Finding the Language of Flowers

Sometimes a book shifts something within and makes you look at the world differently. Other times, a cover lures you. As a writer, I choose novels I feel will be a worthy investment of my reading time. ‘The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart’ by Holly Ringland did more than that – I took that journey with Alice, learned the language of flowers and found my own.

This year, the winter solstice arrived and put an end to weeks of much needed rain, revealing the bluest sky that was full of possibility. I was a third of the way through Ringland’s novel, when, in the company of my four-legged girl and another dog I was minding, I decided to take my walk into the bush rather than along the beach. I felt like the child version of Alice in Ringland’s story who was enticed by the pathway that led through the bush to the river. As I walked, like Alice, the bush embraced me, and I needed to be nurtured.

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An Unlikely Pair: Mali (my girl) on left with Tiger

The earth had been washed clean leaving generous puddles that divided the tracks. Water, held in bowls of clay, would last the months ahead, ensuring the birds and marsupials flourish. Pools tinged aqua on their edges reflected the green foliage above.

I took the ‘Black Swamp’ track and came to where the path divides in three. I realised I had previously only ever gone left or right. On this day, I went straight ahead, towards the area that had been razed by  fire nearly two years ago. The landscape changed from the sandy forests where great silver gums pointed to a previous time. Wide-girthed eucalyptus trees revealed their age. Heavy branches of one, supported in the bough of another, creaked like the rusty hinges of a door… uncertain of allowing me access. I climbed a gentle slope and realised one particular eucalypt was scarred – a powerful reminder of the original custodians, the Jerrinja. A hidden secret that belongs to the Saltwater People and their ancestors.

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Scarred Tree on Jerrinja Land

Down into the boggy marshes where frogs gathered in a croaking choir. I picked my way through, trying to keep my feet dry. And then the path climbed, steeper this time. My phone’s satellite map told me of my location – a pulsating blue dot enclosed by trees. The dogs, nature and me. I had found the solace I was looking for. I breathed in huge lungsful of fresh air and felt the happiest I had in a long time.

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Nothing but Trees!

But something tugged at me to go further, deeper, just like the new scents that drove the dogs onwards. Blackened trunks became embedded in the brightest green undergrowth. The bush thinned and it was then that I came to a halt. A sweet honey aroma of wildflowers took me to an unfamiliar place. Wherever I looked, I saw their exquisiteness in varied colours and forms. Fragile yet hardy. I imagined myself as Alice, examining their beauty. But instead of putting them into my pockets, I took photographs.

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Colours of orange, red and yellow …

 

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Grevillea Family

Tiny stamens called for the birds, the bees and the breeze to carry their lives forward. It was as though the flowers were speaking ever so eloquently. Just as Ringland suggests –flowers are the words to express our thanks, our love, our sympathy.

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Feeling the freedom of life without time restrictions, I explored the essence of the bush for hours, until, urged by hunger, I decided to return. As I neared the quaint village of Myola, I was reminded of the callous nature of humans who use the track to discard unwanted objects that would never decompose. And a sadness tried to find its way in but I thought of Alice and her flowers and the beauty held deep within the bush. I arrived home and wanted nothing more than to finish the book. As with Alice, Holly Ringland’s novel evoked a fire that burns within my own heart, encouraging me to find the words and trust my own stories.

A few weeks later, I walked back to the place of wildflowers. The flowers I’d seen earlier had mostly fulfilled their lives and the colours of red and orange had faded. Instead, there were pinks and purples. And once again, I was entranced by the language of flowers and they spoke of happiness and peace.

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Purples and Pinks

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Happiness and Peace

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Graffiti Artists of the Bush

 

Dispersed throughout the bushland that hugs Callala Beach, are the most beautiful smooth-barked white gum trees that stand like pointers to an ancient world. During the day, their ethereal forms captivate and at night they stand conspicuously amongst their brothers and sisters of the bushland world.

