All day long birds sipped sweetness from the throaty kangaroo paws I planted next to the house four years ago.

Earlier in the week six “smallies” found delight in the hammock I hoisted between two gum trees four years ago for visitors of any age seeking rest (or fun).

Jayne Whitford, architect and designer of children’s outdoor learning environments, spent most of Friday here and during a walk along the Peace Path found the buttery coconut fragrance of the Kunzia Ambigua bushes pure bliss. These I put in as tiny seedlings 20 years ago.

One could be forgiven in thinking that my emphasis on the “I have” is a bit of grandstanding on my part. No so. Rather it is an attempt to give substance to the title of this blog: “When you can’t pay back, pay forward”.

There have been many people of many persuasions from many countries who have been of immeasurable help to my ripening. Death, distance and time make it neigh impossible to “pay back” anything of worth to these valuable souls. What I can do, though, is express gratitude for their past guidance by “paying forward” to present and future visitors coming to Windgrove with the gift of a memorable experience. Within them — especially the kids – seeds of hope planted here could, in some small way, blossom into a way of being in the world that helps them remain actively positive throughout their journey. A journey I will not be around to witness.

Yes, it means time away from the studio.
Yes, it means time away from the garden.
Yes, it means time away from the books.
Yes, it means time away from the still aloneness I cherish.

Yes, it means taking the time to remember.

When we are unable to return a favor, we can pay it forward to someone or something else. Using this approach, we can see ourselves as part of a larger flow of giving and receiving throughout time. Receiving from the past, we can give to the future. When tackling issues such as climate change, the stance of gratitude is a refreshing alternative to guilt or fear as a source of motivation.

Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone
from Active Hope: How to face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy


Continuing on with the theme of last week and how one learns compassion — whether towards others, or just as importantly, towards oneself — I gifted myself with an oil painting by friend and colleague Jerzy Michalski (shown sitting). It now hangs where an aboriginal dot painting once hung; this newer painting seeming more appropriate as it is a clearer, cleaner reference to my western cultural background: that part of me that needs recognition and understanding despite my rejection of current mainstream Judaeo/Christian power structures with their insistence on literal interpretations of the Bible and a heavy emphasis on the masculine.

Appropriately titled “Past Glory” the painting depicts a cathedral whose ruined interior is portrayed with peeling plaster walls, missing pews and an overall sense of “no longer useful”.

I agree that the old church edifices are no longer sufficient to contain the burgeoning needs of this world. In a way, the Church must be larger now. It has to move out beyond human constructed walls of conceit and enclosures that lock out the natural world.

Lest we forget: It is the trees that inform us of the shape of a cathedral’s pillars; it is the trees that we need to humbly come back to to create a hugely bigger church where our animal, earthly nature can reside more easily with our spirited selves and remain in balance.

That is one meaning. The power in this painting, though, and why I choose to hang it in my home, is that it conveys the message of what Christianity, even Buddhism, is about: Scarred by struggle, transformed by hope.

Descending Theology: The Nativity

She bore no more than other women bore,
but in her belly’s globe that desert night the earth’s
full burden swayed.
Maybe she held it in her clasped hands as expecting women often do
or monks in prayer. Maybe at the womb’s first clutch
. she briefly felt that star shine

as a blade point, but uttered no curses.
Then in the stable she writhed and heard
beasts stomp in their stalls,
their tails sweeping side to side
and between contractions, her skin flinched
with the thousand animal itches that plague
. a standing beast’s sleep.

But in the muted womb-world with its glutinous liquid,
the child knew nothing
of its own fire. (No one ever does, though our names
are said to be writ down before
we come to be.) He came out a sticky grub, flailing
. the load of his own limbs

and was bound in cloth, his cheek brushed
with fingertip touch
so his lolling head lurched, and the sloppy mouth
found that first fullness — her milk
spilled along his throat, while his pure being
flooded her. (Each

feeds the other.) Then he was left
in the grain bin. Some animal muzzle against his swaddling perhaps breathed him warm
till sleep came pouring that first draught
of death, the one he’d wake from
. (as we all do) screaming.

Mary Karr

After reading Karr’s poem about the birth of Jesus, looking again at the painting “Past Glory” a new interpretation presents itself. The crumbling cathedral actually looks like a stable; an ancient medieval ruin turned into a farm yard stable. Throw in a mix of dirt, dung, hay and animals and baby Jesus would feel right at home.

Click here for larger image of painting

The hope in this painting is found in the far niche where a soft glow of radiant light streams into and throughout this struggling, well worn, humble cathedral; a cathedral where flesh and spirit can be worshiped together; where there is a direct connection between debris, decay, crumbling walls, rat shit and the divine.

