Monthly Archives: August 2021

Meeting the moment 2021 #35

The scrub today was all green and gold. At the end of a very wet winter, the bush was radiating with shades of sage, jade and emeralds with shocking bursts of beads and clusters of sun kissed yellow of all the acacias, common eutaxia and a few exotics out of place. You know why green and gold are our national colours on a day like this. It’s been months since I have walked through the scrub and along the beach, in this wintering, it’s felt like it’s been close and too far away. I haven’t been able to make my way there through a litany of excuses wrapped in winter blues, which is part of the reason for the attraction of the green and gold.

I was lying on a bed at the end of the week receiving some acupuncture treatment and from the window a towering stringy bark was shedding and layers were caught in branches and suspended vertically waiting for the next southern wind to lift them up and float them to the ground. The tree is probably more than a century old and quite close by are a cluster of red gums lining the route of a mostly now dry creek bed that are definitely pre-settlement. Seeing them through the window, was comforting, reassuring me of their deep roots and unravelling mirroring my treatment experience. The ancient intervention of needles into skin to unblock and call the body to release and relax. Just as the bark unfurls, so do I.  It’s been a week or unfurling and unblocking and it hasn’t all been successful, some of my interventions lacked the precision of needles to pressure points. Although some were well marked and landed.  Another example of the close and too far away phenomena at play.

Healing pathways are many and there were several occasions during the week where the medicine was over a meal. The well worn experience breaking bread, sharing a conversation, have some laughs and sharing advice and stories has healing properties.  I have many meals alone these days in stark contrast to all the years with many around the table, and I miss the end of day of conversation and next instalments of personal soap operas and Quixote-like quests. So the opportunities of having a meal and hearing from peers about what’s going on in their worlds I always say yes too and I definitely am better off from the experience. Stories recounted, may require hushed and conspiratorial tones in public settings and others maybe accompanied by an hilarious roar in the intimacy of a private space. I always leave better from the encounter and a wondering on why I don’t do this more often. Last winter I held a series of dinner parties to bring people to my new location and that served a purpose to connect and give me some roots.

It is also the rhythm of a meal with others that I now value and didn’t at the time of having breakfasts and dinners. I can disrupt the routine of all this now by eating and drinking whenever I like, there is no one to negotiate any piece of the timing, menu or ingredients. The close and too far away phenomenon shows up as liberation, and like all liberations has a shadow inviting the potential to wallow in loneliness and or poor dietary choices. The same lack of discipline that kept me from the green and gold needs to accompany me into making times to eat with family and friends.

Meeting the moment where discourse helps with discernment, stories shape the narrative of our nation and witnessing and listening is healing for all, is going to require me to get some more rhythm around the hearth of mealtimes and listening to the trees for instruction.

Meeting the Moment 2021 #34

Regina had a big heart and her generosity was housebound. I have no memories of her being in any relationships with anyone other than her family members. I don’t know the names of any of her friends. She welcomed family and if anyone of us had someone else with us, she just set another place at the table, and popped the table extender her husband Ken, my grandfather had made. It would increase the size of the table and make it all a little more comfortable for everyone to fit.

Her signature dish was roast lamb and I used to love, love, love, eating the shank that would be cooked through first. When my first born embraced the roast lamb dinners, it felt like the baton had been successfully passed on to the next generation. (She is a vegan now – Charlotte’s Web saw to that).

Regina’s mum was a mid-wife and they lived in a little siding called Ramco, downstream from Waikerie in the Riverland. Apparently the name of the village is derived from an Aboriginal word “Bogorampko”, a mythical tribe supposed to be superior to all natives. My grandmother was able to me tell me stories of her childhood on the river, but the only story that stuck in my memory and had import enough to transcend to adulthood, was the one she told me of her mother helping troubled Aboriginal women labouring unsuccessfully on the banks of the river. It was accompanied by a story of menfolk distributing blankets “to the natives” impregnated with itching powder and pepper. I imagined my great grandmother as valuing life – anyone’s life and possibly seeing her skills as her Christian duty, I’ll never know her reasons. It was important enough for my grandmother to tell me, so I am treating it as inheritance.

My father was his mother’s sun, moon and starts. Her life revolved around him and his achievements she basked in, as reflected graces. He was her only child. I miscarried my first pregnancy and she told me at the time, that she too had a miscarriage. This shared experience transcended our connection to a new level, a relationship as women. It was a bond, I appreciated even more when my first child was born, and I got a glimpse of what it was to be so consumed by love and besotted by a tiny person at the centre of everything.

Being a grandmother is one of my joys. I love learning about Minecraft, imaginary dragons, going on bug detection garden tours, teaching life lessons in the kitchen, celebrating new discoveries and making puppets. There is literally nothing more pleasurable than the tenderness of a cuddle, sharing a laugh about something completely ridiculous, and conspiring acts of piracy on the unsuspecting. I love watching tenderness evolve and empathy being extended to those who need comfort. These acts give me hope.

