Progress

August 24, 2014

At the age of 90, the famous cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continued to practice.

His reply: “Because I think I’m making progress”.

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Twenty five wheelbarrow loads of top soil later and four exotic African proteas planted out in hollowed out sections from the tree that fell two weeks ago, a friend’s motorhome is now able to enter through the gate without too much of a hassle and park it trouble free in the newly created wallaby proof lawned and flowered area next to the veggie patch.

It doesn’t look like much, this new area, as the progress in building it is incremental, but it is, even if small, a new addition to Windgrove.

In many ways, it is hard to stop doing the work around here — even though my body aches for a rest — because I think I’m “always” making progress with the garden, with my sculpture, with my grumpiness, with my ability to talk convincingly about climate change, even with my tennis.

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Come to think of it, even plants never give up practicing. Hence, evolution.

What would have happened, if 600 million years ago the Ediacarans in the ancient oceans decided that they didn’t need to keep practicing and improving their form. You and I certainly wouldn’t be writing or reading this blog, that’s for sure.

So, we can safely say that: Evolution is a process that never doubts for a moment that it isn’t making progress. What Pablo Casals said, therefore, has been ingrained in our DNA since time first began.

Nothing ever stops wanting to improve. Even if it takes a million years.

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That’s what my tennis coach keeps saying to me: “It’ll be a million years before that serve gets any good.”

Guess, I’ll just keep practicing.

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Born Bad. Really?

August 18, 2014

This past week I was asked to share my understanding of design with a group of students from the University of Tasmania’s School of Art.

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Yes, I took them into my studio and explained the importance of learning technical and basic design skills, and equally important, that underlining each work of art is a foundation of real-life experiences.

I, also (gently) impressed upon them how vital it was to be competent in articulating a philosophical discourse of the why’s and how’s of one’s personal artistic direction. Especially, if one’s artwork is nestled in environmental, social or political action.

And lastly, ….. to see the sacred in even the most mundane.

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Yes, the most mundane.

Take, for instance, the view from the latest composting toilet I’ve just built next to the tennis court. Along with some basic carpentry requirements I acquired during a four year apprenticeship in Alaska, this toilet’s placement came about only after many years of apprenticeship to the real world of leaf litter, rain dripping branches, life and death.

It sings with a beauty found in any cathedral and to sit upon this throne is a blessed sacred experience with it’s own unique “rose window” of a silver peppermint tree.

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But, truth be told, I’m more interested in the ergonomics of a person’s soul than I am of any “rules” behind composition or composting or form versus function.

What I most want to get across to any student is that we humans are not “Born Bad”; that the concept of Original Sin is but a fabrication of the western mind. It is a religious/cultural meme more destructive to world peace than any nuclear weapon.

Humans are, instead, born blest with an inherent goodness. Theologian Matthew Fox calls this our “Original Blessing”.

Coupled with an inquisitive scientific curiosity and innate artistic talents, we humans have a tremendous ability — responsibility, even — to portray the beauty of this earth and our own animal selves in such a way that peace truly does have the potential to prevail everywhere on this Earth.

A hard task, for sure. Despite what is happening in Iraq, Gaza, Ukraine or the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, we are born with the inner tools to handle the job of making the world a more peaceful, joyful place. And, handle it brilliantly.

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The best classroom, therefore, is the classroom where there is room for one’s inspired soul to fly. Where there is no limit to the number of directions towards which one could sail.

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Wind in the Grove

August 11, 2014

My work for the day was finished. I showered, poured a glass of wine and went back outside to sit on the deck where I could look out across Storm Bay in the fading light. The wine poured was a reward for all the physical effort spent cutting down — at a distance from the house — first, a tree that had got hung up in another tree during the day’s wind storm, and second, cutting down yet another tree after I had unintentionally hung up the second tree in a third tree while dealing with the first tree. Wind in trees is always tricky.

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Just to the left of the deck was: the ‘Old One’ — a silver peppermint eucalyptus tree one botanist said was “pre-european” indicating an age exceeding 200 years. Beneath one of its near horizontal overhanging branches was the “picnic table of fond memories” of lunches and candle-lit dinners. Or, even breakfast on a misty morning.

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The wind was still gusting hard. Huge waves pounded loud as they broke into foaming masses of watery weight. The noise level was, as expected, many decibels above even a “high” decibel day. But, as always, exciting. Hence, the wine with the wind outside on the deck.

I love immersing myself with drink in wild nature.

And then I heard it.

Like the indigenous hunter who can spot the one tiny dark shadow of his prey in the midst of a thousand of other night shadows, I heard the faint sound of a sound through the many other more loud sounds. This departure from the familiar indicated, not food for the table, but danger; imminent danger.

It was a “cracking” sound and not the “creaking” sound trees make when they sway in wind rubbing branch against branch.

It was a warning sound: a desperate plea from this ancient elder telling me that it could no longer hold on.

