The house next door has been demolished, leaving a rectangle of bare earth. In feng shui, that side of my house represents the Tiger, which is often affiliated with emotional support (the other side is the protective Dragon) so it’s no wonder that its emptiness has left me feeling a bit all over the place. What will rise over the next months is a pair of houses, probably more attractive than what was there before (a 1950s brick bungalow) and definitely bigger. Where the old house was set back on its block, the new houses will sit forward, directly next to mine. Being two storeys, there will be some loss of light, which is to be expected. At the moment my kitchen window welcomes the morning sun and lets me gaze at the rising moon as I prepare dinner but soon there will be the slab side of a new house. That’s progress, I suppose.
So it’s not surprising – emotions and all – that I wonder if this might be a good time to move. We’ve lived in this house for twenty years, and done our own tweaks and renovations, and transformed the grassed garden into something that people call a jungle, not always meaning to be kind. The possums are happy, as are the birds, and the big blue-tongue lizard finds lots of quiet spaces to bask in the sun. It’s chaotic and overgrown but filled with colour and birds, butterflies and dragonflies. We like our nature.
And so we wonder, as this suburb becomes ever more developed, with large trees torn down and single houses replaced by pairs or more, whether it would be good to move somewhere that values nature a little more than ours does. A place with more trees, perhaps. And yet…
I live a short walk from the Pacific ocean. To get there, I pass a quiet bay filled with anchored boats where pelicans linger for scraps when the fishermen come back. The main beach is close to the shops and cafés of my suburb. It’s quite small and quickly fills on hot days. But there’s also a very long beach that takes an hour or more to walk from one end to the other, and which used to be backed by giant sand dunes until they were mined flat for building material. When we first moved here I used to drive out to this beach’s midway point early in the morning. As the sun rose out of the sea, there would be a few others there – surfers and sporty types, mostly, like our local football team and swimmers like Ian Thorpe, who would greet me with a smile. I would walk for an hour at the start of my day and afterwards be ready to face a day at work.
The ocean feels like a wilderness, no more so than when the waves rise so high you can’t see the horizon and the spray leaves your skin sticky with salt. Sometimes on those walks there was drama. Once, a bloated, naked corpse washed ashore. Another time, the beach was littered with the bodies of hundreds or maybe thousands of birds. Some still flapped pathetically, tumbling over in the sand. They were shearwaters, called mutton birds here because they were once killed for their robust-flavoured meat. They fly a huge distance each year from the Arctic and this mob had obviously endured a worse than usual voyage, dropping exhausted from the sky as they came close to their destination. It was heart-breaking to see. I tried to rescue a few but of course they died, probably speeded by my interference. It’s the way of nature, but haunting, all the same.
Now, though, I walk regularly along a paved pathway called the Esplanade that follows the coastline of the suburb’s peninsula. On wet or windy days it’s often deserted, meaning I can walk with my head bowed, like a walking meditation. At weekends it’s busy with runners and blocked by chatting groups, ambling along four or five abreast, unaware of the unspoken rule that people keep to the left. There are no roads to cross, no steps to stumble on, just a long and winding path. It’s a soothing place to be. I often see dolphins and whales. Yesterday, I watched as a whale repeatedly slapped the water with its long, white fin, even though the annual northern migration of whales is over. It must be an optimist happy to be heading south again for the summer.
I see various familiar people, some I’ve encountered for years now. A few I greet with a smile; with others I exchange a few words: “Windy enough for you?” “Hot, isn’t it!” “Did you see the dolphins?” That’s about it but it leaves me smiling. Other people I recognise but we never say hello, never smile, and sometimes even look to one side as though we simply haven’t noticed each other, although we have. I imagine they don’t want to be bothered with people (or me) and I don’t mind that. Some days I don’t want to see anyone, either, happy to walk with my thoughts, blind to people.
Across the water lies the sand and rocks that edge the dark greenery of the Royal National Park. People proudly tell you that it’s the second oldest national park after Yellowstone, which makes it sound as though its wilderness didn’t exist before the Park was proclaimed.
The path is lined by houses and apartment blocks on one side. I sometimes set myself the task of which one I would move to, if I really had to. Most are pretty ugly, I have to admit, and sometimes I think I’d demolish the lot of them. Other times I’m less critical and see the pleasure people have in sitting on their terraces with a view of yachts tacking in the breeze on a Wednesday evening (sailing club night). My judgment is jealousy.
I usually feel refreshed by the time I am walking back along my street. I look at the bland houses, nothing of architectural interest although some people say ‘wow’ when they see the wooden American-style house at the corner. I remember the places where large trees used to stand, and see the familiar cars parked in driveways and along the curb. Often I startle the parrots from the bottlebrushes and the grevilleas in front of my house but they come back quickly if the nectar is good.
And that’s when I think that maybe I belong here. Maybe this is home. Maybe we will stay, despite the lack of a moonrise in the kitchen. And I think, really, that’s progress.
Do you love where you live?