Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

A Sense of Place - and spiders in your shorts.

I have always believed that there's a certain time of day when you are aware of where you really belong. Not every day, just sometimes. I opened my first manuscript—the one that has just undergone a mentorship with ASA—with this assertion.
It happens, this feeling, "at that twilight time of day, just before the sun goes down... that lurching, heart swelling feeling that grabs you when you look out the window of a car, a train, a plane and long to be home."
The Illawarra Flame Tree in bloom

I'm still very attached to the Tweed Valley where I grew up and where many of my family members still live, including my sister and her husband, with whom I've just spent a week.
The mountain ranges, the river, the flowering trees, the way most oncoming drivers still lift one finger off the steering wheel in greeting as they pass— all these made me glad to be back.
But there's a downside too.
One morning, hastening to get to breakfast, which my brother-in-law, Des, has on the table at 7.30, I grabbed the previous day's denim shorts, stepped one leg in, went to put the other leg in, only to see a giant huntsman spider trying to crawl out from inside. Now, I don't do spiders well but neither do I smash them with a shoe, and clearly this one was in trouble.


Mt Warning from the cane fields
I took him outside, shorts and all, called Des and together we freed him from the cobwebs that had bunched up and stuck like Minnie Mouse's shoes on the end of every one of his eight legs.(Lucky for me. This is what slowed him down.)
Then began the tales of other near-misses with the local critters. Des recalled how he pushed a foot into his gardening boot one morning and felt it to be unusually tight. Investigation revealed a cane toad inside, firmly ensconced up in the toe of his boot. (Have you fainted yet? I nearly did.)
So yes, there are indeed more critters up there than I'm used to in Melbourne—spiders, snakes, goannas, cane toads, ticks, to name a few—and they like to get up close and personal. The giant carpet snakes under the corrugated iron roof of their shed are spoken of with some affection.
But the views do indeed make my heart lurch and it's hard to stop taking photos of the flowering trees as well.
All of which leads me to think about writers who write about place and landscape so evocatively that you feel their love for the place in every word.
Tim Winton has to be top of the list.
In all of his novels he evokes a sense of place that is almost palpable.

Read the first page of his 1993 book Land's Edge and you'll know what I mean.

And now he has another, the beautiful Island Home, recently published and bound to be in many a reader's Christmas stocking. My copy is already on my bedside table and so full of anticipation am I that I'm hardly game to start.
I know it won't disappoint but I also know it will be gut-wrenching in places because he is angry now about some of the things happening to this island home of his, and ours. Tim Winton urges us to feel the ground beneath our feet wherever we are, to see the landscape as a living entity and to stop moving long enough to hear what it's telling us.
If I'd been listening it might have warned me about that big spider.