Cicada Days

As a harbinger of warmer days to come, it’s hard to go past the cicada. It might be due to the combination of a dry winter and a warm start to spring but in recent weeks there have been discarded cicada shells all over the place. Fence posts, brick walls, tree trunks – all are seemingly dotted with husks, cast aside as cicadas move on to their final phase of life. During the day the air often thrums with their calls. Usually camouflaged by leaves, they are hard to spot unless being chased around the neighbourhood by hungry birds.

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After the countdown, they go over the top, grey shapes in the grey dawn, clambering out of themselves (Cicadas by David Campbell)

Cicadas were captured as temporary trophies when I was a kid, with a league ladder of varieties according to scarcity. The common Greengrocer wasn’t given much weighting; Yellow Mondays were a bit harder to find, Black Prince cicadas were highly sought, along with the noisy Double Drummer. The cicadas would be brought to school in ice cream containers with holes punched into the lids, to be admired and swapped before the cicadas were released.

There are Miller or Floury Baker cicadas, covered in fine, silvery hairs. I haven’t seen a Cherrynose cicada, but they are meant to be more common on the coast. There are Red-eyes along with smaller varieties such as Fairy, Maiden and Midget.

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A shell on the left, a cicada getting ready to emerge on the right

It is mainly the male cicada who sings by flexing their tymbals which are drum-like organs found in their abdomens. They drink and eat using their beak or rostrum, and begin life as an egg embedded in a tree limb. When the egg hatches, the ant-like form falls to the ground and digs until it finds roots to feed on. Cicadas can remain underground for anywhere up to 17 years, according to the species. It is an active life spent feeding and tunnelling.

As nymphs, they return above ground and climb the nearest tree to shed their exoskeleton. Their wings inflate and their bodies harden. They search for a mate with males singing to attract females, and the cycle begins again. As an adult they have a short life, usually only a few weeks.

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Greengrocer

There are over 3,300 varieties around the world, and a couple of unusual Australian cicadas are the Blue Moon and Bagpipe Cicada.

There is a lovely poem about cicadas by David Campbell here.

Do you have cicadas in your backyard?

Main source of information on cicadas: Cicada Mania web page. It is brilliant – hover over a link and the mouse arrow turns into a cicada!

[Photo: Greengrocer cicada]

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On A Nostalgic Note

It might be due to a sense of nostalgia but recently I found myself looking at record players online. The sum total of records in my life at this time? One: Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday. I recently bought it for a dollar at a community fete. I had flicked through the other offerings which included a bewildering number of tartan-inspired tunes celebrating Scottish heritage as well as a couple of spoken albums including an all-cast version of The Little Prince. Maybe I should have bought a couple more.

I had been tempted by some of the compilation albums featuring some of the big names and groups of the 1970s whilst smiling at the cover art. There was even an album in the stack celebrating James Cook with a mixture of jigs, classical music and poetry, the inside of the album containing drawings and exploratory maps.

Although I am wary of gathering more stuff in my life, there is room for records. I love listening to music and usually have the radio or an iPod shuffling in the background. A huge variety of music is available on various devices at any time. I still have boxes of CDs which I’m reluctant to let go, although most of my music is now digitalised. There are also old cassette tapes squirreled away too, mainly mix tapes carefully compiled for long trips or created by friends.

There has been a vinyl comeback in recent years with some artists embracing the format more than others. A browse on eBay turns up iconic albums re-released on vinyl.

So what is the appeal? Better sound quality. Listening to an album in the way it was intended, without the cherry-picking or just listening to the top-rated songs. To listen to the songs in order instead of ceaseless flitting from one thing to the next, even though compilation albums mix it up. To rediscover songs and memories on old albums discovered in future travels.

It is also to revisit, or attempt to revisit, my own musical history and memories. The first record that I can remember as a Christmas gift was Corroboree by Split Enz, the cover brown and black and white. Buying Crazy for You by Madonna as a 45 after seeing ‘Desperately Seeking Susan‘ with teenage girlfriends. A whole range of music embedded in my memory from childhood from some of the hundreds of albums owned by parents, family and friends. The art of lining up the needle with precision on the desired track, the hiss and crackle of motes of dust. Cover art still vivid in my memory, including the helicopter shot on the front cover of ABBA’s album, Arrival.

