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The Scrivener: Quietude

In a rackety world Brian Barratt finds some quiet thinking space in the wetlands which lie beyond his garden fence. “It’s a place where peace comes dropping slow from the veils of late afternoon, when golden sunlight fades into blue-grey evening haze...’’

Brian’s weekly Open Writing columns are manna for the thoughtful mind. For more of his polished words click on The Scrivener in the menu on this page.

And do please visit his Web site The Brain Rummager www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

You’re enjoying a nice quiet journey on the train, from the city to the suburbs. At one of the stops, a horde of boys from an expensive church school invades your carriage. All hell breaks loose. In their classrooms, they’ve been good Christians for a day. In the confines of the carriage, they become loudly disruptive pagans.

The same sort of thing can happen at a coffee shop. There I was, enjoying a satisfyingly strong cup of black coffee, watching the faces in the crowd and reading their silent stories. A group arrived at the adjacent table. The sat themselves down, threw their bags onto the floor, and launched into noisily disruptive chatter. It was a sort of competition with everyone talking at the same time. Nobody came to say ‘Shush’ or to shoo them away. They weren’t school students, by the way. They were respectable blue-rinsed elderly ladies.

It was like that in the supermarket this morning. On Tuesdays, aged pensioners receive an extra five percent discount off purchases totalling more than $20. The shop was packed with elderlies, including me. But this morning was also the first day of school holidays. The throng was augmented by children of all shapes and sizes, dragged or pushed round the aisles by their patient mothers. Impatient mothers, too.

Oh, the racket! Elderlies shouting at each other, as we do when we’re a bit deaf. Children yelling I want, I want, I want. Infants exercising their democratic right to scream in protest at anything. I tried to start one of my little on-the-spot conversations with an older woman, at the meat freezer. She simply made a throat noise half-way between a cough and one syllable of a laugh. Teenagers aren’t the only ones who talk in monosyllables. I retreated.

Things were so different yesterday, out in the sunlit wetlands behind my wooden fence. It’s a place where peace comes dropping slow from the veils of late afternoon, when golden sunlight fades into blue-grey evening haze. True, the noise of motor traffic could be heard in the distance, but the dominant sound was that of the many birds. In the trees on the far hillside, currawongs were calling out in chorus, echoing over our small vale. Every now and then, a chestnut teal released a tumble of rough staccato croaks across the water. Lorikeets were having the time of their lives in a couple of the eucalypt trees which are in bloom. All parrots are very noisy nibblers.

A young chap I sometimes encounter came along with his ever-keen kelpie. As is my wont, I greeted the dog first, with lots of scratching and rubbing beneath a willing chin and around waiting ears. Then human conversation started. The lad has a Polish background and is well travelled, as they say. He is far from monosyllabic, able and willing to chat about anything.

This time, one of our topics was the city of Nottingham. I visited it many times in my boyhood in the 1940s and 50s. He visited it, as well as other notable English cities, when he was in his early teens.

We somehow moved to mobile phones, and I issued forth my usual denunciation of those devices and the way their owners use them. When he proudly produced his own brand new mobile phone, to show me how he could take photos with it, I gently slid into saying some nice things about mobile phones. Well, I mean, they are useful in emergencies, aren’t they?

The tawny frogmouths I’d wanted to show him were nowhere in sight. That doesn’t mean they weren’t there. Their camouflage is such that they’re almost impossible to see — they quietly blend with a trunk or a branch. We studied the willow trees where they’re currently roosting, and noticed the evidence of sawn-off branches.

That led us down the rough slope to the edge of the bubbling creek, to count the rings and work out how old the branch had been when it was removed. We reckoned about twenty or more years might be feasible. The trees themselves have been there for much longer, of course. Tiny orange toadstools were evident among the rocks, too. If you look, then you see. The lad might not have looked before.

My knees don’t really appreciate ninety minutes of up-and-down strolling, walking and clambering. I waddled back home to the pain-killers, the old comfychair, and a good cup of tea.

There, I busied my heart with quietude.

© Copyright 2006 Brian Barratt

Note: The poetic allusions are to W.B.Yeats and Rupert Brooke.


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