Another Country Diary


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30 May '02
Early mist on the Tarago roadThere's a risk this might just get a wee bit tedious, these descriptions of my early drive to the city and the many returns. But, even though I love my work, it's the best part of my day and when I'm most alive. If you're sitting in bumper to bumper traffic (as I was when I came off the M5) you'll appreciate that it's a much better way to ease into the day, or unwind from the high speed freeway push and the divided road 'bus trip' of coming home. I'm lucky and I know it.

Jan tells how surprised she was the first week she was working in Canberra, and had to drive across town to attend an audio recording session. She said 'You never see cows grazing in South Melbourne or Crows Nest.' 
31 May '02
A wild moon on the winter cusp. Hand held.Heading home, just past Bowral, the highway was lost in low cloud. It was wet enough to need windscreen wipers and with a see-ahead zone that was still a bit frightening to drive at 90kmh. At one point the other side of the road was lit like a circus: police cars, fire truck and ambulance. It looked amazing in the fog but I was leading a convoy so I didn't stop. It just put me on edge and made me concentrate even harder on the patch of road ahead. The scene was repeated just outside Goulburn. Again it was on the other side with a few big trucks with running lights and the police car's lights flashing, multicolored.  Even the NRMA tow truck and service car that I passed was like a floodlit tableau on some sideshow Tunnel of Love ride, as the fog closed in ahead and behind.

It cleared when I turned into the valley and the drive on the road home was just between me and two foxes that streaked across, ginger tails horizontal. And that three quarter moon, above. 

1 June '02
Sometimes you can hear it, but usually it's so quiet that a closed window between you changes it to watching a silent movie. It's a short feature whose stars are the few trees in our garden that, after a frost, send out signals to the leaves that it's time to drop. Then they do it all at once.

The little golden elm outside our bedroom has had a full head of leaves that slowly changed to an insipid  pale lemon colour, but looked set to sit out the winter dressed that way. The leaves aren't all that attractive when they change, there's none of the usual  spectacular autumn tones, and it needs a sunny back light before it gets your visual attention. Two days ago, we stood at the bedroom window and watched it lose half its leaves in under an hour. There was no wind, and the leaves just flutter down. I took some video and the closest I can describe is that it's snowing leaves. This morning, after another frost, it dropped all that remained. While the colour of the leaves on the tree may have been understated, on the bare earth they looked right at home and have turned different shades of brown and yellow during the day.

Jan was working in the yard a year or so ago at this time, and she was startled by a loud rustling noise behind her. She turned to see the horse chestnut tree, (it's about five meters high), lose it's leaves in the same way. No wind, just a rushing sound as the bigger and crisp autumn leaves fell off in ten minutes. On the chestnut the ends of the stalks are all sticky in the small curve where they fit on the branch. There must be some silent chemical message that flows through the tree and makes each leaf let go at the same time.

Megan, the elderly piano teacher whose yard is behind the chestnut, grumped last week as she was raking, "What's that tree of yours that's dropping all the leaves in my yard?" Jan said something like, isn't it lovely and told her it was a chestnut. Megan grumbled again later "I hate autumn" she said, "it's such a messy season!"

More like a season for magic realism I reckon, Megan.  
2 June '02
Crab apple /Flowering appleOne of things I love about this town of Bungendore are the street trees. Although there are big gums in the new areas, in the older centre of town they're smaller, lower in height and most look to be less than 10 years old. They've been planted to match a few varieties of much older ones, filling in the gaps caused by vandalism, accident and neglect along the wide road edges. 

Some of them are crab apples but most of them are varieties of Hawthorn. So in spring there are masses of heavily scented blossom and in autumn, lush green leaves with bright red and orange-red fruit. Some of them look impossibly like Christmas tree decorations, glossy and bunched perfectly. I've photographed them in all those states, even rotting decoratively on the ground. There are lots of other plants with berries in people's gardens. There are also sparrows and finches to eat them. In one short walk to the video shop today, I took these berry pictures.
(5 images, total 250k)
4 June '02
Maybe I'm getting old. The last few days I've been cold, sitting against the column heater while I work, stopping to thaw out my fingers so I can type. 

It's a matter of energy of course. Sitting at a computer doesn't keep you warm with just keyboard activity and when you're on a programming or layout 'roll' then you don't stop (until you're busting to go to the toilet). The solution is to leave the heaters on low overnight to keep the room warm but there are times when I actually like to be cold. 

I often step outside in the night and stand in the dark, and in winter, when even the clear sky rains down a starry cold, I fancy I'm homeless and sleeping outside. Or like Johnny V. a few houses away, living without heating and power and constantly breaking into the schoolrooms at night to sleep warmer. Would I cope, or would I head for the coast to be a bum by the warmer seaside? It's a real thought, repeated often, standing there waiting for the cold to bite into me, so that I can feel privileged to be able to walk inside and be warm by the open fire. In my case it's a bit of a game because I have a choice. I choose to live here, I choose to work and spend my money on warmth, food and shelter and to provide all that for our children. But in a long life I've seen how tough it can be, even today with three barely dressed kids crying through runny noses and complaining of cold outside the Queanbeyan supermarket.

I think testing yourself is part of the fascination of thermometer gazing. There's always an element of ..'Cold? You call that cold? Why when we were young we lived in a shoebox in middle of road'... but like rain gauge watching, it's also part of sizing up the natural world around you. You learn what the garden does in heat, what it does when there's not enough rain, what dies in the frost. And you know where you as a warm blooded human fit in to it all, rather than sailing from air conditioned house to air conditioned office in an air conditioned car when the 'outside world' doesn't enter the daily living equation.

I've put up a sequence of images that say 'it's cold'.(5 images total 250k)

Fred Harden  
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