Monday, November 19, 2018

Burning time


This week the Parks and Wildlife have been burning the Inlet block near my place.


 

Monday, November 12, 2018

In the Forest Dark


Two men.
One of the men is pale, tired and developing a sty in the corner of his right eye. He is a lawyer and last night, after he arrived on a plane from Madrid, he hired a car in the city and drove through the night to the inlet where he was joining others for an artist’s retreat.

One of the men is tall and silent. He wears a hunting vest, so his business here may well be hunting, and he has a long grey moustache that guards both his words and his smile. He drove to the inlet with his brother last night and they went straight to the fishermen’s shack.

The lawyer travelled through little highway hamlets and stopped at an orchard town to refuel, one hundred kilometres from the inlet. After that the road thinned and was lined with tall columns of karri trees, too close to the road. The bitumen’s edges crumbled. It began to rain. He slowed. Kangaroos, caught in the glare of his headlights, watched him from the gravel verge. Behind him, a driver shone their lights full beam into the lawyer’s little car and the road, so narrow and winding with deep valleys, made it impossible for this nuisance to get past him.

The lawyer squinted through the rain at the road sign coming up. The American voice on his phone, guiding him through the night, had long since dropped out of range. Her words became caught in static and then, nothing. He slowed down to better read the wet sign in the headlights and the car behind him slowed too. The inlet. He put on his right indicator and swung onto the gravel. A sign pocked with bullet holes said ‘Rough Road’. The car behind him turned in too.

This car trailing him in the night alarmed the lawyer. His mind was besieged by the movies and news reports he’d seen about the Australian outback. A single man, usually. Sometimes it was a couple working together. The track was rutted with sharp corrugations, giving way to an occasional pot hole that glared with water in the man’s headlights. Every time he braked at a pot hole and tried to drive around it, the car behind him crept closer. Finally, the car passed him on the track, like the vehicle itself was fed up, it’s high beams flaring into the forest. This is where we leave the lawyer, because in a little while he arrived at the house where the retreat was being held. A woman stood in the forest dark by the driveway, her lantern glowing a mop of curly hair. 'We thought you must be lost,' she said to him.

Later, the hunter and his brother rolled out their swags in the back of the car. Light glowed through the plastic windows of the hut. They‘d carried a case of beer and some meat to the door of the shack and knocked, opening the door themselves. Inside, it was smoky and warm. T-shirts, waders and hoodies hung pegged to a rope above the fire and a row of whiskey bottles beside them on a shelf. Bluey sat near the fire, rolling a cigarette. Polly, his deckie, cooked something on a camp stove, sipping at a plastic mug that the hunter knew was Polly’s moonshine. Polly poured him some from an old Fanta bottle, added a handful of ice. It lay rough and warm in the hunter’s throat. His brother talked, he never stopped, in his twitchy, rambling way.

At around midnight, the fishermen retired to their swags on wire beds. The hunter’s brother shut his chunky black dog into the front of the car and climbed into the back. The hunter walked down the track and into the karri hazel a little way to have a piss. The moon was going down and the night would soon be black as pitch. Too late, the hunter knew he should have brought a torch.

He walked down to the shore and then decided to turn back into the bush. Take a shortcut through to the hut. It made sense, he thought, cutting through the bush to get back to the hut. But the massive marris seemed conspired against him. As the moon set the trees began their murmur to him.
Best you leave now.  Best you leave.
By then he was staggering through a forest unknown to him. He knew he was lost and that the moon had gone down. There was no known navigation under this canopy. He couldn’t see any stars. He stumbled into a hole, or a gap in the undergrowth. Lying in the clutch of dead branches, he smelled a karri hazel flowers and realised he was back in the karri forest, a grey gloom of moulted bark stolid in front of him. Soft leaves brushed his face as he climbed to his feet. The leaves lightly touched his right eyelid and he swatted them away and soon the skin on his right palm and eye began to burn. Blister bush. He felt his eye close up with tears against the attack.

The woman returned from work the next afternoon and saw Bluey parked on the track, stabbing at his mobile phone. The back of his truck was loaded with blue and green plastic iceboxes and looking at the saggy back tyres, she thought he seemed to have a decent catch in there. She stopped and wound down her window. ‘Checking out market prices?’
‘Nah,’ said Bluey. His whole beard seemed to move with his words. ‘Cops are coming. Bazza’s gone missing.’

