Monday, 26 July 2010

No greater love

I've been talking to snake catchers. It's not a sentence I thought I'd ever utter.

I had decided not to worry to much about the "water" dripping from the ceiling because after all, how often does that happen?

Well, approximately every fortnight as it turns out. Yes, on Saturday, liquid was again dripping from my office ceiling. Whatever was up there was on a two weekly evacuation schedule, or maybe the liquid took two weeks to build up to the point of seepage.

So here I was talking to snake catchers. Snake catcher #1 thought it was possible that the liquid was due to a snake. Snake catcher #2 thought it unlikely. #2 bloke suggested that I get my "man" to go up in the ceiling space again and make sure it wasn't a possum. I tried not to be offended by his entirely accurate assumption that I wasn't the one crawling around in the ceiling space. #2 suggested that if the snake bothered Mr Blithe, then he should just pick it up and move it. And if it didn't want to let go of the beam, to make sure to grab it firmly behind the head.

Mr Blithe did not sound enthusiastic when I relayed this message to him. Given that there was approximately zero likelihood that I would do it myself, I didn't pursue the issue.

Enthusiastic bloke #2 suggested that we were privileged to have a snake in our ceiling and that every Queenslander (the house not the person) needs one. I have no real objection to snakes in the ceiling as long as they remain up there. I do object to stinky liquid flowing into my office.

Mr Blithe decided that instead of crawling around in the dark ceiling space with at least one large heat-sensing reptile, he would approach from the outside by popping off a roof panel or two (not an easy job but possible on a tin-roofed house) and see what was there. Any snake would be unlikely to leap out at him and he could survey potential problems and solutions. As this did not involve me in any capacity beyond moral support, handing up of tools and perhaps, dialling 000, I thought it was a great idea.

Three roof panels later, and one large snake retreating to a dark corner, it was pretty clear that the damage was snake related. Right above my head near the light fixture was where Mr (or Ms) Spotted Python liked to recline while dining. There were leftovers and a large damp patch in the dust.

There was also a large nest of grass and furry bits, let's call them discarded fur coats, nearer to the edge of the roof. Using a long stick, Mr Blithe gently suggested that the snake leave the premises. It was very reluctant but eventually crawled over the gutter, wrapped itself around the downpipe and finally flopped onto the ground and rapidly took to the horizon, we hope, but more likely into the building debris still piled under the house. Mr Blithe then cleaned out the nest and blocked off any future access points.

Leaving home

By this point dusk was falling and there were roof panels to be replaced. Mr Blithe and my father tackled the job. I continued to offer moral support and tools and later, butter chicken. We all act within our capacities.

All I can say is that no greater love has a person than this: removing a roof to look for wildlife, removing a snake, replacing the roof in the dark AND taking photographs for his anti-snake, heights disliking, blogging, averse-to-snake-pee-in-her-workspace partner. Thank you Mr Blithe.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Learning the vernacular

Australia has a long history of imposing imported ideas upon itself. As a land of migrants, many lonely and homesick, people tried to recreate the landscapes of their past in their new land. Everywhere that has a history of migration is similar. In some ways we celebrate our mix of cultures but in other ways it can be difficult to see the original landscape through the overlays of other culltures.

Last year I saw a fascinating series about gardens on television. "Around the World in Eighty Gardens" explored the whole notion of place and sense of place by looking at gardens that were an imposition on the landscape (a twee English garden in India springs to mind) and gardens that draw upon a strong sense of where they are (a garden perched on rocks by the ocean in Chile like a windswept outgrowth). In Australia the host, Monty Don, looked at a garden in the Southern Highlands that could be any grand English garden and is often held up as a fine example of gardening and two very different Australian vernacular gardens -- Dame Elisabeth Murdoch's amazing country landscape garden in Victoria and a red rock and sand garden in, I think, Sydney. The English garden only succeeded by blocking out the surrounding landscape and turning inwards. The other two gardens looked outwards to the land and reflected the immensity and beauty of Australia. I found them infinitely more beautiful and moving than the more static and inward looking garden.