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One of a variety of Scribbly Gums

 

The Scribbly Gum is in complete contrast to the rough, scraggly limbs of the revered Old Man Banksia. They stand shorter and slimmer than the robust Swamp Mahogany. The Scribbly holds out its limbs, smooth and glossy and often forms ‘wrinkles’ where the boughs meet.  Each of these beautiful trees are an essential contributor to the endangered Bangalay Sand Forest.

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Wrinkles

 

There are a few types of eucalyptus trees fondly named Scribbly Gums and they each received their title thanks to the Scribbly Gum Moth. These trees are constantly shedding their bark to not only reveal the smoothest of ‘skin’ but the signatures of a moth larva.

So how does this graffiti artist tag the bark of these magnificent trees? The eggs of the moth are laid between the old and new season’s bark. The moth’s larvae tunnel in loops and zigzags just below the bark’s surface. The tree sends out scar tissue which the caterpillars love to devour. They reach maturity quickly, growing legs before turning around to eat their way back out. Next, they leave the tree to form a cocoon and pupate. Not long after this the gum tree sheds its bark to reveal the secret signatures that make the Scribbly iconic.

Scribbly Gum Moth

The Ogmograptis scribula is rarely seen in
its moth form

 

These scribbles have been recorded by the first botanists that visited Australia’s shores as well as artists and writers. The graffiti artists of the bush have found a place in Australia’s culture.

Judith Wright’s poem called Scribbly Gum reveals an ancient language:

I peeled its splitting bark
and found the written track
of a life I could not read

Late Blue Mountains poet, Graham Alcorn wrote a poem: The Scribblygum Moth

Some chew up and some chew down,

This the philosophers might explain,

But the thing that causes me to frown,

The thing I’d dearly love to learn

Is what makes every Ogmo turn?

Off to the left, then to the right,

Another about turn, very tight,

Chomping a track, Forward and back,

On various species of gum tree.

 

And who didn’t love Snugglepot and Cuddlepie as a child? Their little gum-leaf banners were inspired by the secretive scrawls of the artist.

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Snugglepot & Cuddlepie’s  Scribbled Banners

 

A few years ago, a young school girl named Julia Cooke was obviously captivated with the scribbles on the bark in the bush. With a little help she discovered there were very different dialects amongst these scribblers and other researchers took up the chase! As a result, eleven new Scribbly Gum Moths were discovered, with three of them having an ancestor with a species that lived on the ancient supercontinent Gondwana.

All of this goes to show there truly is so much more to discover out there in that beautiful bush we are fortunate to have surround the coastal villages of Callala Beach and Myola.

The Stranding of the Sea Hares on Callala Beach

Slug

 

Over the last few weeks I have had several conversations with fellow walkers as we stepped over hundreds of creatures that created brilliant purple stains upon the white sands of Callala Beach. Some of us tried to pick the slippery culprits up and toss them back out to sea, only to have our hands dyed violet. Others bent to observe their squishy little olive green bodies. None of us understood why there were so many. So, I decided to do a little Googling and found the Australian Museum and scientist Bill Rudman had a wealth of knowledge on these unusual little creatures with many curious qualities.

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I confirmed that they were indeed Sea Hares and aptly named due to their long tentacles that certainly resemble the ears of a hare. They are in fact slugs and part of the mollusc family. They have an internal shell and ‘wings’ that help them swim gracefully through the water, unafraid of any known predators. For it is not known what will or can eat a Sea Hare. They love hanging out around rocks and the intertidal zone where they are cleverly camouflaged.

Being herbivores, their favourite food is algae and seaweed. It is believed that the purple dye is a result of the Sea Hare dining on red seaweed. Every resident of Callala Beach is aware that when the southerlies hit and the swells surge with ferocity, we often find the beach draped in a vibrant red coat of weed that is the colour of shiraz. Delicious to a Sea Hare!

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And so why the purple dye? Bill Rudman’s research informs that the Sea Hare can store the noxious chemicals found in their algal food, especially from the red variety. Deposited in their skin, it is released when they feel threatened by predators. Apparently, it tastes horrible and a Western Australian species has even been known to poison dogs.

