Monday, 4 May 2015

water babies

They were in the pool everyday we were away, Thea charging in wearing just her underpants if her bathers were still drying on the balcony. They played with their uncle and their great uncle and their grandma, tossing balls and stacking pebbles until they were wrinkled as prunes. All except Quinn; he didn't get wet once.

Where the forest meets the sea

I have been reading the Grimm Brothers' fairytales to my boys this year, in all their original, gruesome splendour. We have dipped into the big, gold-leafed tome every night since I gave Darcy the book for his birthday in January, and are still only just over half way through. The stories are, of course, all set in a Europe that is long gone, but I think that my boys imagine them into the forests that they know, which must by now be peopled with wolves and giants, kings and princesses a plenty.

But if ever there was a fairytale forest closer to home, for us it must be the Daintree Rainforest. As far from the south-west corner of mainland Australia that we call home as it is physically possibly for us to travel, the Daintree has sparked a special longing in our collective imaginations since we first read Jeannie Baker's iconic book Where the Forest Meets the Sea when Lewis was a baby. Richly illustrated with her lush collages using materials from the rainforest, it is one of those books we have read over and over, and never tired of looking at. "One day we will go there," I would promise the children, thinking far into the future.

It was a dream I never imagined would come true quite so soon, but when Grant's very generous mum offered to fly our family to far north Queensland for a family reunion, we couldn't very well refuse. Getting there was a journey of somewhat epic proportions. A night drive to the farm, where we couldn't sleep for the bellowing of the cows, followed by another car trip to the airport and two flights across the centre of this wide brown land. A night in an anonymous hotel room and then a bus further north, until we were surrounded by forest and family once more. Except here the air was thick with humidity, a sheen of sweat moistened our faces, and the warm air clung to our bare limbs in place of winter woollens.

We wandered through rainforests and along tropical beaches and soaked up every sun-drenched, mosquito chewed minute. Thea paid no heed to the signs warning of crocodiles and jellyfish, and charged into the Coral Sea at the edge of the Daintree. I reasoned that my eyes could spot a croc in the cloudy water, and jellyfish were unlikely to inhabit the shallows, and wandered along beside her in the ankle deep waters off Cow Beach.

I passed my hand over my eyes as we drew farther away from our family, thinking the shape I saw ahead must be a rock or a mirage, and not the erect black figure of a fisherman stalking the shallows with his spear. But as we drew nearer he stopped to smile and say hello.

"Been catching anything?" I asked.
"I hit a stingray but it got off. And a shark, but that got away too. I'm after stingray. Are you a local?"
"No, we're from Western Australia."
"WA! That's the only state I've never visited."

We talked about the weather, then waved goodbye and he climbed into his dinghy and headed home. Lewis jogged down to join us and we followed a creek into the rainforest and gathered tiny frogs into our hands for Thea to touch and hold before they hopped away again.

After ten days it is safe to say that the kids had had their fill of rainforests, tropical beaches, boats and coral reefs. Home was calling us all, and we climbed back into our own beds with much gratitude. Winter sneaked across the south coast while we were away and now we find ourselves pulling the quilts around our chins in the storm tossed winter dark and wishing for sunshine and summer once more. My feet cannot seem to remember the heat, and the warm lap of the torpid tropical sea, however hard I try. It could have been a fairytale.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Feathered friends

We have two new little chickens scratching around our backyard, and making sneaky visits into the house under the arm of our resident chook whisperer. I promised Darcy a little Pekin pullet for his birthday back in January, to replace his old pet Lemony, who was killed by a fox.

Lemony was a special chook. We bought her as a young bird and Darcy raised her so that she really seemed to think he was his mother. She would sit on his lap and watch cartoons with him, tucking her head under her wing for a snooze. She helped him to settle into school life when she visited kindy with him for the morning. She would jog to meet him whenever he wandered into the yard. I cried when I found her lifeless body lying in the chook run, and expected the same from Darcy, who was much more pragmatic.

"Can I get a new one?"
"Why don't we wait a little while, until we stop feeling sad about Lemony?"
"Can I get a new one tomorrow?"

There were no golden Pekin pullets to be found in the Great Southern when Darcy turned seven, but his birthday card promised him a visit to the first poultry auction of the year to select his bird. And waiting for him in a cage was the golden feathered bird of his dreams. She is called Lemony (of course) and she promises to be just as sweet as her namesake.

I picked up a little Araucana for myself while we were there. I have missed having blue eggs and am looking forward to her reaching the point of lay, and perhaps inspiring the rest of our flock to lay the odd egg or two. We have had nothing but duck eggs for weeks.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Our lonely beach

The booming surf had resonated through the river valley all night, so I knew the breakers would be crashing on to the shore. But the sun was shining and we had nowhere else to be, so we jumped into the car and headed west. It is a bit of drive, but the reward is usually an empty expanse of sand and waves rolling in from eternity. Except the carpark was strangely crowded. We followed the boardwalk through the dunes and around the fresh water spring which spills across the sand, pulling off our sandals to wade through the cold, clear water. And there was not a soul to be seen on the beach. Black suited surfers bobbed in the waves in the bay's eastern corner and grey nomads clustered at the lookout high above the sand. Thea pulled off her clothes, grabbed her bucket and spade and ran into the water while I eyed off the surf, trying to decide whether getting wet was going to be a possibility.

The surfers made their way back around the bay in pairs, stopping to wash their boards and take a drink from the spring. One greying board rider wandered down to say hello.
"Is she about two?" he asked.
"In a few weeks."
"There used to be a little girl who played in the water there. She would be three now - her family moved back to the Czech Republic a year ago today. I got the hugest sense of deju vu seeing your little girl on the beach. She is even wearing the same pink hat."

I tried to picture that little girl and what her life must look like in Central Europe. Perhaps she has a stream to play in; cold water rushing over the pebbles as she steps over the slippery rocks. Her mother would read her fairy tales from old Europe when she tucked her in to bed each night. I wonder if she remembers the smell of the sea, the crash of the waves and the cry of the gulls on her lonely beach on the other side of the world. I wonder if her mama is homesick for the sand and the sun and the empty horizons.

I hoisted Thea onto my hip and we walked around the shoreline, stopping to dig in the sand and let the waves wash over our feet. She snuggled in to my chest while sea lice crawled around in the coarse sand, tickling my bare legs as the waves dug hollows around them. We wandered back to the stream and I left Thea with her bucket and a clear line of sight to the waves and walked backwards into the breakers, ducking my head and body under the whitewash. One day, perhaps, I will be able to walk around to the headland and take my place on the waves with a board beneath me. But for now I am mama first and foremost to that little girl in the pink hat, playing on the shore.

She slept in the car on the way home, beach sand clinging to her bare brown legs. I wonder how long they will have grown by next summer?

Thursday, 12 March 2015

the end of summer

Warm days and cool nights. Crisp mornings with mist in the valleys as I head down the hill to the gym before the kids wake up. An orange sun hanging low in the sky. Smoke and rainbows and thunderstorms and dry, dry earth. A desiccated vegetable garden. The smell of the water hitting the dry straw as I hand water each bed with a kinky length of green garden hose. Stolen hours at the beach each weekend, a surfboard and a novel tucked into the car as I wave goodbye to the kids. Tired children roaming around the garden, finding themselves again after long days at school. Knitting on the front verandah after a long summer hiatus. Full nights of sleep soaking into my soul after a decade of broken dreams rousing for the baby. The end of summer.