A garden begins with violence: fire or the hoe, a cleaning out, a smothering, a clean break from the past. But after the violence, intimacy.
Hands that spread seed, tiny packages of hope, or that cradle a rootball as gently as a parent washes the head of a newborn, tucking the roots into the soil and crooning.
Most days, lately, I work over the brassicas (cabbage and broccoli) wiping off the eggs of the Cabbage White Butterfly or squishing the caterpillars with my loving hands.
Violence and love. Yesterday I found the empty chrysalis of a parasitic wasp. They flit through the garden right now, drinking nectar and laying eggs into the bodies of caterpillars.
They will feed from those bodies until they cut their way out and settle to spin their own chrysalises. Meanwhile the caterpillar is so changed by tending them that it spins extra protection and guards them until it dies.
Today I watched the mating dance of two Cabbage Whites. She settled on a leaf and spread her wings flat, her black dots like a beacon, while he flittered and fussed.
She will lay eggs of a dubious fate. The butterflies are plentiful, the caterpillars are plentiful, the wasps are plentiful, the host plants are plentiful. Everywhere violence, everywhere love.
You came to me one December morning. You taught me how to live with nothing, you old nothing-maker.
You are all consumption and digestion. You are heat, wind and embers, but I didn’t get that close.
When I left home that day, my life was as buoyant as a fish in water. When I returned there was no normal.
I don’t know how to finish this story. Maybe I never will.
We can’t live together but I can’t live apart. I rely on you, being, as I am, made of plants that are made of you.
And I like to warm my bones in winter. But sometimes you’re a little close for comfort.
Stick to the sky, please Friend, or in the hearth behind closed doors. I want to love you from a distance.
. . . . . .
The middle paragraph of this poem is the crux. It seems I am stuck with this subject, for now at least. Probably there are unresolved issues in my psyche. (Really? You think so? says my psyche, who is often sarcastic.)
Oh well. Dear Reader, forgive me for being boring. It is the nature of trauma, apparently, to rehash the thing again and again. My sweet husband has answers to trauma: living in the moment, quietening the thinking, etc. He tries to encourage me to be light hearted. Perhaps in time.
In the meantime Christmas is doing its number. I have been busy, writing poems. On the 11th, Illuminart will launch a light show on the buildings of Mill Square. It is called Flocking Together. The animation (which will be delightful) includes a long poem that I wrote for it. (16 minutes, recorded!) I haven’t seen what they have done with the animation since before the words were finalised but when I did see it it was sumptuous, colourful, a feast for the eyes. Local kids were invited to do pictures of birds and these hop in and out being just gorgeous. Exciting!
It will show in a loop every evening from 11th till 23rd December, sunset till midnight. Three of those nights you would need to book, even though they are free, because of music on the 11th (details and booking link) and Christmas market, (details and booking link)
And then the 12th, I will give a poem that I wrote for the official turning on of the lights at the Oval in Lobethal. I wrote this poem for the hearts of people. Just a hint, there will be no fireworks that night. That’s good, in this town, at this time. There will be other spectacular instead. UPDATE! The first night of the lights’ concert on Sunday 12th is ‘postponed’ due to ‘covid uncertainty’. Everything else is still on, including the lights in the town and theIlluminart ‘Flocking Together’ wall spectacular (with my 16 minute poem) is still on 11th-23rd as stated above. Details about what else is on here: Lights of Lobethal Festival.‘Postponed’ means it won’t be on until December 2022, apparently! Personally, I would call that ‘cancelled’. That choice of word is funny! I only just got a surprise resolution to an internal problem in the poem that no one else would have noticed, about an hour before finding out. I’m glad it got resolved before I found out. I can happily put it to bed now.
Here’s an aside. Some years ago, before the fires that so changed the lives of people in this district, when the fireworks for the beginning of the festival started (we could see them from our place), the cattle in the next paddock began rushing down the hill towards the road. As usual when there are fireworks, all around me birds were making alarm calls. I thought, ‘Those cows are going to rush right down onto the road.’ A stampede, I thought. But when they got to the corner of the fence, they rushed up the rise towards the fireworks and stopped on the crest of the ridge. They were rushing to get a better view!
Oh Pilgrim, the way of life is long: sometimes joyful, sometimes hard. Still we walk, foot over foot, foot over foot, sometimes into chasms or over rough terrain, through storms and buffeting winds.
