Monthly Archives: March 2015

More earth hours

We did observe earth hour.

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I liked it a whole lot, even if it was a small thing to do. It didn’t change my mind about having a bigger plan for earth hours of my own.

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So I decided on some more morning saltbush planting. I headed out to a site a few blocks away where my friends and I have been revegetating under a beloved tree for some years now.  You can see the understorey we have managed to build up where before it was barren and weedy and regularly poisoned by council.  The earth here used to be hard and dry, but now it has softened and contains much more vegetable matter–I mulched it with the leaves falling in the nearby gutters to keep the soil growing. Mulch is one of my favourite forms of loving the soil. It’s extraordinary to think of that cycle of nutrients–it is so wonderfully effective and simple to support–but so biologically complex and amazing I am not sure magic could be any better.

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Here is the aerial view of the trailer as I set out, complete with full watering can!  I must say carrying that went much better than I could have hoped possible…

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I weeded and pulled out dead bushes that were once the only native plants growing under this tree.  They finally succumbed this summer.  I collected more seed. How wonderful to have plants old enough to be fruiting so well here now.

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On the way back, I had an empty watering can, dead branches, weeds and some bark for my dye pot, and I trimmed creeping boobialla that came originally from my Dad’s garden.  He grew me a few by layering the plants in his front garden. It has really taken hold here and it is helping crowd out the invasive grasses that we’re weeding out all winter each year.

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I cut the boobialla where it was growing out over the kerb and where it is most vulnerable to passersby, because I have a plan.  Now it is cutting propagating time and not really saltbush planting time, I thought I could try seeing if I can grow more boobialla over the cooler months, when it’s my experience I can’t get saltbush to germinate.  Let’s see how that goes!

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Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures

Earthy tones

There has been spinning! I made some purchases in a destash recently and so have acquired fibres I wouldn’t ordinarily buy.  This is naturally dyed fibre by a verb for keeping warm; merino/silk/yak in ‘sticks and stones’ colourway.

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And in case you’re wondering, I have been planting lettuce and poppies and not only saltbush… and transplanting potted plants too.

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This spin made me realise that my preference for strong colours would have had me disappointed with this if I had dyed it myself. But here I am, appreciating its subtlety and wondering who would like it as a hat.

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Filed under Natural dyeing, Spinning

Earth hours

I have been continuing to think on what it might mean to adopt the injunction in Indigenous law that we are all part of one another.  Reciprocity surely must follow from this principle.  With this thought in mind, I was out in the street planting again.  This time, seaberry saltbush.  It will grow a bit higher than the ruby saltbush, but it’s doing fine in this suburb so far!

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I was listening to the radio earlier in the week and there was a rather lovely story about some of what is happening for Earth Hour on march 28.  That’s today, friends.  I admit, earth hour strikes me as a rather token intervention.  But–all intervention in the matter of the future of the planet is valuable in my view, even if it is small.  I especially loved the Global Orchestra for Earth Hour–a global orchestra playing for the planet.  I have been wondering in recent weeks what it would be like to think of these times I’m out and about in the neighbourhood as my ‘earth hours’… and then along came the global earth hour!

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These little seedlings are so tiny.  Yet so much bigger than the seeds they came from.  Maybe my efforts can be like that.  The seaberry saltbush I planted a few weeks ago are bigger already.

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Those planted a year ago are much bigger, even though they are planted in such an unpromising place.  I am horrified to discover how close the concrete is to the huge tree here and how close to the surface it runs.

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So I went out into the street with seedlings, thinking about reciprocity, and came back with this: burr medic, plastic that has been through the shredder used to create council’s mulch, rubbish, and a rake without any tips left on it.  The dumpers have been back.

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Somehow that strengthened my resolve, so I went back out with ruby saltbush and planted it in a spot where garden waste is getting dumped and someone has left the roots of dead plants and soil that I imagine was in a pot once.  Maybe planting that area out will make the dumpers think again eventually?  I hope these tender seedlings will not fall victim to thoughtlessness instead.