It started raining again just as she arrived home. She hadn’t eaten lunch, so she put an apple into the pocket of her raincoat, pulled on her bush boots and went to look for Bluey’s mate. She started at their hut, passed a white four-wheel drive and followed the track that she knew culminated in Bluey and Polly’s toilet, a plastic seat strapped to a milkcrate sitting under a bloodwood tree. Maybe the man had taken a wrong turn, ended up in the bush. ‘There’re not many options,’ Bluey had told her. ‘Snakebite, broken ankle,’ he grimaced, ‘heart attack’. Bluey had a heart attack in the hut the year before. ‘We even thought maybe he’d had jack of us and you’d given him a lift into town this morning.’

She heard thumping and crashing in the leafy hazel. A kangaroo crashes about like that, trying to get away, but the noise was coming towards her through the bush. A glossy black dog burst out of the emerald green and jumped up at her, his paws scratching on her raincoat pockets. ‘Go on then,’ she said to the dog while he gambolled around her, ‘show me where he is.’ She expected too much of the dog. She could see this hound was no Lassi and wouldn’t be saving lives or sniffing out missing men any time soon. In fact, the dog seemed like an untrained, overexcited unit as it jumped up at her again. A man shouted and the dog raced away.

Back out at the track stood a wild-faced man with panicky eyes and she guessed that this was the missing man’s brother. ‘Are you looking for your brother?’ She said. ‘I’ve just talked to Bluey.’
‘Yep.’ He cuffed the black dog.
‘What’s his name?’
‘Bazza.’
‘And what’s he wearing?’
The brother leaned against the car. He looked exhausted. ‘Oh fuck, I dunno.’ He looked beyond her, towards the inlet. His eyes widened. ‘What that bloke is wearing I reckon.’
She turned around. A man walked towards them. He looked like he’d been punched in the face and his hands were covered in blood. ‘Is that Bazza?’
‘Yep.’
She was confused. The black dog ran to the man and launched at him. She turned back to the brother. ‘Is this happening in real time?’
The dog licked Bazza’s fingers. ‘You don’t look too good, mate,’ she said to the man.
‘Got lost, that’s all,’ he mumbled. ‘Stuck in the blister bush.’

‘For fuck’s sake. Get in the car Bazza, the cops are coming and the S.E.S, they’re all coming out to look for ya. Bluey doesn’t want cops out here. Get in the car. We gotta call them up. No range here. Let’s go.’ The brother bundled a mumbling Bazza into the car and started the motor. He was about to drive away when he remembered the dog. ‘Get in!’ He shouted at the dog and it jumped across his lap into the back seat, and then they drove off through the muddy forest.

On her way home, she met a pale man carrying a notebook and pen. He was the same man she'd met at the gateway last night, she thought. His right eye ran with tears, the lower lid swollen and red, but he smiled merrily at her. ‘Greetings! Do you know if they found that man yet?’





Saturday, November 10, 2018

Day Off


I woke to the house shaking, dishes rattling on the sink, a low rumbling beneath me, all around me. The dog came to my bedside, her tail swaying doubtfully. She was not afraid. Rather, she seemed to be checking with me if she should be afraid. The sound was like a truck laden with rocks on a gravel track, just like last time but this morning the vibrations were more intense and lasted longer. There’s been a bit of earthquake activity going on lately. Its epicentre is sixty kilometres to the north and seven kilometres below the ground. Usually the quakes are light enough to be an interesting, surreal event, not alarming. Exciting but not too exciting, if you know what I mean. In town, after the last one, people reported experiencing the tremors at different times, or not at all, and I can imagine the earth cracking the fissures and seams, heaving like a great beast through subterranean pathways. I checked the clock. It was six am. I turned over, the dog left my bedside, and we both went back to sleep.

