Thursday, July 18, 2019

Stooping, sharing and citrus

As far back as I can remember there has always been a lemon tree

Lemonade apparently

When I was a kid I learned from our Italian neighbors that lemons like urine, so it was regular practice for the boys both sides of the fence to wee on the tree. It was a matter of pride that our trees were well watered. The lemon tree was a valued contributor to suburban community life. (Yes there actually was such a thing as a 'suburban community' back then, street cricket, cubbies in the trees, billy carts down the hill etc... etc...)

Where I come from the unspoken rule has always been, nobody pays for lemons. In fact it would be a poor person indeed who would have to resort to actually purchasing lemons from the shop. After all who wouldn't know at least one person who has a tree with a few fruits to share?

In some places they use the phrase "Big name no blanket" to indicate that someone has put too much significance on their own self importance but neglected the social and personal responsibility of caring for theirs and others basic needs. Well here you could easily apply same logic, "Big name no lemons".

I recall as a child accidentally bumping into our tree and apologizing as if it were a person. It seemed a perfectly normal thing to do. Many years later a Malaysian colleague told me about the communal mango trees in her village. She was taught by her father never to disturb the tree at night, don't pick fruit or cut the wood, don't even shake the foliage at night, respect the tree. 

Many changes have occurred in our family home after I left about 24 years ago. The old lemon tree had to be removed but Mum and Dad planted more in another spot along the side fence.

Every time I visit my family in Melbourne I am amazed at the productivity of Mum and Dad's lemon trees. They have a few varieties, I don't know what they are, they're lemons, there's lots of them... one is called Lemonade. 

Slim garden bed produces tons of fruit
There are four trees growing in a patch of dirt about 80cm wide between a brick path and the neighbors fence. Each year they are brutally hacked back to a few rough stems and every year they bounce back producing biggest mobs of golden fruit.

Mum with another bag of fruit to give away

My parents have been living in the same house in Melbourn's northern suburbs for 51 years. When they moved in the street was mostly dirt and surrounded with paddocks (where we used to collect black berries and mushrooms... another story). As the neighborhood became more populated people would share back yard vegetables, it was normal to have someone knock on the door with a bag full of silver beet, rhubarb, tomatoes or plums. Nobody ever paid for lemons.

Time has rolled on and the neighborhood has changed, new families have moved in others have shifted or passed away. Most keep to themselves but everyone knows my Mum. So it was no surprise to me when we had an appointment at the bank, that she would bring a bag of lemons for her account manager. 

Field mushrooms straight out of the front yard
To what end does she keep holding to these antiquated ways? Talking to strangers, pottering in the garden, giving stuff away... Well about 6 and a half years ago mum was diagnosed with a  very aggressive bowel cancer. It was life threatening and required immediate surgery. After the surgery she was not given a very good prognosis. The surgery took away a large section of her bowel and she suffered a lot. During the weeks and months of her early treatment (Chemo) she received messages and prayers from all over the place. People would bring soups and hot meals for her and my dad (mum lost her apatite for a very long time). There seemed to be no end to the generosity of friends and neighbors. Mum hated being laid up and she endured a couple of years of being physically knocked out by chemo and the impact of the cancer on her body. But now 6 years later I come to visit and find her pottering in the garden, stooping to pick up fallen lemons and picking mushrooms from the front yard! She has exceeded all expectations.

I don't know what gives people the spirit to keep on going but with mum it must be connected to this drive she has to stoop to pick up the fruit from the ground and the impulse that demands that she should share the abundance she has been blessed with. Because nobody should ever pay for lemons!
Mushrooms and radish

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Great Stupa an unexpected gem

While in Bendigo last week mum suggested we go and visit The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion.

As a reformed drinker my mind sprung to an assumption about the word Stupa and associated it immediately with the word 'stupor' a state I have known all too well, which had little to do with compassion and I had no interest in re-visiting. She said it's a Buddhist thing so I looked it up. 

Apparently according to Wiki a 'Stupa' is: "...a mound-like or hemispherical structure containing relics that is used as a place of meditation. A related architectural term is a chaitya, which is a prayer hall or temple containing a stupa."

Sure I said that sounds interesting.

So after my ride from Heathcote we visited the Cathedral then had lunch (Chicken meat I'm afraid we're not very good Buddhists), before heading out of town to a Buddhist colony just down the road a bit. 

Dad making his way along the holy path
When we arrived at the property I wasn't sure what to expect... I mean they call it 'Great' so I figured it was something big but I couldn't really imagine how big.

