Sunday, August 06, 2006

TIME AND TIDE by Jan Lowing

Time. It means such different things to different people at different times!

To a baby, each minute can bring a brand new experience. Everything is new, puzzling, a source of constant wonder. Time is immaterial. For those early years, but not for long, time is meaningless. A series of simple things, feeding, sleeping, crying. Before long, rolling around, crawling, standing up. Walking. All in a few short months. Then soon time will take shape into days. Pre school days, weekends, birthdays, Christmas day. Parents will talk about days that have passed, or how many days until something special happens. In only a few years, time develops dimensions for a child. Past, present, future.

For the mother, her child is learning, changing, altering from one day to the next. Subtle changes, but she will never revisit the previous day’s wonder of something done for the first time. The first smile. A fleeting moment when she caught an expression that reminded her of a long dead relative. The baby seems to be trying out the genetic choices before settling on what it will look like, after more time has passed. Babies learn so quickly in their first year, grow so much, develop so many skills. Never again will so much be packed into such a short time. The mother learns to live in a special dimension of time too. How long the child will sleep, how long she has to catch up on the housework, how long she can shop before the wails of boredom, thirst or discomfort force a halt.

How many mothers put aside that period of time until all their children start school? Very few, in these modern times. Most young mothers work to help out with paying for the material comforts they have come to expect as essential. Their time is never their own, and they have very little time with their husbands to relax and enjoy each other. They have to pack a whole day’s housework and childcare into a few hours. Not so long ago, they could have taken their time to enjoy these few years when their children are young. Would life in a past time be more or less rewarding? A smaller house, less money to spend, but no large debts to worry about either. Not so much time spent caring for a big house and garden, more time to go on a picnic or camping trip, or just play with the children.

Retirees seem to have plenty of time, but they constantly ask ‘Where’s the year gone? Hasn’t it flown?’ Maybe they’re thinking of the dwindling number they have left to enjoy on this amazing earth. Many certainly seem set on seeing as much of it as they can. But how many really absorb and delight in the wonders they see every day? How many travellers spend time looking at maps when they could be looking out the car window instead. Or see everything through a camera lens instead of soaking it up through the senses.

Very old people have yet another sense of time. They have plenty of time to think about the people they’ve known, now gone, and places and events where they’ve been especially happy. Times past. They have plenty of time to enjoy their families now, but unfortunately the younger ones have very little time to spare for them. What a pity. They could hear about those interesting, long-gone times and learn where they fit into the greater scheme of things. Their own place in time.

Jan Lowing ©


My favourite place since coming to live in Queensland is the peak of the hill between my house and Nobby. The view is amazing. If you stop at the right place you can nearly see right around the 360’. I tell my visitors to go up there, turn their car around, and stop for a few minutes.

Sometimes I wonder if I go shopping just to enjoy the view on the way home. It’s a great feeling to come over the crest of that hill after driving interstate and there, suddenly, is this wonderful panorama with my little farm nestled beside the road down in the hollow.

The best thing is the constantly changing light, every time you reach the crest there’s a surprise. Some days there’s a pink tinge, sometimes mauve, you can never tell what’s in store. Sometimes there are huge, stormy, billowing cumulus clouds. Yesterday there was a layer of puffy, longish grey and white ones, very neat and orderly, but above them the stronger air currents had strewn the sky with wispy streaks. In mid summer the sky is a plain bare blue, but the dust particles in the air still gives variations on our theme; you don’t realise until everything’s suddenly so clear, pristine and sparkling on the morning after a storm. You can be quite certain that it will never, ever, be exactly the same. Each day brings a new view that changes throughout the day; it’s a moving, living canvas. The sky and the hills are the background, the horizon. Before them lies an incredible, intricate, mosaic in seasonally changing colours. At present the rich red brown of unharvested sorghum dominates; it’s split up by the green of winter oats, the rich black fallows, dead fawny grasses, yellowy brown corn waiting for harvest, and occasional dots of grazing cattle. Soon the richness of the sorghum will disappear, the frosts will burn off everything except the feed oats, struggling for moisture to survive, and in the dead of winter the dominant colour will be the browns of fallow paddocks waiting for the spring rains.

My favourite time of the year is when the pale lime green shoots of new corn appear through the rich soils in their geometrically correct rows. The farmers around here take pride in their precise work, the standard of excellence they achieve is impressive. Today my neighbour started to sow the immaculately prepared onion beds which had been so carefully readied some weeks ago. They have been lying like giant slabs of Kit Kat bars that stretch over the horizon, and now rows have been drilled carefully down the raised parts and the tiny seeds dropped in. Soon the fragile plants will emerge. The irrigator will creep slowly up and down the rows, and I will lie awake at night listening to its disturbing hum and worrying about the huge amount of underground water it uses. Last year they ploughed in acres of big, juicy, fat onions because the price dropped half way through harvest. That year the harvesting men were tall, slim and very black, travelling in white vans. The previous year there were Asian families in coolie hats who drove old model cars and parked in the paddock with umbrellas for shade.

The only certainty in this landscape is the constant change.

Jan Lowing ©