Wilderness — A Meditation

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Byron Bay

Byron Bay, the eastern most community in Australia, lies at the edge of a fertile volcanic plain created by an exploding Mt. Warning twenty million years ago. In the more recent past, the residents have worked overtime to create themselves as a tourist destination. And yet, the gossip is that Byron Bayites have a love hate relationship with those who arrive to celebrate the largest Australian Blues festival in spring and the Byron Bay Writers Festival in winter.

My own feelings about this town by the bay are mixed. In future, if others visitors meet with the same attitude that I encountered, it is unlikely that they will return.

My son, an artist from San Francisco, and his partner came to visit in Queensland just before Easter. Where did I take them to show off the eastern beaches of Australia? Yep, we hopped onto the Gold Coast Highway and drove south two hundred kilometres into New South Wales and Byron Bay. Booking them into the Beach Hotel in Byron was intended to be extra-ordinary gift.

In 2000 my first experience in Byron Bay had been punctuated by a hundred more or less lorikeets all screeching into the same gum tree by our motel, a medium priced accommodation where I later brought my daughter Sarah and her friends when they came to visit me in Oz.

Then, the joy of Byron was inherent in the lovely Beach Cafe, rustic, hidden by tall palms and low lying scrub from pristine white sands. Enjoying coffee on the patio surrounded by a rope fence upon which chortled an inquisitive Butcher Bird, who waited for a chance to steal my breakfast sausage, I laughed at the lorikeets determined to sit, not on the rope, but on the lip of our glasses to sip orange juice. Perky little buggers.

I wanted to take my son to that same breakfast spot on the beach. Only it no longer exists in that form. A modern structure has replaced the rustic, comfortable patio and coffee kiosk that had been so comfy eight years earlier.

Byron is changing as are my circumstances. The two level room at the Beach Hotel with a price tag of $400 a night was perfect for my son, his partner and me. The kids could share the queen-sized bed downstairs while I luxuriated in one of the twin beds on the upper level.

Another hundred lorikeet pairs flocked to the gum trees between our hotel room and the Pacific foreshore out screeching my tinnitus. There were no screens on the sliding glass doors looking out onto the Pacific Ocean and the Byron mosquitoes invaded and munched the two downstairs residents as they slept.

But, finally, the reason I may not go back to Byron Bay? In summer, spring and fall, New South Wales goes on Daylight Savings Time setting their clocks an hour ahead of those in Queensland whose residents sleep an hour later than their southern cousins.

When we crossed the border, we were supposed to change the clock to accommodate New South Wales. I forgot. Actually, I didn't forget. I didn't even think about the time differential.

Having spent the previous evening talking long into the night, we slept in til 9 a.m. When the telephone rang at what we thought was 9:30 in the morning, we were in the midst of our morning preparations. The voice on the other end of the phone declared. 'This is the desk. We have a full house tonight. Our household staff needs into your room.'

Confused I said, ' I thought check out time was 10 a.m.'

'It is now 10:30.'

'Oh, New South Wales is on day light savings time? I forgot. We were supposed to change our clocks when we crossed the border?'

'Most do. We need into the room as soon as possible. We are full tonight.'

I was chagrined to find that we had over stayed our $400 visit by half an hour and apologetic about our tardiness. 'My children are just stepping out of the shower. We will return the room key in half an hour.'

'Check out time is 10 a.m.,' came the curt response.

The voice on the other end was derisive and superior, anything but friendly.

The kids finished packing. The joy of watching them swim in the pool the afternoon before, of watching them discover their first bearded dragon and their surprise in the greenery was overwhelmed by one desk clerk's curt cold response.

All the extraordinary beauty and ambiance of Byron Bay including the residents' attempt to keep music and art at the forefront suddenly meant nothing.

As we stopped at the desk fifteen minutes after our 'wake up' call, we were once again admonished.

I once again apologized. My explanation was met by a sniggering, 'Queensland ought to get with the program.'

And so, our trip to the lighthouse, the ocean centric headland, the long look north and east to our home in North America was to some extent coloured grey instead of brilliant blue/green. The phallic symbol of the lighthouse took on a brand new symbolism of Australian rudeness, so unlike most of the people whom I have met down under in my eight
years of living here.

As my guests walked down the steps to the rocky scrub at the bottom of the headland, the westerly breeze brushing our hair back over our shoulders cleared my head and swept away the admonitions of the morning, but not sufficiently that I will ever return just for the joy of it. There are other headlands in eastern Australia. It's time to investigate a few of them.

Love Letters

Here's a remark made in a conversation about the SC gov's recent trip to Argentina –

" It's too bad this had to happen in real life, because this all has the
makings of a smashing romance novel.


And here's my response –

It's because life does happen in real that romance novels attract so many readers. WE all know that someone out there is living all this angst and adventure - it's just not us at the moment..we read to keep hope alive!!

I listened to MSNBC read one of the emails. It was entirely universal. I've written that same email when I was "in love". I've received that same email when my men have been 'in love' with me.

What a wonderment to know that age has nothing to do with the 'falling' of falling in love - that obstreperous moment when we give up everything because the 'rutting' season has begun. How entirely like the other mammals we are!! I suppose the part that fascinates me the most about human beings is that 'season' does not end when fertility ends. Even the 'oldies' fall in love, act silly, and give up any pretension of sanity when 'desire' hits.

And all of my remarks above have nothing to do with my position about loyalty in relationships and my certainty that raising children needs to take precedence over one's 'animal instincts' - once one chooses a partner, one makes a commitment to the well being of the offspring.

None of which has anything to do with serving in political office. The part that is distasteful is that anyone actually thinks it makes any difference to one's ability to serve in political office. What's that all about?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Health Care Stories for America

Hey, you democrats,

Remember when the e-mail from Obama asked you to tell your health care stories?

Well, over 40,000 folks did. Those stories are all collated on the web site attached to the title of this post. Click on the title of this post and when you arrive at the web site: Health Care for America, type in the area of the country in which you live and read what your neighbors have to say.

I love it when common everyday folks take a moment to share.

The other aspect of this compendium is that we really can write, we Americans. Well, told, harrowing, sweet, amazing moments in the lives of America.

Hooray for those who compiled the web page and for the internet itself which makes it all possible.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Starry Night

He could always find Orion
although young
he saw the innocent sword.

Because I was his mother
I could not speak what boys
should know. No sharing of manhood

between us. I keep silence
before the faintly moving stars.

Shirley George-Lin Lim: I think of “Starry night” as a lyrical meditation on the relation between mother and son. The young boy may be innocent that is, ignorant and naive, but unlike his mother, he understands “manhood” as his existential condition. As a woman, the mother admits this mystery about her son; she admits the limitations of what she can know about him. Orion is the name of a large, brilliant constellation of stars, figured as a hunter with belt and hound, coming form the Greek mythological hunter Orion, who was killed by the god Artemis. The son’s ability to recognize Orion suggests his innate acknowledgment of his male subjectivity. But the image of Orion, the hunter, is both powerful and tragic. Incipient manhood carries with it the possibilities of tragic development, not simply strength and power but also violence and death. The mother’s silence is a kind of wisdom before what must remain a mystery to her, and what she recognizes as an inevitable separation as her son grows up

Bill Moyers: Yet the poem is also silent abut the mother’s feelings.

Shirley George-Lin Lim: It is. I wished to leave this evocative, unspoken space for the readers to fill up with their own emotions. Perhaps a father, a son, reading it will respond differently and reading the poem under different conditions, the same reader might discover a different emotion in it - grief at separation, acceptance, joy in the mystery of the son’s separate life, perhaps a moment of clarity at the illumination of a relationship.”

Shirley George-Lin Lim speaking with Paul Moyers

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Finding a Publisher

Have spent the entire afternoon rearranging the chapters for Butcher Bird Blues, the American title for Lorraine's and my memoir – Coming to Oz.

