Warbling about climate change

I had a real treat on Saturday; I was immersed in the natural environment from dawn till dusk and what bliss it was. I headed out with Bertie just as the sun was coming up and the magpies were starting their melodic carolling. The skies seemed to belong to them and them alone. What a fitting start to a day of birding.

Through a fellow dog walker, I got myself onto a trip over to Mud Island with a group from the Bayside Birdlife group. Originally called Swan Isles by the European settlers in the 1800s because of the large number of swans, Mud Islands Reserve lies approximately 6km north east of Portsea on the Mornington Peninsula, covers an area of 50 ha and is now designated a RAMSAR wetland of international importance. More than 70 bird species have been recorded here making it a bird spotter’s haven.

Boarding the boat, I didn’t know what to expect. Looking around I noticed a good few grey beards, lots of dun-coloured pants, reef boots, cameras and massive telescopic lenses, tripods and a fair few Akubra-style hats. I never have the right gear for all this outdoorsy stuff – as in those trousers that unzip at the knee (like the reef boots, so good for wading through the water…), a special rucksack with built-in water bottle holder etc., but there were other mismatched bods (rain jackets teamed up with straw sun hats) and we made a merry band.

MI one

The trip was led by the local Birdlife President, Tania, who really knows her birds and is a mine of information on all sort of things. We learnt, for example, that sea urchins (known as sea hedgehogs in some languages) have five-fold symmetry, that the weight of a bird’s feathers is seven times that of its bone mass and that the nearby South Channel Port is an artificial island built as part of a network of fortifications in the 1880s to protect Port Phillip Bay against foreign invaders during the Gold Rush.

Spending five unhurried hours walking round an uninhabited sandy island and being away from all the noise, chatter and busy-ness of everyday life on the mainland was magical and immensely soul-soothing. I marvelled at the unspoilt environment all around me: saltmarshes, dune scrubland, seagrass beds, mudflats and water shading from light blue to green to dark blue, all a rich feeding and breeding ground for waders and sea birds. The beach is dense with mussel shells in varying tones of purple, large rock-like oyster shells, clam and scallop shells, one of which was covered in sponge and reminded me of a clasp purse. Another interesting find was a group of nests from a straw-necked ibis breeding colony.
scallo shell

IMG_3524

I didn’t have an agenda or anything to achieve unlike my comrades, many of whom were armed with notebooks in which they listed species they had spotted (regular readers will know that I don’t need any more lists! (See https://thisquirkylife.com/2016/03/22/im-proud-to-be-a-41-percenter/), noting any ‘firsts’ and adding up their totals. Twitchers through and through. My own binoculars are pretty average, so I made good use of Tania’s spotting scope to see the doubled-banded plovers, the ruddy turnstones, the red-capped plovers and the red-necked stints. We also saw lots of pelicans, black swans and terns as well as a foraging swamp harrier and a couple of pacific gulls toying with a washed-up mullet.

reef boots

On the return boat trip, we stopped by a gannet colony on a wooden tower-like structure where a few fur seals were basking. The photographers rather hogged the view as they snapped away. I took a picture with my iPhone but it came out looking blurred as the boat was listing quite heavily. Well that’s my excuse anyway. That and the increasingly chilly wet feet – the downside of not having the gear!

Wet feet and wind burn aside, I got into my car feeling exhilarated and energised from a day immersed in the elements with only feather markings, flight patterns, bird calls, beak size and wing spans to think about. I grabbed a cup of Earl Grey tea at a café before driving back from Sorrento in sunshine, singing at the top of my voice to opera classics on ABC Radio. I was in the zone, so much so that I kept exceeding speed limit by mistake – let’s hope I didn’t get caught on camera!

I can’t pretend that I wasn’t whacked by the time I got home and could have happily gone to bed at 9pm, but I had promised my friend Simon (from my former choir) that I would attend one of his multi-media ‘Music for a Warming World’ shows. And I am so glad I made the effort even if it did mean driving through the CBD on a Saturday night.
IMG_3531

Simon of Simon Kerr Perspective fame is a talented singer/ songwriter and academic. He and his girlfriend Christine have put together a fabulous show ‘where science, art and hope converge.’ Drawing on photos, peer-reviewed science, quotes, facts and figures, the show weaves together song and overhead visuals.

