The Recital

Recite: repeat aloud or declaim (a poem or passage) from memory before an audience.

I have committed many things to memory over time—poems, prayers, proverbs and the like. Prayers were recited in church of a Sunday, proverbs to make me look clever and poetry —well, that’s another matter.

The poetry recital occurred just once, at an eisteddfod in front of a panel of bespectacled and aging adjudicators.  The stage was long, deep and bare.  The hall, cavernous.  The crowd, mostly parents whose children were far more talented than anyone else could hope to be, were hostile behind their plastered smiles and deceiving nods of encouragement.

Across the boards I trod to the place marked with a cross.  Centre stage in my pretty brown velvet skirt and apricot satin top. Hands held below the sternum, fingers clasped gently. I began.

Daffodowndilly

She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour:
“Winter is dead.”

A.A Milne

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Through grit and grime

Life is grainy sometimes; like those old movies where the pixels are so far apart the image is there but not crisp. You now there’s a clearer picture available but the grit and grime distort the view and can’t be wiped away.  It’s like wading through fog and you long to step out and see the magnificent vista before you.

Puzzling over puzzles

It’s always the small pieces that make the big picture.

There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle.  

Deepak Chopra

I love puzzles.  Crosswords, logic puzzles, find a words and Sudoku. At the moment I am in the midst of an intense affair with jigsaw puzzles. Jigsaws have long been a favourite holiday pastime. When we’ve gone away to the beach, the mountains or even stayed at home over the Christmas New Year period there has always been a large puzzle set up on a table for all to enjoy.

A few months ago I found a box of ten puzzles in a secondhand store. They were different sizes; 250, 300, 500, 750 and 1000 pieces. I took to completing the smaller puzzles over a weekend, often completing one in a few hours. The impulse became so strong I set up the 1000 piece puzzle and worked on it in the spare moments over a fortnight. The bug had bitten. I dug out previously purchased and untried puzzles. Once completed, I scoured the secondhand stores for more. My craving became so strong I realized I couldn’t budget for the demand so I began swapping puzzles with other avid solvers and it got me thinking about where jigsaw puzzles began.

I imagine John Spilsbury, a mapmaker in the mid 1700’s, was so enamored with the wonder the world offered and so insightful, to realise young children needed to develop the capacity to place themselves in the world, that he created a very clever educational tool. He pasted a map of the word onto thin wood and cut it into pieces to teach children about geography. Voila, the first jigsaw puzzle.

Very soon these early ‘dissected maps’ evolved as other entrepreneurs realized the scope of jigsaw puzzles and added historical scenes to be reassembled for educational purposes. Wooden puzzles are still a popular toy gifted to young children today to teach about shape, improve dexterity and aid in building vocabulary. My son had several as an infant and he too is a keen puzzler.

The humble jigsaw puzzle has evolved from an educational tool for children into a source of enjoyment for both adults and children. The early puzzles for adults were truly tricky though. There were no interlocking pieces as today, simply pieces cut along colour lines with no picture on the box to guide construction.

A decade ago there was a huge craze for Murder Mystery dinner parties. Well, I was delighted to discover this set-up began in the 1900’s with weekend puzzle parties held by wealthy puzzlers at their country homes.

During the Great Depression puzzles for adults were a great source of distraction and accomplishment with sales reaching an astounding 10 million a week in 1933. Clever unemployed craftsmen cut jigsaws at home and sold or rented them in local neighborhoods.

Soon after the cheaper, less expensive cardboard puzzles began to be mass-produced making puzzles more widely available. But the fun didn’t stop there. A quirky concept, I would love to participate in, saw the emergence of a weekly jigsaw puzzle. The 25-cent puzzle of the week was sold on news stands and, naturally, people rushed to buy them.

