Wednesday, November 28, 2012

To evict the bees from her shack, she first makes a list

Somewhere to explore, during the day, while the bees work
Cigarette lighter
Uzabeeware hive smoker 
Flea bombs
Bee bombs
Fishing boots, a pair of gloves and
Gaffer tape
Overalls, a veil and a broad-brimmed hat
Mortein, a sharp knife and an airtight box
Spare undies
A thermos of coffee, some pickled octopus, olives and bread
Swag and
A tent with no holes

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Now ... nestled in between the bit where Badger recruits Ratty and Mole for the recalcitrant Toad's intervention and fails (Toad subsequently getting twenty years for car theft and cheeking the police is an intervention failure by my book), and the bit where Toad chats up the gaoler's daughter (a good hearted and pleasant wench by anyone's book), there lies a chapter in the very centre of The Wind in the Willows called The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Do you remember Ratty and Mole's midsummer  epiphany - the bit where they encountered God?

It's a funny thing that whenever I mention The Piper at the Gates of Dawn to folk who have read The Wind in the Willows, they frown and then sort of smile and say. "No, I can't recall reading that bit."
It is the point where Kenneth Grahame diverts from his Toad/Ratty/Mole storytelling and goes completely trippy in the most wonderful fashion. Pink Floyd certainly thought so. I do wonder if Grahame had partaken in nefarious substances whilst writing it, then woken up in the morning to read his previous day's work and thought, "No, that is still good, dammit. I'll stash it somewhere in the middle."

I see the Piper at the Gates of Dawn chapter as a fugue state, as experienced by both Ratty and Mole in the story when they encounter Pan - but also by the reader, who often forgets even being there. The fact that so many readers 'disremember' the night passage upriver on a search for the lost baby otter Portly, to the veiled island, to the irresistible song of Pan - just as Ratty and Mole later forget the whole thing is, well, kind of weird and fascinating to me ...

'Clearer and nearer still,' cried the Rat joyously. 'Now you must surely hear it! Ah— at last— I see you do!'
Breathless and transfixed the Mole stopped rowing as the liquid run of that glad piping broke on him like a wave, caught him up, and possessed him utterly. He saw the tears on his comrade's cheeks, and bowed his head and understood.

Oxford's psychiatric definition of a fugue state is when a person 'steps off', they lose their identity and the state is "often coupled with a flight from one's usual environment, associated with certain forms of hysteria and epilepsy." People reemerging from fugue states often have no memory of where they have been or who they were.  

Wouldn't it be lovely though to enter the fugue without those ailments, or to define the fugue as a geographical and spiritual location, a place both temporal and spatial. I read a spec fiction book years ago that had a Pan or Green Man character in it and he could be visited by entering the Fugue through some kind of portal. I'd like to go there, sometime.

'This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me,' whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. 'Here, in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him!'

Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror— indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy— but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look for his friend. and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew.

Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though the piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant and imperious. He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike him instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden. 

Trembling he obeyed, and raised his humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fulness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humourously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter. 

All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
frontispiece from 1913 edition of “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame
illustrated by Paul Bransom

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. Chapter 7.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What it was like on Isaac's Ridge that day

This time last year my sister lost her home to fire. A bush lovin' woman, the fires took away all her musical instruments, family heirlooms, tools, vehicles, etc, etc. Ohh, that was a cool house in the forest with its bush poles and magenta/turquoise rooms. There are still good memories of the place. But Annie, being a perpetual renter like the rest of us, was quite uninsured against catastrophe. So was her landlord, as it turns out.

Here is an extract of Annie's compo letter to the guvmint. She wrote it a month or so later. It's interesting reading, if only to learn from the chaos that happens when wildfire engulfs a small town. If you have built (or you rent) a gorgeous hippy house that has not been 'passed' by the local council, at least let the fireys know where your house/shack/yurt/shed is. Make them put you on the map. Today.

