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I am a simple wild plum tree.
I have a hope and a commitment as well as a dream.
One day when my time comes I shall join the many and the most beautiful of trees, less humble than myself, and those bearing different fruits every month of the year. My displays and endeavours will pave the way to Paradise for me.
And I shall find the place allotted to me on one side or other of the River. The trees of knowledge will be restored there from all fear as is promised to all who live and work to His praise and glory. I know that my place in the environment on earth is equal to that of man himself even if every other creature and wildflower creates a balance for the rest. I take in man's poisons, recycle them and breathe out instead at night, the sweet, sweet oxygen of survival.
So many trees yet few are chosen. My early history is not known to my family who owned the property for fifteen years of my life.
Thirty years ago when my family came I had grown a strong black, divided trunk planted in front of a red brick pillar with a fence of heavy black wire which may have been a slight impediment to my growth. For some reason or because the Lord required it of me, I grew fairly tall, ten to fifteen feet, but away from the light, not to it, and over towards the lawn, the white house at Kingston Beach.
I gradually followed the trend, towards the house, and grew almost a ceiling creating a variety overhead of twelve different displays of my talent. I almost reached the sitting room window which I always protected and where the desk was placed diagonally in front of it. I never resented anything in my life, not the startling yellow English marigolds placed on the desk or the tiny Cecil Brunner rosebuds from the back garden. It was a pleasure where I looked through the window.
I wasn't pruned much or encouraged to change much for which I am grateful. As a healthy tree, I did not tolerate bugs or slugs. I loved the black sandy soil, my roots going down into the fine loam ensuring my very real stability.
The birds visited but not a lot: There were few gardens to attract them even when fruit was one of the cycles I presented and my few large thorn, distributed thinly, stopped our cat and others from seeking entertainment or refuge in my branches.
Persons looking out in their garden would see the beauty and the myriad of black boughs, delicate but bare and now with the light no longer obscuring my foliage. And still we had the privacy where it was needed and expected of me. If my family did not show me a lot of attention, the sign of wonder was in their eyes at the splendour of all my seasons, expecting no doubt, the usual four. There was invariably something of me new to see. I surprised them every time, every year and with every seasonal difference.
I had so many attributes, all personal and distinctive and all related, I know, to a very great conception. I was proud to be the mechanism by which my role was executed and my deepest hope now is that because I found my own qualities for myself, and rather unexpected too, my commitment to my destiny is made manifest in every- thing I produce and in my remaining labour to this end.
In the Spring the white flowers appear on the black branches; bridal, prolific and always my pride to share. Green shoots follow; green leaves next; red tips appear. There are red and green leaves, red leaves, plum coloured leaves and deep purple leaves. Purple plums hang among leaves of same hue, small but edible as the local youth rationalise and raid them.
Nine seasons you will say. No tree or man knows the nature of deliverance and what rejuvenation entails. If the Lord has new functions for me, he will fulfil them in his time, which will be my time also.
I think the new owner will fell me. The horror. The terror, but if it is different fruit, different flowers leaves or thorn or any other task, design or aspiration to be required of me, I don't know. I don't need to know. I need only the faith, a shower of rain and my service to find at last, THE CRYSTAL RIVER.

In my mind I saw the puppet master
pull his strings upon a stage.
From the dark shadows, came
the children of the streets.

With dull eyes, old and weary faces,
They wander into all sorts of places,
depressed, worn down, by drugs
and other things.
With a gentle tug upon the strings,
two were broken, on the stage.
One was fourteen year old Tim's,
the other Jenny Lyn's.
She was thirteen, poorly dressed,
wore high healed shoes, pasty face
covered in rouge. She walks the streets.

Poor Tim in pain, from drugs he had
taken. Knows his days are ending.
In his dismay, wished he could view,
the side of life that others know.
Late in the night, the puppet master,
heard the last curtain call.
Crying out, "We lost two poor wretched
lives tonight. Tim and Jenny Lyn's."

I had an opportunity to visit my home village, Tali in Karelia, for the first time 56 years after the war forced us out. I can't say that I enjoyed the trip. Even beforehand I was scared, scared of how much I would, or would not remember, and how I would handle those memories. After all, this was the place where I learnt the meaning of fear, even terror, in my childhood. I was quiet and apprehensive as we waited for the bus.

