Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Land of Birds

What a privilege it is to live in this land of birds.

Wattlebird (August).

Yellow-faced honeyeater (August).

Grey fantail (August).

Silvereye (a whole flock of them, who seemed to be eating the red buds in the Japanese maples—also, I got pooped on!; September).

A trio of kookaburras (September).

Grey fantails and welcome swallows (filmed in March; I had to adjust the colours a little, as the original footage seemed quite overexposed, so apologies if it looks a little strange).


Thursday, 5 October 2017

Blue Mountains Botanic Garden

I recently visited the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden at Mt Tomah, and saw many beautiful things. Here is a small glimpse.

Autumnal spring foliage.

Huge trees!

The view, roughly south-east, towards Sydney.

‘Tis the season for waratahs.

I neglected to take any photos of the famous Wollemi pines, but here is one of their fossil relatives.

This brown barrel gum was definitely the highlight. Enormous in girth and reach, it probably pre-dates European occupation, meaning it is about 250 years old, or more. What tales this tree could tell.

A coastal redwood, planted during WWII, and already very tall.

The Magic Flower or Sacred-Flower-of-the-Incas (Cantua buxifolia).

One of the locals.

There were many birds (including a brushturkey!), but this is the only one I managed to capture: a New Holland honeyeater.

The amazing bark of Acer capillipes, one of the snake-bark group of maples, found in the mountains of central and southern Japan.

A species of birch with coppery bark.

And the amazing view. 

Thursday, 28 September 2017

The Day of Kindred Night

I am not sure where September went, it seems to have whizzed by so fast. And, perhaps because of how I am feeling, I have not smelt spring this year. Of course, I’ve smelt the blossoms (there are freesias in our garden that smell exquisite), but I have not felt the awakening in my bones that I usually do. Normally, spring is the season that affects me as much internally as externally, created within the body as much as unfurling in the newly green world. It is sad that I do not seem to be able to open to it this year, because I lack the very essence of spring—energy. Though the blossoms have still been beautiful, and that is something.

Because of my lack of inner spring, I found myself unprepared for the equinox.

The equinoxes—when night is equal to day—are the twice-yearly celebrations that I find most difficult to mark, perhaps because they are all about balance—something that I often lack entirely. Things are weighing me down, pulling me in different directions. I am unsteady on my feet, unsure. 
The equinox in my part of the world occurred on 23rd September, a day of far above average temperatures around the state—summer blowing in from the centre of the continent. Warmth and sunshine are lovely things, and should be enjoyed; but when they come as extremes, at the wrong time, they are part of the imbalance of an unbalanced world. Here, it has barely rained for several months (after far too much rain in March), and the fire season has begun a month early. I worry that it will be a dangerous summer. 

Fluctuations do occur. Balance is not always maintained. Weather, climatic trends, and the seasons themselves, dance from one pole to the other. This is to be expected. Yet, in a healthy world, nature has a habit of regularly moving back to equilibrium. But our world is not healthy, and the return to balance (and calm, of a sort), seems to be occurring less and less.

Perhaps that makes these astronomical events even more important, for there seems so little else to rely on. Even if the weather is strange and the seasons ill-timed, at least we can trust the sun to keep moving through the sky. And the moon. At least we can trust in the cycle through endless change that spurs Life to be, even if Life itself is changing.

So, at the equinox, night was briefly kindred with day; but the light now begins to reign. Though in time it will swing back again, coming back to balance next autumn, so the darkness can take its turn once more.

I’m moving from pole to pole myself, dancing with my own imbalances and extremes, travelling an erratic path. This means I may post a little less regularly for a while. I’ll share some small things from time to time—photos, inspiring quotes, perhaps art—but am unlikely to write anything lengthy for some time. Like the sun, I need to show my face a little more to the world (energy-permitting), and a little less to this online space.

I hope to be back soon, feeling better, with things to say, stories to tell. 

(The three photos above are from late August.)

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Elsewhere, Elsewhen

I spent much of my youth longing to be elsewhere, elsewhen. Perhaps not the wisest thing, to be dreaming of other places and times rather than being fully immersed in my own. Still, I’ve been thinking lately of how I need a holiday, a change of scenery. I feel like I have been stuck for too long on the same old wheel, going round and round, not knowing how to get off and strike out in a new direction. I want to have adventures; at the very least, some novelty to my days.

