This week, I've been mostly walking in the bush [countryside]
around Hurstbridge, given my lack of routine /incentive to get off my fat arse, and the subsequent risk of one day finding that I can't get up unless I get some exercise.
And, well, it's been quite a revelation. I now realise just quite why the bush around here is so prone to suddenly erupt into fire. The amount of bark, branches and leaves that drop from the gum trees is quite phenomenal. Add to that the arid-dry grasslands, sun and frequent temperatures in excess of thirty celsius, and it's a literal tinderbox.
One of the eucalyptus trees is known as the "strinkybark tree" [in fact, a few varieties]
as it's bark strips itself off, leaving a nice bit of dried-out, thin wood, just ready to burst into flame. And some gum trees actually rely on the burning-off process in order to begin a new stage of re-growth. Another of God's funny little jokes for humanity...? "Don't even
think of living here, whitefella"...
One of the ironies is that many bushfires begin when the hot weather actually breaks and a thunderstorm ensues. Despite the rain that usually accompanies it, it is the lightning strikes that often create the spark for the tinder. The fire soon takes, overwhelming the rain's effect, and given that it may rain hard but rarely for sustained periods, and the flames are off and running.
The picture at the top of this may show the result of a lightning-strike, or it may just be a tree design fault, as some trees just sag under their own weight [rather like myself]
and their top half falls off [hopefully
not like myself].
Even more bizarre is the fact that many of the fires are apparently started deliberately, presumably with people with some sort of latent attention seeking behaviour, but that's a story for another time. I'm off on a tangent already.
So, back to the program: I'm communing with nature, remember. My walk follows the creek that leads from Hurstbridge down to Diamond Creek, about 6 km away, towards the city. And once I've made my way through the crap that's fallen off the local trees, shrubs and grasses, I get to large open areas of grassland, gently rolling hills with wattle and gums in the distance, not a house to be seen.
And suddenly... I feel like I'm breathing again [and breathing quite heavily as I climb those same said hills].
I'd forgotten what it was like to be in the countryside. I've always been a city boy: I love the buzz of cities and its infinite distractions; and although lacking in incentive to initiate my own walks in the UK [more to do with my fear of getting myself lost, unable to read an Ordnance Survey map and compass],
I also love the wildness of the great outdoors.
There's such a peace here, and a different type of wilderness to that back home, with the concerns of heat, dehydration and being bitten by something nasty being the terrible alternatives to freezing cold, creeping damp and hypothermia.
I've already confessed to an ornothological bent, and here I am in a country full of largely exotic and colourful birds, sparrows and pigeons notwithstanding. And it's been fantastic to see some of the blighters at fairly close quarters. The parrots and cockatoos are particularly tolerant and friendly, putting up with the leaden-footed oafs that disturb their peace. As long as they can sit in their bush or tree, tearing it apart whilst feeding on the fruits and berries, they don't really seem to mind how close you are.
Multi-coloured Rainbow Lorikeets,
beautiful pink Galahs [There goes Alf's voice in my head again, although Galahs make a sort of creaking sound]
, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and the pseudo-punk Gang-Gang Cockatoos [yes, really - apparently because of the sound they make]
are only too happy to cock ['scuse the pun]
a knowing eye to me as they playfully act up for me. Well, perhaps they're just oblivious to my presence and are just playing
, but it's not uncommon to see the cockys [as they're known]
hanging by their beaks from a branch, or upside down with one claw holding on with apparent ease.
In fact, a couple of weeks ago, Stephen suddenly pulled up sharply as we drove along a main road, only to see that the bird he thought was hanging by its neck from a telephone wire, was in fact just acting the fool and gripping the cord in its beak. Yet more attention-seeking behaviour. Maybe the little buggers like to set fires too?
As well as that, there are so many bellbirds out in the bush too. If you've been taking notes, you'll know that these are the birds that sound as though they are pecking at a bottle [click here for the sound].
The effect is quite spectacular when there are 6-10 birds all doing the same throughout the bush, in apparent call and response, making a weirdly-echoey and strangely pleasing single-note melody.
I was also lucky enough to spot the Eastern Yellow Robin, the White-Browed Scrubwren and the delightfully- named Superb Fairy-Wren, the male of which is three shades of blue. And yes
, I do
have a book.
After a while, it did strike me as I walked through an area of grassland that I was perhaps foolhardy in my choice of walking shoes, as I heard various rustlings in the undergrowth. Most probably the noises were emanating from small birds, large insects or lizards, but round here there's always the possibility of a snake
In my imagination, of course, each movement I heard was most definitely a brown snake
, a violently poisonous and aggressive beast that is both neurotoxic and can make you bleed like a stuck pig. I had to use a touch of CBT
to think myself out of that particular state of mind, as, rather than walking, I was now prancing daintily like a show pony. Mental note: wear your Blunnies next time.
And yes, to my former workmates, those are the Chelsea-boots-on-the-cheap that I always wore.
Once my mind was off the alleged snakes, I became aware of other sounds. The alternatives were also a bit worrying. Was that creaking sound a galah, the gently swaying gums, or one about to split in half and fall on my head? Boots and helmet
next time, maybe? Yes, you could say things can be just a little bit different
Down Here.A Great Galah, yesterday
Do you wanna be in my Gang-Gang?