The entire manuscript, all 380 pages (can you believe it?) has been sent to 8 Aussie publishers.

Now there is an American version with one additional chapter that begins in America instead of in Scotland. Phew! I have a couple of ideas for a new book, but it's really hard to start a new one til the first one is in print.

I know friends and relatives think me arrogant to assume that my first book even deserves to be printed, but there are so many delightful moments within those pages! Surely, someone would pay$14.00 to take a look.

Anyhow..just thot I'd share that angst with ya'll!

Be well..Saturday has been delightful..may all of you who still have it to look forward to find the same is true in your world.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Amy Walker - 26 ways to identify oneself

Gimundo has so many good videos that feel like celebrations. Here is one that may entertain as well as challenge.

I have been trying to give up my loud American accent for the past nine years - fat chance!

Amy manages to identify herself in 26 different English ways. I so enjoyed although I thought the Aussie version a bit broad.

I urge you to sit back and enjoy

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fall in Love - more Rumi with the aid of Colman Barks

Time’s knife slides from the sheath,
as a fish from where it swims.

Being closer and closer is the desire
of the body. Don’t wish for union!

There’s a closeness beyond that. Why
would God want a second God? Fall in

love in such a way that it frees you
from any connecting. Love is the soul’s

light,the taste of morning, no me,
no we, no claim of being. These words

are the smoke the fire gives off as it
absolves its defects, as eyes in slience,

tears, face. Love cannot be said.

A New Blog - An Australian in America

Ok, check it out. I think you'll enjoy.

An Aussie taking the piss out of Americans in the most pleasant manner; Jack is someone I have known on line for the past couple of years. He is friendly, funny, and insightful; altogether a fine recommendation for another way to laugh your way through an afternoon or evening on line.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

These Boots Are Meant for Trekking

Camille pulled her boots on over her heavy hiking socks, left the laces loose, stood and walked around the cabin. It had been a long time since she'd worn them. It had been a long time since she had been here in the cabin, she thought as she tripped through the front screen door and plopped onto one of the green canvass chairs sitting on the huge granite monolith that made up the front porch.

Fumbling around under the chair, she reached for her coffee while watching the swirling snowmelt rush down Lone Pine Creek across the road. Finding the cup, she raised it to her lips and sipped the now cooled caffeine and leaned back to view the pine and fir filled canyon.

Her feet were beginning to feel comfy inside the boots, “home sweet home,” she could hear them murmuring. She set the coffee cup back under her seat, pushed her heels to the back of her boot, and began lacing. She was only going to walk a mile up to the Mt. Whitney Store so she laced them loosely. She didn’t want to have any blisters when she got back.

June in the eastern Sierra Nevada of California was a busy time for local denizen. Squirrels and jays begged for handouts. Ravens introduced new chicks to their territory. Trout bustled in the rapids in Lone Pine Creek's deep holes. However, the black bears had not yet arrived, probably still in their winter hibernation deep in the canyon back country.

Unpredictably, the sunny skies of early morning could turn ragged and stormy by afternoon. Camille stuffed her light weight rain coat into the cords of her platypus (water bladder) and slipped it over her shoulder, tied a bandana around her neck, set her wide brimmed canvass hat on her head, wound the safety loop of her walking stick on her right wrist, firmly closed the cabin door, and walked down the stone steps to the sandy parking area in front of the cabin.

The boots felt good, supportive, and her knees felt strong. Now, if only her left hip would warm up. It would be a pleasant hike up to the canyon store for her second cup of coffee of the day and a ‘hi, how are you,’ with Doug and Erleen. She hadn't seen them since the previous September.

The last time she had been at the cabin was in midwinter. The road had been covered with two meters of snow; the store closed for the season. A gentle breeze blowing snow from the branches of the Jeffrey and Ponderosa pines along the road were her only hiking companions on that last trip. The squeak of her boots on the snow had been one of the few others sounds.

Today, it was the crunch on sandy granite soil that met her ears and the noise of campers talking with children, enjoying the sunshine of a late June morning in the eastern Sierra. High in the pines the Clarks Nutcrackers could be heard decimating the sweet new cones.

As she slowly negotiated the granite steps near one of the deep pools in Lone Pine Creek, she contemplated the morrow that would bring Rebecca to the mountain. Their first chore was always the same; lay out all the paraphernalia from their packs in an attempt to decide how best to lessen the load. She quietly contemplated; it had been so very long since she had stretched out her muscles with 40 pounds on her back and proved to herself that she really could make it to the top of a Sierra Pass.

Hopefully, in two days time there would be no Sierra afternoon rain storm, no lightning before they reached the pass and dropped down into the west side to the Kearsarge basin. There was no place to hide at the top, just granite boulders that offered no protection.

Of course, they might encounter bears who had awakened in the high country hungry,looking for a picnic. They were carrying the small black five-pound bear-proof plastic canisters (like miniature beer kegs) this time, but not all the food they needed for a ten day backpack would all fit inside. They would have to find some way to dissuade the keen noses of the bears from discovering their extra foodstuffs.

Resting on one of the many logs that spanned the stream after the massive winter snows, Camille watched brown trout jump out of a deep pool snatching low flying insects while she problem solved.

Maybe burying their extra food would help. They carried light weight extra ply thirty-gallon trash bags to cover their backpacks in a rain shower. Why not use them also to protect buried food supplies from insects? On a backpack everything does double duty. Good idea. I'll have to run it by Rebecca.

Using her trekking pole as a third leg, she danced across the log heading for the opposite shore and the Portal Store. Having negotiated the log without falling in was an accomplishment. Too many times, she had slipped, lost her balance and ended up sitting ingloriously in a pool of winter snow melt feeling very foolish and very wet. Not today!

Reaching the store, she clambered up the steep concrete walkway that seemed so out of place in the mountains and greeted a long time friend Erleen, who ran the store/café with her husband Doug.

'Coffee woman, I need a cup of coffee!'

Around midnight Marcy showed up in the little red Mazda like the one in the bear picture with the three bears sitting inside, the top having been ripped off. Each enjoying chocolate malt wrapped Powerbar. What a sense of humour these bears had.

Together in the dark, the two women scoured the car to make sure that any early spring rising bear didn’t smell his break fast in the midst of Rebecca's car. Amazing how a cup of coffee or a soda container could be smelled five miles away by the crittur with the long nose.

There was no rain expected until the next afternoon; they left the top down. Better to allow bears to investigate than to suffer the outrageous fortune of having the bear gain it’s own entry to a convertible. If there were nothing to eat, the bear would leave a few dirty paw marks and head off to more lucrative vehicles.

That next morning the two seasoned backpackers spread all their gear on the cabin floor. For ten days they would be dependent on each other and what they could carry. Any aide would come from fellow backpackers they encountered on the John Muir trail or on their own ingenuity and gear. What would they take and what would they leave behind?

'Rebecca, you can’t take the bird book and the flora finder. Decide on one or the other. You know all the bird songs anyhow. You don’t need that one!'

'Camille, I promised you we wouldn’t be bringing back any rocks this time. I’m gonna take both books. I haven’t found a female Sierra Thrush yet.'
Rebecca not only knew the birds of the Sierra Nevada, she knew their songs and could sing them into showing themselves.

The two women, both in their fifties, never hiked too far or too fast on any one day because they often stopped to check out the butterflies especially in spring. They always stopped to check out birdsong.

These two made quite a pair. They were only a year apart in age. Rebecca, the smaller of the two, was wiry and strong. At five foot five she carried about fifty pounds in her backpack, a third more than most men her size.

Camille, on the other hand, had strong legs and a strong back from having marched for years carrying the base drum in a woman’s drum and bugle corps. However, in the mountains she only carried forty pounds in the backpack. She hated the blisters that formed on her heels if she carried much more.

