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How I climbed a small mountain, did something slightly ‘illegal’, & created the sacred

I chewed my quinoa and baked veg salad looking up at her; in 2 hours from now, it would start. After 16 years of no access, 500 locals had registered for ‘The Chinny Charge’, a 7km run/walk up our tiny but omnipresent Mount Chincogan, near Byron Bay.

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That triangle above my neighbour’s roof is where I’m going

The queue to collect our numbers was long, and you could feel the buzz of excitement; even Colin, who won the first ever Chinny Charge in 1967 with a time of 38 minutes and a $20 bar tab prize, was enthusiastic (in that utterly laid-back, short-phrased Australian country way)

“Stick to the rules, so we can hopefully do it again next year: wear shoes, don’t litter, stick to the path, and no fighting.” [Fighting? I’m going to be struggling just to breathe aren’t I? What exactly went on in the olde days round here??]

Yup, I’m happy to agree to all that. The tiny mountain is on private property, so unless the landowners give specific permission (which they do a few times a year to local  school groups), walking up her is officially trespassing. It’s a 3km walk through town to her base, and with street closures and people cheering, it feels special. My teenage son has run on ahead, despite having done zero training, but I’m happy to tuck my head down and walk slow but steady.

Because I know I’m soon to [technically] break the law.

It’s not easy, this walk. It hasn’t rained for weeks, so the land feels thirsty, and there’s a bushfire haze smudging the horizon. As I begin to climb up the folds of her dress, a young man charges back down. He’s wild-eyed and sweat-shiny, clearly determined to beat the fastest time 16 years ago (held by a sugarcane cutter who did it in bare feet). [We just found out he did it in 29 minutes, a new record. Apparently he’s climbed Everest too. I hate young people.]

Thank GOODNESS I did my water tower cardio training last week ‘Tackling the mountain’ HERE. Otherwise I’d be doomed…

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Stopping to take pics for you, dear Readers, gave my heart a rest, so thanks : ) 

Toward the summit, we bottlenecked. It got so steep and narrow, not to mention slippery and dusty as hell, that we could only take 2 or 3 steps at a time, giving way to those coming down (sometimes on their bums as the ground was so unreliable). My son jogged past me as I hit the traffic jam, and graced me with a grimace.

He knew what I was hoping to do up there.

So finally I got to the top. The last 300 metres were the most challenging, and I know many people turned back. But I’m stubborn, so here I am with the pole that marks the peak. There was literally a queue to walk around it, register your number as having reached the pinnacle, take a selfie, then return.

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I hung about, trying to find a special tree, rock or other natural marker. Maybe I shouldn’t do it? Maybe I’d be spotted and get in trouble? I’d imagined it as more spacious up there, with room for a small ceremonial moment…

I spent about 10 minutes watching the line of people coming up, turning round, and heading back down. I tried to find my truest heart voice: was I meant to go through with this or not?

Another 5 minutes passed.

Then into my headphones slipped a sweet, soft, French song I love, and I knew the answer was Yes. I looked around me with new eyes: where would he be happy? For in my pocket, I carried a tiny tub of my Dad’s ashes, and I was ready to leave some of him up here.

He died suddenly in 2008, having just visited us for 3 weeks in Australia. I felt like I was drowning for 2 years afterwards, crying every day, and wearing a bland mask at work. All my beloved food tasted like sawdust, and I had to sleep with the light on. Finally I dragged myself out of the official depression (thank you to dearest friends, acupuncture, therapy, dance, writing, and of course the inspiration of my son); the colours of Life came back to me, slowly but surely.

Dad was a global traveller, who’d lived in Paris for a long time when I was growing up, then retired to beautiful Vancouver Island. He died on Kauai off Hawaii though, so we scattered some of his remains there. We poured some into the ocean which lapped his house in Victoria, and my two brothers and I each took some home when we parted ways after the funeral. I confess I put some into the Japanese Gardens in Adelaide where I was living at the time, and which he’d loved visiting with me. A few more sank into a courtyard fish pond in Sydney, where we’d shared many lively family evenings with good food, wine, and conversation.

All that indiscriminate ash scattering was perfect for Dad, as it feels like he’s still on the move, connected with all his favourite places and people…

But back to me, sweaty and dusty, lurking round the tiny crest of a mountain, acting suspiciously. For according to the NSW Government Health Department fact sheet re cremations and remains dispersal:

“… It is important to get permission from the owners of private land or the Trust of Parks and reserves, or from local council… as scattering of ashes may contravene the provisions of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 in terms of air or water pollution.”

