Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Building a writer

You don’t really need fingers to be a writer do you? I’m thinking of becoming one of those writers who dictate things to their computers. Between splinters, squashed fingers, cuts, bruises and general aches, I am feeling quite sorry for myself. Add to that the fact that I am currently working on several writing projects for various community groups with which I am involved and my fingers would ache even if they weren’t already sore.

One of the problems with being able to string together a word or two, plus having access to computers, laser printers and broadband internet, is that you get co-opted every time any group needs “literary-type-like” help. I don’t usually mind, but things seem to be all piling up at the same time and multiple deadlines are galloping towards me. If I don’t manage to get my own writing done I feel miserable, but if I mess up other people’s deadlines then I feel guilty as well.

My delightful neighbour, he of the tractor and willingness to chase cows out of my front paddock (oh I haven’t told you that story yet?), informs me that I need to learn three words: “no” and “I’m sorry.” These can even be strung together, but are required to be said politely and firmly and in some cases repeatedly. I’m practising I promise.

As for the damaged hands -- they’re building related. Our builder, let’s call him Jim, has been leaving us lists of tasks to complete, none of which are things I have previous skills for or experience of. Over the long weekend I mixed up my first ever load of cement and repeated the process many times. We managed to get the three extra house stumps concreted in to our great pride. Last night you could have found us by the light of the reading lamp suspended from our washing line removing nails from the laundry demolition timber. Jim is willing to re-use this perfectly good timber as long as we remove all the nails. I sometimes suspect he is getting great entertainment from our, well at least my efforts, but we’re saving money and I at least am learning a lot. I really will appreciate the extension though when we finally move in.

At the moment, in spite of all our efforts, we seem at times to be going backwards. A lot of renovation work involves taking things apart and we have yet to get to the bit where things go back together again. Mr. Blithe comes home at the end of the day and in the gathering dusk looks at a process that seems to be going backwards. I assure him that we are indeed getting somewhere, but at times that is more wishful thinking than reality. My hands assure me otherwise.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Celebrating in the Scrub

April and May are interesting months in the Australian calendar. Over the span of only a few weeks we have ANZAC Day, Labour Day (in Queensland at least) and Mother’s Day. The first two are public holidays and long weekends. Labour Day coincides with the Marburg Show, centrepiece of local events, which is always the first weekend in May.

For the first time in over a decade, last Friday an ANZAC Day service was held in Marburg to remember those Australians who have fought in wars around the world. Ironically none of the wars have been our own, although it could be argued that defending Papua New Guinea during the Second World War was in our best interests. It seems a very Australian thing though to commemorate wars not our own and especially to focus on Gallipolli, a less-than glorious military episode.

Around 200 people gathered around the historic flagpole in front of the community hall, spilling out onto the road. I wish I had had a chance to take a photograph – the bright blue sky highlighting the trees, clouds scudding along in front of a cold wind, the crowd dressed in everything from neat business attire to jeans and flannel shirts to shorts and thongs. The schoolchildren were there in their green and gold uniforms, as were the local firefighters, a scattering of military uniforms and a priest in vestments. Above all of this the Australian and Turkish flags streamed in the wind. In a typically Marburg touch, a horse float groaned past during the minute of silence.

The service opened and closed with anti-war anthems (“Imagine” and The Band Played Waltzing Matilda– which seemed to fit neatly around the commemorative aspects of the service. People wonder why there has been an upsurge of interest in ANZAC Day. Perhaps it is this shift of focus from militarism and the commitment to remembering why we are a “lucky country.” I even admit to having a tear in my eye as the daughter of our local Vietnamese shopkeeper led us in the singing the Seekers’ “I am, you are, we are Australian” although it might just have been caused by the squally wind.

Not only was it Marburg’s first service in many years, it was actually the first ANZAC service I have ever attended. I am too ambivalent about the value of military action and generally leery of jingoism to attend these type of events. However, the school children were asked to take part so we took them along and it was also a chance for the community to come together in a thoughtful way. And it was indeed a thoughtful and meaningful occasion.