'Rebecca, the fry pan has to go'

'Not a chance. You know we'll catch brown and rainbow. You might even catch a couple.'

'Do you really think they will be biting this early in the year?

'You kiddin? Of course; they'll come out from under the winter ice ready to bite at anything.

Camille remembered. In the evenings of other treks, the trout jumped from the surface of still mountain lakes to swallow insects buzzing just above the water. The two backpackers watched the tranquil lakes peppered with the concentric rings of small splashes form trout risings just before Rebecca reeled in her fly fishing pole with dinner on the end of the line.

'Ok. Then, I ‘ll carry the flour, bread crumbs, and the oil.'

They carefully measured how much they would need for seven trout; the number they hoped to catch, as well as the tiny amount of olive oil that would grease the tiny Teflon/aluminium frying pan. They didn’t really need the oil, but the flavour it added was glorious.

The next day, they unloaded at the trailhead.

They would hike the steep pass trail and then cross two other mountain passes and myriad high lake spattered high country valleys on the west side of the Sierra divide back to the cabin at 8200 feet in the canyons of the eastern Sierra.

Waving goodbye. They lifted packs to their thighs and with one big heave to the left shoulder; they slide into the straps, and tightened their hip belts. Trout, trails, butterflies, and bear, here we come!

Monday, June 22, 2009

MEADOWS - a poem

Green script on brown papyrus soil,
Written translation impossible.
Patterns older than human letters,
Meadows create art everywhere.

Wide Sierra duff,
Guyot Flats, a meadow of brown pine needles,
softens foot fall at 10,000 feet.

Wider yet, Tuolomme green grasses peppered with stark blues, red, yellows, oranges of short lived wildflowers seeded by deep winter snows.
Keep to the trail; avoid delicate August blossoms.

Looping off to the horizon, Utah meadows filter through red rock monoliths.
Sparse sage and salt bush hold tenuous desert cement in meadows.
Winds sweep extreme afternoons, coolness crosses the landscape;
stunning sunsets

Is there a meadow I love best?

Potted with clear blue lakes,
Ponderosa and white pine filigree the edges,
Golden Trout Meadow, home of dragons
wandering the earth
protecting meadows everywhere.

Ah, and the meadows of the mind,
Relaxing, verdant moments where one wanders
unbeleaguered by the pressing issues of the day,
stepping round the hillocks of color,
breathing the fragrance of the unfiltered common space; collective unconscious.
The skies above and the earth below have created
meadows of reverie.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Mono Pass - A Poem-2002

Mono Pass 2002

Four women in a tent
perched at 11,500 feet
are talking of love,
divorce, desire,
entertaining each other
with skits and anecdotes,
passing around a small
plastic bottle
half-full of whiskey,
eagerly consuming cold snacks
from the bear canisters
for dinner.

We are warming up,
our bodies and down
sleeping bags
prevailing against
chill and rain.

We don’t stop to think
about our isolation and
The wind comes up
the ridge like a freight train.
We let it roar on by.

--Pam Gilman

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dragons - Two of em - guarding St. Peters

Ursula LeGuinn (A Wizard of Earthsea), Tolkien (The Hobbit) and the Brothers Grimm (The Red Dragon) provide details about the massive critters who metaphorically gather materialistic items loved by mankind and hoard them beneath green scales in huge caverns in the midst of mountain caves.

I know, I know, dinosaurs are simply an archetypal version of man’s own materialism, a metaphor for the temper of wealthy men and women who hoard while refusing to share their glittering wealth with the less affluent.

Now, what powerful organization would be more apt to hold such goods? The Catholic Church? There is a connection.

Did you know that in Vatican City two dragons reside atop the arches leading into St. Peter’s basilica. In stunning gold leaf these two dragons sit on either side of a golden eagle which itself sits atop the keystone of the central arch leading into the holy of holies, St. Peters itself – the center of all that is materialistic in the Church of Rome.

Did these two dragons go silently and with no complaint to adorn the arches or was there a conflict, an argument between them and their human masters which forced them forever to forego the brilliant winds of the southern Pacific, the high mountain passes and the dark overwhelming caves of the Alps, the Andes, and the Hindu Kush in order to grace these amazing doorways into the temple of temples of the Catholic church?

I suspect it was not always so. At some time in the history of mythology dragons were mightier than the men who eventually grappled and won the battle to represent the spiritual welfare of manunkind. There must have been a time when these two golden winged creatures glided freely amongst others who escaped the flood with Noah. Perhaps that is the rub-a-dub-dub-floating in the tub, the tub of the planet, covered as it once was with the waters eventually captured in the glaciers of the world.

These mighty creatures must have cost Noah some considerable consternation as he tried to load two of them onto his ark. Can you imagine golden dragons with breath of fire slowly and ponderously walking aboard the ark to live peacefully with the rest of Noah’s god's creatures just to escape the punishment of an angry god, a petulant god who pouted aimlessly because he was not properly worshipped?

I believe that these two massive creatures refused to enter the ark. Could their position on either side of the keystone of St. Peter’s denote some kind of penance for failing to cooperate?

Dragons are decidedly unchristian. Not so unchristian as lions, to be sure, who competed for the attention of the Romans in the coliseum. No, dragons probably refused to perform in the same theatre as Christians

These fellows must have committed the ultimate sin to be punished for so long in such a public way. The critturs who most loved dark places resplendent with straight arrows of sunlight filtering through miles of granite or sandstone causing their jewels to shimmer and sparkle in the darkness find themselves forever resplendent in gold leaf guarding the treasures of the Church.

What is it that caused their downfall, their placement above the doorway to St Peter's Basilica to guard the massive trove of treasures known as Vatican City? What mystical archetypal meaning is there to all of this? What is the story behind their incarceration in sunny Italy?

I assure you that the tale must be a strange one which we would never imagine if it weren’t so bizarre. Far fetched to be sure, there is only one deed which could have cost these graceful, powerful fire-breathing denizens of the highest skies to be so interred over the doorway to St. Peters. They are the representations of the devil. Why then do they guard the doors to the most famous Catholic Church on the planet? Could it be that they project the ultimate sin of that same church: self-aggrandizement at the expense of the poor.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Leeches cross borders - Lamington National Park

'One and all, we got horribly infested with leeches, having a frill of them round our necks like astra-chan collars, and our hands covered with them' Mary Kingsley.

During my first stroll in the Australian rain forest of southern Queensland on a New Year's Day, my friend and I stop for lunch at the Southern Ramparts, a high spot on the Lamington Track where one can look south over the caldera of Mt. Warning. While I gaze over farmlands, sugar cane plantations, and gum tree forests through which wend the Clarence and Tweed Rivers, Rosellas, King Parrots, and Lorikeets fill the air with colour and screeches.

The scene, framed by low lying coastal clouds meeting the blues of the Pacific Ocean, is softly front lit by the sun above the rain forest canopy.

Graham suddenly insists, 'Stand up.'

Looking in his direction, I do as I am told, a bit perplexed about why he would want me on my feet.

He strides over, turns me around, and plucks two black pencil-lead leeches, wiggling fellows, off my shoulders. Dangling from the palm fronds overhanging my bench were several black devils, waiting for some unsuspecting tourist to stop. Dinner for a month.

They may be only two centimetres long as they begin their attack, but they have the ability to attach and grow to nine centimetres, full on human blood syringes.

Eeeyuuu! Thanks, Graham, for rescuing me from the wiggles.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mary Kingsley -Travels in West Africa - 1895

In 1892, after spending most of her adult life as nurse to her mother and secretary to her father's travel notes, Mary Kingsley sails from Britain to West Africa. The success of her first trip encourages her to make a second on behalf of the British Royal Geographic Society to collect new zoological specimens.

