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

and so it begins…

A European wasp

A European wasp, or vespula germanica. Wikimedia Commons: Richard Bartz

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.

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.

Dancing with chaos

There are so many things happening that I would like to post about but I just haven’t found the time/energy/will to sit down and type them up! I decided early on that this blog has to be painless, if it becomes a chore it will not be sustainable. Let me take you on a little journey through the current whirlwind that is my life.

Firstly there’s this article about the Chinese new year and the transition from water to wood. I’m not particularly familiar with Chinese astrology but I think we all know something deep has been moving through our lives over the last couple of years. I was relieved to read this article, I want it to be true, badly! I am deeply grateful for the trial by fire I have been through over the last year and the things it has taught me but I would be very happy for my life to now be dominated by nurturing the new. Giddy up wood horse!

On that note there are lots of lovely new things happening. On the 27th February Geoff (Play of Light) and I are hosting an ‘unnamed gathering of deep ecology/ecospiritual types.’ We want this to be a cocreation that serves the needs and interests of those who turn up to seed it with us. It already feels like it has emerged from our conversations over the last six months. I see it as an experimental space where people can test ideas on a warm audience. I’ve also spoken of it as a crucible where we can support each other to forge a new way of being in/with the world.

I’ve been talking to Lakshmi (the friend who inspired the new moon ritual) about starting a discussion group. We are in the process of settling on a date but will probably start by screening a film by Velcro Ripper. Lakshmi made me very happy by introducing me to her Charles Eisenstein inspired concept of ‘pay as you can.’ It invites people to appreciate and reciprocate the gift you have given but leaves it up to them to decide what that looks like. As a bonus I daresay it  leaves everyone feeling noble and generous.

Small waterfalls at Wirrawilla

Yesterday I took my son to Wirrawilla Rainforest Walk. It was a loooong drive and he was quite grumpy. I had several moments where I wondered whether it was worth it and I should find somewhere closer to home, even felt guilty for dragging him to a place that I want to go. When we got there though he was utterly delighted with the place, particularly the sound of water that surrounds you while you are there.

I’m incredibly excited by the upcoming Wild Mind conference. I am sure it will be the beginning of many more new and wonderful things. I can’t imagine what it will be like to be surrounded by like-minded folks for an entire weekend and I can’t wait to find out!

Finally there’s a plan to run another workshop with Linette on 23rd March. I will have the flyer up by the end of the week. Looks like that wooden horse is already at the gallop, yeehaw!

Spontaneous new moon ritual

Tonight is a new moon, the second for January making it a black moon and a super moon meaning that the moon is very close to the Earth. A friend of mine decided she wanted to mark this auspiscious occasion with a spontaneous ritual.

A small group met at Abbottsford Convent this evening to do just that.

I was keen to let things go and the convent is near the Yarra River so I suggested we make little boats with leaves and sticks and release them in the river with our fears and shadows. My friend suggested we follow this with a moment of connection and gratitude for the moon. It all felt wonderfully easy and relaxed. We were delighted to be joined by the teenage son of one participant, a couple of his friends and another mother along the way.

As we wandered toward the river we collected sticks, bark, leaves and flowers to make our little offerings. We found ourselves taking a circuitous route as we were confronted with locked gates but somehow it all turned out fine.

We finally came to the river and found a flight of stairs that took us down to the water with a concrete landing that was just the right size for our little group. Then we took it in turns to make a statement (alloud or silently) and release our little boat to the river. The rushing of the water drowned out the city sounds and left me feeling soothed.

I came home relaxed and fresh and just a little lighter.

Yarra River from the train

I cross the Yarra River twice a day on my way to and from work. I always try to catch a glimpse as I go past, it never fails to move me.

 

Grandmother gum

A friend recently drew my attention to the Radio National Project – Trees I’ve Loved. They asked listeners for stories about their relationships with trees and then selected 40 for production and broadcast. I highly recommend you go and listen, they are mostly only 2-5 minutes long and very moving.

It has inspired me to reflect on my own relationship to trees and particularly Grandmother Gum, the great old gum tree in the grounds of the local primary school. I’ve spoken before about how trees function as a mindfulness bell for me but I find my relationship with this particular tree is deeper than that.

