Category Archives: rural / bush living

A view through the trees

This time five years ago, we came here for the first time and were captivated by the peace and beauty at Seventy Seven Acres, and, each time I take myself walking around the property, I fall in love over and again with how idyllic and serene our little piece of the world is.

I’m always amazed, too, at how much there is to see, and by all the inspiring vistas.  One short walk can take me up to the top of the hill, down the track towards the valley, then up and around the dam below the house and home again… or across the big dam, and high over the valley to the north… or way down south where there is evidence of the past in tantalising hints of the old homestead, long gone.

No matter where I go though, there is always

Here are some of those views as I wander here and there, breathing in the heady scents of the bush,  carolled by the birds, and savouring the beauty all around me…

There are many different kinds of trees, but predominantly we have brittle gums (eucalyptus mannifera), apple box (eucalyptus bridgesiana), native cherry (exocarpus cupressiformis), and a variety of wattles, including black wattle (acacia mearnsii) and something we know only as the wattle of doom… a very spiky affair with prolific brilliant yellow flowers!

While much of the bush is regenerated with most of the trees under thirty years old, we have several that are of a venerable age and have probably seen more than one or two generations of homestead families come and go before the farm was allowed to revert to nature… what stories they could tell, if only we sit still long enough to listen… shhh…

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Will beneath an old tree down near the dam

Ten Things

...a very simple start to a centrepiece for the table

…the simple life

I’ve been thinking for a while that I need to write a list or two. People, I’m told, enjoy lists.  Lists are simple and easy to read.  I like the simple life… it being something to which I aspire, and is related to why we chose to move out to Seventy Seven Acres in the first place.

Also, I read someone else’s blog post today about why the simple life isn’t so simple…read it here … and I thought that I might share some of the things it is useful to be aware of before heading out to live on a bush property. So, in no particular order, ten things you need to know:

1. It’s a long way to the shops. For us, the nearest shop is 20 minutes down a sometimes impassible dirt road, is a family run general store with emergency type items but not much else, and it closes at 6 o’clock. The next nearest is 25 minutes on a mostly reasonable sealed road, but with limited stock. At least it stays open a bit longer. After that it is all the way into the city, where there is the usual choice of supermarkets. It takes 40 minutes (or more) to get there, but you can actually find something open at 10 pm if you desperately need something at that late hour. I needed to learn to think ahead and pick up any groceries on the way home from work. There is no popping out for a bottle of milk (which would also cost us more in fuel than the milk would).

2. You have to be able to use a chainsaw. Or be very good with an axe. Luckily, Matt fits this bill nicely on both counts. I, on the other hand, am terrified of chainsaws and can’t hit a piece of wood with an axe in the same place twice to save my life. Will is doing a better job of learning. Between keeping up with firewood for winter warmth and keeping on top of fire safety for summer, becoming an expert woods-person is vital. It also helps to be really good at spotting what is ‘habitat’ and what is not, another of Matt’s superskills.

...winter warmth...

…winter warmth…

3. It’s also a long way to the hospital. This was illustrated very nicely when Matt was injured when an axe bounced off a hard piece of wood (see previous point), slid down the toe of his steel cap boot and sliced through his foot, resulting in pain, fainting, and copious quantities of blood. I’m not that good at blood, so it took a lot of resolve to wrap said foot in equally copious quantities of cloth nappies (I knew I kept them for a reason) and secure with a bandage, then drive the 50 minutes to emergency. In other words, I need to be prepared to be MUCH better at first aid. And calm enough to drive.

4. Speaking of first aid… snakes. It is really important to be aware that on a bush property some of the wildlife you will be sharing it with will include snakes, most of which will be only too happy to leave you alone, so long as you leave them alone. But they will be there. Watch where you are walking (especially in spring, when they are just waking up and probably haven’t had a coffee yet). And remember, they belong there. Although, not necessarily inside the house or garden, from which they will be encouraged to leave.

daffodils

…a pretty picture form my garden in spring, because I don’t have one of a snake… mostly because, although I have seen a couple, I normally don’t try to take a picture of them for various reasons…

5. Other poisonous visitors will include spiders and scorpions. This means checking inside your shoes and boots before putting them on. Every time. For me it also means slippers at night. The idea of stepping on a scorpion in the dark does not appeal. Which creates an interesting paradox, because checking your slippers in the dark is not easy. Just give ‘em a shake and hope for the best is my advice. Not all spiders are poisonous, of course, but some of them are BIG. Also, I have learned to live with cobwebs. They are a highly atmospheric addition to our décor.