Her memoir, Travels in West Africa, is an account of this second trip in 1895. With African tribesmen, about whom she later writes mostly in admiration, she treks overland and by canoe through hitherto seldom traveled areas of the French Congo. In her luggage, along with her umbrella, she carries a vicious and self-deprecatory sense of humour. Ironically, it is her humility, her unstoppable demeanour, her reflections on her own growth, and her curiosity that earn her the respect of both Europeans and Africans:

She had an individuality as pronounced as it was unique with charm of manner and conversation, while the interplay of wit and mild satire, of pure spontaneous mirth and of profoundly deep seriousness, made her a series of surprises, each one tenderer and more surprising than the foregoing. (Gwynn 278).

Kingsley is the first European woman to traverse both the swamps and the highlands of the interior of West Africa without a husband. And, unlike many of her predecessors in West Africa, she attempts to look through the eyes of the Africans with whom she is traveling to see the world from their perspective. She describes the native wild life from the purview of those who show her where to find it.

Kingsley's stories prove that this trip not only changed her own view of West Africans, but also her self-image. By accepting the tribal/family interactions of West Africans, Kingsley repeatedly proves that she agrees with Robyn Davidson, a twentieth century Australian traveler: If I had any kind of creed in regard to living among strangers it was this: one could criticize one's own place, indeed one had a duty to do so, but when crossing a cultural border one left behind judgments as to how life would be organized (Davidson 124).

On her second trip to West Africa, Kingsley steams up the Ogowe River to Lambarene, where she leaves the steamboat to paddle in canoes through the rapids above Njole with eight Igalwas, fishermen of the region. Early, her humour takes a primary role. A keen sense of the absurd often carries Kingsley through difficult times and death-defying treks in muddy swamps in the company of cannibals. Laughter, even a chuckle deep in her throat, while in the midst of fear, seems most often to see her through.

Leaving the Njole, she travels across swamplands to her eventual destination of Agonjo on the Rambwe River, from which she returns to the Atlantic Coast. In the final two chapters of her account, her dry sense of humour accompanies her to the top of Mt. Cameroon, the 28th European and the first woman to climb this 4194-metre (13,630 feet) peak. Surely she is the first and last person ever to do so in full female Victorian attire.

A primary issue discussed by Kingsley is that the European and African traders, rather than the missionaries, deserve credit for the positive changes in African life in the 19th century. Her respect for these traders grows as she apprentices as one herself:

What I had expected to find them [traders] was a very different thing to what I did find them; and of their kindness to me I can never sufficiently speak . . . I learnt on the West Coast in 1893 [Kingsley's first trip to Africa] that I could trust them . . . Thanks to the Agent, I have visited places I could never otherwise have seen; and to the respect and affection in which he is held by the native, I owe it that I have done so in safety (5).

Of the native African traders, with whom she spent much of her travel time, she is also complimentary: 'And down he came, in a state of considerable astonishment, not unmixed with alarm, for no white man of any kind had been across from the Ogowe for years, and no one had ever come out of N'dorko. Mr. Glass I found an exceedingly neat, well educated M'pongwe gentleman in irreproachable English garments, and with irreproachable, but slightly floreate, English language (197).

Except in her travels with Captain Johnson, Kingsley refuses to take credit for her successful trekking in equatorial West Africa. She gives the credit instead to the traders who are willing to honour the chits with which she pays village people for carrying goods, locating wildlife, and leading her through the rain forest.

However, Captain Johnson, who took her out to the west coast of the French Congo along the Rembwe River, receives a humorous description:'His name was Obanjo, but he liked it pronounced Captain Johnson, and his profession was a bush and river trader on his own account. Every movement of the man was theatrical, and he used to look covertly at you every now and then to see if he had produced his impression, which was evidently intended to be that of a reckless, rollicking skipper. . and if I should ever want to engage in a wild and awful career up a West African river I shall start on it by engaging Captain Johnson. (218).

Kingsley begins to see the world through African eyes as she heads into the bush, accompanied only by the people who call it home. Her humour offers insight into her personality as she jokes at the expense of the British Royal Geographical Society:'Always take measurements, Miss Kingsley, and always take them from the adult male.' I know I have neglected opportunities of carrying this commission out on both those banks, but I do not feel like going back. Besides, the men would not like it, and I have mislaid my yard measure (146).

Although she has been encouraged to carry a gun, like Bird, she refuses to heed the advice. However, that does not mean that she failed to aim accurately at the wild life endangering her on a variety of occasions:'I have never hurt a leopard intentionally; I am habitually kind to animals, and besides I do not think it is ladylike to go shooting things with a gun. Twice, however, I have been in collision with them. On one occasion a big leopard had attacked a dog, who with her family, was occupying a broken-down hut next to mine. . . I fired two mushroom-shaped native stools in rapid succession into the brown of it, and the meeting broke up into a leopard and a dog. The leopard crouched, I think to spring on me. I can see its great, beautiful lambent eyes still, and I seized an earthen water-cooler and flung it straight at them. It was a noble shot; it burst on the leopard's head like a shell and the leopard went for bush (319).

She is very aware of the necessity of protecting herself in the face of unforeseen events: 'You walk along a narrow line of security with gulfs of murder looming on each side, and where in exactly the same way you are as safe as if you were in your easy chair at home, as long as you get sufficient holding ground; not on rock in the bush village inhabited by murderous cannibals but on ideas in those men's and women's minds; and these ideas, which I think I may say you will always find, give you safety. (214).

Coincidently, her sense of humour rises to confront difficulties. For instance, as Kingsley paddles up the rapids of the Ogowe River with the Igalwa, the French official at the trading station says he does not like to take the responsibility of allowing me to endanger myself in those rapids. I explain I will not hold any one responsible but myself, and I urge that a lady has been up before, a Mme. Quinne. He says, 'Yes, that is true, but Madame had with her a husband and many men', whereas I am alone and have only eight Igalwas . . . I only want to go sufficiently high up the rapids to get typical fish. And these Igalwas are great men at canoe work, and can go in canoe anywhere that any mortal men go . . . and as for the husband, neither the Royal Geographical Society's list, in their Hints to Travellers, nor Messrs. Silver, in their elaborate lists of articles necessary for a traveller in tropical climates, make mention of husbands (87).

In the midst of a harrowing canoe trip, she reminds us that there is not another white station for five hundred miles. She describes 'the forested hillsides and the little beaches of glistening white sand . . . one of the most perfect things I have ever seen' (88). Leeches, ticks, leopards, elephants, rhinos and cannibalistic Fans don't seem to bother Kingsley.

However, while pausing overnight in an Ajumba village, she is wakened to an unusual sight that might cause a fright for some: 'Am aroused by violent knocking at the door in the early grey dawn–so violent that two large centipedes and a scorpion drop on to the bed. . . Well, when ignorance is bliss 'tis folly to be wise, particularly along here. I get up without delay, and find myself quite well . . . These Ajumba seem pleasant folk. They play with their pretty brown children in a taking way (138).

Like other women in this research, Kingsley frequently writes of her lack of fluency in the languages of the cultures in which she travels. Sign language is inadequate and translators are essential. While trying to orient herself on her map of the region, she notes that none of them, however, seem to recognise a single blessed name on the chart, . . . I am sure the Royal Geographical Society ought to insert among their Hints that every traveller in this region should carefully learn every separate native word, or set of words, signifying 'I don't know' (40).

As she paddles the largest of the lakes, replete with rhinos, Kingsley understates, 'Most luxurious, charming, and pleasant trip this. The men are standing up swinging in rhythmic motion their long, rich red wood paddles in perfect time to their elaborate melancholy, minor key boat song' (141-142).

