To be and let be: seeking a way to negotiate with nature by Colleen Keating

Waitara Creek

when the sun broke through 

after the storm 

the grass plants   ferns and  palms 

here in the understory of the  bush

lit up like fairy lights 

and the dappled shadows

swayed gently

bringing the path alive

a whole different world 

to the moody  grey-green

mystery of just before

all the time

there was work going on 

frogs acrocking in the wet

whip birds were chatting 

and a few other birds high in the canopy

were exchanging news

how interesting it would be to interpret

many lizards and water dragons 

out sunning themselves 

popped away with a rustle

as I stepped quietly along

brusk turkeys  wander along

 

white butterflies flitted and feed

amongst the flowering weeds

bees were busy 

and the creek was gurgling

along in the background 

enjoying its fast bountiful flow

the track follows the Waitara Creek 

lined with second generation

 amazing patchy coachwood trees

then our of the valley

with its mystery and intrigue  

climbing out to the open woodlands 

where if you look up

 

you can see a crimson rosella

but also  the encroachment

of suburban sprawl  

high in the trees birds were  busy 

but the inevitable  had happened 

in the understory bush retreat

where i discovered the fairy wren before

the bush was gone

birds were silent

the inevitable planned  back-burn

necessary

for the fire risk

when the dry heat of summer sets in

has taken the bush retreat of the little birds

devastated i stand and ponder –

how can we find a way to be and let be?

Lockdown walk No. 20 Waiting for godwits by Colleen Keating

 

 

w

Waiting for godwits

Today we had a picnic near the broad walk

overlooking a sanctuary for water birds

we have been waiting for godwits 

the bar-tail godwits

with their long curved beaks to arrive

special visitors from the Arctic for their breeding 

the furtherest distance of  migration 

we wiled away time observing water birds

sea gulls  shear waters  egrets  spoonbills  pelicans

plovers their five chicks

learning to forage in the sea grasses 

many species of ducks

their ducklings  tucked away

some grazing on the wrack and sea grasses

some gazing  about peacefully 

and we too gazed peacefully

suddenly the plovers were seriously distressed

birds honked, quacked, squawked as they filled the air 

and i looked out to see a dog

wildly flying across the shallows

chasing the fleeing birds 

disturbing the wrack and sea grass

with its food of crustaceans and other insects 

it chased after any bird that landed again 

galloped like a horse backwards and forwards 

a man watched on 

the still mirrored lake was  shattered 

the sanctuary was ripped apart

splashed up

churned like a miniature tsunami 

finally the man whistled

got on his bike and the big brown dog

 sloshed out of the lake followed him

I stared at him leaving . I was distressed.

i was shattered like the lake

 broken like a vase into a thousand pieces 

so powerless  close to tears 

my mind   my whole being 

needed to be picked up 

gently mended  

my tutor of course to restore calm

the lake 

and  the birds

Lockdown walk No. 17, Loosing our Marbles by Colleen Keating

Photo: from our calendar  The night We Lost Our Marbles by  Michael Leunig, a modern day prophet, where I understand ‘prophet’ to be one who challenges us to remember our core values.

Loosing our marbles

“We not only listen to the birds but find ourselves talking  to them.”

Turning the calendar has its own monthly ritual.
Our Leunig calendar always gives us a surprise
often prophetic for our time.
Turning to October was no exception.
It gave us a laugh.

We resonated. It looked how we felt
on our walks in lockdown
birds, fish, flowers moon our companions.

It was while sitting against
the trunk of a swamp oak
on a lockdown walk
we found ourselves both talking aloud
to the Pied Butcher Birds
that had flown down to join us.

A family of seven
some with the distinctive black bib
some more tawny and freckkly
which according to Morcombo –
our Bird Bible –
is the juvenile and poetically
pale rufous-buff.

They hopped around
inquisitive about us relaxing
in their territory.

Besides watching them
dart for insects on the open grass
we enjoyed a choir on a branch above
its musical four-note sequence
lilting flute-like deep and mellow.

The laugh was on us.
listening to the birds
believing they were communicating with us
thinking we were understanding
and talking back to them

Are we happily loosing our marbles?

Now we talk to every bird that comes to meet us –
the willy wag tails  our companions on the way
the tiny wrens we chirping
and sometimes catch their splash of blue
the magpies that warble along our track
their carolling a rings from high
to low, deep and  always  tidings of joy.

We love the lake birds
find the  haunts of the white-faced herons
watch their monk like shoulders
ponder quietly as if pretending to pray
but actually with the great white egret
stalking to prey.
If our spoonbills call in
with their bevy of ducks
we become very effusive


and enjoy the plovers
telling us to be aware of their eggs
and their young.
We wait for the whip birds to sing
listen and laugh with its song of reply.