James Hillman throughout his life argued that artists need to create art that helps heal the social ills and environmental problems of the world. Jerry’s painting “Past Glory” not only does this, but it is a daily reminder to me of what I should be concerned with.

Through the more feminine portal of earth’s arching branches, the fire light of spirit can stream through to warm up the moist ground below.

Lest we forget: It doesn’t matter whether or not we believe in Jesus as a fairly savvy social activist (as I do) or, indeed, as the “son of God”. The honest truth is that his first life experience — and no doubt first pleasurable moment — was at the breast of a woman.

Even the virgin Mary cannot escape the all too human/mammal condition of birth: for her just born baby to survive she must offer her own milk.

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A stronger Christmas message

December 19, 2011

Does good will blossom at this time of year?

When gift giving is pushed upon us by stores everywhere large and small, on-line or in malls, if we take away the guilt factor from beneath the Christmas tree are we left with anything?

Hopefully, the notion that offering something to someone — whether family, friend or foe — is not seen as an obligation, but a heart felt act of goodliness.

And the offering does not have to be gift wrapped in a box delivered by three wise men. It can be as simple as a gesture of kindliness. A smile to a stranger could do. Or, better yet, extending a hand of empathic compassion to a street person living hard.

Second Chances

What are the chances a raindrop
from last night’s storm caught
in the upturned cup of an autumn leaf
will fall from this tree I pass under
and land on the tip of my lit cigarette,
scuffing it out? What are the chances
my niece will hit bottom before Christmas,
a drop we all long for, and quit heroin?
What are the chances of being hit
by a bus, a truck, a hell-bound train
or inheriting the gene for cancer,
addiction? What good are statistics
on a morning like this? What good
is my niece to anyone but herself?
What are the chances any of you
are reading this poem?
Dear men,
whom I have not met,
when you meet her on the street
wearing the wounds that won’t heal
and she offers you the only thing
she has left, what are the chances
you’ll take pity on her fallen body?

Dorianne Laux

Maybe the above poem seems a bit strong for a Christmas message of goodwill to all, peace on earth and joyful tidings, but what “Second Chances” hints at is that we all have an opportunity, especially at Christmas, to change how we behave towards others. As in every year at this time, we have another chance to reach out for the hand that is extended in a plea for help.

And possibly more important, we just might have a second chance to reach out for the hand that is extended to help lift us up.


A natural gift

August 22, 2007

Deer live deep in the forest
surviving on water and grass
stretching out under trees to sleep
how wonderful having no cares
but tie them up in a fancy hall
and give them the richest of foods
they won’t eat a bite all day
and soon their loveliness fades

Chinese poet Han Shan c. 800 AD


It might appear strange to couple the above poem and photo together, but there are two comparisons to be found: appropriate giving and the importance of nature on our emotional, physical and spiritual health.

The best gift we can give anyone, including ourselves, is a natural world left vibrant and healthy for all ages and all species. Whatever is lovely in our life fades a bit each time the earth’s natural heritage is diminished. Nothing can make up for this loss. No fancy home, no gourmet meals, no nothing. We, like the deer, do best in wild nature. Take us away from nature and we slowly, imperceptibly fade away, shopping mall by shopping mall.

Baby Tama is having a New Zealand flowering Pahutakawa planted in her honour with the baby’s placenta placed first in the hole. The little girl standing, Arora, had a similar tree planted just behind this one three years ago. These children are directly bearing witness to the supreme importance of making a physical and spiritual connection to the living earth.

Along with each tree’s special birth significance, the parents Janine and Hape wanted to plant these trees here at Windgrove because, for them, the land itself is special. And why is it so special? I strongly suspect that it is the many people over the years who have contributed in so many ways that have made Windgrove what it is today. The $1,000 that went into the fencing of last week’s blog was donation money from people in America, Australia and Korea. Other people have given of their time to help build gardens and maintain the grounds. Today, a visiting person left behind a candle and three of her chooks’ eggs. Delicious.

A greedy man who piles up wealth
is like an owl who loves her chicks
the chicks grow up and eat their mother
wealth eventually swallows its owner
spread it around and blessings grow
hoard it and disaster arises
no wealth no disaster
flap your wings in the blue

Han Shan (known as Cold Mountain)

Footnote to poem. The belief that owl chicks eat their mother is an ancient myth in China.


Community money

November 30, 2004

A round of applause to Hertz, Avis and Budget rental cars for boosting the spirits of the Roaring Beach community.

