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.

Pondering proliferation

Mushroom in a forest

Groups are proliferating like mushroom caps pushing their way out of the mycelium net
Svasti, Evolver, Deep Ecology Network, Mother Tongue, Sisters for sisters, Wild Mind, Open Communities, 5rhythms, Dancing Freedom,
So many interesting people and things that I want to support
That I want to be supported by
How to find one’s place amongst all this juicy goodness?

In the language of competition, the world of separation, diversity is bad
But in the language of compassion, the world of connection, diversity is good
In time they will come to occupy their own niches
They will serve the needs of a variety of groups
They will ease the transition from the old story to the new.

So gather good people, recognise the universe in each other, honour our mutual beauty
Support it all because who knows what’s needed
Who knows the value of heeding the call of our hearts?
Some things are worth doing even if you fail
Please yourself, but not by halves, go all the way to the bottom of your heart and let those yearnings guide your actions.

As for me, I’m quite happy to wander around, doing what I please
If others begin to do what I do then I shall leave them to it and wander some other way
Or not
After all my expression, my networks, my calling are my own, unique
Who can say what the outcome might be?

Wild Mind Gathering

I have just had the most incredible weekend. My heart feels full and open, my body is tingling with joy. I am back in the city now but I feel the ancient forest so strongly it’s as if the cicadas, birds and cars are conspiring in an impromptu jam session. How to capture the magnificence of the weekend?

Kiri and Joe singing up a storm of gratitude at the final lunch time queue.

Photo by Ivan Kramer

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March workshop: Our Earth, Our Self

Reigniting hope and sustaining action in the face of crisis, an experiential workshop.

Child in silouhette watching rhinos

Take a day out from the grind of making social change to connect with like minded people and reignite your passion. The work that reconnects gives us space to feel difficult emotions in a supportive environment and allow hope to arise.

Continue reading

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.

 

The calling

image

It has been a really difficult month but there have been some amazing highlights.  One of them was reading this poem at Mother Tongue. It has served as something of an affirmation or a mantra, these words remind me of who I want to be and who I already am. I offer them to you because the more I share these words, the more I strengthen my commitment to this vision and if I’m really lucky maybe you will find solace in them too.

I was called in the middle of dancing
In the pause between the first wave and the second
Between the inbreath and the outbreath

The voice of the earth pulled at my heart
I call you she said
Yes I answered, without hesitation
Take me, use me, let me serve You
An inward breath, a pause, a moment of clarity, of ecstasy

And then I crumbled
I am not enough! I am a poor instrument! I will Fuck it up! I’m lazy! I’m a terrible procrastinator!
I became small, shut down,
A woman reached out to offer comfort and I snarled, I almost bit her hand.

I was called but I don’t know what it means
These moments of insight seem so profound
But afterward the current of life pulls me onward like nothing has changed
Before enlightenment, get up, go to work, make dinner, do the bedtime routine.
After enlightenment, get up, go to work, make dinner, do the bedtime routine.

Is this all there is? Is this all I am?
Is my calling going to feed my family?
Is the Earth going to set me up with a sweet job?
Am I wrecking it by asking these questions?

I am a tree
I am rooted in the Earth
My limbs give shade, shelter and solace
Creatures call my ample boughs home
My generousity is limitless
Yet never diminishes me or those who receive my grace

Who would find fault in the beauty of these twisted branches?
Who would measure the performance of my striving shoots?
Who could doubt that I am enough?
Just as I am
Rooted in the Earth
Reaching for the sky

I am the voice of compassion
I am the voice of the earth
I am the voice of the universal life force
I transform the world by being 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.

December workshop: Our Earth, Our Self

Reigniting hope and sustaining action in the face of crisis, an experiential workshop.

Child in silouhette watching rhinos

Take a day out from the grind of making social change to connect with like minded people and reignite your passion. The work that reconnects gives us space to feel difficult emotions in a supportive environment and allow hope to arise.

Continue reading

The trouble with Australian seasons

The following excerpt is taken from my Master’s thesis on seasonal celebrations:

In Australia seasonal variability has been the norm for many thousands of years. From a European point of view it is “a continent characterised by extremes of variation and unpredictability.” (Rose, 2005: 38) The cultural practices of Indigenous Australians, however, have evolved alongside Australia’s changeable weather so that “conditions labelled by whitefellas as ‘very changeable’ [are] in fact ‘entirely natural’” (Rose, 2005: 37). Debbie Bird Rose describes an Indigenous system of understanding and interpreting the seasons according to a range of interrelated events.

Rather than being based on a projection of an annual cycle, seasonal changes are forecast through awareness of changes in flora and fauna and responded to as they occur. “The system is widespread, the content is local. All of it – system and content – is built from extremely longterm observations that have accommodated variability and patchiness and identified precise concurrences.” (2005: 40) Such a system, Rose argues, is impossible to correlate with the European calendar without losing the dynamism that makes it so suited to Australian seasonal conditions. It holds the seeds of a world-view that challenges the European seasonal mind-set and represents a way forward for spiritual ecologists. Rose holds the Indigenous system up as an example to us all of how we can live “in this vulnerable continent.” We can seek to build a relationship with what is happening in the natural world around us by allowing observation to be the basis of ritual.

So as I alluded in my response to some questions on my previous post the notion of ‘indigenous seasons’ is problematic. The familiar 4 season calendar introduced from the north was shaped by an agrarian relationship to the land. There’s a sense in which the whole concept of seasons don’t apply to Australia because of nonannual cycles like El Nino/ La Nina. However the idea of basing rituals on observation presents a great opportunity, particularly as climate change begins to show its teeth.

How this might work in practice I don’t know, I’d love to explore. I imagine a semi-structured ritual that provides space for call and response, litanies of experiences or free flowing physical expression, there’s no limit to the ways you could gather observations. A system of continuously adapting and responding to changes in seasonal patterns is really the only way to maintain a genuine relationship with the land. It also has to be more than human somehow though, we have to allow space for the Earth to speak to us, to feel our small selves within that larger self.