I was recently asked why I had an image of an autumn leaf on the blog landing page. What had this melancholy thing got to do with disability? A lot, and it’s a bit of a story.
In February 2009 I finally convinced my captors I was fit for discharge from the rehab ward at the Katoomba hospital. I had been hassling them since November 2008. To be honest, they were right to resist, but I was going nuts and getting desperate. My psychological wellbeing was not something they cared about – or for.
I went home with an elbow walking frame. That’s a big unit to be moving around a cottage. I could get from my bedroom to the back verandah, the venue of daily exercises, with not too much difficulty. Out there I had space to do squats, step exercises and attempt walking. I was doing 5-6 hours a day, pushing myself to get competent enough to get back to work. It was still 6 months before that became a prospect.
I was offered ongoing rehab back at the rehab ward, but that, as it turned out, was only an offer to ‘supervise’ me. That hardly seemed a great deal. Why would I go to the hassle and expense of getting to the hospital and back by taxi for what – to be watched? Besides I could get neither out of, nor into, the house unaided for quite a few months. I had been doing an extra 2 hours a day in rehab for months. I had a decent understanding of what I needed to do to get walking again, and I felt no great need to be watched.
I had discovered the iPhone and podcasts. I knew I was at risk of just hunkering down and listening to podcasts, so I made a rule. I could listen to podcasts only so long as I was exercising. I exercised a lot.
My exercises had me facing south. I had a support bar installed above the verandah railing for squats and steps. There is a Japanese Maple growing on the southeast corner of the verandah. It reached west and was the first thing I saw as I worked through the tedious process of squatting and stepping up and stepping down as I steadily increased my count. It was a slow, clumsy affair at first, a real struggle to stay balanced. The tree was close enough to touch if I stretched a bit. It kept my eyes company.
Because I was out there every day, I became acutely aware of even the most subtle seasonal changes in the garden and with that tree in particular. As the year transitioned from summer to autumn, I witnessed that change with a growing sense of intimacy and familiarity. The leaves change colour and fell. Eventually all that was left was a poignant scene of a leaf whose fall had been interrupted. It was there every day into winter – straight ahead as I performed my exercises.
I was recovering my ability to hold and use an SLR. Being able to take photographs again was a massive relief to me. I still use the first photograph I took on a trip to an open garden in Mt Wilson as wallpaper on my phone.
Being able to hold a camera and use it was a profoundly emotional experience. I had bought a digital camera, so I had no need to get out to process the film. The back verandah became not only the venue for my desperate recovery exercises, but my translation of my daily intimate vision into images.
The poignant leaf still compels me. It was falling but was ‘saved’ – rescued from a certain path to becoming compost. It was fall interrupted. There’s a warmth to the image for me, even though it was a cold and wet day when I captured it. The tree had caught its own falling leaf.
When I was in the rehab ward my family was called in and asked to give consent for me to be shipped off to a nursing home. They did not assent. It pissed me off. I wasn’t asked – as if I was feeble-minded. For the record I was back in full time work 12 months later. I was falling and I was saved. I am grateful my family saw more in me than the hospital staff did.
The other images I took that season remain as potent reminders because they speak to me in different ways, always evoking my mood and the tone of the day. Autumn in the Blue Mountains is a special time, and this was my first full season, post-escape.
When I was setting up the blog, I struggled to find an image that wasn’t just a bland but pleasant decoration. I mean how do you represented the disability inclusion challengedecoratively? I didn’t want images of people with disability or their assistive paraphernalia. That would be a case of flogging the bleeding obvious and descending into facile descriptive representation.
Autumn leaves fall and are discarded in the great annual cycle. I watched a whole tree of them drop until only a few remained, and then, finally, just one. Okay this may be a case of ‘you had to be there’. I am not asking you to agree that the image is laden with meaning for you as well. It’s just a leaf for God’s sake. But it didn’t fall in front of my eyes, and I saw it there long enough to form a bond and create a relationship with it.
There, but for the grace of God [and family] would have gone I – to a human compost heap. But I remained, held by faith in me.