Homeless, like me …

thumb_IMG_0874_1024

Lean with conventionally handsome chiseled features, he is an older man. His face is lined from the sun or, possibly from the smiles from being loved once. His feet are swollen from age and wine. When he walks, the pain makes him limp.  He is more agile on his bike which he has left somewhere today.  He is an iconic character of this town.  I look for him every visit.  There is a degree of comfort when I see him safe and well.

He has a roving eye that twinkles like a blue star in a clear gaze.  He hasn’t broken any hearts lately, because he is true to none, or so his eyes say. He does not know this, but I hear pieces of his broken heart rattle, deep in his chest, whenever he smiles into the distance. He has the courage to live by his choices. His home, a mobile castle on wheels. His precious art is the sunrise and sunset. His music, the birdsong. His library, yesterday’s newspapers, and the ones from the weeks before. His entertainment includes me, seated at his feet, watching seagulls through the lens.  We have become accustomed to a comfortable silence in this monthly routine.  He watches me walk to work and when I catch his gaze, he looks away from the contact, as if scorched.

At midday, I head south.  I see him long before he sees me as I set off to walk into town to buy lunch.  By then, he has rolled his home from the foreshore to under the sprawling Moreton Bay fig tree.  At this hour, he is at his flamboyant best, with huge grey feathers speared through his hat. An imperceptible nod of acknowledgement communicates, he’s dressed for the day too.

Who is he?  I may never know.  I’m told his world does not include family.  His homeless, itinerant lifestyle intrigues me.  Why? Perhaps, even though worlds apart, he is no different than me.  Our narrative is the same story.

As always,

a dawn bird

The cycle of life

In childhood June was a month of celebration, a month when my parents celebrated their respective birthdays.  My father, being more reserved of the two, would have a quieter dinner among family and a few close friends.  But, my mother on the other hand, it was open house.  There was a steady stream of people who would visit the home to enjoy her company while my father sat quietly with an indulgent smile as he watched her play hostess.  He remained besotted with my mother until the day he died suddenly at the age of 54.  At 46 and in her prime, his indulged bride became a widow too soon.  They were one month short of celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.  She masked her grief, but her loss would have been incalculable.  My mother died a few years ago in her early 80s.

I have been reflecting on what it has meant to be my mother’s daughter.  Beautiful, gracious, hospitable, well groomed with impeccable taste, she was well known for her warmth and largesse in the community.  I have inherited none of her attributes.  Physically or personally I do not resemble my mother, yet every so often I catch a glimpse of her in the mirror and it takes me aback.  A look in the eye, a turn of the mouth, a wistful gaze … and I see her.  What I see in the mirror is how I wished I had seen her in my youth.  Vulnerable.  Strong.  ‘The show must go on’ type of person, albeit, in silk and pearls.  But, I strained hard and taut against the apron strings and cut loose in my mid teens.  It was highly unusual for the times and I could not have done it without the support of my father.  From an early age, my father trusted me to do the right thing.  I treasure that trust to this day.  If tempted to veer from what I believe is the right thing to do, I remember his words, “personal integrity is what you do, when no one is looking”.

A man of some intellect, I have inherited my father’s love for books.  He loved words.  Loved doing cryptic crosswords.  He loved ballroom dancing, as did my mother.  When they danced, people gave them space, and caught a glimpse of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  He loved the big swing bands like Benny Goodman.  He loved hearing Julie London sing, ‘Sway’.  He loved Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.  I once heard her sing in San Francisco, she was within touching distance.  I was mesmerised by her voice and her soul, and, suddenly, it was a visceral response.  It all made sense.  My father loved the arts.  It is a gift from him, to me.  It is where my world stays balanced.

My parents introduced us to the world of books, music, good food and to the concept of being with people without judgement.  Any and every person who stepped over the threshold of our family home, was treated like royalty.  They were a guest and were treated as such.  In the late 1960s and early 1970s, I can recall my father coming home with hippies in tow.  One group, an Australian family with children, camped on our front yard in their Kombi for several days.  My parents introduced us to the concept of sharing, like one has plenty to give, and the joy inherent in helping others.

