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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

…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.

…One White Cockatoo

The poem, White Cockatoo, by Banjo Paterson starts

Now the autumn maize is growing,
Now the corn-cob fills,
Where the Little River flowing
Winds among the hills.
Over mountain peaks outlying
Clear against the blue
Comes a scout in silence flying,
One white cockatoo…

Of course, one white cockatoo is joined by clouds of cockatoos, descending like snow upon the ripening corn-cobs, and I guess that’s it for the crop…

Common across all of eastern Australia, these noisy birds can form huge flocks, resting in regular roosts close to water during the heat of the day and generally heading out to open country to feed either earlier in the morning or later on, when it is a little cooler.

Luckily, the pair of Sulphur Crested Cockatoos that stopped by my garden recently didn’t presage the arrival of a huge flock, but they did provide a few moments of pleasing entertainment.

ImageContrary to the way it may seem, I have a bit of a soft spot for these raucous natives.  They are the clever clowns of the garden and are not immune from playing practical jokes.  We had a large old pine tree in the garden of our house in suburbia where a small family of cockatoos used to congregate to break open the pine cones and eat the nuts.

No worries there.

Not so sure about the pine cones they used to drop on unwary gardeners and small children.

No.  I’m not kidding.  They used to wait until someone was passing underneath and then, basically, throw a pine cone at them.  And laugh.  True.

Or they would fly a low pass overhead and screech at the top of their voices from just behind their chosen victim.  Believe me, they are loud.  Does wonders for getting the heart pumping.

Whilst I had no objection to them eating the pine nuts, I was a little less pleased when they got stuck into our almonds.  There was no keeping them out either.  They generally found a way into or under any netting we put over our young trees, and looked at us with scorn if we tried to chase them off.  They just laughed at the dog, who would stand at the base of the tree, barking, knowing full well that there was nothing that she could do!

Of all the birds, I think that the cockatoo has the most developed sense of humour.

When we moved up from Melbourne some years ago, our new neighbours had a pet cockatoo that lived on a perch on their front verandah.  Our cat was a keen birder, despite our best efforts, multiple bells and water spray therapy.  She took one look at Cocky and you could see her eyes light up.  Heaven.  On a stick.

I was chatting with our neighbour, Anne, at the time and spotted her (the cat, not the neighbour) stalking across the garden.  With huge apologies, I went to prevent what I thought would be a disastrous introduction only to be stopped in my tracks.

“No, watch this,” Anne said, grinning.

A little reluctantly, I watched.

My feline friend continued her soundless approach, while the ‘unsuspecting’ cockatoo completely failed to notice.  I nervously explained that our cat was a very efficient hunter.

“Trust me,” Anne countered.

Cocky was by now preening his feathers peacefully while the Great Hunter bunched up her muscles, poised for the pounce.

And pounce she did.

I swear she was already in flight when Cocky suddenly exploded in size, fluffing up his feathers, extending his wings and opening out his beautiful yellow crest, giving an ear piercing, blood-curdling screech.

The Great Hunter turned in mid-air (against all the laws of physics) and disappeared under our deck, from whence she refused to return until Cocky went to bed.

Cocky bounced up and down on his perch, while Anne explained that this was his normal way of greeting any visiting cats.

I would like to say that our cat was cured of her hunting tendencies as a result of that event, and, indeed, it did cramp her style for quite a while (nor did she ever approach Cocky again), but we still had to perform the occasional rescue over the last few years of her life.

Meanwhile, Cocky’s favourite idea of a joke was to call out to passer’s by, usually inviting them to go to the pub with him, in a voice so realistic that people unfamiliar with him would be looking around for their erstwhile new friend.

Cocky was one of many pet birds around Canberra that were released as the 2003 fires raged through the suburbs.  By then we lived elsewhere (and our Great Hunter had passed on to the Great Hunting Ground in the Sky), but I often fancied that Cocky came to visit us, nonetheless, perhaps throwing pine cones at us from the tree in our backyard.  Perhaps he was the ‘scout’ that led all the others in their mischief…Image

The visitors to our garden the other day were, by comparison, quite benign.  Although they did spend some time investigating our weather station.  And I’m not saying that they wouldn’t have attacked our fruit trees if the wallaby had left them anything to attack.

Still, I’m happy for them to be occasional guests, stopping by once in a while… just, please, not in clouds, descending like snow.

 

 

 

Post Script: Also, just in case you were wondering, here’s a settler’s recipe for cockatoo stew:

Take one cockatoo and pop it in a billy of boiling water with a rock and a handful of root vegetables.  Boil until rock is tender then throw away the cockatoo!

I gather they are a bit on the tough side.  Never felt the urge to find out, personally, but there you go.

Post Post Script: the collective noun for these comedic birds is recorded, variously, as a chattering, clattering, cluttering, crackle, or cacophony of cockatoos.  My vote is for the cacophony.

Post Post Post Script: if you are keen to encourage these delightful birds into your garden by feeding them, I’m given to understand that they are partial to all kinds of seeds, nuts and fruit.  They are also partial to eating any wood that your house or garden structures may be made from, bird netting or shade cloth, and the occasional TV aerial.