Kingsley's initial description of the cannibalistic Fans displays her courage and her sense of power as a European. Her continued dealings with the Fan show how much she has changed since she acted as nursemaid to her dying mother:
Things did not look restful, nor these Fans personally pleasant. Every man among them . . . was armed with a gun and they loosened their shovel-shaped knives in their sheaths as they came . . . I got up from my seat in the bottom of the canoe and leisurely strolled ashore, saying to the line of angry faces 'M'boloani' in an unconcerned way, although I well knew it was etiquette for them to salute first . . . I must say that never–even in a picture book–have I seen such a set of wild wicked-looking savages as those we faced this night, and with whom it was touch-and-go for twenty of the longest minutes I have ever lived, whether we fought–for our lives, I was going to say, but it would not have been even for that, but merely for the price of them . . . You would have thought, from the violence and vehemence of the shouting and gesticulation, that we were going to be forthwith torn to shreds; but not a single hand really touched me, and as I . . . went up to the town in the midst of the throng, the crowd opened in front and closed in behind, evidently half frightened at my appearance (148-149).

Kingsley's first impression of the Fan, about which she writes frequently, changes markedly as she describes their traverse of the rain forest and as her own courage grows: 'The Fans were evidently quite at home in the forest, and strode on over fallen trees and rocks with an easy, graceful stride. What saves us weaklings was the Fans' appetites; every two hours they sat down, and had a snack of a pound or so of meat and agama apiece, followed by a pipe of tobacco (158).

Even among the native peoples, her sense of humour is evident. As she moved
ahead of the group during one of the Fan's snack breaks, she
saw in the bottom, wading and rolling in the mud, a herd of five elephants . . . I crept forward from one tree to another, until I was close enough to have hit the nearest one with a stone, and spats of mud, which they sent flying with their stamping and wallowing came flap, flap among the bushes covering me . . . when they had gone I rose up, turned round to find the men, and trod on Kiva's back [a Fan carrier who had been beside her watching the elephants] and fell sideways down the steep hillside until I fetched up among some roots . . . In spite of my determination to preserve an assumed and unmoved calm while among these dangerous savages, I had to give way and laugh explosively (158- 159).

Traveling with these cannibals, Kingsley notes the joys of personal discovery and communal sharing. For instance, after a snake drops from a nearby tree limb
[the Fan] stepped forward and with one blow flattened its head against the tree with his gun butt, and then folded the snake up and got as much of it as possible into his bag . . . We had the snake for supper, that is to say the Fan and I; the others would not touch it, although a good snake, properly cooked, is one of the best meats one gets out here (163 -165).

It is, however, Kingsley's humanity that repeatedly surfaces. Her ability to laugh, her white skin, and her attire (full Victorian skirts and long sleeved, high necked blouses), give her sufficient presence to deter any thoughts the Fan may have had of enjoying her for dessert: 'A certain sort of friendship soon arose between the Fans and me. We each recognised that we belonged to that same section of the human race with whom it's better to drink than to fight. We knew we would each have killed the other, if sufficient inducement were offered, and so we took a certain amount of care that the inducement should not arise (162-163).

Kingsley often defends the social practices of the Africans. Her rational rather than emotional approach to these tribes illustrates her practical point of view, and her equanimity can be seen in her description of the contents of bags sequestered inside a hut made available for her accommodation in one Fan village: 'Waking up again I noticed the smell in the hut was violent, from being shut up I suppose, and it had an unmistakably organic origin . . . I then shook its [a woven bag] contents out in my hat, for fear of losing anything of value. They were a human hand, three big toes, four eyes, two ears, and other portions of the human frame. The hand was fresh, the others only so, and shrivelled. Replacing them I tied the bag up, and hung it up again. I subsequently learnt that although the Fans will eat their fellow friendly tribes folks, yet they like to keep a little something belonging to them as a memento (170).

In the last four chapters of Travels in West Africa, Kingsley chronicles her trek up Mt. Cameroon, which sits on the equator, surrounded the tropical rain forest's abysmal weather. During this climb, in frustration, she criticizes the Africans, who find themselves in unfamiliar weather and territory. They cannot lead in this territory.

Kingsley's ability and her stubborn courage prevail as she pushes the group towards the top of the mountain. It becomes obvious that reaching the mountaintop, a goal for her, does not reflect the aspirations of the Africans. One may wonder why it is so important to Kingsley that she reach the top. She is the first woman to do so, the only European woman in the 19th century. It is testament to her character and to her changing sense of self that she reaches the pinnacle where she undergoes an epiphany concerning her motivation for adventure (321-322).

The nursemaid of her dying mother becomes the intrepid explorer. Her frustrations with the weather and her African carriers do not stop her from reaching the top of this 4194-metre, storm-circled peak: 'Nevertheless, I feel quite sure that no white man has ever looked on the great Peak of the Cameroon without a desire arising in his mind to ascend it and know in detail the highest point on the western side of the continent, and indeed one of the highest points in all Africa (321-322).

Her trek is fraught with irony and courage. She writes on the first night of the week-long climb: 'all the mist-streams coalesce and make the atmosphere all their own, wrapping us round in a clammy, chill embrace; it is not that wool-blanket, smothering affair that we were wrapped in down by Buna, but exquisitely delicate. The difference it makes to the beauty of the forest is just the same difference you would get if you put a delicate veil over a pretty woman's face or a sack over her head (336).

On the second day, the calamity begins to manifest. They have no water. Sending a carrier to seek help, Kingsley allows the native carriers to wait in camp. She continues up the mountain (338). Her desire to reach the top takes precedence. In these threatening conditions, she is willing to admit to some level of consternation: 'After taking some careful compass bearings for future use . . . I turned my face to the wall of Mungo, and continued the ascent. The sun, which was blazing, was reflected back from the rocks in scorching rays. But it was more bearable now, because its heat was tempered by a bitter wind (340).

She discovers her leadership capabilities in the most harrowing circumstances:
'My boys are quite demoralized by the cold . . . I believe if I had collapsed
too–the cold tempted me to do so as nothing else can–they would have lain down and died in the cold sleety rain . . . The men stand helpless under the trees, and I hastily take the load of blankets . . . throwing one blanket round each man, and opening my umbrella and spreading it over the other blankets. Then I give them a tot of rum apiece, as they sit huddled in their blankets, and tear up a lot of the brittle, rotten wood from the trees and shrubs, getting horrid thorns into my hands the while and set to work getting a fire with it and the driest of the moss from beneath the rocks . . . the fire soon blazes (349).

Exhibiting the traits of Europe's staunchest explorers, she has taken the Africans up the mountain. Here, she rescues them from a situation for which she feels responsible:'the weather is undecided and so am I, for I feel doubtful about going on in this weather, but I do not like to give up the peak after going through so much for it. I settle in my mind to keep on, and ask for volunteers to come with me . . . Later in the day, It is evil going . . . we strike the face of the peak, and then commence a stiff rough climb. . . [when] we are about three parts of the way up Xenia gives in. The cold and the climbing are too much for him, so I make him wrap himself up in his blanket . . . and shelter in a depression under one of the many rock ridges . . . if the worst comes to the worst; and for myself -–well – that's my own affair, and no one will be a ha'porth the worse if I am dead in an hour (354).

She reaches the top 'after a desperate flight . . . to find a hurricane raging and a fog in full possession, and not a ten yards' view to be had in any direction' (355). As the first European woman to climb the second highest mountain in Africa, she takes responsibility for the safe retreat of her party. Yet, on her last day while descending the mountain, she expresses her doubts. 'And with feminine nervousness began to fear that the rotten water-logged earth we were on might give way, and engulf the whole of us, and we should never be seen again' (363).

It is clear when we look at the topics discussed most frequently by Kingsley that her experiences while in the company of native Africans give her a sense of autonomy. She appreciates the Africans with whom she travels and is willing to see the world through their eyes to the degree that any outsider can. Her reflections on the challenges to her character are vivid. If we look at the issue of primacy in her writing, it is clear that beauty, resiliency, and adventure fill Kingsley with a sense of being alive. She begins three-quarters of her chapters with a celebration of the people, rivers, weather, and colours of West Africa, a place where she feels comfortable. She may use language that suggests that she thinks she is less than her male European counterparts, but her description of her experiences and her resourceful accomplishments decry those words. She comes to appreciate not only Africa and Africans, but Mary Kingsley as well.

