Keys to coping

December 8, 2014

There are those days when my life seems to be on the verge of collapse; when standing emotionally erect is difficult. Same for you?

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But there are ways of coping that do more than just stabilize. They inspire through a re-charging of the soul.

1. One of these ways is through connecting with nature. Not just once, but over and over again on a daily basis.

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Think of nature as your lover, your most intimate partner. Take a vow of fidelity and life long commitment. Make a ritual of it.

2. Another way is to connect with people who share similar interests about art and the natural environment.

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Recently I hosted ten interstate and international visitors on a MONA art-nature tour at Windgrove. Walking and talking on hallowed ground can’t help but boost those spiritual endorphins that are released with the inter-connectedness of all beings.

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3. And just over a week ago I hosted a nature mythologies workshop given by photographer Lucia Rossi where the seven of us delighted in the mutually supportive challenge of learning new techniques and a new way of engagement with nature. Along with an intelligent and passionate presentation by a knowledgeable teacher, there is nothing like good food and conversation to nourish what needs to be nourished.

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4. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, is the need to get down on one’s knees and look humbly and with awe at what is present in the natural world. It drips with gold. And is easily available should we look for it.

How rich we all are.

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The face of death

November 24, 2014

It is not much discussed, but one of the pluses in living close to nature on a daily basis — especially for children —is becoming intimate with the cyclic process of life and death.

All around me are the skeletal and fleshy remains of the once living. With all this exposure, eventually the face of death becomes nothing to be feared; even humorous with a toothy sort of grin.

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Sometimes, though, there is no humour and we, instead, have to make hard choices in this cyclic dance.

Choosing between the life and death of one in order to save the life of another/others is never a simple or pain free decision.

Poet William Stafford writes of this:

Traveling through the Dark

Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.

By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.

My fingers touching her side brought me the reason –
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.

The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.

I thought hard for us all — my only swerving –,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.

William Stafford

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A human introduced the kookaburra into Tasmania, most likely because of its unique laughter. Who doesn’t love this raucous sound?

However, with its massive bill and highly developed hunting skills, this bird is no match for the smaller Tasmanian birds hiding in shrubs trying their best to protect their nest of fledglings.

For two reasons: One, is that they have not evolved along with the kookaburra to develop defensive strategies, and, Two, there is no natural predator in Tasmania — as opposed to mainland Australia — to help keep the Kookaburra in check from over populating their flocks.

The little birds eat the smaller insects that can infect tree populations. A flock of kookaburras will rid my grove of trees from these “protective” little birds.

My 20 gauge shotgun plays god. The ravins pick over the bones.

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Likewise for feral cats (who seem to remain definite even in death).

Children brought up in the bush know all about the cycles of life and death. And, as importantly, when it is appropriate to use or not use a gun.

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Encore

November 17, 2014

Two years ago a potted cactus on my front deck bloomed for the first time. Yesterday, five major flower heads had, over a period of a month, once again pushed their way past the piercing thorns and waited for night fall. While I slept, they opened up — for moths and bats, I suppose.

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When I opened the glass doors and walked onto the deck and into the morning’s early light, what I found most remarkable — was not the stunning fragile display of delicate whites and deep throated yellows — but a perfumed fragrance that truly hit me with a mesmerising force more steeped in night visions than day time antics.

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So very different from last week’s blog entry on the smell of the kunzia flower. This flower spoke of a sensual encounter with a mysterious stranger late, oh so late, at night while the moon misted a spell on propriety and mature manners.

In Buddhist teachings, the lotus flower is symbolic of the transformation from muddy beginnings into a blossoming of full enlightenment and self awareness.

In the cactus flower, the symbolism for me is this: the birth of the sacred feminine pushing through the prickly phallic masculine and opening up into a full vulvic display; proud and fragrant with delight.

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Much has been written about our culture’s view of the vagina as vagina dentata, but looking at this flower’s display of it’s sexual organs, there is nothing that would suggest a Freudian castration complex or anything sinister or malevolent.