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I am still thinking about us all being part of one another.  As I crawled around under the beloved tree these plants will surround, I tried thinking of that tree as aunty, or grandfather.  And offered these little saltbush as protective companions.  I have been registering that if I think of earth and plants as relations, I bring thinking about family to my relationship with the plants and earth.  How are these relationships like and unlike?  What can thinking about a tree as grandmother bring to my thinking about family? I am struck over and again by the lack of genderless terms for relationships in English, and how interesting it is to try out ‘grandmother’ and ‘grandfather’ on a tree.

Does ‘family’ imply a reluctance to abandon the relationship, even if we know this is possible?  I have been dogged in my connections to my family and they have been dogged in theirs with me.  We have needed doggedness as we have had long periods of disapproval and difficulty.  Maybe I need to be dogged in my relationship to the dumpers.  And burr medic.  And couch grass.  And caltrop. Family isn’t all happiness and light, after all.  It’s also hard work and persistence and times of aggravation.

Happy earth hour!


Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures

Your (caltrop) mission, should you choose to accept it…

Well.  I had a chat with a friend, and he had an awesomely good idea for sorting out the remaining caltrop involving a stepladder strapped to a bike and a tall friend.

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I managed the stepladder! Here, you see it strapped to my bike trailer.  I decided to see what I could do without getting bindiis into my tall friend.

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After my previous efforts, this is what I could see from the bike path.

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Oh, and I could also see more three corner jacks that had landed on the path since I gathered them all just a few days ago.  I extended my stepladder.  I had a lovely chat with a cyclist who stopped to find out where I had found my bike trailer.  Sadly for him but happily for me, I bought it from the maker in the 1980s–it’s a great low-fi trailer but no longer available so far as I know.

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So there’s good news.  No more caltrop overhanging the bike path. I say again, bike path.  Bike and caltrop should never be mentioned in a single sentence!

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And there’s bad news.  That blob in the left hand front corner is my secateurs sitting on top of the retaining wall, and here is what I could see standing on my tiptoes.  Caltrop extending up the slope for another metre or more, covered in three corner jacks at all stages of ripeness.  I pulled at every stem I could reach, but clearly the taproot(s) are further back and my feeling that I could pull this thing out if only I was taller or higher up–was a fantasy I was entertaining when the ugly truth was out of my sight.  On the up side–thousands of potential punctures eliminated by my efforts to date.  On the down side, plenty more where they came from!


Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures

Seasonal happenings: Autumn

The weather is turning toward autumn. Leaves harvested last season are being converted into new forms. This linen collar came apart with some effort.

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Here it is in the process of becoming a project bag. Along with prunus prints…

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And maple prints from leaves I found over someone else’s fence!

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I’ve been making the best of the remaining sunny days, making soy milk mordant.

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This is a task best done when it is neither too hot nor too cold.  Too hot can leave your soy milk smelling nasty!

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The making doesn’t take warm weather, but multiple dips and dryings are greatly helped by sunshine.

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My friends held a big passata making day.  Many tomatoes pulped, skins and seeds removed.

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Many beer bottles repurposed.  By the end of the day, they were gone and all kinds of jars and bottles were pressed into use.

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And then, for the long, slow heating.

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Ruby saltbush is still fruiting.

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Several colours of leaves and of fruit.

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I have been taking advantage of the season to collect for next spring’s planting.

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I even managed to collect some more bladder saltbush seeds. Autumn is a lovely season!

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Leaf prints, Neighbourhood pleasures, Sewing

Woman on a (caltrop elimination) mission

Today my running mate and I were on our way back toward home when I noticed this plant cascading down the side of a concrete retaining wall.  I must have passed it many times without noticing what plant it is, exactly.  Perhaps I was pleased to see something green in this industrial landscape if I noticed it at all.

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Today I looked up and saw that it was, in fact, caltrop (or bindii), (tribulus terrestris).

