The entry to the Bay Beach at Cape Paterson is through a narrow tea tree path curving across the low dune backing the beach. This last summer, we have been taking a small step up the prostrate tea tree trunk lying across the path onto the sand banked up behind it. Almost twenty years ago we just had to duck under the leaning tree. Then, later, came the stage of adults clambering over and children wriggling under the barrier presented by the trunk. A few years later it became easy to just step over and now the trunk offers this barely noticeable step up. I wonder if by next summer it will be totally under the sand blown up through the tea tree tunnel by the winter Southerlies.

This single tea tree has reminded me of the reclining tea trees in the central plantation of Beaconsfield Parade between Port Melbourne and St Kilda. These are very old and thick trunked trees, blown by the South Westerlies into a permanent position of least resistance. Their grey, twisted, hairy barked trunks insist on doing what they want and I like to see them being so unstructured in what is essentially an urban landscape of cars, trucks and footpaths and buildings. It’s a reminder that just across the road is Port Phillip Bay. A bit further on is the Rip, Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean with its fierce Westerlies. All that pent-up wildness makes its mark on those trees.

And then I think of mulberry trees and their habit of gracefully lying down as they age. My childhood garden had a mulberry tree which reclined gently towards the side fence. Its wide trunk could be walked up half way, straddled like a very make-believe horse and was difficult to mow around. There was another mulberry tree near Bendigo in the paddocks on the Melbourne side of Big Hill. We would go there for Sunday afternoon picnics with Mum’s parents. They would park on the very wide roadside reserve, drink thermos tea and chat and doze in the late summer sun, while we kids raced across the paddocks, through fences to the dark green mounding mulberry colony. The thick rough leaves hid a green glowing climbing paradise of low trunk-bridges and sloping branches; all ours and completely private.

I’m remembering the absolute contrast of the mulberry trees on the lawns of Cliveden House (involved in the notorious Profumo affair) above the Thames in England. Again, I saw a family group of very old mulberry trees, this time reclining, not in dry paddocks near Bendigo, but on close cut lawns, surrounded by ancient walls, perennial borders, formal driveways and rose gardens. The National Trust had put up signs telling visitors that the trees are very old and politely asking the public to not climb them. This sign was being completely ignored by shouting children clambering over the unexpected climbing frame.

I like the way that these trees have decided not to stay vertical but have succumbed to the need to have a good lie down.


Tiger Snake


Easter Saturday at Cape Paterson was fine and clear and Second Beach was just asking to be visited. I’d not been able to walk on anything other than footpaths for the last few months following my hip replacement in the middle of January. A whole summer had passed me by while I gradually built up my strength and flexibility.

The path to the beach stretched and wound between the banksia and tea trees. My legs and hip were able to walk on the soft uneven sand with enjoyment. The familiar dune vegetation honey smell hung in the air as I followed the path up to the top. There in the distance was the ocean, blue and bright, at the end of the stretch of green trees and bushes that the path threaded through. I was so happy to be on that soft, sandy path and even happier to reach the peak of the actual beach dune looking at the waves and water spreading to the horizon.

My family ran down the dune to the beach. I was very content to stay up there. I found a comfortable sandy slope where the sand had invaded and filled up the old viewing platform. The sand was warm under my back. Down below, the surfers quietly sat on their boards, apparently with no waves worth catching. The waves rolled in steadily and calmly, a few people walked along the beach. I watched some gulls flying towards First Beach and heard only the gentle roar of breaking waves.

I turned my head to the side. A snake, stretched half out of the low bushes, was looking at me. I saw its sloping, scaly face, low and front on. I could see its wide mouth and lips. Its tawny body was about as thick as my wrist and its stripes gleamed in the sun as if they’d been varnished.

We looked at each other for about a second. It turned its head and slid back down along its body to return sleekly to its green cover.

There I had been! On my back, only about a metre and half away from a tiger snake, low enough to have looked it in the face.

There, I was! Still there, but sitting now and looking at where the snake had been. I wasn’t frightened, more amazed and excited. It’s not often you get the chance to look at a wild snake from its level. We had each wanted to lie on the warm sand and I would have been quite happy to share the space with it if it promised to come no further. Unlikely, I know.

Usually, I’m very frightened of snakes when I come across them on a path. The speed of their quick flick away intensifies that fear of how fast and powerful their strike must be. This time, perhaps it was the quietness of the moment that made a tiger snake of about a metre in length seem interesting and not threatening.

Later, I looked up D H Lawrence’s poem, “Snake”, which I hadn’t read for years and was pleased to find…

                     ‘I felt so honoured.’

——————————————————————————————————————–This took place exactly where I took the new photo for the Cape Paterson page and on the same day.