I turn into a weird foraging drifter, become slightly peculiar, when the virus comes. Sources of dopamine seem to expand when the restaurants shut. I scan for recognisable shapes, useful features, sense I can make. Take things: photographs, food, smiles, smells, moments, memories; fragments of the environment.
Find I find wild fennel in the odd triangular wilderness where asymmetrical lanes join near Farmer Street. I pick the flowers to use preserving olives, scatter the seeds on the empty block near my place. I feel connected, although I’m not sure to what.
Gather I pass by and pick up a slip of conversation ‘…if it wasn’t for cruise ships…’ Another day, two elderly neighbours, one with his dog, meet in a long still lane off Raglan Road. Then, a younger neighbour in her winter pyjamas joins them to talk, pats the dog. Before eight, otherwise unseen social beauty, gathered into me now.
Collect I begin collecting fallen wood after I see someone else doing it in the park around Danjanberup on Bourke Street. When I have a small stockpile, I sit and admire it, feeling rich. I learn to make frugal fires for cooking. The gas is still on, but I am soothed, using the extra time for this fundamental, pleasurable thing. Before, I bought my wood from the Shell petrol station at the top of Fitzgerald Street.
Everything prickles with a resonance like static electricity. I leak joy, look around, let marvels multiply.
Heritage Old-for-Perth outhouses abutting laneways with morning glory growing over them, stink pipes with minaret-like tops, delight me and I wonder if any current toilets will delight someone in 100 years’ time. I come across a mysterious abandoned orchard in a wild overgrown block off View Street, an enormous prickly pear ranging all over the place as if searching for someone who still knows what to do with its fruit.
Homing I stop and stand still to watch a flock of pigeons circle above a house near Loftus Street. In the morning sunlight they are lit underwing and the effect is like sky glitter, then they turn, and they’re grey again. Their rhythm and flow are a smooth excitement, as though they’re thrilled by new air currents wafting through.
Material Slightly burnt but still delicious toast, such a warm and attractive aroma. An unexpected scent of pine needles. In a yard open to the lane off Doris Street, hundreds of large red chillies laid out to dry on tarpaulins. Elsewhere, seven quiet happy chickens, one with pretty black and white scalloped feathers. On Hunter Street, a regal cockerel high up on a weathervane steadily facing east, lit by the rising sun.
Topography is suddenly realised, as in made real, through more than one sense. Of course there were hills and valleys, I think I knew, but as I go slower, go over old ground, unexpected views emerge around corners in un-walked lanes, as I ascend slopes barely noticed before. The shape of the landscape rears up at me in new, hologrammatic ways.
Vestibular The angle of the ground felt under the bones and pads of the foot. I notice I’m ascending, leaning forward, always lead with the head. Knee-fear prevents a fast downhill run. I close my eyes while walking through the middle of Hyde Park, feeling each footfall, footroll, sensing the floor of the place.
Ocular Spectacular domes of the always-nearly-finished church on Angove Street appear at various elevations, once from a high point on Walcott Street in the north-east, from other spots on other days. The church is taking its time, and the view slows me down slightly. I wish for the peal of a bell to radiate out from, to orientate me.
Sonic An ice cream van tune drifts out of the bowl of Norfolk Street to my house up the hill, tantalising but unreachable when I descend searching for it with my soon-to-be-disappointed child. Every time we walk back upwards, it finds its way to our ears again. Sound waves rolling over the shape of the surface of the place. On an Easter weekend which feels suspended, like a held breath, there are brass notes right here on my street, overlaid with bees in the driveway, textural possibilities now the traffic noise has dropped away.
I ride the boundary as far as Green Street and back around as a storm blows in, racing it home. What charms there are here underneath our churchbell and what little need to leave. Until now, we were always leaving, seeking something else, or confirmation we’d seen enough.
Grief I want a word like solistalgia, but for a place you never had. For a time you imagine having existed. Living on someone else’s country can be awkward, heart-wise, but a lumpy love can still flourish in uneasiness.
Knowledge The word campanilismo is held out to me by the local librarian, like a small precious bird cupped in her hands. Takes flight on tiny brave wings. No need to board a plane to receive this offering, carry it home with me.
Strength I used to dream about my silver UC Torana, but it was just a longing for the era when I drove that car, the wild good times, the house I used to park it in front of. My old querencia, the place I was in.
Now, in this neighbourhood, we’re reaching out to each other in the streets in new ways as we deliberately, kindly make sure there is regulation space between us to pass. We’re more generous to local strangers with eyes, words, gestures, even as we noticeably pull away. Like something between us is stretched, and proves elastic.
Shelter Some weather is due and my neighbour tells me we don’t get hit by storms here because we’re in a hollow, protected. It doesn’t seem quite right, but it is a comforting thing to be told.
Novelty Standing in my long, lemon-lit late afternoon driveway, I notice two pieces of fabric tethering a branch in a tree above my head; one red, the other yellow with a thick green stripe. They are faded, ordinary, look as though they’ve been there for years. I swear I’ve looked in that same spot 100 times on staying-close-to-home-walks in these contracted weeks, but only at this moment do I see them for the first time. Before my eyes, they impassively appear, a vision, entirely new to me. Really, anything could happen now.
Captivation Sometimes a detail of the place, like a long plush course of moss, a very-yonic seed pod, or a high unexpected window shape, captures me. A pattern wrought by meetings of weather and material layers, like chicken wire aged into a waterfall of lace, or a delta of rain-salt residue on a power pylon, suddenly transports me and I don’t know where I am anymore. The feeling lasts a few lovely wobbly moments. On a day right in the middle of it all I’m walking, and so enthralled by everything I pass that when I recognise the verdant verges at the corner of Burt Street, I’m surprised to find myself so close to home.
Karen Lee is a social researcher, creative producer, urban life enthusiast and possibly a writer. A career chameleon, she spent a surprising number of years in paid employment in the Australian music industry. She is into jazz now, likes craft traditions and can sharpen secateurs. She is inspired by the people, places and possibilities in her own neighbourhood: North Perth, Western Australia, Whadjuk Noongar country.Copyright © 2020 Karen Lee.