In Praise of walking

By Vita Forest

Boardwalk in Merimbula

Boardwalk in Merimbula

Last weekend a bunch of us did a big walk from Manly to North Head and back.  I’ll write another post about it soon, but chatting with my old high school friends reminded me of some reasons why I love to walk.

  • It is invigorating.  While at high school, some of us used to walk to and from school each day, despite the existence of perfectly adequate school buses.  While our friends would arrive at the school gates woolly-headed after a night of study, we would be alert and awake after our forty-five minute walk.  Walking helped us to lighten up, particularly as you could catch a long silver slide down a hill as part of the route.   Usually while singing show tunes.
  • It’s slow.  In this fast, fast world, how lovely it is to slow down and smell the roses (something I literally did last night as I walked past someone’s garden – it was a white bloom hanging over the fence and bouncing in the breeze).
  • It’s free!  One of my high school friends walks as her main form of exercise.  No gym fees for her.  This is part of our heritage from those school days (possibly more so than what we learned in the classroom).
  • It’s how you learn about a place.  It’s so easy when walking to take detours, to connect the dots, to see how one place fits with another.  A few weeks back, Saskia and I plotted out Broadway, Chippendale and Surry Hills, all on foot.
  • You usually don’t need to shower after it.  Which made it a good way to break up the day when I used to be an office worker.  I would head out at lunch with (I’m seeing a trend here) some high school friends and we would walk through the Botanical Gardens before heading back to our workplaces with merely a light glow on our faces.
  • It’s a good way to relieve stress.  A few years ago when my life was in turmoil and I had to make some hard decisions, I became a true power walker.  I strode up and down hills, over bush tracks, along city streets.  Along the way I clarified what I needed to do.  I remember thinking that this was a crossroads – I could either walk out my troubles or turn to drink or drugs.  I chose to use those two things at the end of my legs.

So walking remains an important part of life.  Hopefully our children might feel the same way someday…

Have you ever had a walking adventure?

This week

By Vita Forest

 

A cat friend for my nephew

A cat friend for my nephew

This week I have been

  • READING The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton
  • WRITING
  • MAKING a cat soft toy for my nephew.  (He is One today!)
  • VISITING Manly by ferry with some lovely old school friends and some of our kids.  We did a BIG walk (sore, tired legs now).
  • WATCHING Saving Mr Banks and Rear Window with my kids.  Their first Alfred Hitchcock experience…

 

This week

By Vita Forest

Walking through the Blue Mountains

Walking through the Blue Mountains

This week I have been

  • READING Mr Wigg by Inga Simpson (lovely) and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chambon (so good so far).
  • WRITING
  • MAKING two owls for Lucy (Hedwig and Pigwidgeon) based on Ann Wood’s wonderful patterns.
  • VISITING the Blue Mountains.
  • WATCHING Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away with the kids (our own mini Studio Ghibli festival).

 

Making good on the candy promise

By Vita Forest

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We have just returned from a short trip to the Blue Mountains.  As I explained to one of my work colleagues a few weeks back, there were

“3 Mums, 6 children, 1 dog, 1 holiday house…”

She looked frightened, “It sounds like a horror movie,” she said.

But it didn’t turn out that way.

The Dream and the Reality

The Dream and the Reality

The Blue Mountains…when I was quite small, I had been excited about going on a trip to the Blue Mountains, the thing that had struck me was the word “blue”.  I had imagined blue trees, blue grass, blue people… I had even drawn a picture of my expectations which my Mum has kept somewhere (no doubt to have a good laugh over when they feel the need).  You can imagine my disappointment at my actual visit, but I do not feel like that now.

It was quite an operation for Vastra, Saskia and I to find a suitable date that suited our children, us, our exes (and probably our exes’ new wives and partners and THEIR exes.  Life is very complicated.)  At last we came up with a three day window of opportunity and Vastra found us a big five bedroom holiday house in Katoomba.  We walked, played cards, read, cooked and talked.  The children walked, played cards, fought, complained, ate, chased each other and SHOUTED.  During one of their games (all of which produced blood-curdling screams as they raced around outside), the girl-next-door Katie popped her head over the fence to see if someone was in fact being murdered, or if it was all in fun.  She was invited to join them and agreed.  Katie mentioned that earlier in the day, her Dad had been rushed to hospital as he had cut his arm with a chainsaw…  But he was OK.  We had missed that excitement.