Manufacturing techniques were perfected in the 1950’s and standard puzzles haven’t changed much since except perhaps in picture quality. A jigsaw puzzle of a 1000 or more pieces with an engaging scene is my preference. Though I have recently completed a beautiful 3D puzzle of Neuschwanstein Castle (an absolute delight as I remembered walking its perimeter several years ago) and a couple of holographic puzzles (very hard on the eyes but good fun) as well as some Impossibles were a single image is repeated with little distinction. I recently discovered a new form of What if puzzle, where what you see on the box is not the puzzle you solve. I am keen to try one.

My curiosity about the history of the humble jigsaw has now been sated but not my appetite for puzzles themselves.

Anyone care to swap?

 

 

 

 

Winter hiking — in Carnarvon

The Amphitheatre

“Somewhere between the start of the trail and the end is the mystery of why we chose to walk.”  Author unknown

Rock hopping across creeks, tottering on a swing bridge, scrambling up a steep gully, traversing a shale scree slope, kicking up dust in sandy valleys, negotiating boulder lined gorges, walking on narrow ridges, basking on spacious plateaus, luxuriating in the shade of a magnificent forest and sleeping under a trillion twinkling stars. All this and more filled six glorious days on the beautiful Carnarvon Great walk. Yep. I went hiking again.

Long term readers know I am a fan of multi day hikes and have headed into the wilderness on a number of occasions. Our, (my beloved and I) recent hike took place in Carnarvon National Park. We ventured forth on an 87 kilometre, six day independent hike.

View from Battleship Spur lookout

A feature of the National Park is the Gorge. It is literally an oasis in what is classified the  ‘semi-arid’ heart of Central Queensland. Don’t be mistaken, the landscape is anything but barren or lifeless. The countryside of Central Queensland is something to behold; there is a beauty and majesty in its expansive golden hues and resilient plant life. The Carnarvon National park rises from a flat landscape and is strikingly green on approach.

The Gorge itself is about 30 kilometres long and was created in the most part by water erosion.  There is evidence of wind erosion in some areas. The walls of the gorge are white sandstone while the narrow side gorges display hues of red and pink. It’s a magical place, full of history and stunning natural features to appreciate.

Day one of the hike is on the main walking track.  You don’t immediately get away from civilisation but it is a fabulous day. While only 10 km from the visitors area to Big Bend walkers campground, hikers rack up more kilometres with the many side trips on offer.  You don’t want to miss the side trips. We dumped our packs several times to head in and explore the cool, damp lushness of the Moss Garden, the remarkable, ‘washing machine spun’ hollows of the amphitheatre, the dark, protected cavern of Ward’s Canyon and the impressive Art Gallery and Cathedral Cave — both display striking examples of aboriginal rock art; poignant reminders of the heritage of the land.

Day two is when the real fun begins. Firstly, there are no more tourists. just you, your walking buddy and nature. Secondly, hikers experience tremendous diversity over the course of the day. It begins with a walk over a boulder strewn dry creek up a small gorge followed by a scramble up an almost vertical 200 metre gully.  Yes, scramble.  I don’t normally like this sort of thing but it was immensely gratifying once I got the measure of how my 17 kilogram backpack balanced while I was on all fours grabbing onto tree roots, laying away off cliff walls and hauling myself up. It might not have been an elegantly executed ascent but it was enjoyable.  Above, the landscape changes. You are out of the gorge and heading for higher ground. There had been some back burning prior to our hike and the land was blackened, open to the sun and hot.  There are ladders to climb, narrow tracks to follow and a scree slope to negotiate as one heads for the top of Battleship Spur, over a 1000 metres above sea level,  where the view of the gorge below is gobsmacking and the weariness slips away.  The trail continues along a long grassy plateau where, if you are lucky, you’ll see wild Emus running about.  Making camp my mind wandered to the past and images of stockmen herding cattle and making camp, on that very spot, played like a movie behind my eyes.  Gadd’s walkers camp is on an open plain and is a stunning platform from which to watch the sun sink behind the trees and marvel as the sky pricks with thousands and thousands of tiny lights.

