Monday, 30 April 2012

Down to earth

They are an earthy bunch, the folk in this town. They even build their houses out of mud, dirt and earth. Our friends are making their own mud bricks to build their home - 40 bricks at a time. They take a scoop of clay out of the dam, tip in onto a tarp, add some straw and dance around mixing it all together with their toes. It is like a pedicure every time and their hands are now lovely and soft as well. Building their home is such a tactile, hands-on experience for this family. They have milled timber from their property which they planted when their oldest son was a baby. Their three boys were there to hear the trees crack and fall. They know the true impact of their home and can trace almost every material back to its source somewhere on the farm. It is inspiring to watch, but not surprising. We lived down the road from each other in the city and left for the south coast at the same time. But we arrived a couple of months before they did. Because they walked.

Quinn and I tagged along with Darcy's kindy class when they visited a local earth brick company to make stepping stones for their playground. The kids all brought something special to stick in their rich ochre hued paving stones and most added a hand or footprint alongside their name. Darcy took a feather from one of his chickens which he pressed in along with some stones. But neither he nor Quinn would put their hand in the mud mix, so I stuck mine in instead. My hand print has now been fired and has joined the many little hands and feet around the kindy sandpit this term.

I would love to one day build our own home using locally sourced and sustainable materials, solar passive design and recycled fittings. But while the boys are young I am quite happy to watch and learn as other people go through the design and building process. We may live in a less than perfect home but we do have more time to just be while we are renting here. Time to explore the bush and beach surrounding us while we live mortgage free for a little while. We will find a home to call our own again one day. And perhaps I will be able to convince my boys to get their hands dirty so that I can put some earth paving bricks in our garden.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Muddy waters

The rain has finally arrived on the south coast after a long, dry summer. We fell asleep listening to the gentle pitter patter on the canvas on our last night camping and the clouds followed us home. The frogs were singing when we climbed out of the car and the rain fell steadily through the night as we lay snug and warm back in our own beds again. When we walked outside in the morning the trees were dripping and the potholes in our driveway had filled with water.

Give Quinn a puddle and a handful of pebbles and he is happy for hours. The same is true for all the boys if the water body is a bit bigger. We spent the last day of the school holidays yesterday splashing around at the inlet and in an enormous puddle we found on a bush track on our way down to the shore.

Our landlord came and filled the potholes with rock dust, leaving big grey heaps of gravel at the end of the driveway for the boys to excavate with their trucks. They are all little mud men by the end of each day.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Anzac Day

We don't have many culinary traditions in my family. But there will always be a pavlova on Australia Day and Anzac Biscuits on April 25. I halved the sugar and used barley malt instead of golden syrup. I don't know that the Diggers would have approved, but they taste alright to me.

Monday, 23 April 2012

halfway home

We took the tribe back to the city for a few days last week. Three busy days catching up with family and friends. It is hard to slow down when there are so many people we want to see, but I think we managed to get the balance right this time. One of the best things about staying with my family, who have lived in the same house for nearly 40 years, is being able to share the special things I remember from my own childhood with my boys. So we walked to the river to splash by the sandbar and eat ice cream on the jetty, and caught the bus into the city to take the boys to the museum.

We stopped for a few days camping by the coast when we were halfway home, taking the slow route around the south-west capes rather than heading straight back down the highway. It is a special place for us - one of the halfway points where Grant and I used to meet when I was back working in the city and he was still teaching in the country. We would take it in turns driving up and down the highway; one weekend in the city; one in his little country town; and the third camping somewhere in between.

It was the first time we had been back since Darcy was a baby and I found myself gazing somewhat wistfully at the childless couples tucked away in their bush campsites drinking tea and reading quietly for entire afternoons. This time we realised we needed to pitch the tent where there was room for the boys to run without being caught on one of the wire fences that had gone up around the coastal reserve. So instead of quietly reading and drinking tea I found myself kicking a football around the meadow and watching in amusement as Grant spent the day trying to retrieve the footy from the upper branches of a giant old peppermint tree (his kick, not mine). The pieces of firewood and half bricks he hurled up at it in frustration eventually had the desired effect and it tumbled back down to earth, but not before Quinn threw his own hunk of wood in the air in imitation and gave himself a minor head injury.

We walked down the track to where the cliffs tumble down to the Indian Ocean and drove south through the forest to Cape Leeuwin, where the Southern and Indian Oceans meet. I wanted to show the boys the way the waves crash into each other as the two bodies of water collide, but another fence had gone up in our absence and we were now being asked to pay an exorbitant amount for a glimpse. So we walked around the rocks instead before waving goodbye to the Indian Ocean and heading home.