One of the pieces that really hit home was played by violinist Kylie Morrigan. Composed with one note representing the average global temperature for a single year from 1880 to 2012, it got higher and higher until it felt really frantic. As Simon says, the scientific evidence around global warming and climate change is irrefutable and 2015 is the hottest recorded year to date. What kind of world are we bequeathing to our grandchildren?
IMG_3532

That’s where the hope comes in. We can do more than ride our bikes and be vigilant about our recycling. Instancing the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (a private charitable fund) who have recently announced their decision to withdraw their funds from fossil fuel investments, he encouraged us to find out what kind of investments our banks and super funds are making. With a playful song entitled ‘Cheerio Coal’, he ended with a call to action: disinvest from the fossil fuel sector and stop propping up an economy that drives climate change.

What will happen to places like Mud Islands Reserve if we carry on as we are and the planet’s average annual global surface temperature rises by another 1 degree above the pre-industrial level?
For more information or to host one of Simon’s shows go to: http://www.simonkerrmusic.net/.

Embracing Community and the Kindness of Strangers

As I approach the final furlong of my Sea Change in Anglesea (for new readers, my Melbourne house is having a bit of a makeover), I’m really getting into life down here. As a not-for-profit grant-writer, I often talk about promoting or creating community connectedness and a sense of belonging. Well, recently, I’ve had the good fortune to experience both.

Last Friday, I joined in a monthly ‘Big Sing’ in a local township – well more like a hamlet actually. I was welcomed with open arms and felt instantly at ease to join in the warm-ups which, a bit like at my Melbourne-based choir, require a total absence of inhibition – blowing out your lips like a horse, wailing like a siren and generally waving your arms around. We then sang in canon using the words of a GPS navigator to the tune of London Bridge. After a few gospel numbers, a Maori song to mark Anzac Day and an Aboriginal Stolen Generations song, it was time for supper. With candles dotted around and gum tree leaves decking the walls of the community hall, we tucked into home-made soup and crusty bread. This was definitely choir Country Style.

Then on the weekend I went to the Lighthouse Literary Fest at nearby Fairhaven. I had booked back in February (just as well as it sold out fast) and knew I would need to find childcare for Bertie; I couldn’t leave him in solitary confinement in the laundry for two days running. Nearer the time, something or somebody would turn up I told myself. But the dog-sitter I left him with on a return trip to Melbourne was booked up, my neighbours were going off to Hawaii and I couldn’t really ask 89-year-old Dolly over the road. As it was, Bertie had already barked imperiously at her when she put her bins out.

Sold-out-banner1

Early on in the piece, a lovely woman, Pauline, came up and admired Bertie when we were sitting outside a cafe. We got chatting and she told me her daughter had a cocker spaniel called Theodore aka Teddy. So when I bumped into her again several weeks later (she runs one of the thrift shops here), I mentioned that I was looking for a dog-sitter over Anzac weekend and wondered if one of her children might be able to help. It turned out that her kids were busy but, sure enough, Pauline and her husband Andrew volunteered. What’s more they refused to take any payment.

What I find so wonderful and generous about their gesture is that they hardly know me and yet they were happy to spend their weekend minding Bertie. Needless to say they fell in love with my boy who had – excuse the terrible pun – a ball. They took him to church, out to lunch, lavished him with cuddles, treated him to few choice snacks and several walk, and on the Saturday, invited Teddy down from Melbourne to keep him company.

All the while I was free to immerse myself in two days of cultural nourishment and stimulation. Much as I have loved all the beach and river walks, prolific bird life, friendly cafes and charity shop fossicking, I was ready for a bit of bookiness and bookish company. From the venue – a newly built Surf Life Saving Club with big ship-like timber beams overlooking the ocean to yummy paper bag lunches and a program of talks and panel discussions with actors, ABC radio presenters, journalists, film directors, emerging and established authors –it was a treat from beginning to end.

One of the discussions look at health and what makes us sick. Much of the discussion revolved around the corporatisation of food and the inability of those who are socially and economically disadvantaged to make healthy choices. We learnt about fast food producers and doctors being in cahoots on corporate boards and that wherever Coca Cola features on the world map, there’s obesity.

Other sessions explored memoir writing: how do we write about friends and people we know – do we disguise them (change their hair colour, sex and geography), do we write about them as they are and get their permission, or do we ultimately betray them? And how do we tackle writing about parents, whether dead or alive? Then there’s the dilemma of self-exposure for those that have written memoirs. Are we introverts (shrinking violets), extroverts (show-offs) or what American writer Susan Cain refers to as ambiverts, a mix of both?!