I found day 3 tedious. Compared to the previous days it was more desolate and less diverse.  It was exposed and followed dusty, sandy trails.  On reaching the top of a particularly steep uphill section there is a magnificent view of Battleship Spur and the gorge in the distance. The vantage point provided an opportunity to witness how far we’d walked.  It is possible to find shade in spots to rest and revive. A highlight is the suspension bridge that leads to the campsite. There were a number of Kookaburras around camp which came close enough for us to enjoy their proud demeanour.  The river was dry and so we were lulled to sleep by the swish of the wind, high in the trees, rather than gently cascading water.

Day four I imagine will be a favourite for many hikers as they wander through the stunning Mahogany forest. While eating breakfast we were alerted to the flight of red-tailed black cockatoos by their less than melodic screeching. A good signal to start walking. It is hard to describe the Mahogany forest. It’s peaceful, lush, cool and moist.  The trees, silvertop stringy barks, soar overhead while ferns and smaller plants grow below. We decided to throw down a tarp, lie down and take in the splendour around us for an hour. Arriving early to a bush oasis campsite allowed plenty of time for reading and relaxing. A note to potential hikers; you do need to carry toilet paper and a small shovel as a couple of campsites do not have toilets provided.

Day five is a very short day at only 13.8 kilometres and it is tempting to join it to the last day and hike out. It is possible to rise early and make the 29 kilometre hike back to the visitors centre and while I sat reading during the afternoon I felt perhaps we should still be walking. In the end, my love of nature and being away from civilisation supported sticking to the original plan.  Savouring the experience is better than belting out big kilometres and missing the landscape. The track to Cabbage Tree campsite wound through an area of grass trees with towering spikes. They looked like sentinels standing aloft.  It was fascinating and another display of the diversity this walk has to offer.

Having survived a wild and windy night with a significant rainfall we woke to a splendid, misty morning for our descent. From the tableland the trail leads close to the edge of the plateau. There are striking views and if you are lucky you’ll  see large falcons gliding the thermals. Falcons are just one of 173 species of birds in the park. The birdsong along the whole walk is delightful.

The descent is steep in sections, though it’s not all downhill, apparently you have to go up to go down. Wild dingoes can be heard howling in the distance (distance, being the operative and preferred word here).  All too soon signs of the outside world begin reappearing. In the last two kilometres there is a  side-track which leads to a lookout, with views over the mouth of Carnarvon Gorge. It is a popular day walk from the visitors area below. Despite the ‘traffic’ on the trail it is a pleasant ending to an enjoyable walk. The track descends through woodland to Carnarvon Creek and is very distinct with stone steps and a few short ladders.

The Carnarvon Great Walk is the perfect winter hike. It is closed between November and February, the hottest part of our summers.  We walked in the middle of winter and wore short-sleeved t-shirts each day and only donned a jacket in the evenings and early morning on rising.  There are bores or tanks at each campsite as running water is not guaranteed.  All water should be treated before consumption. A hat is a must and a long-sleeved shirt for the open sections will protect you from the sun’s biting rays. It is recommended hikers have experience and be self-sufficient to complete the Great Walk.

We drove from Brisbane to Carnarvon, about a 9 hour drive.  You could fly to Roma and hire a car.  I haven’t investigated tours though we did see tour buses so that could be an option also.  Families love the two camp sites; one for caravans and one for tents, at the base of the gorge.  There are cute little cabins for rent also. There is much to see and explore and something for everyone.

It’s a happy place, even the trees smile

 

Redefining preconceptions about art

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” ~ Degas

In retrospect, it was public art. It had an energy to it. It brought life to the places around me. I thought I had an open mind when it came to art. It didn’t take long to realise my beliefs were outdated as I scrambled to adjust a decades old perception of public art.

The genre of public art for me had included sculpture, murals and I threw in street art, which I know is not strictly public art, but I was challenged to rethink my view-point recently when I hit the streets of Brisbane to follow a contemporary public art trail.