…a cobweb… where it belongs, out in the bush, as opposed to in my house, where they often are…

6. Dirt tracks wash away in the rain. Our track now involves traversing small canyons. This will slow down any attempts to reach hospitals, shops, etc. (see previous points – various). Fixing our track will cost more dollars than we have to spare right now, although we are hoping to have a tractor soon that we will be able to do some running repairs with. However, we will still have to wait for the council to fill the potholes in the road, some of which are starting to rival the size of craters visible on the moon. Watching for potholes and wildlife at the same time makes for some high concentration driving. You need good brakes on your car.

7. Our car is always dirty. People often ask me why we don’t wash our car. Well, we do. You just can’t tell after I have driven down our track and the dirt road afterwards. Actually, I count this as a badge of honour, now.

...a badge of honour...

…a badge of honour…

8. Despite all the dirt on our car, there isn’t all that much in our garden, which makes growing things tricky. Our ‘bush’ has regenerated after many years of being a sheep farm. The soil is thin and littered with millions of pieces of shale.

9. To add to the soil issue, our growing season is very short. We experience both late and early frosts, with super hot, dry days in between. I am hoping to build a greenhouse one day, and have even more optimistic plans to dig out a quarry garden for my orchard and veggie patch (with the aforementioned tractor), with a rock wall facing north at the back to collect warmth, and a shade cloth that can be swung into action over the top to reduce heat (work that one out).

10. All these plans take time and money… and we often have one but not the other. Patience. It is a virtue. One, I remind myself daily, that I need to foster.

I could add more things that we are a long way from, such as the swimming pool where Will goes swimming each week and other sports venues, theatres, and nice restaurants… um, school… but these are all sacrifices that we are willing to make, because we are also a long way from noisy neighbours and noisier roads. And the social life was never all that important to us, anyway. The visitors we do get are the sort who are happy to take a drive in the country and spend a pleasant afternoon wandering around the bush or enjoying a barbecue in the back garden, rather than the party hard crowd, and family come to stay for a few days to soak up the atmosphere and recharge. And the neighbours we do have are like-minded folk who enjoy the quiet life, too. We all get on quite well, are always there, ready to offer a hand when needed, but don’t live in each others’ pockets.

I think it is all worth it.  Even the dirt track.  Or what is left of it.

track

…the track washing away down the hill…

Golden Wattle and Blue Skies

wattle in bloom

Wattle in bloom

The first sign of spring at SeventySevenAcres comes with the gentle buzz of bees, and blue, blue skies, as the wattle bursts into bloom, tree by tree.

There is something really special about stealing a couple of minutes in the middle of the afternoon to find a sheltered position in the sun on the lawn, to close your eyes and listen to the sound of the bees as they industriously buzz around the little pom pom flowers, and breathe in the heady, fresh-linen scent that fills the air from the glorious bright yellow blooms.

Don’t be fooled, though. Once the sun drops over the hills to the west, we know well and truly that it is still winter.

This winter has been particularly chilly, and we have burnt our way through all our reserves of firewood just to stay warm. This year saw several snowfalls at SeventySevenAcres, one deep enough to hang around for a couple of days (I know this is nothing in some parts of the world, but for us it was pretty exciting), but mostly we have had thick frosts and biting winds off the Australian Alps.

Many an afternoon has been spent wrapped up in front of the fireplace, with a good book and a warm cuppa, rather than braving the great outdoors.

Our veggie beds look like a mass of weeds, and will need quite some work before spring proper comes and we want to start planting out. I can see some very busy times ahead.

I’m also going to have to grow some resolve and get walking again. It has been too easy to decide it is too cold or too windy to go out regularly, so apart from some brief forays to collect kindling and admire how full the dam is at present, I haven’t really been out and about, and I can tell from how inflexible and unfit I feel!

Lyrebird by dam

a lyrebird beside the dam

A few good hikes up the mountain should fix that, but I’ve got to psyche myself into it first! And, of course, I’m so easily distracted by all the beautiful sights and sounds around the property. It doesn’t take much for me to stop and watch while some birds flit through the trees, or an echidna waddles by (like the one on the track this afternoon as I was driving home from work… sadly, by the time I had pulled my phone out to take a pic, he had waddled off into the bush and I didn’t feel inclined to chase him!)

