and the Lorikeets had flown away. I think the photos came out Ok. Notice the pollen on the head of the rainbow Lorikeet above. While taking some close-ups of the Grevillea blossoms, I noticed that ants were also feeding on the nectar and that lead me to wondering about the relationship between ants and the Lorikeets.

The wonderful thing about being retired in this remote, quiet place is how easy it is to wander down all those paths that go unnoticed in a more busy world. I continued to wander around all morning taking more pictures and looking at the details of the incredible, beautiful and complex world that surrounds all of us.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Silence, Quiet and Solitude

By J in JaM

Twenty or so years ago, while visiting friends in Los Angeles. I noticed that they had a TV set in most of the rooms of their home. The TV's were all on and tuned to the same channel. When you walked from room to room you always had company. The current TV show was with you and it excluded intrusions from the outside.

In the even more ancient past, when I worked in a research lab at the University of California in Berkeley, I spent some time in an Anechoic chamber. This vault-like chamber blocks out all vibration, all echo. It is totally sound proof. After sitting in one for a few minutes, all you can hear is yourself: your heart thumping, blood rushing around in arteries, breathing noises and maybe your clothes rustling and stretching as you breath. This “true silence” feels very unnatural. I didn't like being in there.

Our lovely house in California in the 1980's was on a ridge in Marin County overlooking San Francisco Bay. The freeway was along the edge of the bay about 3 miles from our home and we could always hear the traffic. A constant that ebbed and flowed with the rush hours and holidays. Almost all the sounds in Marin were man made, part of our culture.

While living in California, M and I had a wonderful holiday exploring remote and seldom visited Owl Canyon in Utah. This narrow canyon filled with prehistoric anasazi ruins has been removed from human culture for about 800 years. The narrow blue sky above Owl Canyon is crossed by con trails from commercial aircraft that can't be seen but can be heard along with the canyon wrens that live here. A thread of faint but continuous sound connects this solitude to modern culture.

Urban sounds exclude almost everything except us. We love our reflection but can we still hear the tiger rustling in the grass?

Where we now live in Australia, there are no large aircraft flight paths near us. Once a day or so, a light plane or helicopter flies over coming or going to remote mining camps. You can hear them long before seeing them and then they slowly fade with increasing distance. The few cars and motorcycles that pass on road are much the same. Most of the time we hear a gentle mix of human sounds mixed with nature's voice: birds, insects, the wind and small animals, a neighbor's dog or rooster perhaps. In the wet season, insects are loud by night or day, but during the dry winter nights, sometimes the silence is almost total... as the Milky Way dazzles in the silent, black heavens.

First image is my memory of Owl Canyon, digital painting.
Second photo of Anasazi pot shard.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Anything is possible

by M in JaM
I love this photo of my father and mother, in 1931, not long before they married.

Eleven years later, on a warm December day in 1942 in Southern California, my mother held me for this family photo, as my four siblings pressed close to her. The eldest, my 9 year old sister, became a second mother to me, and later, my best friend. My eldest brother, 7 years old here, with a cast on his broken arm, did his best to keep control over the two younger brothers. But that would have been like keeping a blob of mercury square.

My older siblings provided a stimulating environment for me, always plenty to do, always plenty of telling me what to do. They knew Dad loved his Baby Girl, so, they nominated me to ask him to take us to the Saturday night movies. We knew he would struggle to stay awake in the theater after working long hours, six days a week. We also knew he loved Western movies. And so did we.

In the autumn after I turned four, all my siblings disappeared on the school bus every morning and the hours before they returned grew very long. I had no one to play with and I had no experience at entertaining myself. I rode my tricycle around the yard a few times, our dog Tippy close at my heels and wheels. He didn't like the emptiness either. It didn't take long before I wandered back into the house, looking for Mom and something to do. Tippy followed like my shadow. Mom had begun mopping and didn't appreciate fresh footprints and paw prints on the wet floor. She mopped away her irritation as I watched morosely from the kitchen door and Tippy watched glumly from the porch door. Mom glanced at me from the corner of her eyes. She understood the problem. She leaned on her mop and cocked her head to one side as she said, "Would you like to catch a bird?"

That caught my attention! I nodded and waited for her to tell me what to do.

She tiptoed across the wet kitchen floor and picked up the salt shaker from the countertop. Tiptoeing back to me, she knelt and poured a little salt into the palm of my hand. "You catch a bird by sprinkling a little salt on its tail," she said with a smile.

