“Walk. The drum begins. Follow it. Follow the drums of thunder. Follow the sun. Follow the stars at night as they lean their long slant down the far side of the sky. Follow the lightning and the open road. Follow your compulsion. Follow your calling. Follow anything except orders and habit. Follow the fire-fare-forwards of life itself. Go where you will, burn your bridges if you must, leave the paving stones smouldering and singe the gate as you leave, leave an incendiary device by The Wall, and scorch your way across the land. I dare you.”

— Jay Griffiths, Wild

These are strong words by author Jay Griffiths. Especially, as she is a woman traditionally shaped by society to be soft, pliable, obedient, submissive. And, certainly, not someone burning down the gate as she leaves whatever household, career, institution, relationship — belief system or habit — she resided in.

As I write the above, I am waiting on the arrival of a person who has just flown in from Melbourne this morning and is presently driving down from the airport to interview me on my life’s story. Thinking about what I want to talk about, I will most certainly point out the words of Jay Griffiths.

I say this because I empathise strongly with Griffiths remarks. Burning bridges, perhaps too often, but burnt none-the-less and taking no prisoners as I stump from country to country following the drum, always following, always.

By so doing, I have achieved what I consider my greatest accomplishment in life: I got lost.

To the interviewer I will say: “More than having my art work in several museums, more than the 9,000 trees planted, more than anything else, what I value most about what I have done with my life is that I got lost in life.”

More importantly, I got lost under my own volition. Meaning, I chose to walk a path where there wasn’t a path; certainly, no signposts to guide.

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Tasmania has many international and national visitors who come here for “ten day wilderness walks” in our mountains and forests or adventurous rafting trips down rock strewn rapids.

However, as poet William Stafford has penned: “They want a wilderness with a map…”

In other words, a signpost in the wilderness, some sort of guide, a hedge on the unknown.

As Stafford and Griffiths point out, though, there is something important, necessary even, when peering into the abyss, seeing nothing, and then jumping headfirst into the void.

This past weekend, I met a man who personifies all of the above and then some. Persecuted in his native Iran for following “the lightning, but not orders and habit” he, unable to swim a single stroke, boarded a leaky fishing boat and sailed towards Australia as an “asylum seeker” ending up on Christmas Island for a year in detention as an “illegal boat person” identified not by his name but as a number.

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Not initially knowing a word of English — but speaking four other languages including Zoroastrian — Hossein Parhizkari went through the hoops and is currently, after three years of travail, working for my neighbour Tim’s company Stornoway as an engineer. A win-win for both.

Hossein can now smile as he holds up a Boat People sculpture of mine and recounts his many faceted and compelling stories.

My, seemingly, fearless choices in life pale in comparison to what Hossein chose to do, and I can only but deeply admire his strength to overcome personal fears to singe the gate as he walked out pass The Wall.

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The beauty in burning down bridges is that there are always other bridges to be constructed, other allies to be found.

Over this past weekend, Hossein and new friends enjoyed themselves here at Windgrove on the court-of-tennis rather than the court-of-law.

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When simple is enough

October 20, 2014

Even though I appear to live alone, whenever I look out onto the storm deck — especially in the evening light — I feel comforted and never, really alone.

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Comforted in knowing that the trees are there for me daily as family.

Comforted when the chairs around the dining table conjure a vision of past meals with my family of human friends.

Comforted in knowing that the empty chairs will soon enough be embracing warm hearts and touching conversation.

Life can be really peaceful. If we choose.

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I am heartened by Malala Yousafzai winning the Nobel Peace Prize because of her determination to allow girls/women access to education. Despite huge cultural pressure, she won’t be covering her face up anytime soon when she goes out into the public arena.

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When a small group of students from the University of Tasmania — School of Art came by for a visit last week, what sort of deep conversation could we have had if the females were wearing bags over their heads and not allowed to speak?

Would we, should we consider this as a sort of a clitorectomy of the mind?

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Love flowers best in openness and freedom.