Loosing our marbles figuratively
gives us permission
to be immersed in their world
like the cartoon of the two
smiling contentedly
surrounded by nature.

Humbly we know we are a very small
and incidental part of their world
yet secretivly a little part
likes to think they are communication with us.
and loosing our marbles stays figurative.

 

 

Life isn’t measured 

by the number of breaths we take 

but by the moments 

that take our breath away

Treasure every day

 

 

Lockdown Walk No. 15, Drama, beauty and pathos by Colleen Keating

 

Like any good story, musical  or opera this lockdown walk is filled with drama,  beauty and pathos. Each one or all can be included in any such moment or  experience.

DRAMA         Copulation

When we sat for lunch at Karagi Point
on the north side of the lake
the native miners
put on a a gregarious noisy performance.

It was a frenzied communal event.
The song was of soft low frequency
(compared with their warning and feeding calls).

The female flew down
onto a warm sandy patch of ground
spreading out her grey wings
in a splayed fashion. . .
called a bowed-wing display
her wings arched, head pointing down
tiny pattern of yellow exposed.

Michael suggested she was having a sand bath
until he read up google and we realised
we were witnessing its copulation ritual.

The chatter of miners flying
low from tree to tree
and then the mating and necking on a low branch
kept us entralled

The music was our lunchtime concert.
It was constant and persistent
with shades of  play and play and drama.

Some people dislike the native miner
(sometimes called the noisy miner and the garrulous honey eater)
for their songs but for me
it is a joy to the ear and the spirit.

BEAUTY           Nankeen Kestrels performance

The sudden awareness of catching
the first glimpse of the ocean
over the rim of the sand dunes
and its aqua-marines of blue and green
brings us alive.

Like the shock of jumping into cold water
we catch our breath in amazement
declare ourselves
thalassophiles over and over again.

We find our familiar table
to have a cup of tea
and sit as poets contemplating.

As if on queue it comes
out of the cloudless sky
circles out and around –
the air its partner
in a Vaughan Williams dance.

Closer and at our eye level
with its tail to us
it hovers
the air its magic rug.

It slender wings open wide
fanned tail quivers
in its perfection of
buff and tawny brown lines.

Quivering excitedly
it drops
a daunting direct drop
into the grassy dune
reappears, poises on a fence post
and then takes off
not even leaving an air brush on the sky

What just happened?
An  extraordinary gift.
We hardly remember breathing
entralled by its drama and beauty.
We know it didnt come  for us
but it was something of ours to behold
a brightness we could marvel about

and who can explain ‘coincedence’
or ‘serendipity’
and the tawny kestrel coming just now , just here.

we had slowed down,

were open,

were present

and it was there.

 

After lunch we walked to investigate the fenced off area
all ready to welcome the flights of Little Tern that migrate
from Japan to breed in the summer .
Thrilled to see the signs: educational and warning and the CCTV

PATHOS     A graceful pilot under threat

it makes a heroic journey
to find warm sand-dunes to breed

it risks lonely blue wipeout
baffles wild winds and storm

it traces a memory it does not have
until it flies to remember it

alone and together
it lifts off

navigates with the pull of the moon
and hummed magnetic tones of earth

it is endangered in this civilised world
how good to find

our council has fenced off an area
leaving drift wood and sea grass

to welcome the little terns
this summer.

 

Lockdown Walk No.1 Getting to know local inhabitants by Colleen Keating

Getting to know local inhabitants

there is no ordinary thing
the wind’s song in the she oaks drip of gold
on a pelican’s wing the whip-bird tease
the silver meddle of fish on the lake
encounters with magpie and wren, turtle and swan
ancient rocks and shift of tide
this is the joy of discovery

with snake-like neck the cormorant dives
the ibis clings awkwardly
to a branch on the Norfolk
the grey heron feeds in the light
under the brood of hills and
stillness of lake.

here is good energy to live by
each scene is startling
and poetry
to meet with hands open wide

knowing when we look
there are surprises –
other things to come
the heron’s pickax-beak wakes the stillness
wobbling the boats tied by the boatshed
the ibis lands down on the overflowing bin
and just when we are caught
in the moment
a reminder nothing is permanent

the cormorant surfaces to float idley
the grey heron cranks up
and flies into the sun
and we are left with the longing
for more of the extraordinary
or what now do we hold in our open hands?


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Solstice and haiku by Colleen Keating

Monday marks the Winter Solstice.

Leading off, here is a haiku by the 17th Century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho.

