Chatty rivers + raincoats

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A bit more of my Lockdown One sort-of-memoir!

Read chapter one 

Read chapter two

Read chapter three

Read chapter four

Read chapter five

Read chapter six

Read chapter seven

Read chapter eight

Read chapter nine

Read chapter ten

Read chapter eleven

Read chapter twelve

Read chapter thirteen

Read chapter fourteen

Read chapter fifteen


Day 28 – 1660 steps

I woke up feeling confused. I had dreamt that I got a job as a tour assistant with Kanye West. When the tour wound up he hugged me and gave me a new Macbook Pro. In the dream I was so happy, but when I woke up it took me a little while to realise I did not have a new Macbook Pro in real life. This was quite disappointing.

What wasn’t disappointing was the head full of ideas I had for my mum book. I made tea and started writing, deciding to push on with this burst and walk with the dogs later on instead of doing my usual early route.

My usual feelings of guilt and worry at changing up my routine were much more easily assuaged and I settled in to finish the third chapter and launch into chapter four.

The gardener came (thanks to the landlord) and tipped out two trays of seedlings I had been growing. It’s weird. Every time they come there is always something amiss. They mowed my jasmine plant to the ground. Smashed a pot and left the plant and dirt spilling out on the ground. Mowed the edges of the tomato plants, scattering fruit and leaves across the grass. Hacked down some cacti. Pulled out a monstera.  I could go on and on. 

I looked at the seedlings and felt sad for them. Their little roots exposed and their little pots all tipped over, soil mysteriously missing. Sigh.

In writing breaks I watched a TED Talk about fungi, trying to understand how so much fungi could be packed into such a small space. I found out it’s pronounced FUN-JI and that fungi not only repair and nurture habitat, but that they seem to be able to control pests too. Inroads are even being made into using fun-ji to fight disease in humans. They seem to have superpowers, so I take back my compassionate thoughts about the fungi stompers.

Day 29 – 4159 steps

Pouring. Hammering down. Shit.

The first day restrictions are being lifted from state 1 to stage 2. A man in his ‘70s has died after ingesting a death cap fungi. I hoped it was not the man I saw riding his bike with a bag full of mushrooms the day before.

I could feel the pull of work every day when I wake up. Perhaps because I have realigned my days that way? I needed to allow myself to feel the pull of the outdoors, to make that my priority and know that the rest will fall into place.

I think it’s all part of being ridiculously responsible. It’s something I learned from an early age and I am ruled by it, even now.

I find it hard to grasp that nobody cares if I don’t prioritise work every day. As long as the work gets done, I tell myself. But I am unconvinced.

I should work, if I’m not walking, I reasoned. Instead I got in the car and buy brightly coloured wool and make plans for a simple, stripey crocheted blanket.

I Facetimed my daughter Rin from the craft shop, showing her the scant choice of chunky yarns she needs after cooped-up types have picked them over and bought most of the best colours. She chooses mustard and I buy her some circular knitting needles too.  Then I go to her house and give her a refresher lesson in crochet, helping her to make a start on her own blanket.

I bought a raincoat with a hood too, choosing a roomy black men’s one because the womens’ styles are all super fitted and uncomfortable.

I took the dogs to the park after all that, to try out my new coat. The rain has eased a little and there are giant puddles on the gravel parking area. The dogs tear through the water and run in huge circles on the grassy areas. If I turn my back and walk away or crouch down and wave one arm, they quickly come back to me.

There was nobody else at the park, but I could hear voices coming from the other side of the river. Or maybe from in the river? Perhaps someone was boating? Probably not in this weather, I decided.

I baked bread in the afternoon, the first loaf in many weeks. I think I’m feeling better, I decide, briefly seeing the bread as a sure sign of this. But then I check myself because these are the days when you get lulled into a false sense of okayness and stop doing the things that make you feel okay. And then you fall in a heap, I warned me.

Tomorrow I’m walking. In my new hooded raincoat if it’s raining. No matter what. I told myself.

Two days earlier I had bought Lucia Osborne-Crowley’s book I Choose Elena and promptly read half of it before bedtime. There were echoes of my own life in Lucia’s book and I was feeling compelled to process those bits. They were slipping out as I stepped my way around the leafy bands near my home.

We wilt under the predatory gaze of men who turn us into objects for public consumption. We become so conspicuous in this light that we start to think it is all we are. In this light, we wish to be invisible. In this light, we dream we will disappear. – Lucia Osborne-Crowley, I Choose Elena

I was at a point where I felt both too visible and too invisible. In response I was trying to make myself again. If I’m going to be seen and not seen, I want to know more about who I am.

It was not the first time I had worked hard to build myself into something strong and me.

After fraught teenage years and one significant failed relationship in my early 20’s I’d built myself a new me. But then, through my 30’s and 40’s that identity was chipped away at. The relationship I was in during these two decades was unhealthy at best and traumatic at worst. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t make things right, I couldn’t stop the person I was with from behaving in ways that distressed me. This upended everything I’d thought a family and a relationship should be.

Eventually I was able to break free, but my identity was shattered triggering a breakdown and I was left with an unwelcome dose of PTSD. My days were filled with feelings of guilt, shame and unworthiness. I felt I’d failed in my duty of care to myself, my kids, the people I knew … even the people I didn’t know. It was a lot. No wonder I broke.

