Windgrove’s future

May 8, 2018

Tasmania’s best minds and hearts are plotting out the future of Windgrove. As the story unfolds, stay in touch by signing up here .

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A Road Less Travelled

August 12, 2018

In May of this year I was invited to be on a four person panel discussing our autobiographical accounts on the topic: “The Roads Less Travelled”; part of a week long 50th Reunion celebration of the Harvard/Radcliffe class of 1968. It was held in a rather large lecture hall at Harvard’s Science Center with an audience of around 170 people. The best part — from a visual perspective — was the large 10 foot x 14 foot screen where our images were shown.

In a nutshell, I spoke on the journey my life took after graduation: Peace Corps@Korea, Apprenticeship in carpentry and cabinet making @Alaska, Furniture design and fabrication @Penland School/North Carolina, Teaching design @UTas/Tasmania and, for the past 25 years, my life @Windgrove: a Refuge for Learning

The common thread behind all of my life’s choices — besides being “unconventional”— was to be of greater service to the common good of humanity and the wider world. In Alaska I usually worked in the bush building homes, hospitals, schools for the native peoples of the region.

During the last week of 1990 I canoed with friends down the Arthur River in northwest Tasmania. While walking by myself after an evening meal and pondering what New Year’s resolution to make, I spontaneously knelt down and audibly said to the trees and river: “I am ready to be of greater service”. At the time I was living in the house I had designed and was a tenured lecturer at the University of Tasmania.


But a month and a half later a bush fire took out my home. Total destruction.

Inwardly knowing that I was ready for a different life — another road less travelled moment — I quit my lectureship, bought 100 acres of barren, degraded land next to Roaring Beach, and began the 25 yearlong journey to find out what I meant when I said “I wanted to be of greater service”.

The most obvious sign of what I’ve done is plant trees.

After Harvard I gave a slightly longer presentation on a hilltop in North Carolina to a small group of Penland friends. Surrounded by tiki lamps and a mellowing sunset, while the image below of me smiling was up on the desktop screen, I asked the rhetorical question: Why was I happy?

The answer I gave was this passage from the Marge Piercy poem:

If they come in the night

Long ago on a night of danger and vigil
a friend said, Why are you happy?
He explained (we lay together on a hard cold floor) what prison
meant because he had done
time, and I talked of the death
of friends. Why are you happy
then, he asked, close to
angry.

I said, I like my life. If I
have to give it back, if they
take it from me, let me only
not feel I wasted any, let me
not feel I forgot to love anyone
I meant to love, that I forgot
to give what I held in my hands,
that I forgot to do some little
piece of the work that wanted
to come through.

In late 1975, after I decided to quit a well paying job as a foreman on the Alaska pipeline (and a relationship) to study art in Wisconsin, Paul Simon recorded “Still Crazy After All These Years”.

We’re now in the year 2018 and I’m-Still-Planting-After-All-These Years. Another banksia put into the ground three days ago means another flowering delight for someone in ten years time.

The poet Rilke speaks to me when he writes:

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

None of the past 50 years has been all sugar and honey. As much as I felt honoured to have been invited to speak at Harvard with the resultant heartfelt applause from the audience after my slide presentation, over the years the multiple personal decisions to walk a path “not the norm” has been full of personal pot holes and is still full of pot holes.

But one thing is certain, and well worth the price:


Perhaps those who find the thought of dangling over the precipice a bit too harrowing, well maybe they aren’t the ones to ever be asked to be on a panel “The Road Less Travelled”.

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It’s that time in my life to now give ample and fearless consideration to what it means when one’s physical capabilities are diminishing, but one still wants to be “in service”.


For inspiration I look to poet Mary Oliver.

Lines Written in the days of Growing Darkness

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends

into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?

I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?

Mary Oliver

The line most ripe with meaning is: “…the vivacity of what was is married to the vitality of what will be.”

The two words that ring out within this line: vivacity and vitality.

In other words, as I approach my 72nd year, I can inspire and impart vitality to the next generation of people following in my footsteps by remaining full of vivacity in my later years to the very end.

I can do this as mentor and elder.

And it is not just young people who, through my vivacity could become vital in their later years. It is the earth itself. Let me continue to plant — literally and figuratively — seeds of growth for future generations of trees and all forms of life forces.

And here’s another Mary Oliver poem that offers encouragement — to anyone of any age — to live a vivacious life.

