A rabbit goes a marketting

By Vita Forest


I sat on Katrina’s special collapsible portable stool, that weighed almost nothing and folded to fit in her backpack.  I sat in the shade and looked out at the sunny side, the side of the building, the side with the sunbakers, the coffee takers, the side with the arched windows and metal pipes and picturesque bricks and the old boiler that could have been part of Howl’s moving castle.  Maybe it had broken off on one of his jaunts and he hadn’t noticed it yet with all that creaking and banging and carry on.  Perhaps it had found this spot in the sun by the railway track and decided to take a rest til he came back.  There was plenty to see here after all.


There was a small boy wearing a milk crate on his head and a woman in a floral silk robe belted about her waist  that billowed behind her as she strode along in her fluffy magenta slippers.  There were dogs of all sizes pulling their owners along by their straining leashes and children making trains of upside-down milk crates lined up in a row.  There was music drifting outside from inside the huge metal shed where a man on a cello stroked its strings with a long bow as the shoppers wandered by, their bags full of watercress and tomatoes and home-made pasta sauce.  There was the smell of coffee and sourdough bread and the patina of flaking paint on the sturdy old brick walls.


I sat on my friend’s stool, placed just so, right across from the boiler, in the shade not the sun, against the rippling corrugated iron wall, not as sketchable as the sunny side, not as warm either, truth be told, but sometimes you gotta suffer for your art.  I sat and flicked a blade across the tip of my pencil, sharpening that graphite to a point (how I love a sharp pencil to work with) and my knife slid down the pencil and my eyes slid across the tracks and the pavement to the boiler and I thought about how I could draw it (all the while aware of the blade of the knife of course, all the while taking care not to cut away a finger or a thumb).  And I sketched out the composition, the segments of the cylinder, how it would fit on the page.  And I sketched in the milk crate seats in front of it and I noticed that someone had just sat down on one of those milk crate seats and had set down a few items on a milk crate table and looked like she was there to sit awhile so I started to sketch her in too.  And as I quickly drew in the angle of her head and the slope of her shoulders I noticed her place a clump of green on the ground for her dog I presumed, her dog on a lead, there were so many dogs, but a dog eating greens?  I looked again and saw that the animal with its harness and leash and thick brown fur was not a dog, not a dog in the slightest, but a large, placid rabbit sitting in the sun at the market and eating its morning tea while its human ate hers.

I have never seen a rabbit out for a walk on a leash.  I have never seen a rabbit relaxing in the sunshine as dogs sauntered by, not seeing, not sensing, not bothered by the rabbit nibbling fennel fronds on the concrete.  Perhaps they knew each other, saw each other every week, here at the market, doin a bitta shopping, hanging out in the sun.  I didn’t notice any animal greetings but I noticed passing children doing double takes and stopping to crouch and look and gently stroke the rabbit and one sat quietly and was rewarded by having the rabbit carefully lifted and placed on her lap to pat and whisper to and scratch behind its long velvet ears.

I mapped out the girl and the rabbit then sidled back to Katrina (very subtly of course) and brought to her attention the furry friend that was Not A Dog.  She had not yet noticed the rabbit, she was drawing the boiler and the roof and the windows and wasn’t up to adding any people, not yet, that would come later.  Then I sidled back and kept on drawing and delighting in the nonchalant girl who sat there self-contained but not self-conscious in the sunshine with her juice and her pastry and her rabbit on a leash.

Had they walked far? I wondered as I scribbled in her boots.  Had they hopped all the way? (while I shaded her cardigan).  Was this a regular excursion on a Saturday morning in September?  Did she have a favourite stall for her nibbly greenery or did they try the rocket from the Hawksbury one week and the radish leaves from down south the next?  Would I draw her looking up or looking down at the rabbit, stroking its head, or holding her drink, or leaning on her elbow?  People always move so you have to work fast, adjust, approximate, make it up.  She sat and sipped her juice and I scribbled and drew and tried to get it down before she up and left with her bunny and her bags.

Nell strolled by with a coffee and her photogenic stalk of broccoli and a bunch of lavender and peered over my shoulder.  She hadn’t yet decided on a setting for her sketching, on a subject, on a place to sit awhile.  I brought the bunny to her notice and she laughed out loud and leaned against the wall and watched the girl with her bunny sitting under the boiler and said, “There’s a story in that.” And maybe there is and maybe this is it or maybe there’s something more to come.

