Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Relaxing Weekend.

We had miserable wet weather all week. Come the weekend and it turned the bend. Today was a glorious sunny autumn day. Bright and sunny, not a cloud in the sky and not a breath of a breeze.

Melbourne is famed for wet dreary winters so we made the most of the weather while it lasts.

Once again we stayed close to home and headed to another spot in Plenty Gorge Park. With the whole family in tow we arrived at this picnic area. We’ve been there a couple of times before and for some unfathomable reason it is always virtually empty.
We parked ourselves for a BBQ lunch.

One of the locals an Australian magpie (Cracticus tibicen) came panhandling. The second half of their scientific name means “flute-player”. They have a lovely warbling song.

From the picnic area you can see down into the gorge which cuts through Melbourne’s northern suburbs.The park is very different from places like Fitzroy Gardens. These are all native trees, mostly Eucalyptus species with a smattering of wattles (acacia) and others scattered through.

Because most Oz trees are evergreen there is no autumn flush of colour like the one I posted last weekend.Many eucalypts shed their bark rather than their leaves.Some of the smooth barked species end up with lovely mottled patterns as the bark comes away.It was amazingly still; I shot this rather ordinary looking pond to show how glassy it was.In fact the water was so still it was reflecting like a mirror.

I captured another local, a small honey eater called a Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala). They really are noisy; they live in family groups and gather together to noisily confront threats in an attempt to drive them off. We used to have a cat that was terrified of them. They should not be confused with Indian Myna birds which are an introduced pest in Oz.(Indian Myna image from Wikipedia)

In a damp spot some little fungiAnd soft green pillows of moss.Now to my WIP extract for the week.
Last week Valentina, Penelope and Natasha were “taken for a ride” by Stepan.
I have made you wait and indulged my sadistic side long enough. So here we go…

Valentina Mescova
Berlin 1948
A surreal conversation I half heard over my sobbing breath.
Stepan’s voice, ‘So your name is Natasha?’
‘I’m Stepan. I used to be a friend of your mummy,’
‘Valentina isn’t really my mummy.’
‘No I suppose she isn’t. But you do love her don’t you?’
‘Good. Are you a brave girl Natasha?’
‘Even better. Now listen carefully, I am playing a trick on my men, will you help me?’
‘I don’t like them.’
‘I don’t like them either. Now I am going to take these hoods off Valentina and her friend. Then I am going to untie them. You have to help me look after them, but I am going to make some very loud noises with my gun. It is very important you stay very quiet. Can you do that for me?’

A spatter of loose earth as he knelt down next to me, his voice in my ear. ‘Be quiet…’ Hands on my wrists, the manacles coming away. Hands on my shoulders, helping me to a sitting position. ‘I am going to take this hood off, keep your eyes and mouth closed so they don’t get full of dust.’

Light, and air. ‘No don’t wipe your eyes you’re going to get more dirt in them.’
Little hands pushing my hair away from my face. I grabbed my little girl and hugged her tight.
‘Natasha block your ears I am going to make the first noise.’
I sat stupidly as Stepan pulled his gun from its holster. Once, twice he pulled the trigger. The bullets kicking up fountains of dirt as they slammed harmlessly into the side of the hole that might have been my grave. He looked intensely at me ‘Now you’re dead, so no noise!’
He turned to Natasha, ‘Well done, but you still need to keep quiet, okay?’
She nodded solemnly.
He stepped across to Penelope.

He was rougher than he had been with me, as Stepan hauled off the hood Penelope’s. face was streaked with mud as the dust stuck to her tears. He rolled her on to her side. As he began undoing her manacles he urgently whispered to her in English. ‘As you can see no one is dead, but I have to make a fiction for my men. Pretend I am raping you and scream.’
She shook her head as if to clear it, ‘What?’
‘Scream like I am hurting you.’
Her scream was shrill, ‘Noooo!’
Stepan looked exasperated, ‘Not nearly real enough.’
He flung aside the manacles. Then Penelope really did scream. ‘Stop! You’re hurting me!’

He frowned as he twisted two of her fingers the wrong way back toward her wrist. She screamed again. He dropped her hand, she held it with her other softly moaning he smiled, ‘Much better, much more real.’
‘You bastard.’ She hissed
He smiled, ‘Play with the big boys English girl and you see what you get.’
He turned back to us, ‘Almost over, Natasha block your ears.’
She obediently stuck her fingers in her ears. His gun barked again.

Holstering the gun he squatted next to me. His eyes were intense, ‘I’m sorry for scaring the shit out of you.’ He jerked his thumb at Penelope, ‘but once she came on the scene I had no time to come up with anything better.’
‘Why this.’
‘You had been noticed which is bad enough. She made it impossible. You would have ended up in Siberia at best. It’s kinder to shoot someone.’
‘What happens now?’
He pointed, ‘You walk through those trees, straight ahead, due west two kilometres and you are in the US Zone. Patrols don’t often come here, they know we use this patch.’
‘What about you?’
‘Me? I fill in your grave and go back to my job. About your friend.’
‘Don’t tell her my family name. It will be dangerous for me if she knows it. She’ll get me what she nearly got you. And for heavens sake don’t let her do any field work in Berlin. Or anywhere, she stands out, far too pretty, far too noticeable for field work.’
‘Stepan come with us.’
‘What would I do with all those capitalists?’
‘Go! Now!’
Firmly holding Natasha’s hand I looked back before the trees hid him from me. He was pushing soil back into the empty graves.
His eyes caught mine and he smiled.
Another step and he was gone from view.


Theresa Milstein said...

You've got trees, fungi, and birds. Lovely pictures!

Laurie said...

Love the pictures and comments from your family outing!! Very nicely done and, of course, I always enjoy seeing and learning more about Australia!!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Al .. beautiful pictures .. love the explanations .. thanks & the birds to see the differences. Are your magpies 'thugs' like ours are .. they kill small birds etc here?

Love the way the eucalyptus sheds its bark and not their leaves - not sure I'd realised that before.

Cheers - Hilary

Old Kitty said...

Oooh do I like Stepan?!!!The jury is out for me on that one but at least he let them go!! :-)

Great pics! take care

Kyna said...

Your pictures of the eucalypts shedding bark reminds me of a crepe myrtle. They do the same thing, and I love it! Picnics in the park are are my favourite outings. :)

N. R. Williams said...

Nice twist. I didn't know the Eucalyptus tree sheds its bark. Interesting.
N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium.

Niki said...

I love the little fungi - so cute :) Our magpies swoop when I walk to the letterbox. they do a good job of keeping the hawks away though.

Ann said...

What lovely photos, Al. Looks like you had a lovely spot for your afternoon BBQ.

A bit tense, glad Stepan had a bit of a heart. Nice twist in character.

Ellie said...

Stunning pictures and extract. I loved the build-up of tension!

Ellie Garratt

Michelle Teacress said...

It's been such a long while since I visited, and now I'm catching up on all of your wonderful pictures of local wildlife and scenery.

It's spring here, and we're getting more rain than usual. The snow pack in the mountains is extremely high, the ground is saturated, and more rain is expected. Many people have prepared with sandbags as the creeks are expected to jump their banks this week, but nothing like the flooding you recently had.

Have a nice week. :)

Hart Johnson said...

I'm jealous of your weather! We have snow today. And the North American Magpies give a TERRIBLE squawk, though they are pretty. Funny on the birds banding to scare off threats!