A big space full of nothing

By Vita Forest

View from Barangaroo

View from Barangaroo

“Smog is a mixture of smoke and fog,” Lucy informed me today as the train sped into the city through the smog.  They are doing a lot of back-burning around Sydney at the moment and the smoke was thick again.

We walked down to Barangaroo to meet our pals for a picnic, the smell of smoke in the air.  But over the course of the day, the air cleared, the sun shone, the sky was blue.  Another summer day at the end of autumn.

“Is this north?” Lucy asked, pointing forward.  When I answered in the affirmative, she observed, “So we are walking towards the Arctic circle.”

Which we were, I supposed.

We waited near The Cutaway.  Lucy saw something bright and yellow floating in the water and bounded down the sandstone blocks to see what it was.  When she reached the sometimes-submerged rock, she kept going, despite the green moss, despite the slipperiness, and so slid and fell.  She stood up gingerly and inspected her hands and her seat as she climbed up again.

“It was a lemon,” she announced as she watched the heel of her hand swell and purple into a bruise.  She’s a tough one.

We sat in the sun and waited for Sui-Sui and Alessandro, for Saskia and Rowdy the dog.  The phone pinged, updating us on their progress, closer and closer.  Sui-Sui and Alessandro arrived first, hauling treats in an esky.  It was their first trip to Barangaroo.  I advised them to check out The Cutaway while we waited on Saskia, and in they went.

“What’s so good about The Cutaway?” asked Lucy, “It’s just a big empty space full of nothing.”

“Like my life… ” she added,  “Just kidding!”  Brat.

They returned and the phone rang again, Saskia was around the coastline minding a shady picnic spot by the water.  We joined her and Rowdy, spreading out picnic rugs and food.

Our colourful lunch

Our colourful lunch

We lazed in the sun or shade and watched the boats streak past around the headland and caught up on news.  We ate quinoa salad, tuna and corn fritters, mandarins and grapes and my new favourite chocolate cake that Lucy and I had made yesterday.

Rowdy made friends with the steady parade of promenading pooches and their owners that passed by.  Lucy recovered from her fall and climbed trees, leaped on rocks and did cartwheels.  She took Rowdy for runs around the headland and up and down stairs.  In the process she earned a fourth piece of chocolate cake (it was very tasty).

We talked about books and movies, parents and friends with babies, markets, studies and future trips.  The cake got smaller and smaller.

That pretty salad

That pretty salad

“Look!” shouted Saskia pointing behind us, “A native mouse!”

“It’s a rat!” corrected Alessandro.  But we agreed it was still cute.

The thermoses were empty, the tea was drunk, the last slice of cake disappeared.  We rolled up the picnic rugs and said our goodbyes.

“Now we are walking towards Antarctica,” said Lucy.

And we were.

Barangaroo

Barangaroo

Z is for… Zone

By Vita Forest

IMG_4093[1]

The shoes!  The shoes!  What was she thinking? How did people stand up in them?  Let alone walk.  Let alone dance.  They had to come off!  Pip pushed her way through the people, and the thudding music, which seemed almost a physical presence, and left the lounge room.  She blinked in the brightness of the hallway and bent down to wrench off those high heels.  Those stupid sexy shoes she had been talked into buying in a moment of weakness.

“Sitting down shoes,” her sister called them.

Indeed.

Pip found her jacket and hid her fabulous sitting-down shoes beneath it.  She wriggled her toes and arched her feet.  Much better.  She would simply go barefoot.

Pausing just beyond the doorway, Pip let her eyes adjust to the dark again.  The room was full of dark shadows, dark figures lounging around the perimeter against walls and windows, the centre full of bouncing, flailing dancers.  Her hips starting moving again.  Then her shoulders.  Then Pip’s arms flew above her head, and in the next instance she was dancing in amongst them again.  Who knew where her friends were?  At this point it didn’t matter.  If you were dancing, if you were in the zone, you could dance anywhere, with anyone.  So she did.  She did her hip hop moves.  Some salsa.  Joined a conga line.  She was up for anything.  Any song that came on was her favourite.  Was the cause of whooping and cheering.  She was in “the zone”.  She found her friends again, held Sophie’s hand, mirrored her moves.  Led Sophie through her own.