To whom it may concern,

My name is Annie. I rented a house on Caves Rd,  Margaret River for a period of six and a half years, paying the rent to XXXX, who’s responsibility it was to maintain the property and collect the rent.  In July 2011 Scotty moved in and October 2011 Rachel moved in and shared the house with me.
During this time I was aware that the property wasn’t fire prepared and I often requested help from the landlord  to clear the trees from around the house and the power lines, and also to repair the extremely degraded and eroded driveway, which was the only escape route in the case of a fire or emergency.
No help was ever forthcoming, and the fire risk became so extreme with the trees around the power lines that I decided to buy my own chainsaw, learn how to use it and with the help of good friends, began clearing the trees myself.  I got a friend to cut down four 40 foot trees from around the power lines and I had several huge bonfires in winter, however I barely dented the surface.  I went to see the fire chief XXXX at the XXXX Fire Brigade to see if any help was available to make the property safer.  He rightly said that the task of a controlled burn in such a highly fuelled area was extremely difficult and that it would have endangered the neighbours’ properties, so I was sent on my way with no real solution.  I would like to stress that I agreed with the fireys, and hold no grudge. 

When the fire on November 23rd came through I was out at Sebbes Rd, servicing a car as I am a self-employed mobile mechanic.  I got a call around 12 from my housemate Scotty.  I arrived at the house around 12.30pm, after a call from my landlord asking if I was out yet.   The fire was approaching rapidly from the north, the wind was swirling horribly and I knew it was bad, but for some stupid reason, optimistically thought I’d be back the next day and everything would be fine.
 I grabbed 2 washing baskets, 2 blankets, 2 pillows, a swag, and the first lot of paperwork I saw.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find my birth certificate. The fire was closing in. I rounded up my housemates, Scotty and Rachel, and my sister Jess and her fiancĂ© Dan (who had come to check we were alright), and bolted up the hill for safety.
We all got out safely and headed for Jess’ house on Gnarawary Rd, where we were evacuated from (again) later in the evening, heading to town to stay for several days at our friend Katie’s house.
I found out that my house was destroyed by ringing my neighbour.

To this day I have not received a fire warning text message from FESA or DEC.  The authorities didn’t even realise there was a house there until 5 days later, when Scotty spoke to someone from the Shire. We were completely unsupported by FESA to defend the house and property. Even in the aftermath of the fire, they were unaware of the house being destroyed and our lives put in peril.  When we went to check out the damage 2 days later, there were still spot fires on the property and no support from the fire authorities.
 While I understand the stress and workload the authorities must have been under, this experience has left me feeling abandoned and distrustful that the population can be protected from this extreme fire threat that the South west of Western Australia faces currently.   

Since the loss of my rental, I have been staying in the backyard of a friend’s place in an old van that survived the fire. I lost the majority of my tools in the fire, as I had recently moved out of an industrial unit I was renting and had stored my tools under the house as there was no other storage room.
 I am currently homeless relying on the generosity of others.
Enclosed is a list of the possessions that I have lost, not including the family heirlooms which are obviously priceless and irreplaceable.  Scotty and Rachael also lost everything they owned.

Yours sincerely,

Monday, November 19, 2012

You Need Never Leave Your Home

Recently on Radio National's Download This Show, they were talking about that internet giant who began selling books and has now branched out into home shopping. So, folk can buy their fortnight's essentials and have it delivered to their door. They don't need to go mix with the rabble for anything. Food? Water? Toilet paper? Hell, just work all day, go home and relax in the home theatre. (Now ... that is weird. Is it just me, or is the 'home theatre' incorporated into every Australian McMansion just really, really strange?) I quite like leaving my home to buy food and entertainment. It's part of my hunter gatherer impulse. Apparently having a house in Gemini means that I just love arguing with my family about politics and philosophy but sooner or later, I may find they've relegated me to another home. (Cue the hunter gatherer thing.)

