I love rivers. A couple of years ago in China I had a spare afternoon and a driver, and no-one else had any better ideas so I asked if we could see the Yangtze River, which wasn’t far away. So we drove down there, drove over and drove back. I didn’t get out of the car and certainly didn’t taste the water like I didn’t taste the water like I did when I came to the broad majestic Shannon years ago. Anyway, I took lots of photos and today found them again and spliced them into a movie. The sci-fi effect is linked to the odd dislocating experience of this surreal river crossing. I’m glad I’ve seen it.
I’m sure this will be a poem sometime: sitting in the bird hide in the Briars late yesterday afternoon, after a walk in the cold and wind, just enjoying being inside and watching some cormorant drying their black wings, suddenly a white egret flying in and sitting inches away, feathers rustling, holding itself close against the wind and the cold, it’s bright, unblinking eye.
Refreshing the spirit
First day of the mid-year holidays after a busy term’s teaching, finishing up with lots of report writing and deadlines.
So, nice on a cold Saturday morning next day to walk along the edge of the bay from Mt Martha to Mornington and enjoy the wind and the bay in my head.
Too windy to ride I decided and, while I like getting out on the bike, there’s something more contemplative possible when you’re seeing the landscape at walking pace. I took some photos along the way and blended them into this short movie to start the holidays.
Sometimes you step into a place that seems kind of strange. Or warming. Or sombre. Or something. Places have emotional connotations for me; it’s part of the joy of travel to find some of those places that resonate with you. Or re-visiting ones you know.
So, I was interested to find this new little place not far from where I live. My normal walks around the Briars were closed because of the Easter holiday so I walked a different way and found this new creek, and new landscape. Very still and seemed full of story somehow. I captured about forty seconds or so on the video below. I expect poems!
I caught up with a lot of surfers yesterday at the 40th anniversary of the Peninsula Surfriders Club; a surfing club I joined in Year 12 in 1974. I don’t surf much these days but it was great to meet up with some faces from the past and to hear how many are still surfing, lots of them seeking out warmer climates now that the old bones don’t enjoy the cold waters of the Mornington Peninsula so much.
I’ve always thought surfing was more than just something to do at the beach when it’s hot. Maybe more than a sport. When I was surfing a lot, I wrote about it a lot too, not so many poems but stories, articles, journal entries, trying to understand it all. I’ve got still a eighty page poetry sequence sitting in Scrivener waiting to be turned into an ebook, or a major section of some larger book someday. Maybe I should get back to that.
One of the surfers told me about a journal they liked called PaperSea, which looks part-travel writing, part surf-writing, photography and counter-culture. Looks interesting, and good to see others interested in the subtler nuances about surfing and the sea. They write:
Creative men and women with an appreciation for hand-crafted quality will find honest stories and critical pictures about surf, travel and art from the world over.
We saw the need for a creative alternative and so we present to you a quarterly book for people who share our affinity for the ocean, creativity in its infinite manifestations and the thrills and perils of travelling amongst far away cultures.
Full-bleed images by the world’s best minds accompanied by their stories behind the moments are set alongside in depth interviews and stories. We are publishing first-hand experiences as we explore not just the beaches but also the cultures of far away countries.
It made me go back to my own work too, and see what about surfing was there already. This poem, from my collection The Colour of Maps, probably owes as much to Gerald Manley Hopkins as it does to the waves, but celebrates an early surfing moment:
The Waves in the Bay
These fine light pulses
flicker across rippling sand,
perfect solids, half-lit wedges,
tubes unravelling continually
like pvc, along a precise depth of moment
and the spilling forward motion
is thrown out and over along an angling
vortex, punching out air like engines minutely,
crackling like small arms fire
along calf-deep edges
of sandbank promontories.
