Paying attention

Since I left the workforce three weeks ago and returned from our sojourn in Daylesford, I have been taking time each day to sit in a park near my home and watch the birds.

I was inspired to start doing this by my girlfriend, Mel, who has been saying for months that she wants to find a sit spot and start a daily practice. Leaving work has allowed me sink into a different way of being where things like rising early to sit in a park seem like a perfectly sensible way to start the day.

Even in these short weeks I am astounded at how much I have learned just by looking and being aware. I love birds, I am in the habit of paying attention to them, I know the names of most of the common birds in my neighbourhood but there is so much I was missing.

One of my early ‘discoveries’ was a particular bird song that I admired. I initially thought this song belonged to the noisy mynah. I was hearing the call all over the place so I figured it must be a very common bird. I caught a glimpse of a grey bird flying out of the place where I’d heard the sound a moment earlier. I was pretty certain but I kept my eyes open for confirmation.

The next day I had an encounter with a butcher bird, I was pleased to see it because I had thought butcher birds were rare in the suburbs outside large regeneration areas. It sat in a small tree just near my sit spot. As I watched it lifted its beak and song rang out, the same song I had erroneously attributed to the noisy mynah.

This encounter shocked me. Not only did I discover that butcher birds possess a beautiful, melodic call but that far from being rare they are all over the place. There are a pair of butcher birds nesting near my sit spot so I have had the pleasure of observing them almost daily.

It worries me that I have failed to notice their entire species all this time. I suspect it is because there are a handful of birds that are known to me such as rosellas, magpies, magpie larks, mynahs, wattyl birds, ravens, or lorikeets. Viewed from below the butcher bird’s grey breast resembles a mynah, from above its black and white back resembles a magpie lark. I can only assume that I have been seeing what I expected to see rather than noticing the specifics of what is there.

What a wonderful lesson in humility.

In October Mel and I are travelling to northern NSW to learn from nature awareness mentor, Jon Young. One of the workshops is about bird language, understanding the pattern of bird interactions and calls as a gateway into understanding what’s going on in the more-than-human world around us. I can’t wait to learn some frameworks to deepen my understanding of what my local birds are saying to each other.

We are running a crowdfunding campaign to help us get up there and share what we learn afterwards, we’d love to have you join us – http://startsomegood.com/urbannatureawareness

 

Rewilding the urban soul

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Last Saturday I had the great privilege of listening to authors, Maya Ward (The Comfort of Water) and Claire Dunn (My year without matches) in conversation with Sean O’Caroll (founder of Wild Mind) at CERES. It was held on the Village Green, right by Merri Creek, the perfect location for a discussion of rewilding in urban contexts.

Sean took a moment at the start to invite us all to listen to the more than human world around us and bring that richness into our awareness. Throughout the evening Maya and Claire’s reflections were punctuated by the call of ducks, wattlebirds and crows. It was delicious to open my senses to all of these things and include them in my experience of the conversation.

What struck me most about the conversation was the way that it traversed personal, spiritual and political worlds. So many levels of the human story are highlighted by the journey of these women. Their choices have made them different from other people but the fears and personal confrontations they describe are universal. By choosing to engage with the world in new ways, they challenge the status quo and open space for all of us to privilege new/old forms of knowing and ways of being that are based in direct experience of the more than human.

To close they taught us wide angle vision and fox walking. I have been using wide angled vision throughout the week – on the train, in crowded city streets, on my walk to work through the park. It’s a difficult experience to describe but there’s definitely something to it, a kind of clarity and presence outside my usual perception.

Over all the evening was very enjoyable but it barely scratched the surface of what it might take to rewild ourselves in urban environments. Hopefully this will be the first of many such conversations. There were over 250 RSVPs on Facebook (about 60 showed up on the day and it was a chilly evening). It demonstrates to me that there is a great hunger for conversation about living closer to wildness in our cities. I’m excited that so many share my passion.

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.

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.

Here and now

I’ve been engaging with the present lately. I’ve been reading Eckhart Tolle (A new Earth) and realised that being present is as hard and as simple as choosing it, right here, right now. There’s nothing really new in the book but somehow it has just clicked for me.

I wasn’t sure about sharing this here because I didn’t feel like I could articulate the connection between being present and connecting with nature. Then I came across this beautiful post about wild time.

In old Europe, the word “time” derives from the word “tide”, while the word “current” means both “tide” and “time”. Time is the tides of the ocean, shifting and changing with the moon. It ebbs and flows. It waxes and wanes. Time is fluid. It has a beat. A rhythm of relationship, the in-breath and out-breath of the web of life.

The post discusses how the Western construct of time is arbitrary and problematic and offers some alternatives. Reading about these different ways of conceiving of time soothes my soul in the same way as Eckhart Tolle’s writing does. Being present and stilling the waters of the mind allows the Earth to speak within. It’s about paying attention, opening oneself up to what is offered, accepting what is instead of imposing our own idea of how things ‘should be.’ Deep listening.

This is one of the wonderful things about hanging out with kids, they have a different sense of time. If you let them they can draw you right into the present moment. Mudpie Mama has a list of tips for walking in nature with your toddler that includes:

Let them lead – Wherever possible let them take the lead and follow their interests.

A leading me along Merri Creek

I couldn’t agree more, to my mind though it’s not just about child centred parenting, it’s that they are probably closer to nature than you so really, they’re a better judge of how to engage. They are more present and they haven’t learned how to march to the beat of the time gods, what a gift! Plus they are little sponges, their eyes and ears are wide open taking in everything the world has to offer.

Nature in the city

Yesterday I made it out into the bush. It was awesome, the smell, the sounds, the largeness of it all.

Creek photo

It caused me to reflect on the limitations of ‘connecting with nature’ in urban environments. When you are in the bush you are overwhelmed by the non-human, you don’t have to look for it, you don’t have to try, it’s just there. Continue reading