On finding our lost beauty

Housemate Eve went off to the hairdresser’s one day this week (you might remember a previous mention of our mate Trent from the salon in Taree) and came back looking exceptionally glam. Her stylish appearance generated some discussion at the dinner Glorious hairtable that night, among seven of us in the 55+ age bracket, about youth and beauty. We wandered into what-is-beauty and a wide-ranging analysis of how beautiful hair – and youth – fit into the scheme of things.

The conversation got me thinking about a hairdresser’s world, which is built around young and beauty. Picture the fashion magazines at each station, the product posters, the shows that salons enter into. Every salon offers up tribute to the gods of looking good, where “looking good” equals smooth faces haloed by perfect hair.

I have yet to hear anyone sit in the chair and say, “Make me look every bit my age, please, and give me an appearance that reflects my strength of character and the hard knocks I’ve been through.” To the contrary, one says, “Get rid of the grey quick, and make me look sleek and elegant even if it’s just for 15 minutes until I hit the first breath of wind.” I had a hairdresser some years ago, who, when I speculated that perhaps I should let the grey grow in, said flatly, “Well, you’ll be finding another hairdresser in that case.” It was enough to deflect me from that suicidal path and I’ve yet to wander back to such wicked notions.

On a different planet from me lives my good friend Linda, who has a thick mass of salt and pepper curls. “I don’t lay a finger on it,” she says stoutly. “And I cut it myself. Hairdressers always want to do something with it that’s impossible to keep going and doesn’t look like me.” The thing is, Linda looks great. I mean, Linda IS great. She’s a well-regarded occupational therapist; she has a spectacular garden; she’s created sculptures and pottery that make your heart sing. She is adored by her grandchildren and has one of the best voices in our choir. Her hair frames her fabulous face and she looks exactly like who she is. She’s a walking advertisement for her fabulous self.

Twinkle in her eyeThis is a face I found on Pinterest and was considering for a post a few weeks ago. She’s haunted me since, this woman. I could look at her all day. I’d been reading “What Are Old People For?” and grappling with a paradigm that repositions elders in today’s world. Youth, with its particular flavour of beauty, gets dethroned and people like this charmer on the left have room to take their rightful place. I ask you: who would you rather spend time with? – this rollicking woman with her thick accent and mischievous stories, or a skinny stick of a 16-year-old who’s, like, rolling her eyes at you while she texts on her phone. I know how even Trent would answer, though there’s not much business for him with Babba and her red scarf.

So I’ve been imagining a new world. (I’m going to lose a few of you here, but hang on as long as you can.)

I started off thinking about a universe with no hairdressers. There’d be no silken-tressed dewy-eyed models hanging about on salon walls to make us yearn and feel inadequate and unlovable. We’d all have our own version of wash-and-wear hair. We’d pull it out of our eyes into playful ponytails or perhaps give it a buzz cut every now and then. It would curl when it wanted and we wouldn’t be overly stressed about bed-head or humidity.

….But no, I can see that’s not the whole answer. I’m taking a lesson from a charming novel I read a while ago, “The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul“, written by a real-life hairdresser who set up a salon in Afghanistan to help give women a sense of freedom, fun and self-respect. There’s no doubt that that salon, and Trent’s, and all the others, do make a contribution.

But what if Trent gave away trying to outfox Father Time and camouflage all the signs of elderhood? Instead, his objective would be to have us look like who we really are. Deeply trained in psychology and philosophy, the Trents of this new world would take our measure in a different way as we came in. They might chat with us about our ideals, hobbies, kids (and great-grandkids) – all with a view to figuring out the look that brings out our own particular self. After it was over, you’d look in the mirror and smile in total recognition. “There I am!” you’d say with delight.

The essentials would still be in place. You could still sit in the chair and pick up community gossip. You could get a cup of tea and you wouldn’t miss out on your deep scalp massage. Trent would still know how to do a scissor cut and create a Marie Antoinette hairdo for weddings or other costume parties. But the whole beauty charade! – THAT would fall by the wayside. No dazzling posters, no beauty magazines, no stands full of must-have products. No struggle to be someone you weren’t, aren’t and never will be. No more addiction to Vogue and Redken.

