Lakes

I cycled to the lake this evening and the water was very still. The pine trees, gilded by the late sun, mirrored themselves perfectly. Then a fish jumped and flopped and splashed and the ripples circled out, a perfect bulls eye, eventually hitting the bank and folding in on themselves. It reminded me of this poem, by a 19th/early 20th century Australian poet who lived and wrote poems near the country town where I grew up. He was a farm labourer and largely uneducated. This poem is a bit awkward in places but I like it anyway.

The Crane is my neighbour

John Shaw Neilson

The bird is my neighbour, a whimsical fellow and dim;
There is in the lake a nobility falling on him.

The bird is a noble, he turns to the sky for a theme,
And the ripples are thoughts coming out to the edge of a dream.

The bird is both ancient and excellent, sober and wise,
But he never could spend all the love that is sent for his eyes.

He bleats no instruction, he is not an arrogant drummer;
His gown is simplicity – blue as the smoke of the summer.

How patient he is as he puts out his wings for the blue!
His eyes are as old as the twilight, and calm as the dew.

The bird is my neighbour, he leaves not a claim for a sigh,
He moves as the guest of the sunlight – he roams in the sky.

The bird is a noble, he turns to the sky for a theme,
And the ripples are thoughts coming out to the edge of a dream.

Claire Souter made a painting inspired by it.

I also thought of this poem, which I wrote about ten years ago and remember word for word. (Not surprising really as it is a silly little thing.) I wrote it about a lake not far from Penola, with which Neilson had some connection, and I was thinking about him and his lake and his ripples at the time.

I am the lake’s reflection
said the curved moon
leaping like a silver fish
in blue, late afternoon.

For me, there is still something magical and improbable about lakes. Perhaps as I come from such a dry country, where things marked as lakes on maps are often just sand flats or salt flats waiting for rain. ‘Lake’. There is something marvelous about it – the image, the word. The thought of all that still water beneath the stones and the trees.

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Sun

Today was the first day of summer, for sure. The meandering flocks of cumulus, which can turn sunshine into torrential showers and back again in the space of five minutes, were nowhere to be seen. Only the slightest wisps of white feathered the blue blue sky, so high they had nothing to say to us, nothing at all.

Work finishes at four. It’s not dark till eleven. We rode our bikes through the forest by the lakes in the sun and then climbed to the fortress, walking back by the harbour and the river. Folks drank beer in the shiny yellow light at 9pm. The little town beamed and gleamed, showing off its prettiest faces.

So different from the frozen wasteland, the lakes we could walk on, the brave colonies of ducks on the snow.

I wasn’t ready for the summer soltice. Let it be summer forever, I say! But it is true, the summer has just begun. This northerly land buries its face in the sun. The light tips all over us, all over the roads and the lupins and the lakes and the green leaves and the the warm, warm stones. And I say let it. Let it come.

Boats and clouds and rainbows

Last week we went sailing. Over water that lapped and trembled, all the colours of the sky.

Past clouds stacked like tower-blocks, through a sunset that lasted an hour.

I got to steer. I loved it.

Michael looked rather dashing in his lifejacket.

I looked like a cloud myself.

We had cakes and coffee in the hull. It was great. Reminded me of one of my favourite picture books, where a girl and her little brother go sailing. They even grow plants on the boat. It’s a brilliant story. So adventurous and so cozy. Can’t remember what it’s called. The little boat we were on had everything – a kitchen, a shower, several beds. Sometimes, they sail to Scotland.

We sailed to a town where Munch used to live, Asgardstrand. I guess that means something like beach of the gods. Or, more precicely, beach of the city of the gods. We saw his house. We stood on the pier where he once stood. I thought of his clouds and curves and small dark islands.

There was a rainbow. The first I’ve seen in years.

And the clouds burned all the way home.

Yum yum yum yum yum

Maybe what happens when you turn 30 is that you turn into a food-blogger.

Anyway, I made the most amazing dinner tonight and I’m so excited I just have to tell you about it. We had baked sweet potatoes (M’s idea) with lentil salad. The salad consisted of green lentils boiled for about twenty minutes, finely cubed cucumber and cherry tomatoes, finely sliced snow peas, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, and a dressing of olive oil, balsamic, soy sauce, sweet chili sauce, fresh garlic, oregano, paprika and a tiny bit of cumin.

Oh my.

