Getting petrol

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Max and Noah are getting on with things. They have their own version of work. It is very intense. Today, the trees need petrol to keep going.

There is a pipe buried at the base of the tree. They place a piece of bark over its lovely mouth and stare at it.

‘Petrol.’

‘Petrol in there.’

They squat, and stare at the piece of bark and the pipe, more thoughtfully.

Suddenly they rise up and go for the hose, drag it, grunting, panting. It is too long; it’s heavy and it knots its stomach and argues with their small feet. But they yank and wrestle it into place, refusing to give up.

Then they place the nozzle into the pipe and it fits. It is not a tree. It is a train.

‘Watch out.’

‘No’

‘Watch.’

‘Ok.’

And the water cooperates, a beautiful cold flood that darkens the ground and makes them briefly examine their feet. They check the bower, check the nozzle, check the fuel, crouch and stare, absorbed in the small heaving fountain. Noah taps the tree on its spindly shin. He says, ‘Done.’

Max agrees, ‘Turn off.’ But they can’t. The work is too important. They can’t leave it, the tap is too far away.  They remain with the train, stroking its hot roaring flank, loyal and possessive…

 

 

Gone

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Scraping softly across the top of the soil, they found it. The worm. They gazed down at it in astonishment.

Worm.

Noah, see.

Worm.

Where Pa?

Worm.

Worm. He’s in here.

No. Not.

They shuffled and dug and lost the worm. Great Grandma came out.

They said, Worm.

She said, Is there? That’s good.

They dug and pushed and piled things up. They breathed in garden, worm and disappointment.

Worm gone.

Great Grandma went past the other way.

They said, Worm gone.

She said, Oh well, there’ll be another.

They watched her go up the path and along the veranda.

Pa went past.

Max pointed downwards. Pa said, Good work!

They squatted down and inspected the soil. They put their noses down to the surface (just in case). Noah laid his head flat to the ground, ready for any possibility.

They waited.

 

 

Heat

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Thursday is too hot to open the shop. I stay home and Max comes to visit and although the heat floats around the house in soft, ticking waves he is unconcerned, he enters the drift delighted and he will find the tap, the hose, the sand, the stones, the buckets, regardless of advice. And so we sit out in it, enfolded and silent and the garden is falling, losing its height under the staggering weight of heat. Even the galahs, normally rummaging through noise and conflict, sit in lax groups, speechless, their black eyes stare down at us in amazement.
Max has made a pond with a peg and three shells and cold water. The hose, which was a melting length of green confectionary is now cooled. The tap, its head and mouth tipped with boiling metal is now tranquil. The bricks leading to the sandpit, slabs of unconcerned strength, are now watered and calm. Max has a tiny horse, a tractor and half a tennis ball and he works on in the shadows, mixing water with his treasure, adding cold cakes of wet sand, squatting beneath the shimmering surface of the morning, blending bliss with heat and altering my definition of the day.

Outside

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Max is outside, there is much to do. He pushes his baby wheelbarrow, leaning forward into hard work, inside it a pair of secateurs that he isn’t allowed to have, a bone, some gum leaves, an iris blade, a bottle top and a feather; a heavy load of world treasure all of which needs to be banked. He pulls at fragrant plants releasing startled beads of mint, lavender, lemon balm into his senses and Masie, the good kelpie, follows behind, a dignified butler, hoping for the ball which is also in the wheelbarrow, taking stalks and leaves in her mouth from him, as delicate as a surgeon. Max gets caught on hot bricks, cries for rescue, he becomes tangled in ants and cannot move, he knows they sting and he watches them swarm, all 2 of them, across his feet and cries for rescue again. He likes the bees which talk to him at head height, he likes the cat who watches him humourless and hidden. He likes water, grass seeds and old bones. It is early summer and the garden must be a thousand miles deep, yields a mixture of prickles, snails, pea straw, charcoal, an old chain, a tub full of strawberries that must be dug over vigorously and quite ruined, Pa’s boots large enough to fall into. Max tracks around and around and around pursuing the work of ten men, attended by one sheepdog, herding her young.

