I never realized how many ties my home town has on my being. Perched on the edge of the West Coast, Perth, one of the most isolated capital cities in the world. Closer to Bali, than other Australian cities, like Sydney.
Currently problematic to visit. Being subjected to closed borders. My only option was to serve a two week quarantine period.
I am stunned about find simple things take on need significance, like the weeds which grow beside pavements. Wild oats we called them as kids. Slowly turning blonde as summer gets closer. I enjoy brushing my hands across these waist high weeds. Until the construction site closest to my accommodation mows these weeds. But wait, there are a few closer to an ancient, turn of the century Old Mill, and I can swing my hand to touch them. Guildford grass, thin tiny like onion which used to grow in the lawn of my childhood house, possessing little purple flowers. And dandelions, I spot a child existing his parents car, ‘Don’t step on the dandelions,’ he yells to his older brother. Perhaps to grow to an adult with kindred reverence to verge side growths.
I’d forgotten how windy my home town was, until I encountered sea breezes again. Off the Indian Ocean, a long coast line with nothing to protect this coast from the relentless attacks, of various winds. The scent of salt, nearer the coast. I make sure to visit the coast, peer again at that ocean I’d swam in so much. Out across the water, a mere 20km away is Rottnest Island. So named by Dutch explorers who believed local endemic species, Quokka were giant rats. Shades of Princess Bride film. I try to imagine their shock at seeing black Swans, when in their world only white one exists. Born of this shock is the turn of phrase, ‘a black swan moment,’ something so unusual that it causes a gasping intake of breath. I can’t help myself taking photographs of black swans on the Swan River. And later parents and cygnets walking across a pathway, as evidence of spring new life.
Perhaps I am bias, but in my mind the Indian Ocean has a different colour, brighter, lighter closer to the edges. Reflecting brighter light as the sun sets in the west, highlighting dribbles of sun setting glows each dusk. Afternoon tones are picked up, reflected, sky and sea work together to form a relationship. Reefs, in my imagination are clearer, off shore you can see waves breaking, and I make sure to remark about this to my three year old grandson.
But I am open minded enough to notice how urban growth has happened to where my home town used to feature pine plantations, horse paddocks and market gardens. Rivers of tarmac proceed in various directions. My home town has a reputation of being spread along the coast, because locals want to get a sea view. See I am not the only who has an opinion the Indian Ocean holds therapeutic powers.
Yet close to the city, pioneers decreed what is not called King’s Park remained as undeveloped 400 hectares of bush land. I enjoy running the trails which criss-cross this pristine place. Perhaps my black swan moment is seeing stunning Kangaroo Paws wildflowers growing amid the 3,000 other local species of wildflowers. These are green and red, along with red and yellow Banksia trees which I remember my father chased for locations to place his bee hives to get the best honey. Another favourite of his was a tree we called Parrot bush. A thorny, prickly tree, which has tiny cream flowers secreted between these leaves. Another one which produced caramel like honey. We had certain names of many wildflowers, maybe not the proper titles, but nevertheless something we grew up with. A bubble of yellow was called a teddy bear flower. A colourful flower was called egg and bacon flower. We also had a name of a dramatic star purple flower, calling it a Bethlehem star. Spring in my home town is prolific with wildflowers. Being my father a bee keeper we probably knew more than others of these blooms.
Other things I am being made aware of, local limestone. Which I learn is only a million years old. A result of a ferry trip down the river, apparently quite young for a rock. I remember shapes and stones from my youth. Bursting out from scrub, along beside beaches. The epidermis of earth, in my childhood, was often wet, grainy or solid rock. Well technically not solid, you could see grains of limestone, you could carve your name in this porous rock. Not that we did.
I enjoyed also being able to meet again with my brother, sister and random cousins. Discuss again the family heritage, secrets and legends. Pry things open, excavate it. Because below the skin is buried treasure. Earth, Ocean, human forms all vessels holding something indefinable inside. My container is laced together by family.
When not able to have these exchanges, with place, people and especially family I encounter feelings of loneliness, this follows me around always in close vicinity. Once I sit, listening to music pouring out into Hay Street Mall from a local bar. Finding tears building up in my eyes.
I am prepared to concede that I am linked to a place, to a salty, dryness about air, and need to have the chance to get acclimatised again.
Flash fiction piece by Karen Lethlean
Karen Lethlean is a trying to be retired English teacher at a Senior College. Ever Present Predator is being published by Pareidolia Volume 2 Wanderkammer as part of their memoir section. She has won awards for her writing, Bum Joke was awarded a comedy writing award. She is currently writing of military services 1972-76. In another life she is a triathlete and has competed at Hawaii Ironman world championships twice.