aboard the M/V sonofagun, paints and pens, stuff i've made

A smack of jellyfish

redwork bird

As promised, here’s the finished redwork bird design from yesterday, done up as a mock kitchen journal cover using the font Asterism, and a woven fabric texture from Picmonkey, to sort of give me an idea of how it might look.

Also some very small (the size of a playing card) watercolors from this morning…just playing with ideas and stuff. I really wanted to jump-start  a big painting, but didn’t feel well…think I have picked up someone’s flu. It was bad enough to prevent me from heading in to work. So I consoled myself with these little things…they sort of serve as warm-up exercises for the large painting I had in mind; whether I use all the motifs or not is not important…what matters is that I’ve dumped my ideas somewhere for reference, and my mistakes on these teeny-tiny canvases will possibly save me from making the same ones on a larger scale in acrylics.

terrarium jelly

An idea that has been with me for a long time (too long!): a jellyfish that is also a terrarium. Because the two forms have always seemed to be crying out for each other, in my imagination.
There’s something very right about this combination.

muumuu jelly

A jellyfish like a pink silk muumuu with pleated ribbons.

crocheted jelly

Not happy with this one: Just. Too. Much.
Looks like the sort of horrible lampshade you sometimes come across at a Salvation Army shop. I like the tentacles, though.

beaded jelly

The Meh Jellyfish…every smack of jellyfish has to have one: kinda boring, lacks spark. That beaded curtain was a really lazy, unimaginative, clichéd way to finish what might have been an okay exumbrella. (That’s that outer, umbrella-looking part of the jellyfish. I looked it up just now.) Maybe if I transplanted the tentacles from the crocheted lamp jellyfish…

mangroves

One interpretation of mangroves.

Speaking of mangroves, check out my accidentally fabulous tomato plant, growing like nobody’s business in the middle of a mangrove creek! It sprouted from some kitchen scraps thrown onto a basil plant! Pretty soon it had ousted the withering basil and become the star plant on the F/V SonOfAGun.

sea tomatoes

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aboard the M/V sonofagun, Darwin, Australia, life

My prodigal dinghy was found today, intact and outboard running. I even got a bonus: there was a huge red fuel tank in it that wasn’t there before…ha ha ha.

Three policemen in plainclothes came to see me at work; they’d caught the guy who did it (no, not the heroin addict at all…shame on me for being such a sucker for movie stereotypes!), and wanted badly to prosecute, as he is also responsible for thousands of dollars stolen in credit cards, electronics, and a caravan, I think they said. So I signed a statement and came home and towed the rowing dinghy behind the motorised dinghy. The mood at the club was celebratory, and I was getting waves from people on boats and thumbs-up-signs from passing dinghies…I waved back, returned a small smile, but didn’t really feel as elated as, I guess, they thought I’d be.

A lesson has been learned, and I cannot consciously, purposely, go back to ignorance, so I will continue to row, now that I know how easy and quick it is from our new spot in the Sadgroves Creek. Also, to put it mildly, I do not love that outboard.

All’s well that ends well. At least I have my dinghy and oars back! And I AM sincerely glad that I have recovered what was really Kris’ property. It will come in handy on craft fair days, anyway, and has proven invaluable for moving four friends at a time, to and from the big boat on party nights.

Isn’t it funny how, when you accept a situation fully—to the point of actually falling in love wiit the new conditions—whatever the problem was in the first place often rights itself?

The best part is that I now enjoy a new FREEDOM: I no longer need nor am dependent upon what I originally thought I had lost.

Lost & found…& found again.

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aboard the M/V sonofagun, Darwin, Australia, life, philosophy

Working with a thief

home

That which stands in the way IS the way.

Marcus Aurelius

After my manager returned from her 6 weeks of annual leave, one of the other staff members at work resigned, and so I am still working 6 days a week and, believe me, this blog isn’t the only thing that’s suffered from it…I have had no time to make anything new or do anything creative; with just Sunday free, I barely have time to keep the houseboat from looking like a pigsty, get the laundry and groceries done, run all those little errands that hold the framework of my life together.

Last Sunday, my one day off, I worked some more: I took all my craft market gear ashore, and a friend kindly loaded the stuff into her ute (that’s Aussie for a pickup truck…from ‘utility vehicle’) and took me to the Museum Grounds for the Dragonfly Craft Fair. It was a good day for me, and I came back to the Dinah Beach Yacht Club cashed-up and feeling triumphant. My friend was curious to see what living on a boat is like, so I invited her to come home with me. We unloaded my tables, chair, boxes of craft market goods, and I went to get the dinghy. But it wasn’t where I’d left it, and more looking revealed that it had not simply been moved nor ‘borrowed’ by a fellow club member. It had been stolen.