Echidna

An echidna visiting our garden

Talking of our amazing wildlife, the wombat… sorry, The Wombat has taken up residence again in the wombat hole by the back gate. We are trying to give him lots of space at the moment so he doesn’t feel invaded, but have succumbed to leaving a few old carrots around near the entrance to let him know he is welcome. We will doubtless regret this later, but it is so exciting to feel that after, what, four years (!), he has finally decided we are acceptable-ish.

Of course, our girls (the ‘roo family) have been turning up regularly, but we are yet to see any sign of this year’s babies. That is always a moment of great delight, when we catch a glimpse of a tiny nose poking out of the pouch, or, amusingly, an awkwardly posed leg.

kangaroo and joey

One of our ‘girls’ last year with baby on board

The most common visitors at the moment, though, are the birds that regularly turn up for breakfast. Dusty, the Burrawang, will follow me from room to room, peering with curiosity through the windows, until I take out some left-overs from the night before’s dinner, and will rapidly be joined by an ever increasing array of feathered friends. The magpies are generally second in the queue, along with a family of crimson rosellas, and recently the kookaburra has been joining them on the grass, although the funniest thing I have seen of late was when he dived in and stole food right out of the beak of one of the magpies, without even pausing mid-flight!

We have had a little thrush (still to be properly identified) hopping around, too, along with the whole tribe of blue-wrens.

Later on the choughs and ravens arrive… quite a noisy bunch… and sometimes we’ll get a galah or two, or one of the big sulphur crested cockatoos.

I can never get enough of watching the antics through the kitchen window, and still wonder at our great fortune in being a part of this amazing place.

Don’t get me wrong, though, there are many things that interrupt this view of paradise… pumps that fail, our leaky house-water water tank that will need to be replaced soon, a driveway that is increasingly resembling a goat track, feral goats and pigs (and foxes), some expensive maintenance that is going to be quite tricky to get done… spiders, snakes and biting flies… and the ever present summer threat of bushfire.

All part of taking on a bush property.

But for now, I’ll take the promise of a pleasant afternoon scented with wattle, and the humming of the bees going about their business, with the sun on my face and a not-too-chilly breeze in my hair.

A beautiful moment in time.

wattle in flower

No quotes this time, but I did find a poem that included wattle… however, as it was about where a dying stockman wanted to be buried I decided against using it!

Let It Snow…

I snuggled under my down quilt last night, listening to the wind buffeting the house and snapping the shade cloth over the breeze-way like a spinnaker on a yacht.  Through the open curtains I could spy the trees whipping back and forth in a hazy, dark blue world, and I was glad of the cuddly warmth of my bed and the fireplace on the other side of the wall, making sure our bedroom was nice and cosy.

It was still dark when I struggled out of bed, but the view from the window had already been transformed into a magical winter scene, sparkling in the light thrown onto the snow covered garden from our room.

In that instant, I, too, was transformed.  Excitement thrilled through me, and I hurried through my chores so that I could wrap up warmly and head outside with my camera to capture some of the beauty of a snow swept morning at SeventySevenAcres.

Winter had arrived…

Snowy leaves and an open gate

Come for a walk with me, beyond the garden gate…

Snow covered trees beside the track

…to see snow covered trees beside the track…

Morning light tinges the snow on the Hill across the Valley a soft, rosy pink

…morning light tingeing the snow on the Hill across the Valley with a soft, rosy pink…

Snow on the little dam above the house

…snow on the little dam above the house….

across the Valley from the top of SeventySevenAcres

…one of my favourite views, across the Valley from the top of SeventySevenAcres…

The Hill seen from further down the track

….The Hill seen from further down the property…

Walking down the track towards the road

….as we walk down the track towards the road…

Down the Valley from the track... not quite so snowy

…to look at the view up the Valley from down near the road (not quite so snowy to the North)…

Walking back up the track, with sunlight just peeking over the mountain and through the trees

…then walking back up the track, with sunlight just peeking over the mountain and through the trees…

 the hardenburgia is buried under a blanket of snow

…to the side gate, where the hardenburgia is buried under a blanket of snow…

over the Valley

…to glance back over the Valley…

... and back to the house

… and then up to the house, where a warm fire is burning in the grate.

…coat of an elegant scoundrel…

My first encounter with foxes goes back to my very early years, visiting some friends of my father at their house in a small village somewhere down in the south-west of England. Who they were, or where the village was is lost to memory, and neither of my parents recall the incident, although I have very strong visual images of the house (red brick in a garden swathed in bushes), a walk up the hill behind the house (long grass, lightly treed), and the ‘nest’ with the cubs.