I won't bang on with all the stuff I don't really know or understand about Buddhism or the particular school that is responsible for creation of the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion... but I will say they are committed! The building has been in construction for years. The grounds contain the beginnings of an amazing garden that combined with the Stupa appear as a giant Mandala from above. 

There are statues, sculptures and stones piled in cairns. There are prayer wheels and a wishing well, elephants with their trunks raised and even a statue of St Francis.

The Stupa has not been completed but they are hoping to raise the final tower of the roof by the end of the year. You can get a free tour of the inside which contains some relics and The Jade Buddha of Universal Peace. I have not included a photo of 'The Jade Buddha' it would not do justice.

A slightly smaller Jade Buddha
If you wander down the path to the left of the Stupa you will find the Atisha Buddhist Centre, which was a small, more lived in space that had a caffe and a fantastic little meditation room.

The Stupa was Great, the amount of work going into this place is phenomenal. Maybe seeing photos could lessen the impact of a first hand experience, but I don't think so. The magic of this place is not in the decorative ornaments or the relics, it is the spirit that seems to emit from the place thanks to the efforts of devotees.

When it's done the Stupa will look something like this

The Great Stupa and Atisha Buddhist centre can be found at 25 Sandhurst Town Road, Myers Flat


O'Keefe Rail Trail on a winter day

I recently had the opportunity to ride the O'Keefe Rail Trail a 49km trail that follows the old rail line between Heathcote and Bendigo via Axedale.

See link for full details

I had once owned some land at Heathcote but haven't been back there for about 20 years. Coincidentally I've been wanting to visit Bendigo for several years but have not had opportunity or a good enough reason to travel out there until now.

Some time last year I read about the opening of the O'Keefe Rail Trail on a Cycling blog. The pictures looked interesting and the distance seemed quite manageable. About 50km.

On Wednesday morning I put my bike in the back of my parents car and we all went for a drive to Heathcote, via Seymour. The country was absolutely beautiful, the sky was blue and the fields were a brilliant green. They'd had enough rain to really freshen up the place. Rain and heavy winds were forecast for later in the day but the the morning was magnificent.
We arrived in Heathcote fairly late in the morning and I headed off on the trail at 11am. My traveling companions drove on to Bendigo to do a bit of sight seeing, ride the tram and see some local attractions.

Here the track begins... Right in the centre of town. 

I hadn't really thought through the ride, the only reason for starting in Heathcote was so the rest of the family could drive through to Bendigo where there is more to occupy them while they wait for me to ride the trail. 

I didn't count on the fact that in winter the sun doesn't rise high above the horizon, which means that if you're heading in a northerly direction, the sun will always be in your eyes! 
I also hadn't considered the wind direction. It just happened that on the day I was riding most of the state of Victoria was expecting winds of up to 100kph!
At 11am the wind hadn't yet reached it's peak but the temperature was only around 9.C. The combination of cold wind and Sun in my eyes meant that I missed a lot of the view. My nose was dripping.

A very large roo, he aint moving for nobody.
All these negatives aside, the track was smooth and easy to follow, the sky was clear and, beside the odd kangaroo, I had the path all to my self for most of the journey.

There are a few sections, where the path combines with local roads, I needed to refer to google maps to be sure I was still on the right path, but most of the trail was very easy to follow.

Cattle Grid

Between Heathcote and Axedale there are a lot of cattle grids. I rode a flat barred road bike basically because it was the easiest thing to fit into the back of a car. The grids weren't a hindrance but I was worried the continual impact would damage my rims or flatten my tyres. 
Aside from cattle grids the track is smooth and can easily be ridden on most bikes, but if I were to do it again I'd choose a more robust bike with wider tyres.

Replica mile stones mark the length of the trail, distance from Melbourne in miles (not KM)
There was plenty of bird life along the way, of note were three separate White-winged Chough clans and a flock of about 30 Red-rumped Parrots.

Acacia baileyana - Cootamundra wattle. (Swaying in the breeze)

A wooded section

Although a lot of the land along the highway is cleared the rail trail passes through areas of state forest which contain reasonable stands of eucalypt and wattles.

Ubiquitous dead trees at lake view rest place
The map shows an interesting section where the trail passes over Lake Eppalock. Unfortunately this section of the lake was quite dry, only a depression in the ground and some distant puddles suggested the existence of a lake.

After crossing 'Lake' Eppalock the path makes its way to Knowsley State Forest, a reasonable stand of eaucalypts and yellow flowering acacia bushes I am not familiar with. It's good to see stands of woodland remaining in these areas, they don't seem to have a lot of species diversity but they must provide a haven for wildlife. Wood harvesting seems to be another function of the area. 