We had been out walking.  The deal was that we would go on a walk in the morning, and in the afternoon we would go to Leura to The Candy Store, a shop infamous to children everywhere.  And so we had walked along the cliff top tracks to Echo Point, getting lost a couple of times on the way (but seeing scarlet and green king parrots and a waratah bush in full bloom – who would want to miss that? Us! shouted the kids).  We had seen the waterfall at Katoomba Falls, the Three Sisters, and misty views over the valley due to the rain that fell at times (but did not sway us from our purpose, much to the children’s annoyance).

Katoomba Falls

Katoomba Falls

We returned to the house for lunch, and then it was time to make good on the whole candy promise.  The kids were outraged to find we intended to walk to Leura too (one walk a day is more than enough apparently).  Grudgingly they trailed along, lured by the promise of pocket money to spend at the other end.

We saw more king parrots, blossom trees, rhododendrons and magnolia flowers.  We walked up and down some large hills, past some pretty weatherboard houses, through a shady gully and up another steep hill, before arriving on the main strip at Leura.  When they recognised their surroundings, the kids raced ahead like a pack of hounds catching the scent of a fox.  It took a great deal of time and discussion before their final purchases were made and we were able to move on.  Vastra looked up the train timetable and discovered there was not going to be time to go to the candle shop and make the next train.  Howls of indignation were heard from some of the younger members of the party at the audacity of the adults wanting to look at a shop too.  How dare we?!

The adults decided that we would walk back through the pleasant hilly streets.  We WOULD NOT wait an hour for the three minute train trip.  The kids quickly conferenced and decided they WOULD.

And so it was that we came to spend a peaceful hour having a delightful walk, even stopping to admire a specimen of white waratah that we had failed to notice previously due to the distractions of various bickering siblings.

Blossoms of the Katoomba / Leura region

A good time was had by all.

A Goldilocks kind of Adventure.

By Vita Forest

Paddington Reservoir Gardens

Paddington Reservoir Gardens

On Sunday, the kids and I opal-carded it around town.  ($2.50 all day travel.  Bargain).  We caught two trains and four buses.  Our mission was to find a good place to stop for lunch and we were a bit Goldilocks about it.  First we went to the Paddington Reservoir Gardens, but Max didn’t want to eat there (the grass area was “too small”).  Then we went back to the city and got off the bus at Hyde Park.  But there was some kind of loud thudding outdoor concert going on, and I thought it was “too noisy.”  Lucy also tried out a few cartwheels on the grass and pronounced it “too hard.”  So after another short bus ride, we went into the Sydney Botanical Gardens, one of my most favourite places of all.  The grass was soft, there was plenty of it, there were nice things to look at and it was not too noisy.  We all declared it “just right” and sat down to eat our picnic.

We sat just outside the fence that encloses Government House.  Our backs against the stone, sitting on the “just right” grass watching the world go by – the ferries dancing on the harbour, the people strolling by under their sunhats, the myna birds darting for scraps.  We took off our shoes and wriggled our toes, as we ate our food and sipped our tea (Earl Grey and Rooibus with milk poured from a tiny jar I keep for just this kind of outing).  Max tried to fit through the bars in the fence around Government House.  Although he could fit his legs and arms through, his head and hips were “too wide”.

Everything was lovely.

The view from the Sydney Botanical Gardens

The view from the Sydney Botanical Gardens

And then it was not.

Max and Lucy began to bicker and then there was some pushing.  Then there was some shoving.  Words were thrown.  Then socks.  One sock sailed over the fence and into the garden of Government House.  The sock belonged to Max.  He tried to fit through the fence again.  But as before, his head and hips were “too wide” and his legs and arms were “too short” to reach the sock.  Muttering in an annoyed kind of fashion, I said – there was simply nothing for it, we would have to walk ALL the way around the fence, past the fig trees, past Fiona Hall’s Folly for Mrs Macquarie, past the stand of bamboo, past the sculpture-that-everyone-wants-to-climb-on-but-you-are-not-supposed-to, up the lawn and into the gate of Government House.

