When Berries are Ripe

Tom garden

 

Who taught you how to know when berries are ripe? When the time for picking is best? When to wait and when to act?

 

Was it your mum, your dad, older brother, or grandmother perhaps? Are you still waiting to be taught? Do you even like berries? If you are an Aussie like me, you may never have picked a wild berry until exploring the decadent gardens of the UK, only ever paying stupid prices for punnets of berries from Coles before.

 

I’ve spent that past week on the Isle of Wight…a gorgeous sunny relaxed island on the southern tip of the UK, Britain’s very own holiday destination. Sharing the week with a dear friend and her 22 month old, in the same week in which my own grandmother has passed away, I have been struck with a string of memories and thoughts about family ties, heritage, learning, and how we absorb our past into our very skin.

 

My friend’s son spends much of his time with his grandmother, quintessentially in her allotment (a fab British tradition of community based gardening), watering the many fruits, vegetables, berries and flowers that his grandmother labours over. He knows the lay of the land, his “ga ga” (garden), grabbing the hose and watering his favourite apple tree with ease and joy. He enjoys the natural pleasures of strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, and even gooseberries! He is learning when to wait and when to harvest, discovering how life is sweet with changing seasons and sharing the joy of plucking fruit direct from shrub to mouth, often with purple finger tips.

 

Sharing this with his grandmother and mum, these are indestructible memories, they are the fibre of his growth, building the core of his understanding, creating shared experiences which will bounce back to his mind in snippets in the future. They will perhaps be memories he shares with future girlfriends as he tells his own life-story on first or second dates… “when I was little I lived on the Isle of Wight and loved my grandmother and her garden….”

 

He will always know when a berry is ripe, and know what to do with rhubarb. He is becoming beautifully British.

 

With my grandmother passing away this week, I am flooded with shared memories long forgotten… school holiday train tips to the city, eating so many cinnamon donuts, hours spent in her hot kitchen baking and slaving, Sundays in church “peace be with you and also with you”, mornings spent brushing our hair 100 times and applying eye make up in pale morning light. I recall breakfast tea and toast in bed that my grandfather would bring to us, my grandma asserting that my future husband should have such basic skills and chivalry as this.

 

She never taught me when berries were ripe for the picking, mainly how to choose and cook them!

 

As I cruise along on this English train today, drinking Pimms and lemonade from a can and knowing how that would upset my Grandma (Pimms should be drunk only from a glass you see), I run my hand over my un-brushed hair and feel a twinge of… shame is it… or perhaps just disconnection from my past.

 

This week I learnt from others how to know when berries are ripe. Tomorrow I will brush my hair 100 times, drink Pimms only from a glass, and accept only partners who will bring me tea and toast in bed.

 

So hold on to those shared memories, and create new ones as much as you can. They seep into our skin and our selves and do not disappear.

gma pic

Ecuador Is…

 

andes

 

Ecuador is…

polite hellos

and warm goodbyes

mountain peaks

clouds damp upon my cheek.

It’s turning single lanes to four

your heart high up in your mouth

the skills of your driver evident

riding the clutch

amongst a billion beeps.

 

Ecuador is…

deep green folds in our mother earth

Pacha Mamma – pristine; clean.

It invites you inside

to wander all her fields

grants the sleep

much needed

finally blessed in peace.

 

Ecuador is…

that queasy sense of altitude

pressing tightly on your tummy

and loosely in your head.

It’s coca tea you take

to sooth your ills;

the toast, the bread,

and

soon enough

the pills.

 

Ecuador is…

small villages set amongst the hills

grey-haired men in bowler hats

braided women tending the palest of corn.

They walk out in front

of large fast trucks

‘caus this land is theirs

you see

 

Ecuador is…

newly paved roads

car loans and second homes;

it’s people climbing out of poverty

straight on into debt.

An economist president

bulging theories from U.S.

Ecuador is craving to be bigger

but be careful

there be no safety net.

 

Ecuador is…

half built homes

bessa block jigsaws

forgotten

when the dollar ran out

people waiting: waiting:

how many cokes sold on buses

will it take?

