Sunday 24 January 2016

First Impressions: The Patch, Part 2

Love at first sight? I’m not a firm believer. For me love often has a slow burn. Take kunanyi/Mt Wellington for instance. My first impression of it was probably no more favourable than that of Charles Darwin, who described it as “of no picturesque beauty” after his 1836 visit.

His view may have been coloured by his own gloom at the time: see my earlier post here. And my own less-than-favourable impression was doubtless related to first seeing it just 9 years after the catastrophic 1967 bushfires. Back then the mountain’s slopes were scarred by the grey ghosts of a vast burned forest.

[kunanyi/Mt Wellington at sunset] 
But now; how shall I count the ways in which I love this mountain? Allow me one. 

Shortly after first moving here, I am driving home at dusk. A sou’wester is easing after a cold, wet change. The sky is pale, drained of both light and dust. Against that sky the mountain is a decoupage in black, the line of it as crisp as the air, climbing uninterrupted to The Pinnacle. In the falling dark I am not seeing the actual mountain. But I am seeing its shape as a hint, a promise of altitude and wildness; of untamed cold; of uncounted future experiences.

When it comes to “my” patch of bush on the slopes of that mountain, I have more difficult accurately recalling my first impressions. I know that on moving to this place in 1986, I was all eyes for the mountain: that and the amazing garden I could scarcely believe had come with the house.

It was May, and the predominantly European and American trees were in their late autumn glory. As much as I loved Australian native plants, my head was still turned by that blushing northern deciduousness.

[The scarlet oak in its autumn glory] 
But it was a spacious garden – three quarters of an acre – and upslope, in the back garden, the native bush was dominant. Tall stringy barks and massive blue gums jostled with straggly wattle trees. A large, ramshackle chicken yard hogged the block’s best view. And beyond that, there was more bush, a lot of it.

Our children were young back then, and excursions into the patch of bush were only occasional. More often we were up there chasing our dog, a talented escapologist, able to leap tall fences in a single bound. Poor “Angus” contracted canine distemper on one early jaunt. He survived, but it left him with a nervous tick (chorea), which led us to mistakenly believe him mentally impaired. (He later demonstrated a quite startling intelligence: but that’s another story.)

[A blue gum at the edge of the patch] 
With Scottish Anglophile ancestry (now there’s a contradiction in terms!), I not only loved mountains, I also loved well-tended fields, hedges and other such English countryside staples. So when the drive/walk to and from the city took me past our local brewery’s small field, I responded much as I did to deciduousness.

As with those northern trees, the field would change dramatically with the seasons. Green in winter, it would grow lush and tall in spring, waving colourful seed-laden heads in the November winds, before turning golden in high summer. 

[Mowing the brewery field in summer] 
In a good year they might cut two loads of hay, leaving the field pale and stubbly until autumn’s cooler wet allowed new growth. That the field had a few poplars edging it added to that sense of gradual, perceptible seasonality. Much harder to notice, and far more complex, were the seasonal changes in our patch of bush. The field’s delights I quickly saw and enjoyed in those early years. Yet 'though it stood so close by, it took many more years, and a willingness to pay attention to detail, for me to learn a little of our native bush. But again, that’s another story.

[The Patch starts at the top of the field] 

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