Monday, April 30, 2012

“Another man, an American, had once told her in a high, laughing moment his theory of love. It was magic, he said. The magic ain’t real, darling, but when it’s gone, it’s over.” – Tim Winton, Dirt Music

To the End of the World.

We had finished the hike and left the national park around 2.30 so by the time we go to the coast around Albany, we were quite famished and worn from the heat of the sun. We drove in silence with the loud sound of the wind whipping through the windows filling the car with warm air as we realized it was too loud to bother talking and we were equally too tired to bother exerting any more energy.  Fish, the guy I had met at the half way point, had mentioned seeing some places called The Gap and The Blowholes, so with map in hand, I directed us there, with the hopes of a sea-side restaurant. The prospect slowly diminished as we drove past the turn for the town-center and veered down the Frenchman Bay Pennisula. As soon as we did, I knew there would be no eateries from previous beach-side adventures, but this was withheld, unbeknownst to the driver. As soon as he realized it, when we turned into Torndirrup National Park, the mood turned sour. Luckily, for me as a saving grace, and for both of us as an unforgettable experience, the stop was well worthwhile. 
The Gap is, literally, the end of the Australia. The rocks we were standing on were once connected to Antartica.
 The rocks were smooth and climbable, but everywhere were signs posting danger, warnings of swift winds blowing you away and unexpected rushes of waves that could sweep you away. And rightfully so. The wind was forceful and the sea was crashing against the coast – the combination resulting in the reason for the smoothness of the rocks and the formation of the gap. 
 Brave tourists shimmied to the edge, as close as they dared for a photo opp, while others stayed to the built footpath and scant guard rails.

As close as I could get, I peered over the edge and the cliffs just dropped directly into the tumultous sea – there would be no saving if you went over. 
It was late afternoon and the sun was starting to set, casting a gorgeous light over the coast.  I found it, despite all the potential for danger, incredibly peaceful. I imagined bringing a good book and laying on the smooth rocks, basking in the warm sun with intimate thoughts about the world while sitting at the very edge of it. It had a familiar reminiscence of Ireland – of Giant’s Causeway matching the same rocks in Scotland as they do here in Australia and Antartica, as well as the natural beauty of Horn Head with it’s coastal winds daring to blow people off into the cold Atlantic.

But then the pangs of hunger and the fact that I couldn’t remember the last time I was in a place with so many tourists (and it really wasn’t that many) reminded me that we needed to refuel before heading back in the dark. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

You Put the Buff in Bluff Knoll.

As noted as one of the top 25 best hikes in Australia, you definitely need to be buff to hike this non-knoll in Western Australia’s Stirling Range. Perhaps, if not definitely, chosen for it’s well-known name and fame, I was not prepared for such physical activity. And by not prepared I mean: 1 run in the last month and a half, lifting bottles of wine and cases as the most exercise I get every day, 30C cloudless weather in the middle of the day, the caloric endurance of half a banana, a Cadbury egg, and leftover wine swimming in the system from the night before, and no water bottle to accompany the hike. Let’s just say that if I were thrown into the Hunger Games, I would not survive. While I was climbing up the steep incline, if I wasn’t thinking about fainting or about my knee popping out of the socket as it often does or about whatever creature was lurking in the leaves around me or concentrating on my non-inhaler breathing techniques, then I was thinking about the silver parcel floating down from the sky delivering me a bottle of ice-cold water. It never arrived to drown out those other thoughts from my mind and I thought I would certainly evaporate into the heat. Actually, the top of Bluff Knoll actually does get snow - maybe one of the few places in Western Australia that does - although it was hard to fathom such an idea at the time.

1,000 million years old
 I did make it to the half way point - 1.6km up - and had a lovely viewing spot to contemplate whether or not the photo opps at the top or my pride were worth the physical exertion required to make it the rest of the way. I did try to continue, until JD came bounding down, saying that the second half is much steeper and the view was impressive but all I needed was a shrug of convincing to turn around and head down towards water and lunch. 
view of the carpark down below.
The Stirling Range National Park is home to over 1,000 different species of flowers and plants and amongst those along my way, I actually saw a lizard the size of my arm walk out in the path in front of me - which for a 5'10" person is of impressive length - but I could not muster up the energy to take a picture of it as I tried to swallow my panting and not scare it away. But as I could have lied and said I made it to the top, I didn't, because I am a terrible liar, so you will just have to believe me when I say it was Huge.
Awkwardly trying not to fall down the ravine below. Awkwardly. 

