What a difference Oswald makes

On the back of a six month dry spell due to the ENSO cycle and a climate change intensified heat wave, the scorching heat of Sydney’s hottest ever recorded day evaporated away much of the water in the dam. With just a few inches left in the dam, no more was available to pump up to the irrigation header tank – all that was left was water too oozy and muddy to pump, and anyway the frogs needed something to keep their chorusing throats wet. The irrigation for the veggie patches got switched over to tank water supply, not ideal but better than having all the effort and resources put into the veggies going to waste because they’d dried out under the hot sun.

The tanks are our water supply for all domestic uses, plus fire fighting and general (non plant) garden use. If the tanks run dry we would have to buy water in; something we’ve never had to do in the past and hopefully won’t have to in the future. Water trucked in comes with a relatively high financial cost per litre (well, especially when you’re not paying anything for the water you collect yourself), a high environmental cost (processing and transport), and has the added taste disadvantage of being town, chlorinated water.

Just as the summer school holidays are coming to a close however Tropical Storm Oswald has hammered far North Queensland with rain and wind, flooded Brisbane and the surrounding suburbs, whipped up the oceans with shore battering energy, and is slowly making its way down South to share the joy before drizzling itself out somewhere South of Sydney in a few days time.

rain radar 11:30am 28-1-2013Just above the target’s bullseye of the rain radar map you can see Gosford labelled, whilst slightly up and left you can see Putty. ridgesong lies roughly halfway between these two markers and boy, are we appreciating Oswald’s legacy. Just before the first of the rain hit we did some water management, moving water from the garage tank to the (more heavily and regularly used) house tank, in order to ensure that both tanks had space to collect more rainfall. After all, there is no point getting rain if your tank is already full and it’s all just pouring down the side.

After spending the weekend boating on the Hawkesbury we returned home last night to find both tank’s overflowing and the dam level about 15cms higher than before. Not bad at all. This morning, with another 80mm to 100mm of rain due I groomed the slope leading to the dam with a hoe and shovel to ensure that we maximise the water flow from the drive at the top of the hill (in front of the neighbour’s house) into the dam. Meanwhile I pumped some water (approx. 10,000L) up from the house tank to the already full garage tank, causing it to then overflow into the dam. That put another 10cms or so of level into the dam. We expect that by tomorrow morning, once the storm has expending itself, the house tank will again be overflowing. To put all this into perspective, by the time this storm system passes us we will have collected approximately 25,000L of water. Lots of people are suffering because of Oswald’s fury, and at least one person has lost his life, but down here in our little patch of the Earth we are very grateful for the rain. Collecting your own water makes you exceedingly conscious of how much you use, and very mindful that rainy days are more than a reason to grumble and moan about being stuck inside. Climate predictions point to a drier future for Australia as a whole, so collecting water while the rain falls is not just a simple distraction from the grey drizzle on a rainy day, it is life and opportunity while we can enjoy it and something that will become only more important as time goes on.


Last year I camped overnight in the bush, just off a logging trail in Olney State Forest during a climbing weekend with the Shrek Man. Far down below us from the valley floor the sounds of cattle lowing came, any sight of the vocalisers lost to us under the layer of morning mist. We headed off after breakfast to poke around the cliffs we had first spied from the other side of the valley on some previous adventure, before our exploration was unexpectedly cut short by the failure of a battery powered drill, required to affix climbing bolts to the cliff face.

It was in search of this makeshift camp site that I set out this morning, alone in the Scooby Doo as everyone else slept in. We hope to revisit it again soon, and before heading there with friends in tow it seemed sensible to make sure I could find it once more, without the guiding wisdom of my climbing buddy. With a camera to document my trip, and two water bottles ready to refresh me as the day’s expected heat built I wound my way through the valley, passing through the still awakening town of Wollombi. A few kilometres on the far side of the town I stopped to pick up a hitcher, standing on the side of the road with a 5 litre container each of water an oil. “Only going as far as Millfield” I warned as he got in. “Fine by me mate, f*ckin’ truck’s broke down there and that’s where I’m headed now to get the f*ckin’ thing back”. Billy was his name, and he talked a storm the whole way through a toothless mouth, with breath tinged with the morning tobacco; telling the story of his wife’s broken starter motor, her boot full of groceries wilting on a hot day in her stranded car, his trip to retrieve her and his truck’s subsequent breakdown. “To cap off the whole f*ckin’ thing I got a call from the taxation department Monday this week to say that they’re gonna audit me for the last six f*ckin’ years”. Life throws f*ckin’ challenges at us all at times and this was Billy’s f*ckin’ time apparently.