Like many haikus, it is deceptively simple: each line enacted by the next.

Winter solitude
in a world of one colour
the sound of wind.

 

What is the Winter Solstice?

The Winter Solstice has been celebrated for centuries and is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. It’s a time that is known for the sun to stand still before moving forwards to the slow progression of longer days. It has carried strong symbolism and some people refer to it as a rebirth of the sun. Occurring sometime between June 21- 22 June ( December 20 – 22 in the Northern Hemisphere).

It’s a time to honour the darkness and celebrate the light. It’s the perfect time for self reflection, putting yourself on pause and going within to connect to your own darkness and let go. I’m in the process of doing just that. Taking the time out that I need to re-group and letting go of thoughts and beliefs that no longer serve me.

The Winter Solstice doesn’t have to be a dark or somber reflective experience—it can be joyful and lighthearted. Winter festivals, fire and light and social gatherings are all part of it too. Celebrate the birth or return of the light

Here are two winter solstice haiku written by one of the haiku masters

snowflakes flitting down
a winter solstice<
celebration

Issa– translated by David G. Lanoue

 

winter solstice in Japan
plum trees
in bloom!

Issa – translated by David G. Lanoue

 

 

Some of my  own thoughts: 

winter stroll 

a celebration dance

willy wag tail         col

 

 

winter stroll 

a canteen of spoonbills

filtering the mud         col

 

winter blues

only a heron and i 

drink in the light     col

ocean squall

a hawk soars 

in a cold up-draught   col

 

winter solstice 

my grand-daughter rides her bike 

without training wheels   col

 

winter solstice 

shadow of light turns

 on the nearby hill     col

 

the year’s shortest day

the sun breaks the horizon

anew    col

winter beach

winds abrasive dance 

keeps it lonely      col

 

 

winter lake

a cormorant hangs his wings 

out on the wind    col

wind chilled air 

cormorants sit brooding 

on every post    col

 

just another day

three pelicans wait for

return of fishing boats  col

 

winter solstice 

apples crisp for picking 

in the nearby hills          col

winter warmth

minestrone soup served with 

home-made bread    col

 

winter drive 

to pick apples

childhood memory             col

 

 

 

 

 

winter trees

birdwatching

made weasy     col

 

 

 

family gathering

with food laden table

her last meal            col

 

Yellowtail Black Cockatoos and birds on our walk by Colleen keating

 

Our walk by Tuggerah Lake

It was birds today that caught our attention and once our minds and eyes were observers
birds were everywhere.  Seagulls, ibis, egrets, herons, black swans in the distance, pink galhs doves, corellas, cormorants, magpies, willy wag tails, fairy wrens , plovers, kookaburra  and rainbow lorikeets, pelicans and unexpectedly we heard this noise in the banksia and there were lake visitors the Yellowtail Black Cockatoos a long way from home.

 

 

visitors

we heard them first
a contented gravelling sound
then spotted them
well camouflaged high in the old man Banksia
by Tuggerah Lake

their glossy wings
opening and closing on the air
as they shimmied from branch to branch –
made kind of eerie black fans

when a branch drooped
under their shuffling weight I caught
frowning feathers with their fold of gold
brownish seed pods in a clutch
of black talons
a jutting hooked beak
brutish in its crack and whirl
swirl of seed-scooping tongue

some say Yellowtail Black Cockatoos
are messagers of empowering strength
their sweep of air enlivening
and there was a moment
an air brush in our hearts
as we watched their hovering wingspan
gather in a gush of wild gold to heave away
against a vermillion streak of sunset
above the cobalt cut-out distant hills.
back to the high country
their mountain home

Some more photos of the birds on that one day.
They are not professional photos but they mean a lot to me.

Love the corellas and galahs feeding together.

 

We enjoyed the cormorants sitting on the jetty.

And the pelicans

 

 

Some names we are still checking

Magpies

Kookaburra

 

Plovers, Willy wagrtail and the Green Figbird

BIRDS our ‘feathered angels’

Birds

according to Leunig are our ‘feathered angels’

I could hear them in the distance
and in this time of ISO I wanted them closer.
I wanted them around.

But it’s not working . . .
Feeding birds on a terrace
albeit a large terrace
having the birds call in
is not working. I feel opposition.

I tell the birds not to make such noise and try to share.

It was Ok in summer when they called in for water
now it is seed and they get too excited.
Yes it thrills me and sends me buzzing.
Their energy is exhiliarating.

A pair of magpies passing by call in
and two little rainbow lorikeets keep calling
and the chirping native miners are always around
and their song and colour and energy brings us alive
in this time of self isolation.

