Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

15.7.11

Falling sea levels.

There’s nowhere for the water to go. It just sits there on both sides of the narrow road and it feels like you are driving across some kind of inland sea. Graduated depth markers at intervals on each side of the road remind you how far under water you would have been after the January flood, and the September one before that.

This was the road that branches west-south-west off the Western Highway at the historical marker (something to do with gold) 6.5 kilometres out of Horsham. It rides the plain and drops you onto the Wimmera Highway near Natimuk, where floods have antagonised the locals for 150 years. A marker tells you a 48 year old coach operator was washed away from here in a flash flood in 1893. Never saw it coming.

I drove across the inland sea, and now it was raining again. The sky had that luminous, sickly green-purple light that says storm. Visibility dropped. I switched the lights on. The rain was deafening but someone in the car, it might have been William, asked if the water would sweep across the road and wash us away. No. This road straddles the Wimmera flood plain and the Wimmera has to break its banks for the road to flood. The way would be closed well before that. After the flood, the water stays on the land because it is clay and so uncannily flat. It might actually be concave relative to the earth’s crust. I don’t know. Ask a geologist. Or an economist. They know everything.

We rumbled across the warning strips and stopped at the Wimmera Highway's T-intersection, and turned right. The storm blew away to the east and the sun didn’t quite come out but at least you could see. A jagged shadow appeared on the horizon and grew larger. As we crossed the plain, it looked like an African elephant might look to a mouse. Mt Arapiles. It’s a favourite with rock-climbers. They fall off it all the time.

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Earlier in the day we had had lunch in one of those country town slamming-screen-door cafes that have never seen a foccaccia, and I ordered my perennial on the road lunch: two toasted ham and cheese sandwiches and a strong coffee, or two if 'strong' isn't strong enough. You can't mess up a toasted ham and cheese sandwich; and they don't put you to sleep like pasta, so you can concentrate on the road. We sat and ate at a table in the steamed-up window as the rain turned to hail and lashed the pavement and piled up against the door. Tracy fed the baby. The boys ate home-made chocolate cake.

Later we passed north of the Grampians, a north-south outcrop of sandstone deposited by rivers 380 million years ago. A mere forty million years ago, the Southern Ocean apparently lapped its edges. I’m driving across an old sea bed, so we can’t complain about the rain, can we?

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Late in the day, we stopped at Edenhope, an old farming town on the south side of Lake Wallace. Our cabin was right on the shore, with a window overlooking the lake and the blackening sky. The cabin was warmed by one of those old electric fireplaces with fake logs that light up and flicker. In the circumstances, it was a pleasant feature. We cooked dinner on the electric stove, veal cutlets from the very good butcher in the main street, and later the boys fought about who got the top bunk.

The rain lashed the glass all night. In the morning I took the boys, and the baby wrapped up in about three coats and hats, for a walk onto the old jetty. It was early and cold and not very light and the sky was full of parrots wheeling in formation. We walked to the shops in the main street for the newspaper. Can’t break the habit, even out here. Tea tastes better when you are reading a newspaper. Not sure why. It can't be the news. Left at 10a.m, heading west into the rain.

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