Thursday, 9 February 2017

Getting back home

I went away for Christmas and New Year, to Perth, where I lived for 30 years. I went for the ocean and to see my children and grandchildren. I went to be in that country again.

The kids were wary at first of their distant grandfather, then warmed to me again. I have daughters myself, not sons, so it was a revelation how much pleasure can be had with a shallow depression at the ocean's edge, running Tonka trucks through each time the wave wash fills it. And the water itself was a miracle - cool but not cold, deeply refreshing. I swam, I sat with the sun on my back in the dry warm air. I woke to the doleful sound of crows and the shriek of corellas and looked at the same blue sky, each day, and never thought about a second layer of clothing. Then I had had enough. I wanted my own place. I wanted clouds and the possibility of rain. The mercury went to 40, then 42 degrees, then backed off, but the hot weather migrated across the country as I headed home. I walked out of Melbourne airport in the evening into balmy weather.

It was damp. The big rain in early January was in evidence everywhere. The lights of the taxi showed dark at the edges of the unsealed road, and walking around to the front of the house, the lawn was long and still growing. I woke to a valley of birdsong. From the first call, the wren's high-pitched piping, I lay in rapt attention as each bird started up, layer on layer of song, rising in splendid cacophony as territories were settled and identities reaffirmed.

Over the break, my partner read "Position Doubtful" by Kim Mahood, and urged me to it. Sitting on the veranda here, with the magpies calling, she had me at page 2:

"How many of us still feel the grip of place - the long span of life traced out in the growth of trees planted by someone you knew, a family history measured in memory and change, the sudden clutch of knowing it will end, life and memory both, that love and sorrow cannot be separated? To learn the names of trees and grasses, the times of their seeding  and flowering, the glimpse they offer into the grand slow cycles of nature, is to see your own life written there, and passing."

We're a migrant people, moving from place to place, mostly urban places. Not many of us have the luck of being taken up by a bit of country and losing our hearts to it. I got lucky in Perth with a patch of wandoo forest too poor for clearing, perched at the very edge where the wheatbelt begins its sweep of devastation and economic return east for 300 kilometres. Country my grandfather and his father cleared. I drove out one day to visit. The campsite with its corrugated iron roof, a table and chair, was as I had left it 15 years ago. I stood in the crackling heat and one familiar bird brightened my monochrome mood.

Now there's this valley at Riddell. I see the grass flattened where the creek spilled its banks in the big rain, and lift my head to catch the magpie's warble. I worry how to get on top of the vegetable garden, and what the really dry hot weather will bring. Another place has taken residence in my heart.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare,

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