On feelings and fires

2015-12-22 12.01.26

There are four people in my online networks who are directly impacted by the recent Australian bushfires. Their posts punctuate my newsfeed with descriptions of repeated evacuation, observations of the fire’s impact on wildlife or community and acknowledgement of the emotional toll this taking on them. Some of these people are very dear to me. I have stayed in their home, been warmly welcomed by their community, felt relaxed and rejuvenated in their presence.

When I read their posts, the impact of the fires feels close. Particularly when the smoke is blowing across Melbourne. We wake to an orange sun and hazy air. My partner’s asthma gets activated and I go looking for face masks. I feel kind of silly when I wear one (am I being melodramatic?) but I appreciate the difference it makes. The subtle headache that has been building begins to dissipate and I think “Cigarettes, it’s like smoking cigarettes. I don’t want to breathe that in.”

The sadness comes in waves. Mostly I stuff it down under a layer of grumpiness, a mixture of sadness anxiety and rage. I spread generous helpings of grumpiness upon the people in my life and then go to social media and generate more by raging against politicians.

At one point I came across the Wildlife Rescue Craft Group and I was super excited. I am an accomplished crochet master and here, at last, was a helpful task uniquely suited to my skills. No more grumping at everyone and stuffing my face full of chocolate, now I could make pouches for super cute singed wildlife.

The online group was full of heartwarming stories of folks in foreign countries coming together to support the wounded wildlife of Australia with bat wraps and joey pouches. Within days all my warmth evaporated as it became clear that the international fervour had more than met the needs of wildlife carers and their patients. “What about me?” I yelled at my laptop “I’m right here in Melbourne and I need to do something constructive! You bloody bastards have gone and done it all, now there’s nothing left for me.”

I see folks out there feeding wildlife and I want to feed wildlife, I want to make it better. Anything to avoid the small voice in the back of my head saying “It’s January, it’s only January.” and “This is just the beginning, it’s going to get worse.” Years of long, hot summers stretching out ahead, years of bigger and bigger fires, years of background anxiety that starts in December, in November, in October and extends into March and April and May. Years of face masks becoming a common place reality, of cancelling summer camping trips, of summer camping becoming a thing you just don’t do anymore. And the animals, observing the birds that I so love to watch, gradually disappear.

This time the fires haven’t struck the places I have deep long-term connections with but I know it is only a matter of time. I can hear the bell toll. Please give me something to do, anything, anything to drown it out! Anything to avoid the catastrophe that has already been guaranteed by the last twenty years of carbon emissions.

I find myself in a Heart Sharing Circle, sitting with 60 other people in the bottom of the Rialto. We are not here to take action. We are here to feel. We are here to witness and be heard.

I check in with two good friends and use my three minutes to rant about all those greedy foreign crafters. I link it back to colonisation, the Western Settler’s incapacity to grieve, to feel into their impact on the Earth. The grief that might serve to inspire right action, right relationship, the grief that might actually put a check on our voracious industrial appetites and over consumption. The grief that is actually love if only we would turn toward it instead of away into busyness.

“What I really want from all those people overseas is for them to share their grief! I want them to share theirs so that I can be brave enough to feel mine. I want the grief to flow so that it can bring its gifts of connection and love and so that I can feel a little bit less alone.”

All this running around, donating, crafting, visiting with empty chilly bins, organising fundraisers, protesting, coming up with big ideas, “How can I help??? What can I doooooo??” Suddenly revealed as a desperate attempt to avoid the grief that permeates my life like smoke.

And of course, as I make my demands of the mythical ‘them’ I realise the work that is mine. It is time to make use of the capacity I have been cultivating all my life (particularly in the last couple of years) to sit with grief.

There has never been a more urgent time for me to stop and slow down and feel.



There is a force that has gripped the planet for hundreds of years. It is the force behind every marching army, every man who raises a hand against his wife, every school yard bully, every iron-fisted leader. It is the force behind slavery, behind colonisation, behind prejudice. Let’s call it… subjugation. Continue reading

Poetrees manifesto

Poetrees manifesto

This video is a love letter to humans and trees. It is the simplest, truest expression my heart could come up with. This captures exactly what drove me to produce the Poetrees project – an invitation to create more joy in the world through the magic of our relationships with trees.

When I ask people to write a poem they often feel intimidated but for me poetry is just words from the heart.  Here are thoughts from 20 beautiful poets on the meaning of poetry. I love them all but this one from Salvatore Quasimodo stands out:

Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal which the reader recognizes as his own.

This is the bridge I hope to build with Poetrees from one human to another so that no-one need feel strange or alone in the depth of feeling they hold towards a tree.

Please share it with your networks either from YouTube: https://youtu.be/YkX0HgkNueE  or from the Poetrees Facebook page: www.facebook.com/melbournepoetrees

Poetrees is live!

sit with a tree, write a poem, share the tree-love, poetrees.net.au

Poetrees is alive! You can go to poetrees.net.au right now and read poems that people have submitted, you can visit their treasured trees and you can even add a poem and a tree of your own.

