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AND THE BEAT GOES ON…February 2021

This morning we watched through the big window that embraces the century-old gum trees outside our bedroom as the sky almost imperceptibly–but still perceptibly–brightened. It was the softest thing. One minute–a gentle grey visibility; the next–a core of the palest gold easing through the clouds.

And the day began.

We have been living in this big old country house since the beginning of the pandemic. For us, that happened on the stroke of the last night of the Adelaide Festival, held, as ever, for nearly three weeks each balmy South Australian March. As the horns blew for the oncoming global chaos, the population of Adelaide wandered unencumbered by masks or social distancing through gardens of fire marvelling at this gentlest manifestation of all Australians’ most ancient enemy. We’d lived through the worst bushfires in living memory two months before during Christmas and New Year, when the smoke pall from the burning three-quarters of nearby Kangaroo Island choked even the residents of the mainland, and on the Island itself both rare and common flora and fauna, as well as farms and buildings and yes, people, and livelihoods frizzled to a stinky crisp. Now we–those of us anyway at the Festival closing event, an outdoor Fire Garden by the French troupe Compagnie Carabosse– underwent a healing encounter with the beauty and tenderness of flame in carefully curated harmony. The next day. Whammo. We were in the Covid century.

So. Well, we are now almost into the Covid-restricted 2021 Adelaide Festival, a full year later. No Carabosse this year, but–hopefully, Covid-permitting–opera–Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a talisman of mine (the play, that is, not the opera) and some exquisite music at fabulous Ukaria, amongst other offerings. And in the meantime?

I’m in a Food moment. In the absence of anything at all to control I’m controlling Food. We ate the most splendid breakfast. It’s called The Good Breakfast. If you were one of my intimates, I would send you the recipe. Since you are not (though could be, of course, at some point, I'm sure), and I need to save space, I’ll set that aside…

Then I checked the chooks for eggs. One. As usual. There are three of them: Patsy, Foxy and Matilda. Patsy is superannuated but endearing and one of either Foxy or Matilda is Doing Her Duty, but we don’t know which one. Once they have collectively laid their one egg, we transfer them to the orchard where they join the Duck Boys, two Muscovy Ducks of the sweetest disposition and very heavy undercarriage called Ivan and Alexander from the days when we thought ‘Muscovy ducks’ had something or other to do with Russia. They don’t, and Messrs Turgenev and Pushkin may well haunt us if Russian ghosts ever decide to visit Australia. Which I doubt. Anyway. All five eat the grass and bugs in the orchard, which is Excellent.

We walked the farm, as we usually do. On the upward slope we checked for the red-bellied black snake we’d noticed the day before. Yep. Still there, curled exquisitely near to the rocky hole where she must live. I was stunned yesterday when (uncharacteristically for this time of year) it was raining and distinctly cold and we noticed the snake. Usually in that kind of weather they will stay underground but, yes, there was just a bit of sun, and she had decided it was time to warm up the cold blood of her sleek, black, very poisonous body. I think the snakes have made a bit of a return this year. I noticed a brown one in a decaying pine stump about two weeks ago, which prompted a flurry on my part of clearing dead leaves under the studio and another stash from near the sandpit, which is meant to be an enticement for visiting children, but which would be a sad surprise all round if it housed someone quite as deadly as almost any Australian snake.

And the day rolled on. I drove the 35 kilometres–45 minutes–to the centre of town to keep various appointments. I realise this time frame from agricultural bliss to really quite adequate metropolis is Nothing in global terms. We, the progeny of thieves who stole someone else’s country, are living on 30 acres of softly rolling hills and gentle grasslands, replete with creek and at least a few gnarled, heavy-limbed grandfather eucalypts in a situation hung over from last century when, as 20-year-olds, we doubled down on a Return to Eden with a number of other equally naïve young people. We’re mostly still there. Over the 40+ years there have been many births, one immensely sad death, a few near-misses, and the ebb and flow of relationships as people transformed themselves over many years. And So It Goes.

The other day I was engaged in a Covid-defying yoga session in one of the rooms overlooking a shared section of our lovely land when I heard the sound of a chainsaw. I looked out of the window and saw the garden bloke who helps our near neighbours and shared owners of said 30 acres revving up the machine, dressed incidentally in a high-viz lime-green T-shirt. (Why, one wonders? Here? Set that aside also). This cheerful chap was about to cut down a rather aesthetic dead tree which only last week I had heard my own dear heart say it would be good if we left standing as a habitat for critters. Given the dear heart was engaged in a two-hour Zoom consultation with someone or other who was not interruptible, I shrieked and came down from the upper deck like a wolf on the fold. Our friend and neighbour who was supervising said workman told me in no uncertain terms that he and his other half had decided to drop the tree and since it was on their side of the amorphous line between our properties (a fact that I contested) and it was their view (ditto), down the tree would go. As a woman of a certain age who has fought a few such battles, I knew when I was defeated. So, I told him–quite dramatically–that I could see he was being as civil as he possibly could and that I was being as undramatic as I possibly could, and we would leave it at that. And down came the tree. I did realise that my statement could be interpreted as inferring that–since there was no doubt that I was being the opposite of ‘undramatic’–there was also at least the possibility that he was being something like the opposite of ‘civil’. I quite enjoyed leaving the question in the air and we did not speak for some days. Until today in fact, when we had a nice twenty-minute chat about the best way to deal with thistles–a perennial purple-maned, spiky-sentinelled (bad), ladybird-attracting (good) problem on ‘the farm’, about which there have been equally perennial conversations between any and all of the six core farm inhabitants for years now, as if nothing had come between us. As indeed it had not. Such are the petty traumas of communal living. He won, anyway, as it happens. The dead tree is gone and the view from both their side of the line of ownership (he was right, there, too) and ours is really rather improved. Sorry, critters.

Where was I? The day. Driving. This activity is Made Better–something you have to take every opportunity to do during Covid–by listening to Audio Books. The current fave is Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow. Among other things, it is an elegy for the fruits of decadence, a distillation of lost worlds, and old and much too civilized enchantments. Feels pretty damn apposite right now.

And home again. As the steamy, sinking sun did its late-afternoon thing of gloriously engilding scraps of landscape into dreaming blocks of light, I heard the single long bell note of a grey currawong in the ash tree. I moved the Chook Girls back into their ageing wooden shed, keeping an eye out for a (seriously decorative, defiantly exotic and definitely fox-vulnerable) Chukah Partridge who has been visiting our place for the past few nights and whom we have unsuccessfully tried to catch and heave in with the Duck Boys.

But no luck. Either the fox has already made its killing, or the bird has decided to avoid us. And now the full moon rides in a clear sky and the stars are a bewildering smash of glints of gold in the deep black cloudless night. We are at the End Times. And still it is beautiful.

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