Monday, May 16, 2011

a moment in history

I spend a fair bit of time analysing the depth of the wrinkles around my eyes and counting the number of grey hairs on my head. You might not have noticed it, but believe me, I'm definitely looking older.

You probably haven't noticed because you don't get as close to my face as I get to the mirror. Of course the changes I see are infinitesimal and, while I suppose technically I am aging before my very eyes, it's not really happening fast enough to be daily observable.

It's a sad fact of life however, that whether it looks like it or not, we are all getting closer to the grave minute by minute, second by second. Gravity, sugar, UV, repetitive actions are all taking their toll on our bodies. We do a mighty fine job of denying this. Hair dye, makeup, botox, teeth whiteners, boob jobs, liposuction, bionic joints... we're darn close to immortality with all these perfecting treatments.

Well... that's what we'd all like to think at least. Death is a long way off and it's coming so slowly we can pretend it isn't happening.

That's probably why I feel so sad about what I saw today. It was confronting and painful, and it's coming to all of us one day. There's no denying it.

Launceston has this crazy system of one way streets. Once you're used to them, navigating is a breeze, but every few months I see a tourist or two try and turn up a street instead of down and my heart has a little start.

I didn't actually see the mustard yellow beetle turn up the street the wrong way this afternoon. By the time I arrived, the traffic was stopped, a gaggle of youth gawped from their usual mall hang out and three policemen were helping the elderly gentleman reverse his car back onto the right street in the right direction.

We may not have realised it, but possibly we were witnessing this gentleman's last drive of freedom. I heard a bloke inform one of the police that he was sure he'd seen the very same man do the exact same thing last week. 'We're onto it,' said the cop, ' He's pulling over up ahead and we'll have a talk to him.'

And I almost cried, because how sad and humiliating to reach the point you can't remember which street is for turning left into and which is for turning right. And how debilitating to get so old you lose your licence because you aren't capable of driving safely anymore. I can't really see my wrinkles growing daily, but I knew that in that moment I was watching a very public crumbling into old age.

Like I said, we'll all be there one day, and it hurts me to think that all our strong, healthy, wonderful bodies are headed for decay and weakness. It doesn't seem right. Not just because I love what my body can do, but because as a society we are so obsessed with perfection that we've kidded ourselves into thinking we can beat aging. We have no time for old people and the richness of their stories. We forget the contribution they have made to our society, their struggles and their victories. We're too busy panicking over our own grey hairs and lines and aches and pains to see the beauty and value of old age.

Everyone has a story. I wish I knew the story of that man today. Silly things like when he bought his VW, how he kept it looking so good, who he loved, who loved him, his legacy. We all looked on with pity when we should have had respect. Maybe if we honoured our old instead of wishing we weren't becoming them, they wouldn't feel so useless and disempowered. Perhaps they wouldn't need to cling to every last vestige of independence if they were valued and respected. Maybe they could continue to make meaningful contributions to society - if we let them. If we acknowledged the beauty and wonder of this cycle that is life, the blossoming and growing, the living and working, the resting and fulfillment of a life well lived.

I'll probably keep up my wrinkle and grey hair patrol, but I sure as hell am not going to pretend I'm not getting older. Sometimes I almost like it. There's a depth and fullness and knowing that keeps on growing, that noone can give me (imagine how much knowing that old man has...). I have to live life to get it (...how much he has lived through), and perhaps each grey hair represents the kernels of truth I'm picking up along the way.

I treasure the kernels. Maybe I'll even learn to treasure the grey.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

special little things

I can't remember exactly when I first noticed this, but possibly it was with my mum over the dinner table. Later I people watched on the London tube and read faces. This is what I noticed: even when a person is 'expressionless' their lips may be turned up or down in a reflection of their general mood.

They are not smiling, but the corners of their mouth edge upwards. Or they may not be weeping, but the mouth sweeps down and the bottom lip pushes forward into something of a pout. On bad days I catch myself pouting, and on happy days the laugh threatens to bubble out of twitching lips. Personally I prefer the happy days, which is good, because today was a happy day of shining eyes and upturned mouth.

Nothing hugely significant, depending on which scale you choose to measure with, but I had some pretty big wins. A friend and I rode to Evandale Market and back. I've been dreaming of this since I started riding at the beginning of the year. Evandale is about 20km out of town, a cutesy English looking village with a great little market every Sunday morning. I wasn't sure how I'd go with a 40km ride, but we rugged up warm and decided to enjoy the day - no time records here. (Although technically I guess, since it was our first ride, we still managed to set a record. Now to break it)

It took about 95 minutes there, and 85 back, all of it in the freezing cold on beautiful country roads surrounded by vineyards and sleepy farms. It was so lovely riding with finches frolicking along right beside us, and languid sheep eyeing us off as we cycled past.

Bodgy camera work I can't even fix with
an edit, but it was really beautiful!