Interestingly, my son has returned to university to do a another degree.  And, when he graduates, he too will be part of the ‘helping profession’.  The cycle of life!

Is there a better way to celebrate one’s roots?

Until next time …

As always,

A dawn bird

Carpe diem

 

Sunday was one of those perfect winter days in Perth.  Mild in the sunlight with a clear blue sky above.  The kind of day that highlights the reality of carpe diem.

So, keeping to my exercise regime, but this day, succumbing to the seduction of a clear day, I took my camera with me when I walked to the lake.  Generally, it is a walk down my street and turn right to walk along the rim of the lake.  My focus is usually on the birds and in spring, a wary focus on tiger snakes that inhabit the wetlands.  I have seen them sunning themselves on the footpath!  On Sunday, inexplicably, I decided to turn left and walk towards a path that leads to my former home.  My decision drew the curiosity of the Little Corella, who high up in the gum tree, watched with a face perfectly made up in the style of the 1980s!

The walk took me to places long before the time of now, in more ways than one.  The gum trees are old and towering.  When fallen, they are a garden feature, where they land.  I stopped many times to observe my surrounds more closely than I had ever done before.  The walk reminded me of a time when I worked in a program that included an Aboriginal consultant.  Once a month he/she was expected to give a seminar on indigenous matters to raise cultural awareness.  I had forgotten about the spiritual relevance of these areas to indigenous people.  It is a vast area that covers several suburbs where the lake flows.  It is considered part of the spiritual understanding and has special relevance on the inter-relationships between human, physical and spiritual worlds.  Reflecting on this, was a grounding experience.

I walked this path with my children more than twenty years ago.  No, not walked, I chased their laughter as they ‘wheeeeeeed’ down the undulating pathway, then huffed and puffed as I pushed them upwards, when tired legs could not longer ride.  I learned fast as a single mother with limited funds, any wheeled toy was great fun for the children.  Inline skates, two wheeled scooter, skateboard or a bike were favourites at different stages of their development.  My children kept me fit with their enjoyment.  As complicated life was, it remains a time of treasured memories.

On Sunday, it felt full circle.  A sense of oneness with nature, with experiences past and present and feelings.  It is still dark today while I reflect on this. In the distance I can hear the laughter of kookaburras.  Today, I don’t need to hear them, to make me smile.

Life is good when one learns the art of carpe diem.  Yes, the concept may be underpinned by cognitive science, but, I believe, it is an art.

Until next time,

As always,

a dawn bird

 

 

Gold in the garden

The first gold leaf on the mulberry tree should have signalled the arrival of autumn.   But winter, in haste it seems, bumped autumn off the seasonal chart.  Taken by surprise the leaves clung to limbs before succumbing to relentless rain.  Not all is lost though.  When the sun shines, the garden ornaments, now buried shoulder deep in drying leaves project an air of autumn.  There is some comfort in order, in sequence, in predictability, so I’ve resisted calling my gardener for a clean up, at least, for now.

While the trees and shrubs shed leaves, the garden is bountiful.  The citrus trees are fruiting.  To my surprise, a shrub is glowing with lanterns of gooseberries.  Rare to find in the greengrocers, and when they do, it is usually in summer, so unseasonal fruit is a surprise.  There are hundreds of gooseberries on the shrub.  They appear as a pretty yellow flower, they curl into themselves only to appear as fruit.  The transformation is fascinating.  So far, I’ve found only one that has ripened in its crisp paper lantern.  It is the first fruit I’ve ever grown to fruition.  Tangy and sweet, it was delicious!

Far from country where resources are wrestled from earth, I am finding gold unexpectedly in my garden.  The birds are becoming accustomed to my benign presence.  I am keeping them company, instead of the other way around.  This, too, is an unexpected delight.