My fingers curled protectively around the little mound of salt in my palm. I smiled back at Mom. I trotted out onto the porch and down the front steps. Tail wagging at the rise of my spirits, Tippy followed. I discovered a bird and began creeping close. The bird flew away. It got easier to creep a little closer to a bird after Tippy grew bored and laid down in a sunny place where he could keep an eye on me. I practised creeping ever closer to each bird. The day grew hot. Yet another bird flew away. I opened my fist and checked my salt supply. I felt dismayed as I stared at the crusty clumps of salt sticking to my sweaty palm. Impossible to sprinkle those on a bird's tail! I gave up and headed back to Mom and some lunch. Tippy followed.

Thirty years later my own young daughter did catch a bird, a canary lost in an oak tree and needing a home. He sang beautifully for us. But she didn't sprinkle salt on his tail.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Rose's Car

by J of JaM

My grandmother Rose was an independent woman. She did things her own way at a time when her husband and the neighbors didn't have a high opinion of such things. By the early 1920's she had enough of her own money to buy a car. My grandfather probably didn't think she needed a car.

She got a ride for herself and her 4 children to the nearest town that had a Ford car dealership, about 11 miles from where she lived with my grandfather. She told the dealer that she didn't know how to drive and the dealer assured her “It was easy to learn” and promised to teach her to drive if she bought a car from him. She bought the car immediately and paid for it in cash. The dealer then drove her and the kids out of town and into a hay field. After her four children climbed to the top of a hay stack to watch from a safe spot, Rose learned how to steer, use the clutch, shift gears and brake. In about 20 minutes the dealer declared her a quick learner and drove everyone back to the dealership. Rose managed to drive the 11 miles back home with the kids.

The next year Rose decided to take a vacation. She packed some camping gear and the children into her new car and drove from Oklahoma to Mount Rainier in Washington State. Her husband stayed home. Some parts of this adventure required driving across ranches and farms where gates were opened and closed to go to the next town. There was no real highway system then. The trip took about eight weeks and my father retold bits of the adventure occasionally.

I lived with Rose for a summer in the late 1950's in California and she was still a very active driver though almost 70 years old. Now she had a 1953 Plymouth with an automatic transmission and a husband that wasn't my grandfather. She drove me to school with one foot on the accelerator and the other on the brake. By careful pressure on these two she controlled the speed, which was fast and as far right as possible. “As far right as possible” sometimes resulted in her driving in empty parking lanes. She was my favorite grandmother and I don't believe she ever had an accident.

The photo is of my Uncle Buddy (he was my Mom's little brother) and his car taken a few years later.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Horse Tails

by M in JaM

Born in the Chinese year of the Horse, I enjoyed kicking up my heels and running free in younger years. My first heady experience on horseback occurred when I was about five. I regarded a certain older boy with great admiration, especially when I saw him sitting astride a saddled horse. I suspect his mom or my mom talked him into letting me sit behind him for a photo opportunity, me in my frilly white dress, he in his straw cowboy hat. He even took me for a sedate ride...until the train whistle blew.... the horse bolted and ran straight toward the moving train as I clung on to that boy for dear life. The horse stopped in time. I didn't fall off or embarrass myself in any other way. But I didn't get offered another ride. And never had another chance to hug Bobby.

Five years later my Dad got us a horse to ride around the dairy farm we had leased in Oregon. A retired horse. A tall horse named Babe that limped when heading out for a ride and magically recovered when trotting back to the barn. I rode her out to bring in the cows one afternoon, for the first time by myself, following the cow paths leading upriver to one of the furthest pastures. I felt pretty pleased with myself being so independent until I spotted one pesky cow stubbornly standing under the low branches of a large tree. The branches hung too low for me to ride under and I didn't want to get off the horse because I couldn't get back on without someone giving me a boost. I yelled at that cow and shook the branches that I could reach. She just smiled. As soon as I slid down off the horse, the cow trotted off to join the herd ambling back toward the barn. I didn't want to embarrass myself by walking back while leading the horse. I found an old stump and climbed up, but had a terrible time getting the horse to stand still long enough for me to throw myself onto her back. As soon as I did manage it, she started walking as I struggled to keep from going headfirst off the far side. I finally got myself upright. I didn't fall off. I didn't ride Babe to bring in the cows by myself after that.

