Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Almost every week somebody seems to mention an intuition about changes in seasonal patterns. (In my part of the world it's usually about rainfall - or the lack of it.) Occasionally people even have stories of plants and animals that appear affected by climate change. As well as this anecdotal stuff there is, of course, some serious science now being employed to micro-monitor the impacts in ecosystems. But for a very different take on the climate question check out this wonderful - if somewhat disturbing - story in the New York Times. That original tree-changer old Henry Thoreau is often lauded for his philosophical postures and contemplative prose. But as this tale reveals, his ideas were cantilevered off a lavishly detailed knowledge of the natural world.


Barack Obama spent today campaigning in the rain in Pennsylvania - in a town called Chester. Every time I see this man of the law standing tall, or hear him speak in that deep, steady voice, I can't help but think of Atticus Finch.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


For 15 years James Woodford has dashed around the country penning stories as the environment scribe for the Sydney Morning Herald. Some of these features, including the ripping yarn of discovering the Wollemi Pine, have blossomed into books. Along the way James has also been busy handcrafting another story -the tale that is his life. Not content to simply report on issues that tether us to the fate of the natural world, he wanted to enact the kind of altered relationship with the environment that was the ultimate corollary of many of his newspaper articles.
The result is Real Dirt, a book that is part memoir and part sit-com, with a dash of self-help and a little DIY confessional thown in for good measure. As an opening fracas with a dinghy suggests, it's not all plain sailing. In fact it takes nearly a 100 pages for James to steer his life into the relatively serene waters of the family circumstance and 120 acres of south coast NSW that he now calls home. He writes with candour about his early relationships, and the multiple pressures of keeping up with work while learning about fatherhood and all the practical stuff of creating an ecological life. As James reveals, even seemingly straightforward tasks like installing a rainwater tank, can be fraught with perils.
Yet, for all the avid discussion of solar panels and worm farms, what appears to matter most is a deepening intimacy with nature. The sheer drive to make things happen, to carve out a different future based on a respectful pact with his environs is impressive. And as the story arc of the book suggests, this drive has many sources but the strongest is an elemental joy that James and partner Prue share in their surroundings: the forest, the returning vigour of the bush and the ever-changing waters of their lake.
Parts of Real Dirt reminded me of John Blay's wonderful Part of the Scenery, another wise account of hard-won connections with a natural life on the NSW south-coast. In these strange times it does no harm to be reminded by such books that what really counts are not more government bailouts or Hollowmen-style initiatives, but people getting their hands dirty to change their lives for a better world.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


The other day I tuned into the last debate for the US presidential elections. Sitting there in my lounge room watching the TV, I couldn't help noticing that one candidate was tall, dark and unflappable, while the other was small, devious and scrappy. Then I happened to turn and look out the lounge room doors to see our two dogs looking in and, well, take a look for yourself:

Bark Obama & John McPain?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


A couple of days soaking up the sights in Bathtub Gorge prompted the following idyll thoughts:
  • Despite 30 years of waddling around the Flinders Ranges, the place continues to surprise and amaze.
  • Even though we walked this gorge back in 1986 (I think) I don't remember much about that trip. (Which, I guess, might help to explain why the place continues to surprise.)
  • As time goes by the significance of the geology here looms larger and larger - and it's all powerful when you're wedged in the gorge. (This, in turn, might explain why the amazement element is alive and well.)
  • The Heysen Range is one of the most underrated walking areas in the Flinders. The Heysen Trail shoots north up Aroona Valley but the peaks and gorges it glides past offer some remarkable detours. And, as always, it's a jolt to be reminded that so much of the best of the Flinders - like Bathtub and the country to the north - is outside the national parks.
  • The effects of 10 years of below average rainfall are very evident. Though the Heysens always get a bit of winter moisture, Bathtub did not seem to have had a major flow for some time. As with the gorges we visited near Moolooloo last year, it could do with a big storm to scour and clean up the pools.
  • Even though it was school holidays, we saw no other walkers. There were however several car-based campers in the Aroona campground. In the carpark at the end of the walk we did meet a few daytrippers who asked quizzical questions. Bushwalking, it seems, is still a bit of a novelty.