Do records tap into nostalgic memories for you?

[Photo: front cover of the Billie Holiday album, Lady Sings The Blues]

Grains of Gratitude

One of the tiny changes that I’ve made in the past year has been scratching down three things I’m grateful for each day. This concise capturing of moments or things helps to redeem even an otherwise terrible day. And as the habit has become ingrained, I sometimes find myself sifting through a day to find glimpses of things I’m grateful for, as well as noting moments with merit as they happen.

Here are some of the things I’ve been grateful for recently.

  • Open spaces
  • Echidna (spotted scuttling off the road near Lithgow)
  • Laughing with Mum
  • Singing
  • Different experiences
  • Valley views
  • Clouds. Just because.
  • Magpie morning chorus
  • Sunshine
  • Reading in my chair
  • Full moon rising
  • Chores: routines rock
  • Books, my reliable escape
  • Home
  • Scribbling
  • Naps
  • Storm rolling in
  • Local radio
  • Dancing
  • Word joys
  • Being

What are you grateful for in your life?

[Photo: clouds atop Mt Wellington, Hobart]

Writing Prompt: Write About Someone Doing An Everyday Task

The prompt: write about someone doing an everyday task that reveals something fundamental about who they are.

She had started before first light, making her way to the laundry in the yard and getting the boiler started as the household slept. The clothes had been sorted the day before and she’d made sure that there was enough kindling and firewood to get the laundry done. The first load was ready to hang out by the time the dawn chorus began to swell around her.

She tucked the basket on her hip, the canes creaking a little. Mary made her way to the clothes lines, long strands of wire held in place by wooden poles which seemed too feeble to hold the heavy sheets and household clothes but they were up to the task.

Just before starting to hang the linen she paused, listening for movement, sniffing in the cold dark morning for other wood smoke. A small smile tugged at her lips. She would be the first to have her washing out again. Last week she’d noticed that Maggie from next door had hung her washing out the night before. It didn’t count, doing it late in the day. With the dust and muck from the mines it wasn’t worth it anyway; the clothes would need washing twice if you tried that trick.

With wooden pegs tucked into her mouth, Mary flicked and pulled and straightened the cotton sheets until they flapped neatly in the light breeze. A quick glance upwards at the lightening sky as the stars retreated then she was heading back towards the laundry, stepping carefully on a well-worn track, her mind slipping forward to what the day ahead would require of her. The weekly rhythm was ingrained and she liked to get a head start on washing day to set herself up for the week ahead.

[Photo: display of laundry at Cascades Female Factory in Hobart]

A Meander Around Molong

Molong is a small country town about 300 km west of Sydney on the Mitchell Highway, and about 45 km north-west of Orange. The highway skirts around the town itself, but it is worth stopping for a while and having a look around the commercial centre of Molong.

Old Bank and Post Office in Bank Street, Molong

Old Bank and Post Office in Bank Street, Molong

The township of Molong began as a government stockyard in 1845, and copper mining also began in the area at this time. This was the first metalliferous working in New South Wales. The first land grant was at Larras Lee, still marked by a stone monument along the highway into town. Travelling from Orange to Molong, the turn off to Yuranigh’s gravesite is signposted, and the remnants of the Fairbridge Farm School can be seen before the rows of poplar trees mark the entrance into the town. Molong is derived from a Wiradjuri word, believed to mean a place of many rocks, and there are many limestone outcrops through this part of the countryside.

Cobb & Co Coach House, Molong

Cobb & Co Coach House, Molong

The main street of Molong, Bank Street, is classified by the National Trust. Heritage buildings line the street from the old railway station past old banks and the post office, beyond the town hall and towards the residential areas of the town. They evoke a different time, and many of them were built during the 1870s and 1880s when the town expanded as the extension of the railway line provided confidence in Molong’s future. Insight into town life in 1871 can be found here.

