Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Shedding season

At night I hear the swans out on the water, chattering. In the mornings I go down to the shore before work. I can see them, black shapes against the silver skin of the inlet. The swans are moulting. Most birds moult a few feathers at a time, which is why you may occasionally see a notch missing from the outstretched wing of an eagle, but swans moult all at once, making them uniquely vulnerable to predators. So, they camp out on the water, twenty four hours a day and their feathers as they shed them line the shore.

As the water goes down from the summer's evaporation, the swan holes are exposed. These pocks are the ones I usually fall into when pushing out the boat. They are formed by the swan's beaks as they forage for cockles on the sea floor.

Now the swans sit out in the middle of the inlet, quietly shedding feathers. The sand bar out there means it's still shallow enough to feed.

Along the track, the tall karris are shedding as well. Their bark folds away in strips and littering the gravel, making millennial mounds of mulch around the base, habitat for critters and feeding the fungi that, in turn, feeds the trees and helps them communicate.

The snakes are moulting, shedding their skins. There is a tiger I encounter often on the mountain steps at around this spot:

The snake is usually powering up in the mornings when I go chugging up the steps but it gets out of the way politely enough. The first time I saw it about two weeks ago, it was dusty looking, almost shabby. Over the last three days I've seen it every day and it is brilliant, shining black with bright yellow stripes. Brand new. The dugites are the same, curling over the granite like a trickle of deep brown oil. I nearly ran one over yesterday. I thought it was dead until it lifted its head to check me out. So shiny and new. I stopped the car a few metres away.
'Okay, so what's going on?' I said to the snake but it still didn't move.
'Would you like me to drive around you then?' I considered which end of the snake, stretched across the road, that I would drive around. Dugites are so doughy, casual as. I still chose its tail end.

So yes, shedding season. Is it all trying to tell me something? Maybe it's not about me at all. Quite likely but interesting to take cues from the bush, even if it is just to notice what's going on.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019


“The secret of a good buddy movie is that it is actually a love story. And likewise love stories are just buddy movies with the potential for sex.”
Blake Snyder.

I ran out of gas yesterday and made the trek into town to replace the empty bottle with a full one. They won’t deliver gas this far out. The bottle must weigh a hundred kilos, so it’s good when someone else is around at the inlet to help me heave it off. If I’m alone, I screw on the tap as tight as possible and roll the cylinder off the back of the ute, to land in the dirt with an almighty thump, and I hope to hell the thing won’t explode. Last time, my neighbour helped me and insisted on connecting it up for me. He’s chivalrous, sometimes to the point of condescension but the day when he came over with his boots and a long-handled shovel to deal with the tiger snake hanging around near my doorway, well … he was outstanding.

This time no one was around and I left the bottle on the back of the ute until the morning when I could better think out a solo operation. I sat on the back veranda in the afternoon overlooking the inlet, drank wine and read the newspaper instead. A boat rumbled into the rocky ramp. I watched the men load the boat and drive down the track. Just out of sight and I heard them get bogged in the deep sand. Yes, I do know that sound well. After a little while an elderly man walked along the track, turning back to bolt when Selkie charged out barking. ‘She’s alright! But do you need some shovels?’ I called to him.

It’s hard being friends with men. It’s good being friends with men too, because men do interesting shit, like find caves or go up the river in a tinny, or follow me for miles through snake-infested reeds in the hope of finding some Aboriginal fish traps. I thought we were good mates, but apparently not. I got home one day to a note pinned to my door from my neighbour. He said he couldn’t be around me anymore. That he should have got the hint 18 months ago. That he was getting out of my face to go and find a woman who actually wanted him. Apart from a few businesslike text messages, he hasn’t spoken to me since.

Now I get that I’m a bit fucking magnificent (I’m also a menopausal harridan at times just so you know) and that he really can’t be around me at the moment. But he’s my neighbour and I thought he was my friend. After initially feeling bewildered and appalled at having hurt him with my aloofness, I became quite cranky about the whole episode. It’s just this whole unreconstructed male thing; men who can’t talk to me about how they really feel, in case it leaves them vulnerable to rejection or ridicule. He was binning me as a friend in advance of that awful outcome of truth. Were all his acts of kindness and mateship purely in the service of extracting sex from our friendship? What about the boat rides, the swims, the long bush walks, the caves … ah okay. I get it. I think it’s the buddy movie and he thinks it’s the love story. A classic misunderstanding then. Still, I felt like I was being punished by him for not putting out. I watched from the veranda recently, as he put his boat in and headed to The Cut, alone, without me. No Pussy Blues for him means no more boat trips for Sarah. And that’s why it is hard to be friends with a man.