In time the bus appeared, and the journey began. Viipuri was no surprise, I had visited it a few years before, so I was prepared for the decrepitude and the melancholy. Viipuri to me is an aging Prima Donna, under her derelict facade you can still sense the old glory. I had a feeling that people were here because they had to live somewhere, but their heart was not in it really. Who knows from what paradise they had been torn to be thrown here as flotsam, who knows where their heart's longing lies. They are every bit as much displaced persons as I am.

In Viipuri, waiting for the taxi to Tali, I get impatient. Can't anything work properly here? And who knows where we will end up in this foreign land. Brother Ahti knows the place, but that is no consolation to me, I am lost in the desert of my own soul. I don't want to make this trip to bring back the old horrors. I am scared of the s pecters that I am sure will rush forward from some locked tomb in my psyche, where I have managed to keep them buried alive.

The first stop: Old Tali cemetery. Of course I have been here before, my sister is buried here. But the dead stay dead. However I try to stretch my memory, only one vague picture appears to support the fact of her existence. I remember when mother and us little ones heard about her death. We were somewhere in the North of Finland, I think, and I remember mother crying. At three, I had really no concept of death, and this sister quickly disappeared even from my consciousness. She became a name without anything to give it substance. So here she is now? Greetings, sister. It would have been great to while away the day with you, exchange news, compare our stories, show you my life's partner and my children.

I farewell my unknown sister quietly, and climb back into the taxi. Next we go to the old school in Mannikkala, the place my brother calls Home. To me, it is a void. I get engulfed in a feeling of utter hopelessness and anxiety.

I have been shut out. I stare at the big closed door and try to swallow my tears. Everybody has gone clean out of their mind. They are obviously all going somewhere, and they have forgotten that I, too, am here. What will happen to a little girl all alone in the world? Will a wolf eat me, the one that looks just like a bear in my book?

Apparently not, as I am still here to tell the tale. But the three-year old me did not know, and did not believe that there was any rescue. From that day, the day of our first escape from Karelia, stems a lifelong fear of being abandoned. Even now, through the eyes of the cool world traveler, the little girl peaks out, scared of getting lost.

We sit on some stone steps, maybe in front of the selfsame door, and reflect on the impermanence of our human structures. In front of an ugly new house an armed guard promenades, back and forth, probably wondering what kind of crazy people we are, poking about in old ruins. A young girl is leaning against the balcony railing. Are you shut in, like I was shut out once upon a time? I can't communicate with you either, you are just as unreachable as the inhabitants of the graveyard. I wonder where your path will take you! Maybe we will meet one day, maybe even in Australia. We will tell yarns about our childhood experiences, and we will realise that they happened in the same village! I send a watery smile towards the balcony. Dreams, just dreams.

We walk to the lake shore. Ahti is explaining who lived where, what houses were there. I know the names, I heard them all through my childhood, but to me they are just names, no faces. From the shore we look over to Ullasaari; an island familiar to me, again only through others. Opposite, on the other shore, is Repola. I prick up my ears. That is a place I can vouch for to be real. I have vivid memories of a summer we spent in a little hut in Repola in between the Russian invasions. I think there was father, mother, at least three of us girls, and a brother. It was cramped, but it was Home. I remember the strawberries by the ditches, I remember the excitement of racing the train over the railway bridge. What if a train came while you were in the middle? Adrenalin flowed and the feeling of danger gave life that extra spice.

The bridge is still there! Not all has gone to ashes, something concrete is still in existence! So it is true, I lived once in this environment. I feel my very existence is confirmed. I, too, have roots somewhere, very tentative ones, but roots nevertheless. I want to shout out to the whole world: "I have roots, therefore I am!" Only now I cognise how rootless I have been all my life.

"Where are you from?" they ask.

"From here and there", I reply, embarrassed that I can't give a proper answer. But really, where is my home then; a year here, another there, sometimes wholly two years in one place. It spells for freedom, but it is also a lack.

Repola itself is a let-down. How can there be so many houses when I remember only that one little hut in the middle of fields. Neglect is evident everywhere, as is poverty. I suppose we, too, were poor when we lived here, but I don't remember this ambience of neglect and degradation. And we had riches, like a carbide lamp, which was a miracle of miracles after the splinters we burned before. And stories told by big sister of an evening. And adventures, like going to the outhouse. It was a long way down the path, and scary in the dark. Where has the Repola of my childhood gone? Did it go the way of the enormous hill I used to ski down in Kainuu, when we were displaced persons? I went looking for that hill some twenty years later, but it had completely evaporated. The world of a child only exists in her imagination, it is not to be found on the maps and byways of this world.

