Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Self medication: mushrooms, crabs, sunshine, poetry.

Happy Winter Solstice folks! We didn't have a family bonfire this year, instead there was major flooding, lightning bringing down power lines, wind at 9 or 10 on the Beaufort scale uprooting whole trees and other extenuating circumstances that involved women without nipples...*

 During this time I've had the worst head cold in years, spent a fair bit of time at the inlet cold, sick and lonely (in isolation basically; no one wants me any where near them), surrounded in butter menthol wrappers and dirty dishes. Yes, and whingy whiny too. So a day or so before the Solstice, when the morning was still and warm with pre-storm languour, I popped a mushroom in my mouth and dragged my sorry carcass down to the beach to sit on a rock, to feel the sun ripple through my chilled spine.

I sat on the same rock where I snapped the crocodile a month or so ago and sipped some hot apple cider vinegar and honey. Over at the boat ramp sat a white ute with fish tubs on the back. Couldn't see the man's boat and then I could - a white rooster tail over the other side of the inlet. As he got closer, I could see that it was Steeleye, his red checked shirt and khaki waders his standard dress code. Dog sat to attention at my feet and whined.

We chatted about the cobbler while he packed the fish. 'Caught three last night', he said as he hefted some stingray wings into the icebox. This is really unusual here and worrying for me as I love wading. 


Pelicans began to crowd his boat, growling at each other like kelpies waiting for the scraps. Steeleye gave me a couple of blue manna crabs, rare as well in these parts but the inlet was open for so long last year that all sorts of strange things have been going on - cobbler, stingrays, blue mannas. I even found a marron once, trying to find the fresh and stranded in salt water.

The shroom began to kick in, doing its work on my molars first and spreading to my jaws, behind my eyes. I thanked Steeleye for the crabs and gathered them up by their claws. Walking up to the house, a lightening of my spine and the clicking of crabs at my side, I heard Steeleye's ute rattle along the track, boat trailer thumping behind. Wouldn't be back for a while, he'd said, too many yellow eye mullet and they're only 40 cents a kilo at the moment.

Back in the kitchen I boiled up the crabs to crimson and spread newspaper over the bench. Wasabi and some vinegar in a little bowl. I jointed the crabs' limbs and sucked out my first feast of the season, lifted the carapaces and vinegared away the yellow guts.

I was supposed to drive down south and stay with family that night before the Solstice but I couldn't handle the thought of swagging it on the floor, sick. So instead I fed on fresh crabs, feeling the heady rush of the shroom trip swimming into the fuggy ache of the head cold, listening to Marianne Faithful recite The Lady of Shalott.#

* Not really.

# 'She Walks in Beauty' by Marianne Faithful and Warren Ellis is a wonderful album if you are into either of these two AND the Romantic poets all in one place.


Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Searching for shacks

 Bird and I went hunting in the bush for shacks.

It's shack country after all, the country of old mining ventures and recent ancient massacres. Anyway, after several wrong leads that ended up being kangaroo tracks, we found the shack I'd come across years before, by the side of the River Steere.

 It'd been built by an idealist and by the tea cup hooks, I'm thinking an aesthetic thinker too. There was a pile of kindling protected from weather by tin, a well, created from an old rain water tank that had a run-off tin, a fish smoking set up and an open rainwater tank with a stick thoughtfully placed in the centre to save bees and other critters from drowning. The sense you get from this shack dweller and their thoughts is that they were profoundly sensitive to their environment, yet wanted to live within it.

Bird and I went down to the river to have a cup of tea from her thermos. We didn't talk about the shack much. We hadn't seen each other for a while and there were more important things to discuss. We drank from paper cups as the pups whizzed around on the river bed.

It's gold country, hard country. It's easy to imagine a man building this shack, smoking fish and panning for gold, living on the edge of the river.

I never saw myself as Davy Crockett when I built a shack about 20 kilometres from where we sat. After we'd had our cup of tea, Bird and I walked back through the flowering hakeas and pooled wheel ruts, got into the four wheel drive and went to my hut that I'd built myself.


Friday, June 4, 2021

On Hitch Hiking #2

It's quiet tonight and the only sounds are the dog licking her feet beside the fire and the local owlet nightjar doing her four point calls before roosting. I've just returned from a south coast road trip that I set out upon a week ago. It's so good to be back in my own bed after sleeping in hotel rooms and my swag every night.

I was headed for the Esperance Readers and Writers Festival, the final weekend of several months of readers and writers getting together in the remote outpost (not that the locals would call it that) of a little port town on the south coast of Western Australia. 

The drive was more than 700km so I broke it up by staying with my son the first night, dropped off the dog for him to care for and set out again the next morning. Driving east meant getting into the salmon gum and mallee country that I so loved when I built a little shack in a ghost town out that way. The deep dive into the river systems of the Phillips and the Fitzgerald is always a moment I find exhilarating. I do love this part of the earth.

Five kilometres past Ravensthorpe, I stopped for an older woman walking along the highway, dragging a pink suitcase. As a perennial hitch hiker it is my karmic responsibility to pick up other hitch hikers and there she was, sticking out her thumb and reckoning with me to slow down and pick her up. 'Why didn't you stay closer to town?' I asked her as I threw her suitcase on the back of the ute. 'People are driving too fast to pick you up once the speed limit is upped.' Hitch hikers' rule: stay close to town rather than walk out to the 110 kph zone. She grinned and did a little dance, sang an approximation of Nutbush City Limits and then said, 'I'm like a kelpie dog, love. Just have to keep moving. There's no way you'd catch me sitting around on the outskirts of town. I have to keep walking.' She had short blonde hair, she looked strong, her eyes gimlet brown. Later on the drive she told me that she was 72 and her oldest daughter is the same age as me. She also told me she is a prophet.

Here's where the hitch hiking thing gets weird. When I tell people this story of picking up a septuagenarian, homeless prophet, they ask 'So what were her prophesies? What did you learn?' or, like my son, they'll say 'Mum, you are the only person I've ever met who could find a story like that from a simple road trip.' (That's fair enough. I'm the only person he's ever met who, when buying a car, had an exotic Indian Ringneck parrot thrown into the deal.) The thing is, when you pick up a hitch hiker who is not nuero-typical AND a prophet, it's a job to avoid road trains, keep up conversation and the peace and this is often a over a period of several hours and within the cramped confines of a ute cab. So no, I didn't press her on her prophesies but I did hear a thing or two about Prince Philip ('The Queen was giving out chairs and the one with his name on it was empty. Same day he passed.' Meaningful look) and of course the Corona Virus.

Just out of Ravensthorpe, the visuals of salmon gum country are quite suddenly smashed by the new mines; massive upheavals of dirt and trees and minerals. It's quite full on and we were stopped on some samphire flats by a road crew who were building an overhead conveyor belt to cart ore. 'Why are we waiting like this?' cried the prophet and then chattered through some more family history. Then she was impatient again at the standing still line of road trains ahead of us. She opened the car door and was about to step out. Kelpie mode. Keep moving.

'Hey, get back in,' I said. 'Listen to the radios.' I have a UHF in my car, permanently set on channel 40 because it picks up most road crew and truckies' comms. 'Have a listen to this.' 

'It's just common fucking sense,' crackled one road train driver to the road crew supervisor. 'There's no one standing on the side of the road, it's a fucking traffic light and there's no one coming the other way. Just let us through mate.' In the indelicate communications that followed between the two, some kind of treaty was brokered and finally the road trains ahead of us began to move. The prophet grabbed my radio console. 'Jesus loves you guys!' she shouted. 'Thanks for the excellent entertainment.' and slammed the radio back in its slot.