Darcy says that he wants to move back to the city so that he can catch the bus everyday, but I noticed a change in us all once we were back in the trees, away from the traffic and congestion of the city streets. We are not city people, any of us. Quinn least of all. He was only five months old when we moved and remembers no other life than the one we have made in the forest. The look on his face as we stepped off the bus beneath the city skyscrapers was beautiful to watch. But watching him tear after his brothers into the depths of the garden for the afternoon once we got home was better still. 

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Full circle

We went to a wedding last weekend. Back in Albany, where we first fell in love. The ceremony was at Western Australia's oldest farm, its heritage stone and slate buildings and cottage gardens a backdrop for the wedding vows. We dropped the boys off at Grandma's house afterwards and spent a sunny Saturday afternoon lounging around at the relaxed reception in a little cafe. When I lived in Albany it was a derelict old general store that had served lunches to the woolen mill workers. I lived three doors down, in a tumbledown cottage next to the old hospital that is now the town's arts centre. As I walked to and from work each day I would watch the building's transformation and chat to the new owner as she planted parsley down the side of the drive. It opened just before I left town. I had a cup of tea there before I packed my bags and moved back to work in the city.

I held Lewis and Darcy's hands and Quinn held onto me with his whole body as we watched the bride walk through the trees and commit herself to her groom. Grant stood behind us. It felt like we had come full circle, back to where it all began. We slipped out of the reception to walk down the footpath back to my old home, past the lemon tree through whose branches I would wave to Grant in the bedroom window one last time as I tripped off to work in the morning. Albany was a different town then. The potholed carpark behind the newspaper's old printing press is now home to a bustling farmers' market each Saturday morning. Back then the press still printed newspapers.

The wind used to whistle through that house on winter nights. They said you could hear the ghosts of the women who had died in the asylum next door, but I only ever heard the toot of the trains as they rumbled past to the port in the night and the patter of rain in the puddles outside my window. We would huddle in front of the fire in the kitchen and go to bed early. 

Chooks used to scratch in our backyard beneath the clothesline. The vegetable garden we dug has long since been swallowed by the grass and the fence that divides the garden and the arts centre grounds is falling down. We slipped through the gap to take a photo and watched the boats scudding across the harbour from the lawn. Walking back to the wedding hand in hand, as guitar and mandolin mingled with the hum of voices from the verandah, I felt like we really had come home. We waved goodbye to the bride and groom as they walked away up the hill and then drove back to Grandma's house to find the boys already in the bath.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Back on track

The birds were just starting their morning chorus when I rolled out of my sleeping bag and walked up the hill to the long drop toilet. The campsite was sheltered in the dark shadow of the coastal scrub but the toilet had a view across the water to the dawn sky in all its pink and orange glory. The Chilean grandfather's torchlight shone like a beacon through the yellow nylon of his tent as he packed for an early departure. In the open wooden shelter the white hair of an elderly hiker stood straight up like a halo as he sat cocooned in his sleeping bag. He had trudged over the hill after sundown the night before, one of his walking companions weak with dehydration and heatstroke. None joined me to watch the dawn, although this was one of the few places in Western Australia where the rising sun could be glimpsed over the water.

The section of track I had chosen for my night of solitude traversed some of the least accessible beaches along the south coast. Beaches I had gazed at longingly on maps for some years now. Kilometres of squeaky white sand and crystal blue waves seldom visited except by diehard fisher folk and surfers. For today at least they belonged just to one lonely hiker, hefting the heavy weight of her pack barefoot across the sand. I paddled across the inlet in a canoe to the eastern side of the trail, trekking through peppermint and casuarina woodlands and grassy undulating dunes, breaking spiderwebs glistening with morning dew, before the beach opened out before me. There was one fisherman on an otherwise empty cove, and a family in a 4WD on another stretch of sand. I waved but did not stop to talk. Silence was what I was seeking. Ever since becoming a mother I had fantasised about being back out in the bush alone. It had taken me nearly seven years, but finally there I was. And it was glorious.

I walked 26km in unseasonally hot sunshine, stopping to swim whenever I felt the urge. By the time I staggered into camp early in the afternoon my ankles were raw and my back blistered from sand that had worked its way into my pack's harness. I floated in the shallow harbour and lay semi-comatose on the sand, unsure whether I would ever have the energy to pull myself back up again. But the salt water revived me and a cup of tea and a simple meal had the late-comers remarking on how fresh and relaxed I looked when they staggered into camp some hours later. The track had broken two of them - the Chilean grandfather had spent the day recovering in the shelter after his toe split in two and it looked like these hikers would be spending the next day doing the same. I wrote half a short story under the stars and climbed into my tent at the same time my sons would be settling in their bunk at home.

