21 November 2010

Camping in (on? at?) The Coorong

The Coorong is a giant spit of pristine sand dunes formed by the mouth of the Murray River that serves as an important stop over for myriad species of migratory birds...but that is irrelevant to this story.  What's important is that it is a short 2.5 hour drive from my house and it was the first time I have been camping in about 7 years - 7 years?  How did that happen?  How is it that I have neglected to do something that I so love for so long??  It can be quite annoying, how life gets in the way of itself sometimes!

Special thanks to Joan and Gordon for instigating the event and supplying the top end gear we were lacking.  Kevin imported our basic necessities from the US - tent, sleeping bags, and camp mattresses - which looked mighty puny next to their palatial canvas accommodations, but we were cozy enough.  Well, I was anyway...for some silly reason, Kevin thought he would be more comfortable sleeping in the car...or maybe thought didn't really play a part in that decision.

I awoke to a symphony of birdsong.  Following a delicious artery-clogging breakfast (washed down with ice cold beer), we went on a lovely morning hike around some purple salty lakes.  My inadequate photographic skills failed to capture the breadth of joyous emotions I felt as we trekked through subtly distinct micro-environs.  But here is the best of the worst:

At 42 Mile Crossing (I was assured the name was for the distance of the locale from town, and not from the length of the walk), we traversed the dunes to have lunch on a desolate stretch of beach bordering a gorgeous aquamarine sea.  My lovely hosts then indulged me with a scenic drive in search of exotic roadkill, whereupon I added my first emu picture to my collection, but was too tired to get out to snap the golden wombat. 

After a brief stop at the local store for ice-cold Coke and Cookies, we retired to the campsite for refreshing bevvies and a scrumptious dinner of fried garlic sprinkled with prawns.  The evening was punctuated with praline cheesecake, and I soon drifted away into a blissful drunken slumber which prevented me from worrying about large hairy spiders and highly venomous snakes.

A pleasant consequence of life in South Australia is that wherever we travel, there is generally a wine region between us and home.  We took a ferry across the river into Wellington and tasted our way through the Langhorne Creek region across rolling hills under big fluffy clouds, stopping in the German Village/Tourist Trap of Hahndorf for lunch and home made ice cream. 

Despite my delight with wilderness living, it felt mighty good to come home to a blissful nap on a proper bed and a proper shower!  Perhaps that is what I love most about 'roughing it' - sometimes it is necessary to adjust the contrast levels of ones life manually, in order to bring out the highlights and lessen the shadows...and sometimes a change of scenery helps add frivolity, or at least an element of quirkiness:

Just think what I could do if I actually collected my roadkill...

12 November 2010


I love it when real life comes with a good soundtrack.

The incessant grinding of a tile saw across the street earlier this week provided me with a poignant reminder that my job is portable. With frayed nerves and a cranky disposition, I packed up my laptop and sought refuge in a cozy café near the beach. A steamy Chai Latte and a plate of chicken and asparagus crepes restored my calm and I soon settled into organizing my appointment calendar.

My industriousness was short lived as a large group of retired beach walkers descended on the café, breaking my serenity with the shrill chatter and loud squawking one might expect from a flock of cockatoos. I was suddenly seized by an urgent call from nature of the variety that required complete solitude and security. I cast a nervous eye towards the line of old ladies jogging nervously in place at the rear of the restaurant. I quickly packed up my bag and hit the street in search of more suitable facilities.

I walked uncomfortably down to the esplanade. My desire for privacy was rapidly dissipated by imperative need. I scanned the shoreline for the blessed facilities that without fail exist in public spaces. Australian society deems adequate waste disposal as a civil right essential to the preservation of human dignity, and for that I hold this nation in the highest esteem.

I spied the location of my ambition a block away beneath the steps of the surf club. I waddled nervously past the playground filled with friendly and confident children calling out greetings to me, fully expecting my polite reply, towards which I had neither the inclination nor the ability. I was delighted beyond description when I at last reached my destination to discover that these were not your ordinary block of cold concrete stalls, but were high-tech, self cleaning private suites. I had found a safe haven!

I pushed the green button outside a vacant room. The door opened with a whoosh. I hung my satchel on the hook and pressed the red button which closed the door, activating the nauseating music meant to deter junkies and urban campers. I then relaxed into a moment of satisfaction unlike any I had ever experienced outside of a bed (except once in a dressing room at JC Penney). It was evident this was not going to be a rush job, so I settled back and had a good look around at my temporary accommodations.