When I used to row my dinghy, I could leave it tied to the pontoon for days on end; nobody touched it for all these 5 years. Thanks to the new outboard engine, it disappeared just 6 weeks after the engine had been attached.

I apologised to my friend, reported the theft to a few friends, the marine police, and some people at the club. At first I was a bit upset…with myself, for not locking my dinghy the way everyone else at the club does; but mainly over the loss of the aluminum dinghy, itself, as well as the small but super-heavy anchor that was in it, my custom-made oars (extra long, tropical hardwood, with oversized blades), and the two 15-liter water containers that I carry water home in.

I ordered a vodka-lime-and-soda, rolled a cigarette, and found myself strangely at peace with what had happened. What do you do when something like this happens? Cuss? Start shouting? Cry? Round up a posse of murderous, bearded waterfront characters and comb the harbour in a flotilla of dinghies for signs of the dinghy and/or thief? (Nobody saw who took it, though there are suspicions that a homeless heroin addict that’s been hanging around the waterfront lately did it. Who knows?) Rush off and spend all of the day’s earnings on another outboard engine? Someone told me “That’s why you should always have TWO outboards…so if one gets stolen, you have a spare!” Buy outboard engines for thieves?

Strangely enough (maybe it was the vodka?) in a very short time I accepted what had happened, felt a kind of relief and peace wash over me, and pushed the lost engine out of my mind completely. The truth is that I never did like that outboard…’fast’ was the only good thing that could be said of it. Otherwise it was noisy, smelly, it vibrated the dinghy so violently that parts of it had started to fall off, it was moody on cold mornings, it was vulnerable on rough days at the pontoon, with all the dinghies lurching and leaping and crashing against each other. It was a hassle to buy fuel and oil for regularly. The worry that I would run out of fuel midway through the week, or during a trip home, was a constant faint anxiety at the back of my head. I couldn’t listen to music on my way to work. It scared all the birds in the mangroves away, so that I never saw them. A couple of times I went over rocks in the shallows with it, and the propeller made the most terrifying grinding and screeching sound…it required deeper water than a rowing dinghy and so I found myself stranded by tide levels that I would normally scull right over. But my beloved had bought it for me, and I couldn’t refuse to use it without seeming ungrateful and recalcitrant.

My peace blossomed into joy: I had an excuse to go back to rowing! I laughed out loud at the bar, delighted. Thank heavens for Josh, who is one of just five men (Kris included) at Dinah Beach who have actually done some serious rowing: while everyone else was giving me their two cents on where I should start looking for my lost dinghy, or asking me to demonstrate my knot-tying skills (implying that because I am a woman, I probably don’t know how to tie a decent knot, and the thing worked itself loose and drifted off! To which I found the quick reply “Sure, I’ll show you my bowline knot…can I use your dick as a bollard?”) or offering me the loan of their spare outboard (so the thief can have another one, and I have to buy them a replacement?), Josh simply, matter-of-factly, handed me his oars and told me where to find his own little sculling dinghy (his own boat is out of the water, for now, so he doesn’t need them soon). He knows I like to row. And as someone who’s done it for years, he knows it not as hard or unpleasant as it may seem to onlookers.


I’ve been to and from the boat a few times, now. Josh’s oars were just 6 feet long, awkward and much too short to scull properly, so I bought myself a pair of 8-foot oars at the ship chandlers after the first trip. The blades are still too small for my liking, but at least I’m comfortable rowing now. I’m like a huge water bug, skidding over the surface of the harbour on long legs. I pop my earbuds in and listen to music or an audio book as I row. I skirt the mangroves and the birds fidget when I come near, but they don’t take off in a scatter of panicked wings. I look around me as I row, drinking in the cloudless sky, the sunlight embroidering the edges of the leaves in fil d’or. I’ve been listening to the audio book Vis and Ramin, an 11th century love story. I catch myself grinning as I row. I LOVE this…I feel so alive, so much a part of this world. My body loves the honest work of rowing, my heart beating time to the rhythm of my strokes, and the world isn’t flying by in a rattling metallic cacophony of fuel-scented exhaust. It’s good for the heart, for the body, for the mind, for the soul, for the environment. Why would anyone want to do anything else? I’d like to thank the dude who stole my outboard for giving me back my self-reliance, and so much joy.

Fabulous Water

*And for those who are always concerned about Time and argue that rowing takes too much time (though they don’t complain about sitting in front of a television for a couple of hours every night), I have timed each of my recent rowing trips, and it has consistently taken me 35 minutes to row from the boat to the yacht club or the other way around. That’s 15 minutes longer than it took by outboard.

