Thursday, 9 November 2017

Bright With Darkness: A Poem

There is no harvest, no ripeness
only gleanings from
bare ground
of what may be

The sweet and simple 
sleep of youth 
is gone 
has been gone for years 
gone with the dreams of wonder

I do not belong to myself
but to circumstances 
uncontrollable, unasked for

But what if I called? What if I stared 
into her face? Did I willingly 
turn to stone, choosing stagnation 
over life? 

Perhaps there are reasons why 
based not on reason, but a deeper 
knowing, beneath understanding—
a holy mystery

I chose this

A small pebble 
buried in the earth—
must I dig my way out?

I love the depths, and darkness 
and would rather dwell there 

Yet mountains call—peaks—
places of clear sight; 
perhaps a better vantage from which 
to see into the dark deep

After all 
the moon’s light is not her own
though she wears it as if illumined 
from within 
bright with darkness 
bridging both

Only in the third place can the mind merge 
the opposites

If I have a patch of dark 
bare earth 
and air and sunlight
perhaps, in the place between
something will grow

(October 2017)

The Moon, by Adam Cebula (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Friday, 3 November 2017


It has been a relief not to be writing, and not to be posting here.

When I began this blog I knew I would have to be careful to make sure it served me, rather than the other way round. I wanted to be doing things (writing, art, explorations of my landscape) because I wanted to be doing them (and then perhaps being inspired to blog about them), rather than doing things specifically for the blog. I wanted it to complement my life, not take it over. (Though that said, having an intention to post something each week did provide me with ongoing creative goals, which was helpful.) 

In the end it did take over, in a way, and so I have felt a sense of freedom since pulling back from this space. I have needed a rest.

Pink swamp heath, Sprengelia incarnata, growing down by the creek
Several years ago many things changed for me, and my world expanded. I was not ‘well’ by any means, but I had more energy (especially mentally), and I wrote and wrote and wrote. I had so much I needed to say, to express and explore. I went through a real transformation, and learnt how to write stories (not something I ever felt I had a natural aptitude for).

This past year or two, however, I’ve been going through a transformation of a very different sort, questioning many things, reading feminist texts, and trying to figure out where I stand spiritually. It has been uncomfortable and challenging and enlightening/endarkening. Things have fallen apart numerous times, only to be built back up with slightly different forms—though I am not yet at the point where I can fully trust those new forms; nor do I have the energy, at present, to explore them through writing. 

Waratah, Telopea speciosissima

My health is fragile. I feel worse than I have for years, and I wonder whether my few years of increased activity were a form of forgetting. As Kat Duff has written,

Because the experience of illness is so difficult to accept, communicate, and integrate, it sinks into the mute flesh of our bodies as we recover. In fact, the word “recover” literally means “to cover up again.” We lose that piece of our lives, that corner of truth, in order to reclaim the world we share with others. The experience may be forgotten altogether, or obscured by the workings of memory into the shadows of insignificance, with euphemistic understatements like “It was just a bad dream” or “I had a little trouble with my heart.” It appears that the terrain of the sick, like the underworld in Greek mythology, is surrounded by the waters of forgetfulness. (The Alchemy of Illness, 1993, p. 17) 

An increase in my energy—perhaps partly caused by all the new and exciting ideas that were entering my life at that time—caused me to forget what CFS was really like, what it had been like for many years. I embarked upon a period of quite intense activity, sometimes in short bursts, at other times more sustained, and it was the writing I was producing that made me feel much more positive about the curtailed circumstances of my life. Having a chronic illness is clearly not ideal, yet it didn’t seem so bad if I was creating.

Dampiera stricta
Now I’ve emerged out of the waters of forgetfulness, and I remember what CFS is, and the toll it takes. Not only am I incapable of doing the writing I was regularly doing (as my energy is very low, and my cognitive ability with it), but I do not even want to write. The desire to spill out streams of words, and the enjoyment, aliveness and wildness that came with them, is gone. Even sitting outside and watching the birds is not giving me the sense of calm and comfort that it usually does.

This, though, has led to a useful realisation/reminder: All those years when I was not doing much, not achieving anything, seemingly avoiding creative work, were not due to laziness, or my not trying hard enough, but due to my body’s real inability to function (though this does not mean there aren’t other things that might be holding me back too). In my good years (and other isolated moments), with energy available, I was compelled to act—to write, to shamanise, to work on becoming a better person; now, I rarely feel any compulsion to do anything, because my body is struggling so much. And because the body and mind are entwined, working together, what affects my body impacts on my mind, my mood, my ability to think and concentrate (and vice versa).  

(It interests me, the connection between mind and body. How, for instance, there is now evidence to suggest that imbalances in the microbiome of the gut are implicated in mood disorders. Thus, our ‘mind’, and the way we think and feel, is not independent of the body, but very much integrated with it, and influenced—even determined, in some sense—by it.)  

Grevillea sericea
I didn’t want this blog to be about illness. I wanted it to be about writing, art, creativity, nature, shamanism—my unique journey through life, with illness, if it appeared at all, as merely a background note. But illness has crept up on me, consumed me once more. Everything is difficult, when for a while it was easier, and this is endlessly frustrating. 

I do not feel like myself. (I am full of snarls.)

I’ve no doubt that the person I was a few years ago, buoyed by a greatly enlarged imagination and sense of purpose, is still here, somewhere. Yet she has withdrawn for now. Proof, I think, that what we think of as the ‘self’ (mind/consciousness/personality/soul) is completely embedded in our bodily/biological form and functions—and therefore when the body is not functioning well, when it is exhausted, deficient, imbalanced, a new self emerges. Is this a false self? Or merely different? A little of both, perhaps.   

Under such circumstances, it’s difficult to be positive, to be inspired, or to want to post here. But, after a couple of weeks of not writing, I felt the need to write this, to explain my absence, my silence. I hope that it will not be long-lasting, and eventually I will have the desire and ability to resume more regular posts. And, blog aside, a return to, if not who I really am, at least who I want to be, with a sense of purpose in my creative work, and my small place in the world.

Lomandra obliqua
I’ve been trying (very, very slowly) to learn a little more about the plants that live around me, so the above photos are of plants that I have seen/found flowering in the bush not far from my home.

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.
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