 

Ecuador is beauty

and contradiction by its crime

it’s turning your head

expecting a gun

but instead

more often than not

finding bliss

 

Ecuador is…

sea lion pups as your new best mates

who twist and play every day

it’s looking around

before you walk:

iguana hazards galore

 

It’s allowing the Shaman

to rinse you of your witches

traversing long Amazonian rivers

It’s deep jungle sounds

in the pitch black of night

heard from false safety

of your mosquito net.

 

Ecuador is…

hammocks to relax

and retreat

If you find a few seconds

between the full action approach

then you can unwind the city

straight out of your bones

 

Ecuador is…

feeling lucky to have survived it:

seas lion bites and

disastrous kayak rides

upturned with

sharks underneath

abduction fears and

chaos all about.

 

Ecuador, you make a me sweat:

you have pulled me

this way

and

then that

I’ll take all my memories

with me

honestly

unlikely

to be back.

 

You’re a wild and exotic space

Ecuador

so wild I need a rest now

your beauty so

powerful

I must

stop

to take

a breath now

 

lady in markets

 

 

 

 

Amazon Power Animals

sloth hut

 

So, what’s your Amazon power animal? This sounds like one of those Facebook surveys doesn’t it? Like, “what city should you live in? What colour are you? If you were a tree, which one would you be?” So, before FB, there was the Amazon Jungle, and many tribes within it. And, apparently, just by answering a few simple questions, local tour guides from these tribes can tell you what your Amazon spirit power animal is. Yay! We can finally know – are you agro alligator, cheeky monkey or sneaky slimy anaconda? Colourful toucan perhaps, or my personal favourite power animal – the three-toed tree sloth?

 

Having just spent 5 days hacking our way through jungle vines and alligator invested waters, I would say I am definitely the sloth. I much preferred the laying around in hammocks day dreaming and reading rather than the chest-high-swamp-trekking. I’m sure a lot of you would be with me on this one. A guide from another group agreed with my self-assessment of me as a sloth, which was ‘proven’ through a fool proof power-animal-questioning tool.

 

Are you ready for the fool proof question? You too can discover your power animal! Ok, so imagine you are in the jungle (insert humidity, insects, canoe rides, leeches, amazingly tall trees, screeching birds, tree-swinging monkeys etc etc), and you are walking (hacking) your way through it when you reach a brick wall. Looking both ways you can’t see the end of the wall, and looking up you can’t see the top. After some exploration of the wall you confirm that there’s no way around it or over it. What do you do?

 

Ok…… So what did you say you would do? Share it with the person next to you (especially if you are reading this on the bus or train). Your answer to this question will reveal your power animal!! It’s that easy. For example, if you said you would bash through it, this indicates you like changes in life and you are a…. Butterfly 🙂 If you said you wouldn’t do anything and remain on your side of the wall, then welcome to the kingdom of sloths!! For every other response there is a power animal.

 

This fun tone turned a little more serious when we went to visit the local shaman, as you do. It soon became obvious how genuine their belief in the animal spirit world is. Our crazy, joking, boat-rocking guide suddenly spoke seriously about the process which the shaman goes through in accessing the animal spirits while healing others. Not an eye flinch between them when speaking about chugging down the hallucinogenic healing plant Ayahuasca and communing with the jungle animals to get their assistance in removing the dark energies from the person the shaman was trying to heal.

 

Being in the jungle it made sense to me too…the animals rule this huge sprawling dominating jungle. Even while lying in my hammock they were never out of swat-distance or ear shot – birds screeching, monkeys hooning past. The animals are truly kings there and we are the town jesters surviving our brief moment of wilderness living. The tribes who live there do so with respect for the animals and their spirits.

 

If I lived there (never happening by the way) the first thing to do would be to seek the animals’ permission; throw some Ayahuasca down and get in touch with those Amazon animal spirits, ’cause you gotta make friends with the locals right.

 

So, I’m happily getting used to my sloth-power, finding the power in stillness and slowness. What do you think is your Amazon power animal?

 

Shaman Healing

Shaman Healing

 

amazon hammock

 

Compassion Galapagos

sea lions

 

The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Smack bang in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, literally hundreds of kilometres from anywhere. I am half way around an island-hopping adventure tour of the islands, and it’s phenomenal. Known for its unique, strangely mutated animals and being the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution and the survival of the fittest, it’s mind-blowingly different and it’s had me amused and thinking.