A searing pain in foot.  Burning.  Pip’s eyes widened and she fell to the floor in a heap.  Jonny lifted her up and carried her out of the dark into that blinding light again.  Through to the kitchen.

They all groaned as they looked down at her foot.  A red welt slashed into the skin above her toes.  A hole.  Purple around the red.  Pip stared at her foot and felt the pounding of her blood through her whole body.  Her vision began to blur and whiten, she stared and stared, as if falling back into a tunnel.

“Let me through!” someone shouted vaguely from a distance.

She felt someone lift up her foot, her poor fragile foot and slap something cold over the top of it.  Pip breathed out through her teeth and felt the whiteness retreat.  Felt her mind return from that tunnel.  Come back to her.  The hot burning was fighting against the cold burning.  It was spluttering.  The fire was going out.

“What is that?”

“Just peas,” someone said.  “Mint peas actually.  Shelled and snap frozen.”

“Do you want to go home?” Sarah brushed Pip’s hair out of her face with gentle fingers.

“No.  I’ll just sit with the peas.”

They carried her back into the darkness (Make way!  Make way!)  and found her a place on a couch.  Sarah piled up the cushions behind her back.  Jonny nursed her legs.  Mira held her feet and draped the peas over Pip’s foot, now only dully thudding.  Sophie brought her a cold glass.

“Just water,” but who knew “Just water” cold from the fridge could taste so good.  Pip leaned back and peered out into the dance.  From the friend zone.

 

 

R is for… Red

By Vita Forest

IMG_4085[1]

Scarlet, cherry, ruby, burgundy… there are so many words that call themselves red.  And my world is festooned with it.  In the garden, the tomatoes swell and hang heavy on the vine.  Ripening from green to red in the hot summer sun.  The chillies are little streaks of scarlet too, concentrating their fire inside each tiny cone.  The capsicums positively glow, and underneath drooping leaves, the prickly skins of magenta strawberries hide.

And flowers!  Nasturtiums send their snaking tendrils across the gravel path, gold and orange and cherry red.  At the centre of each petal, the colour deepens to burgundy.  I hold a flower up to the sky and watch how the light glows through the fluted skin of each bloom and pick a bunch for my bedside.  Each morning, the nasturtiums have colonised the path even more, stretching, reaching, flinging across the gap, trying to get to the other side.  Occasionally, a wheelbarrow will slice through a strand and end its progress, but I will not have them cut back.  Ramsey sighs and presses his lips together at this instruction.

“They will trip you Madam,” he predicts pessimistically.

“They will not,” I retort from deep within my vortex of happiness.  I need the colour, I need the wildness, I do not want it tamed.

Rory noticed my fondness for these radiant jewels and passed me one of their speckled, round leaves.

“Eat it,” he ordered.

“Truly?” I frowned.  Sometimes I feel I know nothing.

He folded one up and crammed it between his teeth chewing slowly.

I followed his example, my eyes widening at the peppery heat in my mouth.

He laughed and handed me mint to cool my insides down.

I can practically see the garden growing, practically hear it.  The sun sending beams of light and heat down to the upstretched greenery, until seed pods pop – insides bursting free, fruit swells and strains against its tightly stretching skin, buds are peeled open, petal, by papery petal.  And insects hover and swoop and suck and drown.

Each fallen peach is crawling with drunken wasps and bees, drawing up the nectar, fighting the birds for each precious drop.  (Have you ever eaten a warm peach fresh from the tree?  It would send you wild with desire too.)

All my senses are heightened.  My eyes are drawn to every bead of red amongst the cooling green of the leaves, the colours singing against each other.  There is even a bird that carries this contrast with it – the king parrot.  Green and red, red and green, they fly in pairs and chime to each other through the trees.  The sound seems to ring through my head.  And who can walk through the garden without sniffing the rising scents in the air, dizzying me as much as the insects that zigzag ecstatically amongst the fruit trees.  And eating!  I hardly need dinner after sampling the harvest, the cornucopia we work amongst, a warm red tomato here, a streaky-skinned capsicum there, biting into it, crunching into it, juice dripping off my chin.