Sometimes through meadows abundant with comfort and flowers, butterflies and soft sunshine. Enjoy it, smell the flowers, lie down there awhile and rest.
Above you: the sun, that fire of fires round which our small lives turn. It dries our tears and grows our food the friend of winter hearths the friend of hearts the spark of life companion for the way sunshine, starshine.
But one can’t laze in a meadow forever. We rise and walk foot over foot, foot over foot carrying our spark of life. We fall down, we get up, oh Pilgrim.
Oh Pilgrim, the way of life is long breath deep of air that is laced with stardust that is stardust, as you are stardust, as you walk on stardust foot over foot lightly on this path of stars.
You are not alone in your dark nights. Beside you, companions walk: foxes, owls, roos and people We walk together trusting the earth to meet our feet.
You have stepped through fire, and you have survived. Sure, the going is hard and terrain will be rough for some way yet. But you have survived and you step forward, foot over foot.
Oh Pilgrim, surely you can trust yourself by now? Surely, despite your wounds, some of which reopen and weep, surely you can trust the healing? Surely you can trust yourself in this world by now? Surely you can trust this world? It has got you this far.
Step forward, step forward, step forward in this moment of walking, this moment and no other, oh Pilgrim.
This moment is free from the past with its grief and wishes. It is free from the future with its worries and desires.
It is just this moment and no other through which you step forward on stars foot over foot.
. . . . . . .
This poem was written for and performed at an exhibition called Regenerate at Fabrik Arts and Heritage, at the end of 2020, nearly a year after the area was ravaged by fire. I wrote it specifically for fire victims who still to this day have a long way to travel before they are healed, though I think it speaks to anyone who has experienced trauma, Covid, for eg. or loss.
Performance poems often don’t translate to the page, but I think this one does ok. It’s interesting that most performance poems are very much about the presence of the performer, but this one dictated that it did not want me to meet the audience member’s eyes, so that they could take the poem to themselves in a private way. Beforehand I explained that to them, and also told them that the meadow is a metaphor for their life before, or rather, their memory of their life before. Because when one is trying to get one’s life back, it is very easy forget anything that was not perfect, but it will never be the same anyway, and maybe that’s not a bad thing. In any case better to aim for the best it can be, rather than for some lost thing.
And it seems that the mental health of people in trauma is nurtured mainly by one thing, and that is to be in the moment in which one finds oneself. There is so much to think about when trying to get one’s life back together, and the past is full of sorrows. Mentally, one is busy the whole time. There is no rest and the only way to get rest, and to find joy, is in the moment. Simple things, like sounds and scents, what one’s own hand feels like. These are the things that nurture us, in times of stress.
I have never done such a thing before and, frankly, I was terrified. The last big wall that I did was in charcoal, but I love ink so decided to work in it. The pic below was shot in our house where I found a corner to pin up some paper to see what it was like to work in ink vertically. I usually work ink on a table. I was listening to a podcast of Robert Mcfarlane at the time.
Anyway, one throws oneself in at the deep end. It was great to do. I got to listen to and witness most of the first day except the workshops.
I only heard a little of Ali Cobby Eckerman’sworkshop, sadly. I really like her poetry and she was so moving. Actually, I wrote a mistake here. She didn’t say she had got to thirty years old never having expressed an emotion. She said she got to thirty never having had an emotion. Worse, really. She was thirty when she first met her aboriginal family.
And I didn’t get to make a basket with Aunty Ellen Trevorrow. She is such a wonderful woman, quietly teaching people to make connections, ‘stitch by stitch’. I did a workshop with her once before, but she used raffia that time. I was terribly disappointed that I didn’t get to work with the reeds she brought in. Never mind.
Most of the drawing is about the first day. Melinda and René from Fabrik wanted the conference to be artist led with a large proportion of indigenous content. And it was. Such inspiring stuff! Trish Hansen, Laura Wills and Will Cheeseman (couldn’t find a link for Will) did wonderful workshops.
Trish began with a talk about ‘deep time’. On one of the walls she had represented time since the formation of the earth, with all the major beginnings of life. The space of that wall equated all of earth time (since it was just gas and matter, until now) with a year. Here’s a photo of the part representing the last two months of this metaphorical year.