Millfield is a small town South of Cessnock named after the timber mill which processes timber sawn and drawn from the surrounding State Forests. The mill marked the point at which I swung right, off the sealed road and began to climb out of the bowl of the valley into the high hills. A thin snake of dust trailed behind me as the tyres chunked on hard packed clay and sharp gravel. Signs warned of logging trucks on the road, and occasionally bare areas of logged trees stood forlornly bereft of life. Halfway up the mountain I paused to allow two horse riders to pass me, rather than me passing them and risking skittering their rides. We exchanged words and wisdom of the road ahead in our respective paths. Allowing them to draw some distance behind me I continued on, taking always the left, uphill fork whenever a choice presented itself on the road.

Eventually I reached Flat Rock Lookout, a cliff-face immediately on the side of the road and high above the valley floor. At this point I knew I was close and stopped to take in the view. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFlat Rock Lookout provides a fine view from the rim of the plateau, farms dotted amongst the cleared grassland in the Congewai valley, and the furthest sides of the plateau bowl lost in the blue oil haze of the eucalypt forests growing thickly up the slopes. The lookout is unfenced, save for a single section of rusted old cyclone fencing standing uselessly ahead of my parked vehicle. With the camera hanging by its strap around my neck I took a deliberate and careful step further out on the ledge, though here it began to slope down before dropping off precipitously some 4 metres ahead of me. In a moment my feet began to lose traction on the sharply sloping, dry, moss covered rock and all too quickly I found myself, alone in the midst of the forest, spread eagled on the rock and a metre further down and closer to the edge than safety called for. One hand clung to a small indentation above me, one foot with tentative purchase on the rock, one slowly slipping on the moss. For what seemed a long, long time I felt powerless to stop my continued slide to the edge and I considered the very real possibility that I would die here, today, probably before anyone else in the family was even awake. I stabilised myself for a moment, swore and thought frantically how to prevent myself sliding the remaining three metres or so down across the 35-40 degree slope of mossy rock to the edge – flipping uncontrollably and irrevocably over. In a short, unexpected moment I had slipped from the normal to the thin lipped edge of life itself. Slowly, gingerly, with great deliberation, transferring of weighting and adjustment of grip and balance I managed to make my way back up the half a body length that represented the long journey between this life and a bloodied ending below. One short crawl measured in heartbeats and breaths, punctuated with the desperate longing to have the time to properly berate myself for my stupidity.

Later, back in the car and with just a small graze on my arm as a souvenir,  I continued on, and soon afterwards found the track to the camp site. Alighting from the parked vehicle a rapid rustle of leaves ahead of me announced the presence of a goanna, startled by my arrival it climbed in a furious scrabble up a nearby tree and remained, clinging there until I left some time later. Given my recent experience I envied it’s long, sharply curved claws.goanna up a tree

Having surveyed the campsite I headed back down the 13 some kilometres of dirt road until I eventually rejoined the tarmac at Millfield. By now the nascent heat of the day was at full bore and the black top of the road shimmered ahead of me. I pulled over at Wollombi to have a coffee and read some pages of Kerouac’s On the road. On the timbered balcony of the Wollombi Cafe I drank strong, black coffee, it’s thick beany aroma an affirmation of the life I had almost seen the end of just an hour or so before. A small skink clambered unconcerned across the square timber hand rail. Two tables ahead of me a local couple negotiated the guest list for their upcoming wedding and reception. Behind me a family of four tourists discussed the idea of a future “big family holiday” to Europe or the Americas. They described to their children the various places they could visit, many of them a revisit for the parents to those favoured locations they had seen together on their honeymoon years earlier. They settled on England and Europe over the USA, and before leaving I gave up the guilty secret of my eavesdropping by suggesting to them that they add Norway to their list, and that they  break from the roadtrip with a few days spent on a narrow boat on England’s canals. Buying a bunch of dried rosemary from the small shop at the cafe, I headed home. Normality had again asserted itself after the drama of earlier.

