Initiatory journeys are not all sackcloth and ashes…

At midlife, change is a constant. And it’s not all pleasant. Trust me. Families change, domestic responsibilities diminish, bodies change, your mind goes out the window (at least temporarily), relationships fall apart … it’s all part of the Separation stage of the initiatory journey.

Fortunately, humour can save us from taking all of the above too seriously.

And just when it all seems too intense, contradictory, challenging,  deep, complex, symbolic, psychological, mythic, metaphoric and archetypal, Jesse appears…

Here’s an extract from my book.

Deep Creek, 7 November 1992

… The sounds of breaking glass and metal striking metal stopped me before I could look back to check that Jesse was following. What I saw in my mirror was not a pretty sight. Jesse had revved up and backed at full speed out of his parking space, straight into the white campervan with its shiny new paint job. Its front fender and door were mangled; pieces of wire and glass dangled from the wreckage but that was nothing compared to the back of Sandy’s precious new utility. Its fender was unrecognisable: the tray gate and lights badly smashed, bits of orange and red plastic scattered beside the back tyres. Maybe two thousand dollars damage in all, my mind calculated, remembering a friend’s recent tryst with his insurance company.

I parked as quickly as I could and ran back to the scene. Was anyone injured?

The whole of Humpty Doo converged to watch what happened next. After a struggle with his damaged door, the driver of the van leapt out, a small dishevelled man in thongs and stubbies. From the other side lunged the passenger, who was easily seven feet tall, built like a brick shithouse and looking just as mean. He was barefoot, wearing paint-splattered shorts and sporting a huge belly. A screaming eagle decorated his left shoulder. The four fingers on his right hand spelled out L-O-V-E just above the knuckles. Must have been an old tattoo. He was purple with rage and very drunk. He’d rebuilt the van, all right, from the ground up. Took over two years. Just finished it that afternoon. And then they had been celebrating. He was telling the world about it as he hurled himself toward the ute.

The van’s driver followed the tall ugly one and they both started yelling. Sandy could have heard them in Bali. They were screaming about why the fuck hadn’t he looked behind him, what the fuck were fuckin’ rear fuckin’ view mirrors for anyway? The fuckin’ years and money that had been wasted on the fuckin’ repair job, the stupidity of fuckin’ people who didn’t look where the fuck they were fuckin’ going.

“You’ll have to pay, you fuckin’ little prick,” they screamed, one after the other, curse building on curse.

Humpty Doo stood still. Six o’clock on Friday night and everyone was there, leaning against their utes, sucking on their stubbies, waiting, calling their dogs to their sides. People in the laundromat turned in the plastic chairs to watch through the window. All the kids in the milk bar came rushing out. The driver, a smaller bald man of about forty, held onto the shirt of the giant, who continued his yelling as he pounded on the side of Sandy’s ute, like he was trying to keep him from picking the truck up and throwing it across the carpark.

During all this, Jesse sat quietly in Sandy’s crumpled ute, staring straight ahead, feigning deafness. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. As the two men from the van moved from the back end of the ute to the door, the tall one could see inside. The volume of his ranting increased. “Look at the crazy prick, Harry,” he screamed. “He’s got fuckin’ earrings through his fuckin’ nipples. Harry, can you see?”

I turned away, unable to control my laughter.

“The fucker’s got earrings through his goddamned nipples, Harry,” the tall one screamed. “Can you see them?”

Harry was too short to see this amazing sight, so the giant lifted him up. Clearly horrified, he hung from his friend’s arm, his mouth opening and closing like a fish’s.

“Who are you anyway, you crazy prick?” the big fellow screamed at Jesse. He dropped the little man and grabbed the door as though to yank it off its hinges.

At that point Jesse must have decided it was safer to exit under his own steam than be thrown across the carpark by the giant. With what could only be described as an elegant flourish, he opened the door and stepped down onto the pavement, facing them. A gasp was heard among the assembly.

Barebreasted, except for the gold rings through his nipples, Jesse was wearing a black lace skirt, tied at the waist with a long purple silk scarf. From below the lace fringe his hairy legs protruded. A flower closely resembling the lips of a vagina was tattooed on his left ankle. His shoulders were heavily tattooed. The effect reminded me of my father’s photo of the Christmas party at the Air Force Wireless Training School during the War. The barefoot airmen (Daddy included) were in drag, with hairy chests, leis and grass skirts, singing and playing banjos on a tiny stage, probably in the mess hall. With the headband, the mirrored sunglasses, the nipple rings, silk scarf and the lace skirt, the effect was dazzling.

