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