We find our way to the lake between the hundreds of houses. It would be nice to have a swim, for old times sake, but time is running short. We stand around for a while, watching the local swimmers and sun-worshippers, my brother goes on with his stories. For him this is real, and once again I realise what a gulf separates us. We grew up in the same family, but in a different world. He knows he belongs here. Me - I can't call any place my own. Would I even want to? Mostly not.

Kylliälä is dealt with in a quick look from the outside. It may be best for now. From there are my freshest memories, many moments of abject terror, sprinkled with light and laughter. There I spent many a night in the cellar listening to the bombers droning by. From there stem my recurring nightmares. Better leave those memories alone, they are too much to deal with even now.

Was the trip worth it? Maybe it had a small part to play in my growing into a human being, helped in the transformation of some old shit into fruitful compost. I hope so. It was definitely important for my husband and children, for whom it was a small window into my background, enabling them to understand what has shaped my particular brand of human.

Maybe next time I will venture a bit deeper.

Scene: The Cradle-St.Clair Overland Track, just south of Cradle Mt at the head of "The Cirque". I am reclining on the ground with head resting on my pack, waiting for rest of the party to catch up. As I am lying there, a Wedge Tailed Eagle comes swooping across the valley and then hovers only a few feet directly above where I am lying.

Well, hello big fellow.
Or are you a lady?
Doesn't matter, you look fantastic.
What are you thinking?
Are you checking me out to see if I am lunch?
Check out anything and everything that looks interesting.
That's your motto, I bet.
Bit bigger than your normal meal, ain't I?
Perhaps you are hoping I am dead.
Easy pickings.
Even a great hunter like you wouldn't hesitate to grab an easy meal but road kill is a bit scarce up here, isn't it?
I think I would prefer to end up an eagle's dinner than a crow's breakfast.
Sounds more glamorous.
I don't have anything for you to eat.
There is a tin of bully beef and some freeze-dried stew in my pack, but I doubt you would fancy either.
Probably not supposed to feed the wildlife anyway.
If I keep still, will you drop closer?
I know your vision is superb, but just how good is it?
Do I have to hold my breath?
Can I blink?
I can see your eyes, so you can see mine.
Look how you just hang in the air.
No effort.
Just a slight twitch of one wing or the other as the wind shifts to hold yourself in the one place.
Can you tell when the air currents will change or do you react as they happen?
Marvellous either way.
Air surfing by an expert.
Hanging two!
Oh! You shifted sideways then.
A gust, or did you spot something?
Is some little morsel cowering in the grass nearby?
Dead scared of the both of us?
You probably know how barging bushwalkers scare small animals from cover.
Makes us your ally.
Your wing feathers flutter and your tail twitches left, right, left.
Your head stays still.
Can I get to my camera without searing you oft'.
If I lift my head slowly, will you stay?
One inch. Two.
No turning and flying away.
Another inch and then a slight roll to the side.
Still you hover.
The pocket containing the camera is under the pack.
I will have to slide my arm under to get it.
Big press-studs.
Nor easy to undo one-handed.
Still you hang there.
Perhaps you are wondering what I am doing.
More likely you hope I am in a death throe.
There! There is the camera.
Drag it out carefully. Cock the shutter.
Slip off the lens cover.
Ease it up to my eye.
Focus.
Fill the frame.
Bugger!
Off you go with a quick flap of those wide wings.
Whip off a shot anyway, even if you are just a blur.
A memory of our meeting.

One of the most frightening things I have ever done was to sail on our family yacht Explorer in a 75-knot storm from the southern end of Bruny Island to Oyster Cove at the Northern end of the D'Entrecasteaux Channel which separates Bruny Island from the mainland of Tasmania.

It began when we awoke to leaden grey skies and strengthening winds on the last day of our Christmas holiday of 1972/73. We were anchored in Tinpot Bay behind the reef and after breakfast we began to ready the boat for the passage to North Bruny. We checked the dinghy, which had a snug place for our dog under the bow deck, and then stowed, everything carefully in both Explorer and the dinghy.