The fears men have of women’s sexuality leads in its most drastic form to FGM — female genital mutilation.

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To bring an end to this mistreatment of our women, more men should be sticking their noses into the business of flowers. They just might come away with an hierophantic experience where the sacred made, not just an appearance, but a life changing appearance.

Postscript

This morning, after posting the above blog yesterday, I awoke to find all the flowers on the cactus eaten by a possum or, possibly, several possums. I say “several” because during the night there was a lot of heavy duty scampering along the deck just outside my bedroom window. More so than normal.

I don’t know if the flower of this particular cactus has any hallucinogenic qualities, but something got these possums moving. Looking at the cactus (below photo), one can only guess at what happened. Nothing much left.

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The smell of nostalgia

November 10, 2014

When I was a youngster in Detroit, a “chore” I enjoyed doing was mowing the lawn. Nothing petrol/gas driven, just a simple hand mower that made a lovely twirling sound when pushed.

I could earn a quarter if I mowed the neighbour’s lawn, or a couple of dimes, at least. Pocket money, for sure, but more than the money, the best part about mowing was to both see the straight mown marks across the freshly cut lawn, and, to breath in the fragrance of this cut grass.

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Whoever has mown lawns as a kid knows exactly what I’m talking about. Seeing the tire marks signified a job well done. And the smell — so uniquely suburban and innocent.

As an adult, the sweet nostalgia this smell can elicit when mowing one’s own heavily mortgaged house lawn, makes life seem to be a perpetually soft, easy going Sunday afternoon. Except now, the sweat accompanying this nostalgia is accompanied with a gin and tonic instead of lemonade.

In the below photo, my G&T “sit spot” is at the far end of the curving retainer wall.

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But back up a bit, dear reader, and place yourself just behind the flowering red kangaroo paws and take in all that the photo shows. Looks rather picturesque, yes? Nicely mown lawn, blue sky, balanced composition; tranquility.

Step closer and gaze down at the white flowering prostrate kunzia bush in front of the massive stone guardians at the entrance to the house.

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Rather tame looking, isn’t it.

And this is my point. No smart phone or iPad or blog photo can deliver the smells associated with being outdoors. In the case of the kunzia flowers, their fragrance has to be the most sensual of all flowering plants: a deeply delicious buttery coconut.

Stick your nose into these flowers and one cannot help but be transported to an adolescent summer’s day where one’s fingers are tentatively rubbing sun tan oil onto the skin of the first person you’ve kissed.

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Wasting artistic time?

November 3, 2014

“When you’re up to your ass in crocodiles it’s hard to think about draining the swamp.”

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Can you see in the middle of the above photo the notched bit of wood that is my next sculpture ‘Belly Buttons’? If so, I’m glad you can because I haven’t seen it in several months.

Littered across the front of the sculpture is the detritus of the many other jobs that have taken me out of the studio.

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And still to come (as visible in this photo): #1 — reworking the Denmark sculpture ‘Buddha Beads’ presently under a large grey tarp in order to install it somewhere on the land. #2 — two stacks of wood delivered last week for two separate projects: posts for the Gaia Walk and boards to replace rotting decks, and, #3 in the foreground, over 100 star pickets and enough fencing material (300 meters) to surround the three dams that comprise the Peace Garden as required for public liability insurance.

My friend Paulus chided me a few months ago by saying, after I told him about the Middle Garden Project I was constructing, “Why aren’t you making art?”

Yes, indeed. But the question could be asked: “Is the making of art necessarily confined to one’s studio?”.

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All I have to do is look at a page out of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks to feel assured that I’m being creative. I mean, Leonardo had several ideas/projects going on at once and no one ever chided him for rarely finishing anything other than a few wonderful paintings. No one ever thought he was wasting his time on irrelevant projects.

To Leonardo, everything — no matter how mundane — could be looked upon with an artistic eye and scientific curiosity.

“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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