Something good will happen

The first day of winter and I emptied the food scraps after they’d reached tipping point into the compost bin in our back garden.

It’s a tedious task but on my trudge across the back garden I sense the excitement of what I will find when I lift the lid.

Even in the cold of winter the worms scramble for cover as soon as the light shines on them, their pink ridges rippling, as they fall down from what to them must be a great height.

There are all these tiny black beetles too. They line the lip of the compost bun. Some fall off and into the decaying food below while others, like a few of the stalwart worms, cling on.

I’ve been composting myself of late, up there inside my head, a sense of not much happening beyond the regular day to day and at the same time the hope that soon enough something new will emerge. 

We have another grandchild on the way and that’s new and big.

Every day I think about this baby and the awe of my family history or at least of some aspect of that history, including the timing of my own birth. 

The daughter who carries this baby is more or less the same age now as I was when I carried her, more or less the same age as my mother when she carried me. 

My mother already had four babies by the time I came along, four live babies and one dead one. And, I had already two babies living by the time this daughter who now carries her first.

The immensity of it all.

We’ve had a cold snap of late. The coldest May day in 17 years.

What’s the point of statistics like this other than to comfort us into thinking it’s not just in our imaginations that we’re colder than usual and also in some crazy way to stave off fears of climate change and the earth warming?

My husband tells me it’s going to grow more temperate soon enough and we’re in for a dry, not so cold, winter beyond these few freezing days. As if anyone, even the bureau of meteorology, can predict the future to that extent. 

I’m wary of statistics but have no doubt about climate change. Only the optimist inside tells me something good will happen. 

This is my crazy internal mantra. Whenever anything bad happens I tell myself something good will happen. Something to offset the sadness or madness or badness of recent events, like when I cop another writing rejection, or when I find myself troubled by the recent election result and a hint of despair creeps in, not for me so much as for those asylum seekers held in detention year after year. 

I can’t shake off the thought as I put a sad face to the likes section of Facebook, when yet another horror story emerges.

Over thirty people in detention have tried to kill themselves since the election. 

An expression of sorrow or anger is not enough. 

And my mind pitches back into the past before I was born when news of what was happening to the Jewish people in Europe during the early 1940s must have trickled through the limited media of the day.

And people closed their minds to the atrocity, to the unthinkable, just as we are doing today. 

Because we feel helpless or don’t want to know. Life is hard enough without having to add the extra burden of those in trouble. And these days we have so much exposure. 

I think of what’s happening in America. The banning of abortions in Alabama and Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Talerears its head. An unthinkable future in a world that is Taliban dominated or a world in which the extreme right-wing conservative elements that breed racism and misogyny dominate in face of the fears of change. 

‘Let’s try to turn the clock back,’ these largely middle aged and old while males, say, for fear of losing their entrenched privilege. Let’s keep women back in the position of servants and let’s not let those other people whose skin is not white have too much of a say in the running of our countries. 

Let’s keep the other out. The other is a threat to the status quo. Let’s not think too much about the need to adjust to a changing world in terms of climate change because a changed world is one to which we need adjust and it’s hard enough growing old. 

It’s hard enough having to adjust to the rapid rate of technological change. The things the young people can do with their computers and gadgets that leave us far behind.

Let’s do our best to keep things as they were in the good old days. 

Of course, that doesn’t work. Change is our one great certainty. 

The worms wriggle off the walls in the compost pin whenever I pitch in an extra load and soon enough the bin will be full and I will need to let it sit a while longer till it composts and then we’ll tip it over the garden and it will enrich the soil to make way for new growth like this new baby who will soon enough enter our midst. 

Old men and trees

The other night at twilight after I’d taken the dogs on their second walk for the day – my job in the absence of my daughter and her boyfriend who were away on holidays up north – I decided to clean out the pond.

It’s a round pond, bricked around its perimeter with a deep fibreglass basin that acts to hold the water. A terracotta gargoyle watches over.

The water in the pond reaches knee height when full and we top it up only occasionally, relying on rain water to keep it healthy. But with the recent absence of rain over several months the water level reached the half way mark and the pond was joked with weeds, so I decided to cull them. 

At their best water weeds look lovely, deep green leaves and buttercup yellow flowers that open all summer long beginning in spring. 

By the beginning of autumn though only the sodden leaves remain, and the pond becomes a breeding ground for mosquitos because although it’s fitted with a pump and fountain to keep the water flowing, the pump tends to choke with mud and leaves which cause an electricity shortage that cuts out the whole system. 

So, we stopped using the pump. Hence the still water and mosquitos. 

On this particular evening,  I put on my daughter’s gum boots, the ones she bought for her student stay in Edinburgh, knee high and fleece lined. I waded in.

The weeds were heavy as sacks of flour especially as they were tangled together in great knotted clumps.  I used secateurs to cut them down to size then threw them all over the garden. 

‘Good mulch,’ my husband said from the back door. 

I’d almost dragged out the last of the weeds when I thought to use a hose to drain off the excess water but again my husband advised I’d be having to get the water to run upstream. 

Impossible. 

No, I’d need to bucket out the water, which I proceeded to do. 

When the water was at hand height, I collected another bucketful and threw it over a flowering gum nearby. 

That’s when I heard a thrashing in the leaves behind me and imagined it was one of the dogs but when I looked around there was no dog and the thrashing over the dried autumn leaves grew louder.

In the growing dark, I could make out the outline of gold fish, huge by gold fish standards and I apologised to it profusely for upsetting its home. I managed to grab the slippery beast and threw it back in. 

A grandfather of a goldfish. 

I stopped bucketing out water. 

The next day in daylight, I decided I’d locate this fish in the last of the muddy water and rehouse it in the front pond. I’d refilled the front pond weeks earlier, so there was water aplenty there. 

The point of this story? 

I had no idea we had any fish left in our back pond. I figured they’d died long ago and even more so with the water levels dropping. What space could there be left in the pond choked by weeds?

But there it was.  The grandfather gold fish. Alive and well. 

This discovery reminded me of a time twenty-five years ago when I was hoping to fall pregnant following a miscarriage in the spring of 1992.

The year before we had cleaned out the pond and loaded it with fish. 

I checked every day and over time the fish babies appeared and the sight of them gave me hope.

My last daughter is the result of that hope. 

By contrast, I’m battling a sense of hopelessness this morning after the federal election results last night, which means we will have another term of a conservative government, one which still promotes the use of coal even in the face of climate change threats.

I fear for the future of my children and their children.

All we can do is keep up the fight against the narrowness of self-interested mindlessness that refuses to acknowledge the need to change our excessive impact on the environment. 

We must not give up, grandfather fish and babies as well.

It puts me in mind of something I read recently:

A creative society is one in which old men plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.