Beyond Windgrove

A study in brown

February 25, 2013

During a drive to Hobart last week and while passing through 50 kilometers of burnt out landscape, I couldn’t help but notice the many exquisite panoramas of brown beauty blurring by.


When one sees the spray of a rainbow off the end of a hose on a summer’s day, or is intrigued by the magic that takes place inside a clear glass prism when an entering beam of white light exits as a neat array of colours, the eye’s fancy is nearly always tickled by the vibrancy of colours revealed: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.

Brown, however, is no where to be seen. Why? It is certainly a colour, but like pink is not found in the spectrum.

And strangely enough, when one looks at the linguistic history of language formation, those human societies that have words for colour (all but two), the hierarchal ordering goes something like this: languages with just three colours have black, white and red; those with four or five colours add green and yellow, and then, the following sixth colour is always blue. Even in agricultural societies where the earth might seem to be more closely observed than the sky, linguistic acknowledgement of brown is always placed seventh.


Most people know that combining blue and yellow creates green, and, that mixing yellow with red creates orange. But what colours are used to create brown? The answer is a mixture of yellow, red and black. These are the same three colours in the The Australian Aboriginal Flag — where black symbolizes Aboriginal people, yellow represents the sun and red depicts the earth and peoples’s relationship to the land as well as representing ochre which is used in ceremonies.

Instead of calling mainland Australia the “sunburnt country”, perhaps it should be the “brown country”.


Another interesting question is whether or not people have heard of the term “brown study”? Although not frequently used, it means: to be in a state or mood of deep thought; sometimes associated with gloomy meditation or melancholy.

Looking at the photos I took of the burnt out landscape last week — a landscape most certainly a study in brown — I have to ask myself whether or not the land itself was presently in a Gaian mental state of “brown study”, pensive, perhaps moody?

One thing is certain: If I can put away any thoughts of the destructive qualities of the fires, there is a peculiar beauty to this browned off, seemingly lifeless landscape.


Ultimately, if I personally have to make a choice, I would place a brown landscape seventh on my list of places I would chose to inhabit.

Upon reaching home and driving down the mile and half driveway I created with a bulldozer 20 years ago, the green sidelines are evidence enough to me of the appropriateness of this decision.



Final third

May 21, 2012

Today’s blog entry reflects on a trip I took up to Sydney last week. The first two photos come together nicely: a quiet breakfast at the roof top cafe of the Museum of Contemporary Art is juxtaposed with succulent “flapjacks” seen at the Royal Botanic Garden highlighting the thin red edges and the notion of food found in both.

However, as circumstance would have it, the number I was given when I placed my breakfast order — #33 — stirred up a memory.

At the age of thirty three, I was in central Alaska in a remote village working for the summer as the “saw man” on a fly-in bush construction site that entailed the heavy lifting of many hundreds of boards that were cut into lengths for a public housing project. After ten hours of very physical work, six days per week for four months, I would then run two miles, swim a mile and do a series of chin ups and push ups before dinner. If I were to chart my life, the “peak” of my physical health and strength would have to be at this time. From thirty three till now, it has been a slow dissolve of physical capability.

The next two photos represent the reason behind my going to Sydney. At first glance they appear to be about the infrastructure of community that provides for the sharing of food and drink, transportation, culture and fun. True. But more importantly, they are symbolic of the science, technology and design that sits behind their skillful use in creating a healthier world. More specifically, “my” world.

You see, the reason I went to Sydney was for a bit of liposuction. Not for aesthetic reasons and a vain attempt to get back the six pack my abdomen showed at 33. Rather, it was to gather fat cells in order to turn them into stem cells that were then injected into my knees to promote the growth of new cartilage as well as heal meniscus tears.

Tonight, as I write this blog, my very sore tummy has four holes in it where a foot and a half long steel tube was inserted and moved briskly in and out around for half an hour or more to vacuum up the fat tissues. Yes, a bit of pain, but what this new cutting edge medical advancement means is that I should have three to five more years use of my knees before consideration need be given to having major knee replacement surgery.

If the fundamentalist Christian organizations had not slowed up stem cell research, this procedure would have been available ten years earlier.

Ironically, the carpentry work in Alaska led to the wear and tear of the cartilage in my knees, but the physicality of the work and being out-of-doors gave me a good heart as well as a decent pay check; the savings of which allowed me to support myself during the early years of being a full time artist.

Double the number 33 and the result is 66, the age I will be turning to in just over six weeks. This will mark the beginning of the last third of my life; ending, I fantasize, at 99.  

Hopefully, this final third is when a mature mind and body meld into one teaching; where the center-point of spirit and flesh sparks wildly. 