The room was clean and surprisingly free of graffiti and vandalism. Instructions above the large sink made post-evacuatory hand washing mandatory, as that was the mechanism that activated the flush. How sanitary. Located at random intervals throughout the tile walls were spray nozzles of varying sizes and angles that maintained the impeccable cleanliness. Above the sink was a sign that read:

“If this red light begins flashing you have occupied the facility for too long. Leave immediately. The door is about to open.
If you hear an alarm, the cleaning cycle is about to begin. Leave immediately.”

As I pondered the precise definition of “too long”, it suddenly seemed as if I had been in residence for an eternity, and there seemed to be no end to my fit of productivity. Time stretched dreamlike as I imagined myself grasping for my computer, clutching my pants clumsily around my waist and lurching from a multi-directional shower spray into a sea of pink-clad little girls shouting “Hullo!” I tried to explain my concerns to my internal organs, but my autonomic nervous system was not taking calls from my cerebral cortex.

Eventually, I perceived a light at the end of the strictly metaphorical tunnel and began to anticipate my ablutions. I pressed the button on the paper dispenser. With a painful grinding sound, the machine reluctantly delivered 6 inches of thin tissue. I pressed the button again. Another scant offering materialized. I pressed the button a third time. Nothing happened. I applied my 12 inches of salvation with a delicate conservation that would impress a hardcore Greenpeace activist, only to immediately realize the complete inadequacy of the resource. A new wave of panic reinvigorated my digestive tract, undoing all I had just achieved.

After an interval, the paper dispenser once more graced me with a meagre 12 inches of insufficiency. I eyed the sign above the sink nervously as I waited for the stingy contraption to reset. Grrr-rrr-rrr-errr. Wait. Worry. Grr-rrr-rrr-err. Wait. Worry.

At last I reached a state of repair that would allow me to face the world outside with confidence and grace. In fact, I felt damn good! Like I could conquer nations. I approached the sink and thoughtlessly began whistling along to the perverted muzak that filled the cubicle.

And now, forever onwards, will magnificent feelings of salvation and empowerment be conjured in my memory by the gentle strains of Nat King Cole.

05 November 2010

RIP...the sound of breaking hearts...

“We’ll take that one. The orange tabby.”
From the dark recesses of the back wall under a sign labelled ‘kittens’, we heard an incessant “Mraaoow. Mraaoow. Mraaoow. Mraaoow. Mraaoow. Mraaoow.” As if to say – "Hey! Don't Go Yet!  Come see about me!"

“Wait a sec…may I hold that one? The stubby legged little Kitler?”

She was so affectionate. All full of purrs and promises

“We’ll take this one.”

We brought her home, let her loose in our penthouse Goose Hollow apartment…and she…never…ever….shut…up! Ever!

Except for the time we decided to take her to the library, when she took a silent shit in Kevin’s lap. Then *I* couldn’t shut up…in fact, I am still laughing about it now...be grateful I didn't have a camera with me.

On the Big Trip 2003, at a riverside campsite in Riggins Idaho, we thought we had lost her for good. After a family sized pizza and several rounds of beer served in mason jars (one of my favourite drinking vessels), we returned to find the screen door of our 5th wheel trailer a jar and The Cow nowhere to be seen. As dusk fell, we combed the shoulders of the highway and the banks of the rushing river by torchlight, frantically calling her name.

At last we gave up and collapsed into a pile of mutual sobs, when from the shadows beneath the trailer we heard a soft ‘mraaoow?” and The Cow Emerged, soggy with cat piss and quite full of her self. She immediately received hugs, beatings, and a violent bath:

Because we had a cat in Baja, it seemed an obvious pre-conclusion that we would certainly want another. And so when a skinny little blue-eyed Siamexican kitten was rescued from a feral litter, it was assumed that we would naturally adopt him. The Cow issued a vocal sharp clawed veto and exhibited her typical smug stubbornness, and he soon took up residence elsewhere:

“What about The Cow?” was the most difficult question in our decision to move to Australia. She was well into her 14th cranky year, and immigration regulations would require a 2 month stint in quarantine – seemed a cruel penance for a grand old lady who was so recently enjoying her rest on the oak covered mountainside of our home in Shingletown. The decision to leave her to her retirement abode was made easy by the generosity of Robert and Holly, who loved her like their own, gave her daily beatings, and indulged her incessant meowing with patience and adoration.

And it was them, not us, who cared for her in her final hours…and for that I am eternally grateful, and perhaps, as eternity stretches out, I will be able to forgive myself for not being there with her....