Showing posts from 2009

A Christmas Story (of sorts)

Thursday was the last day of work. An early closure, coffee late in the morning, then home. Catch the train and start the final preparations for the big day. The train platform was almost empty. A train for the line I did not want had just departed, taking most of the passengers with it. Just a few people waiting for the Belgrave train, me included. I sat on a bench, thought about listening to some music, but did not. I just thought. It has, by almost any standards, been a big year for me. I noticed the old lady walking through the ticket barrier. Frail, but not broken, old but not yet without independence. She sat next to me, slightly closer than I would have expected, but I such is life. You can’t travel on public transport without pulling your personal space tight around you. But this did seem a little strange. Plenty of space, but she choose to sit close. Almost at once she started talking – “I’m only going one stop” she said “I have run short of my tablets”. “I used to walk” she s

A Growing Community.

I met somebody a few days ago who claimed he had never grown anything. He was referring to plants specifically, rather than a beard or a deep dissatisfaction with government action on climate change. Specifically, he claimed never to have grown a plant. I have to ask; what the hell did he do at school? Did he not have Mr. Freeman (who had already grown a beard) and the long succession of cuttings and graftings that thrived in the greenhouse, but did less well in the dark confines of a school locker? Did he not germinate seeds with Mr. Rix (who only eat plants and noting else) in Biology? Did he not grow flowers in the back garden to keep his mum happy? Listen to Percy Thrower on the BBC? Have pot plants at college – that’s plants in pots if you were wondering! Keep carnivorous plants as a marker of teenage angst? He may, of course, have lived in a high rise flat, with concrete views and grey vistas, with corporation gardens stripped of all but the most robust plants, where growing pla

Garden Variety Birds.

Much can be learned from a single phrase. When a person says “Did you see the report in the paper?” it is clear they assume you know which paper they mean. They mean their paper, the paper they read. And if they ask you about “the paper” they assume you read the same one they do. In this way much can be learned. Much can also be hidden in a single phrase. Many truths can be obscured, many understandings prevented. “Garden Variety” is such a phrase. It means ordinary, humdrum, unremarkable. We get birds in the garden – this in itself is unremarkable – so we get a variety of garden birds. But are they always Garden Variety birds? I think not. To view our garden birds as ordinary, humdrum and unremarkable is to miss the point. It cloaks those birds in a veil, a veil that needs to be lifted. Many garden birds are common in the extreme, they may seen banal because of familiarity. They are never noticed because they are always seen. They are the garden constants. Some birds are noticed beca

Things with Legs and Wings

“In JUNE Kipper lay on his back and watched as little things with legs and wings climbed the spindly grass and whizzed into the big, blue sky. “There are a lot more things with legs and wings than you would think”, thought Kipper.” That is from a wonderful book called “One Year with Kipper” by Mick Inkpen. If you are reading this and you have preschool children you should track it down and read it to them. People look for wisdom in all kids of places. Books especially. It gives the world a nice kind of symmetry that you can find truth in books of that make no claims to fact. Truth presented in a simple way does not have to be simplistic. Books like Kipper offset all the instances where others make sweeping claims to fact without any basis in truth. But a simple observation in a children’s book pointed me towards a certain set of thoughts. Coincidences abound. On the day after I read the Kipper book I saw a butterfly in the window of a clothes shop. It was early in the morning, a clear

Danger Up-Date.

There may be danger on the edge of town but dangers can be avoided, and threats averted. I first started watching this nest on the 19th of last month. Today (5th December) the chicks were sat on the edge of the edge of the nest summoning the courage to dive into the wild blue yonder. Balanced between security and fear. Instinct pulling in both directions, finally tipping the birds over, though fear and into the world. Less than 10 minutes after this picture they took off – not so much flying as plummeting – not flying, just falling with style! I suppose it gets worse from here. They are neither functional flyers nor competent runners; they may not make it through the night. Only time will tell.

Not All That Glitters is Gulls!