But, there is even more to reveal about this smooth secretive slug. Being a hermaphrodite, it has both male and female sex organs and when it is time to mate it revels in making this a very social affair! They invite their friends along and start a ‘mating chain’. The first slug will act as a female, then each other hare that joins in forms a link in the chain, acting as both a male and a female until the last one acts only as a male. The more the merrier they sometimes say!

Such a fascinating little marine mollusc that is rarely seen, has shown themselves in huge numbers, stranded and dying at low tide. I kept wondering why there were so many? Back to my trusty scientist who concludes that mass deaths of Sea Hares is fairly common. It seems that when conditions are favourable, and lots of shackling of Sea Hares has occurred there will be babies booming all over that red algae. Those juveniles will grow quickly and perhaps there were many chains connected and their life cycles just so happened that this mega population died at the same time. And then came the southerlies and washed them upon Callala Beach and we are left to wonder about what else goes on out there in the bay.

 Massacre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Southerlies Reveal Society’s Sinister Side

March arrived this year like a perfectly choreographed sunset, announcing summer was over and autumn was here. The hot days were pushed aside by a sudden crispness in the hours of dawn and dusk. The afternoons of the nor-easterly breezes have gone and the southerlies begin to beat the shores of Callala Beach. A ‘wet season’ arrived and with it a tropical humidity and the storms.

Hugging the coast, as we do here in Callala Beach, we are privileged to see how these mighty weather systems continuously change our coastline. On one of these early March mornings I took my walk down the beach, head-first into the southerly. The swell was huge and the full moon left a tide mark close to the dunes. Driftwood, pumice, strands of weed revealed the ocean’s lapping. And in amongst nature’s trail I followed a path of carelessness. Brightly coloured plastic objects of all shapes and sizes. In all states of decay – some new, others years old.

It started with a plastic picnic plate, a balloon and some streamers. I wondered if they were connected or if each item held the memories of a different celebration – on a beach…somewhere. An earplug, various sizes of thongs, bottles and the remnants of plastics that had obviously been beneath the surface for so long they were covered in their own eco-systems.

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Plastic Picnic by Rowena Sierant

 

Soon I became overwhelmed by how much I had collected. My arms were full and I asked myself many questions.

Seeing these plastics in Jervis Bay took me back to another time. Nearly 30 years ago I was lucky enough to travel to Koh Samui in Thailand as a part of my university training. I remember arriving in the early hours of the morning by boat as this was the only mode of transport to this atoll paradise in the Gulf of Thailand. I was astounded by the natural beauty. Three years ago, I went back. This time, I was nothing but disappointed. As I stepped into the ocean my feet were lost in the murky water. Bottles, paper, disposable plastics and more disposable plastics. I looked around at the greed of tourism, took my feet out of that water, never went back and hung out by the pool. I wondered why I ‘d spent so much money to travel here when what I have back home is so much more beautiful…for now.

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The aftermath of a full moon party in Thailand (Photo: Nate Clark Images) on the island of Ko Pha Ngan

In Australia, we are rapidly becoming more aware of the consequences of disposable plastics. Our students at schools are being educated. They know that turtles mistake plastic bags for jelly fish. Many of us have heard of the slogan, ‘Take 3 for the sea.’ So, I ask myself why does this keep happening?

I looked up the definition of disposable. Intended to be thrown away after use. Synonyms: throwaway, expendable, one-use, non-returnable, replaceable. It is such a negative word.

Plastic is a substance our earth and oceans cannot digest. It is believed that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean (by weight) than fish.

Every individual should question their personal use of plastics – especially those that are aimed at single use. Single use plastics can include: plastic bags, straws, coffee cup lids and bottles. Over the years we have become familiar with: Recycle; Reuse and Reduce. Another R has been placed in the mix – Refuse.

We all need to ask ourselves questions such as: Could I live with less? Could I live without single-use plastics? Could I refuse disposable plastics: Sometimes? Most of the time? All the time?