Max Plants Nothing

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I have made a garden with a fountain and a solar pump and tubs with seeds – useful things like chives and oregano and sage. But I left one pot empty for the players.

Max discovers this pot of smooth, soothing soil, seemingly empty, and aching to be disturbed. When he stares down at the square, he dribbles softly, a habit from infancy when a new discovery would override the signal to swallow, which, compared to a pot of good dirt is hardly important.

He begins his work immediately.

It is winter, but it is not cold. Indeed, the winter garden is inattentive, already putting out tiny leaves, believing spring is near although it is not. The earth is soft and obedient.

Max works silently, tasting the earth with his hands, sifting and moving it to where it should be. He moves a pinch to the left and stares down into the planet. Overhead the galahs slide from one quarrel to another, but he is not interested, the sound of the dirt moving and shifting, the texture of particles is too deafening.

He listens to the depth, handles the value, his baby hands clutch and pinch and hover over an overwhelming landscape caught within a pot and shrieking possibilities. He does not want to leave the pot.

There is a bark chip nearby that is annoying. He picks it up and throws it hard into the pot. He looks across at his young mother who is watching him, thinking he might find some information about the bark. His mother is watching him closely and he receives this information, that he has both of her eyes on him, and so he takes flight, replenished, and continues on, tending his tiny potted acre. He makes a decision and flings the bark chip away.

 

Max eats grapes

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All along the side trellis, along the bricks, under the Chinese elm, toward the orchard there are grapes, dark, hot and suspended in a purple and silly way right in front of Max as he forages through the garden most days.

Now he returns to that exact place, balances in the soft dirt and picks and eats purple until he is found and removed.
He uses a superior grip, thumb and forefinger, not the whole bunch at once but one small grape a time, leaving the rest intact. He is witness to the tough and springy operation of the grape vine, the peeling barks, the spoky birds, the grapy colours that deepen every day under summer’s gentle simmer; now they are ruby red and falling into purple, the bricks underneath are inked with the overburden.

He balances on knees, well back, and leans in and in, mouth open, the other hand spread out, holding the air, resolving the balance, delicate as a watchmaker, suspended in time, missing nothing. Sometimes he examines the purple bead first, breathes at it noisily before consuming, sitting back on heels, the other hand still stroking the air, no part of him absent from the feast.
The garden sighs, exhales, unknowing of its cargo, the hot and furious cat, the drooping orchard, a dripping hose, somewhere a hammer, somewhere a family and everywhere the summer.

The Tap

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Paths are good because they always go somewhere. And if you can’t see the end of it, you can leave that out and just enjoy the moment for the moment, but always holding like treasure, in the side of your eye, the end of the path. That never comes because it is a treasure in the side of your eye. Playing here like a child is child’s play.
Max is just learning to walk, and his feet urge him on and on over any ground he can get. He still needs a helping hand to grasp as he walks, large careful steps with the knees lifted as high as possible in case the shadows rise up for tripping. He is not interested in the beginnings of paths as there aren’t any. He has no interest in the end of paths as he is already there. Everything he can imagine so far has arrived.
Instead, like babies do, he helps himself to every inch of the available minute, the breathing light, the slanting heat, the lawn mower that is not allowed, his pumping legs that cover a mere metre over an eternity and now there are ants.
He toddles across warm bricks and cool decking, through sand and over gum leaves that break and cause him to pause, over wind washed bark, through cobwebs and dropping branches. When he comes to the pot of hydrangeas, he stops and taps the pot. The hydrangeas are drunk with heat, they lean over with their heads against the pot, asleep or unconscious, they do not stir just because a baby knocks on their house.                           He goals the trailer, the bins, the tool shed and each time is swept back to sensible. He angles for the lawn mower, a favourite magic. But he is guided on and around it, it is not safe. He frowns, rocks to and fro, looks down to examine something he thinks is in his hand, suddens upward to look aghast at cockatoo. Then he drops abruptly to his hands and knees, and moves fluently again in the old language, across bricks, faster than walking, he is breathing fast and making for the tap, remembering that it is the greatest living treasure after all and at the end of all paths.