And when you left the salon, you’d be in the arms of a different kind of beauty, not a temporary fix based on illusion. You’d be more of who you are and would head into the wind with a new spring in your step.

...Now we're just beautiful

Remember these two? They’re another pair of favourites.

 

 

Saddle up

This post is for anyone who has an ankle or foot injury, or who has had one—or who might have one in the future.

When my doctor raised the prospect of ankle surgery a few years ago, I was deterred in my enthusiasm by the spectre of clomping about on crutches for several months. You hobble awkwardly; you throw your upper body into graceless hunched positions; you wear out your arms and wrists. I remembered these things well from a number of surgeries on the ankle that I had as a young girl. When you’re on crutches, you know you’re handicapped.

Nova knee scooterAt any rate, when I finally committed to the ankle fusion several months ago, the surgeon’s assistant suggested I check out something called a knee scooter. That caught my attention. Anything called a scooter can’t be all bad. It must have a little life to it, I thought, even if isn’t motorised.

I located one at a medical supplies store not far from us. I tried it out, whizzing around the shop, much as you’d test-drive a new Porsche—flying down the aisle past walking frames and raised toilet seats, careening around corners, applying the handbrakes to screech to a stop. The scooter won me over and I ended up buying one. (For about $350. I could have rented, but as my non-weight-bearing time is so long, it worked out cheaper to buy.)

I picked it up a week before my surgery and practiced with it regularly. Within two or three days after the operation, I was using it for short journeys through the house. It’s been my partner ever since. It has great manoeuvrability: a few sweeps of the handlebar and I can wedge into or back out of anything. It’s fast and easy. On our vast hardwood floors, one sweep of the foot will take me 2 or 3 metres. In Masters hardware store the other day, with its glass-smooth concrete floors, I effortlessly travelled at twice the speed of the pedestrians accompanying me. I felt like a kid on a skateboard.

All set for Melbourne Cup

All set for Melbourne Cup

So this post is a plug for knee scooters. I wanted to share my experience, as I hadn’t realised knee scooters existed, and judging from most people’s reaction, others hadn’t either. Maybe, with your own fractured ankle still well in the future, you also haven’t heard of it. You’d want to consider renting or buying one if you damage a foot or ankle.

But to complete the picture, let me tell you a few things they didn’t mention at the shop.

My model, the Nova, is only suitable on smooth surfaces. On grass—pitiful. On gravel—you might as well put it on your back and crawl. If a front wheel hits the smallest impediment, a corner of carpet, perhaps, or a small stone, the handlebars will jack-knife and the scooter stops sharp on the spot. No problem if you’re inching carefully along, but travelling at speed, you’re in trouble. In my youth, I once flew over the head of a horse whose foot caught in a loop of tree root. A similar effect is possible on the scooter.

I’ve had two mishaps. One happened when I was spinning across a broad patio, and didn’t spot a small twig. It stopped the left wheel instantly, jack-knifed the handlebars and pitched me off. It could have been nasty but it wasn’t, leaving only my dignity damaged. The other mishap was a minor stubbing of a good-foot toe while negotiating a tricky reversal. Ironically, that one could have been nothing, but a stubbed toe on one’s only weight-bearing foot turns out to be a major impediment that sent me back to the sofa for a few days.

And here’s a hidden truth: it’s Rick who helps make it all look easy. He’s the one who hefts it into the back of the car, helps hoist it up over serious obstacles and occasionally lends a push on an uphill slope. He’s the unsung hero of the Heather-and-her-scooter story.

So the scooter is making a world of difference to my convalescent period. On the crutches, which I use outdoors or whenever there are steps, I feel awkward and disabled. On the scooter I draw admiring glances from 10-year-olds and feel tall, mobile and in control. You can’t beat that as an aid to healing.

