Sunday, 15 March 2015

Time Passes: Random Ramblings of a Sexagenarean

Where Has The Time Gone?

Good question. It seems only the other day that I was a little tacker posing for this photo, way back in  √©cole primaire in France ...


... and then back in Canada playing school sports at Comox Elementary (which no longer exists) ...

Spot the Bruce boy?
But, as Chaucer tells us, time and tide wait for no man. While I'd like to be a sexygenarean it is merely a sexagenarian I find looking at me in the mirror. Today was the day. (I was pleased to have snuck it in relatively quietly, although Di did let the cat out of the bag yesterday morning when we were having breakfast with our good friends Tony and Heather.)

Where has the time gone? Drifted off with the flowers, I suppose. Still, I'm not complaining. Rest assured. You who know me well know that I feel incredibly lucky to have been born and lived a life in the time and place that I have. What a rich existence! Rich with relationship and experiences. Raised by parents who wanted the best for their five kids, all born within six years of each other while their parents were still in their twenties. And what a job they did.

So, here I am hanging out in Hobart 60 years after opening my eyes in the Misericordia Hospital in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Mom was a prairie girl, but she and Dad met in the Royal Canadian Air Force so the Bruce family was an itinerant mob for the first 12 years or so of my existence. And there are swings and roundabouts associated with that. As a kid I never really felt like anywhere was home because we always moved every four years or so, and then after six years in one place it was off to university. So, it was an "outsider" existence growing up, always trying to fit in; find your place in the pecking order. But it also meant having to be fairly adaptable, to learn to welcome change because change was inevitable.

After the year ahead not quite looking like what I was expecting (climbing; hiking; a big trip to Canada) because of rupturing my left Achilles tendon - a subject I've already flogged to death in previous posts - Dianne and I have embarked on an alternative plan for the year, which will be revealed in some depth later. But today was a terrific day: some exercise and then a fabulous lunch out with my darling. It got me all reflective and looking back at old photos. It seems that time keeps speeding up. I know. It's an old cliché. But still. When I look back, it's the richness of the past few years that really stand out. Is it because stopping fronting up to paid work 5 days a week, week in week out means that you've got time to really look back more clearly? Or is that simply an illusion created by the the digital age?

I've got some wonderful memories growing up and then going on to university, but they are more difficult to access fully because what images I do have are tucked away in photo albums somewhere. Is it the same for you? Nowadays it's so easy to open a program on the computer so that's primarily what I do. Some photos from the past, like this one of me emerging from a cave in Waitomo, New Zealand ...


... got a guernsey and made the scanning cut, but where do you stop and start? Because we were always moving when I was growing up, I never became a great hoarder. 

Anchored Down in ... Tasmania!

As I set off to travel the South Pacific with three other likely Comox Valley lads, settling in Tasmania was the last thing on my mind. (Actually, there was a girl in Melbourne that I'd met in the south of Spain, but that's another story!)  But, when you meet somebody that seems just right you've got to be ready to seize the day. It was brilliant to meet someone who liked hiking even more than I did, and even more brilliant that she was a rock climber and offered to show me the ropes, so to speak.Not long after we met she took me up to Freycinet National Park ...


... which at that time was relatively unknown and an amazing place to visit. 

Meeting Dianne the second day I arrived Under Down Under was one thing. My fate was sealed when she took me for a hike to the Walls of Jerusalem National Park not long before my Australian visa was set to expire. Here's a photo from that trip ...


We decided that we'd had a lot of fun together and if we wanted it to continue we had to get serious. A few months later after some interesting times (which I'll tell you about over a beer sometime if you like) we tied the knot in the small flat Di was living in at the time ...


All rather informal, and suitable to our budget at the time!

Being flexible meant that I had some chance of coping with a ready-made family ...


I  have to say, Simon and Yolanda were pretty flexible too, making me feel pretty welcome from the get-go.

We had a lot of fun as they were growing up, including a foray into kayak construction and paddling ...


Unfortunately, neither our kayak construction nor paddling amounted to much but we had an interesting time with the kayaks for a couple of years, mostly emptying them out fairly regularly as we paddled down either the Derwent or Huon rivers.