My dreams of a whole night's sleep were interrupted by small papery rustlings from the bush outside my tent. Over and over again I shone my torch into the scrub but could find nothing there. I opened my pack in the morning to find the corners of my paper bag of trail mix had been nibbled away by little teeth. Twelve kilometres of steep scrub and dunes remained between me and the beach campground where I had left our second car. I pulled on my shoes and pack and headed across the sand, groaning with every step, for there was no one there to hear and it did seem to help. Lowering my pack against the car and easing off my shoes were the most wonderful feelings in the world. As was seeing the smiling faces of all my boys as I pulled into our driveway half an hour later. I sat on the balcony with my feet soaking in a bucket and my arms around my children. The pain made my homecoming all the sweeter.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Surfing mamas

The beach is my church. I grew up in the waves and on the sand and feel just as comfortable in the water as on land. Each Sunday as a nipper I could be found on the long stretch of white sand at Leighton Beach. When I learned to drive I would steer the surf club's rusty, salt-encrusted old ute through the corrugations in the sand up to the dog beach at Cables and south down to Sandtracks. I read the English classics with one eye on the crowds while sitting in the patrol tower at Port Beach, where the cranes and stacked sea containers of Fremantle's busy port loom over the narrow strip of sand carved out by the swell that crashes against the seawall.

I was a clubbie, but I always wanted to be a surfer. I tried to learn a couple of times as a teenager. It did not come naturally to me and I felt too self conscious floundering in the waves to stick at it. When I moved to the south coast in my early twenties I thought I would give it another try, and drove out around the peninsula to Salmon Holes with my body board in the back of my car. I bobbed around in the swell, watching the young guys catching every wave and steering clear of the slippery walls of granite that slide into the treacherous cove. I still wasn't ready. I wasn't any good at it and it was all too embarrassing.

When we moved back to the south coast I said I would learn once the children were older and I had some time to myself again. Whenever that might be.

For my birthday last year Grant bought me a surf board and some lessons with the local surfing school. Quinn was still only a few months old at the time. I had a good few years of procrastination left in me. But I signed up for some lessons with a friend and together we paddled out into the gentle swell at Ocean Beach. I no longer cared what anyone thought, or whether I was any good or not. I just wanted to catch a wave or two, to be alone on the water, to reconnect with that wild and free part of myself that got forgotten while I was mothering my little ones.

Every Sunday since I have strapped my board onto the roof of my station wagon and headed out for an hour on the waves. One hour of silence and solitude, alone with the elements and my thoughts. I have gradually progressed from wobbling shakily to my feet to a more fluid movement, my limbs finding their rhythm where once they flailed. After a year of Sundays my body seems to know what to do - my feet plant themselves wide and my body crouches low as I steer my longboard along the face of the wave.

I headed out with a friend this morning. She has four kids. She did have a babysitter who would watch her little ones while she went surfing each Tuesday, but since her helper headed off to university in the city she has not been able to surf as much as she would like. There is a strong community of female surfers here. Surfing mamas, who know the exhilaration and freedom that the ocean gives. Older women, their children now grown, who offer support and guidance on the waves. "You catch this one. I've got all day, you have to get home to the kids." Words you would never hear from guys reluctant to share the swell.

Sitting out the back with my legs straddling my board I watch the waves curve around the headland into the bay. Craggy limestone cliffs stretch out into the vast blue expanse of the Southern Ocean. Heavily forested hills cling to the folds of the river, soft and green, as it snakes its way into the hinterland. Each and every time I give thanks that we live where we do, this little corner of paradise where the forest meets the sea. I journey home with a light heart. The beach is my church.

Friday, 6 April 2012

A good friday

Each year on Good Friday we gather our friends and family in our garden to eat hot cross buns, drink tea and chat while the children run wild. Our neighbour in Fremantle had been doing just that for the twenty years he lived in Western Australia, and he invited us around to join him in his courtyard a few weeks after we moved next door when Lewis was just a babe in arms. When he moved to Tasmania five years ago we decided to take up his tradition and make it our own.

Easter on the south coast marks the end of summer, the last days swimming at the beach, a winter chill in the evening air and the smell of woodsmoke drifting to the sea as the cottages in the valley fire up their pot bellies. In our garden the leaves are turning yellow and red and falling in soft technicolour circles around the fruit trees. There must have been thirty children flitting through the trees this morning, sliding down the slopes and carrying chickens up the hill to show their mums and dads.