Nine more sleeps until the cast comes off, assuming all is going well inside its fibreglass fortifications. But it may still be several months before I can be fully weight-bearing on the ankle, so I expect Scooter and I will be partnered up for some time to come.

 ***

Spring into SongThe scooter was the star of the Spring into Song weekend I just attended. It was a residential workshop, held at a venue an hour or so from here. Like many places in these wheel-chair friendly times, the venue left me with no need for crutches at all. I watched for twigs and pebbles on the pathway and kept the brakes on for the downward slopes. I used the scooter for sitting, standing, kneeling and leg-elevation. I carried music, water bottle and jacket in its nifty little basket. Attending a residential workshop with shared dorms, bunk beds and limited space might not seem an obvious thing to do in my condition, but I got to sing, with 85 other people, gob-smackingly beautiful songs written or arranged by Rachel Hore and Stephen Taberner. With my trusty scooter (and let us not forget Rick, who loved the workshop as well) I flourished all weekend.

***

If you’ve read this far because you’re interested in the scooter, here’s a thorough YouTube video of my model.

But before you buy, check out this all-terrain version, which appears to have handled the smooth-surface-only problem.

68 and counting

You’re not going to believe this—I’ve just had a thought that’s contrary to any shred of sanity. I’d been reflecting on the big birthday party coming up, where husband Rick and housemate Eve are celebrating their 70th. And out of the blue I said to myself, I can’t wait until I turn 70.

Wait on!—where did that come from?

The thought had nothing do with the fun of a party. I’m not someone who much likes big parties and that’s unlikely to change. But the truth is, I’ve fallen under the spell of the book that I mentioned in last week’s post, called “What are Old People For?” I had just been reading this spirited paragraph:

“We are stumbling into an era that is blessed with the largest group of (potential) elders the world has ever seen. They are well educated, materially secure, healthy, and socially engaged…The battle over the meaning and worth of our longevity will remake our world…”

That inspired me. I also thought about Eve’s recent blog post where, comingIt's time to rethink our philosophy on aging up as she is to her 70th birthday, she lays claim to the world “old”. That’s bold, I thought. Bold and accurate and inspiring.

It’s not that Eve or author William Thomas or I idealise old age. It’s not for the faint-hearted, as they say, and I’m sure we all freely admit that. But it has its rightful place, and it does have its own rewards. Perhaps I’m becoming ready to claim them.

When I turned 60

There was a maxim I learned when I was a kid that went like this: Life divides into three chunks: age 1-30—young; 30-60—middle-aged; 60-90+—old. You know how those neat bits of wisdom stick with you? Perhaps that explains why, as I was approaching my 60th birthday eight years ago, I came across a significant integrity issue. My decade change was no secret to my friends; after all, many of them were “of an age” themselves and besides, they liked me in spite of my decrepitude.

But at work was a different matter: I found I didn’t want to tell a soul. My covert calculations revealed that I was probably the eldest of the 50 or 60 of us on staff. The hair dyeing had become more frequent and I’d begun avoiding conversations about age. I was sure that if co-workers knew I was 60, I’d be marginalised. I’d be lumbered with the perception of past-her-prime, can’t-carry-a-full-load. It’s not that I wanted to carry a full load, but I didn’t want to risk being perceived as unable. I needed to stay top dog.

As I thought about this integrity issue, two voices warred in my head. Bad Voice was telling me I could get away with it; no one needed to know. But Good Voice was nattering away that I needed to be honest and matter-of-fact about it all, and put this denial behind me. Somehow Good Voice talked me into making a promise, which went like this: every time something came up at work and I had the “uh-oh-I’m-turning-60” thought, I had to somehow weave my upcoming birthday into the conversation. Clients, workmates, suppliers, whoever. It was the only way I could see of taking the edge off the irrational fear.

The very day after making this rash promise to myself, the management team went out for dinner. At one point colleague Julia, the COO, took a long breath and said, “Can you imagine this? – I’m turning 40 in a couple of weeks.”