While listening intently to our local guide, an Ecuadorian David Attenborough, I am struck with our human desire to protect life, and to encourage life to continue and flourish. We want life to go on, and are constantly rooting for it… So to speak.

Two events in particular had me thinking about Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory, and even where we humans sit within it all. Is compassion one of our strongest survival secrets?

Our first day on San Cristobal Island was awesome. We stepped around a corner onto a beach littered with shiny, beautiful, playful sea lions. [Insert squeals of delight.] They were lazing along the beach, cuddling, warming themselves, and frolicking in the bay. We dove in and had our first of many encounters with the gregarious pups. My brother jokingly pushed me towards one of the larger male sea lions until it advanced on both of us and we retreated as quickly as our big feet-fins could take us. An early lesson in choosing your sea lion playmate.

The playful day ended sadly, as there was one tiny sea lion pup, just 4 months old according to our guide. He was scouting the beach looking for his mum, approaching any female sea lion and barking at them, hoping to identify himself as the female’s pup. Each time the females would bark loudly back, aggressively rejecting the pup. Our guide explained that 3 out of every 10 pups will die, having become separated from their mother and unable to survive alone. “And no adoption here”, claimed ‘Attenborough’. Battling to protect their own pups, taking on another’s pup is not ever considered.

The pup followed us up the beach, barking and crying, looking for some food, some warmth, some love from other sea lions. He hobbled along, and I had to quicken my pace, to avoid picking him up and taking him home. I later learnt that the naturalists of the islands are against human intervention to assist in survival, as it’s considered a part of the natural ecosystem, or “the circle of life” if you will. The sea lion population is healthy and carcass of a dead sea lion pup maintains many other animals on the islands.

Struck in the face with the reality of ‘survival of the fittest’, I was much happier the following day to witness a much more fun part of this survival phenomenon – the mating dance of the Blue Footed Boobie. Yes, a rather regal bird, endemic to the islands, it’s like a prettier, taller, leaner, stronger seagull, with shiny blue feet.

Lucky enough to be on the islands in mating season, our group stood amused and intrigued for a good 20 minutes, having stumbled across a male and female Boobie engrossed in their mating dance – an entertaining sight. The male kicks it off with a kind of ridiculous forward moondance, and stands high on large rocks, all in an attempt to show off just how blue his feet are. The bluer his feet, the more likely he is to get some female action. The female plays the aloof game, facing away for part of the dance, waiting to make sure she is making the best choice she can, for that season anyway. Then, when she is sure he is quality, she begins gurgling her neck and flapping her wings as signs of affirmative action.

What struck me (other than just how funny this all was to watch), was our human desire to see the Blue Footed Boobie get some action. We didn’t care too much for actually seeing the final deed, yet all of us in the group were rooting for them to get together. We wanted them to win, to get it on, to keep going, to survive. Each time he turned away we collectively groaned in pain, and each time they moved closer to each other we leaned forward in anticipation.

In both cases, with the sea lion pups and the Boobies, we cared about their happiness and their survival. It doesn’t make sense to us, as humans, to leave our human ‘pups’ to fend for themselves, even if they aren’t our own. We have adoption, and fostering, and larger family, who we call on for help when we need it. And when we go out with our friends, we want them to get lucky, to pick up, to find the man with the bluest feet. Because we have compassion for each other, we want others to be happy, and want the very best for them.

Perhaps our compassion is our key to survival. We aren’t the strongest animal, or the biggest, or most beautiful, but we are connected and we care about each other. So as a whole species, we are fit when we care.

Of course, at times we lose track of ourselves and others; we get tired, and busy and needy in ourselves. But overall, when the big questions and decisions come, we must continue to truly care. When given the opportunity to care, we must pick up and love our baby pups, even when they are not our own, and we must choose the bluest feet around, always. It’s a matter of survival, don’t you think?

blue footed boobies

Trust In Allah, But Tie Up Your Camels

 

So you may be thinking…an odd start to a trip in South America…did Kerryn get the wrong plane and end up in Egypt…Isn’t South America very Catholic….and what does this camel have to do with anything? Well, in the first few days in Ecuador I have discovered this old proverb and realised its relevance everywhere. If you hear me out I’m pretty sure it’s relevant for us all.