The soft squishy practically caramalised sweet potato contrasted perfectly with the crunchy-vinegary-garlicky lentil concoction. It was pretty too but I couldn’t find the camera. I know I’m not the first one to have thrown together something like this but I think I’ve discovered a new staple.

Vertigo and veggie burgers

We went to Sweden yesterday, home of all good things. Or, at least, affordable groceries. We bought six kilos of couscous, at half the price we would have paid in Norway. A huge bag of red peppers. An equally huge bag of fat sweet potatoes. (A craving for sweet potatoes on Friday led to us staring sadly at the tiny shriveled mouldy dregs masquerading as vegetables in our local supermarket.) Snow peas. Frozen spinach. Halumi cheese. Several cans of tuna. And two small boxes of veggie burgers. (Although veggie burgers have the privilege of existing in Sweden – we have never seen any here – they are not cheap.)

I felt a bit strange this week. There are too many balls in the air, or, to swap metaphors, I’m standing on the brink of too many things. Too many possible pathways, tangling outwards. Too many places demanding attention, both near and distant. Too many words to be written. Too many people to be – I fear if I commit to one, I will lose the others. I fear if I step down one path, the others will be barred forever. Which, of course, is not the case, and nothing is to be gained by standing still.

Last night we went to a bbq and watched the sun set over the fortress. And today we ate veggie burgers and teriyaki mushrooms and lompe bread for lunch, and they were just marvellous. And today the sun is shining, madly, brightly, and we will ride our bikes past the glittery lakes. The many words that need to be written will be written, one by one. I will not hover on the brink forever. I will jump. Again and again and again.

Days and Years

It will never be today again. Never. He would not, in all his life, make another discovery more shattering.

Randolph Stow, The Merry-go-round in the Sea

In the last few hours of being 29, the loss of my twenties felt like some kind of a death. When you are in your twenties you believe you will be in your twenties forever. That is, until you reach 28. Or, more worryingly, 29. But although I spent most of last year thinking ‘well, I’m nearly 30 now’, the actual cut-off point approached with alarming finality.

Most people tell me that being 30 is just like being 29. And it is. And it isn’t. I guess the contrast is pretty stark for me because I just passed my PhD two weeks ago. It feels pretty good to have passed, I must say. It felt pretty good to hand in, too. But in retrospect, the two months between submission and my viva were strangely liminal. Not a student, not a doctor. The thesis was finished, but not examined. I wasn’t overly worried, and made the most of the spare time, traveling and hanging out with my family and eating cake. But I feel so much better now. So much better. One identity is lost forever. But another one is offered to me, one that I can put in my pocket like a magical golden coin that no one can ever take away.

I loved my twenties. I worked as a care assistant for people who needed it. I picked some pears. I wrote some poems. And a long complicated story about a dragon. I finished quite a lot of degrees. I won quite a lot of scholarships. I learnt to fly. I climbed some mountains. I was sad for a short time but I got over it. I lived in seven different houses, in four different towns, in three different countries. I changed my mind. I crashed my car. I met my beloved. I flew very high indeed, high above the mountains and the wrinkled sea, right up to the belly of the clouds.  I moved to England. I fell in love with the dales and the grey stone walls. I gave conference papers. I moved to Norway. I wandered around Pompei, Assisi, St Petersburg, Berlin, Bergen, Petra, Budapest, Jerusalem, York, New York, Las Vegas. I slept on many people’s couches, and futons, and floors. I rode my bike in the rain.

I know I have been extraordinarily lucky. And there’s nothing to say I can’t keep doing any of those things. Although I hope I will never again need to do so many degrees! Numbers and years remind one quietly of mortality. The thirties might be very different. But that’s just fine.

It’s my time

Thanks for the birthday wishes, folks! Michael has devised a play-list for my birthday, which pretty much consists of this stunning UK Eurovision number, plus ‘Can you feel the love tonight‘ from the Lion King. He tells me he won’t stop playing ‘My Time’ on repeat until I put it on my blog and inflict it on the rest of you… (The pink, for some reason, is also a requirement. Probably because it matches the pink champagne he brought back from Paris…)

It’s only a number

Michael is giving me a running commentary. Three hours and forty minutes to go, he says. He says people in their thirties are very sensible and don’t laugh at rude jokes or say silly phrases or bounce up and down for no reason. He says couples in their thirties only kiss twice a day: one goodbye kiss as you leave for work, and one goodnight kiss. He says people in their thirties don’t wear socks with blue smiley faces on them. He says tomorrow is the first day of the rest my life.

We’ll see.