I am discovering the child in me again.  One that is curious.  One that hopes.  One that dreams.  And, when faced with reality, one that watches in wonder to find all things are possible.  Much like the tiny honeyeater.

Until next time

As always

a dawn bird

 

Diamond country

I visited the East Kimberley region of Western Australia a couple of years ago when, although winter, it was very hot up north.  Kununurra, a major town in this region is some 3000+ kms from Perth.  The beauty of this region is humbling and best enjoyed in silence.

Our hotel was just across the road from Lily Creek Lagoon.  Boab trees grew along the rim of the large creek.  It was hauntingly beautiful at daybreak.  The area has warning signs for freshwater crocodiles and although less aggressive than the deadly saltwater crocs, I was wary but found the surrounds irresistible.

Lake Argyle, a large artificial lake, is the lifeline of mining and agriculture, in this region.  This is also diamond country where the pink Argyle diamonds are found.  The landscape is more beautiful than the most expensive bling dug from earth.

About 400 kms away from Kununurra is Halls Creek, a historic gold mining town.  Just on the outskirts of town is China Wall, a quartz outcrop that erupts from the ground for several kilometres, rising from and disappearing into the red earth intermittently.  It is the longest known fault of its kind in the world.  In places, it is several meters high.  At the base is a pool with palm trees growing, an oasis, in this harsh beautiful country.  Unfortunately, to access it, the camera had to be left behind.

Raised with the fear of snakes, I initially resisted my companion’s urging to explore the oasis.  Like I said, it was hot.  I also know there is a simple equation in the bush, where there is water they are birds, small animals and, naturally, snakes.  Climbing down was easier than I anticipated.  The rocks were scorching hot.  They made our descent even quicker!  Once down we realised we hadn’t anticipated the challenge of summit.  Climbing over hot rocks, some more than a metre high, was made harder by our laughter, squeals of pain and fear of what could be lurking in the crevices!  Once in the car, I was exhilarated.

In looking over these pictures recently I had an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, a “I did it!” moment.   It fuelled me to reconsider what is my biggest challenge these days.  Running my own business, the work-life balance has been elusive and has been for a while.  The largely sedentary lifestyle of planes, cars and chairs has impacted my fitness.  It prevents me from working on my bucket list where there are gorges to visit and walking trails to explore.  It is stealing joy by stealth.

The insidious nature of stress is that one gets used to it.  Relaxation is the pole opposite and can make one feel uncomfortable.  To counter this I am starting slowly.  A walk every day.  Around the lake in good weather.  Undercover, in the shopping centre, when it rains.  Much to my surprise I wake each morning and allocate time to do this.  I leave my camera behind and enjoy being ‘in the moment’ where ever I am.  To do this requires art and science.

Although the science of behaviour modification is familiar to me, it took a New York journalist, Charles Duhigg’s book, ‘The Power of Habit’, to practice it.  My late father used to say, words are words, but it is how you hear them, matters.  My father was right.  Sometimes, words like diamonds, once chiselled and faceted, sparkle.

May you hear what you need to hear today.  And, may it change your life, for the better.

Until next time,

As always,

a dawn bird

 

A migrant, like me

He is a slender man with skin the colour of roasted coffee beans.  In his late twenties, I estimate quickly.  His taxi is as clean as his simple blue shirt.  He settles into the driver’s seat and lowers sunglasses over long lashed eyes.  I know he has caught my gaze in the rearview mirror.  When he smiles he is a boy again.  His dimples are deep.  I like him immediately.

As I close my eyes and sink lower into the backseat, he turns on the air con and asks if I’m comfortable.  A thoughtful gesture that makes my eyes glisten in a world of competing demands.  I enjoy the solitude for a few seconds.  Unable to tolerate the silence he blurts out, “I remember you.  You are the lady who works very hard for her family.”  I try and minimise my lifestyle amid his insistent, “no, no, you travel a lot”.   He remembers our previous conversation in vivid detail.  He asks if I’m going to Broome again.  I now remember him, as among other things, we had talked about camels.  He is from the Middle East and as a child was a witness to the unspeakable terror of war.  I’m ashamed he has remembered more about me than I have of him.