If I close my eyes and sit very still, I can feel the sun working its magic on me too.  Coaxing out new shoots, unclenching all the knots and tightness in my back, expanding my chest.

I am a seed carried on the wind.  I am a fruit splitting in the sun.  I am a tendril uncoiling.

 

 

 

Lil’ green bug

By Vita Forest

  
I was idling in the traffic on the narrow two-lane road through the bush, thinking of places I had to be and people I had to see, when a tiny pale green triangle caught my attention.  A little planthopper bug floated by, like a tiny ship with a tiny green sail (but no owl or pussycat in sight).  It landed on my windshield and stood almost horizontal on the hot glass.  The breeze from the bush blew through the car, as I watched the bug rocking back and forth on its tiny white legs with their deep bend at the knee.  It seemed to be dancing to the music – a Scarlatti sonata for keyboard playing on the radio set to Classic FM.  Swaying on those tiny knees, as delicate as an eyelash.  Could it feel the music through the glass?  My sap-speckled windscreen was transformed into a translucent dance floor.  In time with the string section, the bug strolled leisurely across the glass in a long, sweeping line, and my world narrowed and slowed to this tiny creature waltzing across the window to the accompaniment of Scarlatti.

I noticed the paleness of its wings, paler than the deep verdant green of the ferns curling in the shadows on the roadside, cooler than the grey-green of the eucalypts above us – white with just a drop of apple-green mixed well in.  Its spidery legs flickered forward, and I took a breath before the traffic moved on, and my mind returned to those places I needed to be and those people I needed to see.

Thank you little green bug!

Here and now

By Vita Forest

Collaroy Rockpool

Collaroy Rockpool

Last week was fairly typical February weather in Sydney – the kind of weather that drains me of energy.  High temperatures and high humidity, what my mother calls “stinking hot!”

After such a week, it was tempting to stay home and do not much.  But on Sunday Max and I ventured out with Briony on an expedition to the Northern Beaches of Sydney to get us some surf.  We ended up at Long Reef (Briony’s favourite).  But after we had parked the car, picked our way down the road, and walked over the reddish sand hills, we arrived to find a sign planted squarely in the sand saying “Beach closed”.

The water sparkled and the day was hot, but there was no safe spot to swim, the waves were big and dumpy and there were dangerous currents – so we were told by the lifeguard.  Perhaps they would open the beach in half an hour or so.  Or not.  The surf would be rough all over.  Cyclone Winston from Fiji you know?  (The butterfly effect of it being felt on Australia’s East coast as big seas and rough surf).  But maybe Collaroy might be better, though it could be weedy.  And it did have a rockpool.

We decided to chance Collaroy rather than standing in the sun, staring longingly at water which may or may not be safe in thirty minutes.  So we trekked back to the car over the hot, heat-hazed sand and drove north.

It certainly was weedy at Collaroy – the breakers rolled beach-ward green and prickly with the stuff.

But there was a rockpool…

The pool was divided up with lane ropes, the central section home to the local swimming club, while each side was free for more leisurely swimming.  We walked past the swimming club’s sausage sizzle, and leapt out of the way of a swell of water rising so high, it carried an esky out from under the serving table.  Swimmers bobbed breast stroke  up and down the lanes, trying to swim straight, as the water rolled through, showing who was really in control.

As Max and I waded in, a thuggish 4 year old wearing goggles and a floaty on his back, tried to cut off my progress, but I would not be thwarted.  The relief of the cool water!

Collaroy rockpool

Collaroy rockpool – later than our swim with a higher tide and comparatively calm water.

We moved over to the far side of the pool closer to the sea.  There was a row of kids clinging onto the chain link loops of the fence on the side of the pool.  This was in order to catch the waves that were rushing in, smashing on the rocks, then crashing over into the pool.  There was surf in the pool, its forced diluted somewhat by the rocky headland, but still strong enough to knock a grown man into the pool.  (He emerged unharmed, cap still wedged on his head.)

Max and I sat on the ledge while Briony watched from the safety of the water.  We would follow the heave of a wave from out at sea, then wait as the crest rose over the headland and smashed, bubbling foam over the concrete barrier, carrying us forward with it.  We yelled and laughed as we surrendered to the power of the water – the danger of it, the lack of control.