Time passed, we managed to stick together despite lots of stresses through the years. Eventually we arrived at a point where we could take extended leave from our jobs and visit Canada together for the first time while the kids stayed with their dad. It was a fantastic experience and we did a whole lot of stuff that we'd dreamed about, including a wonderful long climb in Bugaboo Provincial Park. Here's a photo Di took just before we ran out of film ...


This was significant for us because it was our first long climb in an alpine and relatively remote location, and it gave us confidence that we could undertake other such adventures together. The trip also confirmed for us that we'd rather have rich life experiences than spend money on a big house and work until we dropped. 

Although we both felt that we put in 100% (I could say 110% but that would be stupid: there is no such thing) when we were working, there were other things that we wanted to do with the life that we had together than just have evenings and weekends together. Work does has its rewards, although in teaching mostly they are intrinsic. However, after 25 years of service with the Tasmanian Education Department they were kind enough to give me a nice little box to mark the milestone ...



Do you see those grey hairs? The candle was definitely burning down, so six years after our trip to Canada, and when the kids were finished secondary school, Dianne and I took off back to North America for a whole year. We've never been the same since. We travelled all over the place that year, especially the western half, backcountry skiing, climbing, hiking, mountain biking, canoeing and meeting people. And we met some fantastic people. People that have remained friends and that we've travelled places to rendezvous with, in places far from where any of us live.

Almost before we knew it (but not quite!) the opportunity presented itself to take early retirement. Di had always indulged me and my desire to visit my country of birth when we'd had extended holidays so, it only seemed fair to let her decide where we'd go for a landmark trip when we retired. She chose a long hike in Europe. And was it a doozy. She'd heard about the Pyrenean Haute Route, which traverses the Pyrenees mountains from Hendaye on the Atlantic Ocean to Banyuls-Sur-Mer on the Mediterranean Sea. So, six months after a total hip replacement and a couple of weeks after I finished work we headed east up the hills out of Hendaye. And walked. And walked. And walked. From mid June to early September - albeit with a number of short breaks along the way to recharge our batteries and savour the local culture. It was an absolute ripper and perhaps the best thing we'd done together up until that point. Here's a picture of map that shows our route, with the red dots showing where we spent each night, pink dots marking the end of each major section and blue dots show where we took breaks in towns ...

The Pyrenean Haute Route (click to enlarge)
It was just such a rich experience that I can't begin to describe it here, but I thought I'd post a picture of one of our favourite campsites ...

Spot the tent
This campsite features on page 35 of the book Di put together for our grandchildren. (If you'd like to see more images from our traverse you can visit our SmugMug site.) On our way through the Pyrenees we met many lovely people and established a special bond with a Breton who we've caught up with a number of times. He'll be here in a couple of weeks with his son to walk the Overland Track with Di and an old colleague of mine. (I won't be going because my Achilles tendon needs more recovery time.)

We rounded off that fantastic trip with a visit to the Dolomites for some hiking, where we were joined by our son Simon, and then we made our way back through northern Spain via train to where we started that fantastic walking journey, stopping at various cities along the way. One of those cities was Bilbao, home to one of the famous Guggenheim Museums. It's a stunning building from all angles and I took this photo while we were there ...

The Bilbao Guggenheim
... but to be honest, the collections on display in Hobart's very own MONA are more varied and, overall, more interesting.

After several extended holidays in North America and this amazing trip to Europe we decided that we really ought to have a bit more of a look around Australia. More great friendships forged and places visited including the northernmost tip of the Australian mainland ...


... and one of the landmarks of Australia's early overland explorers, Chambers Pillar ...


We've got a bit soft in our more advanced years so, after a long tenting trip through central Australia to Cairns one winter, this is the way we prefer to travel on our extended mainland excursions these days ...


Another fantastic trip to North America in 2012 was facilitated by our purchase of a beat-up old camper van which we nicknamed "Big Blue" ...


Big Blue was wonderful, taking us to many terrific places where we had excellent adventures. We would have liked to keep Big Blue but he was really getting towards the end of his use-by date, especially in regards to the electrics so we reluctantly parted ways.

Di's enthusiasm for hiking in Europe saw us back there in 2013 to do a renowned hike in Corsica, but not before catching up with Michel, the friend we made in the Pyrenees, and his partner Brigitte in Brittany for some wonderful walking along the coast. We had a fantastic time with them both in Brittany ...