 

 

 

 

But you see when the cockatoos heard
there was a chance of a feed
they came to take over
and I worried the neighbours and cockatoos
would not get along.

I didn’t want complaints.
Yes there are neighbours close by – up and down.

It is the sulphur crested white cockatoos
that bring bedlam and chaos and might end the deal.

 

STOP PRESS: Today 20th September 2020 a new addition to the terrace.  A Galah  arrived

to try and push in with the Cockatoos. I got a few pictures to add to this blog. I am so happy they visited the terrace. I saw two in the garden earlier this week and was wishing they would come.  Photos of the Galah visiting follows this gallery of colourful angels atound us.

 

 

 

 

 

A Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson

 

 

Cultivating a Sense of Wonder

The Sense of Wonder
By Rachel Carson

One stormy autumn night when my nephew Roger was about twenty months old I wrapped him in a blanket and carried him down to the beach in the rainy darkness. Out there, just at the edge of where-we-couldn’t see, big waves were thundering in, dimly seen white shapes that boomed and shouted and threw great handfuls of froth at us. Together we laughed for pure joy—he a baby,  meeting for the first time the wild tumult of Oceanus, I with the salt of half a lifetime of sea-love in me. But I think we felt the same spine-tingling response to the vast, roaring ocean and the wild night around us.

A night or two later the storm had blown itself out and I took Roger again to the beach, this time to carry him along the water’s edge, piercing the darkness with the yellow cone of our flashlight. Although there was no rain the night was again noisy with breaking waves and the insistent wind. It was clearly a time and place where great and elemental things prevailed.

Our adventure on this particular night had to do with life, for we were searching for ghost crabs, those sand-colored, fleet-legged beings which Roger had sometimes glimpsed briefly on the beaches in daytime. But the crabs are chiefly nocturnal, and when not roaming the night beaches they dig little pits near the surf line where they hide, seemingly watching and waiting for what the sea may bring them. For me the sight of these small living creatures, solitary and fragile against the brute force of the sea, had moving philosophic overtones, and I do not pretend that Roger and I reacted with similar emotions. But it was good to see his infant acceptance of a world of elemental things, fearing neither the song of the wind nor the darkness nor the roaring surf, entering with baby excitement into the search for a “ghos.”

It was hardly a conventional way to entertain one so young, I suppose, but now, with Roger a little past his fourth birthday, we are continuing that sharing of adventures in the world of nature that we began in his babyhood, and I think the results are good. The sharing includes nature in storm as well as calm, by nights as well as by day, and is based on having fun together rather than on teaching.

I spend the summer months on the coast of Maine, where I have my own shoreline and my own small tract of woodland. Bayberry and juniper and huckleberry begin at the very edge of the granite rim of shore, and where the land slopes upward from the bay in a wooded knoll the air becomes fragrant with spruce and balsam. Underfoot there is the multi-patterned northern ground cover of blueberry, checkerberry, reindeer moss and bunchberry, and on a hillside of many spruces, with shaded ferny dells and rocky outcroppings—called the Wildwoods— there are lady’s-slippers and wood lilies and the slender wants of clintonia with its deep blue berries.

When Roger has visited me in Maine and we have walked in these woods I have made no conscious effort to name plants or animals nor to explain to him, but have just expressed my own pleasure in what we see, calling his attention to this or that but only as I would share discoveries with an older person. Later I have been

amazed at the way names stick in his mind, for when I show color slides of my woods plants it is Roger who can identify the. “Oh, that’s what Rachel likes—that bunchberry!” Or, “That’s Jumer (juniper) but you can’t eat those green berries—they are for the squirrels.” I am sure no amount of drill would have implanted the names so firmly as just going through the woods in the spirit of two friends on an expedition of exciting discovery.

In the same way Roger learned the shells on my little triangle of sand that passes for a beach in rocky Maine. When he was only a year and a half old, they became known to him as winkies (periwinkles), weks (whelks) and mukkies (mussels) without my knowing quite now this came about, for I had not tried to teach him.

We have let Roger share our enjoyment of things people ordinarily deny children because they are inconvenient, interfering with bedtime, or involving wet clothing that has to be changed or mud that has to be cleaned off the rug.

We have let him join us in the dark living room before the big picture window to watch the full moon riding lower and lower toward the far shore of the bay, setting all the water ablaze with silver flames and finding a thousand diamonds in the rocks on the shore as the light strikes the flakes of mica embedded in them. I think we have felt that the memory of such a scene, photographed year after year by his child’s mind, would mean more to him in manhood than the sleep he was losing. He told me it would, in his own way, when we had a full moon the night after his arrival last summer. He sat quietly on my lap for some time, watching the moon and the water and all the night sky, and then he whispered, “I’m glad we came.”

