IT’S easy to feel blue in July. Grey skies press down on us, icy winds get under our skin and rain dampens our spirits. Medical researchers have aptly named this common condition SAD (seasonal affective disorder). The good news is that one of the best cures for SADness is free. Sunlight, especially in the morning, can help overcome the symptoms.
I rug up in my winter woollies, put on my raincoat, boots and beanie and head off for a walk. It is almost a miracle. Within minutes I feel better. I see a wallaby sucking on a banksia flower, spider-webs glistening on a paperbark, two wedge-tailed eagles high in the sky. For me, the cure is not just sunlight, it is getting out into nature. Every day there’s a highlight, something that makes me smile.
In the first week of July, rain drums on the roof, so deafening it’s hard to sleep. In the morning, the road is flooded. Hundreds of waterbirds occupy the shallow pools that scatter the low-lying paddocks. A spoonbill stands by a puddle at the edge of the road. A purple swamphen wades through a swollen ditch.
Up the road and over the hill, quite far from the lake, swans are floating in puddles barely bigger than themselves. As they dip their long necks in the water, their pretty, white, petticoat tails lift up behind them. Some pull up shoots from the bottom as others graze on pasture with black Angus cattle and Cape Barren geese.
Most days I see the egret that lives around here. It’s almost always alone. At low tide it feeds in the shallows of the bay and doesn’t seem to mind me passing by. At high tide it moves to the small farm dams behind the coast and to the culvert where water drains from the roadside. Sometimes, I unintentionally disturb it there. Its tall, white, elegant body rises up lightly and with wings outstretched lifts off with a low-pitched croak to sound its alarm.
Out in the garden, bright-orange aloe vera flower spikes complement the winter sky. They are full of nectar, attracting wattlebirds and honeyeaters who visit all day, jumping from flower to flower, extracting the sweetness.
The wattlebirds are courting. The males (I assume) chase the females in swift, purposeful flights, shadowing closely, remaining a body length behind, like a heat-seeking missile. A male and a female land on a branch face to face. They arch their backs, fluff their feathers and fan their tails as they stretch their necks forward, squawking loudly at each other, then fly off quickly to resume the pursuit.
The first babies of the season are arriving. There’s a tiny bunny on the front lawn, a baby lamb at the neighbours’ on the corner and two pairs of Cape Barren geese have chicks. One pair has five and the other has two. The chicks are little balls of stripy down. They graze on low grasses, staying close to their mother, their beaks busily picking at the green tips, while constantly moving forward. Occasionally one stops to rest, stretches its legs and flaps its unformed, stumpy wings.
In the middle of the month I wake to a blue sky with billowing grey-white clouds. Ocean swell pushes into the bay and white frothing breakers roll over the windswept water. The wind is brutally cold and gusty, but I brave a walk. Hundreds of white ibises and straw-necked ibises parade the paddocks, probing the soft soil for grubs and worms with their long, curved beaks.
On my way back down the hill, the wind bites my face. Through watering eyes I see a tiny, bright red spot flitting across the ground. It is a robin red-breast, one of winter’s special visitors, rarely seen and only at this time of year. It moves in short, swift flights across a pile of old hay, stopping every few metres, then disappears.
That afternoon, hundreds of seagulls raft on the bay, sheltering from the strengthening north-westerly. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, they scatter skyward, rising up, whirling around and drifting down like paper leaflets with a message of danger to come. That night the wind relentlessly batters the house (and my mind). It rages all night and through the next day. There is no going out in this.
In the third week of July I wake to a wall of white at the garden’s edge. For three mornings the landscape is shrouded in heavy fog. Outside, the fog is visible, moving moisture. Cold, heavy air hangs on me like a damp blanket. Around midday, as tinges of pale-blue appear in the west and the sun’s brightness begins to lighten the day, a thrush’s melodic song rings out. The fog gives way to a bright-blue sky with white-patterned clouds. The sun is out. There is no wind.
The end of July draws near. The wind is up and the swell has kicked, driven by deep lows in the Southern Ocean. Of all the weather, the wind is the worst, so I choose a protected beach with high dunes. The surf is roaring. Large waves gallop towards the shore like wild horses, their manes trailing behind in arcs of white spray. A ship moves across the horizon.
This morning, the sky is grey and bleak. Gale-force winds are forecast with gusts to 100 kilometres per hour. The conditions test my resolve but I decide on a short walk before things get worse. It’s grim outside. Dull, featureless. Overhead, powerlines moan in the wind. The wildlife is lying low.
As I head for home, pondering a possible flaw in my theory – maybe even nature hides from itself on a day like today – six hooded plovers land on the sand a few metres away. These small, tubby shorebirds are a threatened species. About 600 remain in Victoria. These six run quickly on twiggy legs, stopping and starting, moving in a group across patches of sand among the seaweed. They reach the strandline that the tide left behind and scamper along, picking up insects. Beyond them, dozens of seagulls shelter on the beach while two sooty oystercatchers and two pied oystercatchers work along the shoreline.
August 3, 2014
Thank you Linda, it's a beautiful article. Just what we all need, a bit of sun shining through this wickedlycold spell. So glad it was you out there taking those photos and not me.
Bob Middleton, Jeetho West
August 3, 2014
How wonderful. Well done. Surely one of the great bonuses of living on a surf beach and braving the winter weather must be the eventual sighting of the hooded plover.
A delightful illustrated Winter’s Tale! Thank you.
Tim Shannon, Ventnor