Kitchen Garden Guides

Monday, February 18, 2008


Sorry, but when the mood takes me somewhere I just have to go...
Each time it starts the second I get out of the car....a kind of aura begins to lift me out of whatever thoughts are in my mind. It can be the music I hear wafting along the esplanade from a nearby house or it can be the tinkle of the sea on the shore or the height of the blueness of the sky but it always happens and only today did I stop and register that thought. Every week on the same day I do a simple thing - go for a walk on the beach with whatever dogs I and my mother happen to have and I have been doing it for as long as I can remember.
It is not something I want to do with another person, but something almost secret because aloneness is special to me. Only in being alone can I use all my senses at once, or separately. Recently I have spent a few minutes of this time walking along with my eyes shut and relying on all other senses to keep me going straight, at a normal, brisk walking speed. It is so beautiful to hear the sounds of the sea so accurately, to feel the cool water as it laps over my feet and to detect the wind direction by the touch of the breeze on my face and arms. As soon as I open my eyes, sight takes over in a powerful way and dulls the other senses a little.
The sea is only a 15 minute drive from the centre of the city and the shore is crowded with houses old and new, jostling for space, but from the long, straight beach the sea stretches out to the horizon making a panorama devoid of human interference. It takes me about 10 minutes of walking, usually, to be totally free of my life and to be in a space centred on the moment. I think modern-day people pay money to go to meditation and all sorts of classes to reach this place but it is there, free to all, at the beach, if you just give it time to find you. And once you find it, it can stay with you all day, if you are lucky.
On a perfect day like today there is also time to see the changing details but when the wind is cold and howling and the sea is deafening and the walking is hard it is easy to be distracted by these personal battles and get back to the car having missed some of those tiny things that make the beach an ever-changing canvas. Ripples in the sand, tiny pieces of brightly coloured sea weeds, a seagull with one leg, stones of a certain shape and colour, shells of a different type, a pelican gliding inches above the sea, the texture of the sand, the sun appearing from behind a cloud, a dolphin fin only metres from the shore - all these and hundreds more nuances are like a kaleidoscope in slow motion, changing weekly or monthly or seasonally.
This is not so different from what is possible for us to experience in the garden but I find growing food provides me more with that skippity-doo feeling compared to the freedom and solitude of the beach.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Reading Scarecrow's blog this afternoon I wandered off to look at The Sietch Blog , as recommended, and I found it to be very thought provoking as well as entertaining. Scroll down to Jan 14th "Where our food comes from" and you will be transported to a quirky series of still life productions of which this is one. They are created out of real food - as you can see there is cauliflower and broccoli under the sea and carrot stalagtites hanging from the cave roof etc etc This reminded me of some musings I had whilst snorkelling at our shack.

When you enter the world under the sea it is, on the one hand, a foreign land which we cannot fully participate in without the wearing of special underwater gear but on the other it is totally familiar. There is sandy soil, rocks, undulating hills and craggy cliffs. There are plants adapted to all these situations, just as on the land. There are animals happily going about their daily lives on the bottom, in amongst the shrubs and trees and some on the water surface. Waves and tides are the weather and the sun provides daily rhythms, just like on land. When snorkelling we get a view as if we were a bird, flying above and we can dive down and catch glimpses of what's going on in the caves and crevices below. It is silent and awe-inspiring and can make you feel totally focused on observing your surroundings - something we sometimes don't do when on the land because we are so used to it and so busy doing things.

As I tuned in to the 3 dimensional environment below and around me I wondered about the huge variety of plants I could see, just 10m from the shore, but invisible from above. Could I eat and enjoy some of these? I know other cultures do and I am sure the local aboriginal people would have. How do I find out, I wonder. As the years go by I get more and more sorry that I am of British descent because they seem to be the race most disconnected from their surroundings, and most stuck-up and arrogant to have gone all over the world killing the locals so they could take their land and attempt to grow cabbages and potatoes there instead. All the time dressed in stupid, crazy clothes and "teaching" the people about their god! How I would love to be almost anything but 3/4 British !

We had some work people around for a BBQ before Christmas and one bloke brought a Thai friend. I had tried to talk to her during the day but she was shy and her English wasn't very good and I was busy with all the food etc. After lunch someone else asked if I would show them around the garden and this Thai lady came too. Immediately she saw some herbs and my kaffir lime tree she became so animated - explaining how to use them in cooking and medicinally - and continued chatting and exclaiming all around the whole vegetable garden when she saw something familiar. Her knowledge was astounding and obviously a part of her background and I envied her that connection with her culture and her history. It is the same with the people whose stories appear in the book "Community Gardens" - their connection to their culture is so deep and moving and, again, I felt shocked that I feel no deep connection to the native foods of Australia, only a desire to learn about them, and the culture of white westerners, in general, appalls me.
Here is another of the creations with potatoes for rocks and pieces of chocolate cake too....