IMG_3897[1]

Look at those waves!

It’s times like this that I am happy I am still agile, still fit, still able to heave myself up out of a pool and into the way of a churning wave, into the path of a roaring sea dragon.  It reminds me I am alive.  It cleans out the cobwebs, all the tiredness, stiffness and lethargy of the last week gone.  Everything  brought  back to the here and now, sitting beside my son on a concrete barrier and waiting for the water to carry us away.

 

 

 

Marble Treat

By Vita Forest

Cloud watching

Cloud watching

On Thursday, Darcy became the most popular kid in the class when he was able to correctly describe what a “long shot” was, thus earning the class their one-hundredth marble in the jar, and hence their first “marble treat” of the year.

Due to peanut allergies, dairy intolerances and a desire to encourage healthy eating habits, I don’t do food rewards.  Instead we do experiences, and one of the best of these was passed on to me by my friend and colleague Betty.  The whole class gets a little early-mark for lunch and takes lunchboxes, drink bottles and hats (and sometimes even picnic rugs) and ventures through a gate, into a lovely grassy park-like area, beneath some shady paperbark trees, for a private picnic.  This area is usually “out of bounds” as it is located behind the school hall (and therefore out of sight of teachers on playground duty), so stepping onto this hallowed grass is highly exciting for 5 – 7 year olds.

So as Friday lunchtime approached, we took our provisions and set forth in two lines beyond the gate and into “out of bounds”…

The kids sat beneath the trees and pulled out their sandwiches and sushi.  A gentle breeze wafted through the gathering and some kids looked up through the leaves to the sky beyond.

“Look at the clouds!  It looks like an ice-skate!”

“I think it’s a dragon breathing smoke!”

“No, it’s an elephant, it has a trunk…”

“I think it looks like an atomic bomb,”  The last from a very worldly seven year old.

“It’s changing!”

And it was.  We watched the cloud pictures blow about, the breeze obviously stronger up there than down here on Earth.

When eating was done, there were handstands and cartwheels from the girls (even a one-handed one from Desiree).  The boys started a game of Survivor Tip, dodging each other around the tree trunks.  There were smiles and shouts and laughing and squeals and everyone playing together.

Then the bell rang and it was time to go back and join the rest of the school again.

“I wish we could just stay out there,” someone said wistfully as we crossed back “in bounds”.  It was very tempting, for me too.

All it took was fifteen minutes, but what a refreshing little break we had.

Swimming Meditation

By Vita Forest

Another hand-written post from the holidays…

Kiama rock pool

Rock pool at Kiama’s Blowhole Point

This morning I did a swimming meditation at Kiama’s Blowhole Point. The water was clear and clean, magnifying the dappled base of the pool – rocks, moss and seaweed. At the end of each lap, my fingers sank into soft moss and my toes kicked against limpets. I counted my laps back and forth and watched the pelicans spiralling up in the sky and the rogue waves surprising the figures lounging on the rocky headland, momentarily flooding the pool with white water.

Two old men greeted each other while they rested between laps, commenting on the quality of the water (better than yesterday). A woman floated on a surf-mat, fingers trailing in the water while the skin on her back sizzled. Toddlers paddled in the shallows while their parents sat up to their waists in the warmer water. A curious helicopter flew north, red against the sky. Children flung themselves shrieking into the deep water, and a girl stood Amazonian and strong, toes gripping the pool’s edge, as a wave smashed around her ankles.

Back and forth I went, watching surfers in flippers leap off seaweed-shrouded rocks just at the right time, paddling furiously away from the jagged black basalt headland before the waves crashed again. I swam on my back north to south, and on my front south to north, keeping the worst of the sun’s glare out of my eyes.

I looked up toward the lighthouse and reflected how so many of the views in Kiama are from the low-angle, turning humans into monumental figures against the horizon – a boy on a scooter, a couple standing on a hill, and a girl riding a horse near the showground. I looked up from my low angle in the water, up over the grass toward the end of the headland, and wondered if I’d ever, in my whole life, see the blowhole spouting water so far up into the sky you could see it from the mountains.