Winter Discontent Hints At Spring

bird of paradies close up 1

I woke up this morning with a list of writing tasks to do:

  • Three classes start next week, so lessons to plan
  • Sharing information about a delightful weekend where I caught the last day of the Gandhi Exhibition at the Immigration Museum and the Barangaroo Ngangamay celebration for NAIDOC in the Community Gallery
  • Plus a book review to finish for Lisa Hill’s wonderful celebration of Indigenous Literature she holds each year during July
  • A review of the fantastic Viking Exhibition at the Melbourne Museum where the girls took me on Mother’s Day (Yep, I’m that far behind in my To Do List!)
  • And an update about the ABC after attending a great rally at Melbourne Town Hall yesterday chaired by the accomplished and internationally famous journalist Professor  Peter Greste
  • More about my travels last year – especially Russia
  • The first assignment for a MOOC I’ve enrolled in at the University of Iowa on Moving the Margins: Fiction & Inclusion
  • Plus poems and short stories to finish, revisit and edit…

Help, I need another holiday or to go on a retreat…

A Moment of Joy…

However, all plans disappeared when I drew back the curtains and noticed my Bird of Paradise had started blooming – one of the most colourful and striking plants in the world it belongs to the plant family Strelitziaceae and I just love it.

The plant was in the garden when we bought the house in 1984 and has survived droughts, renovations, a flood, and thrip invasion.

This winter has been particularly cold – everyone I speak to agrees so it is not just grouchy arthritic me – and saying it’s cold means something considering I’m from Scotland!

But being greeted by my delightful Bird of Paradise almost in full flower warmed me up from the inside out!

In pyjamas, I rushed out to take a few photos.

Inspired, I even wrote a poem – nothing like attempting a bit of poetry (even if it is twee) to get the brain in gear on a chilly morning after a turn around the garden checking what else is in bloom.

trees minus grevillea

Mid Winter Morn in Mordialloc

Mairi Neil

Sunlight struggles to glimmer
in the dull convict-grey sky
any warmth still chained to
clumps of cloud drifting by

A faint frost skins patchy grass
soon to be melted or crunched away,
the day frozen – not quite five degrees
oh, winter please disappear today!

Imagine soft, distant, mauve clouds
hovering over a smooth, azure sea
farewelling the night edging inland
the tired fishing boats now work-free.

Birds scrabble nearby for scarce crumbs
nectar hard to find this time of year
they flap, swoop, chitter and chatter
loud demands still music to the ear.

Winter time a challenge for us all –
come on, spring, make life brighter
when flowers bloom in rainbows
our hearts and steps much lighter.

Red and pink geraniums smile amid
myriad green leaves begging for room –
daisies dance a welcome at the gate
rosemary always remembers to bloom

The beautiful Bird of Paradise flowers,
to hint that mythical Eden does exist
its orange and blue finery ready to fly
to tropical garden and romantic tryst.

Nature’s beauty  a welcome surprise
even in winter. Each splendid new day
bulbs grow and blossom without fanfare
a reminder the spring’s never far away!

Welcome Signs of Spring

Looking closely at the plants the signs of spring are there. Buds beginning to form on the camellia –

camelia buds july 18

but later it was the behaviour of a Magpie I spied out of the window that fascinated me.

magpie flying

I’ve written about the dislocation of many of the local birds because so many trees (their homes) have been removed as Mordialloc’s housing boom continues. The changes have disoriented several magpie families who have been living in the area.

Magpies build large, domed nests in thorny bushes or high up in tall trees using found objects and whatever they can collect for their nests.

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They are a protected species under Australian law and it is illegal to kill them but destroying their homes is obviously not considered illegal – yet the quickest way to destroy a species is to get rid of their habitat!

Magpies mate for life and normally stay together for their entire lives. They mate during springtime when the weather begins to get warmer. That’s usually when they build their large nests.

However, I watched as an industrious Magpie tore strips off an old coir mat and gathered as much material as possible in his/her beak before flying off to distant trees.

The spectacle totally engrossing for several minutes – how he/she managed to keep collecting more material in its beak without losing any amazing.

