We are on the ferry to Rathlin in Northern Ireland. The locals say it quickly and enunciate the ‘L’ so it sounds like rattlin’. Mum is telling me a story of my ancestors – Catherine McCaig was born on the island in 1821, she married Harry Begley and moved to Port Stuart, they had a daughter, Annie (my Grandma Bear’s grandmother) and several other children.
I am a fifth generation Australian settler and I am in the UK, in the lands of my ancestors, on a quest of healing.
It is a quest in the sense that the outcome is unknown to me. I do not know what, if anything, I will discover while I am here.
Last night I couldn’t sleep, lay awake for an hour and then woke before dawn still crackling with energy. It’s as though I am carrying the collective healing of a whole group of people and I can barely contain it, barely open my heart to let it in, it is so joyful. Who would have thought such a reaction would come from talking about grief? Continue reading
There were a bunch of things that came out of my last vision quest but I’m wary of trying to capture them. Some seem like elegant nuggets, they can be named and shared, there is a temptation and a danger in reducing the experience to these.
Other things happened that have a felt impact on me but their meaning is elusive, Continue reading
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:
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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
There’s a creek, buried beneath
These houses and these asphalt streets.
There’s a spark within my heart
That waits and weeps for sweet release.
Oh mother, take me home again
Oh mother, where I belong
Oh mother, take me home again
Oh mother, where I belong
There are weeds, that meet our needs
Amongst these urban forest leaves.
There are trees of ancient lineage
That whisper truth to those who’ll hear.
There’s a soul within this land
That can’t be grasped by human hands.
I have eyes and heart to see
The nature round and within me.
Climate change is a kind of creeping death, so gradual that I almost don’t notice it. It’s there in the back of my head though, whispering to me on hot days or big weather events. Climate change, climate change, climate change.
I haven’t ever associated it with anything tangible though. I don’t live close enough to the Earth, don’t spend enough time observing the more than human to notice any incremental changes. I’ve noticed no plants or insects or animals growing in new places or behaving strangely. Until now.
I can’t remember who first mentioned the wasps. I think my ex-wife told me they had to move our son’s birthday party indoors to avoid them.
At a cafe a week later I noticed them swarming over someone’s bacon. The waiter told the customers that he’d complained to council but there’s nothing they can do. Wasps can smell food over a kilometre away and it is almost impossible to track them back to their nest.
On a bushwalk in Daylesford last weekend I was struck by their ever-present hum. There were so many hovering around the mainstreet I had to keep the windows closed when I drove past.
My son told me that his kinder friend’s mother had been bitten on the lip while eating bacon and his friend had been stung too. It is a fear that looms large in his small world and is no doubt shared by his friends and their parents.
Via these small moments the wasps entered my field of vision. Then I saw this article on my newsfeed. It turns out the whole of Melbourne has a wasp problem. My attention was captured by one line in particular from the entomologist:
we’ve had a mild summer and a mild winter before that
Climate change, climate change, climate change.
And so it begins.
The wasps are harbingers. Their presence fills me with dread but it’s not the sting that worries me, it’s the myriad unknown changes to come.