So where were we? That’s right, in the bush half an hour or so from the northern New South Wales hamlet of Kyogle, visiting the container compound and incipient off-grid metal-box mansion of Alex’s brother and his partner. And I was just shaking off a bout of crippling car sickness, enjoying the trees and birds and quiet when the serenity of the pre-dusk Australian bush was blown to smithereens by — well, to borrow a line from myself (if you’re gonna steal, steal from the best): We were just settling into a cosy backcountry groove when Graham let out a tremendous holler, leapt into their little Suzuki Sierra 4-wheel drive, and went screaming down the track towards something exciting… I already had an inkling. I first met Graham, Alex’s little brother, a couple of decades ago or more. They shared an interest in the macabre, grotesque or just plain disgusting; if you’ve ever witnessed Alex’s housekeeping, you know what I’m talking about. And for Graham one manifestation (decorum in this family-friendly blog means a lot of self-censorship) was the keeping of …
Late September, Sandgate, Australia. A warm, sunny Saturday morning, and the dogs have brought their humans to the seaside. With a languid incoming tide lapping at the seawall, the walkway/cycle path that hugs the rim of the Bay from Shorncliffe to Scarborough is already well populated with cyclists, skateboarders, rollerbladers, perambulating families and couples, the occasional wretched loner walking his or her own path. And there are the dogs. Dogs of all sizes, shapes, temperaments and religious persuasions, all in a state of high excitement. So many things to do, see, bark at, chase and roll in. Their humans sip their lattes and struggle stoically to keep up. Anyway, it’s exercise. We wretched loners slump grimly on, attempting indifference, inwardly acknowledging our sad and undeniable doglessness. ~ And that’s all the Goat wrote
People often talk about what a thriving and diverse ecosystem the intertidal or littoral zone is, but I’m just as struck on my coastal wandering by what a realm of death the strip between the low- and high-water marks can be.
A few days ago I was stopped in my tracks on the Sandgate waterfront by the warning whoops and gnashing beak of an enraged (or possibly just bored) magpie. I wasn’t the victim this time — an unfortunate cyclist, his helmet bristling with absurdist cable-tie attachments, had inflamed the territorial instincts of the bird, and I did what any reasonable passerby would have done, which is laugh out loud and reach for my camera. It’s always amusing when it happens to someone else.
Just back from a few blissful days of doing nothing much at all in the mountains of northern New South Wales. Alex and I stayed with his brother and his partner at their cozy and evolving home in the gorgeous Border Ranges near Kyogle. I’d forgotten how magical and soothing the Australian bush can be. There’ll be a few posts about our time there coming soon… This is how a typical day begins for me in the coastal suburbs of northern Brisbane.
CHRISTMAS 2010, SOMEWHERE IN THE SWISS-GERMAN HEARTLAND I’ve never enjoyed Christmas much as a (relative) grown-up, but I loved my introduction to the European version. In Australia, backyard beers and sizzling sausages on a 30C afternoon, followed incongruously by hot, heavy — and admittedly delicious — pudding drowned in custard and littered with antique threepenny coins, had just never worked for me. But this felt like the real thing. It actually seemed possible to believe that something deeper or more meaningful than an orgy of shopping, eating and bad television was taking place in this ancient little town between Zurich and Lucerne.
Do I have to apologise for hitting you with another dragonfly post? Has it come to that? Well, I hope not, because — “sorry” — there’s one more coming after this, and I can guarantee there’ll be more post-Korea. I took many hundreds of D.F. shots here that I’ll probably work on some more, and without giving anything away, I’ve been assured by a certain someone that there are going to be a lot more of these enigmatic critters in my future…
“What do you like?” This guy I was doing an English camp with, right before I left for America in August, hit me with a tough one. I wasn’t exactly Mr Positive at that point; I’ll spare you the details ’cause you’ve heard ’em all before. Fortunately he had plenty of positive to go around. “What do you mean — music?” “No, I mean about Korea. What do you like about Korea?” He had a Korean wife and was a little defensive, even though they were themselves on the verge of escaping to America and new lives far from any middle school English classroom. Without hesitation, I answered: “The insects. And the flowers.”
Hi, all. Well, as threatened promised, I’m adopting a take-no-prisoners approach with the blogging now, in a desperate and probably futile attempt at publishing most of the un-posted material from my two years in Korea before I jump on that plane. Starting…er, two posts ago, the goal is a post every two days till I’m outta here. I like a challenge. In case you don’t, I’ll try to keep the word count down. Then, once I’m safely on southern soil, we can all take a breather. For a while.
So I left my eyrie above the temple…
I was about to resume my American series with this post, but then, damn it, I had another praying mantis encounter — my third, which seemed somehow significant. Voila: instant trilogy! Not exactly Lord of the Rings or The Godfather, I’ll admit, but the body count does keep growing, entertainingly, I hope…
I’ve had a bad cold the last few days — think I pushed myself a little too hard in Tokyo for an old guy — and enjoyed Tuesday and yesterday at home. (And in a bakery — my second home.) And then today, as I was trudging to school, I became aware of an eerie silence, a delicious feeling of calm. My pulse quickened but I told myself to hold my fantasies in check — and then I entered the school grounds to find the place deserted.
It’s been a mighty good season for the dragonfly freak. Summer has been hot, dry and interminable (yes, it’s officially Autumn now, but you wouldn’t know it — I’m writing this outside in T-shirt and shorts), and it seems to me that my favourite insects, the dragonflies, are hanging around a lot longer than last year — and in even greater numbers.
The nest of the Korean magpie, known as the ggachi, is a ubiquitous addition to the skyline in the farmland fringes and right into the apartment tower heartland. Though the birds themselves are difficult to photograph with my prime lens since they never stop in one place for very long and are wary about intrusive weigookin (foreigners) like me getting too close, their nests — enormous and unkempt assemblages of sticks — can be spotted from a great distance.
Well, it was with some trepidation and a well-stocked Kindle that I boarded my bus in Busan that Saturday. Chuseok is invariably mentioned in the same sentence as “traffic”; the exodus to hometowns and grandparents’ homes would inevitably mean clogged roads and a protracted journey. But we made it to journey’s end in six-and-a-bit hours. The bus drivers here are wizards of an ancient and arcane order. I opened my eyes as we passed the SOKCHO sign that marked the finish line on my previous northbound excursion, and was soon strolling to the coast with a few hours of light to play with.
I don’t know, some people say he can be cantankerous and a tad obstinate, but I really enjoy my wise old neighbour’s company.
I was much disturbed by the barking of a dog, an animal that I fear more than any wolf. A dog is vastly braver, and is besides supported by the sense of duty. If you kill a wolf, you meet with encouragement and praise; but if you kill a dog, the sacred rights of property and the domestic affections come clamouring round you for redress.
MARCH 11, 2012 I was utterly depressed. Weekends are sacred to me, and I’d just squandered my Saturday on my worst hike in Korea — hell, my only bad hike in Korea so far.
Mrs Kim, our deputy principal, had told me the weekend was looking very good, weather-wise, but it wasn’t till I left my room, quite late at 8:00 on Saturday, that I discovered just how good it was going to be.
I think it was Bill Mollison, or maybe it was Masanobu Fukuoka — anyway, one of the great permaculture sages — who advised caution, patience and observation as the first priorities when undertaking the conversion of a property to a permaculture system. The words I recall are: First, do nothing. (That’s so zen, it just has to have been Fukuoka-sensei).