Monday, April 16, 2012


I had a long weekend for the Easter holiday so I decided to take advantage and use the travel time to go up to Perth. I yearned for a bit of civilization, socializing, and familiarity - sure, we’ve taken the weekends to get away and be touristy around Great Southern, but they've just been day trips really - and yet at the same time I was anxious about how I would feel towards “big”* city life after two months in “isolation”**: would I hate it, would I love it, would it be loud, would I feel rushed, would I miss it?  In the end, I really enjoyed being back in Perth: seeing people I knew, laughing a lot while catching up, learning how to play poker - and winning - singing karaoke, not drinking wine, and relishing in the familiar ease of navigating my way around.

*"big" as in Perth isn't really a big city.
** "isolation" as in Frankland really is isolated.

It would have been nice to have another day, but I had quickly spent all my money without knowing or realizing it – it’s just an expensive place in general. I spent in three hours to feel like a “normal” “civilized” “real” person again three times as much as I spend in an entire week down south. It was nice to know that I still liked Perth for future movements, and also nice to realize that I was happy to come back to my little "zoo" of a home in Frankland.

What I really realized from this weekend away was how lucky I have been. From talking to people about what I was doing four hours south, it occurred to me that I couldn’t have written to a better place to work at. I wrote to Frankland Estate because they were listed in the WWOOF book, not because I had heard of them before. Going through the book, I knew I wanted to work towards my three months of regional work to be eligible to apply for my second year visa as a dual-experience by combining it with a continuation of learning in an area I was interested in. I don't think I would be suitable for or interested in fence building, outdoor lavatories, or massive cattle farms, but I wrote to wineries, olive orchards, and even thought I could sacrifice my asthma for working on a goat farm making cheese. The WWOOF book only contains hosts that practice organic farming. The places I wrote to out of interest in their farming practices could have been of any quality and any size production. Only after had I received a response from the estate did I think to look it up online and began to search for it in wine guide books in the book stores of Perth. The fact that they even had a website and that the books even listed them gave them credibility to me – and more so with their high wine scores. I guess it is safe to say I was desperate for an opportunity and willing to take anything, but for some reason, luck was on my side. Despite all the anxious anticipation I had from reading how remote they were on the website, that soon eased away with the compatibility of my roomie, the friendliness of the family, the hands-on approach to the work, and the deliciousness of the wine. It all could have been crap and I could have hated it. But the Frankland Estate wines, even though I am still learning and trying to train my palate, are remarkable and I could not have been luckier to have such a wine-learning experience here. The patience and the fervor in which the people like to talk about wine is tremendous.  The hard work is literally never-ending, but because it is a family-run estate, the dedication is unstoppable and full of passion. They work for each other and with each other and the final product reveals this time, effort, and love.

Leaving for a long weekend and coming back, I realize how much I have learned and am grateful for the experience and opportunity. It was the perfect timing for it - not only mentally but because it is the end of vintage. Now, I need to figure out what’s next. You’d think I was used to it by now - always moving, always changing, always planning, always unsure of the future - but it always causes a scratching of anxiety that I try to block out. Fortunately, or unfortunately, it eventually comes to the surface, peer-pressuring me to face it, like the chore you don’t want to to do or the bill you avoid paying until last minute.

2010: Two years ago I spent Easter in northern Greece eating all parts of a lamb roasted whole outside in the back yard with friends I had just met, but are now life-long friends.
2011: Last year I spent Easter with our family friends in Dunfanaghy eating Irish lamb and potatoes.
2012: This year I spent Easter in Australia with an American and a German eating a backyard-raised lamb grilled on the BBQ in the typical Aussie fashion outside on a warm autumn night. 