My best friend (and neighbor) in Oregon had several horses, a Shetland/Welsh pony mix. When I visited her, we rode bareback with a simple rope loop around the ponies' noses. Those ponies loved to run. And we loved to ride them. One day a tiny stream appeared in our path as we raced through a pasture. I expected the pony to leap over, but he decided to swerve at the last minute. I did fall off that time.... and I didn't feel embarrassed at all! I rode a lot more after persuading Dad to sell Babe and buy two ponies from my best friend's dad.

Now retired myself, I feel content to graze at home and remember some of the days when kicking up my heels felt so urgent.

photo by M in JaM - retired tropical horse

Sunday, 15 June 2008

How did I get here?

by J in JaM
Let me look at my past yet again. At 66 years old, my past has a bit of content. The road that leads to today has so many branches and intersections that it could never be repeated. Each trip down that road would end in a different universe. So many decisions were made, and not made, that have resulted in who I am and where I live. I feel like spectator at my life, who is that person that looks back from the few mirrors that I have?

I am very happy here, content with the things that I do, still in love with M and looking forward to what the future holds but it sure wasn't planned.

When I was ten, I didn't think about the future at all, I just hunted squirrels and explored the nearby swamps in Louisiana. Latter in high school I became interested in science because of a great teacher. At the University of California I discovered that I wasn't the smartest guy in the world but that was more than compensated for by being in the center of 60's revolution.

I fell in love, got married, had three wonderful children and started a company. Later I got involved in Movies and Hollywood and got divorced. Received several awards for my works and became dissatisfied with my lonely single life. Fell in love again, married M, sold everything, emigrated to Australia. We have lived here in the remote Australian bush for 20 years now. Our children visit from time to time and we are always happy to have them.

My life could have derailed and crashed many times but it didn't. It's wonderful to just be alive, in love and wondering what tomorrow holds.

photo by M in JaM

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Changing patterns

by M in JaM
We gave up trying to grow veggies some years ago when critters kept eating everything just before it was ready to harvest. This year a volunteer tomato plant in the abandoned garden provided a dozen tomatoes with real flavour. After some time the possum also acquired a taste for them and ate the last two ripening on the vine. Now we have risked planting a few tomato seedlings protected by a chicken wire cage. So far, so good.

A half dozen hanging baskets near a sunny north wall of our house contain three varieties of lettuce, secure from rabbits and roos. Insects prefer one variety. From the others we harvest a few leaves at a time and add them to our daily salad.

Little by little, I've been tidying up the old garden, rescuing old pots buried under weeds. I work cautiously, aware of the possibility of snakes and spiders. I raked away some dead grass and leaves and uncovered the end of a small sheet of canvacon (sturdy plastic). Using the rake to lift a corner, I disturbed a giant centipede. (They get up to 13 cm or 6 inches long.) I decided to call it quits for the day. No one wants to find a new home in the middle of winter. Not even a centipede. And I certainly don't want a disturbed centipede moving into my nearby laundry.
I shall leave the garden as is, except for tending tomatoes and burying compost. I shall move on to the yearly task of mowing and raking a fire break, little by little, with my husband's help. Age requires adjustments in patterns of personal energy use. Pain reminds me when I over-do. I'm still learning how things can get accomplished, little by little. Fire Season lies ahead.

Yes, we're into the Dry Season. The billabong in Moon Creek dried up this week. It doesn't flow year round. During the Wet Season, it provides a home to various batches of tadpoles and crabs. Once we squatted down to look for crabs and got surprised by a snake lifting its head out of the water. Snake ducked back underwater and we jumped back from billabong.

We disturbed eight red-tailed black cockatoos during our afternoon walk yesterday. These magnificent birds mate for life and can live up to 100 years. We don't see them year round. Usually they herald the beginning of the storms and the Wet Season. This morning they were feeding in the back paddock. On two separate days we saw them eating seeds from a specific kind of small tree/large shrub (sorry, I don't know the name of the little tree). We've never seen them eat those seeds and we've never seen black cockatoos perch so near the ground. Usually they sit high in bloodwood gums and eat eucalypt seeds. But it's too late in the year for the bloodwood seed harvest. Does this change in behaviour signify something?

photos by J in JaM

Sunday, 1 June 2008


A few days ago as I walked into our house, I noticed a butterfly on a window trying to get out. I captured it in my hands and released it outside. The butterfly darted onto a near by hibiscus plant and opened its wings in the sun. It was a kind I don't remember seeing before so I got our camera and took a few pictures.