Old shop fronts in Molong

Old shop fronts in Molong

With a small population of about 1500, the town is remarkably vibrant. On the Friday afternoon when I passed through, most of the shops were open offering everything from antiques and second-hand books to gelato and pies. There were galleries and gift shops along with a small group of locals running a fundraiser. It is still one of those places where locals take the time to smile and say hello to people as they pass by.

Molong Railway Station, now a library

Molong Railway Station, now a library

The railway station is now a library. It was built in 1885 in preparation for the arrival of the railway in 1886. From 1886 to 1893, Molong was the terminus of the Sydney line.

Telegraph Hotel, Molong

Telegraph Hotel, Molong

The Telegraph Hotel dates from around 1880, and was extensively renovated in 1910.

The Western Stores, Molong

The Western Stores, Molong

Many central west towns still have the old Western Stores shop fronts in their main streets, and Molong is no exception. The Western Stores and Edgleys Ltd was a group of department stores operating in western and central western New South Wales. In the 1960s the group was purchased by Farmers & Co of Sydney, and subsequently purchased by Grace Bros (now Myer). Part of this building is now a supermarket.

When was the last time you took a detour from the highway to discover a hidden gem?

[Photo: streetscape of Molong, looking down Bank Street from the Town Hall]

 

 

Poem: Suburban Song by Elizabeth Riddell

Now all the dogs with folded paws

Stare at the lowering sky

This is the hour when women hear

Their lives go ticking by.

 

The baker’s horse with rattling hooves

Upon the windy hill

Mocks the thunder in the heart

Of women sitting still.

 

The poppies in the garden turn

Their faces to the sand

And tears upon the sewing fall

And on the stranger’s hand.

 

Flap flap the washing flies

To meet the starting hail

Close the door on love and hang

The key upon the nail.

 

[Photo: display of ranunculars at Napier, North Island, New Zealand]

One Quiet Moment

Recently, I had a quiet moment. That might not sound extraordinary but it genuinely made a difference to my mindset.

It had been a busy week with the usual challenges and seemingly overwhelming amount of work to be done in a too short period of time. Best laid plans came undone at various points, requiring regular revision of priorities. Occasionally I would remind myself that I can only do what I can do – perhaps a bit trite but true. Sometimes you just can’t get it all done, and sometimes ‘it’ isn’t as important as you think.

Then I had a moment, poised between work and personal demands. A rare moment when no-one needed anything and my attention wasn’t required elsewhere. It took a while to realise the potential power of such a moment. What to do? The endless loop of to-dos in my head rolled around, but there wasn’t really time to launch into something. What if I just stopped? For a moment?

So I did. I sat in my favourite chair and just looked out the window. The sun was out and the odd cloud moved overhead. I could see blossoms appearing on trees that had until recently been bare after losing their leaves through autumn. There were bees buzzing around the blossoms, something elemental but also something that I rarely have the time to notice, to really see.

This moment of mindfulness, where my breathing slowed and I could really just appreciate what was going on around me, beyond the noise and bustle in my mind, set me up for what came next. And over the last couple of days I have thought back to this moment several times, a smile curving my lips. I need to be mindful more often.

Do you make the most of mindful moments?

[Photo: spring blossoms]

Writing Prompt: Something Adorable

There are times when my writing seems to dwell upon serious themes. At a writing group session a couple of months back, we worked through several prompts together. There is the option to share your work if you are comfortable to do so, and I did although I was aware that the pieces were darker than usual. At the end of my second piece I’d scrawled “One of these days I’ll write something cheerful”.

The very next prompt was a short challenge to write about something adorable, something as cute as a button. This is what I came up with.

Little girls in fairy costumes,

waving magic wands

Dark green leaves of maiden ferns

delicate, curling fronds

Laughter swirling on the breeze

the wonderful sound of joy

Bright brown eyes of my Buster boy

as he spots a favourite toy.

Do you find your writing tends to find an emotional rut, and if so how do you get out of it?