And, in this photo, the last 5 days. So humans have arisen in the last 30 minutes and the industrial revolution in the last minute. Since the industrial Revolution (and these are my thoughts) we have managed to create a situation wherein we could annihilate the better part of life on earth. We are lemmings headed for a cliff and about as intelligent, seemingly.
Later Trish, Laura and Will used biomimicry as an idea base to have us consider our connections and interconnections with each other and nature, using the metaphor of mycelium. They had us draw our ideas connecting them, a bit like a mind-map. So the following photo is my wall drawing and is a copy of my response.
I mind-mapped about the drawing I did last year. It is still under the paint of the same wall where everyone was now working. How it was connected to the fires, because everything for me is connected to the fires lately. (For new readers, during the fires on 20 December 2019, my husband and I lost everything except the few things we packed into the cars.)
They had us consider a natural thing in that scenario. I thought about charcoal, back to fire, to the trees, from which I got the charcoal for the wall, then to the earth that the trees were growing in, and, naturally, the squillion fire fungi that came up after the fire. And that was a nice segue into what their original metaphor was: mycelium. There was more to mine, but I don’t remember now. I only put the basics in the wall drawing.
But the result by the three facilitators and the participants was an amazing huge drawing, where everyone connected to the person next to them, talked about how they could be connected in or what they have in common, and connected their drawings.
Even on the floor!
These images are very early on, it just kept getting better!
Towards the end of the day they had us think about the future we desire. It’s possible that I can’t remember all the details of what they had to say, but they had us think, imagine, dream, about what we would like the world to be like in fifty years time. They had us write and or draw what we wanted on strips of recycled paper that they supplied. Here are my wishes.
Then with the use of some wonderful ingenuity, they had us turn the bits of paper into small planting tubes, fill them with soil and plant Xanthorrhoea seeds. Grass trees. They talked about ‘seed time’. Time, for a seed, is waiting until the conditions and right, and then growing. And we were instructed to take our tubes home, plant them in the earth, and wait for seed time to sprout our wishes for the future and the grass trees to grow.
How beautiful is that?
(Don’t you wish you were there? Watch Fabrik’s programs, they do the best things, with the most amazing delightful, inclusive stuff. Hats off to the director and program manager, Melinda Rankin and René Strohmayer.)
The second day was more problematic for me as ‘narrative artist’, because they were panels mostly, with more than one happening at a time. It was quite difficult to be in two places at any one time, I found. So because I couldn’t possibly do all of those faces, or even listen to what they had to say, and get the thing finished by five o’clock, I thought up a good way to represent the panelists. I got them all to come to the wall and drew around their hands. I think I got everyone, except where the panelists were streaming from interstate. As I said, I didn’t get to listen to them properly, but you can find some details on the program.
There is even an audience member’s hand there, which is great, though quite accidental.
But I can’t wrap this up without mentioning the two other portraits on the wall. Given what they had to say ‘wrapping up’ could take a while.
The first is the wonderful Elaine Crombie, who was our MC. She is yet another super strong First Nations’ woman. She is a bundle of vibrant energy.
This portrait is the one that I like the least, because it didn’t go anywhere near capturing her vitality. She gave a great wrap up also. Speaking about how she was not going to take her mask off to speak to us, because people do not deserve to see her face until we right the wrongs (my words), and recognise that the ownership of this land was never ceded, it was stollen. It is time we recognised that, and afforded some respect. Actually (still my words) given the crisis that we are facing, we should recognise that we need the wisdoms of First Peoples to learn how to live in harmony with nature.
Which brings us to Uncle Mickey Kumatpi O’Brien. He is a Senior Kaurna Man and gave welcome to country, and a talk/conversation with Trish Hansen.
I would like to pay my respect to him and the other elders (from all time) of the Kaurna and Peramangk peoples on whose land we reside here in Lobethal, Adelaide Hills, South Australia.
Welcome to Country, he said, is to join us here and now, and to chase away sadness. Don’t you think it is a great act of generosity? Given what they have been through? And did you see that bit in Ali Cobby Eckermann’s portrait above, where she says, ‘I have to do such a lot of bloody forgiving. Blaming is futile, it does no good, but forgiveness changes things.’ That is also an enormous act of generosity.