Now we have to gird our loins for the show this coming weekend – a much rowdier, less thoughtful and infinitely more exhausting community event. At least I don’t have to set off days in advance with the cattle and other competitive entries as farmers did in the past.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Trying to tell the story

My writing has been progressing very slowly recently. It’s been a combination of busyness, anxiety and apathy – really not a pleasant brew. At times there have been so many things going on that I have simply decided to do nothing, which is less than constructive. After a day of tradespeople, school-related things, scouts, music lessons, household maintenance and the imminent destruction of life as we know it (the trials of children, well actually all our trials, are very real to us), the last thing I want to do is to sit down and write. Chocolate and a book or the newspaper or talking to Mr. Blithe or even television all seem more appealing.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about is writing style. I’ve always approached the writing of fiction in a linear way. That is, trying to tell a story as a coherent narrative: A talked to B then C happened and the result was D. Part of this is natural inclination. Part is my academic training and if I can include some footnotes, all the better!

But if I think about what I have written in the last few months, it has mostly been vignettes: little snippets of thoughts and stories written down for Two Tree Hill. Many days I find it hard to write (although I always want to), but I can usually find a few moments to jot down some ideas. So I’m going to try to use that approach in my novel. I want to see if by jotting down snippets of the story I can somehow make my way towards the cohesive whole. It’s got to be better than apathy.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008


Please oblige me for a moment as I turn my gaze onto things other than historical.

My name is Blithe and I am a news junkie. I am in recovery and I apologise to anyone I might have ignored or hurt in the process of indulging my habit.

I feel the need to confess my addiction following a meeting with some fellow residents of the Marburg area at our local community hall. In the course of this meeting, it was brought to my attention that my liking for the news media might be wrong. Apparently women do not read newspapers.

In order to understand my problems, I’ve been reviewing my weekly media consumption. I am not sure whether use of online media contributes to my addiction or if it is only reading of hard copy newspapers that is unwomanly, or at least the domain of males.

Daily consumption:
ABC news website
News.com.au Newspulse (email headlines from News Corp newspapers)
NYTimes.com (email headlines from the New York Times)
news.bbc.co.uk (Latest headlines from the BBC on my Firefox bookmarks folder)

Weekly consumption:
The Australian (Wednesday and Weekend editions)
The Moreton Border News
The Gatton Star

Intermittent consumption:
Occasional use of CNN.com, Star-Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press online to track US news.
Occasional viewing of Queensland Times and Courier Mail websites for local news.

The comment was not made by anyone at the meeting, but reported to me in the hope that I might actually do something dramatic like falling off my chair or fainting. I apologise for not doing so although I was obliged to take several deep breaths. It did inspire me to have a quick look beyond my personal experience to see if it really is true that newspapers are read by men, in the morning.

According to the Australian Press Council, newspaper consumption in Australia is slightly higher than in many western nations. Their 2006 State of the News Print Media reported that:

“54.6 per cent of the 16.5 million Australians who are 15 years or more read a Monday to Friday newspaper, a figure that rises to 63.5 per cent on Saturdays and to 65.5 per cent for Sunday newspapers.”

The Press Council’s 2007 update to this report noted that:

“For both the week-day and weekend editions of most metropolitan newspapers in Australia the gender proportions are nearly equal with slightly more male readers than female readers (averaging 51-52 per cent compared to 49-48 percent). Two exceptions are Tasmania where there are slightly more female (50.6 per cent) than male readers for both weekday and weekend editions and The Australian where 61 per cent of weekday readers are men.”

The Press Council did not report on people’s daily reading schedule so I cannot comment on whether more papers are read in the morning, during lunchtime or in the evening.

I confess that I do not intend to modify my habits. My addiction is quite satisfying and of course, I have it under control. I do apologise for digression from historical themes and lay the blame entirely at the door of my fellow committee members.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Evening dreaming

Sounds of progress

Lately I’ve been hearing the constant sound of rustling. Can it be the steady southerly wind in the treetops? Or the newly resident green snake staking its territory on the back wall and windows? No, I think it’s the sound of money slipping away. Seriously though, the renovation is running on budget but is at the stage of constant consumption of money in small and larger increments. Before, it was just one company, the house movers billing us. Now it is the builder, the plumber, building supplies, delivery fees – “How far west of Ipswich is Marburg?”

State of progress at the moment is that we have front and back stairs though as yet no balustrades or railings. We have dug holes for two additional stumps under the house at points the stumping crew decided didn’t need stumps, but we and the builder felt needed extra support to shore up sagging joists. New stumps have been placed and cemented in.