With much huffing and puffing, we followed said-route and arrived in the gardens of Government House.

It wasn’t half bad – there was a tinkling fountain, there was the softest of soft grass, there were luminous titian clivias in the depths of the shade beneath the fig trees.  (The gravel was uncomfortable under Max’s bare feet, but that is what happens when you lose a sock…)

Government House through the bars of the fence.

Government House through the bars of the fence.

“You get the sock!” I ordered the siblings and went to look at the herbaceous borders.  There were some quite lovely plantings all in mauve and violet…  Lucy declared that she would pay $5 to whoever retrieved the sock, but then changed her mind once Max grabbed it.

He sat down near the wisteria to put on his shoes and then discovered…

He had lost the other sock!

Looking up at the sky through Fiona Hall's Folly for Mrs Macquarie.

Looking up at the sky through Fiona Hall’s Folly for Mrs Macquarie.

So we retraced our steps, past the fountain, past the clivias, under the fig trees, over the gravel, out the gate, along the path and over to Fiona Hall’s Folly for Mrs Macquarie.  Where he found his other missing sock, waiting for him on the grass.

That soft green grass.

And there ends the case of the mysterious missing sock.

 

In the wind and the weather

By Vita Forest

Curl Curl Beach

Curl Curl Beach

Last Saturday Saskia, Rowdy and I took a barefoot walk from Freshwater to Dee Why.  Why barefoot?  The route includes a long sandy beach.  There were also a couple of headlands and some boardwalks but it was just easier to leave the shoes off…

Here are some of the things we saw

  • Ready-made dog drinking bowls for Rowdy in the cliff-top rock pools.  The water was left over from the recent rain.
  • Birds – a pelican spiralling up on the wind with outstretched wings, fairy wrens hidden in the scrubby bush on the headland and seagulls congregating together by the side of a harbour pool.
  • A bunch of kite surfers literally flying over the waves as their brightly coloured kites bobbed above them.
  • The heart-shaped rock again we noticed last summer (from another angle it looks like a big bum…)
Heart or bum?

Heart or bum?

  • A collection of pink daisies floating in a tiny rock pool puddle by the boardwalk around from Freshwater.
View out over Dee Why

View out over Dee Why

  • The view out over the sea from Dee Why where we stopped for a cuppa at an outdoor cafe.  Bare feet and dogs were welcome.
  • Toddlers peering out of prams at Rowdy as their parents promenaded by.
  • Surfers clad in wetsuits tiptoeing over the rocks with their boards under their arms.
  • Triangular sails of yachts heading south under heavy pewter clouds.  But the rain stayed away.
  • Gleaming white breakers at Curl Curl, glowing as the sun set.
  • A rogue wave surprising me, sweeping up high on the sand and soaking the bottom of my jeans.
  • The weird blue glow of Curl Curl pool after sunset.
Pool at Curl Curl

Pool at Curl Curl

We made it back over the last headland before the light disappeared.  We stopped and washed the sand off our feet while Rowdy caught a few sips of water from the tap.  Our feet were tingling from the grit of the sand, the rocks, the mud.  We knew we were alive.

 

Saskia and the rain

By Vita Forest

Things we saw in the rain

Things we saw in the rain

“There is no bad weather, only the wrong clothing.” Old Scandinavian saying.

I used to live with a cyclist who followed weather updates quite religiously.  He would check the weather app at regular intervals to see whether the storm clouds were indeed moving in, or if he should set his alarm for the 5am bike ride.  For some people (and maybe some activities) a spot of rain is a deal breaker.  Saskia is not one of those people.