The sight of Jesse’s skirt was too much for the burly passenger. He wheeled around in a paroxysm of rage, screaming and panting, his face the colour of beetroot, his chest heaving above his enormous belly. “He’s wearing a fucking skirt, Harry,” he screamed, his eyes bulging. He lunged at Jesse, who was now leaning nonchalantly against the open door. The driver caught his mate and held him, panting, just in time. “Who the fuck are you, you stupid poofter?” the passenger howled. “Harry, the fucker’s wearing a skirt! No wonder you can’t bloody drive, you assehole! What are you, crazy or something, you fuckin’ poofter?” he screamed again.

At that point I came to Jesse’s rescue. I stepped between them. I was calm; I explained my role as a witness whose evidence could benefit everyone, offered pen and paper to Jesse. I gave the driver my name and address and helped them exchange details. Sweet reasonableness, I reminded the driver he’d been driving on the wrong side, that he’d nearly hit me.

“We have been celebrating,” he apologized, some of the steam gone out of him, “the rebuilding of the van.” He stared forlornly at the damage. We moved to settling the matter pretty quickly and the two men sadly returned to their ruined vehicle. The giant still snarled a little but he’d given up on fighting.

After they had driven off and the crowd had dispersed, Jesse climbed back into the ute.

“Thanks, Wendy,” he said through the open window. “I’m feeling a little under the weather. Maybe I’ll just go back to Sandy’s after all.” He unscrewed the top on the Lambrusco.

“I’ll take a rain check, if you don’t mind too much, Wendy. You don’t mind, do you, Wendy?”

“Of course, it’s fine, Jesse.” I smiled graciously, my hostess smile. I excused him from his obligation.

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Wallabies remind me that humans are animals

Wallabies! What animals they are!

We live on half an acre in a rural eco-village. The way the property is designed, we have “borrowed views” of lots of neighbouring land. And wallabies roam among the 45 properties at Jarlanbah.

At least half a dozen regularly call our place home.

I don’t know much about these wallabies. They are different from the exceedingly shy agile wallabies of Deep Creek. I’ve score of photos of these folk and not a single one from a year at Deep Creek, despite many attempts.

Today a female approached a male for a snuggle. It was a warm afternoon in late winter and everything was soft and hazy. Snuggling weather, to be sure. She was clearly not on heat and he was sort of indifferent. Not for him today the groaning, gasping and panting that accompanies mating.  But by the time she’d groomed him for a while and helpfully removed some ticks from his fur, he thought the better of his indifference and joined in the snuggles. Or so I speculated.

Anthropomorphisingly.

It made me think of my great friend’s new miracle baby, christened a charming Charlotte. First report from the hospital on the phone was simply this: “She loves cuddles.”

These cuddly wallabies are very tame and friendly, especially the young ones. Watching the babies is a lesson in environmental psychology, territorial range and “home” base. Back and forth, then a bit farther out, then a scurry and an eager jump into the pouch and at the nipple.

Home is where the pouch — and the milk — is.

About two years ago, one of the female wallabies on our property turned up with two joeys. I was amazed. Again I felt for her viscerally, as she struggled to accommodate both of them, with their flailing arms and legs. I guess I felt interspecies empathy.

I bet it hurt!

Think of the stretch marks!

A Wallaby and her joeys. One is adopted.

In the Nimbin hairdressers, I mentioned the twins to Jilly, who was cutting my hair.

An old cocky was sitting in the other chair, having his annual haircut.

“Not twins!” was his firmly muttered response without even looking up.

“They never have twins. She’s adopted a stray.”

A few weeks later, while Liz was still feeding that wild dingo, there was only one joey.

A while ago, a right-wing Australian parliamentarian took umbrage at being called an animal. The retort from a Greens parliamentarian (which I wish I’d thought of) was, “Well then, are you vegetable or mineral?”

Of course, we’re animals.

And as a person who’s lived in the bush with rats and mice for years, I can attest that some of the other species of animals are much smarter than we are. Smarter than Karl and me, at least.

For the rat story, see a much earlier blog:

http://www.sarkissian.com.au/kts/rats/

 

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A starlit circle: entrancing or terrifying?

When you live in a forest, however small, degraded, weed-infested, scrappy and fragile it might be, the landscape is everything.

The weather, the geography, this night sky — those are your realities. The stock market, politics, your friends, the university — all those things are a long way away.

