Tag Archives: Australia

It rests their big eyes.

Cotswold cows by Pippin, 2005

Les Murray wrote a poem with 18 stanzas, but I am sharing only a third of them here. It is a rambling catalogue of summer gardening memories, and after this first portion my mind balks at following his wandering; I want to rest here in the shade, where I can be philosophic and civilized. The thing the poet wants to cultivate under the glaring sun Down Under is not any kind of vegetable or flower, but the shade itself.

I wish I could trade some of my own backyard shade for his extra sunshine, but how do you measure that kind of stuff? What I have to trade might not add up to much in total mass of shade… I’m guessing enough for a couple of rogueing cows.

(From) ROOMS of the SKETCH GARDEN

Women made the gardens, in my world,
cottage style full-sun fanfares
netting-fenced, of tablecloth colours.

Shade is what I first tried to grow
one fence in from jealous pasture,
shade, which cattle rogueing into

or let into, could devour
and not hurt much. Shelter from glare
it rests their big eyes, and rests in them.

A graphite-toned background of air
it features red, focusses yellow.
Blue diffusing through it rings the firebell.

Shade makes colours loom and be thoughtful.
It has the afterlife atmosphere
but also the philosophic stone cool.

It is both day and night civilized,
the colour of reading, the tone
of inside, and of inside the mind.

-Les Murray

 

pressed into the earth

When in 1930 Jill Ker Conway’s father began homesteading a “block” of 18,000 acres in New South Wales, Australia, the change in lifestyle was jarring for his wife.

When my father left in the morning to work on the fences, or on one of the three bores [wells] that watered the sheep and cattle, my mother heard no human voice save the two children. There was no contact with another human being and the silence was so profound it pressed upon the eardrums. My father, being a westerner, born into that profound peace and silence, felt the need for it like an addiction to a powerful drug. Here, pressed into the earth by the weight of that enormous sky, there is real peace. To those who know it, the annihilation of the self, subsumed into the vast emptiness of nature, is akin to a religious experience. We children grew up to know it and seek it as our father before us. What was social and sensory deprivation for the stranger was the earth and sky that made us what we were. For my mother, the emptiness was disorienting, and the loneliness and silence a daily torment of existential dread.

from The Road to Coorain

western new south wales

The Road from Coorain

I have just begun reading a book of memoirs that Pearl gave me last week. I share this snippet not because of any metaphorical application but just for its worthiness.

On the plains, the horizon is always with us and there is no retreating from it. Its blankness travels with our every step and waits for us at every point of the compass. Because we have very few reference points on the spare earth, we seem to creep over it, one tiny point of consciousness between the empty earth and the overarching sky.

–Jill Ker Conway in The Road from Coorain