Or, on still days,
with the bay
stretched taut as glad-wrap,
wrinkly, oily looking,
and strange sets,
yes waves arrive in sets
like Meccano, assembled,
dark stacked mounds of water
appearing from somewhere abruptly,
the bow waves of some great tanker
that passed by ages ago, perhaps,
or merely the sea itself, its slow stretching
sending children skittering
from their floatables, new water
running up the smooth sand,
lapping at towels briefly like affairs,
the old tales of the seventh wave
that sinks ships: ask sailors about it.
And then, that perfect day, the miracle,
when, after the strong wind had finally
transformed the bay’s wayward cross-chop
into lines of swell that darkened
and caved out of the cold depths like bears,
the wind swung around, and while the pulse still beat
strongly in for an hour, fading at last by degrees,
with the sun,
those perfect waves
pushed still against an offshore,
smoothing before our amazed eyes,
these natural things becoming startling,
in surfing dreams come true at last
in the temporary crossing of energies.
And as they beat, still more faintly
from the yellow sunset
and we turned for home,
they were already depleted,
and we, rubbing the salt from our eyes
as if in a dream,
could already barely recall
the moment at all,
or the first fine lace spray
off an offshore in the bay.
Any long-time half-listening reader of this blog would know I’m fascinated by place. The placeless of the place. Where things were. What happened here. Maps. The uniqueness of these coordinates: where the battle was fought, where the rivers converge, where the babies came home.
I write often about specific places, landscape poetry sometimes, landscape-memoir my daughter calls it. I try to capture some of these in my poems, or photos. A kind of preserving.
So, I was a little sad on a long holiday walk last week to find our old house, our first house, falling into disrepair. It’s in roughly the same area we live now, only a few kilometres away but I don’t go up that way often. So, I was saddened to see what had become of it.
We weren’t there very long; less than five years, but it’s where we started as a real family. We bought the kids here when they were born, thirty years ago now. My grandfather and my father helped me build bookshelves and extend the verandah. We planted trees, I was proud of a native frangipani that somehow thrived in the sandy soil. We built a sand-pit, a barbecue and put up a tin shed. My daughters hid letters and drawings in the structure of new cupboards and bookcases for the future. Which is here now it seems.
It looks like the place is being pulled down. The fences are gone and it looks like it’s being dismantled bit by bit, the materials being stacked up to be sold. Maybe a block of flats next? To paraphrase Dylan Thomas: Place passes. Have a look. Place passes.
Below: a long time ago, when the house was new.
Most of the year for me is spent split between working in Melbourne and getting down to the Mornington Peninsula on weekends.
So, one of the things I like most about the holidays is the chance to be in one place for a while, and re-connect with some of my favourite places like the Briars.
I’ve blogged about the Briars before (do a search if you like) but I never get sick of the place, and the way the creek defines it as well as its sense of history.
Today I did the longer 4k loop and also walked out via the new Harrap Creek track for the first time. I’ve captured some of the moments below, but one moment I didn’t capture was seeing a big red-bellied black snake asleep by the side of the track. The trouble is, once you’ve seen a snake on a walk, you see them everywhere, in every shadow, root, branch or piece of broken bark on the track or just off it. It tends to take the meditating mind off the poetry a bit. Though, it did make me think, ‘have I ever written a poem about a snake?’, like D.H. Lawrence did? Looking back, it seems I have only had one go at it, this poem that was published in *Eureka Street* in 2011. Maybe it’s time for another go?
Late Walk Along Jerusalem Inlet
Rows of trees knee-deep in bracken
trunks green with soft moss
all dead or dying
a shovel shaped pit
the sound of water
some Mirkwood path
to a wide green place
where a house was
broken rocks and bricks,
beside the broken oak tree,
a non-allegorical snake.
Below: The view from the bird hide
The prophetic sign: this was exactly the snake I saw half an hour after reading this sign.
Signs of former use; old fence posts from when this was farmland.
Common farmland birds poster in the bird hide
Spring Paddock Dam
Below: Balcombe Creek
Nice to see it flowing after a bit of rain this week.
Below: Spring Paddock Dam
Listen carefully for the frogs.