Loafing about at the water’s edge is a summer time ritual. Sand, sea air, the fear of sunburn and the cancer that is its bed-fellow. These are all part of a beach holiday. Waters edge loafing, cricket on the radio and over salted fish and chips form the holy trinity of the summer holiday. They restore fathers, sons and everyone’s spirits in a way nothing else does . A tonic in an age of stress. But sharing the water’s edge with you are birds that are normally over looked or mistaken for gulls or even worse, mistaken for seagulls! These fellow loafers are not gulls, far from it. In the flurry of beaks and legs and wings and squabbles that gulls bring, this is a forgivable oversight. But if you look you can often find something a little different, a little less predictable. Beyond the treasures that the tide can bring, cast offs, lost goods, mystery made real by the turning of the tide, you can find something that most people don’t see. That most people don’t notice. And you don’t alway

There's danger on the edge of town

The suburbs are supposed to be safe. Each little house, filled with the perfect family, manicured gardens. Lawns lathered and shaved each Sunday, perfection imposed on a chaotic world. A little patch of order. Then the person next door turns out to be a mass murderer, strange midnight, torch light, diggings in the garden, a garage locked and bolted, a car parked outside it. “He seemed such a normal bloke” “He always said hello to me, most polite” “His roses were a credit to the neighbourhood”. But it’s not just the human world that is driven into a homicidal frenzy by suburbs; nature embraces the serial killer as well. Although in nature you have the saving grace of instinct rather than psychosis. Animal rather than antisocial. Real need rather than some other, darker, less palatable warp of reality. There are predators in the garden and they have young to feed. Gaping beaks, hungry mouths, empty stomachs. The evolutionary imperative, breed, survive, pass on those genes. The small fry

Suburban Safari

If you take a walk in a wood you see different plants and animals to when you are by the sea. Its common sense really. Unsurprisingly, sharks don’t do well in leaf- litter; it blocks up the gills slits. Nasty really, especially for the shark. Different habits have different features, so you get different wildlife. No surprise in this either. But the differences between the suburbs that surround my house do surprise. They seem to form different habitats, and often seen to hold different things to see. Not all that you see could be classed as wildlife mind you, but the point is still valid. Over the last week I have happened to have walked through three Melbourne suburbs at more or less the same time of day. Mont Albert, where I live, East Melbourne and Richmond. (That’s Richmond, Victoria, not Richmond, Virginia nor Richmond, North Yorkshire, just so we are clear about things!) I may as well have been walking through three different biomes, even though they are all within about 20 minut

There and back (memories)

Monday, train there, walk back. Bag packed and ready, call goodbye and see you later. Opening the door to cool, damp bird song is one of the best ways to start the day. Leaving behind breakfast banter and bad puns, porridge, toast, tea, daily paper. The morning is wet from overnight rain and the path still damp enough for snails. A slipping morning, a gliding morning. The wreckage from last night’s footsteps litters the pavement, the horrid crunch squelch as leather meets mollusc and the mollusc looses. Ants scavenge in the aftermath, valuable to them, moving it along the food chains; the evidence will be gone on my return. The bird song is the familiar mix of the native and the introduced. Blackbirds, Myna Birds, Britain and India in Australia. Wattle birds, real Australians, flash from bush to bush in search of nectar, driving off other males, fighting with anything that moves. Most savage on their own kind, but hardly less so with others. But the Blackbirds dominate and as I walk th

A weekend away - the other side of the hill.

On Sunday we drove away from our island cottage back towards the town. From gravel roads to tarmac, from rural peace to a shopping strip. Cafes with coffee. Shops with tarot readings, crystal healing and “Native American Books” (whatever they are). The coffee appealed, the quackery did not. If I want quackery it needs to come with a sense of fun. So I went to the river to watch the ducks. Much better. Very calming. The world is improved by ducks. Leaving town took us up through thick eucalypt woodlands dense with undergrowth and scattered with houses, some charming, some surprising, some ugly. More islands surrounded by bush. The bush here is not untouched by any means. Logged over many years, but not destroyed, it retains most of its charm and much of its wildlife. A road side tree stump was evidence of former industry. The postbox slot cut into its base allowed a plank to by inserted, and on this a saw-man stood high above the trees flared buttresses. Bypassing the natural support, t