He talks impulsively.  Recalling our previous conversation, he tells me he too has a bucket list now.  He wants to provide for his young children like I have done for mine.  It is possible in “this beautiful country” to achieve this, “if you work hard”.  I sense this is his daily mantra.

He has no other plans than to give his children a childhood they remember rather than one he tries hard to forget.

I knew I liked him the moment I met him.  This time I don’t want to forget him, so I offer him a home where I live, the space between the keyboard and screen.

And, perhaps, in your thoughts, when you meet or see someone like him.

Until next time,

As always,

a dawn bird

The Old Timer

DSCN0580It is my first weekend home without external demands.  I’ve enjoyed working at my own pace and targeted chores that were meaningful to me.  As the day winds down I can’t help but remember some of the far away spaces where I was just a mere speck in an enormous land.  This came to mind …

I am seated outdoors at a regional airport, the building is no bigger than a suburban home.  The luggage is off loaded in an open shed.  The word Security is not part of spoken or written language around these parts.  There are no warnings to travellers about their unattended luggage or cars blocking the entrance.  The car park is spacious with 20 bays.  There is no need to park at the door.  This is country life.  The shed is empty now after a small spill of people emerged from the flight that will take me back home.  The announcer says passengers will depart from Gate 1.  It is a superfluous announcement.  There is no Gate 2.  Indoors, my frame is just below the level of heavy backpacks.  The miners are going home too.  I am safer outside until the crush at the small check in counter dissipates.  Near me are two young men, dressed in tee-shirts, jeans and new steel capped shoes.  Their mining uniform is tucked into the gym bag, their hard hat, two sizes too small, sits atop their head like a crown.  Their arms and chest are smooth sculptured muscle, large enough to provide a backdrop for tribal designs to be inked into their skin.  Fresh out of university, the young engineers flaunt their salary in body art.  At right angles sits The Old Timer, his face aged faster by the sun than years.  His legs are stretched out in front of him.  People, including me, respect his space and step over his dusty boots carefully.  He is comfortable in the usual uniform of the area, the reflective stripes glowing bright against the red dust he wears.

The Old Timer sucks at his hand rolled cigarette throwing his head back to take in every bit of smoke into his lungs that crackle like electricity.  He turns his head to the left and blows out steadily.  At the end, the effort convulses his body into a coughing fit.  When he catches his breath he closes his eyes and is deep in thought.  The two young men are waiting for him to speak and in those seconds, the graphic on their laptop screen collapses and then resurrects itself upwards in a kaleidoscope of beautiful colours.  The same graphic is in the Old Timer’s head.  He sees it covered in dust.  He knows it well.  It has not moved in years.  It has always been the same colour.  He speaks slowly, “I reckon”, he pauses, eyes closed.  “It’s the third valve on the right that’s carked it.  Fix ‘er and that water pump will run.  Sweet as.”  A stream of smoke fills the silence when he stops speaking.  The two men focus on the computer again conferring softly.  His wisdom shared, the Old Timer stands up, the momentum makes his back arch back, a little too far, or perhaps it is the weight of his stomach on spindley legs.  One young man laughs and says something inaudible but the Old Timer hears the comment.  When his coughing subsides he states emphatically, “Bin smokin 40 years.  Buggered if I stop now.”  With that parting shot, he gets into his 4WD with dust licking the sides like flames, and drives away, leaving behind his absence in the shed a void that is wider and deeper, from where he came.

His kind is iconic of this region, deep in mining country, but sadly, few and far between.  So it is not surprising, the memory of his honest eyes, watery and as blue as the sea he has not seen, is what I take home with me and now share with you.

Until next time,

As always,

a dawn bird