Davidson, Robyn. Desert Places. Victoria, Australia: Penuin Books Australia Ltd, 1996.

Gwynn, Stephen. The Life of Mary Kingsley. London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd, 1933.

Kingsley, Mary. Travels in West Africa. London: Macmillan, 1897.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Short Story - Tasmanian Wilderness

Researching the background material for a short story is a journey of discovery. The information about tiny plants and huge animals creates a sense of wonderment that one can not have simply by going there in the early spring, which is the time I had available for such a trip.

Included are some of the pictures of the bladderworts that live in this heath land of north-western Tasmania, a land still in hibernation when I trekked there in October 2005.

These beautiful buds are carnivorous. Just under the water on each stem is a little bladder that catches microscopic fish and insects. The plant then absorbs nutrients from the caught-creature to supplement its diet. Even though plants here have a very difficult time getting ‘enough’ from the nutrient poor soils of the heathland, evolution has provided them with alternative methods of feeding themselves.

Doesn’t that fact just leave you in awe of nature’s ability to take care of itself? This resilience and evolution remind me of an adage about how nature reacts to each individual in a species. Mountaineers will tell you “the mountain doesn’t care.”

In the midst of undeniable beauty, I felt pushed to develop a short story titled The Mountain Doesn’t Care.

When you note the lovely fairy aprons in the picture beside this entry, you may note that great beauty is often used in nature to ensure survival. However, as I found in my research, it takes a certain level of endurance and resilience to really survive in this wilderness, indeed, in all wilderness.

As I completed my research, there was an article in the 10 October Brisbane Courier-Mail about a trekker gone missing in the Cradle Mountain area. A local man set out on a 25 kilometer hike. The weather conditions in this part of the planet are such that one had better be well prepared to take such a hike solo. When he did not return to his car at the end of the day, searchers set out to find him. It is my understanding based on an interview with a Cradle Mountain ranger that it takes twelve men to bring an injured trekker home.

Notice in the picture of the Fairie Aprons, the sweet little carnivorous bladderworts, that there is not one, but an entire community of plants surviving in the area. There is surely something to be said for strength in numbers.

In the introduction to this essay, I make reference to the large marsupials of the Cradle Valley area. The pademelons and the wallabies are not large. The wombats, on the other hand, are larger than life. As we hiked along the heathland just above Marion’s Landing, we encountered a meter long wombat grazing on the button grass. He was not certain that he wanted to move to allow us to pass.

We waited; we were sure we did not want to disturb his lunch. The land around us was very wet, swamp soggy. Since we were not wearing gum boots and had a long way to hike before the end of the day, we decided to wait rather than take the chance of sinking into the mud over the tops of our hiking boots. Eventually, the wombat grunted and moved to the heath allowing us to pass.

In 1972 I had my first wilderness encounter while on a backpacking trip with my five year old daughter, my husband, and friends in the Wallowa Mountains of Oregon. Although I have never been on an expedition, I have read widely of those who travel the high peaks of the planet. My favorite, Annapurna: A Woman’s Place, by Arlene Blume, is an excellent commentary on women’s experience with the wilderness. She is a role model in every aspect – as an author, as a leader, as a woman.

The last thirty three years of experiences in the wilderness have provided me with a great many women’s tales that need telling. For instance, I had an unfortunate experience with a milk crate on 4 July 2004, a friendly reminder that my body is not immortal. I broke my first bone. A 2.5 centimetre spiral break in the fifth metatarsal of my left foot endangered my trekking career.

My ‘accident’ convinced me that a story about a woman trekker who had an accident would be most appropriate. Ten days on Fraser Island in August at the Social Artistry Australia Intensive added to my resolve that this short story should become a novel. A conversation with Niccola, a fellow student, as we walked to our cars after class convinced me that a broken foot would be perfect. The mother of a friend of Niccola’s had sprained her ankle while on a trek in Cradle Mountain Wilderness last February and had to be airlifted to Launceston the next day.

This conversation led to my approaching my partner about taking four days to trek at Cradle Mountain. He agreed. I made reservations. We flew. The weather gods rained, sleeted, and suddenly offered intermittent sunshine. We had two days of trekking.

At one point, while trekking alone around Dove Lake, my mind was so immersed in the story that I stumbled and fell. It is important to be careful of what one asks for!

Although most of the research into the flora and fauna of Cradle Mountain was done on the Web, interviews with Cradle Mountain Lodge personnel and Wilderness rangers were helpful in discovering how emergency measures occur when there is an accident.

All of the research has been useful in creating an ambiance about the setting and possible conflicts with the natural environment. Meeting other hikers on the two days of our trek was very useful in creating personas for background characters; Australians do have a recognisable persona.

Researching on line makes me aware that one piece of research sends me off on tangents, some of which are useful; some of which are not. The travel to Cradle Mountain was instructive. I had no idea about locals’ attitude about ‘time’ in the bush of Australia.

The story, which will appear in the next blog entry, has been written three times, the last time while in Tasmania on a stormy Monday.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Janet was my mother; the strong, not so silent matriarch of a family of four children. She was the wicked witch of the west, the Queen wishing Snow white’s demise, the complex hag who was both beautiful and demanding, wise, hardworking, and self-centred, a bit like most of us, I suppose. She was a multi faceted individual whose life had been anything but serene.

In her later years, bereft of money, she stagnated in a state operated board and care facility for seniors who suffered dementia. In the years before her dotage, she travelled to Peru, China, France, and Alaska where she suffered a blood clot in her calf that put her in a Juneau hospital with her bed tilted so that her legs raised above her ass and her head to stymie the perpetual movement of blood clots towards her heart while couminden struggled to thin the size of the clot wedged below her knee.

She survived, but the Alaskan health department refused to allow her to fly alone back to California. And so, on a misty Labour Day after a taxi ride to the bluer than blue Mendenahll glacier and the town dump full of more grizzly bear than trash, she and I boarded a crowded Alaska Airline jet to return along with the rest of Alaska's seasonal workers to the lower 48.

When the time came for the great goddess to take an accounting of her life, sexy Janet found herself losing track not only of the places through which she had trekked, but even the names of her grand children and her sisters. As the eldest child, I assumed responsibility for her care even though I had always sworn to never feel beholden.

There were perks. Janet's last beau, Don, in the days just before he failed to wake one morning after a massive heart attack, loaned $5000 as an investment to Natural High Health Foods, Janet and my escape from the mundane, our business venture. I always wanted to inquire about whether his affair with the lively but memory less Janet contributed to his heart's ill health, but he departed the scene before I worked up the courage to approach the topic.

After the demise of her lover, Janet's brain deteriorated rapidly. There we were. The mother with no recollections of days past and the eldest daughter who was not only living her own life supporting the education of her children; she attempted to satisfy the needs of her husband, as well as over see the daily traumas of a 70 year old dementia victim.

Janet retreated. She spent the next three years quilting complex, soft beautiful quilts. She gave them to anyone who happened to pay her a kindness. Several were promised to multiple owners as the woman with no memory created wild, colourful, hand stitched patterns onto bed covers, she often forgot to whom she had promised the finished product.

Days wore on. Flowers in her once well-groomed garden grew wild. Her mind seeped into those little holes created in the callous of her fingertips by the quilting needles that tormented her for hours each day. When she was finished for a day and I had not yet arrived to fix her supper, she would go out to her little milk chocolate general motors car and drive the highways of southern California. One wonders about the wisdom of the California DMV for not testing senior citizens more regularly, but Janet had a way of convincing people that her mind was still in tact. Finally, one stormy March night, she drove the same 10 miles of Interstate 15 for six hours. She ran out of gas once, and thoroughly demoralized at not being able to find her way home but believing that she was within a block or two, she finally begged a garage owner for help. He took her to a Denny’s restaurant where she called me.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Not All Relationships

I loved talking to Michael Ondaatje, even very briefly. He remarked, 'It all started with a nurse and a soldier.'