I have always ordered our buns from my favourite organic bakery in South Fremantle. But after the health shop telephoned last week to let me know they would not be able to fill my order, the pressure was on to bake some just as good. The sourdough hot cross buns I made were joined by some traditional European Easter breads - beautiful bunny rabbits made by my Swiss friend Sabine, and sweet twists of Osterzopf baked by two German friends.

We sat under the trees and ate, talked and laughed and wondered where the year had gone since we had last gathered there. Like every year we were left with far too many buns. I will be eating them toasted and slathered with butter for breakfast well into winter. It is my staple diet at this time of year, along with a little chocolate and the odd tamarillo or two.

The holidays stretch before us golden and long. Happy Easter from our family to yours.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Treasure hunting


Scavenging through the village craft and op shops this morning I plucked:

Some hand-knitted woolen socks -  just in time for a rainy, wintery day.
And a pure-wool cosy for our tea party on Friday,
from the sea of acrylic.
For not much more than the cost of the wool

Floral cloth napkins for sticky little fingers at our dinner table.
A crocheted rug for the playroom.
A wooden bowl.
And a retro Spanish salt cellar (missing its 't', so we'll call it sal instead)
All for $3.50

Retail therapy on a budget.
Its why my husband loves me.

Linking up with flea market finds (for the first time ever!)

Monday, 2 April 2012

My creative space

I had big plans for this year when it started. It was the year I was going to start writing again, the year I reclaimed my creative space and set time aside each day to practice my craft. And I have. That is the reason behind this blog. But I still shuffle through the hours each day searching for the minutes to gift to myself away from my boys, big and small, and all their needs and desires.

One term into the school year and we have had weeks lost to illness, and a less than enthusiastic response from my four year old to the start of his formal schooling. An attempt at trading babysitting mornings with a good friend foundered when separation anxiety struck both our babes. And my big dreams of whole mornings spent writing and a resurrection of my freelance journalism career fell in a hole. I had a brief glimpse of another life before the horizon closed in ahead of me again.

But the mornings spent nurturing Darcy's days at kindergarten have been worthwhile. He now parts from me happily each morning. He still needs to come home at lunchtime for an afternoon nap, and it is that hour or two each day that I rely on to sit in silence and gather my thoughts. To write, to sketch out ideas, to knit or sew. To fulfill myself in ways other than mothering and all its attendant tasks.

Only four days remain now until the holidays return my husband to me and we share the parenting load for a little while. I will be shouldering on my pack and heading out into the wilderness for one night completely alone. We will be celebrating Easter with friends and heading to the city to visit family and loved ones. And when we return I will be working for the local newspaper from home. Just one or two stories a week, as much as I can handle while also caring for three little boys, but it is a start.

Before I became a mother I was a reporter for a big daily newspaper, cutting my teeth on one of the company's regional mastheads. I always swore that I would never return to working for a provincial newspaper, but I am quite excited about returning to reporting within the context of this beautiful small town community.

I still don't have a dedicated workspace, so will be writing from the dining table or the craft bench I share with my three creative boys. Lewis has kindly drawn a line in black crayon through the slab of rough hewn karri to delineate our work zones - where Pitman shorthand meets polystyrene and pipecleaner boats in the happiest of unions.

Balancing act

He dragged his big brother's heavy, old, red bike out of the tangle of ivy and pushed it up the driveway. He waited while I consoled his baby brother and chased the rabbit around the yard a couple of times before it hopped back into its hutch. He climbed on with quiet confidence as I held the bike steady, despite the fact his feet could not reach the ground. And after a few wobbly circuits of the one flat section of road he was away. "I wasn't holding on that time. You did it on your own," I whispered in his ear. He turned and smiled at me with a face radiating pure joy.

We took him to the park to practice on the old basketball courts. He sits so straight and tall in the saddle, bouncing across the grass and crashing sideways when he is ready to dismount. Darcy, more than any of my children, has always been fully present in his body and confident in what it is capable of doing. He will climb higher than anyone else, Lewis included, and needs no reassurance nor reward.  He circled the park, weaving his way through the trees and around the toilet block, and did not want to come home.

For his second birthday we gave Darcy a wooden balance bike. By the age of three he was careening on it down steep hills, his balance perfect and his fear left far behind. All he had to add at four was pedals and brakes. And now he just needs to grow. I think he will be riding to school before the year is through.

Quinn did not go near a bike yesterday - he just wanted to wear his helmet to the park. He didn't want to miss out on all the fun.