Maybe lamb is the only commonality between these last couple of years, in various countries around the world with different people, but as we remarked this year, it doesn't matter where you are or who you are with but that one little piece of tradition brings the holiday together. Tradition doesn't have to be about doing the same thing every year, but you make it mean something to yourself. We could have ate pasta. We didn't have mint sauce. But the lamb made it feel like we were celebrating Easter. It was appropriate and it was appreciated. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

I wanted a perfect ending.  Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end.  Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next.  ~Gilda Radner

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hand-Picking Grapes

I had written a blog post about what I thought about hand-picking grapes, how it isn't just about finding bat-like moths amongst the vines, but some internet glib and POOF I've lost it. The wording was just as I wanted (#perfect), the pictures had finally enough wi-fi power to upload (#shocking), but now it's been about two weeks since I've lost it and am still too infuriated to write it again (#sulking). To further exacerbate the situation, on the last day of hand-picking, we all got some food-poisoning-like vomiting-bug that now looking back on it makes me glad it was the last day of hand-picking. The words are lost. The pictures, re-uploaded, are sitting there in the draft story-less without the words. The novelty of the work has dissipated.  

I wanted to portray about what I liked about the handful of times I had hand-picked grapes. Although I definitely wouldn't want to do it for 8 hours a day for the rest of my life, this last sentence would appall my roomie and probably doesn't mean much to anyone who hasn't had such an experience, so let me explain.

I wanted to rationalize that yes, the early morning start is often too cold to comfortably want to get out of bed and yes, the early morning dew on the vines makes wet hands even colder, but the early morning sunrises make the work somewhat reward, and more than anything, tolerable. The crouching fog rises with the warming autumn sun and before I know it I'm grateful for my hat (#thanksSheelagh) and wondering what to do with all the layers I'm wearing. 

Sure-tell sign of spiders lurking in the near vicinity.

I wanted to illustrate how hand-picking is manual labor (#hardworkappreciation) of constant clipping, continuously moving down the row, filling one bucket after another until all of the grape variety is picked. It is repetitive, monotonous, inane work. To some, it may seem as demeaning, inferior work (#MexicansinAmerica #AfganisinAustralia) but when you take a quick break to look up from the work that you are participating in next to the winemaker, across from the owner, down the row from the hired help, along side the four-year-old son (#familyestate), and look down the row of vines you are standing in, you realize that you are part of the vineyard, completely surrounded by the magic that everyone thinks of when they think of wine making (#repeat #appreciation). Wait a second. Let me show you my scars, the cracks in my hands, the cuts, the bruises that I have that will forever remind me of the hard un-magical work that goes into making wine. But, that feeling of being a part of it, the feeling of appreciation, the feeling of equality, the feeling of witnessing beauty in the making, is truly gratifying.

I wanted to share that sometimes hand-picking is about the independence of putting the headphones on and getting lost in your own thoughts while clipping along to the beat, but other times it’s about the parallel companionship as the other person encourages you to keep up the same pace and often helps you with difficultly tangled bunches (#thelittlethings) The time is filled with getting-to-know-you chitter-chatter with a faceless voice on the other side of the vines that keeps you going until the coffee smoke-o (#theimportantthings).

I wanted to embellish upon the fact that hand picking grapes isn’t as easy as just clip clip clip (#skills). There are different ways to grow grapes, which in turn means different ways to approach picking the grapes. By managing the leaf canopy as to affect the way the bunches hang off the vines, determines and depends on numerous factors such as how much shade protection or sun penetration is needed to develop ripeness, promote photosynthesis, and prevent diseases; the desired air circulation; the accessibility of manual labor required for harvesting and pruning; controlling vigor and yields; and the distribution dependent on the climate, weather conditions, and location of the growing site.

I therefore wanted to elaborate that in this sense, since I am not yet accustomed to all the appropriate ways to quickly clip the bunches, I realized that I wouldn’t be very good at being paid per picking (#Tomatoland). Apparently there is a statistic of how much a person should be able to pick within an amount of time. If I am picking alone, I usually pick for both sides, therefore taking more time in one spot rather than clipping what’s on “my side” of the vines (#toomucheffort or #toomuchtime?). As I am aware of what it’s like to meet these grapes back at the winery as they are being sorted through, I fastidiously am discarding green/unripe/sun-bruised/raisin-y/bird-pecked grapes and making sure there are no leaves/moths/spiders/mice in the bucket. But regardless, Barry usually comes to me on the other side of the vines and says “How’s it going, Shauna? Pretty slow?” I slightly smile, reminding myself of the Quality Control (#Arina), and then match his pace.

Maybe because I am too busy taking pictures...

But what I really wanted to say was that despite all the tucked-away bugs, end-of-summer early mornings, and purple-stained stickiness, the best part of hand-picking grapes is that you are never hungry!