The wind was rising and the sky grew darker by the minute. The unfortunate thing about the trip ahead of us was that on the way down from Hobart on Boxing Day we had hit a submerged heavy object at the mouth of the Channel and sheared off both blades of our propeller. This left us, effectively, without an engine. This was not a worry while the weather was fine, as it was for most of the trip. We could use the sails and Explorer was a fully equipped ocean racing yacht, 42 feet of sturdy steel hull, strong enough for anything 40 degrees South could dish up, but with the approaching storm it was quite frightening. My husband, Jack, was undaunted as usual. The others on board were my 10-year old daughter, Jane, and my 17-year old son, Sam.

Sam hauled in the anchor and we were away in a 45-knot southwesterly. As we headed up the Channel with the reefed mainsail and No. 3 jib hoisted we picked up speed quickly. I began to feel quite afraid and I could see that Jane was feeling the same way. I got that familiar feeling of heavy doubt mixed with fear in my stomach and wished I could be on dry land, anywhere but on the boat. Jack was at the helm and my son was in the cockpit, adjusting the sails to the wind shifts as necessary, every time we changed course, which was frequently because of the narrow Channel and our unusually fast speed. I was below with Jane, reading to her about a little horse, ironically, called "Stormy".

The action of the boat became more violent and every time we changed course Jane and I grabbed for support as the 45-degree angle of the floor was suddenly tilted to the reverse angle. The floor was the only place to sit in safety.

One thing that consoled me was that the boat was very strong and safe, designed and built by experienced Tasmanian shipbuilders and fitted out by my equally capable husband. Right now though, I was too aware of the storm to take much comfort in that and so I continued to read to my daughter in an effort to keep us both calm.

Just then Jack shouted, "Helen, for God's sake look behind us" I looked, and what I saw made me feel ten times worse. At the Southern end of the Channel there was a huge pillar of purplish cloud, looking like a 200 ft. tornado such as I had viewed on TV. Behind that cloud the sky had a greenish tinge and fear struck deep inside me.

With the increased probability of the storm becoming more intense, and the winds becoming even stronger, Jack decided to take down the mainsail and sent Sam forward on the wet slippery deck to roll the sail down using our wonderful roller reefing gear, but the wind was so strong the equipment was damaged as soon as it was put to use. My son was strong and big for his age but the task was too much for him. Jack then called me to take the helm.
" I can't," I said.
"You'll have to" he replied. "Sam can't hold onto that sail any longer"
So with my heart in my mouth, I left Jane and went on deck to do my best.

The wind was screaming now, and the world around me was white, the sea and the air almost indistinguishable from each other, so visibility was very poor. Needles of spray were hitting my face in painful thousands, but that was the least of my worries. While the menfolk wrestled with the sail I tried hard to keep Explorer under control. Every time I changed tack, I over-corrected the helm and the boat went veering off at an acute angle. I don't know how long they took to get the sail off, but it seemed like ages.

It was probably about 20-30 minutes and by that time I was controlling the boat fairly well and in a perverse way, taking some pride in that. The speedometer showed us doing IO knots with only the No. 3 jib to drive us, that was really amazing. Jack took over the helm again and I gratefully went below to my daughter. I just sat on the floor and cuddled her. Wind gusts were hitting the hull with audible thumps, like a huge fist, and the whole ship vibrated from stem to stern.

As we progressed north the police boat Vigilant was under full power beside us, and as we watched she was blown around in a 360-degree turn. Amazing!
We struggled on for what seemed an eternity for me, although Jack seemed unperturbed as usual. Incredibly, as we got to a narrower part of the Channel, the storm suddenly disappeared and we were becalmed. This gave us an opportunity to pull our dinghy alongside and see if our faithful dog and gear were still with us. They were all okay, what a relief. We heaved the dog aboard and dried her off, she was quite happy and seemed unaware of our ordeal.

We finally drifted into Oyster Cove where the small village of Kettering nestles on green hills and fields running down to the waters edge. We were able to pick up a mooring, which was a blessing, and here we spent a relatively peaceful night. Though it blew 45 knots during the night, this was not a problem compared to our incredible ride from South Bruny Island.