On the weekend, there was the mammoth task of extracting two old stumps from under the original house that had been cut off and left in place when the laundry was built out the back of the house. With the laundry removed, a portion of the dining room was no longer supported. The stumps were extracted with an amazing combination of the laws of physics using well-placed bricks and a crowbar to lever, sheer brute weight and quite a lot of helpless laughter interspersed with grunts and curses. The laughter came from the sight of one of us (I won’t say which one) balanced precariously on the end of the crowbar jumping up and down to no effect whatsoever. Our task on the upcoming ANZAC Day holiday (after Marburg’s first commemorative service in many years, thankfully not at dawn) is to cement the new stumps in place.

My job which requires stamina but no specialised knowledge at all, is to move dirt from the huge mound left by the bobcat when the new pad for the water tank was excavated, trundle it under the new house and dump it at the base of the new stairs. Until enough earth is shifted, the drop off on the bottom of the stairs is somewhat alarming (although the children find it amusing to have to literally climb onto the stairs before ascending them). It’s all part of the joy of building on what the council cheerfully labels as “difficult terrain.”

So while the intellectually and politically committed in the nation met in the capital to discuss the future of Australia, I worked on building our own future, which at that point required no thought, but a fair amount of physical commitment and associated exertion. It is very satisfying although tiring. Even more satisfying was perching on the new front stairs to enjoy a cup of coffee while watching a rain shower move through the valley below.

Yesterday the builder “skinned” the western side of the house – that is, he took off the weatherboards/outer cladding in order to start working on cutting a new doorway and filling in the old one. Progress is definitely being made on the house even if my mind and body are too tired to focus on writing.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Shifting mountains

On the front page of last weekend’s Weekend Australian was a picture that initially puzzled me. It showed what looked like a bright blue mountain with someone who looked a lot like a farmer climbing it (jeans, hat, boots, couldn’t see if he had hayseeds in his hair). Behind the figure and the mountain were the shapes of grain silos. I would link to the photo as it was a great shot, but I can’t track it down online and my copy did double duty lining the guinea pig cage this week. The enormous blue mountain was the stunningly huge autumn harvest of sorghum on the Darling Downs due west of here.

While it was a great photograph, the accompanying article answered a query of mine. Every time I have been on the Warrego Highway recently, I have noticed a greater than normal number of big trucks. I thought perhaps that I was just manifesting my dislike of heavy traffic. I don’t mind driving on the highway, which is after all the artery connecting the Rosewood Scrub to the greater world; an escape route if we so choose; and the reason we can live so far away from such things as employment and good Asian food. I even occasionally feel some pride that I now can differentiate between a “B double” truck and a truck and dog (prime mover with two semi-trailers versus a truck with a rigid trailer). See here for some nice explanatory diagrams.

But no, according to this article, during the drought, the Queensland government on-sold most of the grain companies’ rail slots to the mining industry, which mainly uses the railcars to transport coal. Since they don’t have adequate access to the railway, grain companies are running trucks full-time down the Warrego Highway in order to get their grain to the Port of Brisbane.

It’s an interesting transition for the transport industry. One of the main reasons the railway from Brisbane to points west was built was to transport coal and agricultural products. Originally wagon trains were used to transport produce and Grandchester and Laidley were important transport hubs. Then the wagons were used to transport produce to the railway. Now, local trains are a thing of the past and the line is a through-line for heavy transportation. The passenger rail line only goes out to Rosewood in spite of many campaigns to get the electric rail extended further west. If you stand on the main street in Rosewood you can see the massive coal trains (30 plus carriages) thundering down the line. At the same time, the local coalmine is running trucks through the same main street every few minutes. Passenger trains run from Rosewood only on the hour. Pedestrians just need to be wary.

Queensland was built on the agricultural industry, but it is extractive industries on which its recent prosperity is built. Internal migration to Queensland is at a high and all of these people use power and services. It’s always interesting to see whose needs are given priority at any given time. Right now, the grain industry is overwhelmed by the mining industry. Denied the trains, trucks take over the highway. Then the bumper stickers appear on cars: “I park on the Ipswich Motorway.” I’m waiting to see “I play dodgem trucks on the Warrego” or perhaps the more succinct “I wait on the Warrego.”