Saskia is one of the few people I know who does not change her plans if it’s raining.  I like this attitude.  Here are some of the things we would have missed out on if we hadn’t stepped out in the rain:

  • striding over the Sydney Harbour Bridge at night, clad in our raincoats, with the lights of the city casting streaky reflections on the footpath.  We stepped through the deserted streets of The Rocks, stopping for a cuppa in a warm cafe on George Street before doing it all again in reverse.
  • walking from Minnamurra to Bombo along a section of the Kiama Coastal Walk while storm clouds boiled above us.  If we had been put off by the forecast, we wouldn’t have seen the flock of galahs that wheeled through the sky, changing from pink to grey as they circled overhead.  I wouldn’t have collected the handful of smooth rounded rocks that sit so nicely in the palm of your hand and that now parade in a line across the back of my bathroom sink.  We wouldn’t have happened upon the surreal basalt landscape of Bombo headland, or climbed the rock pillars lining the sea wall or sat on the edge of the rocks with the sea smashing in.
  • exploring Minnamurra rainforest from under the shelter of umbrellas through a drizzly rain that drifted through the light fog in the canopy.  Raindrops fell percussively on leathery fig leaves and sped down vines speckled with fungi, before finally hitting the ground.  We stopped and watched a lyre bird as it worked on a nest, scrambling up and down the slope to find just the right twigs for the job.  Actually, I think rainforests look their best in this weather, the light is soft, the leaves glow greenly and everything is glistening.  You just need to watch out for leeches…
  • having a birthday picnic at Balmoral beach, sitting cross-legged on the end of the wooden jetty at Balmoral Baths beneath a big golf umbrella.  The rain kept the crowds away from our viewing platform over the bay, the boats gently clinking in the breeze as we sipped our tea poured from a thermos and ate lemon cake.

So next time it rains, I’d really advise you to be like Saskia and put on a good raincoat and go out in the weather.  You never know what you might discover.

Paul’s Big idea

By Vita Forest

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Looking north.

This weekend a brand new park has opened in Sydney. Right on the water. Right in the middle of the city, between the Harbour Bridge and Darling Harbour. It is land that had been used for maritime ventures for a hundred years, but has now been returned to the public after much debate, compromise and controversy. It is part of former Prime Minister Paul Keating’s grand vision for Sydney Harbour. (Remember when we had a Prime Minister who had grand visions?….)  Keating insisted that rather than referencing recent history, the focus should be on a return to what the land looked like before the invasion of the Europeans. He wanted the impression of a “naturalistic” headland as would have been seen and used by the Indigenous people of the Eora Nation.

So today, on its opening weekend, my sister and I jumped on a ferry and went to check it out.  It was glorious summer weather even though it is officially still winter.  (Sometimes we get lucky).

The headland rises to a large open grassed area (aptly called Stargazer Lawn) and is terraced by meandering garden beds containing hardy indigenous plants including gum trees, grevilleas and banksias.  As the terraces curve around towards Darling Harbour, the vegetation changes to rainforest plants – tree ferns, palms and Lilly Pillies.

The hill-top lawns give new vistas out over the harbour, down over Balmain and the Parramatta River, and sweeping around towards North Sydney. It is quite magic. You look across to Goat Island, or Me-Mel as it was known traditionally. Me-Mel was the home of both Barangaroo, and her husband Bennelong. You can imagine her paddling across the water to the island in her canoe.

The shoreline undulates around the headland like a meandering amphitheatre from which you can look out over the water. This was my favourite part. It is built using thousands of huge blocks of sandstone arranged to step down right into the water, like a giant cubist sculpture. At this point, we left the path and scrambled over the rocks, it reminded me of being at the beach exploring rock pools. The massive sandstone bricks were deliberately arranged with their topmost surfaces left rough, uneven and sometimes pitted with oyster shells.

Sandstone blocks at Marrinawi Cove.

We explored the paths and ended up in a small patch of shade overlooking Marrinawi Cove, where they just happened to be interviewing some of the creators of the park. We learned that the sandstone was dug out of the site itself (from what is now a car park). Each block was labelled and allocated to a very particular spot in the park, so the wide range of colours in the sandstone would be spread over the whole area to give a “natural” look. We heard how this “naturalistic” headland was really achieved through a great deal of planning and engineering and deliberation. Apparently, a large part of the hill on which we were sitting had been built up on a kind of giant bridge buried under the earth. As well as the car park, the headland hides an underground water system which is used to recycle water over the entire site. In the future when the plants are more established, this water will be available for other uses too.

People picnicked, strolled, rode bikes and walked dogs through the park. They sat contemplating the harbour from their seats of sandstone slabs. I look forward to visiting again.