We live at ease with our local insects and all sorts come into our very open house. We always just return them to the outside, even the spiders. Dragonflies never need help, they seem to understand doors and windows. The only crawly creatures that I really don't like are the very large centipedes that appear during the wet season. Some insects appear every year at their appropriate time. Others are rare and some appear sporadically and a few I've only seen once.

I don't remember having many insects in our suburban home before we moved to Australia. I did often go for long walks back in California all those years ago and always knew the area around where I lived. As I look back into my past, I realize how much I separated my life into outside and inside, work and recreation, nature and technology, etc. My world has developed a clarity and unity that I suspect may come with age.

I'm not sure of the butterfly species, maybe Suniana, Ocybadistes or Taractrocera, all a bit hard to tell apart or something else altogether. Maybe a reader can help me?

Later that evening a small colorful moth landed on my hand while I was reading. Such a joy to be here.

J of JaM

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Good Vibes

My laundry room has two walls, a roof and lots of fresh air. And, oh yes, I have a washing machine. I also have laundry trays which I use for handwash, for setting the twist in handspun yarns and for rinsing dyed batches of yarn. Since we depend on solar power for electricity, we decided we wouldn't have a clothes dryer and our weather makes that no problem. I hang wet laundry on lines strung under the covered area to prevent fading and disintegration of fabric, especially elastic, caused by the tropical sun when I forget and leave laundry hanging for hours (or days) on an outside clothesline. I do use the outside line when I want to give something a good blast of sunshine and fresh air.

I found this insect on the outside clothesline. Extravagant, hey?

After viewing those antennae, I feel less inclined to regard my handspun yarn as extreme personal indulgence. I have to say, my handspun yarn looks pretty ordinary compared to that insect. I hope those antennae bring that creature as many good vibes as my hours of handspinning bring me.

I obtained a sample pack of Dreamee Wool Tops (naturally coloured Melanian sheep) from Bilby Yarns in West Australia and began spinning for a ply study in Ravelry (online knitting community that includes crocheters, spinners, weavers, dyers, etc). My first set of samples are based on a finely spun single that is plied at three different twist rates, then washed, given a few whacks against the washing machine and hung to dry.

Part of me feels fascinated by this systematic research, another part of me feels impatient to spin and ply my usual way (I call it the "rut") and get on to making something with the yarn. But the research will help me decide how the yarn wants to be used, especially after I knit or weave small samples with it. The scientist-me bargains with the maker-me. The maker-me got to cast on another pair of socks, as "making something" feels so good. And the scientist-me continues to work on the plying study, as "learning" feels so good.

I expect the two me's to integrate when I manage to produce a handspun yarn suitable for handknit socks. In the meantime, we do feel good.

M in JaM (pix by J)

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Blown Away

As a child when visiting my grandfather's home in Oklahoma, I often heard about the town that blew away. Elders would vaguely point to the southeast and tell me that Council Hill used to be out there and blew away in a tornado. It was just one of many stories I remember from that time in the 1950's. I was much more interested in seldom seen cousins, nephews and firecrackers.

The last time I visited Oklahoma was with my mother in the early 1970's about a decade before her death. She was visiting places in her memory and so was I. She wanted to see if we could find the grave of Kitty Banta at Council Hill. I drove to where my mother remembered Council Hill was. We found some foundations but couldn't locate the cemetery. She told me that she had come there with my Father to Kitty's grave before I was born in 1941. I knew that Kitty was a relative (Kitty's photo seen here) and was related to some famous Texas Ranger. We continued our memory journey and visited other places in Oklahoma and Arkansas where her family was from and found them all.

Recently my last surviving uncle (my father's youngest brother) sent a packet of very old photos and other material to my younger brother. (In photo, my father is on the right with his younger brother on other side of my grandmother Rose in 1933.) Included was a letter written by L.G. Park, son of Kitty Banta and older brother of my grandmother Rose. L.G. Park described a wagon trip he and his father (Robert Park) took into Indian Territory in 1897 when L.G. was 17. They were living at that time in Terral, Indian Territory. The letter says they started north to “see what the rest of Oklahoma looked like and to see if we could find country that suited us better than the place we're living.” I find his letter fascinating and marvel at how little I know about the lives of my ancestors. The bits I remember seem so casual.

Everyone apparently referred to Kitty Banta by her maiden name. Her father, Captain William Banta, was a famous Texas Ranger in the 1840s-1850s. Kitty's son, L.G. Park, lived in Council Hill in 1933 (according to internet research) and Kitty was buried there in 1936. Council Hill must not have “blown away” yet. My grandmother Rose was one of Kitty Banta's (Park) daughters. I remember Rose well. I lived with her during the summer of 1958. I see my past growing ever longer. What a wonderful feeling to have a sense of my place on a path extending in both directions.

