Damn. Thursday already. The place is slowly, oh so slowly stirring into life with the soft rumble of the kettle, the scratching whisk as Rod makes up the powdered milk for the day, the vacant slurp of cereal as the first half asleep (actually mostly asleep) crew ease down at the table and start to refuel and the stir of spoons in coffee cups. We have the most gorgeous winter morning. The sky is clear, there is no frost and no wind. Hard to believe it is winter actually. Last year we were treated to three or four degrees of frost each morning which then yielded to fine, clear days. This year the wind has been cutting us up. But this morning we are being thoroughly spoilt. A fine day means we will start with cactus killing. And its all the sweeter for starting with porridge drowned in cream and christened with brown sugar.
Pete and Ben got amongst some joinery this morning on Joy’s house while the rest of the team got amongst the cactus. 81 today, 252 yesterday. The breeze stepped up a little, shifted to the south and blew in some grey that attempted to drop some rain but gave up and spared us the pain of a cold soak so far from home. Muffin break on the boundary fence, shift the line and start back. Once finished we had a poke around some ruins that are quite poignant. Here and there are scattered the signs of not just a house but a home. A child’s leather boot sole. A shattered purple vase. Fine bone China fragmented among the saltbush, carried down the slight slope by the torrents that course off the range behind which the house is hidden. A cold room sunk into the ground, still with bottles, some smashed, some intact. The remains of a kitchen and lounge room but end walls only, though they do hint at some craftsmanship in the way the stones are laid, the rooms aligned and the last vestiges of plasterwork which hang off the last remains of the fireplace. Home and hearth once the pride and joy of somebody: dreams long undone. Regardless of how often I rummage around these places it’s the ghosts of what might have been that sober me. These are monuments, not ruins, and they serve to remind us of how important it is to invest in eternal things. Do the others catch any of this? I hope so.
But we can’t be too serious all of the time and the walk around the stone walls quickly turns into tomfoolery which is due after a morning’s cactus killing. We send Andrew off on a wild goose chase – how quickly can you run back to the cars down in the gully? He took off like a startled gazelle, weaving through the saltbush and eventually disappearing out of sight and we all ambled along behind, catching up eventually. He didn’t mind but we’re all impressed at how much energy he has. He is not easily caught and it takes three of the older boys to set him up and ambush him – he is too fleet of foot for an outright chase.
We spent the afternoon back under the shed shoveling manure. Once again I am impressed with their good humour but especially their willingness to tackle any job thrown at them. They have my respect for this. I care less about skills they may or may not have. I care even less for experience, real or imagined. But I do want to see them have a go, for these are experiences they will never get in town. Its more than filling them with stories, for we are doing that too. Its about stretching them beyond the usual and showing them they are capable of much more than they ever knew they could handle. Every time we come out here they step up to the mark and “show their qualities” (apologies to Tolkien).
Joy knocked up a quince crumble and brought over some cream to top it off so we had dessert tonight after Sarah’s Secret Stew – mutton with vegetables. It was a real treat. Sarah has taken command in the kitchen and leads with confidence and surety, more so than last year. It helps that there are no other leaders in the kitchen so it is easier for her skills to be visible. But there is the leadership space as well and it is a real pleasure watching her step up to the mark and contribute in this way to our week. Everyone else chips in with preparing meals but are working under her direction. Rod and I had to back up a bit this evening as we heard ourselves telling her how to roast pumpkin with oil and paprika before we twigged to the fact that she knew as well as we did.
Now the yabbies’ are being boiled and peeled and I will be up for the Bruce’s Secret Sauce contribution shortly. That is, the Honey Garlic sauce that turns freshwater lobsters from tasting like muddy water into tasting like, well, honey garlic prawns. It’s a communal effort. Andrew is doing the cooking, while Phil and the other boys are peeling and shelling and talking nonsense. Not all nonsense to be fair. But mostly.
In the middle of it all Rod bustles in and out. Something has gone awry with the plumbing and the showers are not working. Rod has been rummaging around trying to find the fault – we are under pressure from the girls: after an afternoon under a woolshed shoveling manure they seem to think they need to sluice off. No such pressure from the lads. Rod has just been startled at the outhouse by a roo that skidded past him out of the dark with no notice. Not the usual bathroom hazard that’s for sure. My own animal adventure at midnight was mildly disconcerting. In a very black midnight pitstop I wandered up into the salt bush instead of heading to the “long drop”. At the point of relaxation I heard a strange snuffling guttural sound ahead of me. Then a few seconds later it was transmitted on my starboard quarter. And then a few seconds later from behind. I couldn’t see a thing. Then something brushed past my left leg. Bracing for something that I was going to have to fight and possibly come off second best I turned slightly into the light of the porch only to discover a very happily grinning “Silver”, a broad headed mutt of a dog which had somehow gotten out of the yard where he is usually restrained. I breathed a little easier.