Edward Abbey, ‘Desert Solitaire’

Whether a Christian, Jewish, Islamist, Buddhist or Hindu teaching, any “fundamentalist” religious dogma that pushes the feminine down has to be challenged if peace is to ever come to this troubled world.

And not just religious dogma. “Any” misogynistic behaviour has to be confronted and dealt with without fear or favour of being political correct.

Yes, we might suffer the opprobrium of public distaste for rocking the comfort zone of others — even put our lives at risk as Malala has done — but what price peace in a multi-cultural world.

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Shouldn’t we all have the right to blossom in openness and freedom and achieve our fullest potential as human beings?

Just perhaps, love between all peoples of the world might flower.

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The artist’s chief role is to shift people to a deeper understanding and appreciation of their place in this world. And, if needed, work to change their perceptions of it if those perceptions become abusive to the greater good. In other words, the artist’s main role is political, not decorative.

I defend this role with the ferocity of a mother wolf protecting her cubs.

Nearly half a century ago, as a young man recently graduated from Harvard, I worked for two years in Korea as a Peace Corps volunteer. The wrinkled, nearly toothless grandmother of the house where I lived questioned me once about a photo she saw in a magazine that depicted the many people attending Woodstock.

“Why are they barefoot?” she questioned. “Are they poor?”.

Thus started my life long quest to look at the individual and societal “unexamined assumptions” about place, culture, religion and — in the mix of all this — language.

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For the grandmother back then, just recently coming out of peasant poverty, anyone without shoes was certainly poor.

For me today, seeing a woman wearing a burka or other total facial covering connotes “oppression of the female in a patriarchal world”.

Who’s right? Whose wrong? What’s in a word? What’s in an image?

We should all be ardent believers in understanding our evolution. Not only in the physical evolution of this world and how/why our “humanness” evolved from the first cellular constructs of the ocean over 1,000,000,000 years ago, but, as importantly, we should seek to understand the evolution of our cultural norms, religions and the etymology of language.

Why? Because it is important to consider the deep origins of why we say what we say, do what we do, and, believe in what we believe.

It is not good enough to say: “I believe this because it says so in the Bible” (Koran or any other religious texts). Why? Because all present religious texts evolved out of earlier religious texts and it behoves everyone to go back to the earliest sources to glean why things might be as they are today. Are they better or worse and for whom?

Who is in control. Follow the power.

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To get to the point of this blog, does Gustave Courbet’s painting ‘Origin of the World’ — with it’s in-your-face depiction of the vulva — seem shocking, confrontational, vulgar? Or, perhaps, a brilliant representation of the reality of exactly where all humans come from?

On FaceBook this past week, I shared a quote on the origin of the word “cunt”.

It stated: ‘Cunt’ derives from ‘Kunda’ or ‘Cunti, the Oriental Great Goddess’. She was the Great Yoni (vagina) of the Universe, where all life came from and to where all life returned for renewal.

From this same name are derived the words “country”, “kin” and “kind”. So why, in the English language today is the word “Cunt” seen as a vile, obscene and vulgar swear word?

After posting the above quote on FaceBook, the public comments were positive. I did, though, receive a private email reply from overseas that read in part:

Dear P

You know I’ll query why you persist in posting on Facebook a word that is now impolite. Hundreds of words have changed their meaning in English. It’s no revelation. Awful used to mean in awe now is negative. Hundreds of words have evolved and altered.

I know you may be intentionally provocative and it’s all part of your philosophy but it saddens me as I think it could be why some of your older friends turn away.

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My intention — always — is not to be provocative just for the sake of shocking someone; rather, I want to open up doors of understanding into rooms of evolutionary usage.

My preference is for people to not just stand at the door and say: “This is the way it is today, so accept it as given.” Or, “I vote this way because I’ve always voted Labor/Liberal/Republican/Green/Tory.”

These sort of responses are, to me, a tad lazy and lack intellectual rigour; a too easy acceptance of the status quo.

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I want people — especially those of us brought up in the Judaeo/Christian/Islamist view of the world — who do view a woman’s cunt as vulgar to ask: Why?

In India the yoni is seen as sacred. In Chinese, the vernacular term is translated as “jade gate”.

