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 I know this withdrawn period won't last.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.