One foot in sea, and one on shore

We are sitting a really nice house for our friends this month. It’s a nice change from the boat…electricity, running water, modern kitchen, all appliances, spotless and sparkling everything, two pretty cats…not to mention staying here cuts my morning commute by an hour and a half!

But what’s an artist to do in a sleek modern household on her day off, when both lunch and dinner have been made on the touch-operated glass stove top, the dishes are in the dishwasher, the laundry’s in the washing machine (that plays tunes like a calliope), the floors are gleaming, the carpet’s vacuumed, the spa’s been chlorinated, the plants watered, the cats fed…and you’re one of those people that don’t watch television?
Bella


You run away!
Creative mess on the boat

We locked the house and went back to our houseboat up the creek for the day…to drink rainwater, battle sandflies, fry eggs on a camping stove, boil coffee in a blackened pot, and make a creative mess.

Untitled

On the boat, books, art materials, and tools line every shelf, fill every drawer and storage box.


I’m allowed to get paint on the tables, spray paint things on the floor, bang nails into the wood, strew paper and canvases across the bed, tape art to the walls, and play loud music. The place is a disaster area.

I’m surrounded by things that my friends have made.
Creative mess on the boat
There are pages cut from magazines, stashes of fabric and paper, sketchbooks, poetry books, Plasticine clay, half-finished paintings, pompoms, glitter, sharks’ teeth, fish skins, skulls, the wing bones of sea birds, all sorts of curious objects on the ledges…
Creative mess on the boat
…the sort of stuff that sparks ideas, makes you hungry to work with your hands, and sets the imagination off and running.
Creative mess on the boat

We left Sonofagun, happy and our creative appetites satisfied, at sunset. Back at the unit, the cats were eager to be let in; hot showers, cold beer, and a fiery vindaloo were waiting; also, the first truly crisp, cold Dry Season night had moved into Darwin.

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more.
    Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
    To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
    And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
    Into hey nonny, nonny.

It’s the best of both worlds, really.

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Wild weekend

Tropical cyclone Marcus paid Darwin a special visit last Saturday. It was called a Category 2 cyclone; though the damage it caused has many people questioning that classification. Hundreds of trees down, power lines bursting into flames, some suburbs still without power three days later.

Everyone assumed I would stay at a friend’s place…the way I do, two or three days out of every week, already.

But Sonofagun is my home. She’s all we’ve got. And in a cyclone, you stay with your boat because your presence can make the difference between a boat that makes it, or sinks. She’s also one of the biggest boats up the creek…the bigger the boat, the bigger the responsibility. Can you imagine how I’d feel if I was safely ashore when my monster boat breaks her ropes and goes smashing the smaller boats around me at the height of the cyclone?

As it was, I did have to crawl out front once, with the maelstrom howling overhead, because the rubber guard that protects my rope from chafing against sharp steel had come undone; also, my crazy fig and morinda trees were catching the wind too well, and very close to pitching overboard, so I finally just lay them down on the deck.

All in all, I am glad I stayed with Sonofagun, though I didn’t sit down until the sun emerged and weather maps announced that Marcus was finally past Darwin, some four hours after it started. I had two candles lit the entire time, my little nod to The Powers That Be, and chain-smoked while standing on the bridge, like a third candle.

For me, Tropical Cyclone Marcus ended as soon as it had moved away. I sort of assumed that the cyclone was over for the rest of Darwin, too. It wasn’t until the next day, Sunday, that I heard there was no electricity throughout Darwin…friends were cooking on barbecues, or had to go in search of gas camping stoves. Roads were blocked off by fallen trees. For 48 hours everyone was advised to boil their water before drinking. All the food in freezers and fridges had to be cooked on the spot, or moved into cool boxes with bags of ice. Candles and camping lights were being used inside houses at night, and those sleek modern apartment buildings without windows were unbearably hot and airless. My friends disappeared from social media…the batteries in their phones were dying. The city was so quiet at night, and there were no lights in the distance when I looked in the direction of the CBD. It was like being the last human on earth.

It’s times like these that living off the grid shows its real mettle.  By Saturday night, life on Sonofagun was back to the way it has always been…cool and fresh, thanks to sea breezes and all the rain we’d had; the solar panels had kept phones, the internet thingamajig, my laptop, Bluetooth speakers, camera, even the vacuum cleaner, charged. I was soon playing music and painting  and reading and looking things up on the web. My kitchen was stocked with the canned and dry food that I normally keep—not in case of emergencies but, simply, because I do not own a fridge. There were 800 litres of clear rain water in my tanks. My lights blazed all night. The only inconvenience (pure coincidence) was that my LPG tank was nearly empty, and would run out by Monday morning. So I looked up cold brewing on the internet, and made a primitive version of coffee in a jug with water, and left it standing overnight. It was okay.

More importantly, we’re okay, Sonofagun and I. Made it through another storm. It does not mean more, nor less, than just that. It’s not bravery, it’s not heroic. Stood and watched until something needed to be done, did the thing, and then went back to stand some more. When it was over, forgot about it, and found something else to do. Lucky this time. That’s all. That’s enough.

Paradise Found

Paradise Found

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

excerpt from Little Gidding, T.S. Eliot

I went away for two years, to marvel at vine-hung jungles up muddy rivers, at tepuys rising like wizards fortresses out of a sea of greenery, at waterfalls so high that half the water had blown away on the wind before a drop reached the ground where I stood. I clung to mules as we descended near-vertical mountain paths in the Andes. I bedded down for the night in bus stations, in traveller’s inns that felt like army barracks, in 18th century mansions filled with antiques, and in a crash pad in New York—eight Latin Americans in one room, of whom one spoke English.

I stayed with locals in disparate settings of 18th century charm, or 18th century poverty…in a clapboard house sinking into the squishy mud on the edge of a filthy canal, in a house in the old slave quarters of a medieval city, where the young prostitutes drank and argued on the old cobblestones, and  I spent one night in a communist-style block of Cuban apartments where the water and electricity came on for a few hours each day, but every resident owned an instrument and the building twitched its hips to salsa music, morning till midnight.

Naturally, when the time came to return home, I was a little worried that life in Darwin, Australia, would seem poorer for all the places I’d been.

I needn’t have worried.

As the old cliché goes, “There’s no place like home.” Back up the creek on our houseboat, SonOfAGun, the mangroves swayed in the sea wind, and morning sunlight lay slick on green-gold water like fine olive oil. For many months I was utterly spellbound.

When Kris and I moved our boat to this spot, I loved it right off the bat: the solitude, the natural surroundings, the quality of the light, the chi of living surrounded by water. I didn’t think it was possible to love this place any more, until I came back from my wandering and found that I did.
paradise found 2

“Paradise Found” was made for the exhibition “Gypsies, Vagabonds, and Wild Mad Women”. I priced it to discourage anyone from buying it and, luckily, no one did. I’m glad, because I want to live with this one for a while. It’s the beginning of what I suspect may be a bunch of love letters to my home and my life.
paradise found 3
It’s composed of watercolours, acrylics, collaged papers (linocut, textured or painted beforehand) and a bit of colored pencil. I’ve just uploaded the image to my Society6 shop, so it’s now available as a fine art print on acid-free rag paper.

Living. Space.

living::space

Sure, I miss traveling, miss South America, miss the Latino joie de vivre, miss speaking castellano, miss my love, miss the aquamarine magic of the Caribbean…but I have got to say:

Fuck, I love my living room…

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…

We’ve moved house! (boat)

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.