A rainy day is the perfect time for a walk in the woods. I always thought so myself; the Maine woods never seem so fresh and alive as in wet weather. Then all the needles on the evergreens wear a sheath of silver; ferns seems to have grown to almost tropical lushness and every leaf has its edging of crystal drops. Strangely colored fungi—mustard-yellow and apricot and scarlet—are pushing out of the leaf mold and all the lichens and the mosses have come alive with green and silver freshness.

Now I know that for children, too, nature reserves some of her choice rewards for days when her mood may appear to be somber .Roger reminded me of it on a long walk through rain-drenched woods last summer—not in words, of course, but by his responses. There had been rain and fog for days, rain beating on the big picture window, fog almost shutting out sight of the bay. No lobstermen coming in to tend their traps, no gulls on the shore, scarcely even a squirrel to watch. The cottage was fast becoming too small for a restless three-year-old.

“Let’s go for a walk in the woods,” I said. “Maybe we’ll see a fox or a deer.” So into yellow oilskin coat and sou’wester and outside in joyous anticipation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

photos: 1. Ants nest in tree:    Colourful lichen: Brush Turkey heaped up  nest 

Having always loved the lichens because they have a quality of fairyland— silver rings on a stone, odd little forms like bones or horns or the shell of a sea creature—I was glad to find Roger noticing and responding to the magic change in their appearance wrought by the rain. The woods path was carpeted with the so- called reindeer moss, in reality a lichen. Like an old-fashioned hall runner, it made a narrow strip of silvery gray through the green of the woods, here and the spreading out to cover a larger area. In dry weather the lichen carpet seems thin; it is brittle and crumbles underfoot. Now, saturated with rain which it absorbs like a sponge, it was deep and springy. Roger delighted in its texture, getting down on chubby knees to feel it, and running from one patch to another to jump up and down in the deep, resilient carpet with squeals of pleasure.

It was here that we first played our Christmas tree game. There is a fine crop of young spruces coming along and one can find seedlings of almost any size down to the length of Roger’s finger. I began to point out the baby trees.

“The one must be a Christmas tree for the squirrels,” I would say. “It’s just the right height. On Christmas Eve the red squirrels come and hang little shells and cones and silver threads of lichen on it for ornaments, and then the snow falls and covers it with shining stars, and in the morning the squirrels have a beautiful Christmas tree…And this one is even tinier—it must be for the little bugs of some kinds—and maybe this bigger one is for the rabbits or the woodchucks.”

Once this game was started it had to be played on all woods walks, which from now on were punctuated by shouts of, “Don’t step on the Christmas tree!”

A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.

If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength

If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.

Parents often have a sense of inadequacy when confronted on the one hand with the eager, sensitive mind of a child and on the other with a world of complex physical nature, inhabited by a life so various and unfamiliar that it seems hopeless to reduce it to order and knowledge. In a mood of self-defeat, they exclaim, “How can I possibly teach my child about nature—why, I don’t even know one bird from another.”

I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused—a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love—then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning. It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.

If you are a parent who feels he has little nature lore at his disposal there is still much you can do for your child. With him, wherever you are and whatever your resources,

you can still look up at the sky—its dawn and twilight beauties,

its moving clouds,

its stars by night.

You can listen to the wind, whether it blows with majestic voice through a forest or sings a many-voiced chorus around the eaves of your house or the corners of your apartment building, and in the listening, you can gain magical release for your thoughts.

You can still feel the rain on your face and think of its long journey,

its many transmutations, from sea to air to earth.

Even if you are a city dweller, you can find some place,

perhaps a park or a golf course,

where you can observe the mysterious migrations of the birds

and the changing seasons.

And with your child you can ponder the mystery of a growing seed,

even if it be only one planted in a pot of earth in the kitchen window.

Exploring nature with your child is largely a matter of becoming receptive to what lies all around you. It is learning again to use your eyes,

ears,

nostrils

and finger tips, opening up the disused channels of sensory impression.

For most of us, knowledge of our world comes largely through sight, yet we look about with such unseeing eyes that we are partially blind. One way to open your eyes to unnoticed beauty is to ask yourself,

What if I had never seen this before?

What if I knew I would never see it again?”

I remember a summer night when such a thought came to me strongly. It was a clear night without a moon. With a friend, I went out on a flat headland that is almost a tiny island, being all but surrounded by the waters of the bay. There the horizons are remote and distant rims on the edge of space.