We lingered a little in Evandale, though we soon felt chilly as sweat turned to ice. And then I saw it. A Mouli food mill sitting quietly on the bench of a market stall. I have been hunting for one for a few weeks now. I managed to pick up a mouli julienne locally for $10, but a Mouli food mill has eluded me. They either don't have the three different puree parts, or I was outbid, or they just couldn't be found. Now I've been watching one on ebay for a week, and I was ready to resort to an auction sniper to make sure I got it. No matter that the bidding war might force the price up, or that I had to pay postage. I wanted that mill. And now I have one, good and honest.

I can relax, delete the Mouli off my watch list and start pureeing to my hearts content. $14 was all I had to pay... I was so delighted I forgot to bargain.

And so the grinning began. A successful ride to Evandale, and a mouli. Doesn't take much to make me happy! One enormous baked potato to fuel the trip home, and we were back on our bikes heading home. And not even that enormously long hill up to White Hills wiped the grin off my face. Love it.

The clouds were amazing - looking for
a mountain or two to snow on I think.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

what abc news didn't tell you today ('no pulp mill')

Around 5000 people gathered in Royal Park, Launceston today to call for the return of true democracy and an end to the planned Gunns pulp mill. Dressed in black, they came from all walks of life to mourn the death of democracy in Tasmania and to continue to voice their opposition to the proposed Tamar Valley pulp mill.

Black flags provided the back drop to Bob McMahon's call for tax payer's money to be invested in health, education, police, aged care, and infrastructure rather than continuing to prop up Gunns and an ailing forest industry.

Lucy Landon Lane brought humour with her story of the impact the campaign against the pulp mill is having on its proponents. While she stood calmly and politely ready to say hello to former Gunns chairman John Gay recently, he scurried away from their chance encounter before she could say a word.

Dr Frank Nicklason highlighted both the physical and psychological impacts of the forestry industry on Tasmania's residents, and spurred the crowd on to keep up the fight - the health and wellbeing of Tasmanians must be given priority over industry profit by the Tasmanian Government. Kim Booth, Dr Lisa Searle, and Peter Cundall rounded out the event with their call to stay strong - for the sake of good government, the people and the earth.

As symbolic black balloons bobbed on the breeze of a perfect autumn day, the crowds then marched through the streets to Civic Square. Their message was clear - 'Stop the mill. We can, we will'.

Not that you would know any of this happened if you weren't there... or unless you were one of the cars stuck at the traffic lights while 5000 people marched past. The media have said not a word, while making much of a bridal show happening in Hobart tomorrow, Ashton Kucher being selected as Charlie Sheen's replacement in Two and a Half Men, the best race horse in the world, the beheading of a British woman by a crazed man in Tenerife, and a small student rally in Hobart to support asylum seekers. A sad indictment on the standard of media in Australia.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

happy international nurses day. i think.

It's International Nurses Day. Hurrah. Or something like that.

I've never really engaged with International Nurses Day, and I'm not sure why. Perhaps because I'm not a fan of artificially created moments to celebrate people when we could and should be expressing our appreciation frequently, daily even. Maybe because I was more interested in the authentic, heartfelt thanks of patients who felt well cared for. Possibly there's a cultural element to my disconnect - Australians aren't into a lot of fanfare (although that seems to be changing lately). We just shoulder the load, get on with the job and avoid standing out from the crowd too much.

This year I have an additional reason for feeling less than enthused by International Nurses Day. I am no longer employed as a nurse. Effective 20 May 2011, I have been sacked. I am still a registered nurse, but my options for working as one are now significantly reduced. Not that I'm particularly surprised. The state government has been bleating on about cost cutting measures for several months now (this has to be the longest lead up to any budget ever), casuals have been on the hit list for some time, and I haven't worked a shift since October last year. The fact that I was not costing the government a brass razoo while sitting on their books, or that I have been well respected for my clinical skills and might still have something to offer, is meaningless in black and white. I was an easy target, a casual with no rights, not contributing to the system... off with her head.

Part of me is relieved - I've been worrying about how and when I could fit nursing shifts in. My life has moved on and nursing is no longer my main focus. Now I am free to stop worrying.

Part of me is annoyed. School holidays are coming up in early June and I was planning to try and get some shifts and some yummy cash over the break.

Part of me is a little scared - school chaplaincy pays a pittance, literacy support only a little more. Now I'm partially unemployed, how can I prop up my income? At the same time I'm not really worried - I have plans, lots of plans - but my chance of making good, quick money with a nursing shift or two has kind of gone.

People who know what I'm passionate about whooped. "Yippee!" they cried. "You're free!"

And I am. I've never worked in a place filled with so much bullying and back biting as this hosptial. I'm free of that. But I'm also a little sad. I loved nursing once, before I moved to a small town where career options were limited and too many big fish swam in a tiny pond. Nursing was who I was. Now who am I? They don't want me. I feel something of an outcast... Melodramatic I know, but I can't deny the sense of loss I feel at no longer being employed at the hospital. I've been moving along a different path for some time, but now I'm sacked, it's like a door has shut behind me. I doubt I'll return (though one can ever be too sure about what the future holds I suppose) and I feel bereft.

