Saturday, April 21, 2007

just add water

Saturday Cuppa: Pear and ginger tea

My whole life has been punctuated with the nourishing element of water. I was reminded of this last night when I watched the video of my first daughter's waterbirth at home, by candle light.

The earliest, conscious memories I have of water are from about the age of four. Living in Brisbane, Australia, where it is often humid, we had a swimming pool which I was forever jumping into. My mum's first memory of me with water was seeing my little body sinking to the bottom of the pool! It still sends a shiver down her spine.

We later moved up the road to a larger house with a huge oval swimming pool and a very large passion fruit vine, (heaven, in one back yard). I spent hours eating those perfect sub-tropical fruits straight from the vine, and swimming.

And then there was Dead Horse Creek, a little dam in our suburb of Woodridge, where I'd hang out with my older siblings and their friends as they swung off a rope into the pond. I'll probably never know why it was called Dead Horse Creek, but I'm hoping there weren't any dead horses in there!

This probably sounds really disgusting, but I absolutely LOVED it when it rained and I could sit in the gutter of our street and let the water wash over me. The single biggest thing I miss about Australia is the tin roofs and the melodic sound of rain beating down.

At six, my parents moved from the city to Freestone, a small farming community about 15 minutes drive from the town of Warwick, on Queensland's Darling Downs. Here, on our 700 acre property of fields and mountains, was the most beautiful spring-fed creek. As children, we walked the length of it, from the small, yet deep, dam at the base of the waterfall, and up along the creek's winding path of granite rock, high into the hills. Hidden from the world by densely growing eucalyptus trees and wattle bushes, my childhood was played out in freedom, fun and fantasy along the base of our mountain where the creek flowed.

We cooked food over a fire fed from twigs and dried leaves while listening to the water gurgle over the rocks. On horseback, my friend Cherry and I went high into the mountain range and camped under the stars. As if time has stood still, I can still smell the exquisite scent of the wild lemon tree at the creek's edge.

My brothers and I often tried to make rafts to carry us along the creek, but our most popular device was actually wearing thick padded winter coats underneath raincoats and floating on the creek during a flood. Not so much floating as rocketing! Oh my, it was so much fun!! Deathly dangerous, no doubt, but thoughts like that didn't enter our heads. This gave me an appetite for white water rafting later on when I was in Hawke's Bay, New Zealand.

We made mini dams from rocks and tried to change the direction of the water. It could only ever be temporary as water is such a powerful force.

Blood sucking leeches were an occupational hazard whenever we jumped into the dam!

I can still taste the perfect, cool mountain water which I drank straight from the creek. People don't do that these days, do they? Well, at least not before sending the water off to be analysed in a laboratory. We never had to worry about farmers dumping toxic material into the water as at that time there was no-one upstream from us.

The 'waterhole' dam at the base of the waterfall was my favourite because it was tucked away by trees, hugged by maiden hair ferns, and hugged by hills, but we also had man-made dams on the property which were always brown and mucky from the soil at its base. In one part of the land, the soil was rich red and in another area, as black as a red belly black snake. We'd ride our horses, bare back, into these dams and have mud fights. We weren't precious about keeping clean. Always, always, always would we arrive home, completely filthy. The smiles on our faces probably overrode the heaviness in my mother's heart when she realised how much washing she had to do. Now I'm a mother myself, I can see it was probably worth the price of having your children disappear for hours on end.

Most parts of our garden were on a hill so we put a really long strip of plastic down, added a few drops of washing-up liquid, and a hose. We called it the 'slip and slide'. I can only begin to imagine the fun my own girls would have with such an adventure in their back garden.

The all time favourite, though, was the old tractor tyre, inner tube removed, hung long ways by rope from the majestic Pepperina tree in the front garden. The sides of the tyre were held apart by a piece of wood, so we could fit a child in either side. Filled with warm, soapy water, the fun began when another child would push the tyre against the tree and we'd get soaked with water. Activities like this, or playing in the circular horse troughs, kept us amused for hours.

When I used to wag school (Aussie equivalent of playing truant) my favourite place to go was down by the weir of the Condamine River. I didn't need to 'do' anything there, I just sat, watching the water flow by me.

I first wrote poetry when a family friend took me fishing one weekend. He and his sons fished, and I sat at the edge of the bank writing in my head and capturing how I felt about everything around me ~ the flies, water, wildflowers, gathering storm clouds…

Near Warwick is Leslie Dam, a huge lake popular for water sports, particularly water skiing. My favourite was canoeing. It was here we were brought for one of our school camps ~ the highlight of my school years. Another camp was elsewhere, I've no idea where, just that I completely trashed my favourite pair of shorts, sliding down a waterfall. And it was worth every last cotton thread! It had a 45 degree slope, was covered in moss, and made the best slippery-slide ever. The teachers couldn't drag me away.

At 16, I left home and moved to South Australia, and again, my favourite memories include water. Sitting high on a grassy hill in a friend's hot tub ~ no lights, no houses for miles, and then, in the distance, at midnight, a train etched along the horizon of a distant hill. It was eerie and yet so beautiful.

Camping in the bush was a favourite source of adventure for me…off with friends and sleeping bags for a weekend, swimming in dams, remote gorges, or the great Murray River; using old tyres to float on, as we lazed in the sun. Somehow water transformed day to day life.

Christmas by the beach in 40 degree Celsius heat isn't necessarily something a Northern Hemisphere person might associate with the Holy Season, but there really is something festive about loads of watermelon and sea water.

