Twenty two years ago an arsonist set fire to a forest that eventually destroyed four homes. Mine was one of them.
At the beginning of the fire, while the house was still whole and standing, two firemen arrived with a fire truck and went, oddly, inside the house and started spraying down the walls. They calmly assured: “The house will be okay, although there will be some smoke and water damage”.
With no need to gather up valuables I had nothing to do except tend to small spot fires in the gardens and small pond at the back of the house while occasionally zipping into the house for a breather when the smoke and heat outside became too great.
But then, just as I walked into the house for another cooling off period, the two firemen ran past me with their firehoses shouting “Quick, get outside, we’re losing it”. Within seconds the whole of the house imploded. All three stories of her.
The heat was so intense that literally nothing survived except for the metal strings of the baby grand piano, the metal roof, water pipes and other non-combustibles. Melted glass puddled on the ground.
The home I had designed and built when I first got to Tasmania in 1985 disappeared as quickly as the fog off the pond on a summer’s morning. The ash pile contained everything I possessed. And I walked away with just the smokey clothes I was wearing.
Except, that is, for one little box. A shoe box that I had grabbed unconsciously as I was fleeing the house.
Later, when opening the shoe box to see what was in it, I told myself that whatever the contents were, they would give me guidance in how to move into my now totally clean, blank slate, mortgage free future unhindered by possessions.
Opening this personal “ark of the covenant” was a mixture of trepidation and excitement. Especially so, since only a month earlier while canoeing down the Arthur river I had knelt down in prayer on a riverbank at dusk one evening and stated to the darkening air: “I am ready to be of greater service”.
Inside were two small items. Both would provide an important message in how and what I should be doing in the years to come.
The first was a small packet of brads. The type of nail used in fine, finish work. What this signified to me was the importance of “rebuilding” again; to continue my life as an artist — a creative maker of things beautiful and finely crafted — but now, using art in service for the greater good.
The second item was even more significant as it provided an insight into how I might approach a future dedicated to “being of greater service”. No, it wasn’t a book on the wisdom of the Buddha. Nor some religious reliquary. Rather, it was a plain packet of condoms.
All smiles and giggles aside, the condoms symbolized two things. The first was simply to find pleasure in the daily activities of life again and not be overly burdened by those huge material losses suffered.
Secondly, I took the packet of condoms to symbolize “sensuality” rather than “sexuality”. Coupling the condoms with the nails, i.e. sensuality with art, I then added the notion of “being of greater service”. Thus began the slow process of educating myself on the many philosophical, cultural and spiritual issues surrounding deep ecology, ecofeminism, social ecology, systems theory and the evolutionary science behind the sensuality of our planet Gaia.
“Re-sacralizing the sensual” became my artistic calling. And has continued so for the past twenty two years.
I turned the ashes of my Bonnet Hill home into what is now called Windgrove: a refuge for learning.
The Real work
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.