Especially at night when you are alone in the landscape.

Even the daunting ‘reality’ of a PhD dissertation pales in the light of the night sky.

Many Nature writers have written of the power of the night sky. The power of the starlit circle.

I was experiencing it for the first time, at 48.

18 June 1992

A starlit circle.

Coming downstairs in the middle of a black moon night, I wandered across my creek and looked up at the sky. I stood there in the clearing and just stared at the stars, marvelling at the clearing transformed, the intensity of the stars when the moon was hidden.

The trees seemed to be standing in a starlit circle, witnessing me. And then (I promise this is true)—all of it—clearing, trees, stars, the black sky, the whole forest—began to spin. As though the heavens had shifted a notch and engaged another force, enlisting a superior energy.

I began to whirl. “No! Not me!” I screamed. I planted my feet. The swirling sky and teh starlit circle terrified me. I struggled to keep the whirling, whorling vastness at bay.

“Not me!”

I ran upstairs and tucked myself tightly inside my mosquito net, burying my face. Some sky power, not of the Earth, was trying to draw me up, enlist me. For what I do not know! But I know I am not ready to be enlisted.

Enlisted for what? Will I ever be ready?

I want to stay, to engage. And I want to run away.

 

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Creeksong

30 April 1992

I’ve been here for five months and I haven’t learned much. Just a few things. Like: if the fire has been the process of my transformation, the creek has been the substance of it. Does that make any sense? Since I settled in here, I have felt the source of my inspiration, my strength and my healing, resides in this little creek. Daily I experience its rejuvenating qualities. And so, when the rains came again last week, unbidden and unexpected and it was returned to life—like a gift—I was overjoyed.

I feel blessed, pardoned, forgiven. . .

I am getting a second chance to participate in its life, its transformation.

Creeksong

Here’s an extract from my journal:

My creek! It’s a miracle!

One day, dry creek, sandy and dead. No sign of life. Suddenly it’s alive: tiny fish nibble my hip. Laughing, I spill my morning cup of tea into the rushing stream. A water goanna lumbers by on the bank, ignoring me. The birds are rapturous, celebrating.

To live beside a creek it’s microcosm of everything, seen and unseen. It’s habitat and drinking place. Wallabies drink at sunset, leaving fine filigree of paw prints in the soft earth. Frogs launch cadence competitions. Waterweeds astonish with new fluorescence. Wherever did they come from? Wherever do they go in the Dry?

Creek is celebration, joy, exuberance Neck-deep  in clear water, I dream for hours. Canopy of carallia, melaleuca, lophostemon, pandanus protects me, admits shards of light, like diamonds, glancing off sharp fronds.

Fire-blackened pandanus spirals from sandy banks, bending down to creek, bending to look at me, my house. I,  speechless with delight, need nothing more. Have water, birdsong, peace.

And all around life bursting forth.

Upstream, spring contributes to creek, just above footbridge, meeting muddy water rushing down the firebreak. By the time it’s here, clear again, singing past me.

Took many months to learn what community means by creek. What creek means to community. Caught only a whisper. It’s children’s playground. Resting place. Everyone here has a favourite spot. For most, “Deep Spot” downstream, a hundred metres.

It’s source of life, measures land health, our aquifer. We drink it downstream, fear for its quality from upstream clearing. Women have giardia already. We fear that.

Creek is a landmark, shared symbol of our common purpose. Runs through common and private land, boundary between sacred and profane. Creek is sacred, birthing place, protection. Creek is shelter, food. . .

It’s life.

It’s surrender. When fire rages I immerse in creek. Dig in creekbed. Tunnel into creekbank. Deepening, I become creek.

I am coterminous with creektime. Creekcells dance in mine, reciprocating.

Creek is source, lineage, flowing into future.

Creek is hope.

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The Comfort of Storms

Living alone in the bush is an ‘elastic’ sort of experience. You can run but you cannot hide — from yourself, that is. My upstairs bed, well protected from the ferocious mosquitoes by a sturdy Maningrida net, was a place of comfort and security.

And after months of tinkering with tarps and bamboo screens, I could stay dry even in a fierce tropical rainstorm.

I could relish the comfort of storms.

It was like living on a small boat.

By far the best part was waking to the sound of rain, knowing that all was shipshape, and then rushing outside to make a few last-minute modifications before retreating to my cosy nest high in the treetops.