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This is not a plant I want in my neighbourhood.  But more particularly, this is not a plant I want on a bike route.  This plant is the source of the infamous bindiis or three corner jacks.  The seed capsules have huge thorns and they are cunningly constructed so that when ripe, they come apart and sit on the ground with the thorn uppermost, ready to hitch a painful ride on any passing creature.  Ouch!  This is the stuff of which bike punctures are made.  I am still thinking about how we are all part of one another.  I finished up a chapter of a new book on Indigenous Australians and colonisation with plenty more to think about, in relation to my responsibilities as a non Indigenous person.  Some of my feral kin cause more damage than others–and I am thinking that we need more biking and more cyclist-loving and not less if we are hoping to keep fossil fuels in the ground.  So this was a priority weeding task for me. or, a small act of love for the earth.  I put air in the tyres of my well worn bike trailer, packed gloves and secateurs and a milk crate, and off I went.

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It was worse than I thought.  Too late to stop three corner jacks falling onto the path.  I am sure that those devices you see TV police throw onto the road to stop vehicles by puncturing their tyres must have been modelled on caltrop.  Haha!  I just went to Wikipedia which confirmed that spike strips are a development of caltrop!

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Bindiis at many stages of development…  I gathered up all the fallen bindiis.  Then climbed onto my trusty milk crate and yanked as much of the plant out as I could without being able to reach the main stem.  I had already tried to get access from above but it’s fenced off and I would need more than a milk crate to get over that fence.  Soon I had showered myself with more bindiis but removed most of it.  I swept up bindiis again.  Note to self.  Next time, bring a brush and a tarpaulin.

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Meanwhile I had disturbed a local resident.  In Australia, small children are taught not to put their fingers in places they can’t see into.  Partly because of redback spiders.  They are beautiful and poisonous.  But mostly they hide out of the way in dark spaces, bothering no one human.  I must have inadvertently pulled this one out of a join in the concrete in my efforts to collect the bindiis and hope I didn’t hurt her too much.  Need I say I was wearing my thickest gloves?

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Soon this was all that was left.  My bike trailer was half full.  My bag of bindiis contained hundreds of punctures waiting to happen, with hundreds more still on the plant. In the matter of my responsibilities to those who litter, I found a plastic bag to collect the fallen in and remembered that sometimes litter comes in handy.  But–one less plastic bag in the parklands still sounds preferable to me.  I checked all round my tyres and all over the path before moving.  Only about a dozen bindiis collected this time!  Then I checked my tyres.  All good to go.

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En route home, I collected a bit more rubbish from the path.  Then carefully placed the caltrop in our bins and checked for fallen three corner jacks.  You can never be too careful! Just a couple.

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On the way home I checked my mental sound track and found ‘Willie’s song’ by Dana Lyons (you know, ‘Cows with Guns’?) playing in my mind.  Perfect for the task.  The mind is an amazing place.  I do love it when the grumpiness recedes and something glorious enters in.  Thanks on this occasion to my running buddy and to the writer of the book I’m reading and perhaps also to remembering to regard the earth and trees and myself and caltrop as all part of one another.


Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures


Recently, I turned 50.  I can’t quite believe it.   I remember when my mother turned 50, and when my father did.  I remember my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary–I came along 11 months into their marriage, so it wasn’t too long ago.  It has had me thinking about a lot of things… but central among them is how crucial connections with other people are in my life.  I feel blessed and lucky to be loved by my family of origin, to have an extraordinary family of choice which includes a rather spectacular daughter and a delightful fairy goddess-son.  And to have so many friends who see me, honour my life by being part of it and love me through thick and thin.  These people make me who I am, and make my life immeasurably better than it would otherwise be.

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The picture doesn’t do it justice–but this cake was made by one of my nearest and dearest–the bunting is held up on two knitting needles–and the tablecloth celebrates a tree at the end of the street where I once lived and where my beloveds live now.  So wonderful.


Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures

A spot of mending

Sometimes by the time you start to mend, the whole garment has started to fail.  or perhaps it is just that my threshold for deciding a garment is no longer suitable for work is higher than some other people’s!  I mended my gardening jeans a while back… and they ripped again above the patch.  This is an argument for a bigger patch to begin with, but time travel is complicated.  So I mended the jeans again.

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I guess I mended them 9 months ago. Not all bad.  And there is a reason my favourite jeans have been relegated to the garden.  Anyway… I decided to just extend the patch.   I ripped out the simple side seam (–not the flat felled one with all that lovely top stitching), ripped the old patch off the inside on the side I needed to extend the patch, ripped the seam joining the part of the patch that shows to the jeans, and stitched a new patch onto the old one.  Rippity schmippity!

