Rebecca Stewart: Finding silver linings in the summer that wasn’t

In a chaotic corner of the garden battered by a cyclonic south-easterly, Rebecca Stewart reflects on future possibilities.

I think I must have blinked and missed summer. I have some vague fuzzy memories of hot, sunny days, but I’m unsure when that would have been.

We did manage to have a couple when we were testing the abilities of our new solar dehydrator, which as it turns out, works great. Then there was the day we went to town and forgot to open up the tunnel house. The poor avocado trees barely survived that and are only just recovering with new growth months later — but the banana, sugarcane and pink pineapple seemed happy with the sweltering heat.

The issue is that the day can begin relatively cool and cloudy but as soon as there’s a break in the clouds, the sun beats down and the temperature rises. I never know what to wear. Long sleeves or a singlet? Pants or shorts? But brave the shorts and the sandflies come out. We spend more time slapping our legs than working. Choose longs, and discarded layers of clothing or footwear end up lying about in the garden — only to have it rain on them.

We had plans to take the kids to the big swimming hole. And we did go once, on a day that was as hot as the river was beautifully cool. But somewhere along the way, summer slipped by before it ever really got started. I know we’ve been busy, but it still feels as though we lost weeks, or even months. It is said that as we grow older time speeds up.

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Well, I must be aging pretty fast as it’s just whizzing past.

This time last year we were in the midst of a drought. Now I look out across green paddocks of pasture with no stress about feeding the livestock. They are, in fact, very fat, so at least something has done well this year. The trees looked good too, until a crazy cyclonic south-easterly tried to tear our landscape apart. Now many of the large trees are sporting broken branches, or lying on the ground (and in some cases, on fences). The neighbour’s partially harvested pine forest is a broken and uprooted pile of pick-up-sticks, many of which landed on our narrow gravel road.

The same has occurred in the vege garden. Tall, green stems of jerusalem artichokes, sunflowers and corn looked so good one day and flattened the next. The leaves on the beans, choko and grapevine which dared to poke themselves up above protection are twisted, beaten and browned. But I have cut back the heavy jerusalem artichoke stems off the feijoa trees (which they attempted to drag down with them), and tying up the sunflowers rewarded me with sunny blooms.

We have picked up the fallen apples and thrown them to the pigs, along with the prunings from the wayward grapes (discovering masses of grapes in the process). I only hope there will be enough warmth left for these abundant bunches to ripen. But I do not hold out much hope for the watermelons — I am yet to see even one set fruit on the scrambling vines. The butternut pumpkins, however, are rampant in the fruit forest, with many pumpkins to be spotted amongst the overgrowth of vines, grass and comfrey.

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It’s funny that this wild corner of our property is one of my favourite places right now, but the crazy mess of plants sums up the year so far, I think. Chaotic, busy and a bit wild, but amongst it all, there are treasures to be found. Just as amongst the tangled mess of fallen gums on the ground we can see future possibilities, including durable untreated posts we need, or beams and rafters for building projects.

If we look for the bright side of this summer that wasn’t, perhaps we will find it shining through the heavy grey clouds.


Rebecca Stewart: A time of new life

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