Wednesday, 30 April 2014

In praise of libraries

With a feeling equal but opposite to the caustic loathing I have for shopping centres, I truly love libraries.

I love the dignified buzz of a building devoted to the attaining of wisdom. I love the sight of row upon row of books, each one a work of countless hours of dedicated research, of late coffee-fuelled nights, of long back-aching days of compiling and composing, cutting out and adding in, editing and redrafting, so that finally this precious volume can be printed and published and delivered to sit here neatly in its allotted place on the shelf. It  pains me to pass any of them by. All they want is a good home to be taken into and a comfortable lap on which to spread themselves; to be admired and understood. I wish I could read you all!

I love the librarians, so peaceful, helpful and quietly delighted to find themselves in this sanctuary every day like happy monks sitting in their shrine of words.

There's excitement in my belly on the day I wake up knowing I'm due to visit the library. I've already checked the catalogue online and have a good idea what is available and what I'd like to borrow. But I've always got one eye open for a surprise. There's a  lesser known Tolkein book I haven't yet read, there's the Booker Prize winner from 2002, and I can't but grasp greedily at that new tome on the philosophy of happiness. When I'm loaded up with more books than I can possibly read by the due date (but boy, I'll give it a red hot go) I approach the counter for the final and most satisfying of all surprises. I take out my wallet, but instead of paying for the privilege of reading these, the thoughts and work of the giants of literature from across the globe and across the centuries, I simply hand over my library card for a quick scan and away I walk. For this, the most frugal of sojourners, this is the ultimate buzz.

In times when everything is becoming commercialised and co-opted, (even SBS has ads!) libraries are a bastion of society's goodwill towards itself, like a healthy tonic to neutralise the runaway diet of crass junk.

I love the different flavours of libraries in the places I've lived. There was Hobart's imposing and efficient modern library with compulsory lockers to store your bag, where I first encountered the machine to auto-check your own books. Compare this with Fremantle's ramshackle atmosphere, where hobos read newspapers in sunny corners and the wide open doorway lacks even a beeper to check for smuggled volumes in whatever suitcase you care to drag in.

My current local is small but packed wall to wall with wonders. It will take time, but I'm getting through them.


Tuesday, 22 April 2014

These are the clouds my friends

In my family, it's my sister Anna who is the cloud expert. From her studies in climatology she knows the names of all the different types, and she knows the science behind how they're formed and how each type behaves. She's even a card-carrying member of some dubious organisation called the Cloud Appreciation Society.

While I don't have any of these formal qualifications, I think that I too am a cloud lover. Not just the big fluffy white ones that look like animals or toasters or things - though these certainly are amazing (I'm pretty sure they're called cumulonimbus). I love too the dark layer way out over the ocean with diagonal lines coming down, where the rain is falling, though to my eyes it appears a stationary grey mass. I love the storm clouds advancing from the south on a summer afternoon; a swirling blackness devouring the sky, their arrival heralded by the mad delight of leaves and litter dancing in the street. I love it when there are two types of clouds in the sky at once - the low lying wispy ones scudding lightly along so close you feel you could grab hold of them, and the higher, more aloof ones which float by at their own dignified  pace. I love the collection of squiggles, lines and shapes stretching away to the horizon that can make a look up to the sky such a wonderfully distracting experience.

And then there's the way the clouds dance around with the sun, veiling and unveiling, changing colour and shape as I watch. Oh, the sunrises and sunsets I've seen made a thousand times more spectacular by the blushing and ever-changing clouds. A sky-show that kings and emperors could not but be impressed by.

Considering how much beauty and diversion clouds bring to the world, I think they've had a rough trot in the English language. The connotations of clouds are always negative. What's all this about people being "under a cloud of suspicion" when they've been implicated in bad behaviour? Why don't you hear of happy people, whose life is just falling into place described as being "under a cloud of contentment"? Clouded judgment- bad. Head in the clouds - bad. I suppose there is cloud nine, which is undoubtedly a good place to be, but that begs the question - are the other eight clouds all evil?

It seems like we've forgotten that clouds are the carriers of rain, a replenishing and vital part of the cycle of life on earth. Maybe it's got something to do with our simplistic black and white view of things. Sun is good, rain is bad, nothing in between. It could be that clouds, in their never ending, always changing complexity and diversity, give us all the shades of grey.

Rain in the distance, Grampians VIC

Wispy goodness, Grampians

A flock of sunset clouds, Grampians VIC

Mallacoota, VIC


East coast Tassie

Sunset on the Nullarbor

Sunset, Lucky Bay WA

Saturday, 12 April 2014

This is what happens when you camp alone.

Just after Easter I went up to Barrington Tops for a few days of exploring. The first day’s hike was all uphill, ascending a sharp escarpment. I went hard, sweating out the accumulated frustrations of a busy day to day life. By nightfall I was exhausted and slept dreamlessly.

The second day was mellower. The sky was clear, the air crisp and the trail meandered along the plateau, passing plains, circling swamps and crossing creeks. There was nobody around and I didn't mind that.

That chilly night after eating I sat by the campfire. The creek was bubbling quietly nearby and I gazed into the dancing flames. My thoughts wandered, following threads of memories, ponderings and whirling dreams. Like the flickering of the fire, my mind leapt from here to there following a course of no discernible meaning. I turned around to get the fire’s warmth on my back and looked up into the night sky, aglow with shimmering stars. Looking into the universe, looking through time.

I kept up this slow rotation, to stay warm front and back. Alternately looking down into the fire and up into the stars it occurred to me that whether you’re looking at the small scale world of the senses –  the here and now of this body walking the earth  – or you’re pondering the big picture of the universe, God and love, this life truly is a wondrous thing. 

Oh, the night sky. (Not my photo. From )