 

 

This morning it was not possible to sleep.

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This morning, it was not possible to sleep past five am because the air was spoked through with bird call, too much of it, and mostly it is the pink and grey galahs and also the white corellas that moved in before Christmas and have not yet packed up their campsites. Sometimes they all shout at once.

The lemon light is already warm, and it is stitched through with too many birds. I am outside on the lawn and can see through the window that Max is awake, standing up in his cot and looking out with his hair sticking upwards, rumpled, warm. He is looking out through the window into the green, holding his head, with the sticking up hair to one side, looking gravely into the feathered and beautiful morning which is where I am standing, right in it, wondering what it is I have right now, joy or sorrow. I can see Max listening to the birds as they inform him that he is awake.

Digging

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The most important exertion at the moment is packing, digging and throwing.

Max is in the garden, he has found a rectangular brick planter full of lovely earth. At the moment it is only growing some rogue basil. He grasps the earth and hurls it out. He does it again. It is physical and substantial work, and difficult, it requires coordination and regulation. He does it again and yet again.

He regards the thrown earth on the path, he is breathing hard, he dribbles but does not notice the line of saliva that falls, it represents his intense link with living, with movement, with sensation, with the smell of earth, water, basil, sunlight, gumleaf, and the ticking of the summer sprinkler. The dog lies nearby with the hopeful tennis ball, sometimes the earth scatters over her ears, she shakes her head kindly, keeping watch over the young.

Max pulls on the basil leaves, the air is poked through with basil, he grimaces against the basil, it is lovely.

He regards his warm, starfish hand, it is covered with hot soil, he frowns, dribbles, turns his hand over and back again.

Maisie the kelpie is barking through the fence, Max regards the walkers on the dirt roadway also through the palings, his mouth is open in amazement, he slants his baby head to one side, seeking the sliding voices through the hot fence.

It is a warm, gum tree evening, the birds are frantic with this evening, Max stands, covered in this evening, in warm earth, he is regarding the sky, the trees, the galahs, the basil, the breathing of the garden. He cannot close his mouth and does not swallow, this would take up valuable time.

Then there is a voice he knows; his mother, calling for bedtime, he drops to the pathway, preparing to crawl, there are basil leaves clinging to his thighs, he arrows for the door, still looking backwards at the outraged galahs, crawling toward the mothership and clinging with ecstasy to his warm, baby life.

 

 

 

Max and I go into the garden after it has been raining.

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One morning at the shop, Yvonne put her head in the door and called out: How’s Max? How much does he weigh? I told her and she said: God bless his dear little heart.

Well, the other evening, when it was hot, very hot, it had suddenly rained. And I was in the garden with the secateurs and then, when it rained, there was only the dark rich green, the leaves, the water running down the leaves and the silver of the secateurs. That silver under the rain was so silver.

Then it stopped raining so I went inside and brought Max outside to walk through the raining water and the raining garden.

From the doorway, it was too bright to see. So we went the short distance to the lime tree in a tub and looked carefully at the basil underneath. In that wet, hot evening light it was all emeralds. It seemed valuable. I crushed one leaf close to Max, close to his nose and we went on down the wet path, pursued by basil. Then the white cockatoos are overhead, they tear the sky with their screaming joy. Max is frowning and looking up through water and light and we stand for a long time looking up at those scribbling nuisances.

Then down again, down the path, past the Chinese Elm that is not doing well, the lavender, the rogue fig tree that we did not plant, the lemons and then beneath our feet, gum leaves, gum leaves and gum leaves. Then we are at the gate and you might be asleep.

But you are not. Your eyes are buttons, fastened to the rinsed light and the blowing gum trees.