I suppose the irony is that while I was listening to RN's 'you will never have to leave your home again', I was driving the 150 kilometres out to Pallinup to catch fish that I would drive back to Albany and put on a truck to Perth, to be auctioned at the markets and sent back to the supermarkets in my home town.

While out at Pallinup I decided to take a drive east to my Kundip shack. I needed to drop off a load of wood and planned on having some lunch, a read and a little sleep in the lovely bed I'd built, to get back in time to set nets with Old Salt.

Turning off at the Jerry roadhouse is always like stepping off a jetty for me. At that point, I'm leaving and civilisation drops away. Radio reception dies and the road stretches into a few hundred kilometres of paddocks and bitumen.

I passed a red scooter, loaded up with fishing buoys, sleeping bags, backpacks and tents on the roadtrain highway, the rider looking grimly ahead. As I flew by the scooter, I was thinking, man, that is brave. Crazy brave. I began thinking about the two people I know who have ridden bicycles across the country, how unexpectedly urbane they are in their present lives considering their adventures. I thought this scooter rider must have been one of those Japanese blokes; sunburnt, strident, tenacious.

When I arrived at my shack, I walked around the place as I always do. Someone had lit a fire there.

Other folk had decided to move in.

That last photograph is not that great. It's a 'snap and run' shot. Black bees have moved into my shack. They've built four or five hives in the place. Honey and pollen were running down the windows. I was truly outraged! But the honey comb, oh boy, that stuff smells so yummy.
So, how to tell the bees to leave? Politely?

I drove back to Pallinup and talked to the other fishermen. They've had shacks around this coast for generations. Unruly said, "Talk to Grievous' Bro. He loves bees."
Grievous' Bro walked into the camp. It turns out he's a bit ambivalent about bees.
"Get some flea bombs. Pour diesel over the hives," was his advice. "We got back to our herring shack one year and there were twelve beehives in there. Diesel is the only way to deal with them. You've just gotta kill them."

I'm quite devastated that my shack has been commandeered by bees. On the road back to Pallinup that day I was feeling cranky and needing the close comfort of a pest control confidant. It turned out there was an entirely different epiphany lurking. I pulled into the Jerry roadhouse and the red scooter I'd seen before my aparian odyssey was parked out the front. This bike was a crazy mix of visionary/fisher/traveller. Then I saw the South Australian plates.

I walked in and bought a coffee credit. Apart from the smiling Irish attendant, there was only one other person in the place. She was little, tousled, young. She looked tired. She had her ears hooked to her lap top. She sat at a table at the far side of the room. I waved at her and she took out her earbuds.

"Did you just ride that scooter across the Nullabor?"
She nodded. "Yes. Yes, I did."
She looked like she was about fifteen. I stared at her. She stared back. Both of us were quiet.
Finally I blurted, "I am so fucking impressed."
Shy, awed, I pressed the 'flat white' button on the machine, made a coffee and then I left for Pallinup.

Not this old fella

Against the brilliant green of the back paddock, two bucks are fighting. One is redder and bigger. He launches towards the smaller kangaroo, swings back on his tail and starts throwing punches. The young one, he is aggressive and quick. We watch him close in on the old roo, he starts raking his killer claws against the old man's belly.
The older kangaroo backs off and stops to graze, watching his opponent.
An egret stalks by, looking for dung beetles.
The truce and warfare is repeated several times in the twilight.
The last time they clash, the old buck hits the younger one and he goes down into the grass.
We wait for him to get up.
He doesn't get up.