 

 

The Southerlies Reveal Society’s Sinister Side

March arrived this year like a perfectly choreographed sunset, announcing summer was over and autumn was here. The hot days were pushed aside by a sudden crispness in the hours of dawn and dusk. The afternoons of the nor-easterly breezes have gone and the southerlies begin to beat the shores of Callala Beach. A ‘wet season’ arrived and with it a tropical humidity and the storms.

Hugging the coast, as we do here in Callala Beach, we are privileged to see how these mighty weather systems continuously change our coastline. On one of these early March mornings I took my walk down the beach, head-first into the southerly. The swell was huge and the full moon left a tide mark close to the dunes. Driftwood, pumice, strands of weed revealed the ocean’s lapping. And in amongst nature’s trail I followed a path of carelessness. Brightly coloured plastic objects of all shapes and sizes. In all states of decay – some new, others years old.

It started with a plastic picnic plate, a balloon and some streamers. I wondered if they were connected or if each item held the memories of a different celebration – on a beach…somewhere. An earplug, various sizes of thongs, bottles and the remnants of plastics that had obviously been beneath the surface for so long they were covered in their own eco-systems.

Plastic Picnic

Plastic Picnic by Rowena Sierant

 

Soon I became overwhelmed by how much I had collected. My arms were full and I asked myself many questions.

Seeing these plastics in Jervis Bay took me back to another time. Nearly 30 years ago I was lucky enough to travel to Koh Samui in Thailand as a part of my university training. I remember arriving in the early hours of the morning by boat as this was the only mode of transport to this atoll paradise in the Gulf of Thailand. I was astounded by the natural beauty. Three years ago, I went back. This time, I was nothing but disappointed. As I stepped into the ocean my feet were lost in the murky water. Bottles, paper, disposable plastics and more disposable plastics. I looked around at the greed of tourism, took my feet out of that water, never went back and hung out by the pool. I wondered why I ‘d spent so much money to travel here when what I have back home is so much more beautiful…for now.

Thai Full Moon Party

The aftermath of a full moon party in Thailand on the islnd of Ko Pha Ngan (Image Nate Clark)

In Australia, we are rapidly becoming more aware of the consequences of disposable plastics. Our students at schools are being educated. They know that turtles mistake plastic bags for jelly fish. Many of us have heard of the slogan, ‘Take 3 for the Sea.’ So, I ask myself why does this keep happening?

I looked up the definition of disposable: Intended to be thrown away after use. Synonyms: throwaway, expendable, one-use, non-returnable, replaceable. Such a negative word.

Plastic is a substance our earth and oceans cannot digest. It is believed that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean (by weight) than fish.

Every individual should question their personal use of plastics – especially those that are aimed at single use. Single use plastics can include: plastic bags, straws, coffee cup lids and bottles. Over the years we have become familiar with: Recycle; Reuse and Reduce. Another R has been placed in the mix – Refuse.

We all need to ask ourselves questions such as: Could I live with less? Could I live without single-use plastics? Could I refuse disposable plastics: Sometimes? Most of the time? All of the time?

When Life Gives You Lemons …

Recently high seas and rough swells pounded the shores of the east coast. I love walking along Callala Beach, watching and listening, to the fury of the ocean during these times. It is such a contrast to the calm lapping waves so often seen in Jervis Bay.

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The flotsam and jetsam in its aftermath always intrigues as fragments of people’s lives are strewn across the sand. You may have also read a previous post I wrote on the creativeness of locals who put these pieces together to make a ‘Sculpture by the Sea’ on Callala Beach. A poignant reminder of the human carelessness that pollutes our oceans and contributes to The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Then there was the time huge mountains of red weed were cast upon our shores, piled as high as sand dunes. And Mother Nature revealed more of society’s waste as it struggled with the chore of cleaning the ocean floors. She also magically turned that weed into rich fodder for the fish and bird life.

Weed and Sculpture

However, I am wondering if anyone else has noticed lemons being washed onto the beach? Each time I see one, I not only think of the expression, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,’ I wonder where they come from. Have they been carried on the swell for days, weeks or even months? They always look so fresh which makes me think of the recipe for preserved lemons which requires large quantities of salt. Perhaps the salt sustains their vibrant patina.