My body broke down too, and it was this that I’d started to dig deeper into.

Why had I become so physically unwell, unable to be active, feeling crap most of the time?

Finding out was a bit of a project, to say the least …

Day 30 – 10136 steps

The park and I were so glad to see one another. No knee twinges or sore ankles were bothering me and I made my way to the dirt track that ran behind the wetlands in record time.

It was muddy and quiet here, but further on groups of relieved people were gathering near the playground in the distance. Adjusted COVID-19 restrictions meant groups of ten could now gather if they maintained that 1.5m distance. This was a big shift from the groups of two that had been the rule for the previous 7 or so weeks.

I walked through The Crying Forest and onto the bridge, determined to avoid the workmen on the other side of the wetlands and looking hopefully for the cormorant.

He wasn’t on his usual branch, but as I scanned the area I spotted him in the water, diving for fish. He noticed me too, then continued to duck under the water, disappearing for several seconds at a time before surfacing and shaking himself off. How bloody delightful.

I left him to his fishing adventures and headed through the trees towards the freeway, onto another bushy, muddy path. The greener and muddier the better, I figured. Fewer people walked here and I didn’t see a single cyclist which I liked. It’s not that I have anything against cyclists. It’s more that I feel like I am in their way. Finding a path that was cyclist-free meant my walk was less worrisome and more meditative.

I was listening to Sue’s book and she was explaining some of the work of Esther Sternberg who wrote a book called Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being. In this book Esther suggests that green might spark what she calls a “default mode for our brains.”

“It was the background we went on in primordial times, the background that told us we were safe, the background that lulled us to sleep against a darkening sky.”

I liked this idea that we were in our most natural state amongst greenery and it most certainly felt true for me. When I was wandering through the trees, light streaming between the branches, fallen leaves and fungi and mud at my feet, patches of luminous grass skirting the path I was able to breathe, feel, live more deeply. It was this feeling that kept drawing me back now. This sort of at-oneness with myself and my surrounds. Sometimes it was fleeting and I was distracted out of this default by other walkers or wet dog noses or looming fears. But other times this feeling clicked into place effortlessly and I almost didn’t notice that I had shifted into a feeling of forest flow. 

Flow is that happy hum you feel when your brain and body are working in sync together creating excellent momentum and getting the task at hand done pleasurably and satisfyingly, shrugging off distractions.

Forest flow takes this even further and pushes you to an almost meditative state as you move within your green surrounds.

Add an ‘er’ to flow and you get flower, which is a pretty excellent metaphor for what happens when flow kicks in.

Flower – From late 14c. in English as “blossoming time,” also, figuratively, “prime of life, height of one’s glory or prosperity, state of anything that may be likened to the flowering state of a plant.” As “ the best, the most excellent; the best of its class or kind; embodiment of an ideal.”

Blossoming time! Have you ever heard of anything quite so lovely?

I walked past the spot where I’d seen the beautiful fungus a couple of days before. It was still there, surrounded by many others, all proudly displaying their prettily patterned tops. I gently used the toe of my sneaker to unearth one. I saw that it had a dome shaped bottom like the ones  illustrated in the story about the man who had died.

These mushrooms did not look dangerous at all. They were white with gorgeous lacy markings and not unlike something you’d see in the supermarket.

But eight people had been admitted to hospital over the past fortnight with poisoning from fungi that looked a bit like this. Five ended up in intensive care and one man died.

“One bite of a death cap mushroom is enough to kill someone, causing severe gastroenteritis and eventually organ failure,” the article had read.

“The death cap is responsible for 90 per cent of mushroom poisoning deaths.”

I remembered the death cap in Charlotte Wood’s book The Natural Way of Things. It was a sort of terrible, hopeful yet elusive symbol in that story. I was surprised that it was popping up so prolifically in the suburbs of my city.

Apparently the death cap was not the only dangerous mushroom lurking in suburban parks.

“One of the most common causes of poisoning is the yellow-staining mushroom, which looks similar to a standard field mushroom,” another article about the recent spate of mushroom poisoning read.

Ref https://www.theage.com.au/national/elegant-but-deadly-why-death-caps-are-a-forager-s-nightmare-20190425-p51h4k.html

Suddenly it dawned on me. I realised why the man-in-the-denim-jacket had been jumping on the mushrooms several weeks ago! He must have thought they were death caps. Or yellow-staining mushrooms. Or some other dastardly variety.

He was not a monster after all! He was trying to be a lifesaver, stomping on potentially dangerous fungi to stop mushroom novices from picking them and eating them.

Just like skinny jean man, mushroom-stomping man was likely one of the good guys. It was unnerving how often I was wrong about people and I wondered if I would ever unlearn this anxious thinking.

I didn’t stomp on the mushrooms, because I was conscious of the environmental good that fungi do, too. Instead I left them where they grew and hoped that nobody mistook them for field mushrooms. There were, I reasoned, lots of these guys growing in this park and others, and as much as I cared about the health of other humans, it was not my job to get between the walkers and the shrooms.

If you’re eating wild mushrooms “leave half for the coroner” Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne mycologist Teresa Lebel advised in the article.

Gulp. I walked on.