As I read the Cherokee book(see below) I suddenly remembered something from my childhood that my mother had said. My great-aunt Dorothy looked unlike any other member of the family - with skin the colour of a dark summer tan, straight, black hair and a round happy face. We all loved her different way of thinking about things and her happy nature. My mother said how odd her looks were "like a Cherokee Indian" . Maybe she knew something ! She never had any children but maybe her genes jumped over the generations to me and that is why I am so weird !

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


I have had a lovely session in the garden - sowing some seeds on the full moon (well, not actually ON the moon more like DURING) and a few other nice little jobs. I have come in to have my one delicious home made espresso coffee per day plus the last piece of my Christmas cake. Despite feeling almost skippity doo about picking up a roll of carpet underfelt from the front yard of a house nearby, I seem to have fallen into a peaceful and calm time and I can't for the life of me write something humorous even though I desperately want to - maybe its got something to do with the moon ! So I will type in another of the bits I wrote while at our shack and I hope you enjoy it...
There's not much less you can do, really. Each day stretches out and could, theoretically, be filled with things to do, jobs to get done, words to be said. I reckon that after 2 weeks here, its unlikely I could do any less in a day than I do today - I have achieved that perfect state of non-busy-ness.
I said to Roger yesterday, after a lovely snorkel at a remote reef we know, that we have to work pretty hard over summer to fit in all the activities (such as this one) that have become traditions since we got our shack 15 years ago. I mentioned 2 such activities and he said "Yeah, its tough. That's one activity per week so far" ! He was right. As I explained at the beginning we couldn't do less if we tried.
This morning I announced that I thought I'd go for a nice, long paddle on my board - an hour or two's quiet movement through a magical scene, with just the sounds of the water and the birds and, if I am lucky, my favourite sound in the world - that of the puff of air being expelled when a dolphin comes to the surface nearby before it takes in another breath . I worked up to this yesterday but didn't go in the end. Roger said he might come too, since he wasn't all that busy today. So off we set. After about 15 minutes paddling the wind came up and then got too strong to make it a pleasure so we headed in to the beach and went for a swim instead. Maybe I will head off again tomorrow or maybe next holiday. You see, whether I complete the journey or not is of no importance to me at all. When I reach this state of mind, I am interested only in the now and if the plan falls through, its because I choose to do something else better suited to the conditions - mental and environmental. It is pure life. Something to think about while having a coffee out the front.
That's interesting - "out the front". Some visitors call it "the back" but to us the sea is much more important than the road, so it gets the title of "the front" since it is on the seaward side.. The shack only has 1 door and I say its a "back" door because it faces the road and when you look out through it you see the shed and the clothes line which are between the shack and the road. A man we met brought us some whiting he had just caught as he said he had too many (I wish that was my problem!) and instead of knocking on the door he walked around the shack probably looking for a back door. He was a bit confused about there not being another door so he called in through the window! Of course we met up at the door eventually !
Today, after the paddle, the swim and the coffee I thought I would turn on the radio for the first time these holidays. But it was hard work having my thoughts guided by someone else and I kept taking out the earphones to hear the sounds around me - the birds, the sea, someone arriving at the shack next door, a car or boat starting up, even Roger ! Soon I gave up and turned it off - I am not ready for that yet. Ah....pure life again. Time - plenty of time - to sit and think about stuff or about nothing - just open the senses and let it all come by itself.
You know that song that has the lines "...I've been to Georgia and California and anywhere I could run. ..I've been to paradise but I've never been to me.".
Well, now I have been to me.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


After a day's work inside on administration for Roger, and another hot one outside, I want to remember the holidays and so will type in this little piece I wrote while at our shack in January!

We've been here nearly 3 weeks and every day has been unique. Today, this moment, is perfect. The breeze is ever so slightly more on the western side of south than previously and this brings subtle changes to all parts of the sea and landscape and thus to my enjoyment of the day. The cool breeze wafts gently in through the window where I sit and it brushes my cheek and hair as well as legs and feet if you sit, as I do, with them up on the window frame. Any further to the south and the air movement is only felt through the kitchen windows.

The sea glistens differently too when the ripples face this way, enhancing the colours of the sea, making the water look clearer and turning the horizon a crisp, royal blue against the almost white of the midday, summer sky near the horizon. The tide is slowly going out, so the sounds are of tinkling bells and rustling reeds, each carried clearly up the beach to me by that fluttering south-west breeze. Wind direction changes these sounds so that, with practice, you can wake in the morning and guess what the sea and wind are doing, by what you can hear, before you open your eyes. Sometimes you can be quite wrong and these occasions take me by surprise but make me smile to think that nature has set up a little game and tricked me.
The south westerly tickles the grey foliage of the sand dune that I see between myself and the beach, alerting me to changes in its direction and strength as it approaches.When the wind is more easterly it hurtles down the side of the shack, across the beach and out to sea, making distinctive patterns on the water, but leaving me hot and the leaves still as I and they sit in its lea.