Armed with a downloaded PDF my partner in art and I headed off for a morning of joy and immersion in creativity. The very first piece we came across was not included on the list.  A week later I discovered it was the city’s newest piece of public art (below).  It was obviously art to me, as to the other pieces on the list, to be honest, we were stumped.  I had excepted the art to be easy to find and literally hit us in the face.  We stood on street corners searching.  We wandered up and down pavements looking.  Checking the ‘map’ and descriptions we soon discovered some of the art was what I might have mistaken for building decoration and architectural flourishes rather than commissioned work from the public purse.

Now I know all art does not appeal to all people – I get that. But I was perplexed by the painted ceilinged walkway, the coloured tiled wall and the barely perceptible swirls on the glass facade of a building.  Had I not been searching for these pieces they would have caught my eye and I would have admired the beauty, the departure from the norm in each of them.  On this occasion, I was expecting something different. Something more immediately recognisable. Something I could ‘label’ with an existing language to say – hey, that’s a piece of art.

I came away slightly disconcerted and just a little baffled but keen to redefine an obviously outdated and incorrect viewpoint.  What I have discovered, thanks to the Association of Public Art, is that “public art is not an art ‘form’.  Its size can be huge or small. It can tower fifty feet high or call attention to the paving beneath your feet. Its shape can be abstract or realistic (or both), and it may be cast, carved, built, assembled, or painted. It can be site-specific or stand in contrast to its surroundings. What distinguishes public art is the unique association of how it is made, where it is, and what it means. Public art can express community values, enhance our environment, transform a landscape, heighten our awareness, or question our assumptions. Placed in public sites, this art is there for everyone, a form of collective community expression. Public art is a reflection of how we see the world – the artist’s response to our time and place combined with our own sense of who we are.”

According to this comprehensive definition and with a new understanding, each piece of art I discovered was appropriately classified as public art and I am keen to discover more. Have you had a similar experience where you have had to adjust your thinking to align with  a more widely held view?

 

 

Is it a plant or an animal – exploring Queensland rainforests

Why did the mushroom go to the party?
Because he’s a fungi!
Louis Tomlinson

Rainforests are magical places. There is so much to see, hear, feel and smell. There are giant trees, twisting and looping vines, melodic birds, dank soil, tumbling waterfalls, and rough, fuzzy, hairy bark along side smooth and mossy rocks. Another feature of rainforests that deserves some attention are organisms that are often overlooked. Fungi.

Fungi are fascinating. Being neither plant nor animal, despite sharing some properties common to both, they are recognised in a kingdom all of their own. There are five kingdoms used for classification of organisms: Plantae, Animalia, Fungi, Monera (bacteria), Protista (unicellular organisms). Unlike plants fungi do not photosynthesise. Having no chlorophyll they can’t convert sunlight into food. Being unable to produce their own food like other plants they scavenge it, like animals. Another trait shared with animals, or more correctly insects, is the existence of chitin in their cell walls.

Fungi’s role in the rainforest while not terribly glamorous is functional. Fungi recycle and decompose material. Many people don’t realise that the soil in rainforests is quite poor. To ensure rainforests continue to grow in this poor soil fungi break down organic material allowing nutrients to become available to plants for growth. These tiny fungi enable the huge trees to live. Now that’s pretty cool.

To be accurate, there are three basic types of fungi that feed off dead or living flora and fauna. There are Saptrotrophs that break down animal and plant remains so nutrients can be released and taken up by new living plants and animals. Parasitic fungi, on the other hand, attack living tissues and divert their resources to their own use. Mutualists digest wood to help other rainforest beings such as insects and help feed released nutrients back into growing trees. Not glamorous but definitely functional and way cool!

The dampness of the rainforest is essential, as some fungi need it to pump up their cells to keep their shape. Stronger fungi don’t need water for their form but to grow they require a high concentration of water in the wood they digest.

Have you ever hiked in a rainforest or national park and been required to dip and scrub your boots? Often this is because of the way fungi reproduce. They produce large numbers spores; some fungi release up to 200 million spores an hour. These spores are tiny and once discharged can travel huge distances. They are mostly distributed by wind but in the rainforest, the spores of many fungi are eaten and dispersed by insects and animals. Humans are animals. The grooves of hiking boots can carry many spores from place to place and be deposited when the caked on soil dries and falls out. Unwanted or troublesome strains of fungi spore can easily and inadvertently be transported this way.