But will my body cooperate for another thirty three years? In the health sanitarium, in Rilke’s final illness, he wrote this poem about his weakening body.

Brother Body

Brother body is poor… that means we must be rich for him.
He was often the rich one; so may he be forgiven
for the meanness of his wretched moments.
Then, when he acts as though he barely knows us,
may he be gently reminded of all that has been shared.

Of course, we are not one but two solitaries:
our consciousness and he.
But how much we have to thank each other for,
as friends do! And illness reminds us:
friendship demands a lot.

I bow down to the trees and to nature, but I also bow down to science and to human ingenuity.

As I move into the “final third” of my life, I’m doing what I can to make sure that the wisdom I’ve garnered over six decades will be well supported by a body that not only walks its talk, but does it with grace, dignity and ease.

There is still much work to be done.


Melbourne highlights

December 12, 2011

Two weeks ago I wrote about a dream where I had smashed through glass to escape the crushing mediocrity of conformity. Interestingly enough, a couple of days later I flew to Melbourne to watch a friend perform in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” where the character Chief escapes an authoritarian mental institution by smashing his way out through a barred glass window. A nice confirmation of the power of dreams.

My more pedestrian “holiday escape” to Melbourne is presented below — without words — in the form of a story board where each photo is connected to the one above and below. Carefully arranged through colour, form and metaphor, the beauty, joy and personal significance of events unfolds.

Visiting the city and meeting up with old and new friends over six days in some 20 restaurants and cafes was a delicious, coffee and pastry fueled delight.


Who opens the door?

April 4, 2011

Whenever I am outdoors tasting and savoring the deliciousness of air, earth, fire and water, the door to happiness cracks opens. And, if not lasting, at least long enough to rekindle the heart’s engine of desire for life and the pursuit of a sustainable, global peace.

This past week it was a ferry boat ride to the northern end of Lake St. Clair whose cold deep waters nestled among the peaks of middle Tasmania that provided this moment of grace.

The haunting quality of grey trunked trees mirrored in black water so still the landscape, though seemingly mute, spoke with such force my head rang and I felt almost dizzy surrounded by such beauty. A beauty so touching, one cannot help but beg for forgiveness for ever doubting its magnificence.

Tilicho Lake

In this high place
it is as simple as this,
leave everything you know behind.

Step toward the cold surface,
say the old prayer of rough love
and open both arms.

Those who come with empty hands
will stare into the lake astonished,
there, in the old light
reflecting pure snow

the true shape of you own face.

David Whyte

And later, stepping onto the shore beneath the myrtle tree with its own branching arms opened wide, I sensed a school room quality of “teacher with students” while standing among four tree ferns.

Immersing myself into the surrounds of Lake St. Clair allowed for the urgency of the world to abate for a moment. The day’s doors to happiness opened just enough to grant entry to the peace of wild things.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry


Animal dreaming

October 17, 2010

Friday was rainy enough and cold enough that I stayed indoors by the fire and read from David Abram’s newest book ‘Becoming Animal’. In it he writes passionately about our sensate human animalness and how western society has divorced itself — needlessly and with consequences — from this inner DNA linked finned, furred and feathered being lurking within all of us, and, which needs to be brought forth again into our conscious daily lives if we are to have any hope of saving humanity from the perils of this false separateness from our earliest kin.

Eventually, I dozed off.

Like the overly loved domestic dog curled up on the couch dreaming of his valiant wolf days, my slippered foot twitched. The computer screen behind and above my head recorded the moment. The horizontal sculpture ‘Generational Flow’ to my right acted as a conduit to the recent and then distant past.

My dreaming had me back again at Spirit Rock Buddhist Center in California where, in July, I attended an eight day retreat studying “Non Violent Communication”, and where, during a walking meditation, I experienced for the first time ever an “animal” connection between myself and another human; a fellow participant in the retreat. It was beyond just an imaginary experience; rather, it was a deeply felt, embodied experience and, in many ways, eerily similar to the descriptive atavistic experience of William Stafford’s poem ‘Atavism’


Sometimes in the open you look up
where birds go by, or just nothing,
and wait. A dim feeling comes
you were like this once, there was air,
and quiet; it was by a lake, or
maybe a river you were alert
as an otter and were suddenly born
like the evening star into wide
still worlds like this one you have found
again, for a moment, in the open.