There were so many take home messages from Uncle Mickey, too many to list. He spoke of the dreaming and the recent history of the Adelaide area. The political history is tragic, not only because of the tragedies that they suffered, but because we were very close to having a mutually respectful situation that was thwarted by timing, slow ships and ignorance. Early on, (and I don’t have details), this:
: was the proposed flag of South Australia. Here you have depiction of respect. Sadly it was not to be. (Sorry about the quality of this photo. And all of them really.)
There is much more to his talk and I wish I could do them justice, but the thing that touched me most was his listing of the importance of things. It is how I look at things and is in direct contradiction of how most westerners look at things. Everything in this list relies on the things above, therefor we humans are the least important in the scheme of things.
Somehow, (my words) insecure writers of the bible decided, in the very first chapter, to put humans on top, as if we live in a vacuum, or as if God will come and save us when we have pillaged the earth and its inhabitants, and are doomed. Are we children? Certainly, we’re idiots. How can it not be obvious that we have to take care of the systems that sustain us.
. . .
So! how about that? What a great thing to be part of! And I’m quite proud of my self with this wall. I also gave a speech at the end summing up the conference. I can’t remember much of that, but I probably got on my usual high horse, and told people to look after themselves and each other, and to get off their backsides and save the earth. Quickly, preferably. You lot too, please.
Here’s my wish (among others) for 2051:
frogs like canaries sing sing in the clean place of the world
Uncle Mickey said, ‘We don’t say “goodbye, we say “see you later.”‘ So, even though this is an abbreviated version of the conference and I have left things out:
There’s a spring blowfly making noise of silence. This house is so quiet that one’s thoughts bounce off the white walls. It’s a house of light and I am a little stone of grey solid and apparently still but with of all my molecules buzzing.
The fly settles but I keep buzzing.
I have grown used to worrying used to having a million things to think about. Sixty thousand thoughts a day apparently ninety five percent of which you thought yesterday. I make lists: plumber, council, water department , the friend who needs support.
I make lists to get them out of my head: those saplings too close to the house, the whipper snipper, what plants where, are the pumps primed? I need to make my five minute fire plan, back up my info to the cloud.
The lists don’t work, the molecules keep buzzing. Only the blow fly is silent.
. . . . .
. . . . .
The tyranny of the mind. Apparently some people can shut it up. Or rather they practice meditation for forty years and eventually the mind gets bored with itself and quietens down. My husband keeps giving me how-tos, none of which work. Well, of the 95%, I’m pretty sure none of the thoughts in the poem above go through his head. Recovery is my job. That’s ok. Not a lot of use having two heads thinking about these things, it just leads to arguments.
But there is a lot to think about. Actually, putting them on paper does help me. And what I said in the poem about having got used to worrying is something I think about. When will it be done? Will I know?
Regarding recovery, and our life now, it is very good really. The busyness is not that bad. Ervin works away on sculptures, and woodblocks mainly. He is good when he is active.
I spend the better part of my time outside, weeding and planting things. The weeds are beating me, all going to seed at once. Never mind, I have most of the place free of fumitory and cape weed, and that is something.
And the garden is a profusion of growing things. The first photo above is from June and the rest from today (October)! They’ll enlarge if you click on them. My way is to put heaps in and see what grows. I’ll be watching closely after we plumb the new bore in. We had it drilled a month ago or so. It is 60 metres deep, has a good flow rate and is a bit salty. 1400 ppm. Apparently I should be able to grow ‘most things’, whatever that means.
After the fire I said I would come back if we got a bore. Water is integral to trying to keep a house safe. When it is finally plumbed in, I may be able to rest. From then on it is just the management of plants.
I have done a number of other newsworthy things since my last post. Exciting things. But they will have to wait.
A child draws the string of a bow —concentration in practice nothing but an arrow’s flight. Someone please tell her to look along the shaft. Someone please tell her to be nothing but aim. She can live her whole life like this. No one needs to tell her to get out of the way to giveup the self to the process but someone please tell her that aiming is all there is and once the arrow’s released it’s done. Everything else is in the hands of the wind.
. . . . .
The drawing is of two of my gorgeous grandchildren. I don’t know if I’ve come close to the intensity in their eyes.
In this new house of solid sand, it is not the time for making. Now is the time for mending, gathering all the little shards and gluing them together. Perhaps the bindings will be gold (a precious metal, desirable and malleable) but more likely everyday glue or double sided sticky tape.