At the end of each session a musical double act, Nice Work, performed a song with a ukulele accompaniment. A bit like a sorbet cleanses the palate during a rich meal, the two young men (pretty much boys really) provided the ideal inter session refreshment.

The festival ended with a fascinating and humorous presentation by screenwriter David Roach in conversation with Graeme Simsion (of The Rosie Project fame). A chance meeting with a Master of Wine on a plane was the genesis of the documentary, Red Obsession, about China’s voracious appetite for wines produced by the great chateaux in Bordeaux. We saw clips of the film, one of my favourites featuring the owner of one of the big name chateaux (I forget which) in Bordeaux. He said it all came down to love (or lurv in his French accent) – loving the wine, loving drinking it and loving the cultivation of it grape by grape. He should know; he’d drunk something like a couple of bottles with lunch day.

Coming back to the kindness of strangers, I gave Pauline and Andrew a bottle of local Shiraz as a thank-you for looking after Bertie. Not quite in the same league as the top notch Bordeaux wines the Chinese are buying for up to $250,000 a bottle, but a token of appreciation nevertheless. I’m going to miss my new coastal community.

Singing Away the Blues

A couple of weeks ago a literary agent based in the States expressed interest in my book, Slowing Down in the Fast Lane: from Adventure to Zen and Everything in Between, and asked me to send the full manuscript. She seemed to love the concept and I had high hopes that she might want to represent me. On Monday morning, however, my hopes were dashed. Ouch! She emailed to let me know that she didn’t feel that the A-Z format worked “for the necessary emotional journey a reader must take with the author in a work of memoir.” A publisher in Queensland who loved my writing and humour said pretty much the same thing. It wasn’t so much the rejection that left me a bit flat but the thought, that after so much writing, re-writing, perfecting and polishing, I might have to embark on a total re-write.

But, of course, attempting to write a book and get it published is rarely a straightforward process. And it requires a great deal of patience and perseverance. On Monday I was lacking in both and ended up humming that Boomtown Rats song I don’t like Mondays ! That’s the thing about being self-employed, there’s no one to whinge to; you have to jolly yourself along. I’m mostly very good at motivating myself but nothing seemed to be flowing at the start of the week. It didn’t help that work was a bit thin on the ground in typical feast and famine freelance fashion.

Thankfully, however, Monday night is choir night. I decided to leave my hangdog day (and my beloved puppy dog) at home and throw myself into the singing. Our usual repertoire ranges from African harmonies, negro spiritual and chain gang songs to Russian ballads, Celtic folk tunes and sea shanties with a bit of contemporary stuff thrown in. But before we start signing, we loosen up with a workout for mind, body, voice and spirit which involves a series of meditative, breathing and vocal exercises followed by a bit of stretching and dancing around. How good it was this week to do the tongue sticking out routine – blahhhhhh, bluuuhhhh– and let go of the day’s frustration.

I-love-singing-singing-21054900-400-400[1]

At the end of the evening our Choir Director Richard came up to me and – quite unprompted – said: “Hello Charlotte! Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Was he a mind reader? Did he know that I had spent the day battling book and impending big birthday blues? As in, I am halfway through my life – if not more – and, well, you know, dum de dum. What do I have to show for it? So ran my inner judge and critic on Monday. “Think about your triumphs and don’t listen to the negative chatter that comes up at three in the morning,” suggested Richard. I was about to come up with a great long list of all the non-triumphs (it’s so easy to default to that) but then realised that taking a huge leap of faith and moving to Australia nearly ten years ago has to be my biggest triumph to date.

I returned home with a deep sense of gratitude that I belong to such a wonderful choir full of like-minded, supportive and creative souls – it’s no coincidence we’re called Soul Song. And then I remembered two other huge triumphs. I took part in a solo singing workshop earlier this year and sang a Buena Vista Social Club song in Spanish to the rest of the group (amazing in itself as not so long ago I’d have almost preferred to strip naked than sing a solo), and then at our recent choir retreat, I learnt how to use a microphone and experimented with the same song – giving it my all. It really is never too late to change your life and find your voice.

Feeling the fear and doing it anyway...

Feeling the fear and doing it anyway…

As for the book, I’m going to see if I get any other bites before I change the format. I didn’t really set out to write a memoir, more a humorous anthology of life adventures… and misadventures. Perhaps I’ve been marketing it in the wrong way. I might take a straw poll and get some feedback in a future blog. Who knows, perhaps by the next zero birthday, I will be a published author.

I wannabe published...

I wannabe published…