So Nell wandered off to find her own sketchable moment and I drew in the milk crates and the drink and the table and the shadows and the sunglasses, but before I could go and ask if I could pat her rabbit and what its name was and how they came to be at the market that day and did they come often and a million other questions, before I could ask all that, she picked up her rabbit and her rubbish and put them both carefully in her calico tote bag and walked away.

So I sat and drew rivets and rust instead of rabbits and shivered in the shadows while drawing what was in the sun.

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This week

By Vita Forest

Festival of the Winds, Bondi 2017


This week I have been

WRITING Cold Call

READING Big Magic By Elizabeth Gilbert (loved it!)

WATCHING The Good Fight

SKETCHING at Carriageworks, Redfern

Farmers market at Carriageworks, Redfern


WALKING the labyrinths to live drumming and didgeridoos at the Labyrinth Dreaming Festival in Centennial Park where we were

The Pilgrim Labyrinth


WISHING the Sydney Labyrinth a Happy Third Birthday and

Sydney Labyrinth, Centennial Park


JOURNEYING into and out of a number of labyrinths including a Pilgrim Labyrinth where you were

The Pilgrim Labyrinth (see the stones?)


CHOOSING a river stone and carrying it into the labyrinth then pausing and

LAYING down your burden by placing the stone somewhere along the path on your way out

PICNICKING beside the festivities then

VISITING Bondi Beach and

We touched that dragon’s tail!


MARVELING at the show in the sky at the Festival of the Winds


 

Hanami in Auburn

By Vita Forest

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On a Saturday full of wind and bluster, we journeyed out to the Auburn Botanical Gardens for the Cherry Blossom Festival.  On Friday the winds had been so strong that powerlines had been blown down, a fence at the local tennis club toppled, and at sport, the kids had thrown their hats in the air to see how far they would fly before they landed.

I feared the blossoms would have been blasted from the branches, scattered like pink confetti over a suburb or two, but when we arrived, we could see them, still firmly clinging to the trees.

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We went by train, my daughter Lucy and her friend Bianca, and a bunch of sketchers, backpacks full of paper and pencils and paint and ideas.  We talked expeditions past and future, we made plans, we swapped stories.

When we arrived at the garden, the wind was blowing and the pink flags were flying.  Pink was the colour of the day – pink blossoms, pink flags, some pink hair, even the volunteers wore fluoro pink vests instead of the more usual yellow.

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Even the volunteers were in pink.

I was remembering my last trip to the gardens a couple of years ago with a busload of Year 1 children – here is where we did origami, here is where we took a photo – on a bridge over the water – and not one child got wet.  Here is where Marvin barrelled across the stepping stones without knocking anyone over.

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We had learned about Hanami – the festival celebrating the viewing of the cherry blossoms and here we were experiencing it ourselves in Sydney.  It is all about being in the right place at the right time – the trees only bloom for two weeks or so, blink and you’ll miss it.  In Japan they give updates on the progress of the blossoms on the nightly news (“buds opening”, “flowers starting to appear” etc) and even display weather maps charting the display of colour.  It is about being in the moment, that ephemeral moment when the blossoms open and world turns pink.  Strange then to see so many visitors at Auburn with their selfie-sticks and iPhones – as if they will only see it all later after they have posted it on Instagram.  I was not immune to capturing the moment myself – look at all these photos…

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An abundance of selfie-sticks

We walked over an arched bridge and watched as a volunteer sprinkled bread from a bucket.  The water was full of the open mouths of carp fighting for what the geese didn’t get first.  We strolled along the cherry blossom avenue noting the way the sun shone through the blossoms and a few happy bees trundling over the flowers.

The sketchers peeled off, finding places by the lake, by a zig-zag bridge, near the moon gate, so close to a cherry tree she could hold a twigful of it to study and draw and protect from the wind.  The wind!  The wind that followed us around the lake, climbing the rocky steps to a lookout, ruffling the undulating hedges that resembled the sinuous body of a dragon, splaying the fringing needles of a conifer into star bursts.