Yeah. Nah. Whatever. Never was a big fan of following the rules…

I spotted a double-headed ‘grass tree’, or Xanthorrhoea, an iconic Australian flowering plant. Strong, simple, long-lived, and still a little mysterious. Perfect. I sat on the dry ground beside it, listening to the last of the French words in my ears. I knew I didn’t have the time nor peace to create a long ritual, so I just closed my eyes, filled my heart with an awareness of Dad’s ongoing love and presence, thanked him for everything so far, and asked him to keep my son and I safe as we continued our living paths. I told him I still missed him, yet also feel him around; then I emptied the little canister straight into the earth at the very base of the tree, and sat quietly for a moment more.

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Thank you Dad, for so much.

Then I slid, scrambled, and slightly-hobbled my way back down the mountain, taking a photo of each side’s view of sea and land:

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The ubiquitous Finish selfie had to be taken [but I’m sparing you], then I farewelled various friends who’d also done the walk, and cycled the 5 minutes home through town.

I want to end by acknowledging the Indigenous people of the Bundjalung nation, traditional custodians of the land upon which we live and walk. I honour Mt Chincogan for letting me climb her skirt safely, and as I sit on my verandah at the very edge of her hem, looking back at her to write this, I feel changed, knowing that a part of Dad is up there too now. And always will be.

My son wants to know what’s for dinner; there’s washing up to be done, the cat is hungry, and the recycling bin needs emptying. The daily profanity of Life goes on, but now we’re doing it all watched by our newly, and truly sacred mountain.

 

Tackling the mountain, 200 steps at a time

We love our small mountain ‘Mount Chinny’. My son and I can see her from our verandah, keeping guard over our cute country town near Byron Bay, and she figures in many local photos:

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She’s the peak on the right

Supposedly, she’s the cap of the volcano ‘Mount Warning’, which blew her off millennia ago; you can see that parent mountain in the far distance:

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An extinct volcano, I’m happy to say

The base of Mt Chinny is on private land though, so access for the general public is restricted.

But this Saturday, all that is going to change: 500 lucky entrants are going to compete in ‘The Chinny Charge’, which was last run 16 years ago, and won by a sugar cane cutter in his bare feet!

I bought son ’17’ his entry ticket in the race, then realized I could just walk up it like other sane old people, and bought myself one too.

I’ve launched into a heavy training regime. Not. I drive to the steepest hill around here, which leads to a disused water tower, and walk up it, listening to loud Australian hip hop.

I’ve been doing it for nearly a week. I walked up and down 3 times, then 5, then 7, then 8. Today I did 8 again. I’m gonna do 2 x 10, rest on Friday, and then Saturday is the Charge to the top.

 

It gets very steep towards the top (of the water tower road, not the mountain. Obviously that is steep). The last 20 steps are the hardest (I counted: it’s 200 FYI). My incredibly fit friend says the urge to stop is all in your mind… I dunno about that, it sure feels like it’s a burnin’ and a weakenin’ in my thighs…

But anyway, the views at sunset are great (from the water tower road, not the mountain):

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It’s wild to think that on Saturday I’ll be up there, taking photos looking down… Stay tuned to see if I make it (I have no doubt that ’17’ will, even though he’s done zero training *sigh * sometimes I hate young people, and their boundless energy).

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Mother and daughter out for a walk

A hand strokes her back as they walk down the hill on this warm morning, heading away from me. Giving reassurance, or seeking it? The road is steep, and the frailer figure is definitely an old woman. Her back is stroked again, and I assume that’s her daughter, with the cherry red sunhat and white runners. Similar body shapes, similar height.

I’m walking into a mall in England with Mum, July 2017, and we realize the shop she wants is up on the second floor. I know her anxiety and claustrophobia won’t let her get in a lift, and she hates escalators too.

“Shall we walk up the stairs Mum? It’s not far. I can hold your arm, or you can hold the railing?”

“Ooh, I don’t know, I hate heights. Will you help me?”

“Yes of course. Just don’t look down. Let’s talk about something to keep your mind off the height, and definitely don’t look down OK?”

 The red hat leans in to whisper something, and the older woman laughs; I hear it tinkle up the hill on the spring breeze. The space between their bodies shrinks, then they move apart again, and link arms.