These thoughts are disparate. They are messy like the fragments of a former life, shattered and scattered. Did you know that when crystals – amethyst, carnelian, quartz – go through fire, they shatter? It’s all so much sand actually, but sharp. It will take some time for the world to wear them smooth, and that’s why this is not the time for making.
This is the time for mending.
Strange the things that survived the fires. This shell that our son wore on the Camino Trail, you’ve got to be asking, how? The little paper figure is something I fashioned in a moment of idleness. It decided to perch there with the shell. It reminds me of him because he was always making little sculptures from various bits of rubbish. Usually he would animate them by giving them voices. He was a seriously funny person, that one.
People grief is much worse than possessions grief. But sometimes possessions hold the memories of people we love, so finding this shell was like holding him. It’s all love, in the end.
This knife, in its days of use, was called THE Knife. It was the best knife to use, but in recent years had become too short. When we came back to the house after it burnt, where the kitchen had been, amid the melted glasses and broken crockery, all of the knives were standing to attention in the ash, the knife block had burnt from around them and left them standing there. No handles of course, and completely useless, but we had to bring away THE Knife.
The fan belonged to my mother. It just happened to be in the car when we ran. She never used it, but it’s nice to have something of hers.
And the little blue star is from Ervin. It is a block from a woodblock print, done since the fire, that I snaffled.
I’m sorry that you still limp down the corridors of pain. I turned back and held out my hand but it turns out we were in different worlds by then:
you, in a bureaucratic nightmare with mud on your shoes, me, weeding on a hillside in a sun shower getting wet, amid daisies.
What can I do? I bend my ear to the daisies and they tell me this is the time of my healing. The earth works constantly on becoming fertile, and I must look forward, not back.
But, my friend, your nightmare of pain will end, it can’t not, if you keep walking one step, at a time. Therefore keep hope, keep hope. I’m waiting for you on this hillside amid daisies.
This poem was written for people who lost their houses and are not yet rebuilt.
If you think that the fires were a long time ago and that people should be ok by now, you’re wrong. Some of us are, but do not judge others on the luck and support systems of a few. The majority of people who lost their homes are still struggling, daily, with bureaucracy and mud and shortages caused by the building boom. Among other things. Did you know there is not enough wood? Welcome to the future.
It is very hard on these people to struggle like this. Ervin and I had it easy. Relatively. The Recovery Center was still running when we moved in to our new house. They had helped us in innumerable ways. But in March that was closed down. And now the only other form of communication, a facebook page, has been shut down too. We were told at the beginning to expect that recovery would take five years! We were promised support by all and sundry.
It is very hard to watch these people suffering, knowing what they’re going through, and knowing they have no support, knowing the federal government promised support that was never forthcoming, knowing they go to the mental health group that was supposed to offer free counselling only to be told “But the fires WERE eighteen months ago.”
I feel privileged and my heart aches for them, but there is nothing I can do. I am not an advocate and even if I were, I wouldn’t have the energy. Plus I think it’s important for me, now, to follow the path of healing. Since I can’t help others whose shoes I have been in, then I need to heal enough to do the work of the future. I hope my work will make the world a better place. Who knows?
Presently of my work now is outdoors: trying to control the weeds, cover bare earth, plant habitat for the birds and animals who I dearly hope will come back and breed here again. I can now count our birds on two hands. Crows, magpies, cockies (three types, including correllas. Shudder. Their first act was to severely prune my freshly planted apple tree), thorn bills, shrike thrushes, willy wagtails, and blue wrens. I think I hear Wattle birds. And that’s it. And that’s two hands. But where are the nectar eaters? Well, where is the nectar? Hence all the planting.
The use of the daisy in the poem is because they are some of the pioneer species after fire. They put down decent root systems, draw nutrient up, and add to the build up of humus. they increase the fertility of the earth and create habitat for other species to sprout. after a few years, I am assured, they begin to dieback and other elements of the bush take over. Now, I’d prefer that they were yam daisies (and there probably are some), but if dandelions and cape weed are cloaking the earth in the interim, good.
There are still major things to do, like making an all weather track to the top of the hill, fencing, putting in and plumbing a bore, (and that’s been a bureaucratic nightmare.) But my tiredness and struggles are nothing, nothing, compared to the problems of people who are still trying to build.