... and then in Toulouse when we finished our sojourn in Corsica. The hike in Corsica was spectacular from beginning to end. This photo, taken on the last day when we thought the trail might fizzle out was taking within an hour or so of the end ...



Last year we were supposed to go to Canada again, but Di persuaded me that we should go back to France to do another big hike because she was worried that she might not be fit enough if we left it any longer. I insisted that if we were going back to Europe that we'd have to do some climbing as well as hiking and the deal was sealed. Another brilliant hike, and another great friendship forged when we met Philippe de Brion along the way ...


... amongst wonderful vistas ...


As we get on, we start to lose more close friends and family members. For the first time I recently lost an immediate family member. My youngest sister Diane passed away on February 1st. Luckily we were able make a quick trip to Canada in November to spend some time with her. It was a bittersweet time; we wouldn't have missed it for the world. My Dianne took this photo of me with my sister Diane, which I will forever hold dear ...


So, here I am at 60. Stalled a bit at the moment due to this bothersome Achilles tendon injury. But there are plans in the offing. And who knows what's around the corner? Maybe another 20 or 30 years; maybe a smudge on the pavement tomorrow thanks to a passing bus.

Today was an excellent day. I woke up to a bag of cycling goodies from my darling, went to the pool and did my rehab, and then was taken out to Frogmore Creek for a degustation lunch. While we were enjoying our meal we were treated to the sight of a mob of kids having an absolute ball playing on the grass in front of the restaurant. Finally, the day was topped off by a Skype with the grandchildren in Cairns. So sweet to see their faces on this day.

Whatever does lie ahead, I hope to put into practice what Robert Herrick had to say all those years ago ...

GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
  Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
  To-morrow will be dying.


Carpe Diem!

...

Addendum: Two things that matter ~ one more than the other

One: Vanuatu.


With climate change extreme weather events like Cyclone Pam and the associated consequences are predicted to worsen. In this particular instance, we've got a situation where something like 100,000 people have been left homeless, and about half of those are children. This article from global news.ca lists different ways that people can help with the relief effort. Those of us who live in places like Australia, Canada, France and the USA can count ourselves lucky to live in countries where, if natural disasters do hit, we have the infrastructure to mobilise immediate support for those affected. And, not to put too fine a point on it, we should also count ourselves partly culpable for the increase in extreme weather events by virtue of our lifestyles and failure to put the hard word on our governments to do more to address climate change. Dianne and I have decided to make a contribution to the relief effort and hope you will too.

The other: which way do you put your toilet roll on the dispenser ?(You've gotta click on the link, if only to complete the poll.)? The right way or the wrong way? An argument that - believe it or not -I remember even featuring in a staff meeting at my final place of employment, aired by no less than the boss.
In case you're wondering and, whether you like it or not, this is the correct way ...


Friday, 13 March 2015

In The Autumn Garden

Harvest Time! 

It's well into Autumn now. The past summer was a bit of a fizzer (for non-Antipodean readers, sorry about the slang: this means that summer was something of a disappointment); consequently our garden didn't do much through December and January. We did get a few blueberries; the strawberry crop was terrific; we got enough gooseberries to spice up a couple of rhubarb pies and our two-year-old cherry tree started to yield reasonably well. Everything else was very slow to come on.

However, thanks to a wonderful February things finally started to take off. For the first time ever we grew aubergines. We didn't really count the first one harvested as it was on the plant when we brought it home from the nursery, but here is a photo of Di cherishing the second one picked ...

We actually grew this!
We have at least two more aubergines on the way, perhaps more. Quite exciting really, having never grown them before. We wondered why for the longest time we were getting lots of flowers but no fruit so I did a bit of research on the internet. This is, apparently, a common problem. The solution is to get a small paint brush and pollinate the flowers. Since then things have started moving. Here is one of them just starting to show itself as the real McCoy, yet still in a rather jewel-like state ...

A jewel yet, a morsel to be ...
It was a good thing we got stuck into the garden early. After foolishly rupturing my Achilles tendon on the 15th of December, I haven't been able to do much in the garden since. Thankfully I installed an extensive watering system last year, so what we did plant hasn't need us to move hoses around or do a lot of hand watering. We added a patch to the front yard in spring. Here's a photo of Di just about to set off for a bike ride, with some our veggies pushing into the frame for a bit of recognition. The beans over her shoulder are pretty much finished, but the Russian kale, carrots, lettuce and parsnips are still coming on ...