In New Zealand, a lover took me to a secret hide-away, where a hot spring touched the cool water of the mighty Waikato river, and together, under starlight and a full moon, we melted into the warm water. Two naked bodies, alone on Earth, surrounded by nothing by native New Zealand trees and bush. I tell you, no girl needs wine and chocolate when she's had an experience like that ~ the ultimate in romance!

On a remote South Australian shoreline, my friend Amy and I sat amidst large rocks, waves spraying against us by a brewing storm, to watch seals swimming in the moonlight. There are moments in life which simply stay etched in your memory forever, moments which no amount of money can buy.

Pennysylvania, USA. In my mid 20s, I went to the States to Amy's homeland. The day was spent trekking through barren, ploughed fields, caught deep in conversation with a best friend, making memories. New Year's Eve ~ sitting outside in a steamy hot tub with friends, snow flakes dancing in the New Year and landing on my shoulders. Steam and ice…

Giving birth in water was a natural place for me to welcome my love-child Earthside. I'd devoured spiritual and esoteric literature on the incoming soul's need for a gentle transition to gravity. I confessed to my midwife that I longed to give birth with dolphins as midwives ~ somewhere in a sheltered bay. The birth pool was too small. I needed space. I needed nature. I compromised by swimming with dolphins in pregnancy off New Zealand's north coast.

Instead of thinking I was crazy, my midwife understood and gave me a video to watch of Russian women giving birth alongside dolphins!

My mother's story of her Magic Bath led me to write my first children's story ~ Oma's Magic Bath. From her little hand made hut in the Tasmanian mountains, she would fetch water from the creek to tip into the outside bath. It was perched off the ground a couple of feet and she would light a fire underneath to warm the water. When it was hot enough, she'd step in, hot chocolate in hand, and soak, soak, soak. Watched only by tall trees, birds, stars, my mother had a luxury most of us never experience.

Last weekend my girls were playing down the road in our local beck (creek)..splashing and squealing. On the bank, the bluebells out a month early!!, chatting with friends, one of which is a lady in her 70s, we shared childhood memories of water. She smiled the whole time and said that her childhood was full of playing in water, and how different it is for most children today, stuck in houses, glued to tv, mobile phone or computers. Parents are scared of their children going outside. She's right, of course. Many parents do live in fear of the unknown and their children pay the price.

I've often found when my girls were antsy and needed calming that I simply had to 'just add water' and the outcome would always improve. Sometimes it was just a bowl and a cup, other times it was a bucket of water in the garden. It's never needed to be vast quantities of water, just something to 'feel'. Eliza's spent her last few bath times with a bowl (half a coconut shell) to which she's attached match sticks for oars, and been amused for ages. Walnut shells are often a favourite with children too.

Last Saturday we picnicked at Talkin Tarn and then Paul took the girls out rowing on the tarn for a while. Such a simple pleasure, yet that half hour of connecting with water, with nature, was so nourishing to the soul.

Walking by the ocean, negative ions washing away stress, proves so healing for many people. People flock to the beach in summer, but funnily, I've always enjoyed being there in the depths of winter, on a wild, windy day, a lone figure upon the shoreline, ambling to the sound of seagulls.

I have come to see that water needs to be free-flowing in my life and when I again find a piece of Earth to guardian, it is with the hope it has a creek passing through with which to paddle my feet.


Anonymous said...

Your blog brought back a lot of memories. There is a lovely pool on the River Gelt, you may already know it but if not you should give it a try, your girls would love it.There is a waterfall and at that point it opens out into a small pool, I learnt to swim there as a child. The added attraction was that you could stand under the waterfall!It was on a favourite walk of my family. I think it starts in Castle Carrock and it goes through the woods and up onto the fell with wonderful views.My whole class from school camped there for the weekend when I was 12, not the sort of thing that would be allowed these days as it is not a camp site. I haven't been for about 40 years so I hope it hasn't changed.
We used to spend a lot of time at Talkin Tarn. When I was a child it used to have a swimming area on the far side with ancient wooden changing rooms and a diving board but I see that that has all gone now.My father used to take us out in a rowing boat as a special treat.One winter the tarn completely froze over, enough to walk right across safely.
I would agree with beaches in the winter, Conwall is wonderful around Christmas time.

Anonymous said...

Hello! I can't think what would keep you from your blog for 2 weeks - it must be something either very good (hoping!) or very bad.. In either case, I send my prayers.
Alison and Olivia

Anonymous said...

I was in the Eden Valley last week and decided to find the pool on the river Gelt. It was still as nice as it was 40 years ago! The only thing that I had forgotten was that the water is brown but I think that is just because it runs through peat. I found it too cold to swim but a couple of the younger members of the party went in!I think that you would like it because it is so quiet, we went last Monday and were the only people there. You go into Castle Carrock from the south and turn right at the pub The Weary Sportsman, you follow the road around until it gets to a sharp bend to the right with a track down to the left.You can park in the track or in a lay by at the top. You then walk down the track to the bridge over the river at the bottom and turn right over the river and follow it along until you get to a waterfall. Last week there was a JCB by the bridge repairing flood damage which was a bit off putting and we had to walk higher up and cut down to the river, but that should be gone by now.You can go up on the fells on the other side and do a lovely circular walk.Anyway I just wanted to thank you, without your column I would have forgotten about it!