12 June 2006

Electra Afternoon - For Him


I DID IT!!!
Originally uploaded by poppy smiles.
© B A Saunders

The Buick swims into the driveway,
its fins glistening in the sun
sinking behind the house across the street.
His two tries for a son
rush, flutter out to his feet,
their mutual end: to be first.

Pick me up,
spin me around till I get
real dizzy.
Me first, dad,
spin me around.

I remember being dizzy,
the warm breath of an expiring afternoon
around my neck and shoulders
in the whirl.

In the fading light of an older sun
you spin with me,
warm breath bathing my face
in an August afternoon;
spin me around till I'm dizzy;
and when the sun finally sets
I comb my hair with my fingers.
No one spins the way you do.

08 June 2006

Puzzle

Dear consumer:
Manufactured eons ago,
your puzzle, of the finest star stuff,
bits of lovers, soldiers, peasants and kings,
was cut with a fine diamond saw
at the most strategic junctures
to result in separations so sublime
they may have wept or bled
at the moment of separation.

Spread these delicate pieces,
strong and independent,
upon a surface, free of adhesions, attachments,
although some fine, white sand is acceptable,
vaulted by a summer sky.
Sort the pieces of your ruthless entertainment
into matching groups, according
to corners, edges, colours –
hopes, dreams and fears.

Find shapes that seem similar –
some may resist separation from loose attachments
that occurred in the shuffle of time;
some may cry out from the extremes,
longing for the match
they once dreamed about in childhood –
If you see these pieces
bring them together carefully,
old and recent cuts
will make them cautious.
Be patient, take time,
join as needed.

© B A Saunders
All rights reserved

Photo uploaded by WindeBabe (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jocksinoz/162808082/)

28 May 2006

Missing


I never realised how many people
there are in the world
until I didn’t know where you were
in it

So many people with your name
faces that looked like you
but weren’t
because I knew you’d changed

It is easy to love the absent
for they are always the same

Yet when I found you
amongst the world’s billions,
the millions, the dozens in my life
You were your memory – strong and true and you

I need to rest my walking fingers
that have trudged through countless phone books
in your hands
and report me as a missing person in your life
Poetry & photograph © B A Saunders - All rights reserved

25 May 2006

More roadworks - but who's been working on those clouds!?

My last trip to Eucla (5 May 2006) for a long time, probably. We were 'escorted' by clouds -- more and more as we headed east until it finally rained, when we were then greeted by rainbow after rainbow. It was a beautiful 900 km drive.

(Those streaks occurred because I actually shot this through the windscreen.)

19 April 2006

Springtime in the Pond

Western Banjo frogs (Limnodynastes dorsalis) - or Pobblebonks - the male 'hangs around' until the female lays her eggs, in a distinctive foam nest, so he can fertilise them. These do quite well at the Eucla Roadhouse where there is a beautiful garden and large water feature, although they are more common around Perth to Esperance.

These frogs are so named because of their explosive call, which sounds not unlike "bonk!", or the plucking of banjo strings.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jocksinoz/70737837/

16 April 2006

A Modern Fairy Tale

Fairytales have fallen from favour…become unfashionable…because there is a belief amongst adults (and adolescents of ever-diminishing ages) that there no longer exist knights in shining armour and beautiful princesses who are strong enough to yield to the softer emotions. But I know of a fairytale that had its beginning in the not-so-distant past – depending on your perspective – that has all the elements of the sweetest classics. You see, fairytales are not impossible, just exceedingly rare. They are not the thing of the imagination, but they are elusive as a will-o'-the-wisp.

Once upon a time, in an era when there was a terrible war and a time of great change,
there was a beautiful princess who was searching for direction, some meaning in the midst of all the chaos of the age. Having rejected her pursuit of learning, she joined the empire’s legions to seek meaning there, for these were not the olden days when princesses were consigned to stitching tapestries and naming pets; no dear readers, this was not the case. After an appropriate time, this beautiful princess was dispatched to a place made for fairytales, a place far away, yet close to home. There the sun shone with an intentional fervour and a magic spell was cast upon all people who travelled there, across shining waters and over the bodies of countless and delicate creatures made of the finest bone. Upon her arrival there, she came to know a dashing young man, also in the service of the empire.

Here was a man who may well have been the last of the knights in shining armour. He was not perfect, as knights of fairytales go; he had a mysterious past, had fought many battles, many of which began from the time of his boyhood, some of which caused him to seek out dangerous places where he planned to meet dragons or Death itself…and lose. But the dragons could not kill him, nor Death find him, and he found himself in the magical land where he also found the fair princess.