My sister says, "I used to get the old blokes at my place, after their fights. I'd see them come in all bleeding and cast out. They'd die, eventually, by the river, and my dog would bring their leg bones up to the house."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Song to Sing and Bastardy

Most Australians who are into their music have heard of Archie Roach's recent personal tragedies and how he has risen again to produce the album Into the Bloodstream. I played it on my way home today and the above track made me grin my head off at the roundabout, narrowly missing the roadtrain in my peripheral vision. Song to Sing has the redemptive qualities of good old fashioned American gospel. And then there is Jack Charles who stars in the clip. Oh my ... to see bits of this man's chequered life and work in the form of the documentary Bastardy, have a look here:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Last Days on the Inlet #4

Setting out early evening to set the nets

with four inch mesh and a fisherman,

into the crazydancing trees.

The first buoy

In the morning, we pick up the nets. That big fish on the right is a sea mullet. Mmmm.

Unruly measures his fish.
And ices them down for the city markets.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Gah! Fruit of My Loins

Dropping Stormboy at his job yesterday:
"Hey Mum, we've gotta read this book, for English."
He's emptying out his school bag into the back seat of my car so he can fill it with his work uniform, spare clothes and other weekend supplies. Dense piles of foolscap torn from from their ringlocks and blue binders spill onto the rest of the flotsam that washes up in my car.
He drops the book under the windscreen.
I saw the cover. Oh, cool. "What do you think? Have you got to the bit where the sharks eat his fish?"
"The bit where he actually catches the fish?"
"Well, why not? Keep on reading. It's a good yarn."
"It's boring as shit," he tells me. "There's no storyline. It's just about this old bloke who goes fishing."

They thought I was alseep ...

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Snake Chain

This evening I arrived home to a present on my dining room table and a note from my Mum.
"Sarah - for your use. Please return box and tool. X Mum."

It's a snake deterrent and it looks like one of those solar garden lights. Apparently you dig it into the ground (hence the tool) and it sends out vibrations that will keep the critters away. Mum's been on about a particular tiger snake for a week now. She wants gaiters while she's hanging out the washing. I don't blame her.
"It's five foot long. The first time I saw it, it saw me first, on the back verandah. It was watching me. I threw a brick at it and it went away but it came back the same day."
I'm writing this snake as 'it' but both of us automatically referred to it as a 'he' because such a deadly thing surely couldn't be a 'she' now, could it? Ha.
Today Mum threw a shovel at the snake and hit it and the snake came back in the afternoon.
"It's probably got plenty of frogs for food down in the swamp," I said. "Maybe he's coming up to the house to bask in the sun and warm up."

This swamp. We live on the primary dune back from the inlet. Originally the whole area would have been a waterway from the hill to the briny but over the last century the swamp has had the life drained and cultivated and fertilized the hell out of it. The swamp just below our cluster of abodes is the last bit so it has become a concentration of tiger snakes. On growing up, the swamp was the place to chuck our secrets into because no one would ever find them in there. Back then the boronia grew in scented clusters before the blackberries got in and
... far out Sarah, this is a whole new post ... forgive my bullrushes stream of consciousness and let's get back to the snakes, shall we?

Spending time in New Zealand was great for a few snake reasons: one can stumble into a ditch barefooted looking for cress with not a worry in the world. Plus you can tell kick ass snake stories and people will listen open mouthed, whereas in Australia, everyone has a better snake story than the one you have just told.

The thing about where I live now is that snakes come into the house. I nearly stepped on one recently, coming out of the bathroom with not much on. Snakes are no fun in the house. I usually end up on the table. Hopefully there is a phone up there. When there is, I ring my Dad to come around and shoot it. (Bless him. He'll come around in his shorts and thongs and pull aside cardboard boxes and furniture until he sees the baby tiger, cock the .22, sigh 'poor little bugger' and pull the trigger.)

No, I'm not like my Mum, who will try to shoo them away, nor like my Dad, who will pull apart wood heaps with his bare hands looking for the tiger who is seeking refuge in there. When I was a kid on this same property I was over where that same snake was today and I saw a sleeping dugite, beautifully coiled like a dust bin lid. Mum said to me, "Get the snake chain, Sarah."

