There’s an old Russian fable about a scorpion and a frog. The scorpion wants to cross the river, and a hesitant frog falls for the assurance that if the scorpion stings, they would both drown. And drowning is exactly what happened midway through the river crossing. The story goes that the dying frog was told: “I am sorry, but I couldn’t resist the urge. It’s in my nature.” Yeah, real nice, and best to not be involved with such nasty plans. There’s an even older Persian fable which tells a similar tale involving a scorpion and a turtle. This time the turtle survives due to its tough shell, and offers the advice: “Truly have the sages said that to cherish a base character is to give one’s honour to the wind, and to involve one’s own self in embarrassment.” Wise words indeed. I’ve been the tortoise.
The final conversation I had with my mother was: “Come and pick up your cat, or I’ll get her put down.” Not the sort of conversation you’d normally imagine having with your mum, that’s for sure. Except things were never normal. It wasn’t a joke either, and the cats life really did hang in the balance. The cat was an innocent party to the story, and so was duly saved. The cheeky minx got to enjoy a few more happy years lording it over the dogs, whilst teaching the other cat (who’d previously thought it was a dog, and as such was mild mannered and pleasant) all the tricksey feline ways.
My mother was a really difficult lady. Volatile. Loved a drink. Went through a few marriages. You’d see the difference with other families, and you’d know. After school camp, all the other parents picked their kids up. You’d wait a bit. Then wait a bit more. You’d be the last person there. Then reality would kick in, you’d jump on the bus, catch the connecting bus, and make your way home. Food and shelter were kind of important to survival, but I kept my distance from them all, and still do.
At one point she married an even more volatile bloke. It didn’t end well, as you’d expect. All I recall now was blood and tears, and my grandfather stepping in and taking us kids for a while, then we never saw the volatile bloke again. It was good to be rid of him anyway, because he’d turned the house against me. He clearly had some issues. My older sisters saw the way the wind was blowing, and decided that it was either Chris, or them. For a couple of years, maybe around the age of eight or nine, the household collectively decided that I was gay, and weren’t afraid to tell me about it. It was a strange couple of years that, and when people ask me nowadays: Surely you miss your family? The only reasonable reply is: What the f..k? Have you met them?
As part of keeping my distance from them, I always had a good network of friends and acquaintances. Observing how their families were frankly more functional was kind of nice, and most of them made me feel welcome. You got the impression that they knew. However, it was always difficult having friends visit. An old friend used to tell me that my mother used to say to him: “If you don’t eat your vegetables, you’ll get bowel cancer and die!” Like, who says that to kids? On the other hand, it’s worth noting that her mother was institutionalised, so perhaps things could have been worse. The things I’ve seen! But a bloke learns how to be a decent person by watching just how wrong things can go.
When there wasn’t another bloke in the house (usually something of a relief), that meant the adult bloke activities fell onto my shoulders. Even as a young teenager, if the car needed servicing, just for one example, I had to organise that. My mother would ask me pointedly, ‘How did you know how to do that?’ And there was no answer to that question, but it hardly surprises me that I turned into a responsible adult. The adults weren’t being adults.
My mother put me into a very hippy dippy school for disadvantaged kids between years seven and eight. It wasn’t a bad high school, you just got the impression that the authorities were happy if the kids simply turned up. Wasn’t much of an education though, and when my grandfather learned of this, he stumped the mad cash to send me to a more English than the English grammar school. It was a bit of a mind trip going from hippy dippy to ultra formal, although the education was significantly better.
Despite living in a volatile house, the after school organised fights between the grammar school kids were a surprise. No doubts the ultra formal school environment breeds pressures. Not knowing the first thing about fighting, but seeing how things rolled, I took myself to the local Dojo and trained for many years under a truly accomplished Sensei. He scared me a bit, but was always fair and just, unlike my family. Despite it all, it’s been my fortune to have come into the presence of some very strong male role models who have taught me much. And it doesn’t take too many wins in the after school organised fights for the other kids to realise that you’re trouble, and you then get left alone.
Sadly, those skills had to be turned on my mother. Maybe when I was about fifteen, I was sitting at the kitchen table doing my homework. She was in a foul mood, you could tell she was looking for an outlet. As a kid you learn to read the room, mostly as a self defence tool, and the room sure wasn’t hard to read that day. I now don’t even recall the discussion, but she’d been drinking, and unwisely took a whack at my head. The funny thing about a roundhouse blow is that on the receiving end you have plenty of warning. Shields!!! A quick block of the swing deflected the energy of the blow. To her surprise her arm was then locked and she found herself pushed against the refrigerator. “I wouldn’t do that again if I were you” she was warned. And she never did. Much later she said how proud she was of my actions and “that made a man of me”. I wasn’t much into that perspective.
