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.

The power of presence

My son and my mother walking together.

On the face of it the Forum process is deceptively simple. A group of people sit in a circle and silently offer their presence to one another as they take it in turns to step into the middle and speak about what is going on for them. A facilitator sometimes asks questions of the person in the middle or offers various techniques to encourage them to go deeper into what they are feeling. When each person finishes their time in the centre, the silent witnesses are invited to become mirrors and offer reflections. They speak in third person about what the protagonist shared, what they noticed or what resonated with them.

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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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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.

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.

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.’