Monday, November 3, 2008

Graves in the Paperbarks

"Green sap of Spring in the young wood a-stir
Will celebrate the Mountain Mother
And every song-bird shout awhile for her;
But I am gifted, even in November
Rawest of seasons, with so huge a sense
Of her nakedly worn magnificence
I forget cruelty and past betrayal,
Careless of where the next bright bolt may fall."

Yesterday I dropped in a garage sale, whilst trekking out to see a lawnmower friend. I intended to ask him to tame this mass of weeds that has sprouted with all the nitrogen rich lightening rain and sun over the last week.
I walked out with three electric whipper snippers for ten dollars! Two of them work, which is still a bargain. But the real find was the garage sale lady's magpie intuition when it came to collecting books. All religions, Authurian tradition, architecture, nature, academic disciplines, fiction, rune stones, tarot decks, bird watching bibles - everything!
Finally, there was a modest edition of Robert Graves' The White Goddess. And it is Spring, and it is Beltane (as Tim reminded me on Saturday) and the Goddess is out and about. Sometimes the arrival of spring feels like that moment of ovulation or conception; a split second where it all begins and you just feel it. Something shifts. What a time to indulge in Graves, who is unapologetic to the ignorant, the compromised and the ordinary.

"If you are poets, you will realise that acceptance of my historical thesis commits you to a confession of disloyalty which you will be loath to make; you chose your jobs because they promised to provide you with a steady income and leisure to render the Goddess, whom you adore, valuable part time service. Who am I, you will ask, to warn you that she demands either whole time service or none at all?"
Spoken like a true hippy methinks.

Out at the estuary, we are having a bored day, that time that elastic bands apart between picking up nets at dawn and setting them again at dusk. I am tiring of squeezing fish spines out of my already infected hands. I decide to try again, to find my way through the paperbark swamp to the spongolite cliffs that glow so enigmatically ochre in the afternoon light.

I wandered along a trail through vertical dense stands of flat topped yates where there is no undergrowth, only the grey, green black leaves and ribbons of bark. This country ends abruptly as the track snakes down into the valley. Huge grasses like a native pampas, flowering grasses, the dianella I used to sell at the nursery, the latest 'mass planting' craze, little blue star flowers crowning elegant rush foliage, clumped together under whispery sheoaks.

Then down further, to the paperbark forest. White creamy trees with strips of the soft coating torn off and hanging like antipodean prayer flags. An emerald green carpet of pig face scattered with fuschia-tinted daisy flowers. It is vivid and startling after the grey, green of the eucalypts only minutes before. The change is instant - a wardrobe into Narnia kind of experience.

If it weren't for the masses of mosquitos and silent presence of tiger snakes, I would strip naked and dance like the ageing wood sprite I am, terrified and hopeful in the same moment that a dark-eyed and bloodshot Satyr would stalk me through this creamy forest and ... sorry, maybe that's just the way my mind works.
I couldn't stand still, let alone get naked. I had a romantic notion of settling down into the pigface, against the sturdy velvet of a paperbark tree to write some nature down - and did so, only to be set upon by whining, flying critters thirsty for my blood.
Then there was the tiger snake issue, getting the heebie jeebies after Old Salt's warnings of the paperbark swamp, complete with outstretched arms and expert witness testimony.
Storms have ripped through here and knocked the crowns off the tallest trees, so that the ground is strewn with rotting logs and the sky is sliced by silent sentinels of headless trees.
I know that in that quiet cavern of green and white and magenta, where the only sound is the distant thump of surf outside the bar and the alarm calls of wattle birds, something stirs, something Robert Graves, even with his European sensibilities would understand, whereas I can only feel it in my water ...


  1. Yep, mosquitos are hell! But, you know, maybe if there be mud, soft stuff and not too putrid and some place to lay and bake then nakedness in such a forest would be bliss. It is strange the image we have of the naked - bwokbert - sometimes clothes-free Noongar man, woman and child that once inhabited such places. It is strange to consider how they coped with the spear plunging threat of swarming blood sucking pests we call mosquitos... But, you know, they too smeared their skin. Not with mud, but with fat, either from the emu, kangaroo or anything that gave them protection from the wind, rain...and maybe even the mosquito...