Monday, November 22, 2010


The desert is blooming right now – wildflowers are springing up out of the verges all over town.
Someone at work told Mr Tabubil that the flowers were particularly lovely out around Cleve - so we climbed in the car and headed out to have a look.
Cleve is 90 minutes drive away - you head south and west down the coast toward Cowell (best Fish and Chips in 200 kilometers) then turn inland. We live on the leading edge of the deep red desert, on land so poor you can’t even run scrub cattle here, but half way to Cowell you top a small scrub hill and stop, briefly, in surprise, because on the far side of the hill the sad scrubby little mulga trees are suddenly taller and thicker - and there are wheat fields everywhere.
Inland from Cowell, the road runs through rolling hills of pasture and cropland – tall feathery crops greener than Irish Whiskey adds, and thick pastures dotted with fat white sheep - real white sheep - none of the skinny half-feral red-tinted creature you EXPECT of Australian sheep.
And get, around our place.

In Cleve, the green didn't stop with the farmland – the roadside verges were thick with grass, and there was MOSS - thick lumps of jungle moss – clumped between the roots. There were no flowers anywhere - too MUCH rain, I reckon, but it was a much of a muchness - the whole town was such a joy to our desert eyes.

Cleve is a small and solid farming town, the regional center for agricultural suppliers, with an avenue of agricultural barns and equipment suppliers on the edge of town, a double-wide main street (wide enough to turn a double team of oxen once, but they've put in a median strip), a golf course running along the edge of main street, and streets of small perfect cottage houses with blooming cottage gardens.
It was deserted. Two pm on a Sunday isn’t precisely tourist season. Not a sight or a sound or a wandering dog - just a light aircraft practicing takeoffs and landings on an airfield somewhere on the edge of hearing. Mr Tabubil and I went for a stroll, clopping down empty sidewalks past shuttered shops - and heard a shout- and found the entire male population of Cleve out on the golf course. Stacked three deep on the greens.

At the end of main street we turned toward the sound of the airfield and found one store front busy with spinners and racks of clothing and old rocking horses - the Cleve Christian Light Book and Op Shop was open for business! Sort of - three ladies had brought in their sewing machine and commandeered the floor of the shop for sewing baby clothes.
They let us in anyway - it was a general hallmark card-ery with a solid non-denominational book selection, but in the back - a door opened into a huge (cavernous, even!) warren of op-shoppery HEAVEN.

Biscuit tins and jam jars and bread makers and lamps without wires and radios with the insides missing, shelves and bins and bushel baskets of sheets and towels and tablecloths and facecloths and mattress protectors – the lives of Cleve's deceased grandparents, their estates divided between the auction house and the op shop.
Aisles of books. Tom Swift and the Hardy Boys and Seven Little Australians and a Christian Traveler's Guide to the Grand Canyon. The Road to the Messiah, explained in seven volumes.
And Mr Tabubils’ great find - the Hallelujah! Food Show!
8 episodes on VHS! the Hallelujah! Baby's diet. The Hallelujah! Daily Eating. The Hallelujah! Diet for Traveling - Sensible daily diets for the growing family – and sanctioned by scripture, too!

We drove out of Cleve by the back road and set a course on the GPS that would get us home some time after midnight. We took strange roads - red farm lanes that corkscrewed along the spines of twisted hills, the switchbacks graded smooth as city streets and wide enough for two big harvester machines to pass abreast.
After the first few kilometers we ran out of farmsteads, and for the next 60 km, we saw only two houses – just kilometers and kilometers of empty fields and those wide red roads.

We’d had rain a few days before, and trucks had dug deep ridges over the grading in the bottoms of the tightest curves. One switchback was a gully filled with silt – we took it at 30kph and spun out wide – fishtailing back and forth across the road and stopping – with a thump – on top of the grader's spill pile at the side of the road.
After another hour of switchbacks and spinning red dirt we passed a 4x4 - they gave us curious looks in our little Celica, and we dipped back onto the Lincoln Highway and came home the direct way.

And cooked fresh prawns for dinner. Yum.

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