The car on the track started again. A few revs. Still bogged. Someone shouted fuck. The man came back, sans shovels. ‘Is there anywhere we can get mobile reception?’ He asked. I shook my head. ‘About three kilometres away.’ I walked with him back to the bogged car. It was a university research four-wheel drive and boat. Well, well. Two dusty young men leaned on my shovels, embarrassed and despondent. These are the usual emotions when bogged. I’ve experienced them myself,
‘We’ve been out taking samples of invertebrates all day,’ one of them said. ‘I’ve done my whole PhD on this inlet and this is the first time I’ve ever been bogged.’
‘You won’t be the last,’ I said. ‘Would you like me to tow you out?’
The older man looked amazed. ‘Could you, could you really do that?’
‘I’ll give it a shot,’ I said. ‘In return for a favour.’
And that’s how I got the gas bottle off the back of my ute.

Monday, February 18, 2019


In the past I’ve written about the sea, and so it is that I came to rest on the shores of an inlet. Past the zamia palms and bracken that crowds my cottage, I can walk along the shore to where a row of rough huts stand, stoic, facing out to The Cut. The Squatter Huts, they are called. When the rivers from inland fill the inlet, when the waves are driven by onshore winds to smash into the bush, the sand bar out at The Cut breaches. I came here for the inlet. The first time I’d seen it, glassed off at dusk, I wanted to live here. What I found is that the inlet, though it has a character of its own, took second place to living in the forest.

My home country is the open heath lands and coast hills of Albany, and this inlet where marri trees march straight down to the water’s edge is new country to me. Melaleucas twisting into beach sands are annually inundated by the marching waters. The canopies of the bloodwoods are crown shy of each other, never quite touching. Light is shafted, filtered. Oyster pale days, moon shadow, the year-round scent of fungi and the liquid shine of bloody resin running down the craggy marri bark. The thump of a limb falling to earth.

They put fire into the forest block beside my house recently. I passed them on the ten-kilometre track over several days while they hand-burned the edges, ‘cutting in’ like house painters. A bulldozer rolled the karri hazel over as a kind of fire break. When the burners were finished cutting in, helicopters dropped incendiaries into the centre of the block. At 2300 square hectares, it was a big burn. They seemed very pleased with its success, especially the boundary burn back from the huts. Neat as a pin. ‘Sorry about your house, Sarah,’ one of the burners joked but, living on the forest, I felt safer. Although visitors expressed their anxiety about the smoke on the track in to my place.

A friend rang about helicopters dropping fire into the block near her house. ‘I’m feeling a bit alarmed,’ she said. As I drove to her house, currawongs wheeled about in the smoke near the Deep River Bridge, looking confused and disoriented. It was difficult not to hit them and I can’t swerve on this road. At her house, perched on a steep hill and surrounded by majestic karri trees, she stared out over the fire field to the south. Cockatoos shrieked. We looked at a map and consulted the weather. It was blowing north west, even this late in the day. The fire would burn towards the sea and then back onto itself when the wind changed. I’d been working in the office that day, on the radios to the helicopter pilot and the spotter plane, so I knew what was going on. I realised then the power of information and knowledge when it comes to prescribed burns or bushfires.

I watch for smoke, 420 metres above sea level, at the top of a mountain. Plumes, columns, drifts, billows; smoke from the prescribed burns are not a noun but a verb, a doing thing. Smoke is running or stationary or blankety. Smoke will rise, lazy and blue from a fallen karri log the whole summer long. I call in their position and description to the office.

Last summer I watched one particular smoke every day. In the mornings it was a circle of columns, graduating to a drift when the wind came in from the coast. Blue, and then white as the heat and wind arced up. 58 degrees were my bearings for this smoke on the fire tower map, 31 kilometres away. I liked this smoke. No nasty surprises there. It waved to me every day from the north of the Soho Hills. When I discovered it was a peat fire, or an ‘organic substrate’ fire, my feelings towards the smoke curdled.