Monthly Archives: April 2019

Sparks will fly #17 #fallenbough

There is a twisted bough fallen heavily from the lemon scented gum at the back of my property, it is large and arrived to the ground still full of life. It completely severed from the trunk. When it first fell, if you rubbed the still green leaves together you get a whiff of the essence of the tree. Now the leaves are beginning turning brown and crisping up in the late afternoon sun of early autumn. It probably fell due to the lack of rain. Many on the land call these conditions ‘widow makers‘, because the weight of such a fall can indeed kill someone being near when the branch falls. I am mesmerised by this twisted limb, it has now shed its bark revealing a smooth salmon pink layer. Many new creatures are finding their home where bigger birds once lived, smaller ones are happily finding food and nesting material. Spiders and bugs are considering residency. Transformation is well underway.  The morning symphony includes the cabasa rustle of a lizard who prefers to remain camouflaged.  There is the staccato of the miner birds and the incessant squawking of the galahs overhead who don’t make it to ground as there is nothing in my garden worthy of their attendance.  The tree and her fallen bough are enough spiritual direction for me right now.

This is coexistence – one life  dead on the ground and another being repurposed and recycled. There is more than one life being lived and dying at any one time. It is a relentless waxing and waning. The process of growing up, growing older, there is no such thing as stasis and to try and hold still is to be working against all of creation. You might be able to get a moment of rest and silence but eventually a limb will fall, a new niggle will unlock another part of yourself demanding attention.  Maybe it is an injury, an illness that arrives, some bad news, some good news, reading an idea, getting a smile from a stranger … whatever the it is … we are in a constant state of movement. Those who try to hang on to what ever they think it is that is the same, ache and hurt and spend inordinate about of time trying to keep things static. It isn’t possible. Being able to flow, not go with the flow, just flow (or how it is referred to in improv as playing yes let’s) is an antidote to fundamentalism and tribalism.  At a personal level it is easy for routine and discipline to be an excuse to not make changes, but if we are truly faithful to a discipline change happens and perhaps a bough falls and brings us crashing to the ground as result of a discipline, as much as the result of a natural disaster.

The widow making fallen branch is identified while still attached to the tree by the experienced arborist. Those who know how to listen and read the gum trees can take their chain saw, or provide advice on which paths to avoid, they are the doctors and prophets.  Equally there are the seers who point out what might be lying in wake to cause us harm or perhaps help us determine where not to go, but if we are not listening or perhaps only occasionally visitors in those terrains, we may miss the expert advice or worse still, not have an expert on hand to point out what they know to the novice in the landscape.  I find myself traversing many new lands and am relying heavily on those who can read signs I don’t even know are there, and can provide guidance to where to put my foot to cause me no harm.

I have had enough of being caught under a falling bough, despite my fidelity and discipline. I have had an abundance of losses at so many levels, the grief-o-meter has gone off the scale more than once these past 18 months. So now I am looking under the branch and through the rustling leaves to see what new treasures might be hidden there. What lessons are lurking in the shadows still playing with me in the golden dawn light and rosy glows of the afternoon? In this season of light, sparks will fly.

This is the last poem Osip Madelstam wrote before he was sent off to a camp by Stalin where he died soon afterwards.

And I Was Alive


And I was alive in the blizzard of the blossoming pear,
Myself I stood in the storm of the bird–cherry tree.
It was all leaflife and starshower, unerring, self–shattering
And it was all aimed at me.

What is this dire delight flowering fleeing always earth?
What is being? What is truth?

Blossoms rupture and rapture the air,
All hover and hammer,
Time intensified and time intolerable, sweetness raveling rot.
It is now. It is not.

(May 4, 1937)


Sparks will fly #16 #resurrection

Deaths – there have been a few and resurrections seem to take more than three days – the cycle though of dying and rising is universal. Coming to a détente with death has all the agreements of any truce, ceasing of hostilities and the strains in the relationship, to accept the politics on offer and that some tensions can never be eased, just tolerated. But when you find out there is the possibility of coming to an acceptance the inevitability of death, it is a deep reminder that it is life chosen to be lived that can be the best diplomat for accepting all the gifts on offer from a new beginning or for the next resurrection. Dying to ourselves, our ego, burying the past, digging in and holding on – there is plenty to choose from when contemplating what you might lie down and let go of and perhaps too, what will be taken away from you without your consent. This seems to be part of the no-mans land that coexists with détente before any new day dawns.

