is In Wild Air
India Flint is an artist who works with windfallen leaves, cloth and paper, stones and bones, words and drawings. She has authored several books, teaches (mostly) internationally which helps keep food on the table (and in the dogs’ bowls) and exhibits from time to time. When at home she lives on the eastern shoulders of the Mount Lofty Ranges in South Australia.
Visiting Maui I have been introduced to hula, also known as kahiko, a tradition melding dance, chanting and music through which history and philosophy have been passed down in Polynesian culture. Outlawed for many years (along with the language) after Christian missionaries arrived in the islands in the 1820s, it was reinstated some seventy years later. I participated in an introductory lesson and found the reverence for nature and the poetry of place expressed in the chanted words along with the beat of the gourds and the gentle choreography remarkable. Though not my own culture, it resonated deeply with me.
Alexander von Humboldt
I have been reading a wonderful book about the life of Alexander von Humboldt, The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf. Von Humboldt was an early observer of the changes wrought to local climate by deforestation and postulated that all forms of life on the planet were interlinked. He noted that when forests were cleared, top-soils were washed away in the rain, which in turn decreased (because there were less trees putting moisture back into the atmosphere), leading to rivers and streams becoming smaller… an eventual desertification of the region. My home state of South Australia (a name which, curiously, means South South) boasts less than 5% of the tree cover that it had before European settlement. As the driest state on the driest continent, we should be planting more trees, not clearing remnant vegetation for more cropping. The clearing that goes on in Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania, the bushfire ravages everywhere will have dramatic consequences for the sustainability of our land.
Fields of Stone
"Wherever you go, there you are" a philosophical approach to being present, promulgated by A.A.Milne through that well-beloved bear (sometimes apostrophised as ‘silly’ and ‘old’ but in reality deeply wise) Winnie the Pooh. For myself I take it as being open and receptive to place, wherever those marmalade stains on the map (borrowed from that other beloved bear of fiction, Paddington) take me. It’s that moment of finding the beauty in a small flower struggling to make its way through a crack in the pavement, the first snowflake of winter on your cheek, the whiff of eucalyptus when you arrive back on the big red island.
W.H.Auden is said to have coined a word for the love of place, topophilia … and so many of us who travel, overcome by topophilia then also become petrophiliacs (those who share the love of stones) , a condition which goes hand in hand with the desperate need to bring stones home in your pocket…creating the possibility of confusion for the geologists of the future as they encounter and wonder at unusual erratics.
Most of us like to leave a mark of some kind when we’ve been somewhere…and a gentle stone stack is a relatively harmless way of doing this. It has its roots in many cultures; that of leaving a pebble behind when visiting a grave, of building a cairn as a waymarker, of constructing inuksuit (stone figures that resemble stylized people). Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia has grown a field of such monuments, many in remembrance for loved ones lost in the Swissair plane disaster of 1998.
An apron is a fine thing. It’s a shield against the doings of the day, its pockets are a repository for things you need close to hand and something to mop up the last glass of red you accidentally spilled. In the depression era of the last century they were often constructed from floursacks, and in the fifties your hostess might have worn a chic little number in organza at a fashionable dinnerparty. Mine today is made from a repurposed thrift store-sourced shirt, cut, flipped and embellished with a few stitched blessings. When holes blossom on it I mend them with slow stitches, and when stains threaten to dominate I overdye the whole thing in a pot of eucalyptus.
When it eventually wears out, I make string from it…twining the remaining shreds together just like the first string twiner did, some 20,000 years ago.
I have a daily meditation practice I call "mindpond".
- Stand with your feet nicely apart (tadasana :: mountain pose - as I understand it, is good).
- Breathing in, raise your arms slowly in a wide arc until your hands meet above your head. Stretch your 'wings' as far as they can comfortably go.
- Lower your arms (still in an arc) while breathing out.
- Roll out your shoulders, let your arms go soft and your hands heavy, let them sink down.
- Imagine a beautiful pond in your mind. Give it whatever surroundings you like. Take a lovely pebble and toss it in. Watch the splash, and watch the ripples spread.
- After a while, imagine the ripples coming in to the centre again.
- Take your time.
- Watch as the water in your pond becomes still and calm.
- Take a few good deep breaths, open your eyes again (I find mine tend to close during the practice) and step into the day. I find it a good beginning (and also a very fine calming practice when beginning long flights…obviously not on the flightdeck).
from here it looks as though
the ocean has been butter smoothed in parts perhaps with a hot knife
one cottonball cloud hangs
motionless above its pink echoing seashadow
down at land’s edge the palms
make a bobbly fringe
while seven small doves
compose an oratorio high on the wires
that carry a different kind of current up the hill
streaming past the casuarinas
standing motionless in the soft air
offering their own quiet cadenza
like the sound from that shell your mother
put into your hand
way back in your third summer and said
listen, the water is calling
Casuarinas are a remarkable genus; at home in Australia, the islands of the Pacific and also on the Indian subcontinent. Their tenacity makes them wonderful pioneer plants, with the ability to grow in areas that are so degraded that no other tree will take root. They replenish the ground with stores of nitrogen and catch any passing moisture with their nubbly fronds (which are really twigs bearing minute scale leaves), so that caught water fingered from the sky drips gently to the ground. And all the while they sing their quiet songs like big breathing Aeolian harps, write their coded poetry on the ground around in lines that can be read with bare feet, like braille for the soul (a phrase borrowed from here).