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aboard the M/V sonofagun, life

Don’t let go of that thread…

what ships are built for

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

By William Stafford, from The Way It Is, 1998

Besides my creative life (which keeps me sane and relevant to myself) there is only Kris, really. Everything and everyone else can fall away and I might suffer a period of regret or pain or loss, but I would get over it quicker and with less trauma than you’d expect, because he stands opposite the sorrow, and balances me out. He is my ball of thread: that wonderful fairytale device that the heroine lets unwind before her, and that leads her through the world. I was an insufferable goose when he met me…I owe him for who I am today. He gave me both the space I needed to open fully, and a scrupulously honest mirror with which to see myself. And because I wanted so much to be worthy of him, I pushed to go beyond the garden-variety mediocrity of my early self.

Today he set sail for South Africa…a dream that’s been in the works for two years. When he gets there, and as soon as I’ve tied up a few of my loose ends here (two exhibitions, and my citizenship, basically), I will fly to catch up with him in either Durban or Brazil (depends on how long my loose ends take).

So my lover, my greatest teacher and my best friend all left together on one sailboat. The ball of thread is out of sight, and stretching ominously. The pull to be with him is tremendous. Things that I thought were important, last month, or felt I couldn’t possibly leave undone, suddenly seem like so much insignificant mucking around. Over the next few months I will slowly cut myself free of the ties here, and let him reel me in.

I didn’t get any pictures of Kris leaving, this time, so have re-used some shots from two years ago, taken the morning he left for S.E.Asia (he was gone four months).

swallowed by the fog

He was intentionally vague about his departure…didn’t want any parties, last minute well-wishers, or the generally curious trying to catch up for one last handshake, lame joke, or to ask the same dozen questions he has answered, over and over again, since he first built his steel Chinese-junk-rigged sailboat and started sailing around without the usual engine, GPS, EPIRB, digital charts, radio, solar panels, water-maker, or toilet. As you can imagine, some people find it hard to grapple with that, or with the idea of man at the mercy of the sea and no thing to rely upon but himself. But getting away from mankind is what attracted Kris to sailing, in the first place, and he goes out there to be alone with the great ineffable force that some call The Universe, Being, or God.

On his Monsoon Dervish website, Kris bids you all farewell:

“I’ll be turning 60 later this year. I’ve been working for a living for the past 40 years and I am tired of working. Humans are the only animals who work for a living. All other creatures live for a living. And I still have five years to go till my old age pension. I have decided I am going sailing for those five years. I will live for a living, like all other creatures in the world.”

Bon voyage, my love, and I’ll see you in Durban…or Paraiba!

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aboard the M/V sonofagun, Darwin, Australia, life

Some pics (but no birds)

Sadgroves Creek

Sadgroves Creek

Sadgroves Creek

crocodile trap...occupied this morning

Last night the mesh door of the trap was up; the following morning the mesh door had dropped…i.e. someone was inside the trap. We scooted over to have a look, but it was a very small crocodile, impossible to see or photograph in the dark centre of the trap. I didn’t even try…I’ve taken pictures of bigger crocodiles swimming, out in the open, around our boat, so this little lizard wasn’t exactly front page news.

Sadgroves Creek

Although I can hear them everywhere, I don’t have the thousand-dollar lens that will help me get a photograph of a bird hidden in the mangroves from the distance of my boat…so until I’ve worked up the nerve to push my little dinghy into the tangled mangrove roots and sit quietly until I find some birds (or maybe some big reptile finds me, first?) I don’t think I’ll have any bird shots for you…

Sonofagun in Sadgroves Creek

Last, a recent photo of ol’ Sonofagun in her new neighborhood…

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weve moved!

Okay, so it’s not quite the huge job that moving a house on land would be, but still, this is a big change for us! From being moored right in front of the yacht club that we use as our “landbase”—with mangroves on one side, the wide open Darwin Harbour and a flat horizon in the distance on the other side—the F/V Sonofagun was towed almost to the top of Sadgroves Creek last Wednesday. We’re now one-and-a-half kilometres away from the yacht club, and the trip ashore is five times what it used to be!

Despite the huge distance I now have to go to get to work (and the nasty new outboard motor that I have had to learn how to use, because rowing ashore would take over an hour) I am loving it here. The spot is deep among the mangroves of a National Park. Sheltered from the Southerly winds and choppy water of the Top End’s “Dry Season”, I’ll be able to work in peace and quiet all through this windy time of year. The mangroves here are denser, deeper—hemming us in on both sides, and no horizon line to rest one’s gaze upon—and there are so many more birds moving through the foliage…not just the usual sea eagles, kites, terns, gulls, pelicans or cockatoos, but little passerines, small and brilliant blue kingfishers, rainbow lorikeets by the hundreds, frog mouths and maybe even night jars. There’s much more activity in the water, too…fish (and lord-knows-what-else) constantly splashing, gurgling and boiling the surface of the green, glass-smooth waters of the creek. We are also just two boats away from the floating crocodile trap that sits at the intersection of the Sadgroves’ headwaters, so I guess we’ll be seeing many more of those big lizards, now, too. Hoo boy.

