I want to be in the bush, I don’t want to drive far, I’m fearful that closeby familiar bush won’t offer me anything. I’ve had that fear before, and it’s never justified. I decide to stop every twenty steps and photograph whatever offers itself. I’m astonished at the results. OK! So I don’t obey my own rules absolutely: sometimes I go a few paces back or forwards. Sometimes I’m forced to stop before the regulation 20 by something irresistible. Whenever I look around and think “Rats: just more dead leaves”, I find a couple of small hakeas, a mushroom shoving up the dead leaves, black resin which looks like a skeleton, a curl of bark around a stick. Always something. Old acquaintances: bark, flowers, fungi, desiccated leaves, traces, tracks, spotted gums. And new subjects: bush layers; landscape seen through a veil of foliage; grasses and fern. I even manage to catch birds at play in a string of mud pools.
Here’s the haul from my first “every 20 steps” photo shoot. And no. It is NOT the beginning of a series! Maybe the beginning of a habit, but not a series. Definitely not a series.
It was a while since I'd been out and about, camera slung around my neck. The flood drew me to roadside plants, and at last I've begun walking again in the bush, on the headland and through farmland, after nearly a month of slug behaviour, incarcerated indoors by catering and computer addiction and for at least part of that time by a recalcitrant knee (if I don't walk, I won't find out how bad it is).
Roadside during the flood gave me whiteness: bursaria, ti trees, and what charms my camera most: that flat flowering, pink, white and green, that curls up into a ball as it dies and lightens the landscape with its delicacy. It doesn't matter that it's a feral.
I've finally entered J's vegetable dome on a picking expedition and was enchanted by my old friend, the zucchini plant. Many years ago in my incarnation as labourer in our market garden I harvested zucchini. I can still feel the abrasion on my tender damp unaccustomed academic arms as I parted zucchini leaves to seek out the gleaming shapely tubes, rounded at the end and sometimes with the showy yellow flower still attached. At market I arrayed them on an old door with all our other produce, and the people of Moruya asked “What's THAT?” This was in the 1980s. Now they take kale and quinoa in their stride.
On the headland is a grand old banksia. The flowers are over 20cm tall, with a diameter of around 12 cm, and some still stand erect and pale yellow, amongst the big bad banksia men cones. Once the tree was unreachable unless you wanted to brave snakes in long marshy grass, but since the fire brigade engaged in a protective burn I can walk confidently over short grass to admire its grandeur.
Also on the headland, an unexpected wattle with balls of pale yellow flower, little fists of buds and long lanceolate leaves curving around clusters of blossom.
Walking through farmland I came across another majestic tree, a little bit out of zone: the bunya bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii). It's a relative of the monkey puzzle tree from Chile, an ancient tree from Gondwana and the age of conifers, a survivor from the time before the arrival of true flowering plants. The female cones contain edible nuts and Bunya Mountains in Queensland were the site for Aboriginal gatherings and feasting: unusually for Aboriginal people some trees seem to have been owned by specific families. My bush tucker book has three recipes using bunya nuts: toffee nuts in rum, chocolate roughs with bunya nut pieces, and witjuti (witchetty) grub and bunya bunya soup
In the reserve by the river is another treasure: Tristaniopsis laurena, the water gum or Kanuka box, used for coach and boat-building, cabinet work, tool handles and golf club heads. This information comes from a book that is also a treasure: the bible of local rainforests, Floyd's Rainforest trees of south-eastern Australia. J bought me my own copy recently, $5 from the Salvation Army op shop. Floyd reveals the poetry of bark in his meticulously factual description:
Outer bark: Light grey, shedding in thin papery flakes or strips. Underbark cream with plum patches, then brown and cream in alternate layers, very thin. Outer surface of live bark with cream-brown and light green blotches.
The flowers are hard to capture: two cameras and two visits still didn't quite nail it.
There is an escalation of thistles, all very well as decoration on a Scotsman's sporran, but a real pest here, especially since the ground is already deep in thistledown: too late to stop them proliferating this season.
Australia doesn't have the autumn falling, but leaves do part company with their tree and they are one of my favourite photographic subjects. A gravel road or grass make a good background to showcase their diversity.
And then of course a miscellany within a gallimaufry: chicory flowers, lomandra fruits, a delicate fungus (awful name for something so beautiful), spiky grass and a tree fern against the sky.
My preference, I thought, was for flowers in the wild, but my daughter-in-law filled the house with domesticated flowers and I was entirely charmed. The zinnias came from J's dome (it was a bouquet of zinnias he brought me when our first child was born): the three lavish vases of roses, jasmine, and gardenias from the garden of her friend. I admired the background ferns, and discovered that they came from my own garden.
Last week, I visited my coincidentally Polish accountant to sort out my tax and ask financial questions from the abyss of my financial ignorance. After such an encounter, I usually find an unwalked beach and explore with a picnic lunch. This time it was high tide, and I don’t walk on beaches at high tide.
So I stopped at a sandy track, guarded by frantically flowering wattle, and stumbled across six prolific colonies of greenhood orchids: Pterostylis nutans I think. They were hiding amongst bracken just off the track, heads demurely facing the ground. In each colony, I counted at least 30 plants. If I saw six colonies I reckon there’d be many more: if I counted 30 plants it would have to be a conservative estimate.
But the orchids weren’t the only treasures. There was moss: soft spring green; spiky, star-like pinky-red and green; flowers (are they flowers?) wavering on the end of thin red stalks.
Then there were the many faces of banksias: flower; seed pods opened; hairy dead flowers; dead flowers broken open into red; stippled bark, some showing signs of fire; and closed seed pods. Gumnuts, round urns, littered the ground wherever there were eucalypts.
May Gibbs, in her children’s book Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, transformed banksia cones into villians, the Big Bad Banksiamen, and gumnuts into the characters of the title, a pair of gumnut babies. My leather bound copy was a gift from J on our third wedding anniversary, a memento of my childhood pleasure in this Australian classic.
Everywhere was the brightness of wattle, which has to be called golden, and which is one of the signatures of home for me.