 

While staying a few days in Cuenca, Ecuador, our main (only) “must do” was an old Incan site called Ingapirca, the only remaining Incan site in Ecuador, high up in the Andean mountains. The helpful tourist centre had given us pretty clear instructions, so rather than take an expensive day tour we opted for the local bus option. It sounded straight forward enough: 2 hours, one bus, site tickets on arrival. Feeling quietly confident we headed down to the bus station early, silently and unknowingly trusting in Allah as we went.

 

Bam! Welcome to Ecuador! You gotta love a third world bus station yeah? From the second you step inside your senses are on demand. Stalls with names of towns you could only pronounce badly; street hawkers selling all forms of tasty delights; kids weaving; tourists floundering; buses bellowing at you to leave ten minutes ago. It’s proverbial mayhem and it’s great.

 

I am traveling with my lovely mum at this stage, and as we stand taking it all in and trying not to look too bewildered, a man approaches me and asks where we are going. I manage to say we are going to Ingapirca in my terrible Spanish and he ushers us towards another man, yells “Ingapirca” at him and nods his head emphatically at us, indicating we go with his mate/colleague/fellow con man. See, it’s at this stage the trust comes in. Mum hesitates, a fair response given these are unknown men in a country where every travel guide warns you of scams around every corner, and fair game we are right now! But at that second I choose to go with trust. In Allah, in Buddha, in God, in Ecuadorians. Trust in the fact that we are now being guided into a agency’s hole in the wall, where the man gives instruction to the long haired woman behind the counter that we want to go to Ingapirca. No scam, just friendly helpful (business) people. In a matter of minutes we have our $2.50 bus tickets, a warning from the women to watch our bags on the bus and are being again ushered onto bus number 7, bound for Ingapirca (via everywhere). Sweet.

 

We sit, clutching our bags obviously casually, amused and entertained by the range of (always short) Ecuadorians clambering onto the bus, shoved and barked at by a red-faced round man who will accompany the bus all the way to Ingapirca, shouting destinations and ticket prices as locals climb on board in the middle of nowhere and jump off in the middle of nowhere else.

 

Our second Allah-trust choice came a few seconds later. Our red faced man had some competition, by a wiry pale faced young man who jumped aboard and began what can only be described as a rant at the front of the bus. His words way too fast for us to even try to understand, mum is sure she heard the word ‘immune’ before he started to hand out small caramel lollies to all. First instinct was of course that he was selling them. But as we watched him move down the bus he gave them out to all without collecting any dollars in return. Disbelieving but stocked, I happily took three of the offered caramels. Ahhh so trusting.

 

But no Allah here! His second trip down the aisle was to collect our pennies. Red faced man and pale wiry man started to go head to head. Red Face pushed through the standing people to get to Pale Wiry, in attempts to get him off his bus. Pale Wiry stood his ground, his rapid fire of words like caramel bullets, dodging the other passengers and aimed directly at Red Face now. There is however nowhere to hide on a bus, and Red Face had the home ground advantage (it was his bus after all). Pale Face cut his loses, grabbing any 25 cents he could get from us as he was dragged off the bus. Always in favour of an underdog I tossed him 30 cents as he hightailed out.

 

I was still laughing ten minutes later, at Pale Wiry’s business gusto and my forever naïve belief that we were getting free caramel. Mum was the one who put the morning’s events into perspective. “Trust in Allah but tie up your camels” she said. “I’m sorry, what?” Mum repeated it “something my friend told me once, trust in Allah but tie up your camels”. Its best to have faith and trust in our gods, the universe or the good of people, but don’t be so foolish to lose all your camels along the way.

 

So I was glad we had trusted in our first two men at the bus station, as we plodded along in our entertainment bus to Ingapirca. Perhaps next time though I will take more time to tie up my camels, or I’ll end up with more unwanted caramels.

 

Whatever else you do this week, remember to take a moment to trust in Allah, but watch out for Pale Wiry men selling caramels.

 

Oh, and we made it to Ingapirca…

 

Ingapirca