 

 

King of the Bush is He…

A pair of kookaburras has recently taken to visiting our garden and the immediate surrounds.  While they are certainly not the only ones around – there are several ‘tribes’ that we hear calling regularly, from different parts of the property – this particular pair are definitely feeling quite at home in our presence.  The one in the photo is watching while Matt is clearing the slope down to the lower dam  (getting rid of the long poa grass and spiky acacia bushes) in preparation for summer, and is not at all worried by the noise of the brush-cutter or the mulcher.Image

Kookaburras are a kind of kingfisher and are quite large in size, up to about 40cms in length.  They are carnivorous birds, mostly living on insects, worms and small crustaceans.  They certainly like the yabbies in our dams.  We often find their leftovers – a bit of claw – here and there around the place. 

I’m told that kookaburras are also partial to frogs, small mammals and birds, and young snakes.  I found a small – somewhat dead –  brown snake, minus its head, outside our bedroom window one day last year, and can only surmise that one of the kookaburras dropped it while flying over!

I’m wondering if this one is on the lookout for a something to eat – he (or she – I’m not sure how to tell) may well be hoping to score a quick treat running (or slithering) away as Matt works his way down towards the water.  Or perhaps he is just curious.  Some of the things we people get up to must be quite incomprehensible to the wildlife we share our home with.

I’m guessing this must be a young pair, just setting up home.  They seem to be on their own, anyway, and not part of one of the other tribes. Apparently, kookaburras mate for life, and the young from previous years’ matings help with parenting duties until they make their own way out into the world, so perhaps these two are enjoying their first season together and will be building up a family over the next few years.

I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for them.

They are a beautiful (and cheerful) addition to the list of visitors whose company we enjoy.

 

 

Waiting for the Weekend

For Will and me, winter during the week is an indoors sort of time. We are generally up before the sun and getting ready to drive into school, and arriving home as the last rays of light disappear over the mountains to the west. On the drive back out of town, we often see the last of the sunlight, watery and pale, washing two large peaks just beyond Seventy Seven Acres with a golden orange glow. Sometimes we arrive home in the grey twilight, sometimes in the pitch dark. Occasionally, very occasionally, we might get home before the light fades… but this is a rare treat.

Once home, there is little to do outside other than fetch in some extra wood for the fire or take kitchen scraps out to the compost. Will might run around with a torch for a while, but it doesn’t take long before he heads indoors to the fireside to catch up with what Matt has been up to during the day.

Weekends are different.

A small winter flowering shrub... possibly a heath of some sort.

A small winter flowering shrub… possibly a heath of some sort.

 

We join Matt on his never ending quest to find good wood to burn, or wander round the bush enjoying the winter wildflowers or looking for signs of the animals that share our little piece of heaven.

 

 

 

Today we have blue skies after a windswept night, with heavy rain-filled clouds to the south of us, blowing away towards the coast. Matt and Will have gone abseiling, and I’m just stealing a few moments to catch up on a bit of writing before I grab my coat and go for walk.

The other birds had long gone  by the time  I was outside, but this kookaburra was waiting in the tree on the lookout for something tasty...

The other birds had long gone by the time I was outside, but this kookaburra was waiting in the tree on the lookout for something tasty…

Outside my study window I can see some beautiful scarlet robins, two young males resplendent in their bright colours, chasing each other around. It all looks rather playful, but I’m guessing that there is quite a lot at stake for these two in the mating game. A small flock of finches is flitting in and out, too, and my friendly burrawang is picking his way through some scraps I put out earlier.

 

 

Beatrice with her new little one... still to be named.

Beatrice with her new little one… still to be named.

There’s no sign of Beatrice and Eugenie today, but I did get my first peek at Bea’s new youngster through the kitchen window earlier in the week when she popped her nose out of the pouch for a few minutes before deciding the wind was too cold. I also had a pair of juvenile visitors – I’m suspecting it might have been Cerise with a younger sister, but no sign of Annie, so I couldn’t be sure. They were a bit nervous, though, and they hopped away when I went out to try and get a closer look.

Anyway, time to pick up my coat and go and enjoy some sun on my face and the breeze in my hair… who knows what I might see today?

 

Winter Warmth…

…comes in many forms.  Sleep-warmed, fluffy bedclothes in the early hours of the morning.  Cuddly woollen jumpers and quilted coats.  A roaring log fire.  And, just occasionally, balmy afternoons bathed in crisp winter sunlight.Image

Today was a sunny winter’s day, just perfect for a walk around the bush and collecting kindling for the roaring log fire.  We were down below the lower dam, tidying up some dead trees and filling the landrover’s tray with all the small branches and twigs that had been left behind after Matt took out a couple of long departed black wattles and a brittle gum a couple of weeks ago.

We were taking it pretty easy… enjoying the sunshine through the trees and allowing ourselves to be distracted by signs of wildlife in the area or birds of various varieties flitting through the branches. 

“What’s that one?” I’d ask, and we’d start discussing the possibilities.  I’m not sure we reached any certain consensus, but there was this little brown one, then there was a slightly larger brown one with a fan tail. 

