Windsong Wines

Conversations At The Creek

A Long Life is Not Enough

January 8, 2013, 12:26 pm by Heather Webster

Our laws and government reflect are a statement of our values. Resources are never infinite, so we must spend government budgets wisely. Choices about expenditure are rarely simple and never easy, but our choices say much about who we are and what we value. Our investments influence the present and the future.
Modern food production, excellent public health, engineering and medicine assist us to live the longest and healthiest lives in history. Attitudes and laws about women’s rights, homosexuality, and discrimination prove our capacity for vigorous debate and rapid change. But where is the debate about healthy lives as opposed to being alive?
The Health Department increasingly dominates the state budget. Its rapid growth is cannibalising investment in all other areas. As our population ages, we seem obsessed by keeping people alive without consideration of their quality of life. Ageing is addressed by expensive and often invasive treatments, often with little consideration of quality of life. Much of the health budget is spent on fixing the results of preventable diseases and prolonging already long lives in sad and lonely hospital beds.
Where is our investment in education and income generating capacity, not just to compete in an increasingly competitive world but also to prevent looming health problems like obesity? We need the debates necessary to guide investment where it can deliver quality of life, for both individuals and our society. Rights have no power without the capacity to service them.
Investment in science for an innovative future, investment in the arts for a rich cultural life and investment in education strengthen us all for the future. We ignore them and under-resource them at our peril. Declining resources and rising costs need tough social and political choices. The current state budget is using more and more of our diminishing resources on an “un-healthy” budget. Failure to control and direct the budget wisely will result in long-term ill health for us all.
Heather Webster
As published in InDaily 7 Jan 2013

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Time and tides

January 5, 2013, 12:24 pm by Heather Webster

We were staying at the beach shack. It had been my father’s retreat, the manifestation of his dream for peace and independence. He bought the land and built this simple house where he enjoyed many years of fishing from the bountiful sea.

As he walked the sands, he collected the flotsam and jetsam from the ceaseless tides which caressed the shore. Twice every day, waves would bring another bounty. Mostly it was seaweed, tangles of eel grass and strands of what we called Neptune’s Beads for the round floats along its ropey lengths. Shell debris and occasional fresh shells untarnished by the roll and tumble of the surf, marked the high point of the tide. Chitons and periwinkles, cockles and whelks, razor fish and cuttlefish skeletons, as a child I got to know them all well. The bounty depended on the season and the strength of wind and tide. The stronger the wind and the higher the tide, the greater was the diversity of the offerings.

The tide would bring man-made objects too. Bottles and string, wood, a box or a shoe- objects lost or cast away floated in bearing clues and stories, real or imagined. Most of all, my father loved the curious bits of sea life which found themselves on his shore. He treasured the small seahorse skeletons, the rarer shells, unusual crabs or their fragile moulted shells. After many decades of scavenging he had collected five paper nautilus, the rare egg cases of cryptic cuttlefish-like creatures, which inhabited these waters, but we only knew from books. The fine white shells were as delicate and elegant as Japanese fans.

All these treasures he collected. He would study them on the old table on the veranda and keep the ones he liked. A shinier or bigger shell might replace one in his collection; a tiny crab might warrant a bottle of spirit, a bigger one would be left for the ants to clean off the flesh so it wouldn’t smell among his treasures.
But, this morning as I woke, and my eyes fell on the collection, I saw it differently. I saw a catalogue of dead things, wrested from their place in the natural world. The collection stood as an intervention; an obsession for which interest was sufficient cause for death. I saw before me a cascade of the collectors of birds and animals who tore creatures from their lives because of their perceived beauty or their rarity. I saw sadness in these collecting deaths.
But then, I reflected on the transience of my own existence and that death, as the end of life, surrounds us every moment at the microscopic, cellular and macro levels. Death is pervasive, and passes unremarked every day. I hoped my thoughts, and my wonder at life’s diversity added poignancy if not meaning to the lives that surrounded me. And, here on the beach, I remembered my father who took such pleasure in it all. That was his legacy, the thought fossils and love that he left among the shells and skeletons of his collection.

Heather Webster, writer, Langhorne Creek grape grower, community advocate, red wine lover and commentator on things that matter in life.

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Rabbits

November 20, 2012, 11:43 am by Heather Webster

We turn into our neighbour’s driveway, and rabbits scatter. The drooping limbs of the acacia are perfect cover. After good rains, there is plenty of feed and the soil is sandy, making digging burrows easy. I grudgingly admire the rabbit clan for its biological success. They win the prize for the fastest invasion of any mammal as they are perfectly suited for rapid breeding with does reaching maturity after only four months and able to produce six litters a year.
But they destroy the fragile vegetation and denude the land.
Our neighbours are anxious about rabbit burrows undermining the dam walls and interfering with precious water storage.
These rabbits are doing well, sleek, fat and proliferating.
I get angry with Thomas Austin who introduced rabbits into Australia in 1859.
I remember how delicious rabbits are and wonder how I can get a couple for the pot.
Barry has a wry smile, noting that it is only appropriate rabbits live there – it is the Warren’s driveway after all.
Good or bad – the same facts have different meanings depending on where you sit.

Heather Webster

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The Age of Instant

October 25, 2012, 1:06 pm by Heather Webster

Instant noodles, instant Internet access, instant gratification. Instant purchases promise happiness and guarantee delivery but don’t allow for reflection. A flare of anger becomes harsh words on Facebook or a hurtful blog; neither can be erased. There is no cooling off. Harsh words are matched by harsher words and the hurt ricochets, reverberating across the ether. The pain is magnified as the virus of cruelty spreads. Amplified by uncaring, it de-sensitises, making anger and violence an everyday occurrence.
Why such glee at the discomfort of others? Only insecurity and unkindness revel in the pain of others. Our Prime Minister slips and falls. Instantly, images circle the globe making a cruel entertainment. A million people choose to snigger at her fall. Possibly this is the same million who choose not to engage in the policies or issues which are her job. It’s easier to jeer free from effort or responsibility. Its entertainment not engagement, unkindness without reflection; nastiness unfettered by consequences.
But, every time we offer unkindness, let alone violence or cruelty, we damage ourselves not our target. We are weakened by our weakness, hardened by exposure, demeaned by meanness. Our powerful communication tools offer an unparalleled medium for sharing, let’s not share meanness and pain, let’s pause before hitting the send button and think about the impact.

Published in InDaily, October 22 2012

Heather Webster

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Spring Changes

October 23, 2012, 6:38 pm by Heather Webster

Spring is now well established. How else would we measure time without the signs of change? I see new buds and blossoms forming as the old leaves and cuttings decay. The new growth cannibalizes the old. Cleaning teams of insects, bacteria, fungi all have specialized species to partake of the feast. During the growing season, the vines grow fast and strong. Leaf, stalk and petiole form masses of new growth feed and protect the flowers and grapes that are their seeds of their immortality. In autumn, they are cast aside to try again next year. Nutrients are efficiently recycled in other lives.
Another season, another buds, another seed, ready to cast the dice in the game of life. Not –he loves me he loves me not, but to live or not to live. The things alive this season need to survive, and then reproduce so the species lives. My mother is experiencing her ninety sixth spring. Ninety-six seasons 34,310 revolutions around the sun. Ninety-six years of being pressed to the surface of the earth by gravity and she has only shrunk about an inch. We are a robust lot.
There is much talk this year of the changing climate. Indeed, the climate of this world is ever changing. At macro and micro level the changes are large or small depending on your frame of reference. For a species which inhabits most of the existing environments on the world, what is astonishing is simultaneously our ability to adapt our living spaces to meet the very narrow range of climates in which we are comfortable. For me between 20 and 30 degrees and 80% relative humidity is about right. No change to the composition of the atmosphere either thanks very much, and plenty of water to drink pleases. How did we ever get to be this numerous with that narrow range of living conditions?
So how do we measure success? We could calculate biological success by numbers and spread or can we consider a concept of cultural success as measured by memories, by column centimeters? If we accept that the great achievements of our kind are art science and music, rather than numbers then we are successful indeed.

Heather Webster

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End of Winter

August 22, 2012, 5:05 am by Heather Webster

Being different has benefits. Under cold wet skies, the wizened bark of almond trees stirs with new life before all the other trees. The fuzzy grey buds split and fragile white blossoms brave the freezing winds. Almond nectar is sparse but the first available. The delicate blossoms are a small investment to achieve pollination before richer neighbors brave the cold.

Blossoms at Windsong Wines

Competition favors diversity. The earliest, the richest, the latest all have advantages. Eucalypts have pale open flowers to attract moths which fly at night to avoid the heat of the day. Every niche in time or space is an opportunity to avoid the general crush. Flowering plants rely on the external pollination to increase the diversity for new generations. It seems a gentle war, but the fight for resources is relentless and diversity is one important weapon.

Heather Webster, writer, Langhorne Creek grape grower, community advocate, red wine lover and commentator on things that matter in life.

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Oranges and Lemons

August 1, 2012, 9:43 am by Heather Webster

There are no Bells of St Clements here but plenty of fragrant citrus. Oranges, lemons, limes, now my cumquats are ready but how much marmalade can one family eat. Answer a lot because marmalade is not just for breakfast toast it teams deliciously with cheeses both soft and hard. It combines sharp, sweet and tangy taste sensations. My latest is limequat, a cross between limes and cumquat – smooth almost tear shaped fruit with no pips – the cook’s friend. Today an old favourite orange poppy seed cake. It should really be called orange almond cake – delicious and conveniently gluten free for the man building my new vegetable beds. They are a work of art.

Heather Webster Chair of Langhorne Creek Grape and Wine should be writing her speech for the AGM tonight but is planning new ways to cook oranges instead

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Frosty mornings

July 18, 2012, 8:23 pm by Heather Webster

Bright sun struggles to warm the frosted ground.
Chains of water droplets along the bare winter branches sparkle more than diamonds.
A rosella lands heavily in the almond tree releasing a brilliant shower. Against the sun, its bright feathers are muted but its shape unmistakable; a solid exclamation mark against the sky.
All the birds land differently. Heavy-bodied crested pigeons use their tails like a tightrope walker’s pole, see-sawing back and forth before the balance is struck. Tiny silvereyes flick in and out of existence, their flight so fast they manifest in one place then another with invisibility in between. Magisterial magpies select the stronger branches to avoid unseemly bobbing about.
The warmth of the sun seems welcome by all.

Heather Webster, Langhorne Creek Grape Grower, writer and lover of esoteric facts

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It’s Raining, It’s Pouring but there’s no time for snoring

June 23, 2012, 12:54 pm by Heather Webster

Greyness has closed out the sky and brought the edge of my vision to the nearest field. Rain fills the air, flecking white against the green of the trees and vines. It is gravity manifest. Water droplets coalesce and overweight with success. Falling becomes the only option. There are no clouds or sun, just wetness, saturating the air, pooling on the ground, and endlessly washing the vegetation. It pours from the grey pools of the sky without cease.

In most dry countries at most times, such gentle moisture is welcome. But the cat, spiky with wet, the bedraggled chickens, and me are all a little uncomfortable today.

I wonder how long it took people to recognise the cycle of the seasons. How long was it before they could see the patterns of seasons over-laying the pattern of days and nights? How many times did they notice that the short days and months of cold being were inevitably followed by the hope of spring and the dryness of summer? Winter would always be followed by spring. How many people died planting crops at the wrong time before the clever ones learned to record and teach so more might live? I appreciate our weather satellites and our clever meteorologists for telling me what the weather will be. Soon the rain will stop and all too soon I will wish it back again.

Heather Webster, Langhorne Creek Grape Grower, writer and lover of esoteric facts

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Threads in the Sky

June 15, 2012, 9:03 am by Heather Webster

There was a light breeze as I worked in the garden. Just enough to make some leaves tremble. And, as I worked the finest thread of cobweb brushed my cheek.
The work was rewarding. The earth was moist and the texture crumbly so weeds could be pulled out easily. Soon, I thought, they will strengthen their hold on the soil. The roots will clamp tightly to extract the last moisture from the earth and the soil will hardened into temporary cement. Warmth and clear skies are welcome in winter, all too soon the deadly endurance battle will begin.
Today was a joy. I felt a tiny thread, and then another. Looking above I saw hundreds of them drifting in the breeze. Each was a tiny parachute attached to a spider small enough and light enough to be carried aloft by six inches of gossamer thread. Some were carried high, others snagged on bushes or grass, the least fortunate landing on me. Millions must land on barren ground after long or short journeys in the quest to find shelter and sustenance. Some would fly high and be caught in the swirling currents of the sky. Perhaps my spider was a jet traveller, arriving after a long flight in the high-speed jet streams that whirl around the world. Were they African spiders or perhaps South America; it has been known. In the great lottery of reproduction and dispersal, there are startling stories of adventure. I wanted to know my spider’s story, but we didn’t speak the same language.

Heather Webster Langhorne Creek story weaver and red wine lover

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