Well, guess what thought promptly popped into my head?

Good Voice and Bad Voice debated fiercely about keeping the promise for several nano-seconds, while everyone commiserated with Julia. Good Voice prevailed. “Can you imagine this?” I said. “I’m turning sixty in a few weeks.”

And that was it. I was out of the closet. The world didn’t fall apart, and over the following weeks people began saying nice things like, “I want to be like you when I’m sixty.” Mission accomplished.

(In hindsight I’m not sure I was claiming the ground of being 60. To be honest, it was more like claiming the ground of “Who’d have guessed she’s sixty?”, which is not the same thing at all. But it was a step.)

I tell this story because William H Thomas, the author of the book that’s been energising me, would call me a product of our times: resisting age and out of touch with the inevitability, indeed the rightness, of aging—not to mention the possible benefits. He takes the view that in our obsession with glorifying youth, we have lost sight of the gifts and privileges of old age. He develops an interesting theory that adulthood, with its age-appropriate qualities of busy-busy, accomplish, achieve, acquire, do-do-do, has elbowed its way into all of childhood and all of old age. He notes that children and old people rightly have little interest in this driving, acquisitive approach. Thomas asserts that the more “being” oriented energies of childhood and old age are being drowned out by adult hyperactivity. (This goes a way toward explaining, he posits, the strong bond between grandparents and grandchildren.)

Boo-tox

Happy Halloween

So in many ways I’m a classic adult. I have a good friend who reminds me frequently that I am very accomplished at doing. The problem is that she’s not offering it as praise. This friend is much better than I at just being with people, at meditating, at walking quietly by herself, taking time for observing, philosophising, drawing conclusions. She’ll likely step into elderhood with more grace, ease and purpose than I’ve so far been able to muster. Calling me good at doing is her way of reminding me that there’s another world I’ve been turning my back on.

So what I’ve glimpsed in today’s revelation is the relief of stepping into reality. No botox required, no resistance, no costly denial. Only a brand new way of looking at the world.

I’m ready for Thomas’ call to arms:

“Given the immutable fact of aging (yours and mine included), a new appreciation of longevity seems very likely to emerge. When it does, it will lead millions to question, challenge, and, finally, overthrow the doctrine of youth’s perfection.”…. “Such a crusade is necessary not because it can right wrongs that are visited on older people but because it is the essential precondition for a new culture committed to a better quality of life for people of all ages.”

The revolution is ON!

...Now we're just beautiful

Old soldiers never die

I’ve been feeling a bit subdued by the death this week of a favourite uncle, and, as I’m thinking rather a lot about him, I might as well make him the subject of this post.

Uncle Howard was 94 years old, and by any standards lived a full and rich life. When I had tea with him in his ocean-side apartment in Victoria BC a couple of months ago, I asked him, “How’s your life?” It was a serious question. He had stopped slogging (his 2k daily run); his knees and back had confined him to using a walker; he’d begun to need help with getting his daily provisions. I wanted to see what he felt about his quality of life. And he replied, emphatically: “My life is great.” He went on to explain how he sees his friends, and still travels the seawall on his walker. He reads the news and keeps up to date with current affairs. He enjoys his family, including his granddaughters and great-grandson. He whipped out his iPhone to display photos of his brand new great-granddaughter.

As has been the case since I was old enough to recognise wisdom when I saw it, I leaned forward and listened. It’s a habit around Howard that has served me well over a good many years.

In times gone by, Howard owned a large construction company; he was a WWII veteran; he was an equestrian; he travelled in influential circles. His wife had a ferocious intellect and added spice to all Howard & Erma in their eighties, leaving Nanaimo Harbourour lives. On retirement, they moved to Victoria to take advantage of the warmer climate, the seafood, ocean views—and waterways in which to sail their yacht Le Jacqueline, which they did unassisted until into their late eighties.

That three-sentence history doesn’t even begin to give you a taste of what Howard did with his life. But I’ll ease up on the detail; after all, he’s my uncle and you might not quite share my interest in trawling through the mementoes of his existence. You’ll have to trust me that his whole life made a contribution to the world.

