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Archive for September, 2012

Prose/Poetry Reflections

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behind
this magnificent mantle
is one small seed

 

 

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The sunrise was glorious this morning and I’m standing under a powder blue sky, speechless at the array of flowers spread before me. Dew still clings to their vibrant petals as they lift themselves toward the sun.

The plantings in my friend’s heritage garden first captured my attention. Based on an original design from the 1840s, masses of snapdragons, forget-me-nots, scarlet impatients and brown-eyed Susans are offset by tall stalks of hollyhocks and larkspur. Beds of roses and French lavender perfume the air. Several large Mock-orange shrubs, together with mature elms and towering oaks, define the height of its scale. But I’m not here only to gaze at this lovingly tended spread on the D’Entrecasteau Peninsula, in Tasmania’s Lower Snug. I’m here on a mission with my camera, ready to capture photos of these beauties in their early morning freshness.

Later I view and edit the morning’s work on my computer screen. To my surprise other visitors―nature’s miniature helpers―also appear within the plants to feast on their sweet nectar and gather pollen. One little ant descends along the stem of a passionfruit blossom, its tiny body resembling three gleaming black beads.

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Nearly hidden from sight in the cup of a pink lily, two small ladybugs nestle. The first buzzing sound of arriving bees became a roar as they swarmed over the face of each flower, busily gathering pollen for the return flight home.

It’s an absolute delight to peer down into this minuscule universe as one insect after another comes into view. Each group is uniquely different from all the others in this kingdom. And like the flowers each one is exquisitely made.

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My camera has captured them at work. These small creatures all labour tirelessly, displaying a total dedication to their purpose. They move so quickly―with feverish speed―pausing only to connect with one another by brushing their antennas or performing a dance.

Insects keep the environment clean by carrying away decaying plant material and dead insects. They propagate the plants that feed us while their spread of pollen maintains our rich biodiversity. To ensure their protection, insects are also masters of camouflage as their bodies provide food for larger birds and animals.

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There are many variations within these tiny creatures that are as interesting to observe as the beauty of the flowers that shelter and sustain them. I have grown to enjoy insects because they are so unusual. It’s fun to watch and study them in our world of living creations, both great and small.

 

 

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Daybreak

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listen
singing now, the
first awakening birds …
how I love this time, when the dawn
arrives

 

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the costal fringe
of green and blue
disappears
behind the gateway
to the outback

wheat, sorghum
and cotton stubble
glistens in the
autumn sun as
hawks patrol the skies

sunflowers
faces to the light
a last blaze of colour
in this dryland’s
barren outlook

rich brown soil
of the rural strip
surrenders
to brick red, burnt ochre
of the open range

beyond
and further out
in orange dust
a single cornstalk
displays its tassel

… days pass as we move through this desolate landscape of vast open spaces, carved into two parts by the road we travel on, a continuous ribbon drawing us straight ahead into its vanishing point, with only spinifex grass and saltbush lying between us and our destination.  

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falling petals
then one tiny bud
as death devours
all lovely things
they grow anew

 

 

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Peregian

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The beach stretches before me, its white sand warming my feet, its cushion giving way to a wet packed surface near the shore. Stretching far on my right are undulating sand dunes, crested with tufts of spinifex grass.

To my left lies the Pacific Ocean. I drink in its familiar colours–the glassy turquoise where the horizon becomes a shimmering haze–the deep expanse of cobalt lying far beyond where the seabed drops away. Mirroring the blue below, the sky is laced with weightless clouds.

I walk through the shallows hearing only the drone and splash of the open sea as it meets the shore. Closing my eyes, I inhale the scent of brine.

 

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Today we have the opportunity to take beautiful digital photos and to add a text directly to the image. These two ingredients allow us to experiment with an early art form known as haiga. Traditionally haiga is a Japanese invention combining a sumi-e (inkbrush image) and a three line haiku or a five line tanka poem, hand-lettered on the same paper. The art lies in the subtle relationship between the two.

The painting, drawing or photo is not simply an illustration of the poem, nor is the poem a caption for the picture. Each element should stand alone – yet in juxtaposition, the two resonate to add a deeper and more complex meaning to the total work.

