Autumn walk

awalkI took the two little ones on a walk to feed the ducks and look at the beaver homes on Sunday afternoon. My ambition of taking a photo of the three of us feeding the ducks was quickly abandoned in favour of making sure Felix didn’t fall in the water, scaring away two bold ducks on Felix’s behalf, rescuing the bread-bag, and scooping Antonia off to find a bench for a feed. But we had a nice walk.

awalk2Above, Felix is grumpy that I am taking photos instead of retrieving the huge stick he threw into the water. Needless to say, I rescued the stick. After a feed and a short nap in the pram, Antonia looked up at all the trees with her quiet, shiny eyes.

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A walk

walk

Last weekend we had the most gorgeous picnic and walk around a little lake. It was so sweet watching Michael and Felix race ahead of me, ‘discovering’ engines trapped in the ‘mines’ under the big rocks, and ringing the rescue service to come and save them.

felixandme

I’m 37 weeks in this photo, but you can’t see much cos of what I’m wearing.

picnic

It was a truly perfect outing, topped off by plenty of blueberries.

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blueberries

Spring

Had such a lovely day today. So much sunshine. It was the first day it really felt like spring, so I met some friends at a lake with a beach and and ice cream shop, and the little boys were in heaven. As soon as we got the water Felix ran straight in and his jeans and winter boots got soaked, so we took them off. Then he insisted on taking his undies off so for a while he was running around in a winter coat and nothing else! Then of course the coat came off. I sat with my friends on the rocks and drank tea from a thermos and felt the sun warm on my face. Felix threw stones into the water with his little friend. He eventually talked me into taking my shoes off and dipping my toes in, and the water was like ice. There was a ten minute walk back to the car, and he held my hand, wearing a long-sleeve t-shirt, underpants, and wet winter boots. My darling, funny, funny boy.

We have been talking about taking the side off his cot for more than a year, and the response ‘yes, we’ll do it soon’, has been starting to wear thin. This morning when I went in to get him, he had managed to loosen one of the bars. ‘I’m taking the bars off, Mummy, help me!’ And indeed he managed to take two of them out, so we decided today was indeed the day. He was giddy with delight all morning, realising he could jump onto his bed whenever he wanted, and ‘hide’ under his quilt. We’ll see what awaits us tomorrow morning…

This evening Felix sat on my lap and stroked my belly. ‘Baby’, he said, and drove his little car down the slope. ‘You can talk to her, Felix,’ said Michael, you can say ‘BAH!’ ‘Noooo, the baby doesn’t like that.’ We chatted about babies and ‘tubes’ (umbilical cords) and names for a while, and I tried to explain that Oma had chosen Michael’s name, because Oma was Michael’s Mummy. It suddenly got a bit confusing, and Felix said ‘I think Mummy should always keep Daddy and Mummy and the baby and Felix’, and I said yes, we are together, this is our family.

Exploring

Tonight Felix said, very clearly, moon, star, when I pointed to them in a book. He’s also said, recently, chair, key, tractor, blueberry, pea, bo, for book, so, for socks, uhoh, and eeieeioh, from Old Macdonald. He makes sounds for cows, pigs, bears, snakes, clocks. He tries to say giraffe.

I’m endlessly fascinated in the little guy. It’s a funny feeling, hearing new words from his lips. I wonder what it will be like – what he will be like – when he can really talk to us. Because always, the new Felix erases the memories of the old Felix. That is why I am so glad I write some of this down. When he can speak in sentences, how will I remember what he is like now? He only has a few words (I guess between 40 and 50), but he’s constantly expressing himself, with his voice, his body, his face, his energy. When I picked him up to take him home from the barnehage today he was very distressed and pointed desperately at my bag, saying ‘mmmmmmmmm!’ I couldn’t console him. He didn’t want his leftover sandwich or his water bottle. It’s normal for him to point to my bag and demand a banana, but I’d run out of them, and besides, that wasn’t what he was saying. Eventually I worked out that he wanted milk, so I went to the kitchen and got him some. (He’s only been interested in cow’s milk for the past week or so.) When we got home he wanted more, and again before bed. A couple of his books had pictures of sippy cups, and he pointed at them happily, saying ‘mmmmm’, confident that I knew exactly what he meant.

More than ever, now that he can walk, I love watching him explore. He likes exploring, and wanders happily around shopping centres or the very quiet Halden town centre, as I follow a couple of steps behind. He’s not indiscriminate, however, in where he’s happy to go. He’ll wander down the driveway to our neighbour’s house, and then get nervous and want to get picked up. On Sunday I took him to a big public garden with an orchard, and thought he might like to wander down between the trees, but he wasn’t having any of it. He likes stairs, benches, and things to climb. Most of all, however, he likes water. Show him a body of water, a fountain, a puddle, a lake, and he’s off like a shot.

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.

A Sunday drive

This afternoon we drove up along our regular summer cycling route, marveling at the icicles cascading over the rocks on the side of the road, and the little green islands in the middle of the frozen lakes. At the end of the route, we got out and had a stroll. I can’t believe I swam here in summer – just about where I’m standing. There were little ducklings bobbing around. And waterlillies.

The conditions were perfect for cross-country skiing, as fifi suspected, and the lake provides a surface about as flat as you can get. We saw a couple of guys out and about, getting a helping hand from their dogs (surprisingly effective).

I’ve never walked on a lake before. Occasionally we’d come across a crack, which was less than reassuring. I have to include this photo too, because of the lovely snowy trees in the background. It hasn’t snowed for days but it’s been so cold that it doesn’t melt at all.