Let me explain…

Most Americans and Australians talk proudly of the rugged individual, the pioneer, the explorer and settler and will defend vigourously the rights of the individual over those of the community.

I, for one, honour those single minded individuals that never bow down to officious, meaningless,bureaucratic regulations, never accept on blind faith religious dogma and never succumb to those dumb tribal flag waving loyalties often seen at political gatherings or sport arenas. I honour those that thumb their noses at convention or what is considered “proper”. I honour those who understand through tough experience what Nietzsche meant when he wrote:

“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe.”

On the other hand, I also strongly believe that beyond the three generally assumed necessities of food, clothing and shelter, there is the important fourth necessity: community.

How many suburban people have looked over their fortress backyard fences and talked with their neighbours recently? How many urban people consistently climb the flight of stairs in their apartments to socialise with someone two floors up?

Why, with all our material wealth and toys, are there so many lonely people?

Living in community and living with respect for the well being of the greater community is one key for remaining a happy individual.

If we could just accept the interdependence of all life on this earth, this just might allow for the maturing of the raw, brash, arrogant individual into a more compassionate, loving and tolerant individual capable of maintaining their unique creativeness whilst also joining in the tribe’s songs and dances.

Here at Roaring Beach, I desire a certain level of social cohesion to exist between all the neighbours. Call it “unity in diversity” or “diversity in unity”. It does, however, take an effort to keep any community active and flowing.

And here is where Hertz, Avis and Budget car rental firms play a part.

windgrove signWhen tourists to Tasmania drive around in their rental cars, a few of them venture down the Roaring Beach Road looking for the “eccentric Yank with the eternal flame and Peace Walk”. When they enter onto the Windgrove property they read a nicely worded sign that asks for donations to help support the garden, the centre and….. the Roaring Beach community.

This past weekend I used one third of this donated money collected over the past year to hire the gypsy musicians, Czardas, and to cook pizzas for around 40 adults and children.

czardasczardas feetIt was fantastic. I had hoped to take a photo of the event, but got caught up rolling out pizza dough while the band played and the opportunity to capture something on film got lost in a cloud of flour dust, pepperoni, mushrooms, laughter and excellent fiddle, guitar and accordion playing by Marjorie, Steve and Erin.

Great music from talented individuals, good food, a modicum of intoxicants, meaningful conversation and lots of fun provided for a memorable evening that brought our community together for this night and will help keep it together into the future.

All of us here are strong characters. It is a delight to be among such unique folk.



Stoking the fires

June 15, 2004

When I lifted the lid on the Peace Fire this morning, overnight the eternal flame inside had almost gone out and only a thin trail of grey smoke indicated it was not yet dead.

peace fire auction 2Carefully, thoughtfully, quietly, I tended to the fire’s needs and made the flame visible once again.

The care of this world is a fragile business. Whether it be the Peace Fire, the care of the environment or the health of any relationship, they can so easily be undone through neglect, forgetfulness or an uncaring or pessimistic attitude.

“Fragile” is not too strong a word to describe the tenuous grip that love, peace and the environment have upon people as they become “off the agenda” when priorities have to be made; especially economic priorities. It behoves all of us, therefore, to daily do those little actions that collectively keep the flames of hope burning the world over.

As seen in the Balkans and elsewhere, peace and love can so easily be dismantled when one’s moral foundations are cemented in centuries of fear and mistrust. The same holds true for the environment movement where, because of deep cultural and religious roots that embed fear of the earth into nearly everything, environmental protection can be dismantled as quickly as a spider’s web in the wind when fears of job losses or mortgage payments or consumption habits get moved into a zone of uncertainty.

Whether it be peace, love, or a healthy world that we long for, none will arrive at our doorstep prepaid or remain for long unless nurtured and carefully looked after.

auctionThis past weekend the Green’s held an art auction to raise funds for Christine Milne’s federal Senate campaign. The sculpture I donated, ‘Five Ancestral Stones’ (see blog 24 May), sold for $3,100. The total raised from all the donated art was over $55,000. I was pleased, the other artists were pleased, the organisers were pleased, and most pleased was Christine Milne.

Compared to the many hundreds of thousands of dollars raised by the major political parties through corporate, union or vested interest groups, $55,000 might seem a paltry amount. Considering the cost of television advertisements, it would probably only buy a few seconds of time.

But what it represents to me, and I am sure to all those other supporters of Christine’s bid for the Senate, is dignity.

Yes…. a simple dignity gained from tending, in whatever way possible, the fragile fires of peace, love and hope upon and for this earth.