Searching the internet, I've discovered that the town of Council Hill seems to have been reborn, it had a population of 129 in the 2000 census. My searches also discovered that the original seat of the Creek (American Indian) government (after removal to Indian Territories) was located at Council Hill, but the site was west of the present-day Council Hill. The Indian Territories became the State of Oklahoma in first years of the twentieth century.

That's me between Mom and Dad in 1943 in front of grandad's house in Oklahoma. The house I remember from those summer family reunions and all those fireworks!

Which Council Hill site did my mother want to find? Why was L.G Park and his mother living in Council Hill? Did L.G. and his father come here on the 1897 wagon trip? What blew away? My past is still a bit misty like my memory.

J of JaM

Sunday, 11 May 2008


When I was a little girl, I believed that the world consisted of children and adults (I also included dogs, cats, horses and cows). I regarded adults as people who had finished growing up. I imagined that when I finished growing up, I would marry and have several children. World War II had ended and my parents' general relief and new optimism meant I could relax, too, as my sensitive antennae tuned to the emotional vibes around me detected less stress. However, in some schools, students now practiced crouching under desks in order to know what to do in event of an atomic bomb landing nearby. I did worry about pleasing adults and about doing things the right way, which someone usually claimed to know and wanted to demonstrate.

As a little girl, I didn't imagine that adults can continue to mature, mellow and perhaps grow wise. I didn't imagine that adults might not have all the answers. I assumed that a magic transition to adulthood occurred at age 21 and that voting and drinking had something to do with it. Even though I got my driver's license at age 16, entitled to subject myself and passengers to the statistics of life-threatening experiences associated with driving, I recognised that my less-than-adult status would continue for another five years.

As a little girl, no one wondered what I wanted to be when I grew up. As the youngest daughter (with four siblings) in a family struggling to make ends meet in a small rural community, I couldn't begin to imagine the unexpected opportunities I would encounter and take: attending UC Berkeley in the 1960s, swirling through rock n' roll, traveling in Europe, having one child, learning to spin, weave and edit video, learning to be a single mother for a time, working for LucasFilm in the 1980s, marrying my soul mate, migrating to Australia, diving into the Internet, living long enough to look around and realise I've joined the elder crowd, still delighting in new answers.

The Road Ahead continues to lead to a future with aspects beyond my imagining.

Uncertainty carries seeds of fear. Like that little girl, when I feel anxiety around me about the future, I take heart in Signs of Hope along the way. How do I recognise Signs of Hope? I see them when I remember to look with my heart.

M in JaM (and photo by J)

Friday, 2 May 2008


A mining rush began when Tin was discovered in this area in 1880. About a kilometer down river (below our place) a water powered mill was established in 1884. It operated until 1917. The block of land we live on was surveyed and named as a perpetual mining homestead lease. I don't know if this block was occupied at that time. There are no obvious remains of occupation before the 1970's.

When the mill closed in 1917, the mining stopped and the area became almost deserted until the 1970's when people moved back into the area. I would guess that our property was fenced in the 1950's or 60's from the style of the bits of remaining fence. Maybe someone ran cattle here for a while?

At some point the block was surveyed again and they used proper blazed trees to mark the corners of our boundaries. Some of the blazed trees still stand and some have fallen. Time takes its toll on trees also. The surveyor's records have handwritten notes jotted beside the mapped location of the blazed corner trees. The notes describe the distance and direction from the blazed tree that one can find iron pins driven below the ground. These iron pins are the actual survey markers.

The old perpetual mining homestead leases got converted into freehold title in the 1980's, just before we moved here. The survey work at that time changed a few boundaries and moved a few fences. The conflicts arising from those boundary shifts have subsided after 25 years.

When we had recent survey work done, the surveyor relocated the old iron pins and recorded all new data using digital theodolites and GPS mapping standards. Blazed trees mark the past. Boundaries join the digital world.

J of JaM

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Native Grass

I like the colours, the curve and the movement of this native grass in bloom near our home.

I don't like hay fever. It makes me feel like an alien in a hostile environment. This year I've resorted to antihistamines. I don't like taking pills, but they help me get through an unusual season of heightened allergies.

