December 20th, 2020Magic hour in the Wombat Forest
One of the things we loved to do was sit out on our back verandah and listen to the Wombat Forest put itself to bed – we called it the magic hour, and it became a ritual that was observed at least two or three nights a week.
The CFA might call it a death trap – narrow, tree-lined roads and limited access in and out – but Wheatsheaf is a lovely part of the world. Everyone has their five-acre block, there are few fences, some properties have been cleared while others remain heavily forested.
As the daylight faded into dusk, we’d pour ourselves a cheerful beverage, settle into our chairs, and enjoy the chorus of the forest. On weekends we had to wait for the chainsaw symphony to conclude – even the woodcutters had to stop when the light failed – but after that, the evening belonged to the birds.
The kookaburras would laugh uproariously at their silly jokes, magpies would croon and the sulfur-crested cockatoos would shriek and proclaim their superiority from the tops of the tallest trees, while the crimson rosellas whistled down below. It was all incredibly peaceful, and a lovely way to end the day.
We had an ancient candlebark gum tree standing tall near our house. Each year we witnessed a war between the cockies and little corellas, over which clan would claim the best nesting holes made by decades of lost limbs. Every year, we were relieved when the cockies emerged victorious.It’s funny to think that when we lived in St Kilda we’d make the trek each year out west to Halls Gap, to spend a few days hiking around the rocks and peaks. But after we moved so close that the Grampians were almost in our backyard, we only drove up there once in a dozen-plus years, and that was to explore the epicurean wonders of the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld.
Anyway, when we did holiday in Halls Gap, one of the least pleasant features was the infestation of corellas in the park across the street from the motel where we stayed. It would have been more enjoyable listening to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra tuning up for 90 minutes with the Grateful Dead jamming along beside them. So there was no way we wanted corellas taking up residence in our backyard.
Our new home is also in a forest, mostly a variety of pines, oaks and low-growing scrub, but we have brought our magic-hour ritual with us to California.
The bird life is nothing like what we had in Victoria – nothing as grand, colourful or just flat-out funny as cockies, rosellas or kookaburras – but over the months we have come to appreciate the comedy of woodpeckers, the dusty blues and greys of the scrub jays, and the quicksilver iridescence of the hummingbirds.
After all our years in Wheatsheaf, we never ceased to marvel, like gawping tourists, at the mobs of kangaroos that would roam and graze all around our property. Here in California we have deer, which are much less social than the roos, tending to appear alone or in twos or threes rather than in big groups, and far more likely to bound away at the slightest provocation.
When our dog Scout was a youngster, if she got away from us, she would chase the roos from our property and across neighbouring paddocks, all the way to the next tree line. As she got older, she would only scatter the mob, just out of spite. In California the deer have fled before old Scout even sees them.
Some folks might disagree, but we found another delicious fact of life in the Wombat Forest was living with tank water. Especially in Winter there was nothing as refreshing as a tall, icy cold glass of rainwater, straight from the tank. Often when we went into Daylesford for a meal we’d decline offers of water – that chemical soup that pours from the town taps. I’d have a beer anyway.
The tap water here in California is even worse. We have filters on our drinking-water taps. Today, as I was topping up the dogs’ water bowl, I realised I was filling it with filtered water – this for animals who would prefer to drink out of a handy mud puddle.
Of course, unlike with our tank water, here we have unlimited supplies flowing from our townie taps. Even so, we have not succumbed to the temptation of becoming wallies with water.
Years ago in Daylesford we knew a young fella who wasn’t a local but who had a good amount of bush smarts. He lived in a basic rented house out in the forest. As these things happen, he met a tourist girl who’d come up to visit friends, love ensued, and our friend moved down to Melbourne with his true love.
He came back to visit his mates in Daylesford every so often, and one time I asked him what he liked best about living in the big city. He told me – and this is true – that he liked being able to leave the tap running while he brushed his teeth.
Words: Jeff Glorfeld