However, in our western medical schools, the vagina is listed as pudendum: latin for “place of shame”.

Why the difference?

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I try to create art that is both beautiful and pregnant with questions.

I’m an optimist. I believe in a future that is socially just, spiritually fulfilling and environmentally thriving. I equally believe, though, that to get to the future we have to go way back into our past to understand our present circumstances in order to change what needs to be changed.

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I stand barefoot
in “cunt-try”
not poor but rich
planting trees of hope
proud and knowing
fully the deep
origins of my birth.

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Equinoctial thoughts

September 22, 2014

From the North Pole to the South Pole, at this time of year darkness and light fall equally across the whole of the planet. As well, even though different amounts of light and dark are experienced in winter and summer, averaged throughout the year, there is an equal measure of each. This should tell us something.

It is this way in our lives as well. In our hearts the ups and downs, the downs and ups occupy equal territory. Over a lifetime, they should pretty much balance out.

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One day looks promising and full of beauty.

The next day we awake to our dreams shredded of their blossoms in a single night.

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Yes, I wept. Such tender beauty vanished in the dark by rampaging possums before reaching full fruit bearing potential.

When this tree and three others were planted out a week earlier, I “had” taken pains to provide what I thought was sufficient protection. But obviously, the possum’s ability to leap was higher than I had anticipated.

Frustrated? Yes.

Angry? A little.

Defeated? No.

Just wise enough to know that what happened was all in the mix of things and that I would not remain disheartened for too long.

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Over the weekend I re-built the somewhat goofy looking possum barrier on this very sad looking crab apple tree and then reinforced three other trees where the possum’s footsteps told of exploratory behaviour. It took all day, but in the end, as ridiculous as the trees looked, I felt good inside. Happy even. I had done my best.

“Try jumping this high, Mr. Possum”, I said to myself as I lay down my tools and looked out across the gathering beauty of the land and sea, content to be mellow whilst riding the highs and lows of existence.

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As with the crab apple tree, out of the wreckage of the picnic table smashed a few weeks ago by a falling tree, there now stands the new table. Firewood cut from the fallen tree will warm the house in winter. The old table will make fine kindling.

We make of the dark days what we will.

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And this morning I saw from the tip — of a previously denuded twig — red blushes determined to push forth announcing their rightful place in the world.

May we all find hope in this simple act.

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Here in the southern hemisphere, September is the time of spring blossoms. Not unlike the blossoming almond tree the poet Rilke writes about, the wisteria in my garden today is pungent with childhood memories of Michigan in March.

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How to Bloom

The almond trees in bloom: all we can accomplish here is to ever know ourselves in our earthly appearance.

I endlessly marvel at you, blissful ones— at your demeanour,
the way you bear your vanishing adornment with timeless purpose,
Ah, to understand how to bloom: then would the heart be carried
beyond all milder dangers, to be consoled in the great one.

Rilke

Also today, in the newly established Middle Garden (more in a future blog) a pushing forth of spring blossoms from two crab apple trees just planted. Yet another reminder of childhood in Michigan where “a softness, as if from everywhere, is touching the earth”.

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Threshold of Spring

Harshness gone. All at once caring spreads over
the naked gray of the meadows.
Tiny rivulets sing in different voices.
A softness, as if from everywhere,

is touching the earth.
Paths appear across the land and beckon.
Surprised once again you sense
its coming in the empty tree.

Rilke

At this time of year, who cannot but feel the power within spring blossoms to open one’s heart to life? Perhaps even, to summon up a budding courage to ask for a formal sharing of love?

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In the above photo, behind the wisteria is the Peace Bus where Ben and Marisa spent the weekend. What fragrance flowed imperceptibly into the bus as they lay sleeping? Who knows, but in the morning, in the topsy turvy world of Windgrove, Marisa asked Ben to marry her. Lucky them.

Good luck for me, too, as their newly committed love pushed forth more than spring blossoms. Actually, two wheelbarrows full of firewood and lots of kindling to make sure that even I could experience the new found fire in their hearts.

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