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There be dragons…

I sat on a hill, a little removed from the cherry blossoms and watched the world go by with my sketchbook.  I noticed the way the wind sent the bundles of pine needles flicking and sparkling.  I noticed how the magnolia flowers swayed majestically on their strong vertical branches, I noticed a sweet looking toddler with two fountaining pig-tales stumbling about the slope, under the careful eye of her father.

I drew trees and saw how the base of each pine tree was set in a tiny pool of mulch.  I drew a line of cherry blossoms, noticing how the trunks were gnarled and twisted before the tips of the branches thinned and reached skyward.  I drew mounds of grass, thickly planted and arranged in tight, round clumps.

And then I drew people – people with their selfie sticks, people with their iPhones, occasionally people just chilling under the trees, seeing life in real time with their own eyes.  It was the perfect time to be in the moment to feel the wind and the sunshine, watch the flocks of birds wheel over the lake, hear the throb of the Taiko drums in another part of the garden.

So much in “the zone” was I, I did not see Lucy and Bianca sneak up behind me, was not aware of them until Lucy leapt at me, causing an unplanned scribble on my page.  They danced on the hillside behind me, did walkovers, stole snacks from my backpack.  They had visited the tiny zoo and had seen a peacock, an albino wallaby, an emu, but not the wombat.  The wombats were hiding away in their cosy burrow out of the light and the wind.  When the girls had eaten all the snacks, they were off again.  Off to catch the sumo wrestling just about to start in another part of the garden.  Later they explained the rules to me and demonstrated the hand motions of the winners and the bowing etiquette before a match started.

We regrouped and shared our sketches; pages of blossoms and lakes and bridges and trees.  And after a lunch of gyoza dumplings by the lake, our little visit to Japan in Sydney was over.  It’s fun being a tourist in your own town.

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Mobile Tales 9: in which Christabel learns a disturbing fact about whales

By Vita Forest

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The whales!  Those alluring, majestic glamourous creatures which Christabel La Mouse spent far too much time watching and admiring from the deck of her galleon…  It was all very well to be high above them safe in the good ship Possession as it sailed on the ceiling, but Christabel had just read something very disturbing.

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Whales slumbering amongst the coral

Her whales spent much of their time slumbering amongst the brightly-coloured corals of the Booth Seat.  Or curled lazily atop a rocky outcrop called The Couch.  Or occasionally sitting on The Tabletop and blinking peaceably as they quietly meditated.

What all these places had in common were that they were below the surface of the sea.  Deep down in the water.  So far down that they required her to use her spy glass to see more than a black or white smudge in the depths of the ocean.  Which could otherwise have been mistaken for a boulder, or the shadow of a cloud, or an underwater cave.

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A boulder?

But her book, this book she had chosen to read in order to learn more about these magnificent creatures, insisted that they were not fish at all.  That they did, in fact, breathe air as she did.  That they needed to come to the surface of the sea to take great gulps of it and to expel stale air out of their bodies in a violent, shooting spout through a hole located along their backs!

It was a lot for a small mouse to take in.

Imagine such a sight!  Imagine the whales at the surface of the sea, where the good ship Possession floated…  It made Christabel fairly quake in her boots just to think about it.  Was it really possible?  Could the authors be mistaken?

Her whales never rose to the upper edge of the sea where it met the air.  And for this, Christabel was grateful.  They instilled equal parts fascination and terror in her small mouse heart.  What would she do if they came close enough to touch?  Was it really possible they were known to capsize ships?  It was a disturbing thought.

Christabel peered through her spyglass and trained it onto the top of their sleek sinuous bodies.  Perhaps it was beyond the limit of her spyglass, perhaps it was her own weak eyes, but she could not make out a breathing hole along their spines.

This pair seemed to be a special case.  Were they yet unknown to the scientists who spoke so authoritatively about spouts and breaching and plankton?  She would need to read further.  (And be alert for any mysterious jolts to the hull of the galleon.)  Possibly (she hoped) these whales were different.

The world was indeed a mysterious place.  And perhaps it was a good thing that there were still things to learn.

Especially about the sea.

Especially about whales.

 

Mobile Tales 8: in which Christabel becomes aware of an unusual weather system

By Vita Forest

One fine, balmy morning (was there really any other kind?) Christabel La Mouse peered out from The Good Ship Possession, through the far distant headlands of The Doorway and into The Kitchen.  There was strange metallic box therein to which she was often alerted by the rumbling and humming it made.  She believed it was called The Refrigerator.