I’ve taken the weekend off the thesis because yesterday my brain was dead. I can work through every other weekend it seems, but not every weekend. So… one last final push before I fly to England. M’s off to Sweden for two days now, and I’m hoping this will be my most productive week EVER. But this weekend was so nice. Just like the best sort of holiday.

Summer

Despite the earnest sentiments expressed in my last post, this week I’ve been wondering if I should hand in my Australian passport. It’s been HOT. And I haven’t been coping. Not sleeping well, feeling faint and floppy. But when I say hot, I mean 28 degrees. Nothing.

Nevertheless, we went cycling yesterday evening. The sun baked down on us and the warm air brushed our skin. It was my eighth 30k ride since arriving two weeks ago, bringing my total to 240k. I want to see how long it takes to get to 1000. M’s managed one more ride than me so far, so he’s at 270. We cycle to a lake. Often there’s a lone duck, preening her feathers. Sometimes there are ducklings, six of them, peeping and paddling. And a woodpecker, tap-tapping above us. Once last week it was over-run with picnicking families, reminding me of the scene at the end of Cloudstreet. The other day, on the way back, I saw a tiny red squirrel, scampering across the road (made a nice change to all the squashed ones).

Anyway, yesterday was the first time I could actually keep up! Usually M passes me on a hill and that’s the end of it. But this time I kept him in sight. I floated up those hills, and flew down them.

But it was hot. So when we got to the lake…

Here

Lakes, and clouds, and trees. Some days grey, some days golden light all over the fortress. The blossoms on the tree outside our window just thinking about opening. I nearly missed my flight on Thursday due to the English train system, but I made it. Easter eggs, and science fiction dvds late into the night. No need to think about teaching for four whole weeks. Frothy, milky coffee in the mornings. Bread with brown cheese. I sent off a new, longer version of my last chapter on Friday, and have got back to redrafting the first chapter I wrote, two years ago. Yep. It’s good.

Our newest toy

The very clever lovie has found these beauties. They pump up in five minutes, and then you’re away! They’re called dive-yaks, and are made so that you can paddle out to a spot and then go diving, something we won’t be trying. But they work just fine for paddling around.

This lake is a popular bathing spot for Halden residents – there were lots of kiddies paddling around. We saw ducklings, and a baby seagull chick on a rocky island. Its parents weren’t too pleased when we tried to take a closer look. And we saw waterlillies, up close.

Halden and Mt Gambier

Halden’s pretty cool. It’s surrounded by lakes and pine forests. It’s got a seventeenth century fortress, a river, a harbour, a paper factory, and a nuclear reactor. What more could a town want? Here’s a picture I took this evening of the fortress, or festning, from across the harbour.

And this one’s looking back down the river towards our house. You can see the chimney of the paper factory in the middle of the shot (that’s clouds behind it, not smog). The paper factory is powered by steam from the reactor. If it was a wide screen photo, you’d see the fortress on the hill to the right.

We live directly under the fortress, next to the river. On the other side of the river is the paper factory, and behind that, hidden in the mountain, is the nuclear reactor. So we’re right in the thick of things.

It reminds me of another little town I grew up in – Mt Gambier, South Australia. Mt Gambier has pine forests and paper mills, and a lake, and even a tower on a hill.

When I lived in Mt Gambier, I always had the sense it was dreaming of somewhere else. The pine forests and the green paddocks – these weren’t Australian. The ground is volcanic, laced with caves and sink-holes – a secret world beneath your feet. In summer, the crater lake is this unearthly blue. The tower, perched on its hill near the lake, is visible from all over the city. It had to be ancient. It had to mean something. (Okay, stick a lonely twelve year old in a country town, and this is what she comes up with.)

Maybe it was dreaming of Norway – a land of lakes, and pine forests, and ancient towers. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m pretty enamoured with Norway. I read somewhere many years ago that Scandinavia is the dream-centre of Europe, and that has stuck with me. Norwegian landscape is somehow very clean, pure, archetypal. Simple words describe it: mountain, forest, river, lake. These are the words of fairytales. When a fairytale says ‘forest’, it means a thick dark pine forest. And when it says ‘lake’, it means a deep, cool, watery lake, ringed by the forest. Not a pale, baked expanse such as Lake Eyre or Lake George.

I’m not saying European lakes are better than Australian ones, although they continually shock me – such an abundant excess of water. I just spend so much time analysing Australian medievalism that I thought I’d indulge in some.

Ice and Fire

This is a memory. But it’s a pretty young memory, so I thought I’d write it down. Also, ever since it happened, I’ve been wanting to write about it, and have written about it, in fragments, in emails, but here is the space to tell it properly.

Three or four weeks ago I was out on my regular ride along the lakes. It’s actually one enormous long lake, but it seems like lots of different lakes, because you keep reaching it at different points through the pine forest. On my way out, as I passed a sandy shore of the lake, I noticed a crinkling, crunching sound, sort of like the roar of the sea, but different. I didn’t think much of it. But on the way back, I saw it. The ice on the lake had begun to melt, and washed up around the shore in glittering shards. The fragments rubbed against each other in the movement of the ripples, and made this incredible sound – the sound of water, and ice, and sunlight.

I stood there for a few moments, and then went on my way. That evening, we lit the wood stove in our apartment. We left the door open for a bit, to watch the fire sing, and surge, and crackle. And that’s when I noticed. It was the same sound as the ice on the lake. I had not known that sheens of flame and ice crystals spoke the same language.