The snake chain was an axe handle with three foot of heavy chain attached to it with fencing wire. It hung next to our back door underneath the raincoats. It was the only tool I've ever come across that is specifically designed to kill snakes.

Reading back on this, I realise I may sound a bit hysterical. Hell yes, I've felt hysterical when sitting on a table for hours on end. I've looked at my feelings about venomous snakes; the sex/death/teenage dream sequence stuff and then I think, 'Nah, I still don't like the fuckers in my house.'

Crab Bait Blues

After six months of working an inlet east of here, we headed for the town channel tonight to fish for flathead on their annual November run. There's a new marker on the reef just inside Possession Point. Racing yachties have periodically come to grief on the reef as they try to shave a few seconds off the home run back to Little Grove. For as long as I've been around, the reef's warning sign has been a piece of poly pipe standing at a barnacled angle and now it is a yellow and black bobbing miniature lighthouse, flashing and brand new.

Old Salt was expecting to tangle with Grievous, the other fisherman who fishes the flathead run. They've been battling over this spot for years now. I don't think their animosity began here but with a salmon run in 1956, or some mullet 'making up' in the corner of the harbour, or was it the black bream at Pallinup? Maybe it was the gardies at Peaceful. If I could name names, I would recite Old Salt's constant jokes about a certain American family whose men seemed to get regularly assassinated and how he's glad he is not one of them and where is a Lee Harvey Oswald when you need one? But I won't. The only thing that Old Salt and Grievous ever agreed upon is that crab pot thieves should be hung from a great height.

After setting the flathead nets, we holed up below the old quarantine station to wait out the sunset. The evening was still and warm. Yes, it is a hard life. "An occy lives in there," Old Salt said, peering into the shallows at a seaweedy car tyre set into the rippled sands, the same shape as the roof of my mouth. A pelican squabbled with a couple of Pacific gulls. A fiddler shark meandered into the shore. It was really nice seeing the white pom pom sea grass flowers and old mussel shells, after so long in an inlet where the water is murky grey/grey and I could never see the bottom.

Old Salt saw the dinghy hurtling across the harbour, it's skipper a lean fellow cloaked in red wet weather gear and leaning into the wind. "That's him."
He started up the outboard and turned towards our net's first buoy.
At this point I went into the 'oh for crying out loud' thing that females do when men start getting bolshie with each other. But I put on my gloves, set up the light and filled the fish boxes with salt water because we were heading out to pick up the flathead nets and I didn't want to be on the back foot, after dark, when these two arced up. This whole fight that they have going, well, you won't find me being a brother in arms to either of them. Unfortunately, sitting in one boat and not the other makes any deckie a partisan.

So I sat with my back to the trajectory of Grievous as he headed for our buoy to set nets over the top of ours. I ignored Old Salt's mumblings as he gunned the motor. It is a territorial thing but it is also a practical thing. After a fisherman sets 500 metres over the top of your nets, events can become complicated and unpleasant, especially when the wind comes up and a century of unsettled family grievances spray forth. What to do.

Both dinghies hung on the reef at Possession Point, on either side of the new marker. Old Salt idled his motor, not looking at Grievous. Grievous didn't look at Old Salt and fiddled around with some ropes and buoys. For some reason I began to think of rottweilers but the last rottweiler I knew well was an overweight plate licker who'd had his tail and his balls cut off, so it probably isn't pertinent, really.

Grievous eyed us, sorted out where our buoy was. Then he drove into the bay and set nets along the shallows. "Well. He's got every right to do that. Go fishing, I mean. Looks like he's behaving himself tonight."

We pulled up some beautiful flathead and some King George whiting too. By then it was dark and the Sound's port and starboard lights flashed all around us to usher the freight ships in. The cedar scent of the woodchips drifted over. At the port they were loading the ships and clouds of saw dust hung under the orange lights.
It is a wondrous thing, hauling nets under lights at night with the white curve of flathead and whiting coming up through the water, the beautiful, poisonous angel fish and that startling turquoise blue of the grass whiting. Trumpeters even. I've missed it.