So now it’s your turn to become part of the Poetrees story. Sit by your favorite tree and write a poem. Know that we are listening gently, ready to hear the feeling behind your clumsy words. Tell us what you love about it. Tell us what your tree loves.

If your muse has deserted you and the words are stalling on your tongue, never fear! Here are a bunch of other ways to support the project:

1. Spread the word. ‘Like’ our posts, follow us on Facebook and Instagram, share our posts and tag people you think might be interested.

2. Tell us what you think. It’s tough sending a brand new baby out into the world, words of encouragement or feedback about how the site is working are very welcome!

3. Encourage other poets. Share the poems that are already up on the site with #poetrees, let them know how much you appreciate their work and show support for the courageous early adopters.

4. If you are in Melbourne, Australia come to a Poetrees workshop:

Flagstaff Gardens, 18 Feb, 5.30pm
Carlton Gardens, 21 Feb, 2pm

Poetrees is supported by the City of Melbourne 2016 Arts Grants Program.

Poetrees was created on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. We pay our respects to their elders past, present and future and to all people around the world who care for country.


The Poetrees seed has been lurking in the dark for over three months. We’ve been gently watering it with encouraging words, fertilizing it with our creative insights and learning from our mistakes. Over the past week a small tendril has been reaching for the sun as we test the prototype and make sure it’s all ready for your poetic words of tree love.

For those who are new to the project, Poetrees is a playful community arts offering that explores our connection with trees. Users will be able to submit a poem and a tree to the interactive map on our website so that others can visit the tree and read the poem.

I’m excited to let you know that after hours and hours of hard work from the team, the Poetrees website is almost ready to burst into the daylight!

We’ve done everything we can to make a joyful container for your tree-loving words. Next week it will be your turn to step out of the shade and share your poetree with the world.

We’re not leaving you out on a limb though! The important task of composing poems needn’t be carried out alone. We have prepared a series of poem seeding workshops throughout the Sustainable Living Festival to help you tend to your creative garden.

The one hour workshops will comprise a tree meditation and some simple writing exercises to help the creative sap rise through your limbs, onto the page and up to the electronic mycelial network (aka the internet).

Come to one or come to all three! Commune with trees and write poetry! Invite your friends and family, spread the tree love across our city. #inmelbcity #SLFAus #poetrees

Birrarung Mar, 13 Feb, 2pm
Flagstaff Gardens, 18 Feb, 5.30pm
Carlton Gardens, 21 Feb, 2pm

Listen, listen, listen to the birds

After the success of our crowdfunding campaign my partner and I headed up to norther NSW to learn bird language and nature awareness with American tracker, Jon Young.

A view of our campsite.

My first day of learning bird language was difficult and confusing. We were sent out to find sit spots with a simple instruction to observe tension vs relaxation in the birds around us. It seems easy enough but the diversity of Australian song birds, the high activity of spring and the amount of territorial aggression made it extremely difficult to weed through the complexity to make any sense of the whole.

The debrief with my small group felt long and tedious, the blind leading the blind, it was hard to know what to share or what to listen for. At the end of that first session though I felt like I was beginning to get a sense of what is ‘baseline’ behaviour as opposed to alert or alarmed. It seems that in the Australian landscape it is silence that speaks loudest! The bush is rarely quiet unless there is some kind of predator nearby.

The view from my sit spot for the weekend.

Jon was very clear that Australia is an unfamiliar landscape for him. He didn’t try to teach us about the specificities of the local flora and fauna, instead he taught us a process for engaging with the more-than-human and generating our own connections and understandings. In fact, I observed that he rarely asserted his own knowledge at all, preferring to tell stories that left us to join our own dots.

What we did learn though, after we had started making our own observations, was patterns for how birds communicate and what they might be saying. These patterns are not based on the specifics of bird evolution or biology but where birds tend to fit within an ecosystem. For example Australian birds will go silent when there is an aerial predator on the wing, just like birds in other countries.

I am already putting some of the processes we learned into practice. In my morning sit-spot (at Highfield Park) a pair of magpies landed 15 metres away and looked me over. Rather than staring at them like I usually do, I avoided eye contact and tipped my head away from them. The magpies walked closer, eventually crossing my gaze a mere 2 metres in front of where I was sitting. Having been a dog owner I am familiar with using body language to communicate with animals but I had never thought to try it with birds.

I feel like I have taken the first steps on a long and exciting journey! My knowledge and my sense of connection will only continue to grow.

Artist as Family

We made some new friends! The week after I finished up at work we travelled to Daylesford to ‘SWAP’ (Social Warming Artists and Permaculturalists) with Artist as Family. I can’t think of a better way to begin this new phase of my life. It was divine, too many thoughts and ideas and inspirations to share but this little poem captures some of the spirit. Continue reading