If this were the old-fashioned kind of fairytale, the knight in shining armour and the beautiful princess would have met at a court ball, or in a gallant contest for her hand. As it was, they met accidentally, quietly, but the powers of the universe took notice of their instant and terrible love. They could not know that the universe had noted their delicate happiness, their fragile connection, or their fevered passion. They knew only that under the spell of the mysterious land and each other’s arms, they were transported beyond anything most men and women dream of. For nearly the length of the transition of the moon, they laughed and played, loved and made love as only fairytale characters can. Then the knight was called away, and the beautiful princess was left alone in the magic land. While many other men in the land sought her out, there was nothing as joyous to her as the news that the knight would return, however briefly, to the magical land, which he did. In between the demands of a practical world, they immediately resumed life in the spell that had been cast upon them. The sun shone with an enchanted light, and even tempests could not shake the bond they had. And when their time together drew to a close, and they knew the knight was going far, far away, perhaps never to return, the beautiful princess devised a plan to tell her knight in shining armour that she had fallen truly, madly and deeply in love with him.

This, however, was the very thing that broke the magic spell over them. The brave and sometimes arrogant knight became fearful as he had never done when facing dragons and Death; and while the beautiful princess tried to speak to the man, now stripped of his armour and all magic, the spell had indeed been broken and they found it difficult to understand each other, speaking what had become two separate languages. The knight departed to other places, other seas, and eventually the beautiful princess was cast out from the magic land, which no longer held any magic – no – which now was just an ordinary place that had no rainbows, no promises, no laughter. They continued to pen letters to one another, for reasons that this teller of tales cannot fathom. Whether to remain connected, should the magic spell reoccur, or to merely keep hold of a beauty that once was, it is difficult to tell, dear reader. But eventually, as often happens when unwitting fairytale participants break a magic spell, the thin, silver filament that connected their hearts was terribly broken, and they moved into the world to wander alone.

During the years that followed, on occasions that could be neither foreseen nor expected, something magic would still
happen to them. Usually, these magical things did not involve each other, but they were enchanted, beautiful things still; they imagined they fell in love with other people; they had babies who were, by virtue of their enchanted parent, magical themselves. One day, the beautiful princess met a wizard who boasted that he could find anyone in the world if one had the proper spell. The beautiful princess did indeed know the spell that would conjure her long, lost knight in shining armour and entrusted this incantation to the wizard who returned to her with joy encased in sadness…her knight was alive and well in a land not far away, but he had won the hand of another lady. The wizard refused to share his information with the beautiful princess unless she made a magical vow to remain a distant friend to her knight, abandoning all hope of regaining the magic that once made them lovers. Because she loved all things good and also because she did not want her knight to suffer any more at her hands than he already had, she made this promise not just to the magician, but to herself as well. The wizard revealed his magic to her, and she was able to speak to her knight for the first time in a very, very long time. She had forgotten most of the magic things they used to say to one another, but she remembered the knight’s magic name, and once she spoke it, he also spoke her magic name. Immediately, flowers began to bloom where none had been planted, the stars came out in the middle of the day, and the two lovers were reminded of the magic they once shared.

Remember, my dear reader, however, that they were both under the spell of other lovers, and they had come to love the magic that was left to them, not fully realising that it was pale in comparison to the enchantment they’d known in the magic land. So they occasionally reached out for one another – one would hold out a hand, and the other would clasp it gently, carefully, in friendship. Miraculously, they even saw one another once when the knight was travelling across the land. This was a sad and glorious day for them, as they suddenly realised that the magic spell was once again in effect – their laughter and enchantment were just as lovely as in the magic land – but they could not act upon this knowledge because they did not belong to one another. The beautiful princess had made a vow to the wizard and to herself, and the knight in shining armour was just beginning to awake from a spell of forgetting he had conjured years and years before. So the beautiful princess eventually ran away to a land that could not be farther away from the knight unless she flew to the moon. It was more difficult to reach out and be sure of one another. The knight’s lady did not trust the beautiful princess, even though she was in the distant land and under the spell of another knight. Once or twice a year, they would cast their magic messages; once or twice a year, they would receive an enchanted response.

However, you must understand, my dear reader, that magic will have its own way no matter what mere mortals do, and it came to pass that our star-crossed lovers were unable to sustain the magic in their own lives. The lovers who they thought could maintain some semblance of magic with them grew weary of the spells, the incantations and the need to nurture the faith that the world is still a magical place. The beautiful princess sent a message to the knight that she was very sad. It took many, many days before the knight could reply that his life had also been consumed by the monster of a great longing and sadness. By this time, these two people – the knight and the beautiful princess – were, unbeknownst to them, very powerful magicians in their own right, and they began to exercise their new powers, which they had never tested before. Thirty-four years after they first met, the knight in shining armour cast a spell of reclamation. The beautiful princess cast a spell of hope and happiness. They thought they were conjuring magic to heal themselves, but the more magic they wove, the more the other was healed. Very soon, a delicate, mystic, golden chain spanned the vast distance between them, and this enabled the spells they cast to become even more powerful. Suddenly the years and distances fell away; their magic was the most powerful kind the world had ever seen, and nothing could keep them apart. Now, instead of being bound by the danger that their magic could work only in a magic land, they became such powerful magicians that they could take their spells with them wherever they went; however, they never went anywhere without the other, so their magic became the greatest the world had ever seen. And this, my children, meant that they no longer needed to practice magic to stay together, to love one another, or to be happy. The world of magic and enchantment recognised that no power existed that could ever cause them to part again.