In the early morning birdsong dozing, I dreamed the image of a woman with barbed wire wrapped all around her naked body. I woke with the picture still printed onto my mind and realised it was something that Stormboy had drawn. I’d sucked in a quick breath the day I looked at the picture, right before he handed it to his grandma. She’d asked if he had any artwork she could have for the grandkiddies’ archive and he gave her this picture.
‘Oh!’ Said Mum, examining the nude, who had barbed wire strapped between her hairless crotch and across her breasts, around her neck, traversing her thighs. ‘Is this for me?’
‘It’s about Mother Earth,’ I explained to Mum, reading out loud the lines from a Doors song that Stormboy had written below the image. The woman is way too sexy and the implications sadomasochistic, but The Doors’ lyrics gave the picture context, or at least a vague permission to be something other than torture p*rn. The other picture he gave his gran was his self-portrait: a grinning skull with his beanie and dreadlocks. There was no challenge in his gifts. Stormboy is rightly proud of his drawings.

I was musing about all this as I got up and put the coffee pot on the stove. It was going to be a warm day. We are in the magic hour of the year when the forests are partying with colourful wildflowers and insects, and constant smoke from the fires turn the light magenta through the trees. In the office where I worked a few days ago, they told me they’d be burning out my way. Back from the huts, they said, across the plains and into the karris. They were just waiting for the sou-easterly, supposedly coming in on Friday. But today is Friday and the wind feels a bit too north for burning.

Coffee and a couch facing the inlet, reading the London Review of Books. The dog wants to go for a walk but I’m reading about Count Dracula, Bram Stoker and Trump. I’m reading about AIDS in the early 80s and ancient Chinese imperialistic endeavours. Two robin red breasts buzz around the veranda, high and low, checking the cobwebs and leaf litter for bugs. I feel bloated, listless, on this couch, like a student using her brain but not her body during exam season. A kookaburra is hunting nearby. It sits on the tin roof of the shed and occasionally I hear a rustle in the bracken as it dives on a lizard or a small snake. Lots of thumping as the killing goes on down below. I throw down the paper and whistle up the dog.

We walk the inlet track and there are no fire trucks or crew, as I’d suspected. I held up a wet finger to the wind and it registered north west. No good for burning today, unless their burn would take out my place as well. I’m learning to trust their judgement. The slipper orchids are flowering, sexy red sheaths rising in delicate spikes from fat, slipper shaped leaves. ‘The slipper orchids are out. It must be your birthday,’ I think to my Scorpio friends. I didn’t say it out loud. There have been no people out here for days. I haven’t seen nor spoken to another soul except my dog and the odd bird for forty-eight hours now.

Along the track, yellow and blue tape is tied to trees. Parks and Wildlife are getting ready to burn. Yellow indicates a fire hazard, a dead tree that could turn into a chimney or fall onto the track during the burn. Blue is for ‘mop up’, or ‘put out any smokes past this point’. The peppermint trees are in full bloom. In another week or so, their petals will coat the ground like snow. The dog sniffed at a stump in the gutter and slowly, almost lovingly leans down, neck first, to roll in something disgusting. Across the track lie green honky nuts with the scars from cockatoo beaks. I was getting hot, my winter clothes and winter body not ready for this change in season. I wore boots and socks to lurch into the bush but the dugites are too doughy and quiet to get quickly out of my way this time of year. Despite being deadly, these snakes are sluggish to the point of being casual and it’s only when they are accidentally wrapped around your calves in an anxious figure of eight that they get cranky. So, I don’t go into the bush much in Kambarang season. On my way back along my driveway I see the track of a big kangaroo, dragging its tail, ambling along. I’m always looking for tracks these days.

I make a tuna salad. It sounds so American, I think, as I chop up home grown spinach and cherry tomatoes, slide the lot into a noodle bowl and squeeze half a lime into the mix. Prominent media commentators seem so focussed on end times and social division at the moment. I’m not sure, I think as I fork spinach and fish into my mouth. I realise I’m hopping between past and present tense like the historian I am. It is an ecosystem waiting for another rise of the Klan: straightened economics, cultural shifts and another inevitable wave of immigration.

There should be some writing done today, I think. That journal article I’m supposed to write. The novel that was due a week ago. A blog post maybe, the one about that man going missing out here. As usual, I stalk around my laptop like it is a beast that will bite me if I get too close. To write is to fail. I’d just like to sit on the veranda and dream. Instead, I fill the laundry trough with cold water, add detergent and my smelly clothes. With no electricity here, the washing righteously takes precedence over any literary endeavour. Then I water the spinach and coriander growing in old metal suitcases outside my front door. Smoke is everywhere in the sky. The fire, started from the epicentre of the earthquake, has blown across the country, out to sea in the morning and washed up on my doorstep by the afternoon.