The road from Wollombi is a popular one for Sunday drivers and particularly bikers. The Wollombi Tavern regularly hosts several dozen bikes out front, a mix of Harley chrome, Ducati red and yellow, and a wide selection of Japanese road bikes. Near to ridgesong there is a notorious bend called Lemmings Corner which all too regularly finds a wannabe racer running out of talent and road and smearing him or herself along the tar, leaving shards of glass and fibreglass in a litter of violence along the edge. Approaching Lemmings an oncoming car flashed me a headlit warning, and soon enough a trio of bikers waved me to a halt. “There’s been an accident ahead – go slow and watch out. It isn’t pretty.” I fully expected that Lemmings had claimed another namesake. Instead however a falling branch had dropped the power line across the road, and soon after a pair of bikers had rounded the bend heading South. The lead bike had hit the fallen, live wire and the electrocuted rider had immediately dropped his bike. His companion paced the road in grief. I carefully and respectfully sidled past the fallen rider’s body, lying still in the middle of the road, his sightless eyes shrouded with a small blanket provided by a stopped motorist. Emergency services had already been called, and before I could reach the Bucketty RFS depot to dispatch a crew for traffic control an RFS Cat-9 approached, siren off and lights turning a grim red and blue salute to the rider’s demise.

At home the power was off, the supply cut by the fallen wire. My morning had been one of unexpected twists and turns. My own stupidity had nearly cost me my own life. I had later listened in on the hopeful plannings for lives ahead; a marriage and life together and a family vacation. Another man’s life had reached a sudden end through no fault of his own. I had come close to death twice today. The corners we see coming are those we prepare for and take in our stride, it is those that thrust themselves surprisingly into our path that cause us to lose our hold on the firmament and skid uncontrollably off, powerless to save ourselves. In one short morning I had been reminded of the tenuous grip we each have on this world and to the lives of those we love and live with. What had started with a light, unconcerned step into the morning in exploration now seemed a vastly different day. The hot sun baked the leaves dry on the ground, but somewhere today someone’s tears will dampen the earth.



Mercury rising

Screenshot from 2013-01-08 10:47:54

The colour palette on the RFS’s Current Fire Danger page is looking dangerously red today. Ridgesong is in area 3, in the Cessnock council local government area, though we are near to the border of area 4. Our area is classified as being at Severe fire danger rating today, with the more dangerous rating of Extreme being applied to the areas to our West and South. Our Fire Plan calls for some preparation during Severe conditions, to allow for faster response time in the event we need to evacuate (first option) or defend against a fire (second choice option). In the first hours after dawn, before the full heat of the sun baked the metal roof of the house and the garage to a breath sucking furnace, I cleared the roof and the gutters of fallen leaves. “Davey”, the trusty, yellow fire pump is parked by the side of the house, near to the main water control and supply manifold. The Scooby Doo is tucked into the garage to keep it from turning into a mobile sauna as the day progresses. The fire fighting apparel is to hand, and the browser has the RFS’s Current Incidents page open. The NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has stated that today is the worst day for fire danger across NSW in the State’s history. On some TV channel you can guarantee that a solemn faced announcer is saying “The State is a tinderbox today, as firefighters battle blazes across many areas”. If one starts nearby, we’re outta here and heading to the coast, though ironically that will take us into the Extreme rated Area 4. So far…so good. But it’s best to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Quinoa and pecan salad

When SheWhoMustBeFed and I first started eating quinoa, many moons ago, we had never heard it pronounced, only read it. So for an embarrassingly long period of time we pronounced it “kwin-oh-a”. I can’t recall whether our verbal fumblings were ever met with a knowingly condescending smile; probably not as it wasn’t anywhere near as popular as it is now, so in all likelihood we never came across anyone who knew any better than we did. At some point we learned of our mistake and in a scene earily prescient of this we said to each other “Oh, it’s kinwah, not kwin-oh-a. Honestly being vegan is a nightmare. It’s no wonder we don’t have any friends.”