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Country schools and historical legacies

One historical legacy that isn’t often considered as such is the plethora of schools existing in the Rosewood Scrub. In the days of settlement, people wanted schools for their children and they wanted them close. Families were large so having schools located in close proximity to each other wasn’t a problem in terms of student numbers. What was a problem was if it wasn’t within walking or riding distance. If children were to be educated, it needed to be done around the demands of the farm.

Stories abound of children milking cows, herding stock and doing various farm or house chores before walking or riding to school. Students had to be home for the afternoon versions of these.

Many of these local schools still exist: some flourishing, others clinging determinedly to life. Others, such as Tallegalla, finally closed their doors after many years of declining enrolment. School closures are political minefields and are generally avoided at all costs by politicians. Witness the furore that erupted when the state government proposed to move Amberley State School in order to allow expansion of the air base. Parents enlisted support at all levels of the government, including a delegation to Canberra. Of course, it helped the cause that a federal election was looming.

A school-related tradition in this area is the Queensland Times’ (published in Ipswich)annual special insert carrying photos of all the first year students in local schools. Looking over it today I counted 85 schools in the readership area ranging from Springfield and Redbank Plains in the east to Boonah in the south, Esk and Toogoolawah to the north and out to Laidley and Gatton (directions in relation to Marburg). Of these 85 schools (both public and private), 18 had five or fewer students in their year one class. More than a handful of these had only one or two students. Marburg was one of these, although they added a third child this week. Schools in Ipswich, Springfield, Mt. Crosby and Karralee (over the river on the Brisbane side) and a few of the private schools fielded more than one first year class. It paints a clear picture of growth and decline.

Other states have wiped blank the historical legacy of country schools by shutting small schools en masse and creating huge regional schools with large feeder areas. So far Queensland has not gone down this path. While this remains the case, I for one, enjoy this historical legacy.

Disclaimer: Merry Girl is one of three students in her class. Blithe Girl is one of eight. In mitigation, they are part of much larger composite classes, the school being divided into two classrooms (Prep to Year 3 and Years 4 through 7).

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

The sounds of loss

Steady mooing. Moo, pause, moo. All night long. All through the day. A mother calling for her child. A calf crying for its mother. Normal for a farmer. Distracting for a rural novice. Painful for a mother.

Honk. Honk. Honk. A lonely white goose. There are other waterfowl around. Perhaps he has simply gone visiting. A chorus of honking responded to only by passing ducks. A widening search amongst dams and waterways. Growing frantic. Neck stretching. Beak wide. Settling into a dust nest alone.

Three black crows. Circling in an endless spiral. Inky darkness against the sky’s perfect blue. Ricocheting missiles of fruit and corn. Harsh cries mocking the other sounds of loss.

And perhaps literary attempts as well.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Populations and constellations

In 1885 the population of the Rosewood Scrub was 8,000. According to the 2006 census, the population of the Scrub (Haigslea, Marburg, Tallegalla, Minden, Prenzlau, Lowood and Glamorgan Vale) is 4,490. Even if you include the town of Rosewood, which is not officially part of the Scrub, you get a modern population of 6,456. If you range a bit wider and add in Thagoona and Grandchester you get up to 8,830. Add in Walloon where the population pressure from Ipswich city is building and you get a population of 10,362.

It’s perhaps surprising to think that 124 years later, the Scrub is not as densely populated as it was in 1885. Even if you take into account such things as rural population decline due to jobs and lifestyle decisions (there are definitely “cooler”, more glamorous, better job market places to live), this should be offset by the relentless pressure of the Southeast Queensland population boom, status as a satellite town to Ipswich and dormitory town to Brisbane and the treechanger and/or lifestyle new inhabitants of the area.

That it isn’t, is something for which I am grateful. Nonetheless, it is interesting to look out my windows at night at those pinpoints of light in the hills and think that the constellations of stars were probably more numerous, if not as bright, last century.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Disturbing facts of life

I had a breakfast meeting this morning. At least it was for me a breakfast meeting. The other two there had probably been up since the crack of dawn. I would tell you that I made some very nice lemon yoghurt muffins for the meeting, but I just read a review in the Australian Literary Review that spent most of the time criticising the author for mentioning the food at various political and other functions that she attended over the years, so I won’t. I on the other hand found the food more interesting than the other parts of the book that were quoted in the review.