My eyes zoomed over to the big Old One and picked out the tiniest of cracks running up the trunk dividing one massive branch away from the main body of the trunk. With each successive wind gust and resultant near imperceptible “crack”, it became evident that this tree was soon — within a minute or two — doomed to fall.

And fall directly onto my house.

What to do? I tried calling my neighbour Steve to come help, but he was an hour’s drive away. I thought maybe I should call the SES (special emergency service) crew to come help, but the light was beginning to fail fast and I didn’t think they would get here in time.

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A bending tree is more than a bit tricky to cut down as its weight will surly shift in a counter-intuitive direction and drop heavily on the person beneath it. Without ropes and others helping to guide it to a less destructive landing, one takes a big chance doing it alone.

Yet, I had to take my chances as to do nothing would surely guarantee the house and chimney being crushed. Felling the tree intact before the branch over the house cleaved away from the others seemed the only option as the “bonded” weight of the still whole tree might just move the falling mass away from the house. I grabbed my chainsaw and took a deep breath.

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On this day luck was on my side as it was the picnic table and not the house that took the direct hit.

Cleanup has begun.

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Speed walk

August 4, 2014

Last week I wrote about a small group of Buddhists that walked slowly around the Peace Path in meditation. The distance covered is around 2 kilometers or 1.5 miles.

Most readers would know that along the path there are several “stations of the cross” locations where a bench and a view allow for a bit of reflection time.

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Yesterday, I thought it might be interesting if I could portray, in video format, the whole of the walk. The camera was set on “time lapse” shooting a frame every four seconds and I walked for 67 minutes — meaning, that over 1,000 images were captured.

Take a seat as you might fall down from getting dizzy.

Click on the video below for a 34 second whirlwind speed trip around the Peace Path. It starts at the Peace Garden and ends up at the Wombat Bench.

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For “better or worse”, the house I designed has 126 windows. Forty eight of these double paned windows are in the six floor-to-ceiling French doors that line the north and west sides of the house.

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“Better” in the sense that even on the most overcast day there is sufficient light within the house to keep the light bulbs turned off, thereby, saving on the storage of electricity in the house’s batteries. This electricity being gained through roof top solar panels on sunny days. And, also, who doesn’t like the viewed expanse of nature to be so present within one’s home?

“Worse” in the sense that these windows have to be hand washed twice a year. Counting both sides of these windows, the total is 252 panes of glass that have to be cleaned of accumulated grit, salt spray and greasy fingerprints from tiny hands that just love pressing into glass.

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Last week, over three days, I got stuck into doing 80 of the windows.

What never fails to impress me is this: Looking out of these windows before washing them, everything seems okay because the clouding up of the windows is such a gradual dimming of the view, that I don’t notice the change. But after the washing, wow. Such clarity. Such intensity. The fine detail of life that was hidden now pops out — once again.

I say, “once again” because it happens every year, twice a year, this re-enchantment of clarity that comes only after one takes the time to clean up the fine layer of film clouding one’s vision.

As it happened, yesterday a group of Buddhist’s came to visit me with the intention of walking slowly — with focus and intention — Windgrove’s 2 kilometer Peace Path.

Before the walk and after the walk, these ten people were in the house sharing small talk and large talk.

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As I sat with them around the dining table, I couldn’t help but see within the window washing an analogy to life: Slow down, walk with radical presence, observe the minutia of life. This will clear the mind of all those little bits of gritty stress that can slowly build up and dull the intense beauty that is so readily available to all of us. It takes a little bit of elbow grease, but the results will astound.

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This morning, with its clear blue sky, the completed addition of four new galvanized raised beds stand finished and ready for planting out with spring potatoes. They join another eighteen put in place in another lifetime (it seems).

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The installation required placing the beds in place, filling them with dirt (by hand), sinking five upright posts with attached rafters, and lastly, removing the old wire netting and stretching new wire to cover the lot and, thereby, possum proof the garden once again.

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It took three working days. The trick was not to undo the old wire netting until everything was in place. To have started and not finished before night fall would have allowed the possums access to the inner sanctuary and they would have run amuck and feasted on all the winter vegetables growing there.

Three days hard work, plus expenses, for just a few extra potatoes? Why am I not in my studio doing the “real” work of being an artist? Perplexing question as to what work is really important. Perhaps, all work?

Lately, I have been spending more of my time around the property on maintenance and other projects than I have in my studio. Also, last week from Tuesday till Friday I had between seven and nine overnight guests. (Went to bed for two days with a 103 degree fever when they all left.)

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This doesn’t mean that I am not trying to get to my studio. The above photo shows — with the new garden enclosure in the background — an upright model standing just behind a nine foot long hunk of wood being carved to its shape. With time, it will become ten rounded abdomens with belly buttons in bas relief stacked five on a side. A sort of honouring of all placental mammals.

Some considerable technical issues regarding tensile strength, but fingers crossed. I’ll probably be eating the potatoes before the sculpture gets finished. The “artistic” world will just have to wait until “my” world catches up with all its chores and multiple other passions.

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