Four months in: a season simple ignorance

by Alissa

I grew this! Or, the slugs didn't get this one! Or, I at least dropped the seed in the ground and watered it sufficiently to reach this day.

I grew this sunflower! Or, I at least dropped the seed in the ground and watered it sufficiently to reach this day.

Last week marked the four-month anniversary of my arrival in Newcastle. The thing about our progress here that stands out the most to me at this moment  is our blissful simple ignorance. We are becoming comfortable. We know how to get around and have figured out most of the things we need for daily living. The sunflowers that survive in the garden are starting to bloom. They have been there so many mornings in a row now I am beginning to think of them as mine and forget the blank space that existed at the back of the garden before I planted them.

But we really know very little about this place. Every now and then a scrap of new information will come our way and remind us of the fact. For example, our favourite tide pool beach is actually a hot spot for nude sunbathing. The stumps on Laman Street outside the library were the result of a four-year battle over some massive, much-loved yet dangerous fig trees.  I still can’t pronounce the name of most towns more than a 10 km distance from Newcastle. Pokolbin? Wattagong?

We are living here without cognition of most of the historical freight and baggage of the place. What happened here before, as much as we may learn about it later, will always be outside our experience. Beyond our personal guilt. I suppose that is true of every new generation that is born in a place, but we’re coming in at the half-way mark, and the jokes and references that local people our age get will be like a second language to us learned late in life, after the possibility of true fluency is gone. We approach most things with the fresh and unseeing eyes of foreigners. I’m hoping this has more potential as poetry than just marking us as slow. The disenfranchised inertia of our drift from place to place is something I need to make a concerted effort to overcome.

It is summer now, one pleasant day spilling into the next, time punctuated by the occasional blazing hot day of desert winds from the interior and by the arrival this week of precious Christmas mail from friends in Montana and Canada. I left the Eucalyptus branch tree up, just so we could hang the cool reusable tinsel that came, and we now have a fresh crop of cards atop the piano, in addition to the ones from 2009 that Octavia fished out of my files and scattered on the floor back in December when we hadn’t yet received any holiday greetings for 2012. We put them up anyway and felt reasonably festive. Glad tidings of great joy are always current.

Every now and then I panic a little about something–What will we possibly do for the week Ace is away at his conference? I’m only partly over the fatigue of our summer apart, and we’ve rapidly gotten used to having him home while the university is on summer break. What will we do with the vast blankness of our January calendar?

But if I look at the day in front of me, there are plenty of things done and undone and awaited to keep us satisfied and/or at least in motion:

  • The grape tomatoes from the seedlings T gave us are sprawling and fruiting. We built a cage for them yesterday.
  • O wants to ride her big-girl bike but can’t quite pedal yet.
  • We have experienced the wonder of the $2.50 Sunday Funday transit pass–all the way from Newcastle to Sydney on the train (almost 3 hours) plus city transit and ferries. For $2.50 per adult. We barely scratched the surface in Sydney. Of what we saw of the city–it was Disneyland-busy with New Year’s Eve crowds–the Botanical Gardens I will want to return to again and again.

In Sydney, we met up with friends of friends from the States who have been extremely generous with their own hard-earned knowledge of Oz, and who graciously took us in for the night. That night in Sydney was my first night away from Newcastle since coming to Australia. The next day was New Year’s Eve. We originally had planned to stay in town for the truly spectacular fireworks, but we discovered a few days prior that O is terrified of fireworks. Instead we hopped a nearly empty afternoon train back to Newcastle. Coming back to this our now loosely familiar town, we enjoyed walking home from the station through the cozy city center. The air felt light and clean and comfortable, Newcastle manageably knowable after the massive scale of Sydney. Now to start to know it.