I first visited our valley in the early 1980s. All the trees looked alike to me. I worried about getting lost on the winding sandy tracks that marked a road meandering through a forest with sparse shade where the overhead sun burned away most shadows and offered little clue to direction. Seasonal washouts diverted the road which changed course like a river would do. None of the homes in the valley had electricity. One or two had a phone. Most people cooked on a wood stove. We stayed with friends who used kero lamps and lived in tents. They also had a cappuccino machine that ran on propane and made the best cups of coffee in North Queensland. For a while two teenage sisters delivered fresh, homegrown veggies once a week in their horse draw cart. Students studied by kero lamp or used the car battery to run a light bulb. Oh, and there was no air-conditioning or international airport in Cairns, our nearest city.

A lot has changed in 25 years. We migrated and found a home for ourselves in the valley. I learned to see the trees! I can't understand how I once thought they all looked alike. Most homes now do have phones and dialup internet access. Power lines crept nearer and made electricity available to more homes. Our place continues to rely on frugal use of solar power and we have a back-up generator for occasional long spells of cloud and rain. Roads in general improved in the region, but sandy tracks still exist and deteriorate as is their nature. This year the school bus stopped driving on our road, due to road conditions. Motorbikes replaced horses. A new neighbour drives his 4WD truck while his very large dog runs alongside, for exercise.

Some changes make me shake my head. Some changes make me smile, like the internet.

M in JaM

Friday, 18 April 2008

Moon Time

When I opened my eyes this morning, it was quite dark, the moon had set. I lay in bed awake knowing that dawn was near. After a short time I could just make out the first light of a new dawn. The moon will be full in a few days and then it sets right at dawn. Time to get up.

When I lived in large cities, I rarely saw the moon and didn't think about it at all.

Where we live in Australia, we have no grid electricity, we have solar power as do our neighbors. We can see no electric lights from our home. There are no towns nearby and our Northern Australian skies are very clear and dark. This is one of the many reasons we chose to live here. We see the moon whenever it is visible, it has no competition for its place in the sky. I've come to understand moon time. I'm sure my great-grandfather would think all this is obvious.

Every week is the moon's next quarter. The quarter moon sets about midnight, the full moon is up all night. The last quarter moon rises about midnight. Last night's moon set just before dawn. My shadow from the full summer moon is about as long as my shadow from the Sun in mid winter.

The moon tells me the time at night, I know all her phases by heart. She has just about disappeared from Urban lives like so many other myths and legends.

J of JaM

Sunday, 13 April 2008


Road conditions in this remote, rural area have a huge impact on our lives, even though we only drive to town once a week (usually). Whenever we see a road crew at work, we appreciate their efforts (even when they make us stop). We roll the window down, have a friendly word or two with the flagman while waiting to proceed, I pull out my knitting to pass the time and we all keep an interested eye on the Big Work Underway. (I may remember running late for an appointment and growing a teensy tiny wee bit agitated when stopping for roadwork, at least once....)

Our part of the country is called "dry open sclerophyll forest" and the trees don't provide generous shade. Queensland also has the highest rate in the world for skin cancer. Workers on a bitumen road cope with many hot days (unless it's raining).

We headed into town one week and encountered a Road Crew flagman who waved us on through. We proceeded cautiously as we wanted to rubberneck, curious to see what roadwork improvements they had completed. Very tidy it looked, we nodded to each other in agreement. Then we blinked in surprise, seeing that first piece of RoadArt, on the embankment. No project of Main Roads, that! We grew strangely excited as we drove along and spotted others, some on one side of the road, some on the other. I think we counted 20-25 sculptures. What did they mean? Who built them?

We went back a few days later to photograph as many of the RoadArtworks as we could. Some were already knocked down. We asked around, no one knows for sure who the artist was. Someone with humour. Someone strong and agile. Someone with a sense of place. Someone with an appreciation for the stackable flat planes of fractured red earth stones. Rumour has it that a Kiwi on the RoadCrew created these artworks during his breaks.

The RoadArt didn't survive more than a few weeks. Like sand castles at the seaside, they didn't last. I keep learning: Create because of an internal urge. Partake in acts of shaping and witness falls into disorder. Consider these natural aspects of the ebb and flow of energy. Find joy in the Making.

M in JaM

Monday, 7 April 2008


Short periods of time seem to occupy vast amounts of my memory and vast quantities of time seem to have vanished. My past seems like a series of reincarnations and I sometimes wonder if I recognize who was living there.