Once employed in a full time job, I left home, never to look back. Some of my hard earned mad cash went into getting some help to deal with the experience, and that was a good thing. But I made the decision to keep my distance from them all.
Many years later, and just prior to our marriage, Sandra tried to reconnect with all of them, even my dead beat father. It was an impressive effort based on pure altruism. The reality was much closer to those awful videos of sealer’s clubbing beautiful little baby harp seals to death on the beach in some remote locale for their fur. Far out. And once they had an angle back into my life, the family went all out to completely ruin the wedding day with their antics. It was utterly bonkers. Sandra came away from the experience with a deeper understanding of the realities of the situation.
I really never did look back. An inheritance was dangled at me as a proverbial carrot. Ignored. My mother died maybe five or six years ago. For me, the death had occurred many long years beforehand. I’d had plenty of time to grieve, and even more time to learn. My best guess is that she had what is known as undiagnosed ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’, but I’m no professional in that field, I just had lot’s of first hand experience and observation. That monster can travel in families too. My understanding is that at the core of the disorder, is a dislike of oneself. And if such a person can’t like themselves, then they’ll seriously hate anyone who has a relationship with them. It really is a no-win situation, and the best thing you can do when encountering such a person is to run like f..k. After all, they’re scorpions!
If you’ve made it this far, respect!
A few weeks ago we finally managed to crack apart the large wedge shaped rock which had previously defeated our efforts. This week, we broke apart the final few chunks of that rock so that they could be more easily moved. Even broken into smaller chunks, they’re still heavy rocks and a take fair bit of effort to relocate. Still, the effort is worthwhile because the rocks are being used in the low gradient path project.
As a reminder, we drill 18mm / 0.7 inch holes into the rock in a line. Then an electric jackhammer is used to force pointy bits into the holes. That has the result of splitting the rock apart along the line of the drill holes. It’s the same process that the Romans used two millennia ago, without the electric tools of course.
A serious beast of a power wheelbarrow is then used to walk the heavy rocks back up the hill. I’m not at all sure I could move the rocks in a human powered wheelbarrow! Getting them into the bucket is far harder than dumping them out at the other end of the journey.
And all those large rocks are being used as retaining walls on the new low gradient path project. That project is only about a third of the way through, but there’s no hurry with it. It will take a lot of rocks to complete.
We’re also continuing to clean up the old loggers mess. There’s enough fallen timber for a few decades of firewood down there. I’ve given up wondering what was in their minds, and instead am spending that energy on cleaning it up. We do one little area at a time. The fallen trees get cut into three foot lengths and stacked to dry out. In a few weeks time, we’ll cut them into firewood lengths, then split them. The firewood will then be stored out in the sun to further dry out. You want to get firewood down to about 14% moisture content, otherwise the steam and acids produced on combustion will damage the steel in wood heaters.
There are also a lot of left over tree stumps just laying around. The soil gets removed from them, and we roll the stumps into a pile and burn them off. Winter is a great time to do this work, because no matter how cold the day is, you get very hot. It’s hard work.
Observant readers will note that in the above image, the moisture can be seen in the core of the tree logs. It will dry out just fine. And there are a couple of examples of old randomly dropped trees.
In that area is another of the mystery stone circles, which sit on contour with the other stone circle. I’m really not certain what the stone circles were used for. Certainly they’re not natural. This stone circle is missing a stone, which we’ll correct sooner or later. I’ll probably fill the circle with soil and plant an oak tree. That’s what my gut feeling tells me to do.
Near to that stone circle, we took a good look at a very large rock. I like the look of this large rock because it has many cracks and fissures. This is a good sign that this may provide us with a whole lot of smaller yet still large rocks for the low gradient path project. It even has a bit of water weeping from a fissure.
Interestingly, there is a wide diversity of ferns growing here on the property, and during this work we discovered a very large patch of the common maidenhair fern (Adiantum aethiopicum).
Onto the flowers:
The temperature outside now at about 10am is 7’C (44’F). So far this year there has been 496.8mm (19.6 inches) which is up from last weeks total of 488.5mm (19.2 inches)