At any rate, I reckon his dying was quick and easy. He lived at home until the day before he died – spending just one day in hospital before pneumonia swept him away. In a spell of consciousness, he tried to convince the staff that he’d caught a couple of salmon the day before, which everyone felt seemed unlikely. But the claim showed where his spirits were in his final moments.

I have a notion that (not unlike my own father – his brother) he felt he was losing quality of life and, not wanting to risk becoming a burden, gave permission to his body to shut itself down.

I’ve been reading a book called “What are Old People For?” and it has sensitised me to what’s on offer from the elderly. The author, William H Thomas, takes aim at what he describes as our youth-obsessed culture. He asserts that our preoccupation with staying young is so embedded that we are blind to its impact and unable to think outside the square of the assumption that young is good, aging is not. Resistance to moving away from youth, what we think of as our “prime”, goes deeper than wrinkle-cream and Botox. It’s a distortion that influences research studies, medical approaches and our thinking about longevity. “We take the constellation of traits that define our humanity for granted,” says Thomas, meaning that we don’t notice the gifts that hundreds of thousands of years of evolution have given us—all of us, from the very young to the very old.

Thomas makes the point that, as we age, we make “miraculous adaptations”. It bent my head to try to think, as he does, of the aging body as miraculous. As parts of the body are wearing out, other important bits of us, for example the critical ability to adapt and to creatively compensate, are improving. These traits, he claims, are at least as important to the human race as youthful vigour.

A twinkle in her eye“If aging is truly a catastrophic prelude to death…then it deserves the dread it currently engenders.” What if, however, this is not the case? Thomas cites evidence that “nature finds aging very useful”. For example, older people report an enhanced sense of well-being and emotional equanimity. He also reflects at length on grand-parenting. He theorises that these humans who will reach across generations to support the offspring of their offspring are an evolutionary key, developed over some 40,000 generations, which has had the human race thrive over all other mammals. Isn’t that an amazing thing to consider?

My reflections on Uncle Howard this week support all of that thinking. In his youth and mid-life he worked hard and produced big results. But as he began to age, I experienced him even more as a contribution. His sense of humour, always a hallmark, flourished. His equanimity was close to an absolute, and he projected well-being at every turn. He made getting old look good.

And on the subject of grand-parenting, I know three young women who will testify its power. Howard’s granddaughters are all much more capable women for the influence he has had in their lives, and would be the first to say so.

There is an African saying: “The death of an old person is like the loss of a library.” Many stories, jokes, morsels of family history and nuggets of profound knowledge have died with Howard this week. But the equanimity, good humour, balance and joie de vivre he role-modelled live on in all of us who knew him.

He was a fine example of how to live and how to age. Mother Nature would nod her head in approval.

Mother Nature

 ***

I’d like to leave you with a final word from Thomas: “Humans are the only creatures on Earth that specifically and energetically protect, sustain, and even nurture their elders. Although we all like to believe the best about our personal benevolence, the truth is that protecting older people has long served purposes much large than simple charity. The elder is different from the adult because elderhood offers us a distinctive way of living. It is life beyond adulthood.”

Buy experiences, not things

Rick has a birthday coming up shortly. Hmmm—what under the sun to get him?

For several years now, he’s said, “I absolutely don’t want anything.” But what turns out to be even more suitable than abstinence is if we find something interesting to DO on the day, even if it’s just a good movie and dinner at a favourite restaurant. Better yet is when we plan ahead. The anticipation enhances, and we can concoct ways to add to our adventure.

Buy experiences, not thingsSo it was with no surprise that I read an article this morning (forwarded to me, of course, by Paul the maven), which slides in nicely with what I’ve been observing about Rick, and about life generally. Titled “Buy Experiences, Not Things”, the article describes research-based studies that indicate we’re much happier making experiential purchases than material ones. I recommend reading the whole article. You won’t be saying, my God, who would have thought any of that? You will say, yes, that makes sense, and yes, I’ve figured out most of that for myself…but read it nonetheless. It will help clarify things when you’ve next got a birthday to plan for.