We lay and looked up at the sky and the millions of stars that blazed in darkness. The night was so still that we could hear the buoy on the ledges out beyond the mouth of the bay. Once or twice a word spoken by someone on the far shore was carried across on the clear air. A few lights burned in cottages. Otherwise there was no reminder of other human life; my companion and I were alone with the stars.

I have never seen them more beautiful: the misty river of the Milky Way flowing across the sky, the patterns of the constellations standing out bright and clear, a blazing planet low on the horizon. Once or twice a meteor burned its way into the earth’s atmosphere.

It occurred to me that if this were a sight that could be seen only once in a century or even once in a human generation, this little headland would be thronged with spectators. But it can be seen many scores of nights in any year, and so the lights burned in the cottages and the inhabitants probably gave not a thought to the beauty overhead; and because they could see it almost any night perhaps they will never see it.

An experience like that, when one’s thoughts are released to roam through the lonely spaces of the universe, can be shared with a child even if you don’t know the name of a single star.

You can still drink in the beauty, and think and wonder at the meaning of what you see.

And then there is the world of little things, seen all too seldom. Many children, perhaps because they themselves are small and closer to the ground than we, notice and delight in the small and inconspicuous. With this beginning, it is easy to share with them the beauties we usually miss because we look too hastily, seeing the whole and not its parts. Some of nature’s most exquisite handiwork is on a miniature scale, as anyone knows who has applied a magnifying glass to a snowflake.

An investment of a few dollars in a good hand lens or magnifying glass will bring a new world into being. With your child, look at objects you take for granted as commonplace or uninteresting. A sprinkling of sand grains may appear as gleaming jewels of rose or crystal hue, or as glittering jet beads, or as a mélange of Lilliputian rocks, spines of sea urchins and bits of snail shells.

A lens-aided view into a patch of moss reveals a dense tropical jungle, in which insects large as tigers prowl amid strangely formed, luxuriant trees. A bit of pond weed or seaweed put in a glass container and studied under a lens is found to be populated by hordes of strange beings, whose activities can entertain you for hours. Flowers (especially the composites), the early buds of leaf or flower from any tree, or any small creature reveal unexpected beauty and complexity when, aided by a lens, we can escape the limitations of the human size scale.

Senses other than sight can prove avenues of delight and discovery, storing up for us memories and impressions. Already Roger and I, out early in the morning, have enjoyed the sharp, clean smell of wood smoke coming from the cottage chimney. Down on the shore we have savored the smell of low tide—that marvelous evocation combined of many separate odors, of the world of seaweeds and fishes and creatures of bizarre shape and habit, of tides rising and falling of their appointed schedule, of exposed mud flats and salt rime drying on the rocks.

I hope Roger will later experience, as I do, the rush of remembered delight that comes with the first breath of that scent, drawn into one’s nostrils as one returns to the sea after a long absence. For the sense of smell, almost more than any other, has the power to recall memories and it is a pity that we use it so little.

Hearing can be a source of even more exquisite pleasure but it requires conscious cultivation. I have had people tell me they had never heard the song of a wood thrush, although I knew the bell-like phrases of this bird had been ringing in their back yards every spring. By suggestion and example, I believe children can be helped to hear the many voices about them. Take time to listen and talk about the voices of the earth and what they mean—the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of surf or flowing streams.

And the voices of living things: No child should grow up unaware of the dawn chorus of the birds in spring. He will never forget the experience of a specially planned early rising and going out in the predawn darkness. The first voices are heard before daybreak. It is easy to pick out these first, solitary singers. Perhaps a few cardinals are uttering their clear, rising whistles, like someone calling a dog. Then the song of a whitethroat, pure and ethereal, with the dreamy quality of remembered joy. Off in some distant patch of woods a whippoorwill continues his monotonous night chant, rhythmic and insistent, sound that is felt almost more than heard. Robins, thrushes, song sparrows, jays, vireos add their voices. The chorus picks up volume as more and more robins join in, contributing a fierce rhythm of their own that soon becomes dominant in the wild medley of voices. In that dawn chorus one hears the throb of life itself.

There is other living music. I have already promised Roger that we’ll take our flashlights this fall and go out into the garden to hunt for the insects that play little fiddles in the grass and among the shrubbery and flower borders. The sound of the insect orchestra swells and throbs night after night, from midsummer until autumn ends and the frosty nights make the tiny players stiff and numb, and finally the last note is stilled in the long cold. An hour of hunting out the small musicians by flashlight is an adventure any child would love. It gives him a sense of the night’s mystery and beauty, and of how alive it is with watchful eyes and little, waiting forms.

