I was just thinking…………

……………………that it’s almost winter again here in Western Australia and while we’re pulling rugs from our linen cupboards and checking our electric blankets, my in-laws in Ireland are making space on the cupboard shelves in hopeful anticipation of storing theirs.
Hopeful, because it’s certainly not a foregone conclusion that they’ll even experience as much as two full weeks of sunshine, such is the inclemency of Hibernian summers. There, the thought of warming one’s bones by sunshine instead of by cental heating is enough to gladden the coldest heart (tho’ I never found many of those over there!) Personally, I loved the soft gentle air of Ireland ; balmy in the summer, cold and astringent in the winter. I could easily slip right back into those cool, dewy 24 –7 drizzles. Not for me the harshness of the scorching, blinding Ozzie sun that ravages your skin and wrinkles your eyes long before age should be evident. But very few Irish folk would agree that they have the better deal. When asked what a lass from Oz was doing in a place like Ireland, I got more than a few disbelieving grins and looks that clearly said ‘bollocks!’ as I truthfully replied ‘I’m here for the weather’.
Their Springs and Summers – when they do get them – are magical. A thousand shades of green splashed with every colour of the rainbow. Autumns are ablaze with red, gold and orange and the winters are cloaked in greys over carpets of richest green. And the light! The light is so soft and the clarity is so remarkable I could never get over how extraordinary it is. From my dining room window it was as if I could reach out and pick a leaf off an oak tree 500 metres away across the river. I can’t explain why it’s like that, but it’s amazingly different to the blazing white light we get here in Oz.

I marvelled at the remarkable definition of each season, too. It was like summer, autumn, winter and spring were each taken out of the boxes they’d been stored in, and hung out when their turn came. (But, the jury was out on Spring and Summer most of the time!) Being way too used to the laid back antipodean seasons, not sticking to any particular month, but just cruising, you know ……welllll…….I suppose it’s around January….a bit late but what the heck….. Hey, hang out the sun, Dude ……and let it BURN!’ It took me a couple of seasons to adjust to the Irish way.
One wet wintry day, I embarked on a painting that required me to have some samples of oak leaves and acorns. After setting everything up in readiness, I donned my coat and boots and headed out to where I’d seen, just recently, a majestic old tree growing down by the river. Its aged and arthritic boughs were coated in mosses and lichens and laden with thick clumps of luscious deep green and gold leaves in which nestled an abundance of acorns.
Striding confidently along the road with the soft rain caressing my face, I contemplated the samples I would choose. Stopping at the spot where my oak tree was – had been - I was puzzled. Bewildered. Where was my tree? Hang on ….it was right here. Who stole the oak tree? I spun around, perplexed. Then the penny dropped. It was there all right, I was standing under it and it wasn’t offering a whole lot of protection from the rain. Gone was the lush foliage, gone were the acorns. I felt a bit of a dill. I hadn’t counted on the phenomenon of the deciduous tree…. oh, and silly me…winter started this week!
And there was my majestic oak, naked and grey and humble against the sky……and not a single leaf fluttered on its skinny old twigs.

That little ‘learning curve’ came into my mind the other day as I ventured into a local bush park I’d just discovered down by our own river.
Once again the rain was falling on my face on a wet, wintry day and as I picked my way through the undergrowth I couldn’t help but be grateful for the winter forest in my own back yard. No stark and naked branches against the sky in this park. I was lucky to see the sky at all as I lost myself in ‘the bush’.
The marri trees were thick with foliage, and abundant with luscious clumps of fresh, green honky nuts; a feast for the flock of threatened white-tailed black cockatoos that clamoured in the highest branches. Menzies Banksias (Firewood Banksias) were in full bloom, their intricate heads ablaze in red and yellow. Raucous territorial wattlebirds were frantic in their attempts to protect their precious food supply from the other marauding honeyeaters. Underfoot, was a carpet of leaves and bush debris making compost for next spring’s wild flowers. The thick and springy mat of She-oak needles covered long-fallen logs and boughs that provide homes for little creatures we never see.
This time of year is perfect for a bush walk. Not too hot, not too cold - yet, and alive with birds.

Around the suburbs, the Red-flowering Yellow Gums are awash with colour and the not so abundant but just as stunning Coral Gums are lush with their two-toned ballet skirts rich in pinks and creamy yellows. You’ll see pretty Eucalyptus Caesia with its Terra Verta leaves and deep pink blossoms and its cousin, the elegant Silver Princess is out in bloom too, its long trailing glaucous boughs boasting magnificent blooms as it replaces the Illyarrie whose stunning reds and yellows are almost spent as our winter approaches.

So, come on, turn off that television, grab a jacket and dust off those binoculars. (If they’re too heavy, invest in a small, light pair). Grab a sketchbook and pencil, and get out there. Quick before the winter comes. Oh no, hang on, this is Oz. Take your time!


Lori Spencer