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Archive for August, 2013

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beyond snowfall
and barren branch
lies a deeper silence 
breaking our bond
to set us adrift

I hold my mother’s hand, feeling its tissue soft skin, her small fragile bones. She’s hunched over in her chair near the window. As I tell her about our family, her eyes grow cloudy and she withdraws. I speak on but she doesn’t hear me. I hold up a soft pink shawl I brought, yet she doesn’t see it. Then I lean forward excitedly with, ‘Why don’t we go for a drive, past our old house?’ She shows no interest. Finally I kiss her goodbye and move away, closing the door behind me. 

the sun has set
its light has dimmed
to mirror
this  long winter
of dementia

 

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     Winter brings a cornucopia of new sights to appreciate as we travel southward to inland Australia. This year our destination leads us to our national capital city of Canberra.  Located at the northern end of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) near the Brindabella Ranges, this largest of Australia’s inland cities is sited at an elevation of 580 metres (1,900 feet) above sea level.

Gone are the lush sub-tropical trees and flowers of our home in Queensland as nature unfolds a new panorama before us. Canberra’s urban design was influenced by the garden city movement, thus it incorporates large areas of natural vegetation. Wide streets and boulevards, nature strips and parks, all create expansive and uncluttered vistas. These significant areas of natural vegetation have earned Canberra its special title as the ‘bush capital.’

The city boasts large numbers of hardwood, cold climate trees, and the mighty oak features everywhere. Deep gold to russet canopies soar above the homes and parklands, lending a rugged aspect to the surrounds. As the dying leaves begin to drop in winter, they litter the ground to produce a crunching sound underfoot. As we ramble among them we admire their size and colour.

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And for some botanical information—the oak is a tree or shrub in the genus, Quercus, (Latin for oak tree). The genus is native to the Northern hemisphere and includes both deciduous and evergreen species, extending from the cool temperate to the tropical latitudes in Asia and the Americas. Oaks have spirally arranged leaves of many varieties— serrated, or with smooth margins. Flowers, called catkins, are produced in spring and its fruit, the acorn, is a nut surrounded by a cup-like structure or cupule. Each acorn contains one seed and takes 6 – 18 months to mature.

As a tree with many uses, its wood has great strength and hardness together with some appealing grain markings—particularly when quarter sawn. Oak planking was favoured during the 9th and 10th centuries for Viking long ships. Since the Middle Ages, wide boards of oak were prized as interior panelling, such as can be found in the debating chamber of London’s House of Commons. Fine furniture has been crafted from this wood. Timber framed buildings and floor planks were often in use by the wealthy, while oak barrels were everyone’s choice for ageing wines, whiskey and for storing oil. Oak wood chips impart a wonderful flavour and aroma to fish, meat and even cheeses when these are employed in the smoke houses.  

Bark from the cork oak, Quercus suber, produces famous corks and wine stoppers. Oak bark is also rich in tannin thus it becomes an important staple in the tanning of hides to produce leather. In Korea, oak bark is even produced as shingles for traditional roof construction.

Slow to grow, standing straight and tall, shading a large area under its canopy, and providing material for many uses—the mighty oak should be celebrated as one of nature’s great gifts.

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whirling
in long pink tutus
corps de ballet

 

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(Artesian Spring at Egdbaston Reserve, photo by Wayne Lawler, used with permission)

The Australian continent is home to exotic flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth. Despite our small population, the rise of mining, timber and agriculture has created a need to preserve and protect large tracts of pristine bush land. Like many other places in the world today, our country finds itself in the midst of a bio-diversity crisis. Habitats shrink, species disappear and our climate is changing drastically—not always for the better.

As a new focus and program was urgently needed to offset this situation, Bush Heritage Australia appeared on the scene. In 1991 Bob Brown initially purchased several hundred acres of old growth forest in Tasmania, to save it from logging. Using prize money from an environmental award as a deposit, he sought donations to acquire the remaining funds. This initiative secured the beginning of the Bush Heritage program. Its long term vision is to protect more than 7 million hectares of prime land, water and wild life by the year 2025.

In practice, Bush Heritage usually acquires land that features remnant native vegetation, and offers habitat for endangered wildlife. This land is sourced and then acquired through a purchase, gift or bequest. Upon securing land of outstanding conservation value, it is then cared for in a way similar to that of national parks. In this model, the land is legally protected with the intention of safeguarding it forever. Partnerships are also built with other like-minded landowners, and our Aboriginal people, to manage important areas of their land for conservation.

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(Australian bustard, threatened species)

Bush Heritage Australia focuses its activities within five ‘Anchor’ regions. These were selected for: outstanding conservation values, the condition of the land and the fact that they contain species that are found nowhere else. The Anchor regions cover part of every Australian state. Bush Heritage management teams include experienced planners, professional ecologists, and ranger/managers on the ground. A large group of volunteers also provides support in every aspect of this conservation work.

One of the most significant artesian springs noted for its global bio-diversity, is located in Queensland’s Edgbaston Reserve. Formerly known as Edgbaston Station, it lies 140 kilometres north-east of Longreach. Here water from the Great Artesian Basin travels hundreds of kilometres beneath an arid surface environment to feed isolated springs. Within these water-blest areas, the evolution of many distinct species continues to thrive. Spanning the Mitchell Grass Plains and Desert Uplands, Edgbaston protects 27 regional ecosystems, two of which are listed as ‘endangered’ while six are ‘of concern.’ All of this land is protected now through the work of Bush Heritage and the generosity of its many Australian supporters.

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(Name unknown, threatened species)

Visit the Bush Heritage website to learn more about the work being achieved on behalf of our unique and beautiful Australian environment.

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A narrow strip of beach stretches before me. Its white sand warms my feet as its cushion gives way to a wet packed surface near the water’s edge. To the right as far as I can see lie undulating ridges of sand dunes. All are crested with tussocks of spinifex grass holding them firmly against the erosion of wind and water.

On my left is the South Pacific Ocean. I drink in its familiar colours—a glassy turquoise sea—where the horizon becomes blurred in a shimmering haze. Beyond lies the deep expanse of cobalt blue where the seabed drops away. Mirroring the blue below, the sky is laced with weightless clouds.

Closing my eyes I inhale the familiar scent of salt brine. I walk on through the shallows hearing only the drone and splash of the open sea beside me. In this peaceful space I reset my inner compass. Here at the intersection of land and water’s edge, I reclaim the sense of balance that always sustains me.

sleeping tonight
with my hand on your heart
in its steady beat
the roll
of the sea

I dream of shells
salt rinsed, sun bleached
scrolls, fans, spirals
held and admired then
returned to the sea

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