We worked our way towards the channel and the flathead got thicker in the nets.
"Fucking trumpeters!" Old Salt started yelling.
He leaned close to me over the nets and whispered, "this is really good tonight ... Really nice. He is just over there."
I looked towards to east and could see Grievous' dinghy close by as he worked his nets in the dark.
"Bloody trumpeters!" said Old Salt. "Fucken hell. Crab bait. They're everywhere, fer Christ's sake!"

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Look - that's where I live.
 I have a story inside this Creative Nonfiction's Australia issue. I got a copy in the mail yesterday, along with an American 'check' that I have no idea what to do with. Put it in the bank I suppose. Maybe I won't. Maybe I'll keep it for a little while and just look at it a lot.

It's a pretty cool thing to see your stories in print. Even after the ego trip, text on paper makes the whole exercise feel real. Like ... it is real. (You know, for someone who writes stuff, I am feeling terrible inarticulate today.) Anyway, there is some great writing in there. The roundup of eminent and emerging Australian writers is pretty interesting, to see how others view us and who they consider to be the Australian masters of the creative nonfiction form. There are stories of living in an underground house in Coober Pedy and bora bora rings and Captain Cook and, yes, fishing too. Lee Gutkind, editor of Creative Nonfiction reckons Australia is full of true stories so wild and unpredictable that you just couldn't make them up ...

And big thanks to Ms PoW over at the most wonderful Plume of Words for nominating my story. You champ!

Creative Nonfiction, Fall 2012, Issue 46.

The Night Air

I walked to wait for you at the crossroads, at the top of the hill, so you would see me standing on the side of the road, my thumb extended, a fantasy hitch hiker. It was night and the road was warm under my bare feet. The head lamp, slung around my neck, made a circle of light just ahead of my toes. It was dark and the moon hadn't risen. You said you would meet me.

I stood still at the corner and watched for the loom of your lights over the hills. No lights, only the orange glow of the fires on the other side of the bay. No car engine, but the slow pound of the surf against the island that broke up the sea and the night noises of crickets and slithery creatures in the bush.  I kept the head lamp turned on because I was afraid of tiger snakes and dugites, cold blooded, seeking the day's warmth soaked into the bitumen. Then I couldn't see anything beyond the thin stream of light.

The mosquitoes found me, whining around me and one bit me in the small of my back. I slapped at it and the slap sounded too human, too fleshy. You said you would meet me. What has happened? How long should I wait here, in the dark? What if you'd had an accident on the way? How would I know? What would I do if you died? Would I go to your funeral?

There was a rustling in the bush at my back. As I turned, a huge creature crashed out of the banksia thickets and rushed towards me. My heart bleated and I opened my mouth to scream. For a split second the animal was captured in the pool of my light - a boomer, a big one -  before it lurched away and fled into the peppermint grove on the other side of the road. Then silence. I knew he was watching me from the trees. I remembered the Kangaroo Woman warning me not to go into the red gum forests where the big grey boomers dwelt if I was ovulating. Was she myth mongering or was she for real? It was all too much, the phantom snakes, the mosquitoes and then that beast crashing out of the dark at me.

I walked back along the road to my car, giving up on the hitch hiker fantasy and thinking that of course I would go to your funeral. I shut myself in my car, put the seat back and turned on the radio, the blue LED screen the only light.

The Night Air. The Night Air presented a girl with a sweet, sweet voice called Bell who told a story of an old man who stood under a lamp light with shabby clothes and a cloth hat. The old man put his hat on the ground and a crowd began to gather. A dog poked his head into the circle and waited, head cocked to one side. When they put some coins into his hat, he held out his empty hands. The people hissed and began to move in to take back their money and spit on his shoes. But before they could get their coins, he made the birds appear. The man made the birds from his hands and they were created feather by feather until their shadows were huge against the glow of the lamp light on the town hall walls. The crowd were amazed. They watched the birds and they were so distracted by the feathers that they didn't see the talons opening. One by one, the birds picked up every person in the crowd and flew away with them. Sometimes a single shoe would fall to the cobblestones. The man with birds for hands stood in the old town square and watched them soar into the evening sky ...

