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Water Them Geraniums

June 5, 2010

After nine weeks south of the border, down Mexico way, I am once again on home soil. That is to say, the soil of the parental home. I am not literally on the soil at this very moment, but I am wearing jeans covered with it. You see, not only have I returned with a new perspective on life following nine weeks away from my familiars and the familiar, but also a sudden and inexplicable passion for geraniums, or, more accurately, Pelargoniums.

My return, at the beginning of Winter, also saw the beginning of my seventh month away from Sydney, my adopted home, and away from work. I have a lot of time on my hands. Most of my time is spent alone. Prior to this, I had literally never spent much time alone, and in the beginning, it felt very strange. A true extrovert, much of my energy previously came from being around other people, so at first I wasn’t really sure how to generate my own. My default pace of ‘FAST’ ground to a halt when I didn’t have anything to feed off. At first I buried myself in piles of ‘important’ books, reading intensely and voraciously. I cooked, a contribution to the household and something to do. With the time to relish that experience, I began to think about what cooking was and why I love it. Then I wrote about it. As I began to do these creative things, I slowly and finally began to experience what it is like to be ‘me’.

I can only speak of my own experience, but I feel as if life is often lived instinctively, and we take our identities for granted. ‘I like reading’ so I read. ‘I like to cook’ so I cook. ‘I like Shiraz’ so I drink it. ‘I like HBO TV productions’ so I watch them. Life becomes a string of ‘I likes’ and ‘I don’t likes’ that are instinctively allocated to any particular day, depending on what one feels like doing, and time passes. This is a simplistic view, but a fair summary of how I have lived most of my life, on autopilot, without really thinking much about it. That probably works if you’ve put a lot of thought and energy into it to begin with, and you can trust your instincts. My autopilot and instincts were pretty second-rate though, and weren’t very helpful in the end. So I took over. Scary at first, now kind of exciting.

As the months have passed, my sight – both inward and outward – has become better focused, and is at once great in scope and able to take in tiny details. I have noticed countless things about myself and others that were invisible to me before.

For example, until recently, although I admire beautiful gardens and plants, I instinctively considered myself to have a brown thumb, unable to sustain plant life requiring maintenance of any kind. I instinctively didn’t like geraniums. That was until I really noticed them. On my many walks in Adelaide, I saw beyond the manky, neglected specimens one sees in backyards everywhere, and noticed the amazing variety in the shape, texture and colours of the leaves, as well as the vibrant hues of the flowers. I really fell in love with them. So I decided to grow some. I was glad, as I have always wanted to like them because they remind me of one of my favourite short stories, ‘Water Them Geraniums’ by Henry Lawson, a sad tale of the lonely life of the selector’s wife. A reminder of how isolating and unyielding the Australian landscape was, and for some, still is, and how the way we alter that landscape reflects our inner lives.

Geraniums were the only flowers I saw grow in the drought out there. I remembered this woman had a few dirty grey-green leaves behind some sticks against the bark wall near the door; and in spite of the sticks the fowls used to get in and scratch beds under the geraniums, and scratch dust over them, and ashes were thrown there — with an idea of helping the flower, I suppose; and greasy dish-water, when fresh water was scarce—till you might as well try to water a dish of fat.

I am starting a ‘Geranium Grove’. I bought a plant today. It wasn’t the healthiest looking specimen, but I adored the red hue of the flowers, and with some attention, I think it will come good. Growing a geranium probably isn’t that hard if you try. I reckon if Mrs Spicer the ‘haggard Bushwoman’ could do it, I can. I also took a cutting of one of my mum’s plants, who in turn grew it from a cutting from my aunt who I was living with in Adelaide. When I move back to Sydney I’ll take them with me, and keep adding to my collection.

My geranium with a posse of pansies.

There was a solitary duck on the river bank this morning. As it rose from its vantage point by the water, I beheld its distinctive gait and realised that it was none other than my beloved Limpy! I fed him and we communed. The conversation was pretty one-sided but I got the sense that all is well in the avian community, despite the cooler weather.

I have a back-log of writing from down south which stalled when a feast of Crystal Bay prawns turned into a desire to learn about shellfish aquaculture in eastern Australia. Now back at home in the region which produces Yamba prawns, I will be furthering my investigations which will be shared here very soon.

Since I got back, people have noticed a dramatic change in me. I haven’t changed though, I’m just myself now. How strange that I had become so unfamiliar, unrecognisable and unsure.

I like cooking, writing and geranium cultivation. Perhaps not so inexplicable after all.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. June 5, 2010 20:44

    Beautiful, reflective, inspirational post, Felix.

    On a more literal note: I’ve never liked geraniums, but will take another look!

  2. Emma, your colleague permalink
    June 5, 2010 21:14

    Nice post, Fliss. You are a great cook, and an excellent writer. Not sure about the geranium growing (it’s a lot easier in a cool climate) but we shall see. I have no doubt you’ll put your all into it. As long as you keep using your powers for good, all will be well. Love, E

  3. June 5, 2010 21:22

    Hi Felix,

    I love geraniums. I also like chokos 🙂

    I grew a lot of colourful geraniums when I lived in Sydney. They like to be pot bound and they like constant feeding and then they flower like crazy. Sadly, we can’t grow them in this frosty climate. One day I hope for a little green house then maybe I can admire their smiling bright faces again.

    Love your writing. Cheers Jen

  4. June 5, 2010 21:23

    Wow, Felix. You are one extraordinary human being with incredible insight, such a distinctive voice and an irrepressible joie de vivre that it takes my breath away. Truly one talented, beautiful chick. How lucky am I to have met you. Can’t wait to see you again.

  5. June 6, 2010 22:12

    Jen, you can grow geraniums here! And Felix, you should get a rose geranium to keep near your door. Everytime you go past rubbing the leaves releases a divine smell, and you can infuse some milk with the leaves for custards and ice creams and so on.

    It’s so lovely to read you coming into yourself. Well done, you.

  6. June 6, 2010 23:37

    Hey Felicity, lovely post. You can make some amazing desserts with pelargonium leaves.

  7. June 6, 2010 23:47

    I really enjoyed reading your story and could relate to a lot of what you wrote. How odd this journey is, of dicovering the true self and unknown plant passions! I hope your geranium grove flourishes.

  8. June 7, 2010 11:55

    Let me know when you’re in Grafton and we can go geranium hunting by bike

  9. June 7, 2010 12:09

    I share your love for pelargoniums wholeheartedly! The colours and the scent of the leaves is just so appealing. I have stacks of geraniums (sadly, I keep killing the more delicate pelargoniums) so if you’re ever in Marrickville, please do let me know and I will load you up with cuttings!

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