Monday, July 12, 2010

The blustery night and day

It was a very weathery weekend - gustery and blustery and full of gales.
Mr and Mrs Tabubil-in-law drove up from the city Friday night to spend the weekend with us, and as has happened every time they have come to visit us since we moved into the country last October, the weather immediately went pear-shaped. 

Walking home at four o'clock on Friday afternoon, I found the weather balmy and contemplative.  By six o'clock, the local TV news was issuing weather warnings for winds up to 100km/hour all across the region. By half-past six, as we drove to the supermarket to buy groceries, a wind was kicking trees into a sideways lather, and when Mr and Mrs-Tabubil in-law arrived at our front door, the sky was thick and dark and swirling with a blustery storm. 
The weather Mr and Mrs Tabubil-in-law bring with them is wonderful for our garden, and one day soon, we hope, our water tank (Which is still unplumbed and catching none of these winter rains. Nor do we yet possess a side gate, or fence on which to mount it.  Our landlords need to read the lease again.  These things are all in there. Itemized.)  But for a weekend with loved ones - it's not quite as wonderful.

At ten that night we went outside to drag everything not yet tied down into the garage.  We walked straight into the teeth of a gale.  It howled!  Our eyes were full of blown sand.  We tucked away the  rubbish bins and the BBQ, we lowered the clothes line and blew back inside the house in a swirl of wind and grit.
We curled into the sofa to watch the Tour de France sail through green French fields and listened to the wind outside - it grew rougher and rowdier and we jimmied the windows and doors and went to  bed.

Sometime during the night we were woken by a hellish SLAM!  Something hit the fence, just outside our window.  We lay there, sleepy and befuddled, and there was another almighty bang - something huge was coming past.
Mr Tabubil dressed and went outside. In front of the house, he met our neighbor from across the street, clinging to the edge of a strip of fence.
"Is this yours?"  He shouted cordially, over the wind.  They couldn't tell, in the blowing dark.  Mr Tabubil dragged the fence into our garage with the rest of the stuff and came back to bed.  I promptly fell asleep again, and left Mr Tabubil to lie awake for hours, imagining fences and patio roofs peeling apart and cartwheeling through the air and into houses. 

By morning, the gale had blown itself halfway out, leaving only stiff breezes behind. In the daylight, our fence was intact.  The flying night-time debris could have come from streets away.
We climbed into the Tabubil-in-law's van and drove away across the peninsula to the head of the gulf to visit the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden.  It was faintly eerie driving through the streets of our town.  A tree limb had sheared the top off of a mailbox - both were lying in the road in a mess of leaves and branches and debris, fifteen feet away from the rest of the box, while the next-door yard was unmarked, flowers still fresh on the bushes in the garden.  Three houses down, the roller door to a carport was ripped out of its track and off its hinges, but a frail weather-vane with an iron cockerel at the top was standing proudly.  The Seventh Day Adventist Church had had the siding ripped off one side of the building and a tree come down across the parking lot - but a yard next door full of plaster rabbits and deer and gnomes with fishing rods had barely a stray leaf in the concrete pond. 

At Port Augusta we drove up the narrowing gulf, then hiked up to the red bluff where Matthew Flinders, on his great circumnavigation of Australia, had come to a stop.  In the face of the regrettable realization that the narrowing gulf was NOT a continental passage (that holy grail of all early -and not-so-early European explorers) as had seemed so plausible, Flinders sniffed with bitter scorn and sailed off to other places and other mysteries.

We were amused, as we were meant to be - by the extract from his journal printed on an informational signboard:
            "No person shall have occasion to come after me to make further discoveries."
The words seemed to express an absence of imagination - something unexpected in Flinders, when one considers the level of imagination needed to do what men did in those days - sailing across the edges of the earth in small, creaky wooden ships into terror incognita for the hope of Roc eggs.
The bitter taste of a dry and empty, palpably egg-less plain stretching beyond the northern horizon must have been hard for him to swallow.

The Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden is THE place to spend a fine winter afternoon, when the desert is green and blooming and the breeze is stiff and the air is clear.  The Flinders Ranges were sharp and rose-colored on the other side of the gulf  - pink rock with green winter haze creeping up the lower slopes.  We walked along paths between restored sand dunes and through patches of tall scrub - sugarwood and saltbush and western myall trees- some of which, we were told, were a thousand years old.  We stopped to look at a spray of mistletoe on a sandalwood tree and an eagle strafed us, low in the sky, dangling a bush mouse from its claws.

We spent part of an hour sitting in a blind waiting for birds to come and drink at a fountain dug into a rock.  A winter's day after rain isn’t the best time to hope for birds - when there is standing water in puddles over the desert - but we heard trills in the bush, not too far distant, and we leaned forward, in unison, to peer through the blind's narrow slit window, scanning the brush for feathers.  We were graced with a pair of parrots - visitors migrating up from Tasmania for the winter.  The bright male sat in a flowering yellow bush just out of camera range, but his more sober, pastel-tinted mate had a good wash and brush-up in our fountain and did her best, with trills and chirrups, to coax him into joining her.  He considered it.  He was almost convinced, but a pair of hawks swooped low above the fountain and that was that - the parrots vanished in a puff of feathers and a shriek of alarm and the eagles arced away to find less combative dinners.  No more birds came after that.

"Wouldn't it be funny" Mrs Tabubil-in-law said "if the birds were all sitting behind us watching us make fools of ourselves?"
We thought it would, all right.

At last we sighed, and turned to leave - and were met with a squawk of alarm from the bright-colored parrot that HAD been sitting in the doorway to the blind, spending HIS afternoon watching the drab animals sitting there in the dark, peering at the bright desert through a narrow window.
A parrot will ALWAYS know how to make a fool out of you

We sulked and went to find coffee.  The gardens have a lovely cafe made of rammed-earth and glass- heavy on new age wind chime soundtracks, but a heavenly view from the warm across to the Flinders Ranges. The winds had blown every shred of haze out of the sky. We sat and had several cups of coffee and tea and watched the mountains.

No comments:

Post a Comment