Of huge importance is that rainforest fungi are not for human consumption. My best advice is to never eat fungi; many varieties can be toxic or fatal to humans. Leave the slugs, snails, cassowaries, rat kangaroos and insects to feast on fungi. Eat your trail mix instead.

Next time you are in the rainforest explore the small magic; look down, pay attention to the fallen trees and stumps. Enjoy the shape and the colour and the arrangement of the fungi on display. They play a vital role in our rainforests.

If you are not quite convinced, I leave you with some fun fungi facts.

  • Without fungi, dead plant material such as leaves, twigs and logs would pile up on the forest floor to form a massive heap as high as the canopy.
  • Some fungi glow in the dark.
  • It is possible there are more fungi than plants or animals.
  • One individual fungus of the species Armillaria bulbosa covers an area of 15 hectares. It weighs an estimated100 tonnes (the same as an adult blue whale), and is thought to be over 1500 years old.

When your buttons are pushed

When peacemaking doesn’t work and you can’t deal with the button pusher, or your own buttons you just have to abandon your adult sensibilities and join forces with your  inner child.          Shannyn Steel

Every now and then someone comes along and pushes all your buttons.  Those great big red buttons, best used in case of emergencies. The ones best avoided due to the inevitable ugliness that can arise. Sometimes those very same people push those very same buttons on a seemingly regular occurrence.  The worst button pushers, in my book, are the stealthy ones.  The ones who won’t actually confront you, who actively avoid direct contact with you but make a raft of comments to others, provide input when you are not present and actively and subtly undermine you.  They just seem to make those comments, dismiss and devalue you and your work in a calm, off-handed yet deeply cutting way.  Their many small jibes, combined, are as strong and powerful as an upfront all out attack. Those buttons, once pushed, can send you reeling, into an internal rage or plummeting into an abyss of self-doubt and torture.

Of course, psychologists, and those whose buttons haven’t been pushed in the moment, will tell us the other person cannot make us feel a particular way, it’s our choice how we react to the momentum they use to push our buttons. They are, after all, our buttons.  I agree and good advice suggests we attend to our buttons.

My first question in situations like this is always – where am I at fault?  Is there some justification for the way this person is behaving (not that I condone bullying but behaviour happens in a context). It’s hard to stay calm and so terribly easy to dissolve into a trade of unpleasantness, behind the person’s back. But it’s wise not to go there, apparently (but by golly it does feel good to let it all out with a trusted friend). Sage advice also suggests we avoid confrontation.  I’m onboard with that, though taking a direct and civil approach has yielded good outcomes for me in the past.

When calm reason fails, peacemaking doesn’t work and the professional advice just don’t cut it, I abandon my adult sensibilities and join forces with my inner child.

I actively avoid my inner child as a rule but she comes out to play, in ways never intended by the gurus, coaches and psychologists, when flummoxed by a button pusher and when I’ve failed to deal with my own buttons. At times like these, thank goodness they don’t happen often, I feel my demeanour slip and I slide dizzyingly into a place where biting, kicking, stamping and yelling feel like the best course of action.  Of course, this isn’t entirely appropriate in many settings (mind you, I haven’t actually succumbed and staged this drama for real) but no one else sees the montage playing in my head, right!  The physical and mental relief that would flow from a good old tantrum might just have a much-needed transformative effect.  That got me thinking about healthy ways adults could unleash the inner beast of frustration in socially acceptable ways.

Running is good.  People tell me drinking helps them but that doesn’t meet the healthy criteria (and this was all about avoiding self punishment), getting out in nature and sitting on the grass under a tree rates highly, walking too. Writing your frustrations is suggested by many (hey, I’m a genius and didn’t know it).  Talking to a friend and a myriad of other great tips exist to relieve the frustration and stress of a situation.