Drawings, paintings or photos may be presented with little or no adjustment, or they may be manipulated until the original is nearly unrecognizable. Photographs can be used as a starting point. The poem can be hand lettered, scanned, pasted to the image, or applied directly using the font capability of a software program.

Through haiga, the old and new are blended into a unique multimedia artistic experience.

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We’ve arrived in the Kimberley, a land ancient and austere, located in the far north-west of Australia. As this rugged place is blessed with abundant mineral resources all the rocks, soil and escarpments display high intensity hues from deep orange to reddish brown. Sculpted sandstone cliffs form wild shapes against a bright blue sky. These stunning colours are offset by the turquoise waters of Roebuck Bay and further out, by the ultramarine rise and fall of the Indian Ocean.

Not only does the scenery entice us, but we’ve also come to capture the boabs that grow here. Excitedly we load and pack our equipment―cameras, notebook and pen―to shoot the most unusual trees seen on this continent. These icons of the Kimberley are only found here―and they grow everywhere.

The Australian boab (Adansonia gregorii) is a distant relative of the Madagascan and African baobab. These large deciduous trees occur on stony ridges, sandy plains, and in creek beds. Boabs can be found in the most unusual places; they are a protected species so highly valued that public roads have even been diverted around them.

Every boab tree is unique with its own character and personality. Some have reached 1500 years of age, with a height of 25 metres and a girth of 20 metres. Their distinctly bulbous trunks resemble a wine bottle thus leading to their nickname―the bottle tree. The swollen trunks store water for use in the dry times. As boab trees age many assume unusual and even grotesque shapes, sometimes growing several stems.

During the dry season the boab sheds its leaves revealing a characteristic bare-branched skeleton; no doubt enhancing the tree’s drought tolerance. The boab’s strange form is heightened by the contrast between a thick trunk and its naked, stumpy branches. While taking my first photos a smiling woman approached me.

“Don’t you just love them?” she called out. “To us, boabs are the trees that grow upside-down.”  I had to admit it looked as though the entire tree had been pulled directly out of the ground and had been replanted with its root system pointing to the sky.

Boab trees flower and fruit in the wet season. They begin to blossom in October displaying gorgeous white blooms, tinged with brown―intricate and fragrant. The nuts begin to develop in January.

Boab nuts are woody capsules of variant shapes: oval, round and squat, or long and pointed.

Each nut is covered in fine hair. Aboriginal artists collect these nuts, scrape off the hair to reveal a dark brown outer coating, and then carve intricate designs into their surfaces. As a carved nut is intimately connected to the region where both the tree and the artist lived, what better souvenir could you take home with you from the Kimberley?

These trees have also been used as a food source by the indigenous populations. When the nuts are broken open several kidney-shaped seeds, rich in Vitamin C, rest inside. The seed pulp, with its high protein value, contains tartaric and ascorbic acids. This was eaten dry or mixed with water as a beverage. Even the boab tree roots are delicious to eat, after they have been washed and dried―so I’ve been told.

The bark layer of a boab, 50–100 mm thick, covers the trunk. Usually smooth and greyish- brown, it can become darkened, lumpy and gnarled from years of growth.  Moisture is extracted by chewing the stem and strands of the younger bark are rolled to form twine.

Special trees also create tourist landmarks, and below is Derby’s famous, ‘Prison Boab.’

Look closely to observe its massive hollow trunk with an opening or ‘door’ one metre wide. This tree was used in the 1890s as a prison cell by local police, to secure groups of aboriginal prisoners overnight, on their way to Derby for sentencing. As I approached the tree to look inside, a council worker standing nearby cautioned me.

“Excuse me, but I wouldn’t step inside wearing only those sneakers. I’d never go there even in my steel-capped work boots.”

“Thanks for the warning, but what’s inside that tree?” I replied.

“At the bottom are thousands of tiny worms. If they get into your shoes or socks they’ll eat through them right into your body. Try as you might you’ll never get rid of them.” Grateful for his advice I stepped well back for my photos.

It’s possible that boab trees have survived from the time when Africa and Australia were joined together in Gondwanaland, 65 million years ago. I’ve grown to admire these quirky, bizarre trees. Now that they are commercially available in the Kimberley one day we may be fortunate enough to plant and enjoy our own boab at home.

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