My grandmother was born in 1906 and it was her 115th birthday this week. Mother’s never forget their children and to see the next generation and remembering those feelings, the legacy and the inheritance, is a wonder-full way to meet the moment of the announcement of new life arriving. In these moments I think of all the generations past and my place in the cycle, what stops and starts with me, and what batons I get to pass on. It’s been quite a while since I cooked a lamb roast.

I made this 6 years ago and the first wearer is going to be a big brother early in 2022. Not sure a bonnet in summer will be needed this time round!

Meeting the Moment 2021 #33

Finally the largest state with the biggest capital city in my country is in a hard lockdown, we nailed the first wave and then didn’t get our act together when we had the chance to get vaccinated and now the first mutated strain is running wild. There will be more strains and Team Virus looks like it is on the winning side and it isn’t half time in the game yet. We have a long way to go and that’s just getting it under control. Then there will be the long term effects on those who get the virus, on those who loose loved ones, on those who loose their livelihoods and are separated from family, friends and their work mates. The long-term effects are physical, psychological, cultural.

This week I had contact with a friend who has had her first baby, she is sad the baby and her grandparents are still unable to meet each other. They will never get to cuddle and experience that newborn smell and tenderness. Another group of people I was with online, in lockdown in cities all around the country shared stories of isolation and its impact on them. As mob, one said a family member had been mainly travelling between cities for work and community connection as a diabetic a police officer had offered to bring insulin in an esky as they were now the wrong side of the border and staying in their car. Hearing family news over zoom or the phone, what you were hoping to share in person, just doesn’t cut it and the separation can feel as like being on the moon rather than a state or even suburb away.

All this in the foothills, of a far more devastating report that landed from the IPCC this past week. There is no time to lose. Waiting for governments to act is foolish. Much of what might be possible is going to be in the hands of investors and business. Investors can drive more change and their leadership is going to be critical. The pandemic is part of it, and as awful as it is, it is a distraction from this bigger crisis.

Where I live in Southern Australia, the IPCC is expecting and has the data and modelled the expected scenario that will deliver rainfall decrease, increase in agricultural and ecological droughts, increase in aridity, The mathematical equations are ranked with high confidence. This is where the investors come in, they can leverage their responsibilities and economic imperatives to do what they can to slow and stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

When I was making cylindrical pots from recycled toilet rolls with my grandson this weekend, filling them with soil and planting beans I had a strong sense of passing on not a joy of gardening but possibly a life skill he is going to need in his adult hood. Food security is an ever expanding concern as more and more Australians are experiencing limitations and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. I know in my early social work days visiting the homes of the aged and infirmed there were people living on bananas and fresh air and the occasional tin of cat food. That was back in the 1980s and while some of the food choices were due to mental health and low income the fundamental systems problem was these people had been functioning for so long out of the health and social service systems, they were unable to find their way back. The systems hadn’t noticed they were missing. This is my fear with climate mitigation, management and adaptation – that there will be more and more people falling through the gaps – unable to untangle their way through an elite group.

The unsophisticated sharing table at a community workshop I was involved in delivering during the week will one day be a shining light of generosity and sign of wealth that the produce from a household garden has enough to be shared. This is something I hope my grandson will be able to be radical in abundance, and an aspiration for action to others. The household garden may well become the most powerful protection and community building asset in his generation. Then, there are the lessons to learn from the land from Aboriginal peoples in native foods … learning about the landscape and what is in season, what can be stored and when to harvest … are all lessons waiting to be discovered … and we need to get a hurry on. As the photo shows below the pandemic is on the wall, but it is the foreground that food and the future await

Sharing Table, City of Onkaparinga, Food Systems Mapping Workshop, 10 August 2021

Meeting the Moment 2021 #32

We are having a wet winter, in this place which is the driest state on the driest continent. There are early signs of spring and a blossoming almond tree in the front garden of a house down the street was home to a very noisy mob of yellow tail black cockatoos during in the week. Snails and caterpillars are feasting on some of the brassica in the winter harvest square, and I am so pleased to have creatures and bugs munching and sharing the produce with me. I picked the cauliflower yesterday and made cauliflower soup for my dinner. It is so satisfying to eat the homegrown vegetables and even more enjoyable to share with others. I have set up some new garden beds, had more soil delivered and began a mini nursery to get seedlings established early for spring planting. Living more seasonally is beginning to take shape.

We are also in the season of the SALA Festival – SA living artists – and there are plenty who are well and truly alive with their insights and interpretations of our landscape, the faces and shapes and scenes. Through the eyes and talents of the artist we all get a little more expansive in what we can see and feel and perhaps even be transformed or transfixed by an image to take us to a new idea, new emotion or tap into an old memory. I was caught between happy and sad memories in a gallery this week, of places much longed for and missed, places which had been the source of great joy and now hold dark thoughts attached to new knowledge. Art is evocative.

I love the whimsy that a Michael Leunig cartoon holds as it rips into your heart strings and the solid majesty of ancient gums in a Hans Heysen. The twinkling stars and luminous moon in a Van Gogh draws me closer to cosmic mystery, while the gentle wet and wintry haunting headlights in Clarice Beckett’s Motor Lights instantly has me in Melbourne.