A little bereft. In truth I'm still doing what I always did - caring. For me, nursing was always about caring. Now I just care in different ways in different places. School, neighbourhood houses, workplaces. And I can connect deeply with people for the long term.

I'm content with where I'm at. My jobs are stretching and fun and meaningful. I love that. I sense I'm where I'm meant to be and I wouldn't change a thing.

So, happy International Nurses Day. Thank you to all you fabulous nurses. And farewell.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

good on ya mum (the cutest thing)

I was in the supermarket the other day when I saw the cutest thing.

Mother's Day was almost upon us and a young boy (maybe 5 or 6) was with his mum. We crossed paths several times through the aisles, and I caught dribs and drabs of conversation - him all eagerness, mum the voice of reason:

"Did you see them Mum, did you see them?"
"You need to decide which one you want. I know you like them both, but they are expensive and you have to choose."

The pair lined up behind me at the checkout. I wasn't paying much attention, but suddenly a supervisor bustled over and said something to the checkout operator. Next thing she was in the line with us, quickly bagging up an all pink item and passing it over for a speedy scan. The little boy was beside himself - "don't look Mummy, don't look" - and mum dutifully faced away until the item was in its bag and all scanned up. No matter the bag was kind of see through, that the product would be listed on her receipt. Mum and staff played along with the little boy's best efforts to please and surprise come Mother's Day.

I see a lot of bad parenting, and children who act out their frustration on their parents. It was so sweet to see a mother and her boy saying 'I love you'. I couldn't help grinning as I walked away.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

how not to climb stacks bluff

If you drive from Launceston to Hobart you track through a wide valley that runs between Ben Lomond to the east and the Great Western Tiers in the opposite direction. The drive leaves me contented, tucked in between the mountain ranges guarding pastoral scenes of grazing sheep.

Ben Lomond is an elevated plateau, with Legges Tor at the northern end and Stacks Bluff towering over the Fingal Valley in the south. Stacks Bluff has been calling out to us to climb it for quite some time. We asked around, and yes, a few people we know have successfully climbed to the top. About six hours return they said, a perfect day walk. Online bush walking chat sites concurred: six hours departing from the back of Story's Creek.

So, buoyed by two successful walks last weekend and the need to divide and conquer, we set out early yesterday morning with a couple of friends. The weather was perfect, the company good. Stacks Bluff was ours for the taking - if we could just find the track.

"Go back half a kilometre and turn right at the sign," the dressing gown clad local cheerfully informed us.

Hmmm, sign. You mean the one with nothing on it? Just two pieces of wood nailed on a couple of posts? Interesting.

Still, we turned back and followed a rough logging trail to its end, looking out for any evidence of a track. We couldn't see it, so when the trail petered out in a small clearing, we parked the car and set off, armed with water, food, compass and a topographical map we couldn't quite locate ourself on. Frank had the foresight to look for location markers in some distant peaks as we began our ascent.

Our goal: Stacks Bluff from the 'car park'

Can I just say, this was not really a bush walk? It was more of an ordeal. A stunning, dramatic walk, but a testing ordeal none the less. Apart from logging which had created a few open spaces we could walk through, we bush bashed for six hours. We saw a couple of blue ribbons tied to small bushes which may or may not have indicated a trail, and we ended up following gullies and animal tracks, heading ever upwards.

We knew from the topographical map and the view from the clearing there was a saddle that provided our best chance of reaching the plateau. From there we could walk around the back to the peak of Stacks. Knowledge, however, was not enough - despite our best efforts to angle across to the saddle, we found ourselves looking directly up at rugged, impassable cliffs.

Not being the best topographical map readers, and as I said, unsure of our starting point on the map anyway, we could see a narrow way between cliffs at one place and wondered if maybe that was the saddle right in front of us, so kept going. By this stage we were well above the tree line and scrabbling over enormous boulders on a seemingly endless scree field.

In the end time got the better of us. We couldn't risk heading back too late because we had no track to guide us back to the car. The possibility of overshooting the clearing we were parked in was sobering, and we were not at all prepared for an overnight excursion. So we stopped for lunch, studied the map again and decided the real saddle was just the other side of the rocky outcrop we were looking out on and agreed together that even if we hadn't made it to the top, the views were amazing and the achievement of almost reaching the top without a trail were noteworthy. Anything to prop up our egos I guess.

Near, but not near enough!

So, I have short legs compared to my fellow walkers, but that downward journey was way harder than climbing - scrabbling and scrambling on my bum, lowering myself from rock to rock, grazed palms, aching arms, a possum dropping from a tree almost on top of me. I tried not to be too much of a girl, but that has to be the hardest walk I've ever done!

Somehow we came out exactly at the clearing where the car was parked, although we had thought we were heading much further east in order to at least hit the logging trail if we missed the car.

And of course, as we drove out we saw it. The fallen tree with 'Stacks' scrawled across it in blue spray paint, facing away from the road as we drove in. No wonder we missed it.

So, Stacks Bluff is still on the list of 1000 things to do before we die - knowing where the track is should make it 1000 times easier!