When I think how I fumble to pick up and grip stuff with hands and fingers yet birds make the most intricate of nests, woven out of a range of natural or man-made materials with mainly their beaks.

They truly are amazing creatures!

I’m sure Mr/s Magpie was gathering for a nest and not food although in winter they eat more plant material, wild fruits, berries and grains, supplemented with household scraps and food scavenged from bird tables, chicken runs, even pet food bowls.

But all bird experts say we should not feed them – especially not bread – no doubt I will do penance in the afterlife for those years of throwing out breadcrumbs when I first moved here!

Like Australian Ravens, Magpies also eat carrion and catch small mammals and birds. In the wild, Magpies prey on larger animals such as young rabbits but with urbanisation despite the destruction of habitat I don’t think they’ll go hungry and so won’t be hunting pet rabbits.

Delights, Distractions but now must ‘Do’…

While exotic plants and paving stones might make gardens appear neat and tidy, scientific advisors suggest cultivating a wilder and more natural environment benefits birds and butterflies.

This appeals to me. I try to plant as many indigenous trees and plants as possible – less maintenance and figure they’ll survive the vagaries of the weather better and hopefully help and encourage native birds.

I have very Noisy Minors who visit daily and manage to drown out the Magpies carolling. The Noisy Minors raid the Bottlebrushes vacuuming up what’s left of the nectar or any insect foolish enough to be caught.

Loss of habitat through global warming is also posing a major threat to wildlife around the world, with some studies predicting that every 1C rise will cause the eventual loss of 10 per cent of all species. (Hard to believe colder winters are in fact probably indicative of global warming as the seasons change…)

Anyway, no apologies for pausing and capturing my garden and the antics of birds on film or in words.

We writers must take inspiration where we find it and nurture the muse, especially when it is as lethargic as mine – or maybe the word is lazy!

Ah, yes, back to that list…

Mordialloc beach in winter-PANO

 

Daylight Robbery

magpie on electric wire

Daylight Robbery

Mairi Neil

In the fading light atop a wire
Mrs Magpie ponders life turned dire
her home’s been lopped
a safe haven chopped
habitat devastated as if by fire

Her brood wanders aimlessly below
pecking and scratching as they go
poking the ground
a discordant sound
a disoriented shambling tableau

How sad the Magpies’ plight
witnessed in the dying light
no nesting to bed
confusion instead
will they find another treed site?

 

Dawn breaks to joyous a song
a chorus from the magpie throng
what a delight
no fly-by-night
this neighbourhood they still belong

It may be a lesson in adaptation
like migrant naturalisation
not an easy move
from comfort’s groove
but necessity and preservation

tree surviving after demolition

As humans continue to multiply
needing houses to build and buy
the land will be cleared
as if blowtorch seared
what then for the family Magpie?

I wonder if down the track we’ll be reading about magpies ‘returning to the suburbs’ after being thought extinct.

An ABC report about Bush stone-curlews being spotted in Canberra and returning to suburbs is heartening but also a warning about how the loss of habitat dislocates and may destroy wildlife.

Thank goodness there are people prepared to put expertise, effort and resources into saving species. (Too late unfortunately for the white rhino...)

Environmental change can be rapid but also less obvious and often public policy plays catch up. It was 1972 before I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, an environmental science book published on 27 September 1962 when I was only nine years old.

We are still dealing with the issues she raised and even more serious ones.

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The book had a profound effect on me because it documented the adverse effects on the environment of the indiscriminate use of pesticides.

In 1972, I was involved with the Aboriginal Embassy protest in Canberra and for the first time had deep and meaningful conversations with Indigenous Australians, learning about their country and how the importance for culture and survival depended on their (and ultimately our) relationship with the land.

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When Inspiration Strikes – Write

 

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I’ve often mentioned how lucky I am.  How blessed and privileged, to be working in community houses and teaching people who want to write, and who love words as passionately as I do.

Today, with mid-winter cold and rain creating a day where staying in bed, or hugging the fireplace seemed a good move unless a better option arose, I  cheerfully organised myself for work.