This series spoke to me because part of what I write about and try to understand is how people understand place and interpret it. When you research and write about migration, you need to dig deeply into people's understandings of where they live and how they try to live when they move to a new place.

On the weekend we visited a historic railway station, perched on the hills near Toowoomba. Spring Bluff is famous for its gardens and for being a lovely picnic spot. It lives up to its promise. What struck me though was a very strong sense of how it is grafted onto the landscape rather than being part of it. There is this little patch of cultivation with a strongly English flavour enclosed by bare scrubby hills on one side and stands of tall bush on the other. As you look at the prim rows of plants, and the strictly regulated garden beds, the wind constantly shushes in the tops of the gum trees. You can close your eyes and imagine yourself at sea. Then you open them and there is a dense ocean of grey-green vegetation pressing in on this chocolate box Englishness. The pleasure from the gardens is tinged with a sense of alienation.

Perhaps that is the story of Spring Bluff -- the possession of a land by strangers, triumph over the steep hills and nature, and a longing for familiarity.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Possum pee?

A tale of life in the country and associated dangers.

I love where we live. I love the hills and the grass; the wide skies and the clouds; the endless winds blowing the treetops and rattling the windows; the space for thought and dreams. I do not love the wildlife. Well, I love it in the abstract as part of the essential eco-system of which we are but a part, but I do not love it up close and personal. Animals, bugs of every description and size, snakes, birds, neighbours…all essential to the system, but not necessarily things with which I am comfortable.

Sitting quietly in my new desk chair (black, leather, swivelling), reading a description of the very exciting Germany-Uruguay football match that I had just watched, I waited for my weekend morning coffee that Mr Barista Blithe delivers to my hand. Called to the table, I stood up, walked away from my chair and heard the sound of running water.

Children all at table -- check.

None with agonised expressions -- check.

No horses near the house -- check.

Glasses of water and mugs of coffee -- all safe.

Desk chair -- being dripped on by the light fixture above! And dripped on by vile smelling brown fluid!!

I cannot describe my feelings of revulsion. Nor the amounts of paper towelling, rags and leather cleaner vigorously applied.

My first thought was possum pee. Maybe not your first thought, but you are probably not woken almost every morning by a possum landing on the roof above your bedroom and scrabbling across the roof to the tree on the other side. Thump, thump, scrabble, screech, silence -- my 5am wake up call.

Valiant Mr Blithe went up into ceiling space to investigate. Valiant Mr Blithe quickly returned. He doesn't think there is a possum up there, but our resident, and apparently large snake was quite interested in its visitor. Discretion being the better part of valour, he retired and quickly shut the ceiling access.

Could it be snake pee? Do snakes pee? Do I really want to know?

Friday, 2 July 2010

New projects

After much ado, some about nothing, my new venture is up and running.

Take a look at
Folly's Antidote and let me know what you think.

Even better, ask me to do some work for you!

The spice(s) of life

I'm pausing in the rush of evening meal preparation to perch at the computer. Friday night meals are always simple -- fish and potatoes of some sort with a salad on the side. It's a family tradition. Tonight I'm multi-tasking and making oasis naan and dessert for lunch guests tomorrow. As I looked at my crowded and messy spice rack (why should it stand out from the rest of the house?) I feel a wave of culinary imperialism on one hand and a rush of longing for tropical adventure on the other.

Here I am making naan and curry for lunch, fish and potatoes (how Anglo) for dinner, and a French prune tart for tomorrow's dessert. Into these, I casually tip the treasures that spurred adventures, inspired explorers, caused wars, exploited people and the land. There's cinnamon, cloves whole and ground, cumin, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, chillis, turmeric, ginger, paprika both sweet and smoked, dill, oregano, aniseed, five spice, star anise, cardamom pods, whole peppers…the hot smells of China, the heavy heat of the Dutch East Indies, the dry dust of the bazaars...

Perhaps it is the grey drizzle and cold heavy air of the winter's day but I am momentarily transported. I take these treasures for granted when those in the past have cried out for and fought over these precious pinches of flavour and scent.

The Jaeckels came through the Indies. I wonder what treasures they discovered and brought with them to Australia.