As I write this post, on the back deck of our house in Ocean Grove, I am enjoying the view to our newly landscaped garden that is thriving in response to our love and attention during lockdown. New Holland honeyeaters have already discovered the young flaming red grevillea blooms; a variety of ground covers have begun to cascade over our retaining wall; the lush green of the ornamental grape vine that covers most of the adjoining fence with our neighbour is a solace to the eyes. The vine is a particular favourite of my partner who loves it especially in all its colourful autumn glory.
Today, as I settle to write, I can hear the sea. The continual distant roar sounds like a kind of low-pitched gentle white noise. The sort of white noise that is calming, luscious, mesmerising. It’s effect on me is synecdochic. That is to say, simply hearing the sea brings every aspect of it to me in waves of sensual delight. I can smell the briny air suffused with waft of seaweed. Taste the salt on my lips, feel the nipping sea breeze on my cheeks, my hair tousled by its billowing fingers.
The sound of the sea brings the sight of it to my mind’s eye—the waves surging up onto the sand one after another, the tiny bubbles in the foamy swell popping as the water recedes from the shore. The salt spray that would coat my glasses on a day like today, the air damp, the wind blowing in from offshore. Silver gulls skimming on an updraft, the several pairs of tiny hooded plovers I’ve come to know nestled in behind clumps of seaweed, preening, or running down to the water’s edge to forage.
This morning, however, seated at our outdoor table, for the first time in a couple of years, I can actually see the sea. And all because of a generous and kindly neighbour.
When we first purchased the house several years ago, the back-garden view of the ocean—albeit a moderately distant one—was one of the clinchers for our decision to buy. Our house is not a fancy one. It’s a simple ‘Collendina cottage’, three-bedroom, one-bathroom weatherboard affair. The kitchen is tiny. For a similar price we could have purchased a more modern home in the nearby newer estates and enjoyed the luxuries of a chef’s kitchen, walk-in robe, and an en suite or two. But we wouldn’t have been able to fall asleep each night to the soothe of the sea. And we certainly wouldn’t have been able to see it.
Since purchasing the house our modest sea view has been shrinking in proportion to the growth of a couple of trees belonging to our neighbour two doors down. Yesterday, just for us, he pruned them to within an inch of their lives—and his, up the tree with a chainsaw—in order to restore our view. Picture the scene—my partner out on our deck, on the phone to him across the backyard in between our two houses. ‘Yes, that’s right! Nearly enough!’. Then the neighbour, after another chainsaw burst. ‘How’s that now?’ Rhonda motioning with her hand, ‘A bit lower—level with your knees!’
Contrast this to what we believe are the actions of our immediate neighbour with whom we share the fence—which includes the ten-metre-long and three-metre-high expanse of his brick garage wall—that is softened by the vine.
After returning from Melbourne for a couple of days over New Year, I noticed that a large portion of the vine had begun to droop. With Rhonda still in Melbourne and me in charge of the house and garden I worried I’d neglected to water it enough. But we’d had rain! And why was it that only one main section looked sick? A definite line of demarcation. Over the next couple of days, even after watering, the health of the vine continued to decline. The dying leaves exposing more of the vine stems, in a moment of disbelief and shock, I discovered it—a sawed cut, right through the main growing stem. And further hacked smaller stems in a vertical line beneath.
As we don’t have video proof, we can only assume access was gained by the removal of a paling or two on the neighbour’s side. Presumably, because he’d discovered our vine had been gradually pushing the palings out of alignment—which we hadn’t realised—our neighbour decided to take direct action.
As I look to the ocean there are white caps on the waves close to the horizon, an oil tanker on its way south. A Michael Leunig piece I read recently from his When I Talk to You book of meditations comes to mind. I think of the lines, ‘We give thanks for simplicity and peace. Let us find such a place within ourselves. We give thanks for places of refuge and beauty. Let us find such a place within ourselves.’ I recall the times I’ve walked along the beach and felt that huge expanse of water open me up, receive my large and small injustices, enlarge my world and present me with possibility.
And I am grateful.