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measly-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Mary Oliver

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Two hearts beating

February 4, 2018

At 7AM earlier in the week, I went to the kitchen to pour a glass of water from the jug that sits next to the window far right of the sink. At the bottom, huddled in 35mm of water, was a shivering “Little Pygmy-possum”.

I picked up the very scared tiny creature who, most likely assuming that I was about to eat it, tried to escape from my hands. It’s fur was totally saturated and the little guy would, certainly be suffering from hypothermia. I grabbed the towel off the stove handle and wrapped it around the squirming ball of wet fur. Next, I walked over to the reading corner, sat down and opened up the towel enough to put the Pygmy-possum directly against my heart and skin warmth. Within a few minutes all was quiet beneath the towel and my hands.

I sat for an hour this way. I meditated. I thought how six months earlier I had the first of two total knee replacements with the second TKR operation just three months ago. Following the second operation I started to have severe bouts of atrial fibrillations of the heart lasting up to 13 hours. The short story is that I’m now on beta blockers to keep my AF under control.

The Pygmy-possum is pressed against my heart. Two sentient beings of this earth wanting to live a life more-or-less stress free.

Ever so slowly I began to feel movement so I opened up the towel to take a peek inside. Tiny bulging eyes peered at me. Then it started licking itself; doing what it knows best when wet. From nose to tail it cleaned off excess water, even turning over onto its back to lick its belly fur while occasionally turning its head in my direction eyeing me eyeball to eyeball, mammal to mammal. Eventually the Pygmy-possum moved over to a slightly dryer part of my hairy chest, curled up into a little ball and started to sleep now that it felt safe in its little cocoon of human warmth.

At 8:30AM, I carried him/her over to the kitchen counter and said my good-byes as it nimbly scurried over to find a new hiding place behind the cups and bottles.

The photo above was from some years ago when a similar thing happened, but whether the same or different Pygmy-possum, it was still pure delight to hold and provide warmth and protection to something so small and precious.

At 9AM, my heart felt in the best shape ever.

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A new place to sit

May 12, 2017

“… the deep wisdom of the soul which recognises that life is about loss, and that love tempered by grief, allows one to cherish the ordinary, simple moments of everyday life, even as we know they are passing away.”

Robert Romanyshyn

It’s been over half a year since my last entry, but this doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy. Possibly, too busy to sit down at the computer and write.

In the foreground of the above photo is a 3 metre/10 foot log that weighs more than a tonne; hence, the hoist and tripod. In the background is a replacement (under construction) for the Shakespeare Bench that rotted away — originally using sassafras wood was a bad choice.

The placement of the finished Berensohn / Lawrence Memorial Bench is up the hill just beneath a grove of she-oaks planted some 20 years ago.

Unsurprisingly, the bench commands a spectacular view and, is itself, a rather imposing and powerful addition to the landscape.

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Nourishment

November 23, 2016

Where have all the people gone?

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Generally, aside from an hour and a half teaching session from 9AM in the morning and an hour Daily Puja reading earlier at 6:30AM, most of the 16 people here for a nine day Buddhist meditation retreat were outdoors. Not naval gazing, but embracing their interbeing with all other life. Not as detached empty vessels, but as passionate, curious, awe-struck individuals in love with life and its many mysterious manifestations.

Tarchin Hearn was an inspired and delightful teacher who talked of — not just contemporary Buddhist philosophy drawn from Mahamudra and Yogacara teachings — but of systems theory, deep-ecology and poetry. For me, personally, a perfect blend of science, earth, art and the sacred that was devoid of restrictive and judgemental dogma. So refreshing.

What better to do after the morning session than to be outdoors with the rest of our animal and plant ancestors? Walking the talk, so to speak.

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And, as soon as people had arrived and set up their tents, the nine days flashed by and they were taking their tents down, last hugs, and were off leaving me alone yet feeling throughly loved by everyone’s good energy in thought and deed — the deed being one hour of gift dana per day on the land and house.

Add this up: 16 hours per day by 8 days equals 128 hours of sweeping, raking, pulling bracken and weeding the veggie and flower gardens. Bursting with joy, the land, house and I were.

A day after everyone’s departure and I was contemplating the phase: “Before enlightenment: carry water, chop wood. After enlightenment: carry water, chop wood.”

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The reason? I had to empty out the composting toilet. Two years worth of human excrement which had been transformed by worms and slaters into a nice nourishing soil. Three wheelbarrow loads later, the ground around the pear trees felt blest. Indeed.

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