January en plein air

On the back deck at 3 pm (January 7)

Sound is the first thing I notice as I settle on my tatty deck chair under my equally tatty hat. The distant insistent call of a bird; a gentle tweeting close by; a car revving its engine; the faint susurration of wind in foliage. Dominating everything, even drowning out the ocean, is the high-register whine of a lawnmower. It must be uttering a mating call: it’s soon answered by another mower further down the hill.

The wind freshens: the lilly pilly, panicles cream against the glossy green leaves, reaches towards the deck. The netting over the deck box sways, mint, parsley and celery pressing against it. The tiboochina branches move, and to a different rhythm, with a slight rasp, its leaves. Along the snaggly back fence, not so sheltered, the paperbark and callistemon sway with more determination. I can feel the breeze nudging the material of my trousers, the hairs on my arm.

The sound of lawnmowers continues.

The rope that tethers my clothes horse dangles from the rail: the concrete wombat, suave in bow tie, waistcoat and cap, looks blank-eyed through the screen door: garden tools lie higgledy piggledy. The wrought iron chair, rusty and claw-footed, rests against the desperation sprinkler, and an opportunistic spider has spun a web between deck rail and decorative coil.

The mating calls of lawnmowers stop, briefly, and the ocean seizes its chance to perform an audible solo.

I can see my neighbours’ decks, uninhabited this Thursday afternoon, left to barbecues, pot plants, chairs. The plastic corrugations of a slanted roof and the railing of the deck and stairs make pleasing lines.

The sky is cloudy, with patches of blue to the east. The flurries of bright butterflies which have been taunting me with their uncatchable beauty have disappeared. A bird flies at eye level across the back yard, too fast to name. In the street behind the vacant block a duck waddles, a dog sniffs the ground.

Human voices intrude. It’s time to go inside.

Boat ramp at 7 am (January 15)

I’m sitting in shade, looking across the open creek to the treeline near Troll Bridge.

A brown dog splashes along the creek, yellow ball in mouth: he drops it and waits for his owner, centrepiece of ripples as she wades, to throw it again. A couple with a timid white and black fluffy dog cross the creek, but it’s reluctant, pulling back hard against its leash. Coaxing doesn’t work and eventually it’s picked up and carried over.

A small family group, this one without a dog, emerges from the dunes and sets up a beach camp. A cluster of people and dogs stop mid-beach for a chat.

The tide ripples reflections as it creeps along the creek, the sunlit dune trees caught, broken up, caught again, at its edge. A seagull quarks as it glides overhead coming in to land: the boredom bird says “Oo eee oo eee oo eee” behind me until it suddenly snaps into urgent mode – “oowhip whip whip”.

Shadows fall across the sand breakaway, the gentle sea curling white behind it, and blue round to the north headland. Maisie and Mal are patches of black and red.

Another patch of red: a car hesitates on the road round to Blackies, checking out the view or the surfing potential. Then a white one. I’m late this morning and people are on the move. The day will be warm. Earlier clouds have taken themselves off somewhere else.

Ben gets out of his black van, putting in earbuds and choosing music, then picks up pace for his routine exercise.

The brown dog is still there. He adds round ripples to the tide flow as he jumps after the ball, and a black dog bounces through the water to join him. Wavelets meet sand in a half-coronet.

Two instruments provide background music: cicadas with a diminished untiring shrill, and the sea, a regular loud murmur with an occasional whumph as a larger wave dumps.

Between tidal swirls, the creek moves out to join the sea, with a light burden of small floaties.

By now, the sun is encroaching on the grassy dunes. Cars sneak down the road behind me, tentative as they assess the sea, one of them offering The Nest Midwifery Services. The red car is back at the north headland.

A woman in swimmers strides into the sea, and quickly out again.

Two more dogs appear, splashing energetically through the water and racing manically up and down. Not barking though. The flower-balls of the club grass are a sharp silhouette against the blue of the sea and the brown-grey of the headland rocks. Occasionally the sea makes more vigorous inroads into the creek.

I leave it all: dogs, birds, people, cicadas, sea. It’s time for orange juice and coffee.