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As a teacher,  you are not supposed to have favourites, but my class on Wednesday morning is pure delight. Ages range from the early 30s to 87 years and each decade in-between.

Our cultural backgrounds and life experience encompass  Armenia, Egypt, Israel, Scotland, Ireland, England and Australia.

Professions: nurse, teacher, event manager, administration, retail, hospitality, lollipop lady, cleaner, small business owner, musician, author, artist, police officer, disability speaker, estate agent, receptionist…

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Life experience: mother, wife, widow, divorcee, never married, single. Some siblings, some knew parents, some brought up by grandparents, some have been in care…

There are travellers, happy-at-home, armchair travellers, ex-military, and those with a bucket list of places to see – exotic and mundane.

We have Post-grads, those whose education was cut short or limited, a Bachelor of Theology, Catholics, Protestants, atheists, agnostics, spiritualists, non-believers, secular Jews, Buddhists…

 

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Wednesday mornings rich with stories, good writing, fun, and laughter. And today was no exception with one of the students, Donna reading a wonderful piece, “Hatitude My Life in Hats” – an earlier version available online.

With Donna’s permission, I’ve started taking photographs because she brightens up the class with her style, stories, and indeed always a fashionable hat!

Her story today eliciting spontaneous applause!

When I opened my curtains this morning, I smiled, despite the rain dancing on the driveway and street, adding that extra swish as cars raced past.

I smiled because my beautiful bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae)is healthy and blooming, I smiled because it is great to be alive.

And because like  most mornings, Mr or Mrs Magpie visited to sing an aria or two. However, recently the magpies have been upstaged by an extremely vocal Noisy Miner.

So vocal, that my lovely daughter MJ has considered avicide.

I am more forgiving – and Tuesday evening being bin night, my sleep was already disturbed  by the growling and clattering of the garbage truck at 6.00 am, so the off-beat duet didn’t cause me to frown.

Because we all share this small planet Earth, we have to live in harmony and peace with each other and with nature. That is not just a dream, but a necessity.

Dalai Lama, Tibetan spiritual leader.

And by the time I arrived at Godfrey Street, Bentleigh, via foot, train, bus, and foot (Bentleigh Station not due to reopen until the end of the month) the rain had stopped and I could enjoy the short walk through the garden and appreciate the love and care enveloping the house.

 

Number Nine Godfrey Street

Mairi Neil 2016

The garden a delight from someone’s green fingers
A profusion of pastel colours glistening
While sunshine smiles and fickle autumn spits rain.
I watch visitors stream inside the nondescript house
Their footsteps echoing on shaded verandah.
Walkers scrape and stroller wheels squeak.
A magpie trills in dinner-suited elegance,
Preening glossy feathers and strutting the footpath
As if ushering passersby to enter stage right ––
The Isadora scarf or Hitchcock cigar missing.

A young woman, nursing a toddler on her hip,
Grins a welcome to the elderly gent who
Clutches his chessboard and secret moves.
Their families farewelled to independence,
Seniors care for themselves in exercise classes.
Small talk in craft sessions produces big results.
Delightful aromas drift from the kitchen ––
Homemade pumpkin soup, sweet chocolate cookies,
Spicy curries –– recipes shared with curiosity and love
Sauced with tales from distant lands.

Oil paintings and pastel drawings, the fruit
Of nurtured local artists decorate the walls
This house celebrates learning, laughter, and leisure …
Friendships bubble and overflow to the neighbourhood
No need to cruise the retail choices of Centre Road,
Sup lonely cafe lattes amid chattering conversations
Or sit mesmerised by mobile screens
A house in Godfrey Street plants seeds
And grows friendships; welcomes newcomers,
Encourages indigenous and immigrant to bloom.