On this Easter weekend, I am spending some time in the fields of Tyagarah Ti Tree farm where cathedrals are tents worthy of sultans and sultanas arriving with their caravans of musical equipment. Many of the high priests and priestesses ask us to make a vow for more humanity, kindness and to recognise in this place we are all one family, and it is only outside that the whole world is going crazy. There is something about live music and music festivals in particular that enable community to form on not much more than ‘three chords and the truth’. The sensory experience finds its way to cells throughout the body and deeply ingrained in the mind too, new pathways for new sounds and old ones refreshed and rewarded by memory. Familiar riffs and bass lines woven around lyrics are delivered via a set of lungs bellowed through speakers who have travelled further than anyone on the stage. My ears just one of the thousands of sets willing in receipt of the gift of this music. Whether it be the moaning of the elder activist, Mavis Staples, a witness to Martin Luther King, Rob Hirst’s t-shirt with a pertinent and relevant message in this election season, the energy from Steven Van Zandt and his Disciples of Soul belting out Sun City – I know for me music is always at the heart of my spiritual expression of justice through death and resurrection.

Music is so central to what it means to be heard, to be seen and to instruct what action you might take – whether it be a simple chant in a march or a complex set of harmonies and big band sound forecasting how the new world will come – it is always music that delivers for me. The music can come in the form of rain on a tin roof or raging waves as well, and the syncopation in nature with the blend of birdsong and breeze is always found where I live. The dying and rising of sound is constant, especially the falling into silence as sound fades away.

There is no détente with music and maybe this is a clue to what dying and resurrection is all about, allowing the sounds to come and go, prescribed and improvised. With the fingers moving at speed on stringed and keyed instruments on every stage. When everything is so tightly scripted there is no room for joy and surprises it shows – I think this is what détente looks like – a musician just tolerating and enduring, rather than playing with what has shown up. Iggy Pop screamed at a sound engineer to get the mix right and the expletives may have humiliated the guy working the booth, but somehow it was raising the stakes about what it means to rise, and not die, for Iggy. I like the direct and unforgiving way Iggy chooses life over death – there is no Good Friday for him – Easter Sunday everyday – grabbing life by the throat and throttling every ounce he can out of the day he has been given and taking it to the people from whatever stage he is on.

Waiting in the tomb for a day or so is perhaps the practice (music practice for some), the chance to get ready to come out fighting for life, renewed, recast and resurrected. In the original Good Friday narrative, first there is the rock and then there is the roll. And when that combination arrives together, death ends up backstage, and it is inevitable, sparks will fly.


Little Steven – Bluesfest’s 30th Birthday – 2019

Sparks will fly #15 #limestone

I climbed over a lot of limestone this past week. Limestone is organic, sedimentary rock. It comes from a relentless accumulation of shell, coral, algae, skeletal remains and fecal debris. It is made of stuff that is left behind and it lays down the foundation for the next thing. It is hard and unforgiving and it lasts – around 500 million years.  The last time I walked along such rocks was in Ireland on The Burren.  The views and the environment of Kangaroo Island more spectacular than the Cliffs of Mohar and my twin heritages of Australia and Ireland came together bringing me home to myself on the Wilderness Trail.

Picking my way across the top of the cliffs, one rock and steady foot at a time, carefully and deliberately, to get safely to the next destination, aching and tired but incredibly satisfied about getting to the other side.  The invitation waiting the next morning to do it all again, each day unfolding new landscapes and new horizons to savour and work around. Focussing on one foot at a time, and knowing all the while the only thing to do is to walk forward. There is no going back, the foundations are already laid and going nowhere.  Linking my Burren experience to this place, I recall Patrick McCormack leaning on his hazelwood staff and reciting Gerard Manley Hopkins sonnet, God’s Grandeur – nature is never spent even if I am at the end of the day, and each morning is welcomed by the bright wings of the sun’s rays and the call of a multitude of wrens, finches, parrots and Cape Barren geese.

God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God. 
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; 
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil 
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? 
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; 
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; 
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil 
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. 
And for all this, nature is never spent; 
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; 
And though the last lights off the black West went 
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs— 
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent 
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

There are never enough moments to savour beauty, nor to contemplate the complete offering of nature. Pilgrims all, we find each other in the wilderness from time to time, lost and smudged, smeared by work, waiting for the dark to leave. Could there be no better way of recognising just how charged our world is with grandeur than seeing the moon and stars rise and then give way to the dawn? Each new day total gift, despite the hard rock we might find ourselves treading to get through to the next day.

Mindful by Mary Oliver

I see or hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

“Mindful” by Mary Oliver from Why I Wake Early. © Beacon Press, 2005.

It is as Mary Oliver says the untrimmable light offering daily wisdom teaching and forever holding us to account of ordinariness. For there is nothing special or unexpected in each day arriving, yet by paying the deepest attention, every moment is totally unique and a never to be repeated occasion. Each moment holds it’s own, is precious and entirely complete. To love in each moment and not miss the love coming back to you from the broody breast that covers us in the sky and reveals herself in rocks, stones, blades of grass, birdsong, a smile, a hug, even a facebook post of care and compassion – this is central to the pilgrim – to notice, to receive and to bow down with gratitude for the gifts along the journey.

To appreciate we all walk on our own version of limestone, and that historic platform is what helps us traverse. Limestone is our friend, reminding us we are the ones who can walk, we are the ones who go forward on the ground made by tireless work of the elements and creatures before us, we are the privileged and endowed by our ancestors, who forecasted us and who handed us the mantle to go forward in confidence, although perhaps more slowly and carefully, than we might like from time to time.