Next time I’m taking my field guide in my pocket.

Anyway, birds aside, we filled the tray pretty quickly and went for a wander further down the hill to see what else might need to be tidied up next time we had a nice day.  I think we were still being easily distracted.  We did find some more wood to collect, but we found a few other things, too.

We found some wombat scats, carefully placed on top of an old fallen tree, and I wondered if they belonged to the dark haired young wombat that had been meandering up the track the other day when I arrived home so late, but we decided that, no, these were too big for a young wombat and they probably belonged to the old, cranky fellow that is slowly spiralling in on us.

We know he is there.  He was a rescue wombat that was released on the property years ago and used to be quite friendly with the previous owners.  But we aren’t his family, so he moved out and on. Signs are, though, that he has been slowly moving back over the time we have been here.  We never see him, but he leaves his cube shaped calling cards on rocks and logs all over the place (wombats do this, I don’t know if there is anybody who can tell you why, but it is a well known wombat trait) in an ever decreasing circle around the house.  This is the closest to the house that we have found evidence of his nightly traverses, yet.  It is quite exciting.  Maybe he’s forgiving us for moving in on his territory and we’ll start to catch glimpses of him soon?  Or maybe he is just creeping up on us, ready to wreak wombat revenge…

Hmm.

We found a hollow tree with a perfect hole for a parrot or an owl.  (We have several types of owl that come visiting, catching moths attracted by the house lights –  no success with taking pictures yet, though).

We found some little plants with winter flowers (need to find out what they are, too… I’ll be carting a library round with me soon!)

We found a lovely open clearing with a beautiful view down into the Valley. The shadows were starting to lengthen out by now, but this little clearing was a haven of golden sunshine. 

Needless to say, not only had I left my library on the shelves in the house, but I had come out without my camera (or my phone – it takes pretty good pictures, if only I’d had that in my pocket).  The picture above is from the back garden after we got back to the house.

Ah, well.

The daylight is gone now, we are back inside, and the fire is lit for the evening.  I can hear it crackling in the grate…

…must be just about time for a nice warming cuppa.

Winter warmth comes in many forms.

 

 

On droughts and flooding rains…

If you are Australian, or at least a resident of this beautiful country, you have doubtless noticed that there are a lot of songs and poems all along the same theme of ‘dusty’, ‘red soil’, ‘droughts’ and ‘flooding rains’. You will have heard a lot of them over the last few days, as Australians everywhere took time off work to celebrate what is, despite these aspects remembered in verse, a truly beautiful country. Even if you aren’t Australian, then you might have noticed and wondered just exactly what this whole preoccupation is about.

 

... soft rain falling on the dam and bringing out the amazing colours on the bark of the eucalypt growing on the bank

… soft rain falling on the dam and bringing out the amazing colours on the bark of the eucalypt growing on the bank

Now, over the course of this Australia Day long weekend, we have enjoyed pleasant rain, on and off, just hard enough to be filling our depleted dams and water tanks gradually, and just soft enough to enjoy a pleasant walk around the bush. We’ve managed to fit in a small amount of gardening, and Matt has been doing some gentle maintenance on the tanks to ensure that as much of the rain as possible makes its way through the filters. All in all, a lovely, restful weekend – with some of the pressure off watching the fire conditions in our local area…

but, we have friends in Victoria who are on high alert as hot conditions and strong winds are fanning fires that started not far from where they live during the course of last week, while other friends are weathering the storms in Queensland and Northern New South Wales, with torrential rain – yes, flooding rains – and damaging winds.

For our friends, so far, so good, but it does seem like Australia is truly living up to her reputation right now. No time off for them to celebrate.

This is a land of extremes, and recent years have been a real testament to how powerful a force nature is in the psyche and lives of those who are born or choose to live here.  We are courting a tempestuous and demanding lover.

For us, the summer has been hot and dry, following early rains and strong summer growth, creating sizeable ‘fuel loads’ in The Valley. The fields slowly changed from vivid green to shining gold, under an unfalteringly blue sky.  Beautiful, but…

I can’t get over how quickly our garden seems to have ‘greened up’ again. Only a week and a half ago, I was quietly lamenting that I had no flowers to brighten the house when my friends came to visit. Now, all our roses are putting on a fine show.

It won’t be long until nearby Canberra will be putting on her Autumn mantle and the suburbs will be clothed in hues of red and gold (if you chance to visit, go up to Red Hill or Mt Ainslie and look across towards the city from one of the lookouts) and the days will be less harsh.

One or two of our garden trees will gradually change before shedding their leaves, but our bush will mostly be clothed in soft mists, curling around the greys and greens of the eucalypts and damping the darkness of the black wattles.

Before that, the weatherman tells us, things will warm up again and we can’t afford to lower our defences yet. We still have to be vigilant. We still have a lot of work to do, tidying up the bush directly around the garden.

As for our friends, north and south, they have a lot more work to do right now, and there are a lot of Australians starting the year suffering the shock of losing loved ones, homes and livelihoods in the wake of fires and storms.

I do love a sunburnt country… but not so much the droughts and flooding rains. A little restraint might be  nice.