This magical power, of course, as with all fairytales, was an ability they had always held; they had always been the most powerful magicians in the world. But they did not know this when they were very, very young. If they had been told, they would not have believed it. But in the wisdom that comes after years of living without magic, they realised that there was no force in the universe that could separate them if they did not choose to be separate. The magic is, of course, that they would never choose to live apart again. And that is the magic of love.

27 February 2006

Perfect

It is one of those memories that sticks in one's mind, a snapshot of a brief moment in time, meaningless in its triviality, yet it hangs about like a stranger who looks slightly suspicious, a tiny bit menacing, but who also never does anything to support those fears or allay them. So this morning, in the depths of one of my ‘episodes’, after a night of restless sleeping, it pops into consciousness once again, leaving both an unsecured longing and a spark of joy.

When we were children, under the age where one could leave us safely at home, we always went shopping with Mommy. She did not drive, never drove in my recollection, except that one fateful evening when she propelled the neighbour’s car up our driveway, into my father’s Buick, our garage and any number of framed Kaiser shade window screens, leaning against the walls so their framing’s new coat of paint could dry. Oddly enough, I do not recall taking the bus to town, nor returning home on it; I recall only waiting for it after a day’s shopping.

I recall rituals involved in all things with my mother – the way she cut bananas onto breakfast cereal; her preparation of 24-hour fruit salad, without which no holiday meal was complete; her sitting at the dining room table in the late afternoon to work the evening newspaper crossword puzzle, her diamond engagement ring refracting the setting sun’s light into dozens of rainbows that danced along the walls whilst she carefully printed each answer to each clue; Japanese nurse, O-M-A-H, essential oil or perfume from flowers, A-T-T-A-R, harmful often in a subtle or unexpected way, D-E-L-E-T-E-R-I-O-U-S. There was the ritual of things – the stacked cup, teapot and creamer decorated with ducks in the built-in china cupboard. This kept company with her prized milk glass, the silver salt and pepper shakers that were birds, perched on a silver limb and the clear Fostoria candy dish. So too, did we observe rituals during shopping. Most of our shopping expeditions are a blur, vanished into obscurity. But there was the traditional trip to the local bakery, warmed from the sun streaming through the front windows and the ovens in the back, redolent in the smells of just-baked things, displayed resplendently in cases on three sides of the little shop. “Don’t touch the glass; don’t touch the glass.” There Mommy greeted women who I recognised but could not call by name. Eventually one would come out with a giant sugar cookie for each of us, obtained from somewhere secret in the kitchen, still warm and sweet-smelling, bigger than my hand, half-wrapped in a tidy square of waxed paper. This meant we had been good; this was our reward.

Another regular stop was the Green Mill restaurant. We often visited there with Daddy. But when we went there with him, we had supper – open-faced roast turkey or roast beef sandwiches with gravy and mashed potatoes, simple Midwestern cookery; none of this focaccia or corn-fed free-range critter on whole grain chunks of stuff that is good for you. No, this was thin, even slices of whatever was available locally (which was probably “free-range” anyway) on gooey white bread with old-fashioned gravy and mashed potatoes without a lump to be found. Daddy greeted the waitresses jovially. They knew about his weird eating habits, no vegetables, no bread, no salad but lettuce, two cups of coffee after the supper dishes had been cleared, so there was no discomfort, no need to be embarrassed. They accepted his strange food predilections just as we did. But when we went to the Green Mill with Mommy, I do not know if we even ate. All I remember is hot chocolate in the winter, so hot you could not drink it, so you just watched the miniature marshmallows slowly dissolving into a sugary, foamy layer. In warm weather, we would get the restaurant’s signature fountain drink, a Green River, made with some sort of green syrup mixed with soda water dispensed from a real soda fountain. We would sit in the sparkling clean vinyl booth, taking care not to put our elbows on the equally clean Formica table top while we sipped our Green Rivers through clear plastic straws that came wrapped in thin paper – the kind you could tear off one end of the paper tube holding the straw, blow into the exposed straw and shoot the paper covering at your sister (and get in trouble for). I do not recall what we talked about, if we talked. I do not recall if there was music playing. I recall only sitting in the booth with Mommy and my sister, sipping Green Rivers and being ecstatically happy. Finally, the drink would be gone, but we would draw upon the straw for the liquid’s last drops, hidden amongst the crushed ice, making rude sucking straw noises (and getting in trouble).

There are stores we visited, although I do not remember Mommy buying anything or trying clothes on. We visited Damon’s, the local department store, and Osco Drug with the forest green marble tiling on the outside of the building. If my sister and I needed shoes, we went to Odd Lot, where Mommy could get school shoes and Sunday shoes for us at a bargain, but about which Daddy would always complain they cost too much. There was also the department store, Yonkers, where Mommy worked after the divorce. And in later years, Bergo’s, which was much too expensive but fun to look through. If we had to go to the dentist, he was housed in the Brick & Tile Building, and we got to take the elevator. There was the time my sister had to have work done at the dentist, and after, Mommy took us to the Green Mill for hot chocolate, but Betty’s mouth was still numb from the novocaine, so hot chocolate drooled down her chin as she drank, messing up her dress.