The landscape changes and limestone gives ways to woods and sand, to hills and plains and then to all hues of green – what Hildegard called viriditas – the greening power of the Divine.

It is in nature we are infused and connected to the ordinary and the excellent, woven together to bring us to take another step forward mysteriously and in the case of walking on limestone, meticulously!

It is inevitable, that paying this much attention, sparks will fly.

“O most honored Greening Force,

You who roots in the Sun;
You who lights up, in shining serenity, within a wheel
that earthly excellence fails to comprehend.

You are enfolded
in the weaving of divine mysteries.

You redden like the dawn
and you burn: flame of the Sun.”
–  Hildegard von Bingen, Causae et Curae


Day 2 #KIWT 


Sparks will fly #14 #redcarpet

Waiting on the edge of a red carpet at Government House to take steps towards the Governor to receive a honour determined not by politics, or winning a popularity contest, or a vote, I seriously wondered what I was doing there. Then the Secretary read out the citation and an explainer and how the narrative was put together on a lifetime’s work in a few minutes. I thought he was the person to get next time a pitch needed to be prepared!

We really do need storylines to get to where we want to go and sometimes to reinterpret where we have been. These past few years have been horrible in many more ways than most readers will know or I am willing to share in this space. And equally I have had some of the most amazing moments and opportunities. That is the paradox of life, I met, this week, on the red carpet.

I had a revelation in that moment on the carpet. The depth of the pain and betrayal, being met by high honours and acclamation. The private world out bid by the public world. There are new buses to get on, a friend of mine says. I can’t get on those buses without new narratives and songs to sing that will transform, heal and hold onto in moments when under threat or taking a hit. Getting out of my own way to hear the tune and to step onto that carpet is an invitation. A genuine moment of grace. The badge an external reminder of who you are, where you have been and a hint at what awaits you.

The carpet made red, the most valuable of all dyes, from the scale of an insect, that lives on cacti. I love the provenance of the red carpet. Just as an aside however there is an alternative narrative to this tale as well (see below the photo for this tale as told by Wikipedia).

A classic revelation of one idea being used to fix another, and then another. Yet the idea of the red carpet prevails, a place worthy of royalty walking. We are all worthy of walking down red carpets to allow our past to meet our future. I am thinking there should be more red carpet moments to pass through the threshold, to bridge between private and public worlds, to be ready to stride into the space that is made in your shape, ready to receive you. The Governor takes pride to say a few private words to you and enjoys letting you know he knows something personal about you. For me, he mentioned my children and my recent trip to New York – thereby bringing into the room at that very moment some of the people central to this story who were missing on the day. It was angelic to hear his softly spoken Vietnamese voice, his suitcase full of dreams as he describes, lilting to my ear, connections of my story … on the red carpet … all worthy of being there.

I am deeply honoured to receive this Australian award and for the women who toiled away in secret and didn’t tell me what they had done by nominating me, it was a wonderful surprise of love and friendship and recognition. I now honour them in how I go forward. To go forward with the colour of red in my mind. A colour that is truly of flesh and toil, of sacredness and the sun. A colour that calls out courage and invokes power. It is not a colour I wear very often, and I don’t have a red carpet to roll out for special occasions … but maybe I will get one.

In my darkest moments I forget what contributions I have made, I can’t hear the tune and I have no idea of the steps I have taken that might have even helped get me here. But there I was at the end of a red carpet so even if I can’t see it, others can and I bring myself to attention, literally attention, so I can be present to the moment, and all that it recognises and in doing so recognise myself being played back to me by the Master of Ceremonies. I take a sip of air and drink in the moment when Australia says thank you to me and I take a bow in gratitude … on the red carpet.
Red is the colour of sparks. Sparks.Will.Fly.

ps if you are a hardcore fan and want to see the ceremony it is here. I am introduced at 13.00 mark.


Photo by: J. C. Carton/Bruce Coleman Inc.

Did you know? Opuntia species, known commonly as prickly pears, were first brought to Australia in an attempt to start a cochineal dye industry in 1788. Captain Arthur Phillip collected a number of cochineal-infested plants from Brazil on his way to establish the first European settlement at Botany Bay, part of which is now Sydney, New South Wales. At that time, Spain and Portugal had a worldwide cochineal dye monopoly via their New World colonial sources, and the British desired a source under their own control, as the dye was important to their clothing and garment industries; it was used to colour the British soldiers’ red coats, for example.The attempt was a failure in two ways: the Brazilian cochineal insects soon died off, but the cactus thrived, eventually overrunning about 100,000 sq mi (259,000 km2) of eastern Australia. The cacti were eventually brought under control in the 1920s by the deliberate introduction of a South American moth, Cactoblastis cactorum, the larvae of which feed on the cactus. Extract from Wikipedia