The article builds from the premise that 47% of the time, our minds are wandering. Imagine that. While I’ve been typing this, half the time my mind’s been flicking around to other distractions. Furthermore, say the researchers, left to its own devices the mind is likely to gravitate to “dark places”. So given my mind is going to wander anyway, the best thing I can do for it is give it something interesting to anticipate, or something interesting to reflect back on. Like: an event, a holiday, an adventure. This is good news. I’ve been thinking of my interest in experiences as sort of an indulgence, but the research is saying, to the contrary, it’s an investment in my happiness and well-being.

The article describes several salient factors. Let me illustrate with a case in point.

Port Stephens NSWSix months ago Robyn and Jim, who are friends living in Sydney, emailed Rick and me the link to a special made available by a resort in Port Stephens, a sleepy beachside town about two hours from us. The offer was for three nights in a two-bedroom suite, and had to be used within a year. “What do you think?” they suggested. “Shall we buy it and book in together sometime?” We mulled it over briefly, did a bit of research and plunked down our money (not a lot of it, as it was a very good special).

A few weeks ago, we finally booked our dates, and last weekend off we went on our adventure.

Relationship.
One of the key factors about an experiential purchase is that it often relates to other people, much more so than a material purchase does. And it comes as no surprise that we get greater happiness from this added “identity, connection and social behaviour”.

That was certainly true of our experience. Because Robyn and Jim live a four hour drive from us, we don’t see them nearly often enough. But our little investment gave us lots of opportunities for enhancing our relationship. There were many emails over the last six months, as we chatted about possible time frames, tightened up specific dates, and finally got down to working out who’d bring the cheese, chicken and wine. That was topped off with an excellent three days together, as we dined out, cooked in, harbour-cruised, went to the cinema, lay on the beach, and watched DVDs curled up on the sofas at the apartment.

Anticipation.
This business of looking forward to things was cited by the article as a key benefit of an experiential purchase. Interesting, that. Since we booked in a few weeks ago, I’d been giving the holiday a fair bit of thought—with a smattering of trepidation, given my fibreglass-encased leg and ambulatory deficiency (not to mention that the mind will wander to dark places in that 47% of idle time). But mostly I was looking forward to it. In a quiet moment, I’d slip into Google and check out activities, restaurants or what’s on at the local cinema. Granted On the ferrymy life isn’t dripping with activity these days, but I can see that I always mull over an upcoming experience much more so than I do a purchase—even a purchase worth a hundred times as much, such as a new car.

Memory.
The way things slide into our memory banks is another factory. There’s no doubt all four of us will think back fondly on the weekend. For me, it will be a time when I conquered no end of obstacles to my mobility, when I learned to knit, and when I had adventures, conversations and relaxing times with good friends.

Again, here’s the article. I predict it will sharpen your spending habits forever.

Speaking of knitting reminds me of something else that caught my attention this weekend. While teaching me to knit-one-pearl-one, Robyn was describing her niece’s upcoming wedding. She proceeded to dig out her iPhone to show me the wedding registry. The bridal couple have lived together for some time and say they have all the “things” they could want. So the registry, called Honeyfund, invites you to gift them contributions toward their honeymoon in the Maldives. How amazing is that?! You could donate $100 toward hotel accommodation, or $30 for cocktails at the poolside, or $50 toward a day’s snorkelling. Anything a honeymooner’s heart could desire can be registered, at any price a well-wisher wants to contribute.

HoneyfundThe researchers, I think, would support the concept of Honeyfund. Surely it’s a perfect gifting solution, backed by scientific research, providing much anticipation and guaranteeing good memories. It’s also something that’s fun to participate in for the wedding guests. If I’ve contributed toward a bungy jump, for example, I’m bound to be interested in finding out how it went and will be hanging out for the photos.