Something is being told in the woods: aisles of
shadow lead away; a branch waves;
a pencil of sunlight slowly travels its
path. A withheld presence almost
speaks, but then retreats, rustles
a patch of brush. You can feel
the centuries ripple generations
of wandering, discovering, being lost
and found, eating, dying, being born.
A walk through the forest strokes your fur,
the fur you no longer have. And your gaze
down a forest aisle is a strange, long
plunge, dark eyes looking for home.
For delicious minutes you can feel your whiskers
wider than your mind, away out over everything.

William Stafford

The woman and I were in a carpeted section of the hall and slowly walking shoeless. No other people were present and all was completely quiet. It was night and this particular area of the hall only dimly lit.

We had been doing a walking meditation for around 20 minutes; eyes half closed. Suddenly, in this deep meditative trance, I entered into a realm where, not only was I walking down a forest path on all fours and actually feeling my leg and arm muscles doing so, but so was the animal person next to me. We were two jungle cats, two panthers on the prowl.

With each “knowing” step we acted as a team, surveying, sensing and feeling our way along the path. Our whiskers were definitely wider than our minds. Or, as David Abram would say, we were being present with our “muscled mind”.

Our awareness was fused and didn’t separate itself out from any “others”; rather joined in a very tactile, conscious way with all that enveloped us. We were immersed in the felt presence of rock, tree, stream, fish, insect, air and cloud and all was one vast molecular cloud of interchangeable identities. Simply put, it was an exquisite encounter with a rarely viewed reality.

I have had several animal encounters before, especially here at Windgrove, but always with another more-than-human personage. The Spirit Rock encounter was unique in that it was another “human” that joined with me in walking the animal path. Wonderful treat.

As an aside — what impressed me while at Spirit Rock was that the spiritual teachings there are beginning to reflect on the fact that “Rock” is half of Spirit Rock. The “body” of the earth, and not just transcendence (Spirit), is getting more fleshed out, so to speak. The human body — this human animal — is becoming mainstream even in Buddhist theology. This leaves me tasting hope.

In the next little while, I’ll try and move beyond animal and befriend a brother/sister lichen.


Postscript to Storm

September 20, 2010

Our children cannot enjoy — and learn from — the gifts of Nature if all the adults in their lives are saying one thing (get outdoors) and doing another (staying inside).
Richard Louv

Following on from my blog of yesterday describing the tremendous adventure my neighbours and I had directly witnessing the brunt of a very visceral gale, the above quote from Richard Louv can only confirm that living at Windgrove is one big authentic commitment to getting outdoors.

Go through the center of the earth from Windgrove and you will almost find yourself near the spot where Izabel (from Brazil) is sitting on a rock overlooking the Atlantic Ocean along the Devon coast in England. The water molecules crashing at Windgrove a few days ago will someday soon be crashing along the Devon coastline.

After co-teaching my two week course at Schumacher College with Fritjof Capra in May of this year, I stayed on as a “humble” student for an extra week to attend the “Child in Nature” workshop (along with Izabel) that was co-taught by Richard Love (pictured in hat with wife Kathy) and artist Jan van Boekel.

Two fellow students — among the 20 exceptionally talented participants — were Annelies Henstra from The Neatherlands and Darren Southern from England. She was working on a supplemental resolution to the United Nations charter of human rights to include The Child’s Right to Nature. He, with difficulties in hips and knees because of a land mine in Bosnia, was physically active in providing emotional and outdoor experiential support to children-at-risk.

It was here at Schumacher College that I heard Richard Louv speak the above quote. It was here that I realized that, despite the good intentions of most people, finding the time and place in our increasingly busy urban lives for nature makes Louv’s quote more of a depressing reality than a cautionary warning.

One of the great combined intellectual/experiential days of our week together was to be guided by Stephan Harding on a 4.5 kilometer walk where each meter represented 1,000,000 years of evolution. Starting with the formation of our earth 4.5 billion years ago we walked — step by imaginary step — through the Hadean, Archaean, Cambrian, Ordovician Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic and Jurassic. This 4.356 kilometer portion of the walk representing 4.356 years took us past the ice cream stand, but the first flowering plants hadn’t even arrived yet. They and the first fossils of insects and modern mammal and bird groups came in the next 80 meters (80 million years) in the Cretaceous Period.

We still had to walk 63 meters through the Tertiary Era until finally reaching The Holocene, the last 10,000 years of the earth’s (and our human) evolution. Out of 4.5 kilometers of walking, it was only the last 10mm or half inch on a tape measure that represented the beginning of “agricultural civilization”.

The time since the Industrial Revolution when, supposedly, modern civilization took off, is a mere 0.2 of a millimeter.

Puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

Certainly, time then for all of us to get out outside to learn to love nature before we have lost everything. And not tomorrow.

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