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There didn’t seem much point in fussing over making this look chic.  First thing that will happen once it’s done is that I will kneel in the glorious earth.  One of the things I love about having gardening jeans is that I can relish those moments and not shrink from them, thinking of all the times my lovely mother told me not to get my clothes dirty. So, a whimsical egg shaped patch it is on the outside.

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Stitched!  I am so happy to have my machine back.  Sorry about the indoor mood lighting.

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Then, a neatish rectangle, more or less, on the inside.

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And we’re done.

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Sure enough, here I am coming in from weeding and clearing and planting and repotting!  I can’t be letting my favourite jeans go just yet…

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Filed under Sewing

We are all part of one another

I was out gardening before work again a few mornings back. The weather is changing, the first of our chooks is moulting… some things need to happen now and soon!

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The vegetable and flower seedlings have been growing quickly.  In went rocket, lettuce, kale, broccoli and hollyhocks. Not quite done, but well on the way.

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The native plants have continued to sprout and grow, with ruby saltbush still the big success story. The biggest went into the ground this morning.  Here they are in a bucket ready to travel.  Those I planted earliest in the season are quite a good size now.  In the site where council watering has helped them on, only one seedling was lost.  In the drier site (further from home), about half have made it.  Many non plussed cyclists passed as I planted.

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One woman with a dog stopped to thank me and express her concern about all the newly planted natives that died when cars kept parking on them.  We talked about what could be done.  I was planting in a spot where over several nights someone stole the plants out of the ground–about 12 in all! So we talked about that, as she passes with her dog every day and notices things I also notice.  She spoke of the bunting and how she had been maintaining it.  It’s good to know and to remember that for every person who tears it down there might be several like this woman stopping to maintain it and being made cheerier by seeing it and understanding they have company in loving trees and plants.

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Then it was clean up time.  People dump stuff in the common land.  Why is it so?  Well, I extracted the plastic sack that was coming apart from its contents (old horse manure and sawdust, could be worse) and took it to the bin.  If only those degradable bags were capable of decomposing in the sense that dead plant life decomposes.

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Then I towed all the dead branches someone had piled around the base of one of my beloved trees home.  Happily our ‘green waste’ bin for council collection is almost always empty.  We’re big mulchers.  We have worms and chooks and compost systems.  So the green bin is there for rescue missions, and its contents can go to be composted by council.

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Last time someone dumped in this spot, They left a huge pot in several pieces.  Only one small piece was missing, so I heaved it home and glued it together.  It seems to be holding, so one big ugly plastic pot that is doing a great job of holding a plant, got placed inside.  Definitely an improvement.  While I did these things I thought about what it means that people dump things on common land here.  Is there something about this site I could change, that would make this a less favoured location, for example.

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I have been thinking a lot about the injunction in Indigenous law to recognise that we are interconnected–earth, animals, plants, sky, humans, stars, wind… I’ve been wondering what would follow for non Indigenous people if we tried to live by the core principles of Indigenous law in this country (as best we can understand them–and recognising this will always be partial) instead of thinking of Indigenous principles as a curiosity.  A bit like a religion you don’t really understand but that you can acknowledge exists and holds meaning for others. This is preferable to outright hostility, and growing up in this country I have seen that hostility and disrespect for Indigenous Australians since I was a small child.  But it is still pretty impoverished as a way of thinking our relationships to the land, its people and its law. Continuing with this thought experiment, I was trying out in my mind what it would mean to think of this tree as a relative in some profound sense. I am sure it would mean I wouldn’t choose this spot as a place to put rubbish. Respect would surely be part of that relationship. I have been thinking about relationships and what they can mean. I wondered whether I could draw strength from that tree as well as plant an understory that might protect it a little and clean up the mess passing humans leave. I thought that I could and that I do.