Before I went to Berkeley in 1961, my parents often spent a week or so around the 4th of July in Oklahoma at my grandfather's home. It was a clan gathering and I was usually there along with my brother, many uncles, aunts, cousins, some of the cousins were the "Kissing" kind. That sometimes caused a bit of trouble. We all stayed at my grandfather's small house, the garage was full of kids on cots and I don't know how all the adults crowded into the house. There was much drinking, eating and storytelling and one night of frog hunting. Everyone stayed up late most nights with the adults sitting on the porch or in the large backyard around a BBQ. They told yarns and stories and laughed and didn't much pay any attention to the kids unless required.

Fireworks are part of the 4th of July and in Oklahoma fireworks stands appeared outside most small towns several weeks before the 4th of July. They sold all kinds of fireworks to anyone who had money. I saved my money all year to spend on fireworks, mainly cherrybombs(round, bright red with a fuse that would burn underwater) and TNTcrackers(silver cylinders with a fuse in the side), they both make a LOT of noise. Roman candles and fountains were for girls, sparklers were for little kids but I loved them all. The adults rarely interfered and there were no serious injuries.

I was the fireworks expert. I blew tin cans way up into the air, perfected the art of shooting lit cherrybombs with my bean flip way, way up into the night sky. They explode with a blinding flash and a bang that would make even the adults look up. The trick is, watch the lit fuse of the cherrybomb you are holding in the bean flip pouch getting shorter and shorter. When it is about 1/2 inch long, let her fly and it'll explode right at the highest point. Don't let them hit the side of your bean flip as they break open and the fuse lights the flash power and you'll get a good flash burn on your hand. I exploded them in the mud, underwater and anywhere that seemed to need a Bang!

The total time I spent with my fireworks must have been less than 40 days and nights but those memories seem to crowd out most everything else. How did we get to Oklahoma? Which years did my parents not visit my dad's father? Who were all those cousins? I didn't care about "who I was going to be," I lived only for the next "BANG."

J in JaM

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Skink Tales

We share our spaces with native skinks. Not that we have a choice in the matter. They emerge from the tiniest holes in the stone walls, slip inside through imperfect wooden joins, or scurry in through windows and doors opened to catch the faintest breeze. They thrive on our windowsills and benefit from an environment fairly safe from birds. As I walk past the shower, a skink challenges me from the floor, at the edge of his turf which extends under a plastic storage bin. I keep worrying that I might rush through one day and accidently step on him. He doesn't like to give way. I prefer skinks as guardians of the windowsills. They excell at keeping any fly population under control. We discovered, as a result of our casual ways in lunch making, that several skinks acquired a taste for crumbs of boiled egg yolk, tidbits of grated carrot and mashed avocado. They also like our reliable midday meal schedule, as one can't rely on flies. Now all I have to do is start grating a carrot and a skink appears!

The old kitchen sponge on a nearby ledge makes a perfect skink platform for perusing the lunch preparations while assured of a handy hiding place underneath the sponge. As a rule, the first skink on the scene chases away any other skinks. The photo shows something special happening: a pair of skinks! Mating season, no doubt. As skinks have had fewer flies available since Cyclone Larry (two years ago), we don't mind the scavenging practices of our resident reptiles, though their food choices did take us by surprise. We can't leave our own lunches unattended these days, at least until cold weather arrives and skinks and insects disappear from the house.

In the southern hemisphere, Wintertime comes. Time for handknitted wool socks. Time for sitting in front of a morning fire.

M in JaM

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Past reincarnation

In the summer of 1964 I explored Takla Lake in British Columbia, Canada with 3 fellow Berkeley students in homemade canoes. Takla Lake was remote and had only about 20 residents in three separate areas on this 50 miles long lake. The region was completely covered at lower elevations by climax conifer forests and the surrounding ridges and mountains were snow-covered. Access was only by boat or float plane, there were no roads. The area was essentially untouched and unused by Europeans. We spent a few days helping a Native American family weed their potato patch, about the only possible crop for the short summer of this northern mountainous area. In return they shot us a moose and fresh moose liver is very tasty.

It was a wonderful adventure for a young man and his friends and I have many memories but at the same time it seems like a remembered past of some previous reincarnation. That world no longer exists except in my imagination. A few days ago I used google maps to look at the Takla Lake area and discovered it is about one third logged with thousands of small clear cuts that pepper the land like polka dots and roads seem to go everywhere. There is a railroad bisecting the area and many buildings have been built on the lake shore.

Change is the way of our world.