Exercise and physical movement get high marks by a lot of sources.  I guess we all knew that, though in a light bulb moment the realisation dawned that if our emotions, our stress, our anxiety can trigger chemical reactions which effect our physical health causing inflammation, a weakened immune system and more, then reversing the equation could have a similarly positive effect. Combined with the instinctual need to throw a tantrum I hit upon the single best outlet for dealing with the aftermath of your buttons being pushed.

When peacemaking doesn’t work and you can’t deal with the button pusher, or your own buttons. When you can’t seem to move on and things are weighing you down and you just have to punch the shit out of something;  go a round with a boxing bag. You can hit and kick and yell and grunt and flay about until you have nothing left to give. It’s acceptable adult behaviour, and it’s a damned good salve for a raging mind, a wounded heart and a dinted ego. Plus, there are a whole raft of physical benefits from the release of endorphins. A good old round with a boxing bag can not only reduce the stress that’s mounted but stave off anxiety, boost self-esteem and improve sleep too.

Have you stumbled on any unique and successful ways to cope with an awkward situation and regain your equilibrium?

On a serious note: if you are experiencing workplace bullying or are in a difficult situation, don’t ignore it.  It won’t go away on its own.  Seek the assistance of the workplace advisor, a health care professional or a skilled and trusted colleague. 

 

 

Underground arias

“The aria, after all, is the soul of opera.”
— Richard Strauss

A phone call from my son sent me on a fact-finding expedition. We had spoken about an upcoming event in the limestone caves of Rockhampton, a north Queensland regional town. It was opera, a form of entertainment neither of us have fully explored before but one that intrigued us given the venue.

Keen to know more I headed to Google and discovered Brisbane Underground Opera. The company began in 2007 and perform not only in the caves but in abandoned buildings, mines, tunnels and airport hangers. An event was scheduled in my city in a heritage listed water reservoir. A place I had passed a week or so before on my Churches and Shrines walk. I bought a ticket.

The Springhill reservoirs, there were two I learnt, were not always covered by the odd-looking orange hut like structures that are there now. Built in the late 1800’s the set in-ground reservoirs provided water for the city of Brisbane  until 1962. Abandoned for nearly 50 years by almost everyone expect the homeless, misguided teenagers and possums, the site was reopened in 2014 by the Brisbane Underground Opera.  A most unlikely and extraordinary venue —once filled with water it is now filled with song and sound and joy. The space has been transformed and the experience is transformative.

One enters the chamber from above, down a rigged scaffold staircase. My first impression on entering this historical site was of wonder for the marvelous structure and architecture. The interior features columns and brick arches. A small stage in the centre provides a focal point. Clever lighting cast blue hues creating an interesting mood. Projected images of water bubbles cast upon the walls provided a reference to the history of the venue.

It’s an intimate setting, which allows the audience close access to the performers. I was the second row from the front, in the north wing, and could have reached out and touched the performers, so close was my seat. It is a theatre in the round design that works well. Performers adeptly played to the four sides and filled the space with their voices, sans microphones. As you’ve guessed there are no full-blown operas performed here with staging and sets, rather various arias. Let me not diminish the entertainment value and the clever use of minimal props to create stories for the audience. The cast had not only wonderful voices but also a keen sense of humour and delightful stage presence.

The performance I attended was a compilation of arias from a range of Operas and stage shows. Those featured included La Traviatta, Sweeny Todd, Carmen, Madame Butterfly, The Mikado, Phantom of the Opera and The Gondoliers. A good first time introduction I think. The surrounding brick walls, arches and tunnels provided arresting acoustics. A number of times I closed my eyes to shut out the visual input and absorb the elegance of being wrapped in sound.

This experience has not a convert to Opera made, though I would be keen to attend another event in the caves and an abandoned castle a short drive away. Carols in the reservoir sounds like something I’d like on my bucket list for this year too. The ambiance of a place adds much to the experience. The outstanding talent of the performers is something I can definitely appreciate.

Have you attended an event in an unlikely venue that has left a lingering memory?