The next day we sailed home comfortably to the embracing arms and tranquillity of Kangaroo Bay. Sam got to work on time, that being the reason why we set sail in a storm. We rang the weather bureau and were told the winds in the Channel area had been recorded at 75 knots on that day.

Along the road to Gundagai a dog sat upon a yonder tucker box. Before my very eyes marching bandsmen appeared:

Banging, blowing,
Huffing, glowing,
All in unison,
Never slowing.

Such splendour seldom witnessed, tourists and townsfolk utterly entranced. Every anniversary, near sunset, these apparitions are visible. Numerous sightings have been recorded by newspeople ever since that famous tragedy occurred.

At precisely four o’clock, Commuter Train76 crashed, killing everyone on board. Returning from concert practice, our entire band was wiped out.

Strange how memory works; vivid, colourful, desperately trying any avenue that may relieve pain. Sleep peacefully, merry musicians, remembered with love.

Quiet. The stillness all enfolding.
Quiet. Still. Silent.
Listen to the sound
of the wind in the trees,
the waves on the shore,
the grass on the hill;
Water trickling between the rocks;
Listen to the birds;
Listen to the sounds
In the quietness, when all is still.

There's a stillness in the old churchyard.
The old headstones are worn and pitted,
Washed white through the wind and the rain.
The stillness and the weathered look,
create an image of a bygone age.
Should you visit the church at night,
you'll hear the tinkling laughter of the ghost, Celeste,
Who wanders through the church and around the old
gravestones, looking for a ring, she is said to have lost
that belonged to her love of a bygone age.

Slowly her vision cleared. She was in the recovery room and realised the operation had been a success.

"Here am I, Mary Brown, the world’s first brain transplant patient, and I feel good."

It had been a long wait but worth it. The ugly body she had been born with had been cast aside like a second-hand dress.

"We want no secondary complications," Dr Abbott had assured her. "Your brain will only be transplanted into a perfect donor body."

Dr Abbott arrived and she expressed her heartfelt gratitude and admiration.

Nonchalantly, he replied, "All in the day’s work, Mr Brown."

 

A story in exactly 100 words.

Grandfather kept chickens - lots of them. He was also a bit of a rogue; clever really, liked a good joke, a smart idea, or a problem needing to be solved. When us grand kids called around he'd wet himself laughing when he asked us all the schoolboy jokes. All those obvious ones like: why'd the chicken cross the road? If we said, "To get to the other side," he'd say, "Nah, silly, he was running away from the policeman who wanted to arrest him for using fowl language!"

He loved us, and he loved his chooks - probably more than us. We always had a great time feeding them and collecting the eggs. Of course, Grandfather had names for all of them, knew where they were likely to lay their eggs and all their idiosyncrasies. There was 'Gardener' who was always raking the ground in the middle of the yard. 'Chatterbox' never ever seemed to stop clicking in a mournful sort of way. It was natural that the big red rooster would be called 'Show- off' because his chest was constantly puffed up. The Rhode Island Red seemed to say, "Do it this way, Do it this way" so she was the 'Teacher'. And the one called 'Doctor' was always investigating the feathers of other birds. They were truly free-range chickens and we found their eggs all over the place but Grandfather had also provided them with their own nesting boxes, if they chose to use them, which sometimes they did.

When the sad day arrived and the old boy finally took his place in the farmyard in the skies we were summoned to hear his Will read out. There were five of us grandchildren and sure enough he'd left something for each of us. But in true style it was not all straight forward. We had to solve his problem first. Mine read:

Dear Grandson Johnny, mate,
I really think you're great;
Despite your acne spots
I've always loved ya lots.
We've had a lot of good times
An' I know how you love rhymes
An' I bet you're thinking now
'Bout me last and final bow
An' what now has he left me.
There's a problem do ya see
Which you must work out first,
But never fear the worst
It's really not that hard.
Just go out into the yard
Where we often played our tricks
And carefully watch me chicks.
Now you know all their names
And nearly all their games.
So all that you must do is
Watch each one do her biz
In the place that she loves best
Which, of course, is on her nest;
And one soon you will find where
I've hidden just for you there
A really super treasure
Which 'll no doubt give you pleasure:
A token from your Grandad
Just special now for you lad.

And so it was that after a bit of searching finally found what Grandad had left me — his gold watch, hidden in a box under The Doctor