Check out the concept here.

When Rick celebrates his birthday on 1 December, we’ll be in Noosa with our FLAFF friends. No doubt there’ll be adventures and celebrations—experiences Rick will relish for a long time. With such a rich banquet of possibilities, there’s really no need to worry about a birthday gift.

My space

Satin bowerbirdWe have a new tenant in a quiet spot near our China lady tree. I’ve written a short story about him this week for your enjoyment. After, treat yourself to the YouTube video I’ve linked at the end of the post so you can see the real thing in action.

The fleck of blue caught Marg’s eye as she trudged up the slope past the little garden.

“Hey, wait on, Mick,” she called, peering into a shaded area under the hibiscus. “What’s all this? Justa minute! – You been putting clothes pegs in there?”

Mick, who’d been just ahead, stepped close beside her. “Will you look at that!?” he exclaimed. “Never seen a real one before. You know what it is? – a bowerbird made it. That black bird we see around all the time? He’s making a love nest here.”

Marg frowned. “Gawd, he’s got a good dozen of my clothes pegs in there. And there’s a pen top. Lookit the bottle caps,” she said, pointing. “What’s with all the old twine and packing tape? And what’s he got, a thing for BLUE?”

“Dunno,” said Mick. “Maybe he’s just got the one colour he can see, outsidea black’n’white. Anyway, it’s all in the name of love. He wants to attract the females.”

“Check out the straw hat,” Marg pointed. “Whazzat?”

Bower ready for action“That’s the bower,” Mick explained. “He makes it from scratch. Guess it’s where the love-making happens.”

“Well,” said Marg, “she’d have to be a few bricks short of a load to get romantic in a mess like that. And he’d better get my pegs out of my flower bed before too long.”

“Aw, settle, luv,” Mick took her hand and pulled her away. “Look,” he said, pointing. “That’s him up there in the big gum watchin’ us.”

***

He watches until the big Two-legs are safely out of sight, a straw from the nearby pasture still held firmly in his beak. Then he darts down to his front door. Hop, hop, hop, over the little threshold. Hop, hop to his hallowed bower. Cocking his head to one side, he positions the straw so it exactly touches the next one in the wall that he’s creating. One quick corrective tap and it’s in place.

Now, he checks over his magnificent passageway, the mural he has created displayed in front of him. He cocks an eye toward the top of his shelter, where dark leaves dapple the blue sky overhead. He dips his head down towards the floor below, where the same image is reflected in the pools and strands he has created—blue glimmering against the dark floor. It’s wonderful, but it’s not finished yet; there’s always something more to add.

Hop, hop, hop, back to the bower. He thinks about Her, his pulse quickening. This space will be a wonder that will command her attention, that will call her in and be a Rightness. He gives a tug at a wayward strand of straw, then hop, hops to the threshold.

He takes a quick glance back into the chamber, because it always thrills him, then his wings whisk him off to where the next straw awaits.

***

Satin Bower Bird - linocut

Satin Bower Bird – Hand coloured linocut on handmade Japanese paper by Rachel Newling

Here’s a YouTube video clip that catches the spirit of things—a must-see, especially if you’re not familiar with the Australian satin bowerbird. They are sometimes called the most complex of birds, and you can see why. Click here.

Bowerbirds aren’t rare in this part of the world, but I can tell you, it’s a wonder to have one in our gardens!

Live to eat or eat to live?

Having spent all day yesterday in bed (and over the toilet, not that you wanted to know that) with the dreaded stomach lurgy, it is as exciting as life on a planet with three moons to wake up this morning with a renewed interest in food.

What with all the eating and weight-gaining that goes on these days, food has begun to acquire something of a bad name. In this part of the world it’s been a long time since mEat to live, not live to eatost of us have had to wake up concerned with how the day’s foraging will go. For many, the battle has become the opposite—how NOT to eat all we’d like. Food has become associated with degeneracy and wilful bad health. Guilt is the new order of the day. The message in this photo is now the accepted wisdom.

