The Rhythms of Summer

It was late Spring, early in the morning and the temperature was heading towards thirty five degrees. As I rambled along my favourite bush track towards the beach, I heard that very Australian sound of cicadas beginning their synchronised song. However, it only lasted a few moments and then stopped as quickly as it had started. One word popped into my mind – Summer! I stood in the shade of the eucalypts and waited for more of their performance but they were just teasing me…giving me a tiny taste of summertime.

As I walked towards the sand dunes, still hoping for more, a series of warm thoughts evoked powerful memories . For me, cicadas have always been the sound of Summer and as a child we rummaged at the base of trees to find the holes that traced the cicada’s long underground nymphean history. From there we followed their journey to discover their vacated shells clinging to stringy bark. We scaled trees in order to catch these creatures with their bulging eyes and ‘diamond’ encrusted heads, only to hold them for a few moments, feel their vibrating voice and release them again. Summer days seemed to last an eternity, spending endless hours playing outside. Time seemed to slow.

I look forward to Summer because we tend to ease the foot off the accelerator of life and wind down the year. Not only is it a necessity to slow down as the Aussie sun turns everything golden but Summertime also encourages us to relax more with friends and family, as barbeques and outdoor gatherings become a regular pastime. There is nothing like a Summer get-together whether it be at the local park, in the backyard or at the beach. We lather ourselves in sunscreen during the day and mossie repellant at night. In Summer, us Aussies like to snooze off our Christmas lunch, wait for the southerly to cool things down before we start up again with a few coldies.

Summer is bare skin, slipping on your thongs and wearing your swimmers and a sarong all day long. Summer is swimming until your skin prunes. Summer is going on holidays and getting a suntan. It is salad and ice cream. Then there is the fruit the Summer sun creates: mangoes, cherries, peaches, nectarines and plums. Summer is all about getting outside, sweating, then rehydrating. And of course we can’t forget about Summer reading. Who doesn’t love lying around in Summer and catching up on all those books you have been wanting to read?

And now, living in Jervis Bay, a new set of memories are evolving. Going to the beach early when the bay is calm and the water so clear you can see your toes in the deep. Kayaking on Currambene Creek and rolling off the side to cool down. Seeing the hermit crabs emerge from their Winter hibernation and bringing the knowledge that the warm currents are here to stay for a while. Then there is the promise of the local dolphin pod surfacing to follow the length of the beach in search of prey. The sunrises and sunsets of Summer that fill you with wonder and awe. The freedom of living in a place that seems to make the sands through the hour glass trickle at a slower pace.

So, I can’t wait to walk down my track and hear the beat of the cicada song because for all that Summer is, does and makes us feel it has to be good for you.

©Rowena Sierant

Cicada Selfie! Photograph: Rowena Sierant

Cicada Selfie! Photograph: Rowena Sierant

SAND FLOWERS

I was once a city girl. Nothing could persuade me to live anywhere other than the inner west of Sydney. Newtown and its surrounds was where I worked, walked, swam, ate, partied, shopped and…… saw my first Flannel Flowers.

Yes… it was in 1991 and I was heading up King Street to the one and only fruit and vegetable shop back then, to buy mangoes. I could almost smell them as I entered the shop but on this day my mango mission was brought to a sudden halt by the sight of Flannel Flowers bunched up in buckets on the floor. My hands immediately reached out to touch their velvety fronds. It was as though they were pleading with me to stroke them. Their softness brushed my face as I searched for a fragrance. My nose was given nothing but a gentle tickle. It was sight and touch that rejoiced in the beauty of these silvery-grey treasures from nature.

The owner, who knew me well, watched my delight. He anticipated my question and offered, ‘Flannel Flowers.’ I repeated the words as though I was testing my ability to speak in another language.

Some twenty years later, I find myself a Sea Changer who has happily left the big smoke behind in search of life by the water at Jervis Bay. The exhilaration I felt when I first saw Flannel Flowers growing in nothing but sand near our house threw me back in time and filled me with the same delight I had experienced two decades earlier.

I have since discovered that they are also called Sydney Flannel Flower or Eastern Flannel Flower due to their native habitat around Sydney. A selection of these flowers were also sold as Federation Star as it was chosen to be the New South Wales emblem for the centenary of Federation (1901-2001). Its botanical name is Actinotus helianthi, which comes from Greek and means rays, spoke of wheel or sunbeam. Very fitting. And here’s a fascinating fact – this daisy-like flower is in fact related to the carrot!