I drive up the track to see if there are any messages or emails to ping in at the ‘in range’ spot beneath a huge karri that always threatens to drop a limb on my car. Yowie has messaged me about the earthquake, and when I get onto the news app, everyone says the quake happened at five am, not six am. Maybe I got the time wrong, I think. It woke me up though and I looked at the clock. It said six am. Some of my students emailed, unsure about whether their marks will be up before they graduate. My boss emails to let me know what units I’m teaching next year. The karri tree looming over me creaks and groans in the wind. The caravan of migrants marches closer to the border.

So I get back home and start writing this, because the washing is soaking, the beetroot I’d grown is pickling and I’d untangled another fifteen metres of the three hundred metres of Japanese longline that Yowie and I found on the beach a month ago. I got a bit sick of myself, writing this, and went back out to wrangle some more rope. I hope the rope didn’t kill any whales on its way through Antarctic waters.

Then I went down to the shore. It may be only fifty metres away but I don’t visit every day. This evening I followed the tracks my dog made when she went for a snoop this morning. I know her tracks. I know everyone’s tracks. Cat tracks, crow tracks, roo tracks, snake tracks, Selkie tracks, man tracks, car tracks. I went down to the shore and the sunset was pretty spectacular because of the burning. Shepherd’s delight. I thought, ‘I live here. This is my place. I am indeed blessed.’ And then I walked back up to my house, the dog doing donuts ahead of me like the five-year-old pup she is, to finish writing this blog post.




Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Kambarang #2

The morning after the cat's cremation, Flame and I had planned to frock up, put on fishnet stockings and fox stoles to make the pilgrimage to the Rocky Gully pub. We were intent on taking the back roads through the forest. Apparently the Rocky Gully pub is exactly the same floor plan as the Franklin pub, so naturally I was curious to see how they could get a pub so wrong ... twice.

The sudden downpour of rain put an end to the fireplace I'd just raked with a stick, to pick out Ebony's bones and teeth. I found as many as I could and put them into a little grass tree bowl. 'Wow,' said Flame as she held up a femur. 'This one held her up!' It kept raining as we dressed into our glad rags, readying for the epic trip. Flame made a mix of gin in a plastic soft drink bottle. She took a sip.
'That's so not fair you bastard,' I said, thinking about the drive ahead. 'That's what I love about you,' Flame smirked, taking another sip/swig. 'You don't even ask me what time it is.'

Flame continued to work her way through the mix as we hit the gravel tracks, the dogs in the back seat and rain sleeting around us. The track was sodden and it looked like it would rain inches that day. My car began slewing around in the mud and I slowed down.

As we crawled down the hill towards Fernhook Falls, my dog began to lean on Flame's shoulder. I knew exactly what she was doing but hell, we were frocked up and heading for the Rocky Gully pub. One jealous dog wasn't going to stop us. She lay her head on Flame's shoulder and looked over at Flame's kelpie, Darren.

See Darren? This is my human, my dog was communicating to Darren. Anyone who thinks dogs can't communicate non verbally are kidding themselves. Selkie's body language was a total raised middle finger to Darren the kelpie. See Darren? This is my human and so is that one, nodding to me. And this is my car too, Darren. Goddit punk?

Darren curled himself as far away from Selkie as he could. She leaned harder on his owner's shoulder. Flame leaned over to give Darren a placatory pat and maybe the gin made her heedless to the canine politics being played out because my dog was so consumed with possessiveness by then that she roared at Darren to keep his corner.

So, we continued for another few miles with dogs fighting in the back seat and lurching through the pouring rain on a track slippery with clay and mud and no idea of how far away this pub was, or if there was a fuel bowser there. The plan was falling apart. Flame was tipsy so she would have coped but another hour of this seemed like a special kind of hell to me. I pulled up at the T junction.
'Let's go to the herb farm for lunch,' I said and Flame cheered. We turned right instead of left and headed back to town.