My walls have art from the desert and the coast – dot paintings on canvas, paintings on bark and pieces of iron. I have had to learn about this art even though it is from the land I live on, unlike the art of settler stock or European masters. I have a lot to still learn. Like the cauliflower in the garden, these images are now ripe for the picking as I am more ready to learn and understand how to go towards them. Being in the landscapes in which they were created really brings them to life for me, in much the same way as the SALA exhibitions do – familiar places and colours.  Another seasonal gift to be out in these landscapes.

The caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, is a familiar motif for these seasonal changes, and in each caterpillar everything the next season needs is already in the last. Integrating seems to be the message of meeting the moment this week. To bring together with integrity what is being held from one season to the next whether it be in the garden, on the walls, or in the complement of memories. I had a fulsome conversation about integrity and perhaps that is the essence of great art; it is honest, wholesome, sound, it passes our probity test. And that is what moves us and holds us.

The humble cauliflower’s uncompromising integrity at being its best cauliflower self, as an art installation in my winter garden, was transformational.

Before it was soup

Meeting the Moment #31 2021

I am revisiting a David Whyte question geared to all, and especially leaders, about courageous conversations which start with stopping the conversation you are currently having. This is the act of giving up the conversation that is taking your energy and paralysing you from taking the step you need to take, the one Whyte nominates as as the first step. the one closest to you. It is a favourite poem of mine and one I return to when I really don’t want to do something and find myself procrastinating or worse prevaricating. The instruction to start with the solid ground you have beneath your feet, for me is to return to what has sustained me before, to trust the firm foundations of my life, however fragile they might be, and to stop listening to what others, ghosts, phantoms included, might be conjuring up or camouflaging as my own questions.

There are a lot of conversations I thought I was in, and ones I have tried to hang onto longer than they required. Wanting to stay in a conversation that had been stopped for me in particular. I have a laundry list of conversations I thought I was in while I was still longing for them to continue; conversations I wanted to keep going with, but in fact I was talking to myself.

I think the first time I was really conscious of this phenomena was when I miscarried in my 20s. I was following a path, love, marriage, baby carriage and then that was abruptly halted. I felt dreadly alone and an anonymous patient in a big, sterile, hospital system and finding my way home in a beat up HG Holden with my completely bewildered husband. I bled for months on and off.

I have enough examples of this phenomena now over four more decades to fill a library. The chapters would include jobs I worked in and left or had closed on me, another would be on political life, institutional conflicts, another on marriage, another on motherhood, and one on grief and death. There would be some references to me halting conversations that were out of sync or step with what was required set in board rooms, performance reviews, terminations of employment, reports to police or other authorities, leaving friendships and setting limits.

We are in the middle of a conversation as a country, and indeed a whole world, with a virus. One that has the capacity to mutate, ability to close down nations, interrupt democracy, write new paragraphs in a fascist playbook, unleash fear and anxiety, disrupt movement, redraw maps. When we say we don’t want to be in the conversation and turn away from the virus, and turn towards each other with compassion, kindness, civility I am deeply encouraged. When we make the virus the baddie in this narrative, I feel more at ease. I delight in our chief medical officer telling everyone this is the weekend to tidy your sock drawer or clean out the shed, and our police commissioner wryly say leaving home to commit a crime is not one of the five reasons to leave your home. These responses are relational and human. Yet tonight I saw our largest capital city looking like a police state, helicopters in the air, every available person with a blue uniform being called to be on duty, all the trained dogs and horses on patrol, military back up for peace keeping and health protection on station platforms and in the public squares. New South Wales a police state, remnants of its colonial origins as a penal colony and my parochial ‘free settler’ version of myself as a South Australian kicks into gear.

The first step to take, for me, is to realise the ground I am on, in this democracy, has not been democratic for all, it is stolen, unceded land and I have to plant myself firmly in that conversation before I get too holier than thou.

But setting that aside, I am deeply disturbed about how we stop the conversation of individual rights and responsibilities over our shared rights and responsibilities. It is the I vs We conversation we need to stop. And one I need to stop myself being in. There is only really ever we. Being able to stay curious, open and gentle with the other starts with me. We are all seeking to belong; all seeking solid ground; all seeking to feel safe. We are all walking into unknown territory, into dark woods where the sunlight finds its way between branches, into uncertainty, where the pathways that were once assured no longer serve us, and new ones are not yet worn. These are the courageous conversations to have with one another, and we start with the conversation we need to have with ourselves. Where we hear ourselves into being bolder, more vulnerable, braver, more exposed to each others fears and anxieties by being in touch with our own. Taking a step towards empathy might be our saving grace and perhaps, the only real protection in a pandemic … to say nothing of the climate crisis ….

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way to begin
the conversation.

Start with your own
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something

To hear
another’s voice,
your own voice,
wait until
that voice

becomes an
private ear
that can
really listen
to another.
Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own

don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,

the step
you don’t want to take.

You can hear and watch David Whyte reciting Start Close In here.

Photo by Kevin Wolf on Unsplash