Grandmother Gum

I went to primary school here and the grounds are steeped in memories of humiliation. That’s the bench where I was picked last for rounders, there’s where my ‘friends’ used to enjoy running off on me at random moments (taking advantage of my inability to keep up), and over the back was the library where I took refuge. The buildings are all different now (thankfully) but the ground and my heart hold the memories.

I don’t remember taking refuge in the tree back then but now I feel she was a silent witness to that time in my life. Her boughs sheltered me from the sun as I stood in the outfield lost in my own thoughts, oblivious to the game I was excluded from. It comforts me to know that if my son goes to school here, she will watch over him as she has watched over me.

I have introduced Mr A to the tree and encouraged him to speak with her. The idea has taken root, he refers to her as the Grandmother Tree, and also “your friend, Mama.” Yesterday we went to visit her but the gates were locked. Mr A said “she misses us” and then “I wish there were more Grandmother Trees, out here.” I sighed “Yeah, me too.”

I weep now as I write that, for the kind of world where Grandmother Trees are everywhere and duly respected. The kind of world where trees are actually allowed to grow that old. I am stunned by three and a half year old Mr A’s easy respect for this great being. It comes so naturally to him and yet so many people seem to miss the point, what happened?

I fear for the future of this precious tree. A family friend in the next street once said it’s a Corroboree Tree (a tree that predates colonisation where people would have gathered). I’ve looked for scars and found none so it can’t be verified. I find myself wanting to contact the Koorie Heritage Trust, to ask someone to come out and assess it. I want her to be protected. I also want other people to recognise that she’s special, perhaps to validate the depth of my own feeling. I feel lonely in my love for her, a weird hippie.

On the other side of the school there’s a mosaic that features local landmarks like the train-line and the creek. Along the top, holding it all in its generous embrace are the boughs of the Grandmother Gum. So perhaps I am not alone, other people honour her too. The school grounds are radically different than the days of my childhood but she is untouched.

The Radio National tree project is further evidence of the fact that people care about trees, find solace and joy in them, feel deeply for and about them, and grieve their loss. I wish this were more a part of our culture, that there were more places and spaces to speak of our connections, that trees were more deeply appreciated.

Earth, spirit, community

Five years ago I completed a Master’s thesis called Seasonal Celebrations in the Melbourne Bioregion. It was an exploration of various groups who were attempting to create or adapt seasonal celebrations that are attentive to our local experience of the seasons.

This is particularly pertinent in Australia. As a former British colony a large portion of society here practice cultural traditions that were developed in harmony with a completely different landscape. In case that’s not enough we are in the southern hemisphere so our seasons are opposite to those of the dominant global cultures of US and Europe. The epitome of this is the hot sweaty santa claus in the red fur lined suit on a scorching 35 degree (celcius) day, sitting on a throne surrounded by fake snow and fir trees.

Santa claus at the beach

It makes no kind of sense and yet, what I found when I was discussing my thesis with people was that the pagan elements, the ones that typify an ancient relationship with the Earth (the fir tree, the roast lunch, the stockings by the chimney), are the ones that are closest to people’s hearts. One year, for our extended family Christmas, I subsituted a wattle branch from an overburdened tree that was about to fall over, for the traditional fir tree. All the kids asked where the Christmas tree was and insisted that the wattle was the wrong colour.

I wrote my thesis hoping to discover a spiritual practice that would honour my connection to this country. Not in a patriotic sense, but with a deeply grounded respect for the land that has brought me up, that has been a source of spiritual solace. I found great people doing great work but I did not find my spiritual home.

Return of the Sacred Kingfisher festival at CERES

I love my sense of belonging to Earth. I love feeling awed and humbled and held by something greater than myself. I love feeling that I am part of the richness of the whole Earth community. Thus far my spiritual journey with the Earth has been a solitary pursuit. Some would say that this is a necessity, that it’s not possible to share such a thing in community. I don’t know if that’s true or not but my heart longs to try.

I can’t help but feel that a spiritual community, like the Buddhist jewel of sangha, would help to keep that sense of connection alive and central to my life. Particularly when family, work and home responsibilities prevent me from immersing myself in wilderness.