Urban Nature Study – Part 1

Earlier this year I volunteered to take part in an Urban Nature Study for an Honours student at the University of Wollongong. The study involved two Zoom interviews and three urban walks. On these walks I was required to take notice and record my interactions with urban nature. This included what I could hear, see, smell, and feel. To help me remember what I observed I made notes on the voice recorder app.

During the walks I was encouraged to take photos of the things I saw. It was pretty much the perfect sort of study for me! To top it off it we were still under some COVID restrictions so it was not as if I was doing anything else.

The student has submitted her work and I have permission to publish my contributions. I am not sure what her ‘findings’ were. Here is the first of my 3 walks. I have changed some of the street names.

Urban Nature Diary Day 1 – 13th June 2020

Saturday Beach Walk

My walk today was one of the two routes I take frequently. I call this route my “beach walk”.  The other is my “neighbourhood walk”. I sometimes run these routes rather than walk.  Today, I ran part of the way and walked part of the way as I was stopping to take photos. All up it took me about 1 hour 20 minutes.

This route takes me along Crown Street, past the hospital and railway station into the CBD, I then walk down to Smith Street and head to the beach from here. I walk past Levendi’s (a cafe), along the harbour, past the lighthouses and then past WIN Stadium. When I have the time (as on weekends) I extend the route and walk along the beach to the end of the golf course cut back up Swan Street under the railway bridge, up Gladstone Street, X Ave, Y Street, and then finally back onto Z Street and home. This is a little over 8 km. If I’m in a hurry, I cut back up to the WEC (Wollongong Entertainment Centre) and head back home through the Mall. If I’m running, I can do it in 50 minutes.

And we’re off…

This morning I left home at around 7:30 AM. There was a partial cloud cover. It was fine and crisp. It had been raining overnight so there were puddles and wet leaves on the ground

My phone said it was 12.7oC and dead calm.  I had dressed in long tights and a long sleeve lycra hoodie, joggers and socks. I normally listen to music or podcasts while I walk. Today it was a podcast.

The ground was wet, and the leaves made it slippery, so I picked my way out my driveway. The large liquid amber at the corner of my driveway drops so many leaves and I have slipped there before so I am always cautious.

The creepy tree

Just before you get to the hospital there is a huge Morton Bay Fig in a tiny park. There is very little room left in the park for anything but the tree. (Image 1) I really like this tree and have wondered how old it is and what it must have been like before it was hemmed in by the road and houses. It would make a good climbing tree as the branches hang down low to the ground. However, it would be near impossible to climb as the limbs are very broad and smooth. The buttress roots spread out for at least 5 metres in all directions.  I call it the “creepy tree” because it does not matter what time of day it is, the massive tree is always casting a shadow on the park. It smells dank and composty.

Image 1 – The Creepy Tree

Noisy traffic in the shopping precinct

The noise of the traffic makes it hard for me to hear any birds, but I did notice some dead or close to dead earthworms who had boldly ventured onto the pavement when it was raining and had now become trapped on the drying pavement. A bit of styrofoam captures my attention and I get annoyed and feel that the hi-fi store (likely source of the foam), should be held to account for the amount of foam that blows out of their bins and ends up as pollution on the street near their shop.

This part of the route is in my opinion, nothing but “urban”. It is paved and built up. There are few gardens as most of the premises are commercial. In the CBD itself, the council is attempting to green things up. (Images 2 – 4) 

It’s sad to see that their bright little street flower boxes are the target of vandals (Image 5)  If there are council workers watering the plants or replanting what has been ripped out, I’ll thank them for their work so hopefully they don’t get too downhearted that not everyone appreciates the little bit of colour the boxes provide. I notice the raindrops sticking to the leaves of plants. (Image 6)

Wollongong Harbour

Once I get to the harbour, I join the many others who are enjoying a walk or a run on this nice morning. The clouds are making a dramatic backdrop to the little lighthouse and Belmore Basin. Some pelicans are preening, and people are out in kayaks paddling on the smooth water. (Image 7)

Image 7 – Belmore Basin

There is a reasonable swell and some surfers are clustered at the end of City Beach. The water must be colder now as most are wearing wet suits.  (images 8 and 9)

It’s warming up and I am regretting that I didn’t wear a T-shirt and jacket rather than the hoodie which I can’t take off. 

Image 10 – Dead Calm

On the Beach

It’s dead calm.  (Image10) the air is clear and fresh, but I lament that it is not as clear as it was a few weeks ago when we were deep in COVID lockdown and the sky had a fresh luminous blue with no pollution hanging about in a brown haze.