In the house singsong voices of children tinkle
While mellow murmurings of writers’ words
Capture imagination, life experience, and wisdom.
Pens scratch notepads as the sewing group
Across the hall coax machines to whirr into life,
Garments appear patterned by creativity
Wordsmiths spin sentences for pleasure
Every room thrums and hums as
People connect, care and communicate
Their commitment to lifelong learning

I accept the magpie’s invitation
Submit to being ‘led up the garden path’
To follow a thirty-year trail and discover
Like the vibrant blossoms in the garden
Community and harmony flourishes
At Number Nine Godfrey Street.

mordi beach in winter

Fireside Flames Flicker as Imagination Ignited

Mordialloc Beach in winter

Mordialloc Winter Rhythm
Haiku
Mairi Neil

Wattlebirds feast on
flowering grevillea
wake me from winter sleep

Morning winter fog
a row of ghostly gum trees
signpost railway station

Seagulls soar skywards
tossed by winter thermals
an aerial ballet

Blackbirds and magpies trill
as warm sunlight
penetrates tea-tree bush

By late afternoon at
Mordialloc Pier fishing
eskies overflow

Palm trees quiver
with chattering birds
as the sun sets

The full moon’s glow
suffused across a sea
now a mirror of calm

Winter has well and truly arrived in Mordialloc this week! Winter woollies the order of the day, electric blankets the order of the night! One of my students suggested being born in Scotland  made me less susceptible to the cold, however after 53 years, my blood must have thinned.

Although not completely acclimatised to the extremely hot weather, I feel the cold like anyone else. This week going to work, I too huddled in the waiting room at Mordialloc Railway Station rather than brave the southerly wind sending dust and leaves skittering along the platform and snatching at scarves, coats and hats.

It may be cold outside, but this is the perfect excuse to stay inside and write! Unless, of course, I take a walk along the foreshore or Mordialloc Creek for inspiration! The sky, sea and surrounds more interesting and mercurial in winter.

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Beach Park, Mordialloc

Mairi Neil

The swings creak a slow chant
joined by seagull squawks,
children’s sing-song screams.

Children clamber over the pirate ship
slipping, sliding, spewing from
all sides like the cutthroats of old.

Abandoning ship then climbing aboard
on ladders of plastic and rope
their fantasy ship anchored in a sandy sea.

Grandparents diligently move from
slide, to swing, to see-saw and back again
a day in the park serious business.

Mothers watch from afar, this daily duty
to tire the children, their conversations
interrupted to soothe, admonish, wipe a nose.

A father returns to his boyhood with delight
monitoring his offspring while steering
the child towards equipment made for two.

Naked masts and tired trawlers bob,
the sea a wavy navy ribbon unfurled,
clouds hovering bruises in a blue sky.

Children cavort beneath the foreboding blanket
bright winter clothes transforming them into
delicious Cherry Ripes, Candy Canes and lollipops.

A blustery wind has hysterical palm tree fronds
waving and the foreshore tea-tree whispering
their attention-seeking an urgent warning.

It is time to weigh anchor.

winter tree

Shadows
Mairi Neil

A plaintive song
echoes in university grounds.
Students hurry home
ignoring skeletal branches
of winter trees
and the bird’s lament.

The mournful echo
recalls dinosaur dynasties
amid the whirr of bicycle wheels,
footsteps and ring tones
mobile conversations
and iPod seclusion.

A plaintive whistle announcing dusk
before full-throated celebration
As lights douse, classroom doors close.
A melodious call to rest
as shadows deepen,
and the campus empties.

Crowded trams trundle past
bathed in artificial sunlight
beneath the star embroidered sky.
Tall grey buildings reach to conquer
the ghosts of long forgotten species
the call of birded tongue
a plaintive echo.

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Mordialloc Parliament
Mairi Neil

A winter morn in Mordialloc
cloudless sky a washed-out blue
melting frost on grassy blades
glistening bubbles of dripping dew.

A magpie family carol and cavort
breakfasting from territory marked
the wattlebirds have departed
with harsh caws and hurried darts.

From grevillea to bottlebrush
my garden their summer home
feeding on nectar’s syrupy sweetness
until chilly winter makes them roam

This garden planted as a refuge,
a tiny oasis in suburbia’s dream
native flora to encourage fauna
so many creatures––some unseen

Showy parrots squeal and screech
their sunset songs a welcome delight,
but the proud magpies debutante dance
a morning joy and favourite sight.