I don’t mean to sound snobbish in any way when I mention the Review. I find it incredibly dry and pretentious, but it comes monthly in my Wednesday paper and being interested in books and writing and a compulsive reader as well as frugal I feel that I should read it. Usually I manage a page or two before I remember why people don’t read literary fiction. And like many Australian literary and academic things, it is very incestuous. The same writers, the same reviewers, the same people who you know used to be married or are currently sleeping with each other. Fortunately since I haven’t recently moved in academic or ever in literary circles, I am not up on the latest gossip so I can simply be bored by the writing.

It was a very good meeting because we are finally moving ahead with the website for the Residents’ Association. We now have a draft outline, a service provider AND a budget. All that we need now is to work on the logo and actual graphic design of the site. We have a local graphic designer working on the logo plus I am throwing into the ring my preference of a stylised logo based on the fruit of the crow’s ash – flindersia australis – which is a distinctive tree of the Rosewood Scrub of which I am very fond. Last year we planted four trees down in our front paddock that I propagated from seed. With the rain earlier this year they are flourishingly beautiful. I think an image of the fruit and/or tree would make a distinctive logo as would some variation on a drawing of our historic community hall.

My good cheer was only marred by some disturbing facts of life passed on by my neighbour and fellow committee-member. He told me that I should not be bothered by the thought of hoop pines being cut down for my floorboards because there are whole plantations of trees grown expressly for their timber. Okay, I could cope with that. But he went on to say that outside Maryborough there is a large plantation area devoted to growing hoop pine solely for the purpose of paddlepop sticks. Apparently very high grade non-toxic wood is required for paddlepops. After all you don’t want little Johnny getting a splinter in his tongue. Wood that doesn’t make the grade isn’t wasted, but is used for disposable coffee stirrers. Call me some kind of pink-tinged anti-consumption Luddite, but I find it very disturbing that trees that take fifty years to mature are grown for the purpose of disposable sticks to hold ice-cream and to stir one’s coffee in a Styrofoam cup. I’m not sure if I will recover from such a dose of reality. I may also have to change my shopping list, but I can’t decide if it would be better to support the forestry industry, who after all are planting trees, or not. I think I’d better just concentrate on some graphics for the website.

Monday, 7 April 2008

The opposite of still life

One of the things I’ve been wrestling with is getting an idea of how the Queensland agents in Germany actually operated. Descriptions exist of the agents and some of the advertising material, but there are few descriptions of how recruitment worked and how the agents went about their job. There is no doubt that such agents were successful. One of the most famous agents for Queensland, J.C. Heussler (or Häußler) was personally responsible for 2000 German migrants to Queensland and did very well financially out of his position.

I have no grand insights to offer you today on Heussler and his ilk, but at the Historical Society on the weekend (doing my open afternoon shift) I was able to pick up a book on Heussler written by his great-grandson. I have not read more than the introduction, but I am hoping for some insights on operating practices. From the slightly adulatory tone of the writing I am not expecting anything too juicy though. Some family historical detail would be the best outcome for which I could hope.

I was reminded of agents, or state representatives, recently with the discussions in the news over the appointment of our immediate past premier Peter Beattie to represent Queensland in the US. While a lot of media attention was of the “jobs for the boys” tone, one article pointed out that large state delegations overseas are the historical legacy of these early migration agents. For example, Queensland still maintains a twenty-person delegation in London while many comparably-sized American states only sub-contract single local representatives to push their cases and attract trade to their states.

I have only tackled the introduction, because I have spent the day (incidently the first day of the children’s autumn holiday) on a plethora of house-related tasks. First, there was the tank guy coming to look at our downpipes and discuss efficient water-harvesting and the possibility of a new, larger water tank. Then, starting on my task for the week of tracking down 55 metres of 6 inch (old measurements for an old house) wide hoop pine tongue and groove floorboards (try saying that quickly many times). So far I’ve talked to twelve different timber purveyors – some retailers and others saw mills. It looks as if it will not be as hard a task as many suggested. If I want recycled, artistically aged boards I have to pay through the nose. But if I am satisfied with fresh, custom milled boards then we don’t have a problem. No-one is keen to deliver to Marburg though. I spent significant periods of time explaining exactly where it is along the lines of “no, not as far west as Toowoomba.”