Lemon

We all know there is nothing like a squeeze of lemon on fresh seafood. Maybe a lemon tree grows somewhere by the sea dropping its fruit, a gift, for those that like to eat their seafood that way.

I have never seen apples or onions but once came across a coconut! Mali found it an alluring addition to one our beach walks. Coconuts can travel thousands of kilometres in the hope of successful seed dispersal. They are built for these long perilous journeys. Their thick protective shells, layered in hairy husks, provide buoyancy to the fleshy white ‘meat’ inside that is the endosperm. They hope to land on a quiet atoll where crabs won’t gobble them up, moisture is plentiful and the climate just right.

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So when I see these little lemons lolling in the shallows I think how did they get here and where are they going? They are at the mercy of the wind and the currents, travelling to an unknown destination. Mostly, I think when life gives you lemons stop for a moment and think, how sweet life really is.

LEmon 3

 

Listening to Colour!

Recently, I was captivated by an intriguing interview with a colour blind artist named Neil Harbisson. He was born with a condition that means he can only see in black and white. As a result, he has had himself permanently equipped with technology so that he can listen to colour. Yes that’s correct – he can hear colour! Neil’s whole life has been seen in scales of grey and he is the first person to have an antennae permanently bolted to his skull. Neil’s colour sensor device has been described as making him look like a cross between an insect and a call centre worker.

He is claimed to be the first cyborg artist. A cyborg is a being with both organic and biomechatronic (biological, mechanical and electronic) parts. Colour emits frequencies and the antennae allows for vibrations to be picked up. This long bendy piece of technology arcs over the top of his head and holds an electronic eye, that lingers just above his own eyes. As it detects colour it sends frequencies to a chip installed into the back of his head and literally vibrates the bone in his skull. As each colour emits a different sound he has had to teach himself which colour is which by holding pieces of coloured card in front of his electronic eye. He learnt his colours just as a young child would. He memorised the names and the notes attached to each of these colours. After some time, Neil didn’t have to think about the notes, and the colours simply became perceptions, which in turn, grew into feelings. He began to have favourite colours.

When Neil began to dream in colour, hearing the electronic sounds in his brain while he slept, he knew that the software and his brain had united and he had truly become a cyborg. He is often seen wearing very bright clothing. For example, yellow trousers, a blue t-shirt and pink jacket. How does he decide on what to wear? He looks into his wardrobe and listens to the chords until he finds the tune he likes for that day. If he goes to an art gallery he can listen to a Picasso or a Van Gogh. For Neil, a trip to the supermarket is like going to a nightclub. Each product vies for his attention, especially the cleaning aisle, creating voracious pieces of music.

So as spring takes its hold and pushes aside the greys of winter, I wonder what Neil would think about the colours of Jervis Bay and its surrounds.

The widest blue sky, reflected in the aqua water, flanked by the whitest of sand.

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Callala Beach (Photograph by Trevor Smith)

To walk through the bushland around Callala Beach, brushing past blades of green.

Burrawang Photograph Rowena Sierant

Burrawang (Rowena Sierant)

To come upon a wall of wattle that whispers the hopes of Summer.

Wattle in Myola (Rowena Sierant)

Wattle in Myola (Rowena Sierant)

To look up at the eucalypts and hear the vibrancy of lorikeets, king parrots and rosellas. Their feathered sounds competing with their boisterous calls.

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To rise early and wander along the length of the beach, watching the sun rise.

Sunrise Callala Beach (Rowena Sierant)

Sunrise Callala Beach (Rowena Sierant)

The colours of nature bring such a wonderful feeling of gratification and pleasure. Neil can now enjoy this in his own unique way. I admire how he is so content with having the gift of being able to sense colour through sound. I can only wonder how the melodies of a Jervis Bay spring would play in his head.

Check out Neil’s TED talk:https://www.ted.com/talks/neil_harbisson_i_listen_to_color?language=en