Now of course we are infinitely cleverer and wiser than before, because not only do we know how to pronounce quinoa, we also know that cranberries aren’t meant to be sweet. For a time we lived in that wide, wild and wacky land The Yoonited States of A-merica where cranberries are always sweet, and cranberry juice tastes like a large bottle of deeply purple sugar. In actual fact drinking a glass of natural, unadulterated cranberry juice has an affect something like sticking the nozzle of a vacuum cleaner into your mouth. All the spit in your mouth will instantly disappear, your cheeks will suck in tight, and once you’ve managed again to draw breath you will say “Well, that was a little sourer than I expected.” In this recipe, try to use dried unsweetened cranberries if you can get them. Sweetened works OK, but in our humble (cleverer and wiser) opinion, the tartness of dried, unsweetened cranberries will do it more justice.

Credit: This recipe came from elsewhere. I’d like to say where, but all I can tell you is that it has been cut out of a magazine and stuck into SheWhoMustBeFed’s recipe scrapbook. It was probably an American magazine, as the recipe called for “cilantro” as opposed to “coriander”. So, credit to the original creator and also the publisher of the magazine which printed it on a green page sometime.

Ingredients ((ɪnˈɡriːdɪənts):

  • 3 1/2 cups of water
  • 1 1/2 cups of quinoa
  • 1 bunch shallots, finely sliced
  • 1/2 cup of dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup of coriander
  • 3/4 cup of finely sliced celery
  • 3/4 cup of coarsely chopped pecans
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1/2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • salt and coarsely ground pepper to taste
  • pinch cayenne pepper

Method (meTHəd):

  • Boil the water, add the quinoa, stir and reduce heat. Simmer, covered, until all the water is absorbed and the quinoa is soft (approx. 25 minutes, but keep an eye on it)
  • Lightly toast the pecans
  • Once the quinoa is cooked, allow to cool to room temperature, then combine everything except for the pecans in a large serving bowl.
  • Ideally, allow to sit and stew for an hour before serving at room temperature. Stir the pecans through just before serving so they are still a bit crunchy.


Bevski beetroot

This’ll bring a lively dash of colour to the table, and elsewhere too the next day. The Bevski made it for us on Christmas Day, so it probably won’t taste nice, even though it does. Tinned beetroot just ain’t gonna do here, as they will already have been preserved in salt and vinegar. If you have a pressure cooker use that for the beets, as cooking them in a normal pot takes a tedious spell of time.

You’ll need:

  • 500g beetroot (weight not including the stalks)
  • 500g punkyin (or use pumpkin if you like)
  • 250g green beans
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3/4 cup of pine nuts
  • caramelized or otherwise very thick and yummy blasamic vinegar (or use balsamic vinegar instead)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the making:

  • Pressure cook/boil the beetroot until just soft, and slip off the skins under cold water. Discard the cooking water;  The Bevski say’s it is very good for the vegie garden once cool.
  • Chop the cooked beets into large wedges
  • Meanwhile chop the punkyin into large chunks, brush with oil and roast
  • Halve the peeled onion at the ‘equator’, then slice each half into four even chunks. Along with the crushed garlic (and optional salt and pepper) saute until onion is clear.
  • Blanch the trimmed beans; aiming to have them still crispy. Flush thoroughly with cold water after removing them from the heat to stop them from continuing to cook.
  • Combine everything into a large bowl, drizzle with the blasamic vinegar and sprinkle it all with the pine nuts.
  • Serve, ensuring you tell everyone “This won’t taste nice” (don’t worry – it will)