I put my arm through Mum’s, feeling the softness of her puffer jacket, and the thin bone beneath. At 51, I’ve never done this before. We’d never been that physically close, and I’ve lived in Australia by myself for over 30 years.

All around us in the mall, people move fast; the tinny music drapes itself on top of bland conversations, and the squeal of a cranky child creases the air.

“That’s it Mum, one foot in front of the other, and tell me how terrible you think the Conservative government is , especially your Prime Minister…”

The tarmac curves them away round the corner; they’re moving slow but steady, and I wonder if they do this everyday? Or perhaps it’s a weekly visit? The road leads past the old people’s home, where I can see multiple tiny balconies with a single chair and pot plant.

“We made it! Well done. Soon we’ll have to go down again of course.”

“I’ll be fine, don’t fuss. It’s noisy in here isn’t it? I’ve never liked shopping.”

We walk back through the lower level to catch the train home, and I keep our arms linked. We move slowly, letting people get out of our way as we fill the narrow pavement. The weak UK sun warms my face, and I breathe in the gift of this simple day, holding Mum safe.

I rub her back for a moment. Giving reassurance, or seeking it? I don’t know.

It will be another year till I’m here again; stay safe Mum.

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July 2017: first selfie at 81!

 

(I wrote a longer post last year about Mum in ‘Down the long lane’ HERE)

The ‘rainbow bar’ comes from an Australian engineer; here’s a screenshot

In this crazy time of hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes, I just want to celebrate a little human caring. This is for all you fabulous Americans/Canadians/UKs/Kiwis etc etc who (after my previous post HERE) commented “I wish I had one of those!”:

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I’d sent that post in to ‘Discover’ on WordPress, not to get ‘Discovered’, but just to try and let WordPress know how impressed I was. I fast got this email back from the Editorial Team:

“Hello GG,

Thanks so much for sharing your kind words about the rainbow bar with us. One of our Australian engineers conceived this idea and put it together to be able to show WordPress.com and Automattic’s support for marriage equality.

I posted your note and I know he’ll appreciate your support. As a Canadian, (where we’ve had marriage equality since 2005) I wholeheartedly hope Australia votes YES. Let love win!

All the best…”

And I’ve only had 2 negative comments, which I trashed, and removed as Followers of my blog.

Love and let Love indeed ❤

 

When a rainbow appeared in my blue WordPress sky…

It was a few days ago; did you get one? I suddenly registered that there was a rainbow band across the top of my blog, on every page, incl the Stats and Reader. It’s not on my actual blog site, but firmly everywhere else.

I couldn’t see it on other blogs though, so last night I Googled it: ‘Why rainbow on WordPress blog?’

Google offered me 2 other people who’d asked the same question of WordPress, both of whom were cranky, saying ‘get this rainbow off my site!’

Here’s the WordPress reply:

Australia will be holding a national survey on marriage equality over the next two months. To show our support for marriage equality, we’re showing the rainbow bar to all our Australian visitors. You can read more about the marriage equality campaign here: http://www.equalitycampaign.org.au/

We cannot remove this banner for individual sites. We understand it looks a bit different to what you’re used to, but it’s here for everyone. We absolutely respect your right to publish the content you choose to your site, but the navigation bar styling reflects WordPress.com’s stance as a company.

The rainbow bar will remain until after the survey results are released, on November 15.

If this causes you to choose to leave WordPress.com, we’re sorry to see you go. You can find documentation on how to move your site here: https://move.wordpress.com/

We can also assist your move with our Guided Transfer service: https://en.support.wordpress.com/guided-transfer/

WORDPRESS, I FUCKEN LOVE YOU FOR THIS! 

And here’s the poster my love ‘H’ designed… feel free to contact me [Australians only] and I can email it for you to print and put up. Love is Love xxoo

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Driving & talking with teenage son till I laugh/cry/laugh

So many times as a skinny teenager I used to ask ‘What’s for dinner Mum?’ She’d usually sigh, and dismiss me with ‘Oh I don’t know, I hate cooking.’

I made myself a lot of frozen pizza with instant mash potato.

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Remember this?

I learnt to love cooking though, especially after becoming a vegetarian in my early, idealistic twenties. When I had my son in my early thirties, I created different memories around food and eating with him; when he was 7 for example, I bought him his own small chopping knife to help me cook with, and ten years later, we still use it. We both enjoy good food a lot (he’s actually making dinner while I write this).