The Refrigerator was a cheerful thing that kept up a steady stream of conversation.  Unfortunately, the language was quite unknown to Christabel, so she had to make do with sending a cheery wave its way and the occasional call of “Yoo Hoo!”  It was unclear whether The Refrigerator was aware of such communications, but it seemed happy enough as it gurgled and hummed and droned and whirred.

And happy it should be, for it seemed to be the home of much of the food in The Kitchen, and in particular, The Cheese.  Many was the time that Christabel would be distracted from her lookout post by the flash of light that signalled the opening of The Refrigerator and the accompanying waft of cheddar or parmesan.

But on this particular fine and balmy morning, Christabel was aware of a cloud of white that was buzzing over the pewter grey surface of The Refrigerator.  It shimmered as if alive.  Whatever could it be?


Her curiosity was piqued, necessitating this myopic mouse to withdraw her spyglass from its case and place it up to her right eye.  She twisted its segmented body this way and that, until the shimmering cloud sharpened into focus and to her astonishment turned into a cloud of words!  A cloud of words!  Whoever had heard of such a thing!  (It was true that her own vessel was formed from the pages of a novel but a cloud of words?  Was there really weather systems created by language?  Storms of similes?  Gentle patterings of adjectives?  A sudden flash of metaphor??)

As she watched, one of The Humans stood in front of The Refrigerator and peeled small rectangles from inside the cloud and arranged them in lines floating above it.

Was it a message?  She waited patiently until a number of words were thus arranged (and also for the large head to move out of the way so she could see).

What did it say?  Christabel swung the spyglass from right to left and read:

shadow ship soar over a smooth lazy lake

How lovely!  Then

watch above though

stop the spray heave & rip & blow

Wise advice indeed.  Then

live sweet summer honey music

It only needed an exclamation mark…

And there it ended.


Christabel felt like clapping, The Refrigerator gurgled and from the depths of The Kitchen, the kettle boiled.

How wonderful it was to discover new delights to monitor from her ship on the ceiling!   The world was certainly full of wonder.

This week

By Vita Forest

While I waited… outside The Australian Museum


This week I have been

READING

  • The Art of Frugal Hedonism by Adam Grubb and Annie Raser Rowland
  • The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

LAUGHING when some Year 4 boys went and knelt in the mud on the way to Assembly because they know how I like to sit in Assembly and admire their muddy knees…

MEETING up with some very old friends from my childhood and my sisters for a dinner at Briony’s.

FAREWELLING my children as they headed off overseas with their Dad.

WRITING Because I am early  about being early to

SKETCHING at The Australian Museum and

FOCUSING on Papua New Guinean masks


PRETENDING I was at a retreat and doing yoga twice in one day…

 

Lex and Ruby

By Vita Forest

 

Springing from the sandstone

Slicing into the water

Fingers first

Feet last

The water cold and clear and shocking.

He pushes it behind him in great armfuls

Hears the pop and fizz of fish chanting in the shadows

The quiet burble of water filling his ears.

 

He erupts from the water

And she watches from the window

Sipping tea, spying.

Enjoying the water streaming off his shoulders

The flick of his head sending the hair off his face

The spout of water he spits from his mouth

Returning it to the harbour.

 

She watches as he strokes off towards the zoo

The spirals of steam stroking her face

Like his hands did

Not long ago.

 

He swims

His eyes at the level of the water

Now above, now below

Rising and dipping

In, out

Air, water

Alternating clarity with blur.

 

Then he sees it

Spinning across the surface

A bobbing brown bulb

A traveller

That fits in the palm of his hand.

 

He sweeps it before him

Bats it, flings it

A ball, a toy, a message in a bottle

A promise.

 

Back on land

Scrambling over mossy rocks in bare feet

Cradling the bulb

Slick and shiny in his fingers

Until under a fall of scarlet crescents

he sees the dark soil.

 

Searching for a stick and

Digs, scrapes, turns up the earth

Pushes in the bulb

Finding it a home.

 

Not knowing what he has sown

A plant, a garden, a love, a tribe, a story

All there

beneath the warm earth.