My only issue is the thought that somewhere people are cutting down hoop pines to satisfy my desire for floorboards. I just have to get over this, or use structural floor sheeting which probably hasn’t gone anywhere near a tree. I figure that my cosmic credit is quite good at the moment, having recycled a whole house, so 55 metres of consumption won’t tip me over the edge. Spending entire days on the telephone might.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Still life with fruit

The most incredible perfume is permeating our house. There is a tinge of ripe papaya, the heavy smell of guava and the incomparable scent of quinces. It is my favourite season in Queensland – autumn with its cool nights and balmy days. Days when the feel of the sun on your face is delightful rather than something to avoid. Nights when you have to put a blanket on the bed. Yet this is the place where the ultraviolet rating during the daytime is still hovering around 8 or 9 (high to very high on a scale that goes up to 11 and 12 in high summer). This is not the slightly melancholy autumn of northern climates with its threat of months of grey cold. This is merely a stepping aside from sub-tropical humidity and heat for a few months.

It is also my favourite time of year because of the overlap of fruit seasons. Still available are the stone fruit of late summer while the colder weather fruit is coming onto the market. And in the grand scale of a state that sweeps from the frosts of the Granite Belt to the tropics of Northern Queensland we have a wide selection of tropical fruit available. Below is an impromptu still life of today’s fruit purchases. From the top roughly clockwise: papaya/pawpaw, bananas, granny smith apple, nectarine, plum, quince, pear, guava (our own), custard apple, royal gala apple.

After reading Barbara Kingsolver’s (a favourite fiction writer of mine) account of localism (Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: A Year of Food Life)– trying to consume only produce grown in a local area, I am pleased to say that every piece of fruit in the image is from Queensland. I’m just not sure that Kingsolver would agree with my definition of Queensland-grown as strictly local. In a state with an official land area of 1,730,648 square kilometres (22.5% of Australia’s 7,692, 024) localism becomes quite a broad definition.

While I’m sure that most of this fruit would not have been available to early migrants, I know that many of them started out growing pineapples, bananas and coffee. Settlers in the Granite Belt immediately saw its suitability for stone fruit, apples, cherries, pears and other fruit with high chill requirements. And of course, wine grapes. Pictured is the delightful Boireann Winery in/at The Summit – specialist makers of dry red wines. I love the juxtaposition of orderly vines and exotic deciduous trees with the soft colours of bush and the huge granite rocks.

Although not the Americas, Queensland was definitely a new world for its new residents.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Surprises pleasant and less so

Do you ever swing from hope to misery and back again? Perhaps you have one of those lovely placid natures or perhaps you are not in the middle of a cross between a major building project and a renovation. Don’t get me wrong, I love working on old houses even when I have calluses, bruises, dinted knees and aching joints. But sometimes I am just overwhelmed by the whole process especially when other things like the rest of my life intrude.

I sat down yesterday to write and ended up spending time chasing down tools for the roofing crew to borrow (they forgot their spirit level which is pretty essential for doing gutters); eyeing up a snake that decided to drape itself over our back window (probably disturbed by the workmen); rereading our development approval documents to try and understand the fine technical points; and most importantly having a long phone conversation with our builder.

I can now say “our builder” because we have an agreement to work, negotiated pricing and a tentative start date in three weeks. It will seem a long time, but it’s a pretty short lead time for a builder. We’re working with a local carpenter and joiner who put in our kitchen for us a few years ago. We were delighted with the kitchen, liked the man and his work and talking with him found that he would like to work with us on this project. The stairs that he will be putting in for us are come from the old Laidley School building, something that satisfies all my leanings towards recycling, history and local continuity.

Waiting for a few weeks will give us time to organise ourselves and finish gutting the house. So far we have three and a half rooms cleaned out – fittings removed, tatty cupboards taken out, carpets and lino ripped up and tacks removed from the floors. It’s very satisfying and largely a positive experience. We’ve had a couple of surprises: a bathroom floor a bit more rotten than we expected and a few more borer-excavated floorboards than we knew about, but such surprises are almost to be expected in an old house. On the other hand, the wonderful views and light continually astonish us. It’s all part of the cycle of renovation.