They were beautiful (as in the cubs, although I’m sure the friends were, too) and I fell in love, and to this day I cannot help but be beguiled by the beauty of the red fox, and how clever and agile they are, and every time I see one dead by the side of the road a deep sadness fills me, just the same as if I see a ‘roo or a wombat that has been hit by a car.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that foxes are a nuisance. I understand that they don’t belong in Australia. And please understand me, I don’t keep chooks for the sole reason that I don’t want to limit them to a small, fox-proof enclosure.

Because, around here, there are foxes.

It is quite possible that we don’t have a rabbit problem (touch wood) because of them.

Not that we see them very often, but there are signs that they are around. And a neighbour who keeps goats goes into overdrive when his breeding stock are kidding (just had to use that word) because of the trouble he has had in the past with the newborns apparently being taken by foxes.

In our early days here, too, we found an old rusty trap with a dead fox caught in it, much to my concern as I truly don’t approve of trapping, and I certainly didn’t want to find any more through the unpleasant expedient of stepping on one.

I know the neighbour has resorted to using poison baits, and I know he does it responsibly, with all the correct permits and so forth, and he always puts warnings in mail boxes. I used to worry about eagles scavenging on carcasses and getting poisoned, too, but I’m less concerned now since nothing much seems to scavenge on the foxes by the side of the road. Like wombats they seem to be there forever, slowly decomposing.

I know of someone else who tried humane traps, but the foxes were too smart, and he ended up waiting them out and shooting them, but that took a fair bit of patience and guile, too.

My reaction, though, when I glanced up while filling the kettle early the other morning to look right into the eyes of an old fella poking around the garden?

Camera.

Sadly, I couldn’t find the actual camera in time, so my phone captured a weirdly blurred image of something questionably a fox, mostly hidden by the reflection of the flash in the window. Artistic perhaps, but unconvincing.

Spot the fox... yes, he is there... try looking for two shining dots, his eyes, looking straight at me...

Spot the fox… yes, he is there… try looking for two shining dots, his eyes, looking straight at me…

By then he had wandered down to the compost bins, and my guess is he was hoping to find some rats or mice or something.

He was quite big, with a roan coat, mottled ginger and white, and a dark red brush, mostly white legs, and dark, intelligent eyes. He had seen me at the same time as I saw him, but, initially at least, didn’t react. It wasn’t until the phone’s flash went off that he showed any concern.

He didn’t wait around to find out if I had anything more in my arsenal than a flashing light, but disappeared up the cliff-face, as in directly up the cliff face (I mentioned their agility, didn’t I?), and off into the bush.

I’m not keen for him to come back, by any means, especially as I am weighing the pros and cons of getting myself a small herd of goats to help with weed clearing, but just seeing him reminded me of what amazing and beautiful creatures they are. And clever. I read once that it was possibly because they are so clever that people have an issue with them. We don’t like to be outsmarted!

Red foxes were introduced (on purpose) to Australia for sport hunting way back in the 1800s, and from there have spread right across the continent (except the far north) and are now pretty much prevalent in every state except for Tasmania, where, a couple of years ago, there was a massive hunt after one was spotted leaving a ship (Fantastic Mr Fox on holiday?). I don’t know whether that one was ever found, but wildlife authorities have now confirmed evidence of possible habitation and there is a huge program to try and prevent it getting out of hand. Originally, competition with tassie devils was thought to be the reason that they hadn’t naturalised there before, but the poor old devil is having its own issues at the moment.

Apart from being a nuisance to farmers and backyard hen-keepers, of course, foxes are a problem for small, native animals, which have not evolved to be wary of them. Their distribution can be seen to correlate with the decline of native species such as bettongs, bilbies, numbats, small wallabies, and quokkas.

Not good news.

While baiting and shooting remain the most widespread choice for management, research is being conducted on the reintroduction of native predators. Apparently, where dingoes have been reintroduced not only does the fox population decline, but native animal numbers start to recover. Its all about balance.

I like that idea.

The title quote, by the way, is from a poem by Margaret Atwood, which, in the way of Margaret Atwood, says it all:

Red Fox

The red fox crosses the ice
intent on none of my business.
It’s winter and slim pickings.

I stand in the bushy cemetery,
pretending to watch birds,
but really watching the fox
who could care less.
She pauses on the sheer glare
of the pond. She knows I’m there,
sniffs me in the wind at her shoulder.
If I had a gun or dog
or a raw heart, she’d smell it.
She didn’t get this smart for nothing.

