ash and cupcakes

15 August 2011

The woodpile is shrinking.

I had planned to chainsaw more wood today, but I’m tired and it is raining.

Yesterday we cleaned out the ash from beneath the fireplace, which had piled right up to within an inch of the grate. Usually, I park the wheelbarrow beneath the hole in the side of the chimney, remove the bricks, and shovel-assist it out into the barrow. Last summer, however, our barrow rusted clean through. We have a flash tipping wagon, which I pull behind the ride-on mower, but as I discovered after much wrestling, it is too big and square to manoeuvre in between the bricks and nearby pole. So, we (I called out for reinforcements) brought shovels, parked the wagon as near we could, and readied to open the brick hatch. We stood for a moment, hesitant; we were both feeling a little unwell, and not at all energetic. But the job needed doing.

At the first disturbance, at least a cubic metre of ash rushed out with a great whoosh, burying my feet and enveloping us in a fine white cloud. We were washed white, ghosts of ourselves.

“Great,” I said. I shovelled what I could into the wagon but most ended up on the ground about us.

We spread it around, filling a hole some animal had dug and turning up a bit of the old grate, which had melted in a hot fire, and a few other strange items.

“It will wash away when it rains,” Nike said.

If it ever rains,” I grumped.

We shovelled a little into the compost bin and spread the rest of the small proportion we had managed to get in the wagon about the bottom of the garden.

I stamped my feet, and slapped my clothes, just spreading more white powder about. “What now?”

“Showers, I guess.”

Once clean, I lit the fire, which blazed with new gusto, able to draw with full breath. I brought down more and more wood, and watched it burn, finally heaving on the overnight log, which I could barely lift. By morning it had burned away.

Late last night we heard the koalas, a male in a brief grunting display. They are in the trees below the cottage, where the gully is deepest. It is a relief to know they are still here and safe for the moment.

I heard, too, the first bats, I think, as I was fading into sleep. Spring is not far off.


Nike returned from buying icing sugar for cupcakes to find a carpet snake across the driveway. She called out to me to come see it, and I ran up in my socks.

It must have been over six feet, and we watched it thread its way through the grass from its broad head right down to the tip of its tail. The rolling pattern of its scales, as it moved, was mesmerising, a sheen of colour catching the light.

“Perhaps it has recently shed its skin,” I said.

“Perfect, isn’t it?”

He made quite a bit of noise through the dry leaves and grass, making it difficult to sneak up on anything, you’d think. He was heading for my studio, which didn’t thrill me. I have seen the skin of something about that size on my roof before, and wondered, at the time, it if was coiled up behind the wine fridge feasting on native mice. As cute as they are, I’m sick of the mice this winter, and all their hissing and pooing and rapid multiplication; so the snake is welcome to as many as he likes. He had stopped right by the path to my studio door, and though we waited for some time, seemed to have settled there.

We returned to the cottage to ice the tangelo cupcakes and put on the kettle for tea. Pythons are big but not dangerous. Not to humans anyway. They are slow moving and have no venom. Still, there is something unsettling about the way a snake moves, the unlikelihood of it, the contained speed and strength.

As we sat down to “elevenses” the ‘chance of showers’ we’d been having for more than a week, finally turned into rain.

“It’s really raining,” I said, looking out through the French doors.

“Told you.”

In winter you forget. It was only January that we were cut off from the world, and watching the floodwaters rise in Brisbane. And even in March and April, surrounded by lush green and damp, we couldn’t imagine it dry, and now we can’t imagine it wet. It has been more than a month since more than a few spots had fallen, and for here, it is quite dry. We are low on water and watering the vegetables every second day.

As I finish my third cupcake, I am worrying about the woodpile, down to a few day’s worth, and the snake. We are to do a few hours writing today and I can’t put off returning to my studio much longer.

“I’m sure it moved on once it started raining,” Nike said.

“Maybe it knew it was going to rain, that’s why it curled up in there, under the grass.”

“Maybe it’s curled up inside now,” she said, “under your desk.”


The snake was not under my desk, nor anywhere that I could see. Later I hear birds squawking rather frantically outside; perhaps sounding the alarm as the snake travels south, towards Nike’s office.

We heard helicopters late yesterday, and joked of war and surveillance. As it turns out, a man has been arrested for the murder of Daniel Morcombe and the police and SES are out searching wetlands near Beerwah – about thirty kilometres south – for his body.

It is harder to get out of my mind than the snake. Daniel was taken not far from here, in 2003, and went to the same school as our own children. His disappearance, unresolved,  has shaped this community. Parents are fearful, teachers vigillant; any sense of a safe and carefree rural environment  in which children roamed free – the childhoods nike and I knew and were nostalgic for – was gone before we arrived.

I hope Daniel’s body will soon be found, and the trial process concluded quickly, giving his parents, his brothers, and the rest of the community some closure.

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