The nights are darker, and we can no longer see the lights of the city—the stacked Lego towers of illuminated units or the blazing halogen lamps from the industrial wharves—nor hear the constant rumble of bulldozers and forklifts. Almost no traffic on the water where we are, as most yacht people live along the bend where the creek opens up into Francis Bay (you can see the dense lines of white boats in the satellite image)…the only dinghies that go past us are Captain Seaweed’s (he’s at the very top of the creek, and spitting distance from the croc trap) and a few weekend fishermen. It’s like we’ve moved to a sleepy little town in the mountains, after the hustle and bustle of living in Francis Bay, where a fishing ramp unloads speedboats all day, most days of the week, and the big fishing trawlers, work boats, and tugboats come and go, creating huge bow waves in their wake that used to send us rolling like a barrel.

I’ll try and get some pictures to do the place justice! I really hope to capture what it’s like to live up a quiet, green, serpentine creek…surrounded by crocodiles and miles of tangled mangroves.

aboard the M/V sonofagun, Darwin, Australia, life

We’ve moved house! (boat)

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aboard the M/V sonofagun, books + poetry, Inspirations, life

dragonfly

giant dragonfly

The dragonfly at rest on the doorbell—
too weak to ring and glad of it,
but well mannered and cautious,
thinking it best to observe us quietly
before flying in, and who knows if he will find
the way out? Cautious of traps, this one.
A winged cross, plain, the body straight
as a thermometer, the old glass kind
that could kill us with mercury if our teeth
did not respect its brittle body. Slim as an eel
but a solitary glider, a pilot without bombs
or weapons, and wings clear and small as a wish
to see over our heads, to see the whole picture.
And when our gaze grazes over it and moves on,
the dragonfly changes its clothes,
sheds its old skin, shriveled like laundry,
and steps forth, polished black, with two
circles buttoned like epaulettes taking the last space
at the edge of its eyes.

The Vanity of The Dragonfly, by Nancy Willard

Update: Yes, it’s real, I found it half-drowned in a rainwater collecting drum the night before. I took it out and set it in a pot plant for the night, but by morning it was dead. It was easy to find and identify, simply by Googling “large dragonfly”. It is a member of the dragonfly family Aeshnidae, called ‘Darners’ in English. This one is Epiaeschna heros, called a Swamp Darner in English. It occurs, as a native taxon, in multiple nations. In many places in the U.S. it is classified as vulnerable, in some states it is ‘imperiled’ or ‘critically imperiled’.

What I find most intriguing about this particular dragonfly is that it has the markings and colouring found on Darners in North America. The Australian Swamp Darner, Austroaeschna parvistigma, is black and dull-coloured. I understand that this family of dragonflies is migratory, though it is hard to believe that my nighttime visitor came from quite that far away!

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aboard the M/V sonofagun, Darwin, Australia, life

Happiness is an unmade bed

dude in red egyptian cotton 2

On my days off, our pussycat, Dude, crawls into bed as soon as Kris gets up…4:30 a.m. on work days. Dude likes to sleep on Kris’ pillow (like many single pets, he thinks he’s human) beside me. When I get up a little later I don’t have the heart to disturb the warm ball of golden fluff lying so still and contented in our bed, and so let him be. The virtues of a neatly made bed are overrated, and I would much rather enjoy the sight of a small lion with its head on a pillow, dreaming a small lion’s untroubled dreams.

As February gives way to March, and time rills on irrevocably, I have been taking more photographs, doing more sketches, and spending more pampering time with Dude, in general. I am making the most of what time is left before we have to say goodbye to this sweet-tempered and gentle cat…the best cat we’ve ever had.

Kris and I have got a big 5-year trip looming…by sailboat to South Africa, and then to South America…that we’ve been planning and preparing for, for years. We’re nearly ready and when we go in 9 months’ time, we won’t be able to take Dude with us (the good news is that a lovely older lady has already asked to take him, so he’ll go straight to a loving home) For one thing, the boat’s not cat-safe…we would probably lose him during an ocean passage; secondly, if he does survive all of South Africa, the Amazon, the Caribbean, and return with us, Australia’s draconian quarantine laws wouldn’t allow him back into the country.

The trip, of course, will mean leaving so much more than Dude behind. But I am focusing and steeling myself for this little one, I think, as practice for the bigger partings to come. If such a tearing apart can be practiced.

2014 is shaping up to look like The Year of Letting Go. It’s a hard lesson, and doesn’t ever seem to get easier with each loss or loosening.

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