On New Year’s Eve the tavern at Wollombi plays host to a sparky farewell to the old and a hearty welcome to the new with a bang, boom, and fzzzzzzzzpop flash of fireworks. A large crowd of locals and some not so locals come together around the bar, fill the balconies and stand in groups amongst the tables on the large, grassy lawn to ooh and ahh and gaze, faces tilted upward admiring the show. It is the sort of event where children dart around the legs of the bevie drinkers standing on the grass whilst their parents, for the most part, do not keep a specific track on where their kids are; trusting instead to the collective responsibility and care of the community to ensure safety. It works. So the kids, adorned with glow sticks, roll down the slope of the small hill upon which the pub stands, and try to slide down it on cardboard they have retrieved from the tavern’s recycling pile. The glowsticks are whirled in multi-coloured whips, and the colour combinations provide a reference point for identifying children – “Mine have orange sticks, with red and blue wrist bands.” Later, a sugar glider sat on the power line above us watching, probably wondering what the hell all that noise, smoke and odd light was about. Slowly the crowd dispersed, having exchanged good wishes, renewed acquaintances, met new people and shared a moment of community celebration.

In between sharing news, gossip and banter, some of the talk between the partygoers touched upon resolutions, whether real or joking. We tend to be prompted by the ending of each year’s calendar cycle to review our life’s progress. To find weaknesses and to resolve to address them. To identify opportunities and to promise ourselves we will make a better effort to exploit them. To realise that we have missed the chance to tell someone something important and to commit to ensuring we share how we feel with those closest to us. Somewhere today, more than a few people woke up having broke off a relationship last night having decided Enough!, or they entered into a new one sealed with a midnight kiss and probably fuelled with a big glass of suppressed inhibitions. Some will regret. Some will rejoice. Some will just be nursing a sore head and trying to remember how they got home. Some haven’t got home yet. Some never will.

Almost certainly though, most of the New Year’s resolutions that are made will not be kept. Various studies indicate that somewhere between 70 and 80% of resolutions will fail (the interweb told me so it must be true). A search on google for the phrase “how many new years resolutions are kept” yields a surprisingly precise 39,800,000 hits, which if nothing else demonstrates that the author of site’s search and display algorithm made and kept a resolution to code some fancy number rounding subroutine at some point. Well, at least someone keeps their promises.

Perhaps all those resolutions failed because the person making them was pissed at the time and just couldn’t remember afterward. Perhaps the resolution was made and voiced just to please someone else, rather than being one that the maker held as being personally important. Perhaps a genuine effort was made to live up to the promise but in the end “life just got in the way”. More than a few though I think will fail because as a rule we have the attention span of gnats, whilst the execution of our promises require effort expended over a year, which is three to four gnat life spans (which goes to show by the way that the phrase ought to be attention span of a gastrotich). The problem isn’t so much our adherence to the promises we keep, its the overly long interval between review periods.

Taking the opportunity to reflect on how we’re travelling through life, how we are treating ourselves, others, and the planet on which we live is a wonderful thing to do. However doing so once a year is something unlikely to ever yield real meaning or result. Too much baggage builds up over all that time – making the task of effecting change all that harder. Habits have become all that more ingrained, and words spoken in haste and emotion have over time become deeply imbedded in the listener’s and the speaker’s psyche; sharp splinters of sourness too deeply ingrained to be easily removed and healed over. If we are to succeed in bettering ourselves through thoughtful self analysis perhaps the answer lies in finding the time and courage to do so at the end of each day, rather than at the end of the calendar year. To be better tomorrow, in the next conversation, at the next meal, in the next deed performed and word spoken. To be resolute in one’s purpose; in striving to be a better person at every moment. To say thankyou, to offer a sorry, to remember to smile and to say please. To correct mistakes and to learn. To recognise what we each do well and what we can do better at. To walk with pride and grace and with a light tread.

The sun came up today on this first day of 2013, as it did yesterday on the last day of 2012. The timbre of its light is different, though you’d not know it – we don’t perceive the day by day change in the sun’s energy production. Every day seems the same and we have not any power over the course of the sun during each one; it is only within us that we can make a difference to the light.