And then there were headlights and the rumble of a car as it pulled to a stop beside mine, gravel dust swirling in the beams of light. A door slammed. My passenger side door opened and you launched yourself over the seat, held my head in your hands and kissed me hard, tasting of something sweet and minty, before you even said hello.

The Old Man With Birds For Hands by Rjin Collins aka Bell.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Icons Project

In March I wrote a post on icons (Here). I was moving house and packing 'things' into boxes, beautiful things that stored many meanings and stories within their textured, gorgeous (and sometimes not-so-gorgeous) beings. But the presence of these icons were only useful to me in imparting their stories and their past. My little flat is tiny and anyway, my choice of abode seems to be mercurial these days. In the last six months I've drifted purposefully between the flat, the tent, the bush shack and back again. More permanent fixtures are the sleeping bag, bottles of water and some clothes on the back seat of my car.

So I put my icons into a cardboard box and started musing about what to do with them. I decided to find them new homes, in nature. To return them, so to speak. They can retain their meaning, their stories anywhere, I reasoned. I began to like the idea of one of these icons in the crook of a Kundip salmon gum and growing into it as the years go by. John Mulvaney wrote somewhere about finding a Sumatran  icon embraced by the flesh of an Arnhem Land tree, dated at 400 years previous to European colonisation.

Then I wondered about how to do this thing. Should I put GPS coordinates on them? I like the idea, sometimes. And then I don't. Google Earth and other mapping programs tend to both delight and bother me. Delight: zooming down from the sky to an inlet in Ireland or a forest in Africa or my street with my old car parked out the front; all these things are just great. Finding my way out of a karri forest at night using the GPS is even better.

Bother: because I resent the constant, intrusive eye ... the Earth is our Mother and someone (Google? NASA? Captain Cook?) has spread the Mother's legs for the camera and shone a spottie on her bits, on the secret places, on the skin's curve under her hair at the back of her neck, on the creases across her belly ... The exposure, documentation and exploitation of Earth's mysterious spaces is a uniquely human foible and something I don't always want to be party to.

Also, putting coordinates on the icons is akin to starting some kind of weird treasure hunt and that's not what I'm on about. I don't want people going looking for them. But I'd love it if somebody walking through the bush one day found an icon by accident ... and wondered what an earth a stuffed white rabbit or a brass statue of Pavarti was doing in a cave, up a tree, crouched under a shelter fashioned from corrugated iron and paperbark on the red ridge line above the river.

Here is the story of the first icon who has made it to a new home.

My friend Zeb Shyne gave me this Buddha about fifteen years ago. I first met Zeb at the Rainbow Festival at Cambrey (see the photos below) when my Pearlie was just a swaddled babe. Rainbow tights, rainbow shirt, Zeb had just returned from Africa and she shone like a fireworks the first time I saw her standing on the old railway line. I wrote a story about our friendship over the years, it's here.

Zeb bought the Buddha in a Freo op shop. She bought it because, even though she already had one exactly the same, she wanted me to have one too. Like those friendship necklaces with the love hearts that crack in half, sort of.

If you have found him and then found your way here, well then, Hello! This Buddha is nice to hold in your palm. He is round and heavy. Maybe he is carved from the lignum vitae, maybe from an Indonesian soft wood. His spine is raised, giving him a hackled look of a prehistory critter but his pose is all too human. I love the frailties in his muscular, hunched pose. If you have found him, you'll know all these things and that he is in a cave, sitting deep within the recesses of the granite walls where the light is thin and the sound of the Southern Ocean swell booms and cracks all around you.

1st Cambrey photo: