Back Creek yearning

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.

CHORUS
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.

CHORUS

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.

CHORUS

Wild at heart

I love this article from the Huffington Post UK. It’s an elegant articulation of a number of complex ideas that seem to be coming together in the human psyche at the moment. I have noticed though, that there tends to be an othering of nature that happens as part of this narrative of reconnection. 
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I agree that it’s easier to see ourselves as part of a greater whole when we are overwhelmed by the more than human. Going to places that haven’t been obviously rearranged by human hands can be a humbling experience and that humility is crucial to the shift in consciousness that is needed. But unless we can bring that humility and that recognition of our place in the larger whole into our cities and human communities, our work will be fruitless.
 
This is a critique borne of my own frustration. The conditions of my life require me to live in the city and give me very few opportunities to ‘escape’ into the wilderness. I need to be nourished and nurtured by the more than human world as much as anyone but I can’t do it in the traditional way of ‘going bush.’ I am slowly developing practices for myself that help me ground my sense of connection in the places where I live, work and play. Perhaps the judge sits in my own heart but I feel these practices are overlooked or undervalued by my deep ecology friends and by the broader narrative of ‘nature connection.’ As though they are merely stop gap measures until I can get out into the ‘real’ wildness again.
 
If we are truly to see ourselves as part of nature rather than dominating it we need to radically rethink the dichotomy that says ‘nature’ is in our national parks and not in our cities. We need to take our hearts, awakened to wildness and use them to see the land where we live. Our great teachers in this could well be our children, the young ones haven’t yet learned to pay more attention to ‘human’ objects over non-human ones. Those of us who don’t have children may have memories of the way we used to play, the trees and flowers that drew our attention. The things that fired our imaginations and filled our hearts with joy. As Mary Oliver so eloquently put it we need to “Let the soft animal of [our] body love what it loves” and we need to do it wherever we are. 
 
The day after my walk along Back Creek, a gathering entitled “Rewilding the Urban Heart” was advertised on Facebook – to say that I am excited would be a massive understatement.

Remembering Back Creek

Yesterday a friend and I walked the length of Back Creek for the first time. Our conversation meandered with our feet and the path of the creek. There are traces of stories all along the length of it. At the time it seemed mundane and ordinary but now in reflection moments leap out.

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The meeting of two waters is always sacred, so it is with the mouth of Back Creek. There is even a circle of trees there, waiting patiently to hold space for us. A little further on the creek passes over rock. Striations mark the passage of millenia and show that the rock now lies perpendicular to its origins. I stopped for some time contemplating it and hardly believing my eyes for the creek has cut a channel through the rock almost half a metre deep. This then is an ancient path, perhaps the oldest of the creek’s modern length.

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The story of colonisation is writ large, the creek subjugated and sent through concrete tunnels. For much of the length there is park to remember the creek bed that was and manage the inevitable flooding. In other places we were forced to search the curve of the land for traces of it. It wasn’t hard to see, a dip at the bottom of a hill and what a beautiful way to look at the suburbs. We laughed at the houses, built in the low point, no doubt the rains bring regular floods. What foolishness! Isn’t that colonisation all over? Write our will on the land as if it were an empty page and live in houses that flood.

I am tempted to get chalk and draw it back in, to show people what the land is saying.

Other places had other stories to tell, stories of hope, renewal and care. At the end of South Surrey Park it looks as though the creek has been reclaimed, reopened to sun and sky, lovingly surrounded with indigenous plants. That whole park and several other sections of the creek have been similarly tended with care and an eye to a brighter future. There are still places where you can stand and lose all the roaring, grating noise of modern life. I don’t know whether it is my ears or my heart that are becoming attuned but I am finding more and more of these places – urban oases of wildness and peace.

The source of the creek is mystifying, lost in a jumble of houses not even a path to show where it might have been. The land there is like a bowl, so I suppose it all collects water that feeds into the creek. There is a little park where I imagine the head of the creek might have been. An expanse of grass, a couple of park benches and a curious bluestone circle. We both wondered how it came to be there, the park and the circle seem like a fitting monument to the birthplace of a creek. I sang to it, a river song, to let it know I remember and perhaps to help it remember itself.

This was the first time I have walked the creek but it certainly won’t be the last. In responding to the creek I have accepted a responsibility and I want to honour that, for the creek and for myself.

Tributaries

I haven’t written for a little while because I’ve been busy planning an adventure. Ruth over at Inscendence put out a call for women to join a wild nature retreat and vision quest and, since I was looking to justify a trip to Portland a week later for World Domination Summit, I said ‘I’m in.’ I was hoping to make the Back Creek Project happen as soon as I get back but that doesn’t feel very sensible now. I’ve had some good discussions with a few people at council, the local friends group and the Wurundjeri Council but I think it’s worth letting it gestate a little.

In the meantime here are some photos from a bit of reconnaisance I did with a friend of the Denman St portion of the creek:

Back Creek heading into a tunnel IMAG0830

I’ve also been thinking about some of the ideas that precipitated this project, apart from Maya’s beautiful book and wanted to share some with you.