From there his mind created butterfly moments of grandeur, soft moments of self doubt, an unbidden love, and the pain of international connections. He convinced me that not all connections solidify into relationship.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Monochrome or Resplendent Colour

In the land down under, the neutral environment is mitigated by the resplendent birds that provide punctuation for a grey-green monochrome. Brilliant Rosellas, scrappy Rainbow Lorikeets, argumentative Kookaburras, brash Butcherbirds, thieving Magpies, diving Soldier Birds, screeching Cockatoos, silent Tawney Frogmouths, and lumpy Brush Turkeys cohabit in the Fig tree wilderness.

I note that my own most loved environment, the high wilderness of the Sierra Nevada of California, is also a pine-scented, shale-covered, monochrome. Can I grow to love the subtropical rain forest of Lamington National Park? Can I walk these trails forgetting the wicked leeches while enjoying the startling Red-bellied Black Snake in the middle of the track? Will I be able to treat the regal Bearded Dragon who guards my mail box on Mondays and the Lace Monitor Lizard who shows up on Wednesdays with the same wonder as I have the furry Marmots of the snow fields of the Sierra? Such an array of wildlife makes this new world a fascinating abode for a newcomer, and I haven't even mentioned the Golden Orb or the Huntsman

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Butcherbird on a Winter Morning

Here I am - sun shaded on the back veranda – six story high fig tree in full view - pillow under ass to raise me high enough to be able to type without pin prickles - licorice tea - macadamia nut cookie beneath my – well, in between - my teeth. I'm ready to write my timeless commentary on middle-aged women. Yeah -middle age. I could live to 120, you know. I could if the pain factor were not to increase at an exponential rate - probably not a gift to anyone - least of all me. I complain so easily about what hurts. The tall Australian thinks I don’t complain - believes I am a stoic. What role is this that I have been playing?

Polyhedron – yeah - that’s me. Polyphrenic is more like it - many persons. One for each day - one for each encounter - and here in Oz where no one knows me, those are plentiful. Not the interactions. They have actually been few and far between. I am kept under wraps, a script unfinished. Not so sure it is ok to present me in the lounge room. Maybe the back bedroom but not the front room.

I just finished reading Jonathan Raban's Passage to Juneau, a delightful travel book for the first 300 pages. Then, in the second to the last chapter the whole world drowns. The tsunami reaches proportions from which none can escape. His wife arrives in Juneau to announce within hours that she is leaving him, that their marriage is finished. After an entire manuscript absorbed in sailing through the wilderness of Alaskan waters, the last ten pages takes us home – numb. We sail in a fog of unrecognizable inlets and wide crossings. Danger means nothing in that change of mien.

And here I am, a visitor in Australia who is slowly coming to an understanding of the parameters of this new world populated not with persons but with birds. Let me introduce you to them, these friends of mine, these fellow travelers. Well - not quite. They live here; I am simply visiting.

In the morning – early - with the sunrise – well, in winter that's not so early - about 6:30 or so - the Butcher Bird sits in the palm on the south east corner of the house and chortles his greeting to the dawn. In deep-throated multi-notes he calls his mate to join him. She unflinchingly does and together they bring wakefulness to those warm bodies on the other side of the open veranda doors.

Eyes not yet open - ears alert. Then, peaking out from the warmth of covers, we two snuggle deeper knowing that the cold winter morning has sprung unbidden again. The musical call of the Butcherbird is an invitation to crawl closer to the tall warm body of the Australian bloke beside me - always on the right. His left-handedness pushes him to the right. When he rolls over, his right arm burrows under the covers around my waist. A playful warm stretching morning hug ensues. But, on some of these mornings when I reach over to see if he is still filling his space beside me, I find only cold coverlets. He is off on his cycle along the river trail to Kangaroo Point and I miss the reason I traveled ten thousand kilometers across the Pacific. At these moments, I curl up into the Butcher Bird's song and fall back to sleep waking later to hear the lorikeets screeching song in the back garden.

And why are these songs blue? Because I am a moody bitch, never quite sure what I want in life. It is difficult to make decisions when one doesn’t know what she wants. When one is unsure of what love is, how can one recognize it in oneself or in another. There are moments when unbidden the words slip from my mouth. ”I love you” comes in soft murmurs, sometimes in silly laughing tones - unbidden those, as well. But, more often than not there is time for me to me to think about what I am about to say and the words are not spoken. Why? Because there are certain gifts that need to be reciprocal or not given at all.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Video of Sarkosy D-Day speech

Click on the title of this entry and go to the web site.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Sarkozy Speech at D-day ceremonies June 2009

Here is a partial English transcript of the Sarkozy speech at
Normandy. There are no videos of his speech anywhere that I can find. One of the most moving speeches I have ever heard or read about Normandy. I know it is long, but worth taking the time to read!

[Introduction Omitted]
They were 135,000 in thousands of boats. They formed two armies: one American, the other British and Canadian. A few hours earlier, Eisenhower had wished them “Good luck! ”. All were kept silent. What did these young soldiers think, their glance fixed on the thin black tape of the coast which emerged little by little from the fog? With their so-brief life? With the kisses which their mothers tenderly did deposit on their face when they were children? To recall the suppressed tears of their fathers when they left? Those who awaited them on the other side of the sea? What did they think, these young soldiers into whose hands destiny had put the fate of so much of people, if not that at 20 years it is too early to die? Their silence was like a prayer.On the beaches 50.000 Germans awaited them, them also in silence. Fatal moment. The day before,

Resistance had dynamited 500 bridges. Between midnight and 2 hours and a half of the morning, the parachutists of the 82nd and 101st American airborne divisions and those of the 6th British airborne division had been released behind the first lines of defence. Between 3:15 and 5:00 of the morning, 5000 bombers had pounded all the coast. At 4:15 the troops had started to be transhipped on the barges. With 5:45 the guns of 1200 warships had opened fire. With 6:30 the unloading started. The wind blew extremely hard. The barges were battered by waves of several meters. The soaked soldiers, shivering of cold, patiently bailed with their helmets.

Those who unloaded too early drowned. Boats ran aground before arriving at the goal. Of 19 tanks on the whole, a Canadian armored unit lost fifteen of them before reaching the beach. Those which arrived as far as the beach unloaded among deaths and casualties who floated in water, carried by the tide. Then they had to span corpses asleep on sand. One of the first American soldiers unloaded with Omaha Beach will write: “all that seemed unreal, like an waked up nightmare

One could almost walk over the entire length of the beach without touching the ground strewn with bodies”. Opposite, the German soldier who aimed at him above with the machine-gun tested the same feeling of nightmare by looking in front of
him “the space of bloody vase where hundreds and hundreds of inanimate bodies were strewn”. At the evening of June 6, more than 120.000 allied soldiers had been unloaded to which the 32000 men of the airborne divisions were added. In their rows one counted more than ten thousand dead, wounded or disappeared. The Staff had envisaged 25.000 of them …

At the evening of June 12, after six days of engagements without mercy, the Allies had succeeded in establishing a 80 km length continuous and deep front line from 10 to 30 km. But the battle of Normandy was going to last until August 29. On this date, two million allied soldiers will have unloaded, 38.500 will have been killed, 158.000 wounded, 19.000 carried disappeared. The Germans will have had 60.000 killed men, 140.000 wounded, 210.000 captive facts. Nearly 20.000 civilians will have lost the life. *

** The battle of Normandy decided the fate of the war. It was gained on the beaches and in the sunken lanes of barbed wire by peasants and workmen Americans whose fathers had fought in the Meuse and Argonne in 1918, by British soldiers in whom were incarnated the heroic virtues of the great people which in the most terrible test of its history had not yielded, by Canadian soldiers which as of the first days of the war had gone voluntary, not because their country was threatened, but because they were convinced that it was a question of honor. The battle of Normandy was gained by the soldiers of the 1st Polish armor-plated division engaged in the combat of the Cliff pocket and which covered itself with glory by pushing back the German counter-attack of the 19,20 and August 21, 1944 when 2300 of them were killed or wounded. The battle of Normandy was gained by aviators Czech, Danish, Norwegian, by Belgian and Dutch parachutists, by the soldiers of Leclerc, the commandos of Kieffer, SAS who fought under the English uniform. The battle of Normandy was gained by some twenty year old soldiers which killed not to be killed, who feared dying, but who fought far from their homelands with an admirable courage against a pitiless enemy as if the fate of their own fatherland were at stake. The battle of Normandy, it was the revenge divided Czechoslovakia and Poland, Belgium and the controlled Netherlands, France overcome in five weeks. It was the revenge of Sedan, of Dunkirk, of Dieppe.