At the end of a day’s shopping, we went to the bus stop on the corner, just down from the shop where my mother always got her hair fixed. We sat on the stoop of a side entrance to a building that nearly burned down years later. And this is that odd little memory that keeps haunting me. It was a summer’s day – had to be because Mommy was wearing sandals with no hosiery. I was sitting next to her on the step, folded in half the way only children are able, with my upper body lying flat along my thighs, arms hanging down, staring at the ground, at passing ants, or the contours of the concrete, when my gaze went to Mommy’s tiny little feet – size 5AA, she always said – tiny little feet, with carefully manicured and painted toenails, wrapped perfectly in supple, brown leather sandals. In the midst of all this perfection, I saw some stray detritus, some bit of something - that - should - not - be - there on Mommy’s toe, and so I reached down to pull it off. She yelled at me, shattering the moment, the summer’s day, the memory that creeps into my head. “That was a hair!” she complains and stands up in a huff, very angry with me. “That hurt!” I try to explain that I was only trying to help, only trying to keep her perfect in the perfect summer sun at the end of a perfect day of sugar cookies and Green Rivers and Osco Drug’s beautiful green marble fa├žade. But she is angry with me now, and the bus ride home will be very long, indeed.

23 February 2006

Imponderables

I am presently reading a book by Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything. It’s too bad I didn’t have this book in primary and secondary school. It answers many questions I have had about science since then. It also draws connections that would have made my life (and learning) a lot simpler. Oh well, I have the book now, and that is sufficient. So what if Sister Mary Frances will die thinking I am an idiot?

However, there are other questions and conundrums I have that swirl about in my head from time to time, or pop up uninvited to distract me from something I’m supposed to be doing, like defrosting the refrigerator. I used to know a woman in Virginia Beach, Virginia, who was very religious. When confronted with a mystery or question she could not answer, she would respond by saying, “That’s one of the first things I’m going to ask God when I get to heaven.” I always thought it terribly presumptuous of her to expect that she would ever get an audience to enquire about things like, ‘does the fridge light really go out when you close the door’ or an explanation of the concept of the space-time continuum. On the other hand, this kind of attitude requires the ability to accept delayed gratification, something I’ve never been very good at. The one thing I have always hated about Christmas is that it means 364 more days until Christmas. [I also have issues with ‘living in the moment’. For example, for me, Friday’s arrival means just two more days until Monday. But that’s perhaps a topic best saved for another day.]

I accept there are some questions and mysteries that may never be resolved. I accept it, but I don’t have to like it. Recently, I decided to keep a record of some of my imponderables, just in case I ever meet a wise person, or in case that woman in Virginia is right. By the way, if she is, would one of my surviving relatives please locate this list and bury it with me? I don’t expect that I’ll be able to remember it all, and I have a feeling that after my first audience with the Almighty, I might not get another.

Have you ever wondered:
  1. Why brilliant scientists always have such bad hair?

  2. How many Loch Ness Monsters there really are? (I mean, it can’t be just one – if so, it would be incredibly old.)

  3. Why, no matter where you park, when you return to your car there is always some great honking huge four-wheel drive vehicle blocking your view parked next to you?

  4. Why those who most often get fleeced by con men/women (at least according to Australian television’s ‘A Current Affair’) are always immigrants (this includes immigrants from English-speaking countries like the UK or New Zealand, but seemingly not Canada or the US)?

  5. Why Kirstie Alley never exercises in those Jenny Craig© commercials, but she is usually eating?

  6. Why conspiracy theorists aren’t ever the targets of the evil empires they are tracking?

  7. That if aliens are visiting our planet, what they make of us continually going to our houses with lots of parcels and shopping bags (unbeknownst to them, our shopping) and then leaving our homes, stuffing the same or other bags into rubbish bins, which strangers come, empty and take away?

  8. Why pets are afraid of the vacuum cleaner?

  9. If Fido can understand ‘go for a ride’, ‘walkies’, ‘dog food’, ‘sic ‘em’ (or in Australia, ‘skitch ‘em’) and many other words and phrases, but he can’t understand ‘don’t bark’?

  10. Finally, a bit of philosophy (and something a bit deeper than the previous items). Given that the atoms in your body get replaced over each seven-year period and that your mind both develops and forgets old data, how can you define identity? Are you really the same person, you were yesterday? (See Locke’s Socks conundrum and Heraclitus’s view "no man crosses the same river twice, for both the man has changed and the river has changed”.)
Now that I’ve given you something to think about, [warning – shameless self-promotion ahead] I’ll be off to visit my fellow Flickrites. See my photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/jocksinoz/. And consider staying long enough to view other talented photographers like sailor5116 (see below).

RADAR


RADAR
Originally uploaded by sailor5116.
From one of my contacts, sailor5116, who makes these incredible circles with Adobe Photoshop, and this is one of my favourites. Check out his other photos, and those of my other contacts, too.

17 February 2006

Mini Camel Caravan

During the time I lived in Eucla, Western Australia (population: 40-something; 1429 km from Perth; 1222 km from Adelaide), I edited a little newsletter, The Eucla Telegraph, with a distribution between Nullarbor, SA, and Perth. I often included a feature story on a local resident, event or happening. One day, after having worked at the Eucla Motor Hotel from 6 AM to 1 PM, I was at home when someone phoned saying a chap with four camels and a dog had just arrived at the roadhouse. I picked up my pen, notebook and camera and headed over there—just a few 100 metres. This story, which has been edited for inclusion here, is what appeared in the June 2001 newsletter.

Chris Richards has been trekking the past three months through the Western Australian outback, ‘learning heaps’, raising a little money for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and heading toward Fowler’s Bay. There, he hopes to acquire more camels and begin a trek up to and along the Dog Fence with paying customers who want to see the land in a unique way. [The Dog Fence was finalised to its current single-line form in 1946 to keep feral animals, especially dingoes, away from sheep stations. It runs from the Great Australian Bight north to the Bunya Mountains in southeast Queensland, a distance of about 5400 km—two and a half times longer than the Great Wall of China.]

From Perth he travelled along the water pipeline to Kalgoorlie, making about 20-30 km per day. Then he followed the rail line from Kalgoorlie to Rawlinna and Forrest. He intended to continue east along the train line, but was advised by Andrew and Mandy Forte (owners of the operation at Forrest, which includes the only sealed airstrip in the area) to head south to Eucla, as the road east that had already caused him and his camels much trouble would just get worse. In addition, there are larger numbers of bull camels in that direction, and three of his camels are females, just beginning to come into season with the cooler weather. “I’d hate to have to shoot a [wild] camel just because he was messing with my camels”, Chris said.

Camels were introduced to Australia in the 1800s to provide transportation in its hot, dry central deserts. With the completion of rail lines east and west, north and south and the introduction of petrol-powered transportation, camels were no longer a convenient means of transporting goods, so many herds were either destroyed or turned loose. Australia’s feral camel herds now are among the last remaining wild herds on earth. It is estimated that feral camels in Australia may number up to about 500,000. An adult camel can weigh 250-680 kg and grow to more than 2 metres tall. They can live up to 50 years and breed actively for about 30 of those years.

While well adapted to desert living and able to eat salt bush or plants with thorns and even high toxic content that native species cannot eat; they can go without water when vegetation is plentiful, but represent a danger to native species when they damage water holes. Because they are able to reach about 3.5 metres for vegetation, they can destroy native trees. They also destroy fences and are susceptible to tuberculosis and brucellosis, making them an infection danger to domestic livestock. However, their padded feet do less damage to soil and ground cover than livestock, and they do not represent a danger of feeding intensely in one area because they are always on the move. They represent the biggest problem when their numbers are large.

Chris purchased his camels from some friends who had a herd of about 15. The big, dark brown male is blind, and “will try to kill you, or at least bite you” if you’re not careful. The smallest of the four camels tries to kick him all the time. The largest female is blind in her right eye, and number four is just noisy. Camels are very intelligent, Chris noted, but stubborn. And after a pause, as if he were deciding if he should say, he admitted, “And camel is very good eating”.

“Do you threaten them with that when they’re giving you a hard time”, I asked. He admitted he’d thought of it, but “if I ate one, and another one got sick, then I’d be down to two camels. And I’m not carrying all that gear myself!”

His six-month old kelpie-cross dog, Bungee, “is mad as a cut snake”, Chris says, chasing rabbits, kangaroos of all sizes, and some very large feral cats. Once in the chase, he doesn’t hear Chris calling him. Just that morning, he'd been taught "a nearly nasty lesson by a very large red kangaroo male". A large kangaroo, although ordinarily timid, is dangerous when at bay, able to pummel its attacker with its forepaws and slash with its powerful hind legs. But so far, Bungee is enjoying the trip, and even helps nip a camel or two when they are misbehaving. Bungee wears a wire muzzle to keep him from eating fox baits. “He wouldn’t like it much in the city,” I suggest. “No”, Chris agreed. “He’d be eating tyres and chasing buses, I reckon”. Then he added, after a bit of thought, “I’ll try to keep him away from places like that.”

When I left them, Chris was enjoying his second cigarette, after a refreshing shower. “I haven’t had one of these for a month,” he announced, as he opened a newly purchased pack after finishing off a hamburger with the lot (cheese, salad, egg, pineapple and bacon). “No, that’s a lie”, he admitted. “I had one after dinner up at Forrest the other day”. I suggested that it might be a good time to quit, and he admitted that it might be true. But he just wasn’t going to do that right now.

“How far is the ocean from here” he asked me at one point. When I pointed out that it was just four kilometres from the roadhouse, he thought for a moment and then decided he’d wait to see the ocean until they got to Fowler’s Bay (about another 150 km). “I’m really looking forward to seeing the ocean”. I told him that he could see the view, at least, at the back to the Eucla Motor Hotel. But he was holding out for Fowler’s Bay. He gave Bungee a nudge with the toe of his well-worn athletic shoe and said, “I’ll take ol’ Bung’ for a swim when we get to Fowler’s Bay”.

He gave me his mother’s address in Geelong, Victoria, so I could send him a copy of the Telegraph with this story in it. He planned to head east, to South Australia, soon after he finished that second cigarette. Without thinking, I warned him, “You’ll lose 45 minutes when you cross the border.” Then I thought better of it. “I don’t guess 45 minutes makes much difference to you, does it?”

“No”, he admitted. “We get up when it’s light and go to sleep when it’s dark.”

13 February 2006

tiny swimmer feet


tiny swimmer feet
Originally uploaded by Shutterhugs.

Flickr Community

I referred in my last blog entry about a photography site called Flickr. I don’t exactly recall how I first encountered Flickr (I have slept since then), but I suspect I stumbled across it (literally, through Firefox’s extension, Stumble, which is a neat little tool for systematically wandering the Internet, directed by preferences you can change at will). Now two years old, Flickr is one of the newest internet communities. At first blush, it looks like a good place to store prized photographs off-site. It is also a chance to share photography tips and issues with like-minded photographers – there are amateur and professional photographers alike there. However, it has grown into its own little community, as it has its own blog and various ‘pools’ sorted according to the latest computer sorting scheme using ‘tags’ and people’s interests – Pink Think, Picturing the Male, Your Dog Nose, I Love My Cat (with nearly 3500 members!), Purple Flowers, Anything and Everything, to name just a few.

Each of these pools often has its own discussions going on, some of which include sniping at a group that the pool’s creator just left because of some small artistic or aesthetic difference. One recent example of this splintering resulted in a pool called First Thoughts Fewer Rules (
FTFR). This pool is a splinter from the group First Thoughts (FT), as the FTFR creator thought the rules of FT too complex. There has been some heated (but relatively civil) debate going in the discussion threads of both pools concerning why one is better than the other. The truth is that both pools are great; as it was explained by one person, splintering happens all the time in Flickr, and that is a good thing because it reduces the pool membership and therefore gives everyone a better chance that other photographers will see their photos. You know, like religion.

That is another reason for posting to Flickr. The site keeps track of how many times people (other than you) view your photo. Visitors to your photo pool may leave comments if they wish. Most comments are very general: “Nice capture!” “Wow!” or “I love the colours!” Some are slightly more technical, mentioning suggestions for improving composition, contrast, etc. Some pools exist primarily for critical appraisal, such as “Fix My Pic” or “Grade Me”. Some pools are just for fun. Recalling the FT and FTFR pools mentioned before, the idea is to view a certain number of photos and leave your first thought upon seeing the photo – critiques are not necessary nor generally encouraged. TAG pools exist to provide a certain number of ‘tags’ (as in the game, not the sorting method) until you’re out of the pool. Another way for someone to show their admiration is to add your photo as a ‘fav’, that is, a favourite. The viewer can keep thumbnail links to these photos in one place. If the photographer allows it, the photo can even be downloaded to use as desktop wallpaper.

That is probably an important point to make, for the 23 of you out there who haven’t visited Flickr yet. Photographers who upload their photos can restrict viewers’ ability to blog, download, print, and leave notes on their photos. One can even restrict viewing to a named list of family and friends, or permit the public to view some or all of his or her photos. So if you want to post photos of Nanna’s 98th birthday party at the nursing home for your family to see (particularly if they live all over the world), but you know the photos would be a crashing bore for anyone else, you can restrict their viewing to family and/or friends, while still allowing other Flickr members to see the rest of your photostream.

The point, for many Flickrites, however, is getting exposure. This is because one method of looking at photos – other than admiring your own photostream, visiting pools you have joined, checking out your contacts’ latest contributions or looking at photos that have been recently uploaded – is through Flickr’s Explore option. Explore is based on a mysterious, vague and seemingly arbitrary selection process that may or may not take number of views, number of favourites and number of comments into consideration in ranking photos 1 to 500. The top 10, more or less, are displayed daily with the
Explore link, therefore giving these photographers specialised and maximum exposure. If all of this seems rather egotistical and self-absorbed, you must remember that artists (and that term probably applies to at least 90% of all Flickr members – the other 10% are posting photos of Nanna’s birthday party) need exposure. Sure, they create their art because they have the inner drive, but ultimately, they are not unlike the small child, standing on the diving board ready to do the greatest cannonball into the pool, screaming, “Mum! Mum! Lookit me, mum! Lookit me!!”

There is much discussion, often heated about how arbitrary this concept of ‘interestingness’ can be – photos often drop in and out of the Top 500 for no reason. Some make it all the way to the Top 10 when others, with similar numbers of comments, favs and views never do. Visitors are cautioned that paying to much attention to interestingness can be bad for one’s health. But Flickr, in general, and interestingness, specifically, are hard habits to break. One uploads a few hundred photos, and then needs to increase the dose by going “pro” – unlimited uploads (2GB a month) for a yearly subscription of $US24.95. The photographer finds that he or she has joined a huge number of pools, sometimes just so one photo can be displayed. You check how many photos you have in the Top 500 and think that will be okay, but 30 minutes later (or less!), you have to check again. And if one is not well-disciplined, Flickr is like many Internet communities where the member spends many hours uploading, viewing, discussing and, of course, checking one’s position regarding interestingness.

However, on the positive side, friendships are created. Recently, a woman had her kitten spayed. Arny Johanns’ contacts already knew Sunna from her many photos, posted since she joined the household. Arny posted a photo of
Sunna sleeping, complete with the plastic collar that the vet puts on so the animal won’t worry her stitches. People who were their contacts as well as complete strangers saw that photo and were touched by it. So later, she posted a photo in which Sunna was awake – still a ‘bucket head’, as Ratbag would call it – but looking a lot brighter. Because Flickr has been around for two years, people watch other people’s kids grow up; they share birthday photos of their kids, their cats, their dogs, their spouses and partners. Photographers of amazing talent share their travel photos. People who own Ragdoll cats, Greyhounds, Maine Coon Cats, Great Danes, parrots and cockatiels, iguanas – you name it – share their pet photos and their interest in that species of animal. One of my favourite pet photos is one of jan2eke’s dogs, Moos and Shanny. Possibly my favourite photo on Flickr would have to belong to a woman who takes wonderful photos, Shutterhugs. She uploaded this photo of her baby’s little feet (Tiny Swimmer Feet - see above, but go to Flickr to see the full size photo).

So it is a community; what goes on there just happens in the Ethernet. There are frequent ‘meet-ups’ for members who live in the same area; even people who are now couples ‘met’ on Flickr. It is a community complete with all human emotions, interests, hobbies, joys, sorrows and idiosyncrasies that the ‘real’ world holds – with the common thread of photography. If this sounds like something you might be interested in, visit
Flickr. If you want to see my photos, click on the link in the right column of this blog (where you see all the pretty pictures!). If you’re an amateur, avid or professional photographer, and have some spare time, join us at Flickr (if you haven’t already). See you in the Top 500!

23 January 2006

Temporary Distractions

It has been too long since I last made an entry. I could blame the hectic pace of the holidays, my frantic social schedule, the demands of my stressful job or even the overwhelming responsibilities of my household. But then you would say, “Liar, liar, pant’s on fire”, and the fire-ies would have to be called, the neighbours would stare, and we’d, neither of us, be any better off. So let us begin rationally – I’m just lazy, easily distracted and fantastically unorganised. I still have nothing weighty or revealing to enter here (as if I ever have); nor do I have any original thought of any depth to share with you.

I have, however, had some recollections, insights and thoughts during my blog absence, so here goes:

First, I remember being taught how to make the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (Note to my Australian friends: that’s ‘jelly’ as in ‘jam’ not as in ‘gelatine’.) My tutor was one of our favourite babysitters, Roberta Supranaut. She was a teenager who stayed with us during parental, and then paternal (after the divorce) absences. We’d had two elderly sitters, Mrs. Paugh (who made apple pies that were to die for) and Miss Nichols (who I think we scared too much for her to eventually return, having once ‘played dead’ under my bed), but Roberta had energy, humour and didn’t just sit in the lounge room and crochet or watch telly. Besides, her sister was a neighbourhood friend of ours, so we already knew her.

One afternoon, I wanted her to make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but she proposed to teach me how to make my own. What is that old saying? Make a kid a PB&J and she’ll be fed for the afternoon; teach her how to make a PB&J and she’ll never bug you again. I think that’s how it goes. Anyway, this was her explanation: Take two slices of bread. Butter one slice. On this slice, spread your jelly or jam; the butter will keep it from seeping through the bread, especially if you take it to school in your lunch. Spread the peanut butter on the bare slice of bread – because, she explained, it is too difficult to spread on the butter. Put the two slices together and cut as desired. I like my sandwiches cut in fours in those days. Today, I’ll settle for halves, but I prefer my PB&Js to be sliced down the middle, top to bottom, rather than diagonally.

Pondering #2: Munchkin gave me a book for Christmas this year – always a good bet for any gift-giving occasion because I love to read. And I think she gave me a book last year, too, and she (or her mum) proved they know my tastes pretty well, as I’ve enjoyed both. Last year it was Pamela Stephenson’s Billy, about her husband, Billy Connolly. This year, she gave me Great Pioneer Women of the Outback by Susanna de Vries. I suspect Munchkin gave me this book because I published a book on Eucla (in Western Australia) history last year. She didn’t know it, but some advice published by de Vries on making histories accessible to the reader and true to the facts was one of the first sources I read when preparing to research and write my Eucla history. I have not finished it yet, but two-thirds of the way through, the book has not disappointed. It is not a deeply intricate scholarly history, nor is it lightweight, fluffy, made-for-TV-movie gloss. And the women about whom de Vries writes are not women who left behind just one or two letters and no other evidence about them. They are women who were the first, or among the first European women to live in the areas where they were pioneers.

What strikes me about this book and the histories of these women is that their hardships occurred later than those pioneering stories I read about in the US frontier. Australia is a slightly younger federation than the US, and it was settled after Europeans began their settlement of the US. For example, Jamestown was founded in what is now the US state of Virginia in 1607, but Australia’s First Fleet (whose arrival we celebrate this week, on the 26th of January) anchored in Sydney Cove in 1788. Western Australia, where I live, wasn’t established until 1827. John Forrest was in favour of Australia becoming a federation but only if it meant Western Australia could become a state. In 1901 all the negotiating and bickering was settled, and Western Australia entered the Australian Federation as an original state – too late to be included in the Constitution’s Preamble – but there anyway.

All that leads up to my observation that the hardships I researched for my book (Spirit of the Desert – you have to go to Eucla or know the author to get a copy) and read about in de Vries book. They amaze me for the era in which they occurred. Iowa, where I was born, became a state in 1846, thirteen years after settlement of Iowa Territory began in earnest. The population in Iowa in 2004 was estimated to be 2,954,451, whereas the 2004 estimated population of Western Australia was 1,982,204 (based on 2001 statistics). – a difference of 972,274 people. To put it in perspective, nearly a million more people live in Iowa, much smaller in area than Western Australia, which has an area of 983,482 square miles – roughly the same size as Western Europe. Also, there are no freeways or interstate highways connecting eastern and western Australia – just phone and internet lines, a two-lane highway or two, and the airlines.

So to be a European woman settling with her husband in Western Australia in the 1800s was a daunting ordeal – no doctors, no nurses, hospitals, shops, fresh fruit or vegetables (unless you were lucky to live somewhere, like the southwest, where there is adequate rain), no other women unless there were Aboriginal women nearby, and more than likely there were men who either did not want a woman’s presence or weren’t comfortable in a woman’s presence. So the Georgiana Molloys, the Bussell women, the Muirs (of Eucla and the southwest), Jeannie Gunn, and even those countless women who left no diaries or letters, or even lonely tombstones, are women I admire; not because they were the first feminists or because they were brave beyond measure (although many of them surely were), but because when they were ‘roughing it’ in the Australian outback, they could have been living lives of leisure and east in Sydney or Melbourne, or better yet, England (where some were from) or the US. Absolutely amazing.

Pondering #3: I have been going through all the photos I brought to Australia with me in 1999 and those I have taken since my first visit to Australia. That’s a lot of photos. I also have a moderate collection of photos from my childhood and ‘the secret lives of my parents’ secret lives. The reason for this walk through photographic nostalgia is that I’ve run out of new photos to post on my new favourite website, Flickr. So I’ve been scanning film photographs and uploading them to my account at Flickr. I’m hoping that someone will have pity on me and pay for a pro account for me as a birthday present (which I celebrate right after Australia Day). I’ve spent so much time at Flickr, that I barely have time for my two favourite computer games, the online Runescape and Civilization III (because I’m too poor to buy Civilization IV). It’s also edging its way into my book-reading time, so that it took me much longer than normal to finish my last book, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, even though it was a good read which I quite liked.

This brings me to Pondering #4 (and my last for those brave enough to have made it this far): I’m so easily distracted. Sometimes it’s for reasons that I can’t avoid. For example, while I have been typing this, I had to first, go talk to my doctor about the dosage of a medication I’m taking suddenly being unavailable at all chemists, at least those in Kalgoorlie. No one knows why; it has not been discontinued by the manufacturer, it is still on the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and the problem doesn’t seem to extend to any other dose. Then, of course, I had to go to the chemist’s to get the last packet of this medication he had in stock. We’ll look at the problem again, if there still is one, when this runs out. Then I had to get some printer paper, day runner refill for 2006. (I’m running a bit behind – not to mention I may be one of the few people left on earth who doesn’t own a PDA.) Of course, I couldn’t find one. But I was so happy about not having to argue with doctors and chemists that I thought I would buy some goodies for morning tea and go see a friend. But she returned to work today. Then I went home and ate the pastries myself. But whilst engaged in yummy jam donut gobbling, I discovered that the freezer door wouldn’t close. It’s long past time for it to be defrosted (yes, we have an ancient fridge), and since I had opened it this morning, delicate ice crystals had begun to form in reaction to the warm air seeping between the door seal and the ice blocking its ability to form a vacuum. I should have taken a picture of it. Instead, I got out a mixing spoon and broke off all the ice that was in the way. That, in turn made the kitchen floor wet, so I had to mop up that mess. Then Ratbag came home for lunch, which he rarely does, so I had to torment him. In the middle of all that, the remote control for my camera and a lens filter arrived in the post, so I had to try them out.

In other words, it’s taken me about seven hours to pound out this drivel, which I have to bring to an end because I have to get groceries if we’re going to eat tonight. It’s just one thing after another!

Ain’t cha missed me?