Firstly the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nations, traditional owners of the land on which I live and work. I have participated in Indigenous history walks in the Botanical Gardens and along the Yarra (covered elsewhere also). Both taught me to see the living history beneath the concrete (as Tiddas so eloquently put it). This insight continues to shape the way I see and relate to the land I pass through every day and forms the backbone of a project like this.
When I was doing my Masters I came across Freya Mathews, her books Reinhabiting Reality and For love of matter challenged me to think differently about where I live. She set a powerful example of living locally and reinscribing urban environments with the sacred.
Dr Peter Cock of Moora Moora taught Social and Sacred Ecology at Monash University. I went on an overnight solo and my spirit animal was a leech. It seemed pretty mundane at the time but when I returned to the city it was wild to think that I had made a blood sacrifice to the bush.
My gratitude must also go to the Grandmother Gum, musk lorikeets, tawny frogmouth, magpies and ravens, ring tail possums, hardenbergia violacea, all these creatures taught me to open my heart, to love the more-than-human. The small, every day visitations that act as a gateway to the enormous reality of our interdependence.

Introducing Back Creek

About seven years ago now I discovered that I have lived by a creek for most of my life. Back Creek is a tributary of Gardiner’s Creek (formerly Kooyongkoot Creek) which is a tributary of the Yarra River (also known as Birrarung).

1871 Map of Boroondara Shire with Back Creek highlighted

This map of the Shire of Boroondara circa 1871 confirms the original path of the creek (and a number of others besides). The green line is Kooyongkoot/Gardiner’s Creek, the light blue is Back Creek and the purple lines are Canterbury, Riversdale and Toorak Roads (from top to bottom), they should help to orient you if you live locally.

In environmental circles it’s widely recognised that connecting with ‘nature’ is important. Most people tend to think that the only way to do this is to go out into the wilderness where the human is dwarfed by the more-than-human. But what if it’s not?

The environmental crisis requires us to live more efficiently, with smaller footprints. It doesn’t make sense for all of us to go and live in the wilderness so we can stay mindful of our true place “in the family of things.” We need to look with new eyes, to see the wildness in our own backyards, our cities and suburbs, to see that we are part of a greater whole no matter where we are.

To this end I am planning a walk along the length of Back Creek. This journey is significant because the reason I didn’t know I lived near a creek is that it mostly runs underground in barrel drains. I’m not sure what it will be like to walk it, whether the land still gives clues as to the creek’s location.

Much of its length is now parkland and walking trails, a few short sections are open to the sky. It is cared for by council staff and ‘friends’ groups made up of local residents. I am in the process of collecting stories and information, if you have any to share please get in touch.

I invite you to join me on an adventure, on Sunday 27 July 2014, into the history of land, people and home. Come see the wildness in our streets. The creek may be covered but traces remain for those with eyes and heart to see.

Back Creek adventure

small boy peering into bushes

Last week I read the Natural Childhood Report from a consortium of UK organisations led by the National Trust. It talks about Richard Louv‘s concept of Nature Deficit Disorder, about ‘zero risk culture’ and mentions some pretty scary statistics.

In a single generation since the 1970s, children’s ‘radius of activity’ – the area around their home where they are allowed to roam unsupervised – has declined by almost 90%. (Natural Childhood Report)

This inspired me to take our three year old on an adventure. We are very fortunate to have some good parks near our home. Back Creek is ten minutes away and has a friends group that has diligently been working to revegetate it for many years.

At first Mr A wanted to stick to the path, I suggested we could go down to the embankment to the creek bed but he is naturally cautious and didn’t want to do it. Halfway along the path diverges and you can walk across the creek to a road on the other side. Here he was happy to get closer but not all that interested in the bubbling water. I tried to talk it up “Look A, it’s a creek! Can you hear the sound of the water? Isn’t it beautiful?” to no avail.

On the other side there was no path and I was reluctant to walk on the road so I headed off through the bush beside the creek. This was where the magic happened. A followed me into the bushes and was soon leading the way – being small gives you an advantage. He was proud of his ability to find a way through and took great pleasure in helping me find my way as well.

By the time we got to the end of the strip he was sold, I offered him a trip to the nearby cafe and he said he wanted to keep walking instead. We doubled back along the path on the other side of the creek. It wasn’t long before he led us down the embankment to the creek bed, braving a steep section on his bottom.

It was a rocky section of the creek and he led the way along from rock to rock, holding my hand to steady himself when needed. The rocks look sharp and I was very aware of the risks so I stayed close but I trust his caution and let him choose whether to hold onto me.

I asked how he was going, he said his feet ‘just trust the river’ I have no idea what he meant by this but it sounds really cool.

At one point the rocks gave out to boggy mud I asked if we should return to the path. He said ‘No’ and we continued on, working together to find the way along. Sometimes I lifted him over the water to get to the other side, sometimes we picked our way across rocks or plants growing in the stream. The whole time he was utterly engaged in figuring out how to keep moving. He barely had space to make up stories about it.

There’s something in nature that captures the imagination in a way that human constructions do not. There are very few activities that a 3 year old can engage in so fully for such a long period of time.

That night at dinner I asked him what he was grateful for today (a habitual question in our house) and without missing a beat he said ‘the creek.’