[Photo: pottery dog amidst ferns at the Driving Creek Railway, Coromandel, North Island, New Zealand]

A Day at the Faire

It isn’t every day that you have the opportunity to wander around a medieval themed fair in Sydney, and the fourth annual St Ives Medieval Faire was too good to resist.

A chance to wander into the 14th century

A chance to wander into the 14th century

Located at the St Ives Showground, the entry to the faire was through mock castle gates with a drawbridge providing access to the grounds. There were market stalls selling all sorts of wares from serious looking swords to plastic shields for the kids. There were lots of activities for kids to enjoy, from puppet shows to combat training and tips on being a jester. There was even a collection of medieval pets.

One of the many groups gathered around the faire grounds

One of the many groups gathered around the faire grounds

There were various demonstrations including archery, a trebuchet catapult and birds of prey. The birds included falcons and an Australian barking owl.

Birds of Prey featuring the Barking Owl

Birds of Prey featuring the Barking Owl

There were medieval villages set up with fires burning under cooking pots and tents set up with all the relative comforts of home, in another time.

Medieval village area

Medieval village area

One of the highlights was the number of people dressed up to represent various roles in a medieval village, from servants to knights, lords and ladies. There was a sense of acceptance, a good-natured vibe that permeated throughout the crowd. For the serious enthusiasts and the interested observers, there was something for everyone at the faire.

Have you ever wandered around a medieval faire?

[Photo: glimpse inside one of the many tents]

The Reading Hour

Whilst catching up on some podcasts recently I discovered that I had missed the inaugural annual reading hour. This event, promoted by the Australian Library and Information Association, called for Australians to spend one hour reading. One of the activities was to encourage parents to read to their children for at least 10 minutes a day over a week. There was also encouragement for anyone to make a date with a book. It  made me reflect on my reading habits and what reading means to me.

It is hard to think back to a time when I didn’t read, when the words were merely scribbles on a page, yet to be deciphered. I remember some early reading books such as Dick and Jane (anything that had my name in it assumed greater importance) and books of fairy tales. There were illustrated versions of the childhood classics, including Black Beauty and a book of Aboriginal legends. I delighted in odd compendiums of facts, like The Big Book of How and Why or something similar.

A lesson learnt early on was the incredible power of books to transport me to another time or place, to parts of the world both familiar and strange, to characters that seemed as real and complex as any that were in my daily life. The pleasure of being so caught up in a story that it slips into your mind whilst you’re doing other things, as you ponder on what might happen to this character, or how this seemingly impossible situation will resolve itself – these are some of the many joys that reading provides.

In the podcast, a few writers were interviewed to see what reading meant to them. For Chris Womersley reading takes place anywhere and it is difficult to imagine life without it. Sometimes life is understood more through literature than real life, and books play an important part in his internal narrative about what was going on in his life at a particular time. Kevin Kwan spoke of the pleasure that reading gives him – more pleasure than just about anything else, opening up a world of possibilities. For Kamila Shamsie, happiness is being in a hammock, reading. Reading means you never have to be alone, or that your life is limited to your own experiences. According to Shamsie, it enables you to develop empathy and imagination.

It is often claimed by many writers that to write, one must read. Reading widely is encouraged, not just in the genre that you write in or your particular field of expertise. Reading widely offers insights and approaches that can complement various styles, and I’ve heard interviews where some authors deliberately read non-fiction whilst writing fiction, for example.

I like to read a couple of books at any given time, and over the years this has evolved into a mixture of books, ebooks and audiobooks. I’ve just finished reading The Dunbar Case by Peter Corris as an ebook from the library after listening to The Liars’ Gospel by Naomi Alderman for my book group. Next on the book group list is The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy, an author I haven’t read in decades since I toted War and Peace around at the end of my teens. Recently I finished reading The Museum of Words by Georgia Blain, which was beautiful and devastating. I’m also reading Where Song Began by Tim Low. A friend has given me a couple of books on meditation and I’m also keen to read a couple of Australian crime thrillers that have been in my reading pile after reading some enthusiastic reviews lately.

What does your reading life look like?

[Photo: detail from my favourite reading chair]