Imagine an adventure to the American West in 1864 as the Civil War is coming to a climax, a hundred years before my college days. The Great Plains are unused by Europeans and millions of Bison migrate with the seasons followed by a sparse population of Native Americans. In 1908 the same area is covered with railroads and divided by thousands of fences into as many farms. The bison are almost extinct and the Native Americans are on reservations. The first motor cars are around.

My great grandfather who lived there must have felt much as I do now. Did we really live through these many reincarnations?

That's me in the above image with my father in Oklahoma in 1947. As usual I'm looking out the window wondering "where am I now?"


Sunday, 23 March 2008


I've been dyeing wool yarn rather than eggs.

I remember going on an Easter egg hunt as a young girl with my parents, sister and brothers, my aunts, uncles and cousins. We drove from our home in the San Joaquin Valley to the California foothills where golden poppies bloomed in all their glory. Those poppies remain part of me, of my California Dreaming. Searching for Easter eggs hidden by the adults, I found a nest of little bird eggs on the ground. That thrilled me more than finding Easter eggs. Years later my older sister said, no, you didn't find that nest, your cousin Roy found it. I could only stare at her as I felt my remembered world shift. I had been perhaps 7-8 years old, Roy only 2-3. He always felt so much a part of me that his finding the nest, I suppose, meant pretty much the same thing as me finding it. The logic of an 8 year old. Happy Easter, Roy. Thanks for sharing your find with me. Happy Easter to all!

Photo: One of Jerry's weavings - Two Grey Hills, a Navajo design. He used some of my handspun yarn for part of the weaving. The loose skein of yarn is a commercial wool yarn that I overdyed. The undyed eggs... boiled and yummy.

Sunday, 16 March 2008


On a Sunday drive around the Atherton Tablelands, we stopped to look at a cluster of wind turbines. We parked beside an old fence. You see a detail of the fencing join above. Wire twitching at its finest. Just look at that well made join. Meant to last and it has. By the lichens on the post, we reckon, what, at least 20 years old. The fence probably kept in a herd of dairy cows. No cows in sight now. Have the wind turbines replaced the cows, we wonder?

That join marks more than a paddock boundary. It marks the end of an era.

The fencer used a hand auger to drill the holes, a chainsaw to cut the angles and clever wire twitching techniques to secure the wire without breaking it. Beautiful craftsmanship. Hard, hard work. Local fencers were probably doing this kind of join by the 1950s. In the early 1900s iron fencing wire would have been unavailable or very expensive in Far North Queensland. Chainsaws arrived after World War II. We have to admire this work of a past era.

Have you ever thought about how the act of joining carries the act of exclusion along with it? The fence join helps to mark a boundary and show ownership. Everything inside belongs to someone.

I have an urge to belong that gets in trouble with my urge to run free. The internet provides an opportunity to join with others. It also allows one to run free. What more could I want? Encountering people with similar interests both excites and frustrates. In the excitement, some people online forget that others have different seasons, time zones, languages, ways of spelling, ages, choices, values.... Those are some of the "simple things" that cause frustration and a sense of exclusion. I figure the irritation comes mainly from inexperience with encountering "different" especially when you're already in a group where you assume "similar."

As experience increases, communicating with others outside one's usual boundaries should get easier. Perhaps that marks the hard work of the present era.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Already Autumn

We bought a small Queensland Blue pumpkin. Just the right size for the two of us. The volunteer butternut pumpkin in the old garden set lots of little pumpkins, but they rotted in the extreme Wet Weather we've been having.

We make do without a freezer due to our limited solar power. Before the start of the Wet Season we stock up on dried and canned goods and keep an eye out for Pretty Good Keepers, like pumpkins, to store in the pantry. The frig holds all the perishables and gets refilled each week, after a shopping trip to town. Unless, of course, the creek gets too high to cross to go to town. That has happened a few times so far this year.

Heavy rains in the area dumped 446mm (18 inches) in 24 hours on Port Douglas up the coast. We got around 120mm (~5 inches) that day. The creek came Right Up. We walked to the creek crossing and watched a car stop on the far side. The car - one of those cars held together with fencing wire and determination. The young couple got out and waded partway across, stood in the fast flowing current and talked about it for a while (couldn't hear what they were saying). They waded back out of the water. He got a piece of black plastic (looked like an old HeftyBag) out of the car. He draped the plastic down the front of the car and secured it with the bonnet. Then he drove across. The woman waded. They both waved as they drove past us at a high enough speed to make it up the hill.

We figure our car could make it across, too, but not having any HeftyBags, we decided to wait another day or two.