Alongside the journey to hear the stories of my ancestors and visit the places they came from I have been exploring neolithic sites. I am interested in how my ancestors lived when the Earth was viewed as sacred rather than as a resource to be exploited. These sites are mysterious, they do not yield a clear and consistent picture of how my stone age ancestors lived but feeling into the traces they left behind has been a powerful experience for me.
Ancestral adventure: dark satanic mills
Driving towards Manchester Mum commented that we would be going around the ‘dark satanic mills’ and I immediately started singing Jerusalem (Blake’s poem set to music by Sir Hubert Parry). I learned it at school and have always been fond of it for no reason I can say. As I came to the final line a wave of grief rose up and I found myself in tears.
Ancestral adventure: Letting go
We have moved from the flat, flint and clay lands of East Anglia to the hilly stone lands of the Peak District. It is lovely to see the difference in the buildings as they respond to what’s abundant in the land. Today we are in Castleton, there are no ancestors to hunt down and visit here (as far as I know) and it is something of a relief. No expectation, no stories, just me and the land.
Ancestral adventure: Longing
We are at Wells-next-the-sea and I am all at sea. We left London two days ago, headed to Thaxted – birthplace of my father’s mother’s great grandfather, Thomas Suckling. Already things were improved, people greeted us on the street, chatted to us at the local cafe, it was suddenly easier to pierce our little tourist bubble.
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!
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.
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.
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
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