The game is to listen, not so much to the full orchestra as to the separate instruments, and to try to locate the players. Perhaps you are drawn, step by step, to a bush from which comes a sweet, high-pitched, endlessly repeated trill. Finally you trace it to a little creature of palest green, with wings as white and insubstantial as moonlight. Or from somewhere along the garden path comes a cheerful, rhythmic chirping, a sound as companionable and homely as a fire crackling on a hearth or a cat’s purr. Shifting your light downward you find a black mole cricket disappearing into his grassy den.

Most haunting of all is one I call the fairy bell ringer. I have never found him. I’m not sure I want to. His voice—and surely he himself—are so ethereal, so delicate, so otherworldly, that he should remain invisible, as he has through all the nights I have searched for him. It is exactly the sound that should come from a bell held in the hand of the tiniest elf, inexpressibly clear and silvery, so faint, to barely- to-be-heard that you hold your breath as you bend closer to the green glades from which the fairy chiming comes.

The night is a time, to, to listen for other voices, the calls of bird migrants hurrying northward in spring and southward in autumn. Take your child out on a still October night when there is little wind and find a quiet place away from traffic noises. Then stand very still and listen, projecting your consciousness up into the dark arch of the sky above you. Presently your ears will detect tiny wisps of sound— sharp chirps, sibilant lisps and call notes. They are the voices of bird migrants, apparently keeping in touch by their calls with others of their kind scattered through the sky. I never hear these calls without a wave of feeling that is compounded of many emotions—a sense of lonely distances, a compassionate awareness of small lives controlled and directed by forces beyond volition or denial, a surging wonder at the sure instinct for route and direction that so far has baffled human efforts to explain it.

If the moon is full and the night skies are alive with the calls of bird migrants, then the way is open for another adventure with your child, if he is old enough to use a telescope or a good pair of binoculars. The sport of watching migrating birds pass across the face of the moon has become popular and even scientifically important in recent years, and it is as good a way as I know to give an older child a sense of the mystery of migration.

Seat yourself comfortably and focus your glass on the moon. You must learn patience, for unless you are on a well-traveled highway of migration you may have to wait many minutes before you are rewarded. In the waiting periods you can study the topography of the moon, for even a glass of moderate power reveals enough detail to fascinate a space-conscious child. But sooner or later you should begin to see the birds, lonely travelers in space glimpsed as they pass from darkness into darkness.

In all this I have said little about identification of the birds, insects, rocks, stars or any other of the living and nonliving things that share this world with us. Of course it is always convenient to give a name to things that arouse our interest. But that is a separate problem, and one that can be solved by any parent who has a reasonably observant eye and the price of various excellent handbooks that are available in quite inexpensive editions.

I think the value of the game of identification depends on how you play it. If it becomes an end in itself I count it of little use. It is possible to compile extensive lists of creatures seen and identified without ever once having caught a breath-taking glimpse of the wonder of life. If a child asked me a question that suggested even a faint awareness of the mystery behind the arrival of a migrant sandpiper on the beach of an August morning, I would be far more pleased than by the mere fact that he knew it was a sandpiper and not a plover.

What is the value of preserving and strengthening this sense of awe and wonder, this recognition of something beyond the boundaries of human existence? Is the exploration of the natural world just a pleasant way to pass the golden hours of childhood or is there something deeper?

I am sure there is something much deeper, something lasting and significant.

Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. Whatever the vexations or concerns of their personal lives, their thoughts can find paths that lead to inner contentment and to renewed excitement in living. Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is symbolic as well as actual beauty

in the migration of the birds,

the ebb and flow of the tides,

the folded bud ready for the spring.

There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—

the assurance that dawn comes after nights, and spring after winter.

I like to remember the distinguished Swedish oceanographer, Otto Pettersson, who died a few years ago at the age of ninety-three, in full possession of his keen mental powers. His son, also world-famous in oceanography, has related in a recent book how intensely his father enjoyed the world about him.

“He was an incurable romantic,” the son wrote, “intensely in love with life and with the mysteries of the cosmos.” When he realized he had not much longer to enjoy the earthly scene, Otto Pettersson said to his son, “What will sustain me in my last moments is an infinites curiosity as to what is to follow.”

In my mail recently was a letter that bore eloquent testimony to the lifelong durability of a sense of wonder. It came from a reader who asked advice on choosing a seacoast spot for a vacation, a place wild enough that she might spend her days roaming beaches unspoiled by civilization, exploring that world that is old but ever new.

Regretfully she excluded the rugged northern shores. She had loved the shore all her life, she said, but climbing over the rocks of Maine might be difficult, for an eighty-ninth birthday would soon arrive. As I put down her letter I was warmed by the fires of wonder and amazement that still burned brightly in her youthful mind and spirit, just as they must have done fourscore years ago.

