They’re such sky-oriented people, geared to changing weather, sings Joni Mitchell in her song “Paprika Plains”, and since my move to Chinaman Creek, my orientation has shifted noticeably skywards, too. Especially in Summer.
The other day, I noticed a small bird sitting very still out in the backyard. It was a sparrow. We have a problem here with birds hitting windows and stunning themselves, but this one was nowhere near glass. As soon as I scooped it up in my palm, I knew it was dead. From days of intense heat.
And then there was the frog. Frogs here take shelter in the metal canopy that houses the outdoor blind, and sometimes they manage to get themselves squashed into unhappy two-dimensional replicas of their former living selves when we wind up the blind of an evening. I don’t know why they seek refuge in such an unlikely place, but I am grateful all the same that they manage to survive in such weather. This frog had one of its back feet caught in the tightly rolled up blind, and was making a very shrill, plaintive cry. I got up on a chair and tried to prise its foot free with a knife. When that failed, I tried a chopstick. But no luck. We were on the point of despair — the frog was still screaming in discomfort — when all of a sudden it jumped down from the canopy and into the fish pond. Thank goodness, we thought, it could still hop.
Yesterday, it was 43 degrees. Today, the temperature is supposed to reach 45 degrees. Celsius, that is. Actually, the sky at the moment is a bit murky rather than clear, filled with high-blown dust from the Outback. Flies crowd around the doors in buzzing swarms, trying to sneak inside, as the hot air takes hold. Strangely, heat seems harder to describe than Winter chill: I feel it uncomfortably close to my face, and there’s an unpleasant pressure at the base of the throat, as if someone were pressing a couple of fingers aggressively into my skin. I check the vegetables, and I make sure the bird-bowls are full of water, and then I head back inside. Even the handles of the tin watering-cans burn. But I still can’t form picture of that Summer sensation.
Earlier today, for the first time ever in my life, I saw an eagle land on the ground and take a drink out of the muddy dam.
I was reading a post on G C Myers’ Redtree Times WordPress site about plowing snow: Winter in America sounds arduous. I realized that for most Australians on the other hand, Summer is the testing time, when weather becomes overbearing and insists that human beings adapt to its exhausting regime. Unlike people in the northern hemisphere, for whom Summer provides a welcome relaxation of the Earth’s demanding discipline, in this place it is often a trial, a trial comprised of discomfort, thirst and the dangers of lethal snakes and destructive bushfires. Yet we have so many northern images in our heads of Summer as release that we are often extremely vulnerable to Summer’s torrid powers. We tend to hide from the realities that surround us, and kid ourselves that She’ll be right . . .
In The Great Work, Thomas Berry writes of a psychic energy that comes from an intimate alignment with place, an interior force that enables us to endure the difficulties of life and which grants us the necessary endurance. But such energy is only available when we commit ourselves willingly to the test of the seasons and accept the rigours of natural limits.
I think I have had trouble getting heat into my poems. Maybe it’s a common issue: in Summer, we can’t seem to remember the feel of Winter, and in Winter, it’s almost impossible to summon any sense of searing Summer. Something about weather seems to defeat even the best imaginations. But here are a couple of attempts . . .
Notes from Melting Point
Red ants pursue acid paths over scorched earth.
In stiff mechanisms of grass massed rabbit pellets form ball-bearings of dust.
The hot-air lungs of a smoker’s breeze spin-dry fairy-seeds.
Wren song chips through chainsaw bark; calm is scored by the grind of a grader’s gears.
Trees shift focus into the fibres of their roots, listening at the tips for the drip of a drop of sweat.
In gaunt green mistletoe, a jezebel butterfly makes do in two dimensions, the palette of its underwings artificially colouring the landscape.
At this hour, a mouthful of water shuts down the world.
The rumble of distant thunder is a loud speaker — is it a long dash in proceedings or the promise of cool change?
Pools of shadow lengthen as they swim out past late afternoon.
To the drone of a light plane, a dusk hare jumps fur joy.
Summer in Winter: Patton’s Split-second Seasoning
As a frost’s smoke sheath whitens my breath,
and with the air’s sting-numb chill gloving both arms
and narrowly icing the gaps between fingers,
a swift Summer tremor of sunsettled glare
burns across the blood for a spilt
second: warning morning heat
stilts early up out of the ground;
the impeccable sky, with perfect balance,
stands on my head; and whirlpools
of birdsound percolate through the porous dry-grass realm ―
feel it thicken into something singing
my more than sad half-sense of this world;
all my open, close fears.