Beside the creek near Troll Bridge (January 21)

The wind is quite strong, blowing in from the sea. The grass is ankle deep where I’m sitting: it moves with the movement of the air, my bare feet resting in its softness. Escapee daisies, pink and white, are flourishing , as everything does after rain.

In front of me the water flows towards the lake, pushed along swiftly by the tide, pallid jade with squiggles of sunlight. A piece of golden seaweed undulates on the surface in shadows cast by the casuarinas: their branches wave around, occasionally releasing the sun to shine directly on my head. Their trunks, grey and inclining over the creek, are splotched with lichen. Their needles have collected around dead logs poking out of the water, and in the cleavage of split trunks.

Troll Bridge goes clunkety-clunk-ker-clunk under a procession of cars heading round to the caravan park: roof racks loaded with surfboards or kayaks; inside packed with kids and camping gear.

The screams of kids having fun drown out cicadas and big seas: sometimes they sound like birds. Occasionally the screams become high-pitched, hovering between fear and delight, or transform into a chant. A parent in hi-viz gear, beer in hand, prowls up and down on semi alert.

On the grass near the toilet block three people lie on a rug chatting and sun-soaking, just as I’ve seen them in summer in Warsaw, rarely here.

In front of me, young club rushes draw thin vertical lines against the wind-and-wave-ruffled curves on the surface of the creek. The golden seaweed still floats where it was, held in place by a tree root barricade. Or is it? When I look up after writing this it’s disappeared, nudged briefly against the bank.

Then there’s the sound of water rushing: a small white-topped wave is harrying everything upstream. The golden hank of seaweed and a nest of casuarina needles are whizzed away out of sight.

A car pulls up just short of the bridge. Two girls tumble out and pose near the Troll Bridge sign, dwarfed by the remains of the verbascum virgatum, while their mother in a floaty orange dress photographs them.

The creek is no longer jade but grey. It has lost its leisurely ripples as wind and tide combine to push it along. A bird calls, sounding like a creaky wheel. The shrill of cicadas becomes urgent, fades into false-alarm silence, starts up desultory, and again reaches urgent.

The day winds to an end.

Overlooking Pickos (January 28)

Coastal rosemary braving the familiarity of salt air. Dead sticks of casuarina, a stark silhouette. A sprawling dune wattle, leaves brown-tipped. Dense foliage, a skewiff table top, tilted to 45° by prevailing winds. Flourishing club-rush with its round russet flowers. Yellow fruit of lomandra hiding in the criss-cross of bladed leaves. The ground smooth and damp underfoot, straw-coloured windmill grass trembling in the stiffening breeze.

The chatter of teenagers, light voices on the verge of breaking and following them a lagging boy and girl. A long way out a lone surfer lying on the stubborn swell. Waiting. Waiting.

Untidy waves roll in. Another flurry of voice, this time a solitary woman talking to her iPhone. A plain of messy white water close inshore in front of waves breaking, white crests lipping over translucent crystomint.

A grey-green sea, meeting a grey sky. Plumes of cloud to the north, rising above variegated layers: a whiter sky to the south. Under a rocky cliff, capped with slanted grass, the dark mouth of a cave, a faint line of sea entering, splashing, pulling back. Spiky rocks forcing waves to spill down, break, spill down.

A curve of sand stretching round to the mouth of the river, and on the other side, a string of cabins, an undulation of houses, a series of pine trees. The flight of a seagull brightly white against the grey sky. Beyond Tuross, another strip of beach meeting the long profile of Bingie Bingie granite.

White splashes in the cave now. A procession of breakers. Dune wattle waving crazily. Rain smudging the page. The plume of cloud swallowed up in dominant layerings of grey. The sea increasingly untidy, carrying a load of sand. The surfer, giving up, riding a puny wave in.

The sea creating impermanent waterfalls in rock crevices. A flock of birds chattering like teenagers, sharing views of weather and wind. No whitecaps, just an uncertain turbulence of rise and fall towards the horizon. Asking “Do I dare to make a wave?” Occasionally. Briefly. Timidly. No more than the bonnet of a baby.

Rain-splatters, rolling down the windscreen. Merging. Lines instead of dots. A mosaic as the wind shapes their paths. And now, the sea a mere blur.

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