In addition, the early colonists also fell in love with this flower, as seen by its use in Colonial art. Check out The Sydney Living Museum’s blog: http://blogs.hht.net.au/cook/26-january-1888/ for a lovely example of Flannel Flowers used on the State Banquet Menu to celebrate the first hundred years of Australian European settlement.

A beautiful story belonging to the D’harawal People tells of the flower that is shaped like a star. It demonstrates the need to care for all nature and how flowers are important to other living things. The story describes how it is the first flower to bloom after the ice has melted and that is why its soft petals are covered in fine fur to keep it warm. This story can be found here: http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/education/Resources/kids_zone/stories_and_songs/the_flannel_flower_story

Today, the Flannel Flower is used as a symbol by Mental Health Australia for it is a flower of resilience and survival and as humans we need to develop coping strategies in order to adapt. I believe that due to the Flannel Flower’s very tactile qualities this plant also makes a lovely symbol as it encourages you to reach out and touch it. Perhaps more of us in today’s society need to reach out to others…

It never ceases to amaze me how something so unique and exquisite can grow in such sandy soil, under a thick canopy of gum trees. I know where and when to find Flannel Flowers in my little seaside community. And there is one place that I find incredibly special. In a valley formed by scrubby dunes and dense with twisted Ghost Gums and Old Man Banksias, a carpet of Flannel Flowers blanket the undergrowth. They flourish in the dirty sand, get very little water and sun, yet they are in abundance in this same place every year.

There is something almost ancient about this location. The Flannel Flowers here seem to mute all sound. They are a quiet flower. They are Spring. They are joy.

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Flannel Flower photograph taken by Rowena Sierant. The special place that Flannel Flowers grow.

SCULPTURE BY THE SEA?

Sculpture by the Sea?

Sculpture by the Sea? Photo: Rowena Sierant

Every time I walk past the sculpture made from flotsam and jetsam on Callala Beach, I stop to see if any newly found objects have been added. I know he puts a smile on so many faces, including my own. I see tourists stopping and snapping a holiday photograph as they loop an arm over his woody shoulders. I think of the objects that have become his substance. A fisherman’s cap blown off by a sudden gust of wind and lost in Jervis Bay. Sunglasses that have been casually left behind on a beach. A body surfer’s flipper ripped from his foot as he was pounded by a wave, gasping for air.

A diver’s wetsuit gives his body the most sculpted impression. His long tendrils of sea weed hair remind me of Bob Marley’s dreadlocks. Beside him are tennis balls in case he gets bored and a rusted gas bottle if he wants to have a barbeque. In addition, there are extra t-shirts, hats, goggles, thongs and even a car tyre that he can use as a personal flotation device.

I often wonder who started this community sculpture. But what I speculate about most is this: Is the sculptor sending us a deliberate message? Of course, we can see the humour in the comical form of Mr Flotsam Marley. However, it also makes me feel melancholic. So much marine debris just on this 5 kilometre stretch of beach that tourists flock to each year because of its whitest sand and most lucent water. Yet, these fragments that have been carelessly cast or lost are contributing to the demise of many species of marine life. They could also be making their way to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Currents and great gyres carry human litter to the North Pacific Ocean combining with collections in the Eastern Garbage Patch near Japan and the Western Garbage Patch near Hawaii. Like a great vortex (it is also known as the North Pacific Trash Vortex), it accumulates non biodegradable materials, mostly plastic. As these pieces never decompose but instead break up into even smaller pieces, humans are producing a murky soup that has become so very appetising to marine life, such as the Loggerhead Turtle and various Albatross species.

It is estimated that what we are seeing on our beaches comprises only 15% of marine debris. 70% of it ends up on the ocean floors and the remaining 15% is what is found floating in our oceans. The old adage,’ Just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there,’ holds very true.

So I would like to thank the Callala Beach sculptor for inspiring me to ponder about Mr Flotsam Marley and his unique looks. Art can provoke thought and sometimes make people take action. That debris has been personified and stands there on my beach as a reminder. I say thank you for motivating me to think more about the reckless rubble of human consumption. Thank you for encouraging me to delve into the subject of marine debris. It may only be one person who changes but I now carry a bag while out walking and make my contribution to easing the flow of waste and making that sordid garbage patch that tiny bit smaller.