Before arriving in Axedale the path winds past the remains of an old building, I am not entirely sure of the story but the map indicates this as the site of the Quarry Hotel. There's an old stone wall and remains of orchard close to the river.
Looking down from the bridge over the Campaspe River I was surprised to see the water was so clear.

Campaspe River looking toward McIvor Highway bridge

Continuing from Axedale there was much greater presence of residential semi rural development. Much of the land was still wooded with native vegetation and a reasonable reserve had been left along the rail line which doubled as bicycle path and wildlife corridor. Nesting boxes had been installed on many of the larger trees. It was pleasant cycling through this section but I wondered how much land is sacrificed for so many people to live on their one or two achre blocks.

Bicycle repair station

Tyre pressure gauge for high pressure foot pump
Along this more heavily populated section of the trail there were more amenities. Although I didn't see a public toilet at any stage along the path they did have a water dispenser and an awesome do it yourself bicycle repair depot.

By the time I arrived on the outskirts of Bendigo the wind had picked up and the trail became less defined. A small hill greets the rider just before finally arriving in the town centre.

Bendigo Hothouse
All up I found this a very pleasant ride, two and a half hours of easy peddling stopping occasionally to take photos and smell the flowers. A fantastic way to arrive in the town of Bendigo.

What next?

As one who prefers to travel independently I am planning to catch the train to Castlemaine, cycling to Bendigo via Knowsley and Axedale then return to Melbourne on train from Bendigo.
Possible rout next time

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

A short walk to Sweetwater

A couple of weeks ago the kids and I joined a couple of other families and hiked from Edith Falls to Sweetwater camp on the Edith River just North of Katherine.

This was my kids first over night hike/camp adventure and I wasn't sure how it would play out.

Kid inspects tent

My philosophy was let the kids have what they want, they can choose the music in the car, food etc... I will even carry most of the gear, just so long as I can get them to go.

Kid in a hammock

Well it paid off, not too early on Saturday morning we were rolling down the Stuart Highway headed for Nitmiluk National Park with a few stops for caffeine along the way.

Just after Adelaide River I glimpsed the figure of a person and some kind of bike leaning against a tree. I couldn't resist my curiosity and doubled back to say hello.
It was then we met with Ms Blandine. A solo Kick biker 'La Trottineus' who is traveling the world in an admirable way. If I get the time I'd like to write more later.


We met up with the others at the Edith Falls campground and spent quite a fun afternoon there, setting up tents, rolling around on the lawn and cooking dinner. 

The 9-12 year olds sorted themselves out pretty quickly and were busy exploring, throwing frisbies and generally soaking up all the fresh air an negative ion magic Leliyen had to offer. 

It was a comfortable night camping there on the perfectly level tent sites covered soft green grass.

Checking the map

Next day we headed out on the trail at about 8:30am

It was a bit of up hill to begin with but everyone was in high spirit and the younger kids were keen to prove their prowess as explorers.

The track to Sweetwater is only about 4.5 km long but we made it last, stopping at water holes along the way and taking a dip. It took us about three hours to reach our destination. When we arrived we discovered that there was very little room for our tents and another group had already taken the best sites.

The Water

Despite the heat and the flies we had a really great time at sweetwater. Swimming was awesome, the kids spent most of the day in the cool fresh sweetwater of Edith River. 

Hiking the trail
Unfortunately we didn't get much sleep that night. Rough uneven ground made things pretty uncomfortable for my team. But the views were worth it. It was a night of a New Moon so in effect there was no moonlight. We were blessed with a cloudless night and a perfect view of the starry night sky! We could see everything! 

At 5am some of us got up to observe the Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower which amounted to a serious of falling stars with quite sustained tails. We also followed the path of a few satellites that were quite easy to see in the moonless sky. 

It was a great trip, the kids grumbled a bit at the end but we all had a pretty good time and made it home safe and sound the following day. A successful first for us. 


Thursday, May 09, 2019

Where is YOUR Head at?

Sometimes we can feel lost, alone, stumbling through a pointless existence, mindlessly dragging ourselves from one unsatisfying situation to the next. 
The sensation of separation from others or even the purpose of our own lives can become overwhelming. It is described as an 'illusion of separation' but the experience can feel very real.

However there are times, special times when intuition, perception, time and space conspire to slap that mistaken thought right out of our silly little monkey minds! 


So the here's the story:

I'm riding home from Palmerston along the McMillans Rd cycle path (ok not really important where) and I'm listening to Bob Dylan singing 'Blowin' in the Wind' and I'm looking straight down at the path in front of me, and just, at the very moment Bob sings the lyrics, "...And how many times can a man turn his head..." And all I can see in front of me is THIS!

(Ammended 16/5/19 due to broken link)