Deep Creek, 14 April 1992

Anticipating storms, I worked through January and February to make my house totally waterproof. I tied bamboo blinds or tarps on all exposed sides. And I am getting quite adept at reading the sky and knowing when to bring in my chairs before the storm hits. Often I am awakened by hesitant rain tinkering on the tin roof. I love the sound, the soft cadence of first drops on leaves, then splashing on creek surface, my washing bucket, and finally bold clatter on the tin roof and the sheet of iron covering my fireplace. I feel comforted by the rain, cosy in the deep bosom of the raining forest. I cuddle under my quilt for one extra moment, savouring it all.

Then I climb from under my net, carefully tuck it in, untie and let down the two bamboo blinds upstairs and tighten the tarp. I grab my torch and run downstairs to protect the kitchen. I race out, barefoot and naked, sliding and slipping, into the darkness, mud and bucketing rain, to untie the three downstairs blinds, fitted outside to protect the kitchen’s earth floor. By the time I’ve finished, I’m soaked and muddy. Often I sing; sometimes I dance in the rain. Or sit in the darkness in my creek for a while if it’s not too cold.

I wash my feet in the bucket by the stairs, dry myself off, slip my feet into my sandals and make a cup of tea to take to bed.

Under my net, with a cloud of mozzies spinning and whining against the green mesh, I sit, sipping my tea and listen to the rain.

It’s very comforting.

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A tiny possum by my bed

A Tiny Possum by My Bed: an extract from Into the Green Heart

Living alone in an isolated spot brings many unexpected joys.

One night, I awoke to an unfamiliar sound. Tucked tightly inside my mosquito net, I imagined myself to be safe when, in fact, the whole upstairs of the house was open.

It turned out to be a horse, running across the northern boundary of the property, neighing as it ran. It was such an unfamiliar sound.

Another night, breathing close to my ear awakened me…

10 April 1992

The bush vibrates with activity tonight, as the creatures I have learned to love go about their nocturnal routines. One, perhaps a possum or a spotted quoll, the marsupial cat, is finding a welcome drink from my dishwater. It knocks over the metal bucket and scurries off into the dry leaves, returning before long to nuzzle about in the bucket.

I marvel at the antics of these neighbours and imagine an underground storehouse where tiny jackboots are issued to any possums who choose to clomp on my iron roof as their midnight recreation.

Last night I awoke to find a baby brushtail possum, about the size of a kitten, hanging from the cypress pine cross beam an inch from my ear. In the half-light I could see a hairless tail and a grey striped coat.

He had tiny pink ears, a pink nose and whiskers. He scrutinised me closely with shiny black eyes.

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Why is contact with Nature important?

The White Gum before we killed it

My forthcoming book, Into the Green Heart, tells my story of communion and communication with Nature.

Is that an important topic today?

Haven’t people always communed with Nature?

The answer is yes and yes. People have always communed with Nature and it’s important. But it’s much more important today than it has been in the past because many of us have lost contact with Nature and we don’t know how to rebuild that contact.

My book tells many stories about my struggles with this topic.

I could not find my place. I was lost. I felt I did not belong.

I felt I had had no competence as I navigated the terrain — geographically and metaphorically — of life in the Australian bush.

Building my bush house brought about the death of a huge white gum, probably seventeen metres tall.

In 1991, I wrote:

When we had cleared the site of fallen branches, logs, small shrubs and seedlings, Bill chainsawed down a huge white gum that the men said could have dropped its branches without warning. They called it a “widow-maker”. We were very sad to do it, as it was a very old tree—maybe a hundred years old—and must have been at least 17 or 18 metres high.

But for all my good intentions, the sacrificial lamb was the White Gum. I leaned against her and spoke to her the best I could, thanking her for her help, apologising for the killing, explaining that I hoped more trees would live because of the good work I intended to do while living in this house. I can’t pretend that she responded and I wouldn’t have been able to hear her above the chain saw.

Under construction, November 1991

Later

Months later, immersed in the wild and singing life of the forest, I began to understand:

Sitting here, I often think about our felling the great White Gum last November—over eleven months ago. I tried to be ‘practical’ about it. The builders insisted it had to go; there was no other place to site the house and I couldn’t have branches falling on my head, could I? But the other night my excuses began to evaporate as I sat here alone reading. “The White Tree is an important symbol of growth and transcendence. It has its roots in the ground and its branches spread towards the heavens. As long as the White Tree lives, our psyche is balanced and whole.” Alone in the lamplight, I stared in horror at the words. I had killed the White Tree in my pursuit of enlightenment. Had I sacrificed my Self in the process? How am I to atone, to reweave the tattered web connecting heaven and Earth?