Image 11

Once I get to WIN stadium and the footy field/golf course junction I head down to the beach. I take a lot of energy from the ocean and enjoy seeing it every day. For me, it’s peaceful and rugged and energising all at the same time. It’s mid tide so there is some compacted sand to make the walk easier. I have to dodge a few incoming waves to prevent getting my shoes wet but this adds to the fun. The sand shows evidence of last night’s rain with the little pock marks dimpling the sand. (image 11)

There are a few shells. (image 12) Last time I was on the beach there were lots of rocks and pebbles at the wave line and I notice that this time there are very few rocks. I wonder if they were carried away by last week’s big surf or if I was at a different part of the beach. Up ahead I see the little pebble “garden” I was looking for and figure that they do probably get moved as a result of the tide. (image 14.)

Image 13 – Roof tile?

Not a rock

I take especial interest in an unusual green “rock” (Image 13). I pick it up and turn it over in my hands. I decide that it’s not a rock after all and probably a piece of roof tile that has been washed down a creek. I’m on the lookout for sea-glass[1] as I collect interesting bits of that.

This is an off-leash beach but there are few dogs. A couple of gulls fly past skimming close to the sand. The air smells salty but since there is no wind to whip the sea spray into my face, I don’t taste it.

As I re-join the road and the buildings, I can hear some rainbow lorikeets squawking and fluttering in a large flowering gum near the dog training park on Swan St. There are some magpies or crows cawing as they fly overhead. I pass a garden which has some nice succulents spilling over the fence and I break off a small piece to bring home and plant in my own garden.

The home stretch

I am about two kilometres from home and I am now very much regretting the choice of outfit! The sun is rising higher and I am getting hotter! It’s a balance between going faster to get home quicker and overheating! On Gladstone Ave there are a few private gardens with some lovely old roses, but today most only have a few straggly petals left. There is also a house with a reasonable size quince tree. They don’t pick the quince and they fall on the ground every year. Each year I say to myself, “next year I am going to knock on their door and ask if I can have them before they go rotten!”

The large date palms on X street, always make me think of the cover of Hotel California (an album by the Eagles).

(I included that detail because the person doing the interview was very young and possibly not a 1970’s music fan!)

I cut across the little park on the corner of X Street and my joggers get wet from the grass.  The Bird of Paradise flowers catch my eye and a few spiders’ webs in the neighbour’s garden are glistening with rain.

I am home and it’s time for a cup of tea!


[1] Glass that gets washed up onto the beach and has been made smooth and translucent by the action of the sand and waves.


A Win-Win!

I’m a bit of a research study enthusiast and this study combined a few things I like to do, walk, take photos and write! In addition to that I was helping someone out so it contributed to my happiness! Doing good for others boosts your mood! As I said I have not seen the student’s finished work or even really understand the purpose of her study. However, having to stop and think about how I interacted and experienced nature in my urban setting was interesting and made me feel a real sense of connectedness.

Apart from this study I am also participating in a two long term health studies. One called the 45 and up study which has a long questionnaire every 5 years; and another 3 year study on dementia and lifestyle which has frequent questionnaires which alternate between eating and exercising habits. Once each year there is a comprehensive set of cognitive and memory tests.

I have also just done a five week stint being a “patient” for a trainee medical professional to assist them with their tele-health skills.

Being a writing frugalist, I wasn’t going to “waste” an extended piece of my own writing without including it here! It was a win-win! She got some observations for her research: I got a blog post! (Maybe 2 more if I publish the others!)

Ecohack 6 – Op shopping.

I love op shopping, and I have become something of an expert.  Op shops, short for opportunity shops are variously called charity stores or thrift stores depending on where you live.  I’ve been going to the Salvos (Salvation Army), Vinnies, (St Vincent de Paul), Lifeline and The Smith Family stores for decades! When I travel, I always visit the local charity stores.

I even created a blog The Op-Shop Queen back in 2011.  It was based on giving op shops reviews and buying a complete outfit, not including shoes, for less than $20. It’s archived and no longer accessible although I may resurrect it.Screen Shot 2020-08-09 at 10.16.06

Why Op Shops?

I earn enough to buy new stuff but don’t for several reasons,

  1. I’d rather spend that money on other stuff.
  2. I like the challenge of building a wardrobe from the quirky pieces you can find.
  3. The quality is often better. I’d rather pay $10 for a second-hand designer brand than $2 on a piece of crap made in Bangladesh under dubious labour conditions. Mind you the designer brand may also have been made in Bangladesh under dubious labour conditions, but it is likely to be better quality material and hence last longer.
  4. The feel-good feeling it gives me for keeping clothes out of the waste stream and doing my bit for the environment.
  5. It fits in with my buy-nothing-new-unless-there-is-no-other-way philosophy.

Keeping clothes out of the waste stream.

There are plenty of stats about the impact discarded clothes have on our waste stream. Fast fashion which is fuelled in part by social media, is an ugly trend where people wear an item once and throw it away. The desire to be seen in something new for every insta-moment is a real thing for many consumers.

Me? I have never really been into fashion. Ooops back up a bit there! I did wear shoulder pads and peplums back in the 80s, and I am conscious of not looking like an utterly uncoordinated bag lady. These days I try to go for a classy, elegant, timeless look that will withstand the “what colour is on trend this week” trend. If you keep things long enough, they’ll cycle back around anyway.

Keeping clothes for longer means that energy and resources used in making them is saved. We should be aiming for more wears per item.

 

Picking up a bargain.

I buy everything from op shops. Clothes, kitchenware, shoes, towels, stationery, books, magazines, storage containers, toys for my grandson. If I need something I go there first. My best buy to date is an evening dress which was brand new, with tags and still in the shops (i.e. it was still in season). The labelled price was over $900, I got it for $100. I even bought my Iains from op shops!

I am lucky my home town of Wollongong has several substantial op shops which are clean and bright.

You never know what you might find! A year or so after I got divorced, I went into my favourite op shop to find many of the items from my own kitchen on sale! The items that had been part of his split. I was a bit peeved that a lovely fruit bowl which was a wedding gift was there for $10! (I knew it was mine because of a unique sticker on the bottom). I decided not to buy it back.

Op shopping is now on trend!

Op shopping is becoming so popular that it is getting harder to get bargains. The charities who run them obviously want to make money, and I have noticed there has been a rise in prices. Back in the old days, designer brands were on the racks cheek by jowl with the Kmart stuff. Now, most stores have these items in their own section with much higher prices. I guess getting an Armani cashmere jumper at $30 is still a bargain.

I used to hide the fact that my clothes were from op shops. When someone asked me where I bought that fabulous dress or whatever, I’d say “Oh just a little place in Wollongong.” Now I reply “from my special shop” which my colleagues know means the op shop!

Decluttering trends and the time made available for decluttering by the COVID lockdowns have meant that many op shops are packed to the rafters with items discarded by others. Now’s a good time to start op shop if you’re not into it already!

Photo 25-04-13 12 06 54
That entire outfit not including shoes, socks and undies was less than $10

My tips for op-shopping.

  1. Remember that the clothes are there for a reason. The previous owner did not want them anymore. This could be because they are slaves to fashion, have put on or lost weight, gotten older and the thigh-high split skirt is no longer part of their look, or they died. The items could be damaged or stained. There could be buttons missing. CHECK them out carefully. Turn the items inside out and have a look for moth holes, rips, broken zips, missing buttons, stains. I need to improve on this front.
  2. The clothes are checked by the staff before being put on the racks, but they are not washed. There may be stained items. Make a decision if you think the stain will be treatable, otherwise leave it on the shelf.
  3. If it is missing buttons or is ripped is the item worth fixing? If it’s a beautiful item that suits you, maybe you could replace all the buttons, or put a cute patch over the rip. There are some good books about mending available.
  4. Try it on!! This is my biggest downfall. I too often buy things without trying them on, and they end up back in my own donations bag when I find they don’t fit or look terrible.  And while yes, I haven’t wasted much money and I have not contributed to the waste stream, it is still a waste.
  5. Be adventurous, try different colours and styles.
  6. Don’t be tempted to buy more than you need because it is cheap, and ‘environmentally friendly.’ Overconsumption is still overconsumption whether it’s brand new or second hand. You still have to find a place to store all that shit when you bring it home! Buying things just in case is still a waste.
  7. Challenge your family to do op shop gift-giving, where all presents have to be either homemade or second hand. Use scarves or other fabric found at op-shops to wrap your gifts. There are usually plenty of used-once gift bags available too.
  8. If you are a super bargain hunter op shops often have colour coded tags and these may attract a discount. Look out for signs in the store. Eg “all green tag items 50% off today” or “all pink tags only $2”. Some shops like the Salvos, have bargain days on Mondays and Tuesday where all items under $15 are only $2 and other items are 50% off. Since I work full time I can only get along to those days in the school holidays.
  9. Remember to take your own unwanted and no longer needed items to the op shop when you’ve finished with them. But don’t take your junk. Op shops have to pay to get rid of any unwearable, unusable items dumped at their doorsteps. This reduces their profitability and how many people they can help. It’s not the tip, so please dispose of real rubbish thoughtfully.

Plans for the future

I have written a post before about my inability to travel light! I have had an idea on how to solve this problem. Next time I travel, I am only going to take two changes of clothes and buy everything else from local op shops as I need it. This, of course, will depend on IF I travel internationally again. Who knows!

Don’t be scared, op shops are no longer smelly dank places where only the homeless people hang out! The car park is full of Lexus and Range Rovers and people snapping up bargains while doing their bit for our planet! 

 

Ecohack 5 – Reducing plastic use

Reducing my environmental impact

Is plastic use a problem for you too? I am trying hard to reduce my environmental impact. In a previous post, I quoted a research paper that showed a tiered approach to reducing your impact. From those activities that have a big impact, like ditching the car or having only one child, down to things that while helpful, have a fairly small individual impact. Having said that, if every individual on the planet did that small thing, like switching to a mostly plant-based diet, the impact would be huge!

Roasted Beetroot Salad
Eating a plant-based diet makes an impact!

High Impact Decisions

In my thirties, I made a high impact decision to have only one child based on environmental impacts. At the time, back in the 1990s, it was a bold decision that copped flack from my peers and my (ex)partner.  It came about when I did a subject as part of my teaching degree about the environment.  We went on an excursion to a property on the Georges River near Lugano in Sydney. The owner, an old fellow called Ted, had some ramshackle displays made from recycled bibs & bobs and warned us of the dangers of climate change. I was deeply affected and feared the world my child would inhabit.  He was definitely ahead of his time. Most of my classmates thought he was a looney. I don’t remember his last name and the interwebs are so far silent, on his activities. Nonetheless, the information changed my life.

Plastic is everywhere!

As to moderate and low impact actions, I am consuming less, wasting less and travelling less. [Although travelling less seems like cheating as there is no way to travel far at the moment!] I buy second hand whenever I can.

Despite all these good intentions, I am thwarted by plastic!  Plastic use is my big downfall,  an epic fail. On July 1 when I decided to give Plastic-free July a try, I came home from the shops with 4 bits of plastic wrapping my food! My garbage/recycling bin is still full of plastic stuff.

I don’t know the origin of this quote, but it sums things up pretty well

“It’s pretty amazing that our society has reached a point where the effort necessary to extract oil from the ground, ship it to a refinery, turn it into plastic, shape it appropriately, truck it to a store, buy it, and bring it home is considered to be less effort than what it takes to just wash the spoon when you’re done with it.”

Epic Plastic Fails

Plastic Fail number 1: I wear contact lenses. I use daily disposable lenses because I had serious issues with adhesions from the longer-term ones. As a result, every day, I end binning the two little plastic wells and the foil lids.  I have tried to think of ways to recycle them or at least repurpose them but have yet to come up with an idea. It seems like I am not the only one worried about this waste. There are collect and return systems in the US but I don’t think they are in action in Australia. They could make little paint pots?

Solution: I could wear glasses, a money-saving option. I could get laser surgery on my eyes, an expensive option. Wearing contacts is pure vanity, although I did try multifocal lenses a few years back, they made me nauseous and dizzy. Perhaps it’s time to try again.

Plastic Fail number 2: Plastic containers. Everything comes wrapped or packaged in plastic! Milk, dishwashing liquid, shampoo, soap etc etc etc. On the food front; berries, cherry tomatoes, bread are a few examples. Nearly every damn thing is in plastic!

Solutions: I have switched to making as much of my own food as I can with the time I have available. This reduces some of the packaging. I buy my veggies loose, and use fabric produce and shopping bags. But you can’t buy some things without plastic. I guess the choice is not to buy them all.

IMG_5095 2
I am getting pretty good at making my own bread!

I could try solid shampoo bars and buy other liquid products from the bulk store and re-use the containers. That’s on the agenda as a new zero-waste bulk grocery store has opened up near my home. The Port Grocer advertises itself as “affordable”. Let’s hope so.

I recently tried to buy milk in glass bottles. I could only find one shop about 15 km away, and the milk was literally twice as much as the regular milk!

Processed with VSCO with fn16 preset
Glass bottles for milk would be great!

Sigh! Whatever happened to the milkman and the return of the empties at the end of the driveway? Whatever happened to home-delivered bread in wax paper wrapping which was then used to wrap the sandwiches?

Modern, fast, wasteful life! That’s what happened!