 

Olive Pink Botanic Garden: A research visit.

 

 

Our inland  journey to do some research on the Australian pioneer Olive Pink was done in early March before the Pandemic had been declared. We were aware  of the virus but flying inland seemed very innocent. By the end of the week flying back to Sydney, it was not innocent – we felt on tender hooks to get home. How things can change in one week.

However in that week of pandemic-innocence we had  very rewarding visit with Brekky at the Bean Cafe in the garden with the wallabies and birds and then each day the walks. Later in the day visiting other channels of research. We stayed in the Mecure Motel by the Todd River and behind the Gardens

 

 

Olive Pink Botanic Garden, Alice Springs

The Garden

Today we treasure a globally unique arid zone botanic garden and continues to work towards Miss Pinks vision:

 . . .forty-nine acres of ground on which to preserve and grow native trees, shrubs and flowers – as a ‘soul-feeding antidote to the restless rush and materialism of what ‘modern living’ entails for so many in this isolated town. from Fran Kilgariff

Nestled in the valley of Annie Meyers Hill and bordered by the Todd River is where you will find the Olive Pink Botanic Garden. Its close proximity to the CBD of Alice Springs, Northern Territory, allows visitors and locals alike convenient access to the 16 hectare Garden including the 6 hectares of arid zone plantings in the valley floor and the native vegetation of the encircling hills.

 

Founded in 1956 by Miss Olive Muriel Pink (1884-1975), the Garden was originally gazetted as the Australian Arid Regions Native Flora Reserve with Miss Pink as the Honorary Curator. Prior to this Miss Pink had studied the anthropology of both the Arrernte and Walpiri people and was a great agitator and  advocatefor Aboriginal rights, which lead to her insisting that Aboriginal gardeners receive employment conditions under the award.  Jampitjimpa Yannarilyi  (Johnny) was one of the Aboriginal gardeners whom Miss Pink held in high esteem and was employed in the Garden from 1960 for a period of 12 years.,

From the time of Miss Pink’s death in 1975 until 1985, like minded people rallied to keep Olive’s Mission alive. Local gardeners,  water-conservationist John Blakeman, orthonologist Barry Bucholtz  and many towns folk  with many developments  to preserve the garden as viable. The garden and the Bean Cafe and were opened to the public in 1985as the Olive Pink Flora Reserve, and in 1996 it was renamed to more accurately reflect its purpose as the Olive Pink Botanic Garden. A voluntary seven person Board of Trustees manages the Garden. They draw on experience and expertise in commerce, science, law and tourism and are responsible to the NT Minister for Local Government. On my recent visit I met the present curator Ian Coleman. I had an immediate rapport with Ian as he spoke of his understanding of Olive Pink’s vision and understanding for the park.  He has the sensibility of a spirituality and a philosophy of the story of the land on which the garden stands.

Some aspiring and educational walks wander through the park.
1. An historical walk called the Olive Pink Walk,
2. the Mulga Woodland walk,
3 the Mallee Walk
4 The Arrernte Trail  and the marvellous challenging for us (no longer spritely) called 5. the Annie Meyers Hill walk .

There are Bird groves specialising in bird feeding trees, many seats to sit and enjoy the peace and educational nodes with very informative coloured and modern stories. Education is a key element of the Garden’s ethos with information available about the evolution of Australia’s arid zone flora, the traditional use of plants by Aborigines and local history in the graphic displays housed in in shelter nodes along the tracks.

Another valuable treasure is Peter Latz a renowned Central Australian botanist and garden volanteer. as he says at the end of an article he wrote,

Decades of dedicated work by Olive Pink, Jampiijinpa (Johnny) and other staff as well as countless volunteers has gone into producing this globally unique treasure -trove of bio-diversity and store of potential foods and medicinal cures 

 The Botanical Garden  Newsletter for botanical gardens of Australia and New Zealand. No. 3 July 2002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Blakeman Shelter

 

Livistona palms at the Garden waterhole

 

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The Blakeman Shelter

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Livistona palms at the Garden waterhole

The Garden

Nestled in the valley of Annie Meyers Hill and bordered by the Todd River is where you will find the Olive Pink Botanic Garden. Its close proximity to the CBD of Alice Springs, Northern Territory, allows visitors and locals alike convenient access to the 16 hectare Garden including the 6 hectares of arid zone plantings in the valley floor and the native vegetation of the encircling hills.

Founded in 1956 by Miss Olive Muriel Pink (1884-1975), the Garden was originally gazetted as the Australian Arid Regions Native Flora Reserve with Miss Pink as the Honorary Curator.