These kinds of wishes—for new places, new experiences—however, are fruitless. My body-mind barely has the energy for normal, everyday activities at the moment, let alone the idea of travel. Sometimes I can barely even read! And yet, when I can read, it is books that have been taking me to places elsewhere and elsewhen. After several months of reading far too much nonfiction, it is story that has managed to take me out of myself, to show me other views, other ways of being. I thought I would tell you about a few of them.

Deep in the Far Away (2014/2017) by Sarah Elwell

The first part of this novel was full of much that I expected, knowing from Sarah’s blog the kind of gentle, quiet things she loves, and the magical, mythic writing she is capable of. I found myself identifying with the plight of her character, Emma, stuck inside with a mystery illness, not feeling herself (indeed, not even really knowing herself):

… I have been unwell too long : outside of myself. 

The thought makes me restless. I want to open my body to the wind like the earth does, let clods of poetry, and tears like dew, fall out. I miss dancing when no one is watching, and flower-gathering, apple-picking, taking rambling walks in random weather from wayward skies. I miss myself. 

But it's just being unwell, that's all. It's not about the house or my husband. I'm suffering weariness, not sorrow. And so I turn away from the window, for after all what hope lies in dreaming alone? If I get dressed, go downstairs, something real might happen. (p. 12)

The writing is lush and poetic, the setting wonderful. Though as the story progressed, I found myself feeling a growing sense of unease. And this unease led to the second part, which is a complete departure from the first, unexpected and exciting. 

You can purchase this novel from Sarah as a PDF for a small donation of US$6. I’d also highly recommend her six-part essay series, Suburban Magic.

The Dark Country (2017) by Sylvia V. Linsteadt

This novella is set on the fictional island of Kefthyra, somewhere in the ancient Aegean. It arrived beautifully wrapped with red string, stamped with Bear, Moon and Crocus, and the cover art by Catherine Sieck is stunning.

It is hard to know where to start with Sylvia’s writing. It is always so layered with meaning, evocative and poetic. She has an immense knowledge of so many things, from ancient cultures, to ecology, to myth and folklore, and she seamlessly weaves that knowledge into her narratives. I can only dream of being able to write like her.

The Dark Country is something of a feminist story, telling of the arrival of a patriarchal, destructive culture to the island, and the abuse of both land and women. There are three key characters: Lillet, a young bandit girl; Zola, a mother, renowned for her red kermes dye; and Arete, an old charwoman. Between them they represent the three aspects of women—maiden, mother and crone—and they are the heroines of the tale, bringing about a ruthless, beautiful justice, and bringing back the lost wisdom of their foremothers.

I loved this book. Like most of Sylvia’s writing, it spoke to me. One chapter gave me quite a visceral experience—I shivered at the strange beauty of the events, as if in some bone-deep recollection of truth. I think that is part of what I love about Sylvia’s writing—that it is mythical, magical and so elementally true, all at once.

Unfortunately, this book was only available as a limited print run. We can only hope that it, and more of Sylvia’s writing, become obtainable as more ‘official’ publications in the future. In the meantime, there is her debut novel, Tatterdemalion, which is wonderful; and her blog, The Gleewoman’s Notes, is a treasure trove as well. 

Corrag (2011; also published as Witch Light or The Highland Witch) by Susan Fletcher 

I listened to the audiobook of Corrag at the beginning of last year, and loved it, more than I’d loved any novel in a long time. Thus I have just started reading the book, to immerse myself in the Scottish highlands once again. Fletcher’s descriptions of the landscape are so vivid, I even dreamed I was there!

This novel is particularly powerful because it is based on real events (the Glencoe Massacre) and characters—Corrag was indeed a famous highland witch, though little is known about her. Still, Fletcher has conjured up a character of strength and wildness, and she tells her story in the most haunting way. 

In a dank prison cell, awaiting execution, Corrag is interviewed by Charles Leslie. At first, he hates her. Yet Corrag summons up visions and feelings of such magic and love for the world that she manages to completely change the heart and mind of her interrogator. For all the harshness of Corrag’s life, it is also full of immense beauty. Everything about this book—the characters, the landscape, the language—is about as good as writing gets. 