She’s a lean vixen: I can see
the ribs, the sly
trickster’s eyes, filled with longing
and desperation, the skinny
feet, adept at lies.

Why encourage the notion
of virtuous poverty?

It’s only an excuse
for zero charity.
Hunger corrupts, and absolute hunger
corrupts absolutely,
or almost. Of course there are mothers,
squeezing their breasts
dry, pawning their bodies,
shedding teeth for their children,
or that’s our fond belief.
But remember – Hansel
and Gretel were dumped in the forest
because their parents were starving.
Sauve qui peut. To survive
we’d all turn thief

and rascal, or so says the fox,
with her coat of an elegant scoundrel,
her white knife of a smile,
who knows just where she’s going:

to steal something
that doesn’t belong to her –
some chicken, or one more chance,
or other life.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House

I shall be content with silence

I thought I would just share a few more autumn pictures from around seventysevenacres today, and forgo my usual long winded narrative.  Just walking around our acreage takes my breath away as I delight in the beauty of nature at my doorstep:

view from the top of the hill

the view NNW across the valley from the top of the property

evening light across the top 'paddock'

evening light seen through the trees in the top ‘paddock’, where regenerated bush has long taken over the land where sheep used to graze

bushfire sunset... hues deepened by smoke from a hazard reduction burn

bushfire sunset… hues deepened by smoke from a hazard reduction burn (about 30k away)… and, yes, it really was this colour!

an early moon

an early moon, shivering in a cool evening sky

beyond the gate

beyond the gate… another lovely sunset seen from the side gate above the main water tanks

a dash of colour

a dash of colour – dark red amongst our predominantly native evergreens

home sweet home, the house pergola swathed in colourful grapevines

The title quote, by the way, can be attributed to Ansel Adams (to whose lofty heights of photographic talent I could never hope to aspire):

“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”

…summer’s lease hath all too short a date

Morning mist over the Valley

Morning mist over the Valley

 

Ah… summer’s end.

Okay. Not really. In fact, February has the reputation of being the hottest month around here. After the kids go back to school. So, in reality, we’re still looking at another month, or maybe two, with the potential to really heat up.

Not that this has been a hot summer, so far. Despite a couple of days back in November that were real scorchers, promises of things to come, it’s actually been quite mild.

 

We’ve celebrated a pleasantly warm and sunny Australia Day today, here at Seventy Seven Acres, but the clouds have rolled in on a cold breeze and there are hints of rain on the air again.

Such has been summer so far.

For me, however, this is it.

I’m back into work tomorrow, driving into school for the first day of a week of preparation and professional development before the students arrive next Tuesday.

It’s come as a bit of a shock. The weeks have flown by, as I’ve struggled against the weeds, got back into the swing of a regular walking habit (often in the rain), realigned my eating after a decadent Christmas, caught up on masses of reading for pleasure (and self development), and spent some time working on a couple of writing projects.

Ready to rock (almost)

Ready to rock (almost)

Last week I took a couple of days to sort out my school stuff and do a bit of a clean out, then did some serious reading, and here I am, (almost) ready to rock.

I’m looking forward to catching up with my colleagues and getting ready to welcome the children, and, as ever, I feel so privileged to be a teacher, but, somehow, this year it feels harder than ever to make the transition back from our bush paradise to the day job in the city.

I know that as I drive away tomorrow, waving goodbye to Matt and Will, there’ll be a twinge of regret to be leaving the gentle paced days that I’ve enjoyed since school broke up in December.

It’s been a pretty special summer break, with lots of visitors, from our regular ‘roo family to a sighting of a very laid back monitor that we are pretty certain has put paid to our mouse population, a leveret (baby hare) that played possum long enough for me to get a picture on my phone, an Australian shell duck that has taken up semi-permanent residence in our garden (but moves too quickly to get a decent picture of), and the maddening common koel who has at least not been as manic this year! Oh, and lots of beetles. Lots.

Beatrice and Hermione

Beatrice and Hermione

Not yet full grown...

Not yet full grown…

 

 

 

 

 

 

...a somewhat nervous visitor

…a somewhat nervous visitor

It’s still remarkably green and lush in the Valley (all our veggies bolted and the weeds have had a ball) and the air is redolent with the scent of eucalypt and damp earth. I’ll be sad to drive away.

It has been a peaceful and pleasant summer, and hath all too short a date indeed.

 

 

 

 

The title quote this time is from Shakespeare’s well known Sonnet 18:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.