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If we are all part of one another (and this is something I believe on many levels), surely it follows that I don’t get to pick and choose.  I have often thought one of the profound things about Indigenous life prior to colonisation is that an Indigenous relationship to land is a profound and permanent thing: each person who belonged to a place would have expected to live there for their entire life and die there.  Something so profoundly unlike contemporary Western lives lived with the capacity to leave your relatives, your place of birth, everyone you have ever known and choose not to return.   If there was no picking and choosing, if we are all interconnected: what is my relationship to these people who leave what they don’t want on the commons of our suburb?  What obligations do I have to them?  How should I think about them?  I don’t have any answers, but some days I think I might be on to some decent questions.  That I’m wondering in a productive direction. I hope so. So I gathered more saltbush berries and kept thinking.

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Filed under Eucalypts, Neighbourhood pleasures

Knitting WOMADelaide

Last weekend was a long weekend here.  We do have some very strange public holidays here in Oz and this one is about a horse race.  I feel about as excited by the Adelaide Cup as I do by the Queen of England’s birthday (we celebrate that as a nation too).  But I love a public holiday.  I spent mine (and Friday night and a good portion of the rest of the weekend…) at WOMAD.  It takes place in the wonderful Botanic Park, which adjoins the Zoo and the Botanical Gardens at the edge of the city.

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On the way in, the grey-headed fruit fox colony were all a-chatter.  Who could blame them?  No peace for their daytime sleep for a few days.  I felt sorry for them… they may never have experienced Korean punk or Canadian bluegrass before… and who knows whether these things were to their taste?  They seemed very disconcerted during a performance by the wonderful FourPlay (who are not your average string quartet)–especially when they covered a well known song by Rage Against the Machine. If that sounds less than gentle–you’re right.  Some fruit foxes felt the need to choose new sleeping spots during that piece–but I am sure they were every bit as noisy.

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I had finally identified the perfect concept for this sock yarn.  I have had it for years–since I went to London for the first time.  Too precious to knit with, evidently.  I was overwhelmed by being in England and decided in my jetlagged state almost as soon as I arrived that I had to get out into the city.  I identified a couple of yarn shops and adventured around London by public transport in an attempt to find them.  I succeeded and was made very welcome by knitters at both.  In fact, at IKnitLondon I met a man who was knitting knee high socks for a friend of his from sock yarn he had dyed with Kool Aid (well, of course!) and two women who had come in for chocolate crackles and a film helped me with the crochet I had tried on the plane since knitting was banned. Pretty soon I realised I was surrounded by people who could inform me about Pride London (a couple of days later), which they cheerfully did.  And in the end I sat knitting with the assembled, watched most of a film and managed to find my way back to my hotel and a very profound sleep.

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This yarn came from a shop that has since closed down.  I had a hilarious conversation with the woman working there as she was about to shut the shop.  She was from rural Victoria–so we were two Australians in a wool shop in London for a happy half hour.

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It’s too much to expect I would stick to one thing.  I already had this sock happening.  I tried it on the intended recipient early in the weekend and a decision was made about the toe.  Done! Sock two cast on.

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I do love the banners at WOMAD.  They ripple in the slightest breeze. The red sock grew a cuff.  Here it is in an arbutus while I am queueing for dinner. Ask not what passersby were thinking.  There was a man in a top hat, skirt and impressive dreadlocks nearby.  They may have been looking at him and not me.

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The trees in Botanic Park are truly massive in some cases…

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Here I am with my friend, waiting for The Gloaming to begin in some deep shade, among all kinds of conifers, knitting.

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The sock is a Jaywalker.  Inelastic, but once on, it stays put and… awesomely good for a yarn like this one full of colour.

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Here I am listening to The Gloaming and thinking about how much I love trees and how amazing the atmosphere of the Earth is.  And how endangered. There were many opportunities to think about climate change and Indigenous solidarity at WOMAD.  It heartened me to be in the presence of artists and musicians who are also trying to figure out what they can do and what they can communicate on these questions.

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Next day, I think…

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My trusty bag got a little coloured powder on it during the Colour of Time–a rather amazing dance spectacular.  There is a good image with an odd caption (no spray paint, trust me) here if you scroll down.

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Pine needles after dark… in the presence of Neneh Cherry.

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A fellow beloved tree hugger.

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Eventually, we gathered ourselves up and wandered off into the night to find our bicycles and pedal home to our beds.  Wonderful.


Filed under Knitting