Di and front garden veggies
Back in the back yard, our tomatoes are finally starting to give some satisfaction. Here's a glimpse of what's on one plant ...

Tomatoes on the way
... and a bunch ready to eat ...

Destined for salads, sandwiches ... and ratatouille perhaps?
For the first time ever we seem to be having reasonable success with capsicums, although again rather belatedly. We have harvested one and here is a nice big one on the way ...

A nice big capsicum!

... and there more on the way. I'm hoping that we'll get an extended bit of good weather to ripen everything up, but I'm not overly confident. March hasn't been great, but you never know.

We have never had any luck with bok choy but this year we decided to try some Chinese Cabbages and they have done very well ...

Chinese Cabbages have been a worthwhile addition
Up against the fence you can see a couple of the olive trees I've planted with the idea of creating a screen. Maybe one day they'll bear fruit worthwhile of harvesting.

We have similar hopes for the fig tree we planted last winter, which has established itself rather well in its first year ...

A fig for your thoughts???
Di has picked one cabbage and has been threatening to pick another, but I want her to wait until the heart fills out ...

"Let it Grow"
Out in the back corner where the fig tree is growing we've got a bit of a jungle happening. I planted tomatoes in front of the Tea Tree hedge I've been working at for years, and they've gone berserk: tangling themselves all amongst the shrubbery. On top of that, Di decided that to encourage a couple of beans that had self-sown ...

Not quite impenetrable, but nearly
It looks like there are more beans on the way. What we're going to do with them is anyone's guess. The freezer compartment in the fridge is choc-a-block. Maybe we can palm more off on the neighbours.

As you can see, I've been unable to get at the Tea Tree to trim it back (having my foot in plaster for the first half of the summer and in a boot for the second half didn't help). I guess taking to it with the clippers will have to wait until the tomatoes and beans are finished.

Speaking of the beans, they have been so prolific we've had lots to give away to neighbours. Patrick and Lyn on one side of us have returned the favour with a brace of bags of raspberries, and Sam and Leonie on the other side have provided us with plums and pears. (The pears, poached in red wine were been a big hit, and the plums have been fantastic stewed and served with yoghurt for breakfast.

Now then, I find myself confronted with a bit of a dilemma. Should I keep the tea tree hedge growing, or should I undo all the years of tending by ripping it out and plant some fruit trees in what is probably the best spot in our garden? What do you think I should do? (You could leave a comment ...)

Other Stuff ...

For the past 3 ½ weeks I've been able to ride the stationary bike at the gym without the CAM boot, which has been excellent - at least as far as sitting on a stationary bike looking at a bank of screens can be "excellent". The whole joint is still pretty weak and gets sore towards the end of a session but I see incremental improvement every day. My physiotherapist - who is excellent - has me doing stuff some land-based and water-based therapy, and it has all made a significant difference to the way the joint feels. The swelling is slowly subsiding and movement within the joint is improving. Going to the gym and/or the pool everyday as my main form of exercise has been pretty boring (not as boring as when I was mostly a couch potato for six weeks of course!) but it's fantastic to see progress.

Now I'm starting to get excited about getting rid of the boot altogether. The middle of next week can't come around quickly enough. Being able to get around in a pair of shoes - albeit it more slowly than I can stump along with the boot - will be such a pleasure. And I'm told that I can get on my real bike out in the real world again, as long as I avoid long and/or steep hills and don't try to stand up in the pedals. It will be necessary to use flat pedals for four weeks, but I can live with that. Just exercising outside and seeing terrain pass by will be terrific, with longer journeys and more interesting terrain in the offing before too much more time passes. 

Di is way ahead of me with her training. She has just headed off for a ride as I sit typing this: a ride which bring her total up to over 250 kilometres for the week, including one ride of just over 90 kilometres. She is very pleased with the way things are going, as the gradual build-up in distance means that her hip hasn't been complaining. I'm also very pleased: she will be able to tow me along as I am finding my way back to being on the bike for sustained periods.

And that's about it for now. It's time I took myself off to the gym so I can get a reasonable workout in before they close for the day.