How did that happen?

I’m sitting here at the Waterbird Café in Manning Point, one of my first outings since my surgery almost three weeks ago. I am on the deck over the river, with my new fibreglass cast sparkling on the seat of a chair in front of me and a fine cappuccino on the table at my side. Rick and Eve have gone for a walk on the beach, and I am left to enjoy the sun-dappled river which has been serving up dozens of dolphins cresting their way upstream. It’s a sublime environment, but I must admit that nearly all that’s on my mind is…lunch. I drift to thoughts of a big slice of chicken—those roast chicken smells that were making me nauseous last night are now tormenting me in a very different way.

On this post-flu day, I can’t help but think what a waste it is to fret about food. My daughter Jenn has become my new role model in this regard. She’s always had a passionate interest in food, inherited mostly from her father’s side of the family, and has over the years morphed that into a talent for cooking. She’s accumulated dozens of cookbooks; as a librarian, she’s always had an eye out for an old cookbook no longer wanted in the collection. Each is carefully selected for its attention to ingredients, detail of spices and seasonings, and appeal of flavours. She’s also acquired an enviable collection of pots and utensils.

And when she cooks! – well, she made dinner for the five of us all summer while we Coq au vinstayed at Mum’s, and I must say, one time in three the meal was delicious and the other two times a banquet for the gods. Her coq au vin, where an old hen is transmuted into a merlot-soaked feast (a strong and sweetish Merlot works best, she tells me)….well, your mouth should be watering just thinking about it. Even on fast days (she and her partner joined Rick and me on the 5:2 diet) she employed her limitless imagination, with 300 calorie serves of ceviche, Thai salad and spicy soup. I make a good gravy, I must modestly admit, and taught Jenn how one evening this summer. But by the time she finished throwing in specially-prepared onions and handfuls of carefully considered spices, it was the best gravy I’ve ever tasted. She leap-frogged me in one go.

She keeps an eye on economy, calorie count and serving volumes, but mostly if it’s superb food, she’s unabashedly serving it up.

So with Jenn as a role model, I’ve had an exquisite example about how not to throw the baby (great food) out with the bathwater (evil habits). What a great shame it is that it’s become so popular to bemoan our eating, that we will say, after a fine restaurant meal, “I shouldn’t have done that,” that pecking away at our calorie counters dominates our meal choices, that we feel we must refrain from even a taste of a dessert lovingly prepared by a great chef.

No one is spared, that I can see, but I think my female friends and I are particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon.  It’s almost a game we play, about who can make the most self-deprecating diet-related comment the fastest. There are worthy things in the world, and food is not one. It’s at best a cheerful self-indulgence, at worst an evil spawn.

What a mess we’ve created.

Do you ever wonder what the world will be like in a certain regard in a hundred years?This morning I’m thinking about a time in the universe when there will no longer be guilt associated with food, when we’ve learned whatever it is that’s going to take us to the next stage of nutritional transformation. There’s no doubt we’re in an uncomfortable transition from a time of scarcity to a time of abundance. The world will change You can't reach for anything new if your hands are full of yesterday's junkagain; something will trigger a new approach. Perhaps life-sustaining food habits will somehow become automatic, perhaps we’ll develop a new frame of mind, perhaps there’ll be an abundance of nothing but the right kind of food.

First we have to surrender to this predicament we’ve got ourselves into, then we’ll figure it out.

It’s now a couple of hours later, and I’ve just polished off a toasted chicken, avocado and lettuce sandwich served up by Rick. I ate it slowly, and it’s the best thing I’ve tasted for weeks.

So with the memory of that sandwich (not to mention Jenn’s coq au vin) still on my palate, I can honestly think of no more worthy purpose in life than to eat a great meal. Count me in with the live-to-eaters.

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Food 3For you foodies, I’ve watched two enjoyable movies recently: Chef and The 100 Foot Journey. It’s unusual that there would be two movies glorifying food in such close proximity. Maybe they represent the beginning of the transformation.