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$5 from Chinatown- money well spent

His Dad’s a good cook too. We separated when ’17’ was only a toddler, and at first our son spent 2 days with each of us. It slowly stretched to 3 days, then 4; I think he was about 5 when it grew to Week On/Week Off.

The day of ‘changeover’ became a mix of sadness and joy, for all of us. Sometimes it was fraught, other times simple. Sometimes I dreaded the farewells, and other times I couldn’t bloody wait. Not much has changed. After a long time of living more with his Dad and new step-mum plus two cute brothers, we have now evolved to Fortnight On/Fortnight Off.

Linked to that, one of our big treats together has long been pancakes on a weekend. Not every weekend, but often enough to feel like our small family ritual. Especially whenever he has friends for a sleepover, I make pancakes (albeit ‘healthy’ ones, with a mixture of buckwheat & spelt flours, plus minimal sugar, and organic free range eggs). I treasure the memory of my Dad making pancakes; he cooked them so fast my brother and I could barely keep up, and he didn’t pause to have one himself at all.

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Pancake evidence from caravan holiday 2008 (*just ordered by son to crop him out completely, even though he had the happiest smile)

So I do that with my son, watching happily as he and his friends stuff their grinning faces, smiling to myself at the sweet toppings they combine, while I wait to have the last one, always savoury. Mmmmm, avocado with salt & pepper, lemon juice and fetta cheese, perhaps tomatoes from the garden too.

What about the first one though? For some reason, it’s often a bit dodgy! We call it ‘the dog pancake’, although we only have a cat, and sometimes it even goes straight in the bin. Do you do that? What do you call it?

This afternoon, I picked ’17’ up after school, ready for our fortnight together, and we drove to get some of his belongings from his Dad’s. I was tired, with a headache from flying back after performing work in Cairns, lugging stilts and costumes around. He was tired from a day at school, plus not enough lunch. As he drove us home, the timeless scenario played out:

 

Him: ‘What’s for dinner Mum?’

Me: ‘Oh I dunno, I’m not in a very good cooking mood; maybe a quick pasta sauce?’

Him & Me: Generalized grumbling/soft protests/sighs/complaints/rebuffs/sighs/Silence…

LONG, LONG PAUSE

Him: ‘You know, I think the day we reunite is sometimes just the dog pancake.’

 

Long distance relationships Part 2: ‘Am I in a catapult?’

The thread between us HERE Part 1 regularly stretches 1600kms. Then it reached 17,000kms while I went to France and the UK. It spiralled in and relaxed on itself while we curled together in my home & wooden bed; now our 5-day date is over, and the 1600kms are back. Plus an extra 1000 as I’ve been flown up to tropical Cairns to walk on stilts for a weekend festival.

Actual sign from my morning walk

I’m feeling a bit wobbly from all the movement, all the to-ing and fro-ing. From all the fantasizing about the next long date to come (late Sept), and various future possibilities we’re both curious about (“One of my best friends lives a couple of hours drive away from you- perhaps I could spend 6 months staying there/Maybe we could both move to the same city next year, or the year after…”)?

Being in love is delicious, intoxicating, and addictive! Hearts swell like the cherry tomatoes in my garden; minds expand; souls dance. Energies entwine like pumpkin vines, sprouting determinedly wherever they can, winding themselves tightly.

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How can we not be changed by Love? Aren’t we seeking self-knowledge, exchange and growth?

Isn’t that the whole point??

What do you think? 

Yet where am I in all this? Am I losing my old familiar centre?

Yes. Which mostly is a really good thing. But sometimes it feels too fast, too big, or just a bit scary. A little piece of me wants to sit still, holding her teddy bear, and let all the threads and vines drop to rest for a moment.

I need to spend some time with that small Me, catapult-free, and report back…

 

Living with teenage son #25

Him: ‘Mum look, I’ve created a Study Nook! I’m so going to get on top of my assignments.’

Me [Looking at my now un-useable spare room, complete with blocked access to my linen cupboard, and removal of my only bedside lamp plus the living room coffee table]: ‘That’s great Honey…’

ONE WEEK LATER

Me [Having taken back my bedside light, and moved the coffee table so I can get sheets & towels out]: ‘How’s the study going?’

Him: ‘Well I can’t work now that my habitat has been destroyed.’