By the end of my year in the bush, other trees were talking to me.

Tristia, a lophostemon lactufluus living by my house, deeply mourned the loss of Alba, who had been her companion for one hundred years:

I’d be lying if I said that Tristia approved of everything I did. In her nonverbal way, she explained that she was responsible for teaching me and expected me to make my own contribution to what she called the gift community by teaching others. But there were things I did in the early days at Deep Creek that she and several other neighbours really disapproved of. As I came to know Tristia, I understood that she was right. Growing to love her only increased my pain and my new awareness was a burden I could not shrug off. And by far the worst thing I did was sawing down the huge White Gum that stood to the east of my porch.  Now I realise it was the most awesome act of violence. Four adult humans agreed to kill that ancient tree.

Anthropocentrism

Many ethical insights accompanied my experience with Alba and our many conversations. Among them was a glimpse of my utilitarian views and my entrenched human-centredness or anthropocentrism. Was this tree nothing more to me than an obstacle to my house-building project?

So — why is contact with Nature important? For one, to combat our anthropocentrism.

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Move over, Annie Dillard, Margaret Wilson has arrived!

Touching Nature's Heart

Margaret Wilson

My lovely friend, Margaret Wilson, has written a stunning new book.

Move over Annie Dillard, Sharon Butala and Gretel Ehrlich!

Margaret Wilson has arrived.

Make way for the delicate sensibilities of Australian Margaret Wilson’s Touching Nature’s Heart!

This is a book I have been thirsting for: a delicate story of Nature experienced and held in the warm heart of an intuitive healer who knows Her so deeply and appreciates Her modest and Her bounteous gifts, Her flourishing gestures and Her bare, secret parts.

Margaret Wilson is an intuitive, an artist and a healer. She is wise and experienced with many healing modalities.

Margaret Wilson writes simply and compassionately. She writes from her heart in language anyone can understand. When I read the story of the death of her tiny black kitten, it made me cry. I remember my tears falling on the shovel as I dug a grave in frozen earth to bury my tiny black kitten decades ago.

Margaret’s photos are compelling and evocative. Each photo tells a story that is matched by the text.

And the design of the book honours both Nature and the author’s gifts as a writer and artist.

Margaret at her Book Launch

The stories are simple; they combine to reveal one powerful message: in case we might have forgotten, Nature is the great healer.

This is a book to love, to share with love and to keep, as it is clear that it has been created with love.

To read more and to contact Margaret Wilson, click here:

http://margaretwlsn.com/launching-touching-natures-heart/

This book is published by Balboa Press.

To order the book, click here:

http://bookstore.balboapress.com/Products/SKU-000497792/Touching-Natures-Heart.aspx

 

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First blog post: The Green Heart

Part of the Journey into the Green Heart

Into the Green Heart

Greetings! I’m that person learning how to push a wheelbarrow. Or at least I was that person.

I’m an older person now. One part of my long journey into the Green Heart is coming to an end: my midlife journey is now flourishing into elderhood.

In this first blog post, I explain how I will open up to the mystery and glory of life in Nature, sharing excerpts from my forthcoming book, Into the Green Heart: A Woman’s Initiatory Journey in Nature.

For now, to begin, just an introduction:

This book is about my personal journey of initiation. I’ve learned that journeys have the power to change us when they include Nature, wildness, solitude and unfamiliar territory. So, I chose  to live alone in an isolated place for a year. I flourished in my isolation, despite my fears.

I learned that all journeys to wholeness involve, to some degree, paradox, the absurd and the bizarre, darkness, the Shadow, taboos, the need to confront ‘old stuff’ and unhealed and unintegrated aspects of our psyches and the personalities.

But we need to be journeying in our bodies, not just our minds. We need to be embodied. That supports growth and change.

My experience confirms what others report: when we consciously undertake transformative and self-healing processes with the support wild Nature, everyone benefits and all are healed: humans, the Earth and all beings.

In this blog, I will share extracts from my memoir and insights gleaned in my time reflecting on this journey.

I invite you join me —  in this blog and Into the Green Heart — as I recount my solitary journey into the heart of Nature.

I invite comments, suggestions and criticism. If you’d like to become acquainted with the other me, you can click here:

www.sarkissian.com.au

There’s a lot to share. Please journey with me.

Fire is often an element of the journey

 

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