On a mild day like this people stroll happily along the beach, children play on the sand, not just in the water, and families linger longer, preferring to eat a sandwich under an umbrella rather than heading back to their abodes as they often do to escape the intense afternoon heat that is sometimes the problem here.

If the south-westerly builds to a stiff sea breeze of 15 - 20 knots during the afternoon, as is often the case, Roger dons the wetsuit and harness and goes windsurfing. At this speed, the sand begins to blow along the beach, cutting your legs and blowing away umbrellas and boogy boards left unattended. Most people head back to their shacks until it dies down in the evening. For those lucky enough to have a sea view, Roger provides free entertainment, flying across the sea, "getting air" jumping off the waves and trying to perfect those gybe turns. I bite my fingernails when he crashes, way out, until I see, through the binoculars, the red hat bob up, then the sail lifts from the water and he's flying along again. People speak of him as 'that mad sailor'!

When the wind is more easterly it blows offshore and he doesn't usually go out because, if something breaks(and it often does) he will get blown to Whyalla or Pt Lincoln! If the wind is too westerly, the waves build and it gets very choppy and becomes a much, much rougher ride. I like to windsurf at about 12 knots, just when the white-caps are beginning but I don't do it often.

Over 20 knots the shack responds with whistling windows, the ceiling fan vibrates and very strong west to south west winds make the whole shack shake. Once, last year, several small, white patches developed far out at sea and moved quickly across the water towards the shack. On reaching the beach, quick as a flash one patch picked up seawater and seaweed and blasted our shack windows until they were wet from sea-spray and dripping with weed! I thought the glass would break and I moved away but it was gone as fast as it came. I have never seen this before in 49 years of watching the sea. Since then son Hugh has told us that this white-out effect occurs from about 60 knots, that's over 100km / hour and when it is sustained the whole sea is flattened by the wind and the air is filled with something like horizontal sea-sleet, reducing visibility to zero very quickly.

So this breeze today means a lot more than just a nice day. It is a tiny niche in a very wide range and must be savoured like a glass of icy cold limoncello on a hot summer's night.

Friday, February 8, 2008


I know this has nothing to do with gardening but please allow me a little indulgence while I reveal to you some of my thoughts while away at our shack recently. I wrote them on paper and appreciated the ease with which I can usually do it on a computer but a no-tech holiday reminds you of a lot of things, good and bad, that we take for granted at home. I will only subject you to one item now and then, but I want to keep them fairly close together or their sense will be lost. I didn't write anything for the first 2 weeks, which is interesting in itself. I will put them in the order I wrote them, for my own benefit, but you will see some developments as they progress....
There's something about this place.'Though I dig and probe I can't find the core of it but I do find lots of special things on the journey.
Tensions are tickled out here, I see it on everyone's faces.Visitors arrive hot and dusty, the town is drab, the shack looks disappointing. They bring in their luggage, offer gifts and news of life beyond and I stand, barefoot, almost silent, smiling until they finish. They move quickly to the window and then it begins - with a smile and a finger pointing to something in the sea or on the beach. They swim, sail, walk, and talk all day until they sit to watch the sunset, cool drink in hand, food on the BBQ.
The next day begins more slowly and there's less talk, less fuss, more relaxed and more reading. Small things come into focus - changes in the light, the wind, colours - and creases in their faces and moods smoothe over. We talk of the future, the earth, what's important in life instead of their purchases, activities, work. After a couple more days they wonder about staying longer, sometimes changing meetings or other holiday plans because life here is simple and fresh -only one small shop, no computer or phones, no TV, no boats with engines and no other technology except basic electrical needs. That's it. And yet there is so much - time, quiet, nature, space, water, fun. One guest recently commented, when he offered to buy us an icecream at the kiosk, that he hadn't bought anything since he arrived a week earlier, unlike in the city when, it seems, he buys stuff all the time. Yet he was so happy, inside.
The sea is the backdrop, the foreground and the subject of life here, washing into every nook and cranny of the mind and rinsing out all the sand, leaving only the rocks Bob wrote about, and a few pebbles. Even these have their edges rubbed smooth, nestling back together more comfortably than before. Thoughts and ideas pour into the gaps between the stones, helping to form plans for the future.
For me it's more than all this even. It's memories of 15 years of such experiences with my family. It's freedom from everything, including the garden. People observe few rules here - lots of kids ride bikes on the quiet dirt roads and tracks with the wind in their hair and a fishing rod in their hand - no helmets. Dogs run free - no fences, no leads. Our boats live on the beach - no theft. All around people smile, stroll, chat - no hassles, no rush. The talk is of the wind (sailing), the water (snorkelling), the heat (swimming) and food (the BBQ) - no politics, no wars, no news.
What day is it? Today.