In front of the nine thousand American tombs of this cemetery where we joined together today, Mr. President of the United States, I want to pay homage, in the name of France, to those who have poured their blood on Norman ground and who sleeps there for eternity. I want to say thank you to the last survivors of this tragedy present today and through them all those whose courage made it possible to overcome one of worst cruelties of all times. They fought for a cause of which they knew at the bottom of them was larger than their life. Not one retreated. One cannot cite them all,these heroes to which we owe so much.

They were so numerous. But we will never forget them. Among them, Mr. President, there were your grandfather, sergeant in the American army and his two brothers. For all the French, you are thus twice, Mr. President, by the office which is yours and the blood which runs in your veins, the symbol of America which we love. America which defends the highest spiritual values and morals. America which fights for freedom, democracy and Human rights. Open, tolerant, generous

Mr. President of the United States, Mister the Prime Minister of Canada, the American and Canadian soldiers came to fight twice at the sides of the English and the French. What would have occurred if they had not come? From this question whose answer was so obvious and so tragic was born Europe. In front of ruins and coffins, each one understood it was necessary that the infernal cycle of revenge stopped which in each war planted the seed of the following war and had brought the European people to the edge of the destruction. Then, we made peace and we create Europe so that it always lasts. We owed it to all the innocent victims. We owed it to all these young soldiers who had sacrificed themselves for it. We owed it to our children to save them from the same sufferings. We owed it to all the Men whom Europe had involved in its misfortunes. All those who had fought against Nazism and Fascism while dreaming to build a better world where right would replace force. We know the way which remains to be made. We know that this way is long, that this way is difficult. But we know also what Europe and America faithful to its values can achieve
together. Great totalitarianisms of the 20th century were overcome.

The threats which weigh today on the future of Humanity are of another nature. They are not less serious. What will become of the world if climate warming deprives hundreds of million of men, women and children of water and food? If a capitalism of speculation and revenue destroys the goods of a million people? If extreme poverty pushes part of humanity to despair? What would so become of the world if by a coward abandonment the democracies were to leave the free field to terrorism and fanaticism? If they renounce the defense of human rights and the rights of the people? From the fight of free people against Nazism was born the ideal of the United Nations. Our duty, Mr. President, is to make live this ideal. If not, what use will have been so much of the poured blood, sacrifices, and sufferings? Heroic deaths which sleep here should not only belong to history. More, the nicest homage that we can return to them, the only one that counts really, it is to seek to be worthy of what they achieved for us.

When on June 7, 1944 sergeant Bob Slaughter found himself on Omaha Beach where he had unloaded the day before, he was all the more upset by the vision of all these men taken along by the waves, men that he knew since childhood and that had grown with. A thought then crossed his mind: “we were brothers, we will be always. They died so that we can live. I thank them for what they gave us”. During all his life, there remained haunted memories of “these austere faces, large eyes and mouths opened, fixed in the cold of death”.

Like the German sergeant, Hein Severloh, which“for this time, always and without stop had seen a GI isolated emergingfrom the gray floods of its dreams and unloading over there on the beach.It shoulders its rifle, aims it and draws. Its helmet rolls as to the idle, it whirls above sand, bathes in the waves which come to die at the water’s edge then, slowly, the soldier crumbles and falls face
forward… ”.

Like the American soldier who, in Dachau or Buchenwald,encountered for the first time the hallucinatory glance of an amazed deportee, amazed to have survived the unforgettable hell. He had just understood why he had fought… From all the suffering that they carried in them and of which they could not be spared, the combatants of this atrocious war drew a great dream from justice and peace. Can we, Mr. President, never forget in our turn what was this suffering, nor to give
up this dream? Can we share this dream with our children? This great dream
of Justice and Peace.


You may be interested in the following manuscript:

The Meaning of Sarkozy by Alain Badiou translated by David Fernbach

A trenchant and witty dissection of the French political scene by the leading radical philosopher Alain Badiou, this sharp and focused intervention, claims that, in and of itself, the election of Nicholas Sarkozy as President is not an event, nor is it the cause for wring of hands and gnashing of teeth. ...

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Headin North - meanwhile a gift comes your way

I'm always looking for new info to entertain and educate. It's impossible to take the teacher out of the old woman. There are so many aspects of the southern hemisphere that I had never given a moments thought to when I lived north of the equator. Part of me wants all my friends to enjoy the rich culture that exists in this part of the globe.

So, with that thought in mind, I want to recommend you check out the Skinnyfish Music website by clicking on the title to today's post.

The evocative music from the far north of Australia, music performed by teen agers and mature adults, is so entirely unlike any aboriginal music that you may have heard before. As an integral part of the World Music scene, it presents in English as well as in aboriginal languages a sense of place that intrigues, relaxes, and entertains.

The northern territory is one of the geographical areas of Oz that I have yet to experience. Next winter, for sure! You're welcome to join me. Come on down!! I hope you find as much pleasure in this fine music as I have.

Am thinking that I will bring some of the albums back with me. I know you will all enjoy them. When you reach the skinnyfish web page, just click on one of the bands listed on the left, sit back and be amazed.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Whales are Coming

The whales are on their way back to their winter playground: the east coast of Queensland.

If you have ever considered traveling down under, this may be the absolutely perfect time to make the trip. These playful, amazing several ton denizen come out to play with whale watching boats, wink, splash, and dance for audience applause.

What a joy they are to watch. Come on down. Check out this article from the Queensland Courier Mai; click on the title of this post and go to the little video of the playful juniors who lead the pods north this year. Like young males everywhere, they have more energy than they know what to do with.

love you all.

Humpback whales make a splash on the Gold Coast
Article from: The Courier-Mail

Jeremy Pierce

June 02, 2009 12:00am

TWO teenagers on their way to a north Queensland holiday to escape the southern winter chill have made a spectacular cameo on the Gold Coast.
The two sub-adult humpback whales just happened to pass the Glitter Strip yesterday, on the first day of the official whale-watching season, and they played up to the cameras and film crews aboard Sea World's own whale watching vessel, which will run daily tours until the end of the season in November.

Since a ban on the hunting which forced humpback whales to the brink of extinction, humpback numbers have increased by about 10 per cent a year.

Sea World director of marine sciences Trevor Long said about 12,000 humpbacks should make the annual migration from the Antarctic to the tropics this year.

Some were particularly eager, like the one pictured which yesterday performed a series of spectacular breaches in front of a captivated audience of whale watchers.

The appearance of the two young whales came a day after a stark reminder of the perils facing the animals in the wild.

On Sunday a baby humpback making its first migration washed up on a Gold Coast beach and died, possibly from exhaustion, although wounds to its tail fluke suggested it may have been entangled in shark nets.

Local Aboriginal elders plan to hold a traditional burial ceremony for the dead whale.