All of Fletcher’s novels are brilliant—I particularly admire her attention to detail—but Corrag is, to my mind, the very best. She writes:

… the theme of instinct, of faith in the self and inner wisdom, pervades the book entirely. It leads on to the concept of kindness, of tolerance of the other, on to the importance of caring for the world we walk in, and even to religion itself. It runs into everything, as if self-acceptance is in fact the source of it all. Such themes were relevant in a time of witch-burning and political intrigue; such themes, unfortunately, remain as relevant now. The joy of Corrag, for me, was her simplicity, her small beliefs: treat all lives well, including your own; be grateful for all that comes by you; believe, quietly, that there is something more to this life than we know. It was joy writing as a person with such a take on the world. (Susan Fletcher, ‘“An eye which sees the smaller parts of life”: How living in Glencoe brought the language alive’, pp. 11–12, in the bonus materials at the back of Witch Light, Fourth Estate: London, 2011)

It is a joy to read as well.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

(Not) Mountain: A Poem

Mountain not itself: 
sea floor and sediment 
a tectonic dream 
yet to quake into being

Mountain itself: 
orogenic, fossil-marked 
underworld in flight 
uplifted in volcanic memorial

(June 2017)

Peak, watercolours and gouache on gesso prepared paper, 2017

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Awakening at Winter’s End

Now that the August winds have departed, and the air is still once more, I’ve been able to spend more time enjoying this time of in-between, when winter is slowly turning to spring. Already, the cherry blossoms in gardens are almost spent, and other blossoms begin to take their place. And the daffodils are nodding their heads, saying Yes! Yes!

Bee and nectarine blossoms
I’ve been in a strange place lately, edge-dwelling, resting in the liminal. I feel the need to mourn the passing of each season, even as I welcome the next. I don’t want winter to go—I am not ready for the light. Yet spring is calling to me, tugging at my sleeve, and I cannot help but be drawn towards it.

I wanted to spend this winter cocooned in darkness, going inward and focusing on reconnecting with imagination and magic. It hasn’t exactly played out that way. My energy has remained low, and I’ve had to (re)learn that my body-mind can only do so much. In fact, as I read recently, people with CFS tend to procrastinate. This is not because we are lazy, but because our bodies are wiser than we realise. A lack of energy or motivation is not a fault, but a natural occurrence in times of illness. The body knows its limits, even if you, consciously, do not (or wish it were otherwise), and the body asserts itself, removing motivation and interest in order to cause you to stop, rest, slow down. Kat Duff writes:

The first thing that happens when I get sick, even before physical symptoms appear, is that I lose my usual interests. A kind of existential ennui rises in my bones like floodwaters, and nothing seems worth doing … That is when I know I am succumbing to the influence of illness … I slip, like fluid through a porous membrane, into the nightshade of my solar self, where I am tired of my friends, I hate my work, the weather stinks, and I am a failure. (The Alchemy of Illness, 1993, p. 6)

Losing interest in what normally enlivens and enchants us is not pleasant, as often much of life’s meaning inheres in our passions, and not to have or feel them is dispiriting. Yet it fills me with humility, and a kind of awe, to know the wisdom in my own body, that it speaks. I want to be able to understand it better.

So, even though I would love to be writing more, especially writing stories (which my mind simply cannot manage right now), I am trying to be content with where I am, where my body needs me to be, for now. And I’m happy that I have been able to create some small things over the last few months, despite everything. Thus I know that the spark of magic that I seek is still within me, and always has been, and I should not despair over its seeming disappearance. It is just hiding a little deeper than usual, waiting in the darkness—which is such a lovely, generative place to be—for when it can emerge again. Remarkably, even when illness is with me, that spark can still sometimes rise to the surface, very briefly, and it is those moments that I try to catch hold of, in the midst of the ‘existential ennui’ Duff speaks of.

I’ve said before how important creativity is in a world filled with destructiveness, but I don’t really mind that I am creating less at the moment. It seems more important to just let my body have what it needs: rest, quiet, a certain kind of nothingness. And small beauties: the migrations of tiny birds, calling to each other as they go; magpies singing; spring’s gradual unfurling; the few butterflies I have seen; the scent of violets; and the delicate green of a gum leaf, bringing with it the knowledge that the tree sheds the leaves it no longer needs—as can I—and the shed leaf feeds the soil which feeds the tree, which is a whole world in itself, a continuous circle of life inside the earth-circle—as am I. 

I can’t quite smell spring yet, but I feel it coming, rushing over the earth like a great green wind, petals flying in its wake.

The world is awakening. And since my body is part of the earth-body, so am I. Just in my own way.

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