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Keep on rocking

July 18, 2011

Life is easy, isn’t it, when it is sunny and the beach you walk along — have walked along for years — is soft underfoot with an endless stretch of golden sand. Roaring Beach was like that just over a week ago.

What happens, though, when the storms of life ravage your home and, where once was sand, is nothing now but stones that hurt underfoot? Roaring Beach is like this now. After several days of a relentless 25 foot swell, where once was sand is a kilometer long stone beach.

Like the spider who daily mends her web, how do you, I or anyone mend our wounds and continue to love despite losing everything; continue to wake up with a smile on our faces despite the losses.

I went down twice in as many days to survey the damage, the devastation and destruction done to the dunes and foreshore. Hard to fathom the forces behind what had happened.

But hold on.

Let me change the way I’m writing about this event. Instead of labeling it damaging and destructive, I should prefer to see it as simply a powerful display of nature that changed the face of Roaring Beach from what it was into something entirely different. Remain emotive, certainly, but replace fear of change with trusting beauty to be found and upheld, always.

I can view this like the prisoners who, when put into solitary confinement at the Port Arthur Penal Colony went insane, or, instead, like Buddhist monks who, when entering solitary confinement come out enlightened.

I write this because our human species is, without doubt, moving into a period of great change and for us to remain equanimous without giving into fear and despair will require an emotional intelligence capable of buoying us during this transition.

How shall we love when we are losing everything? is a question that needs serious consideration. Indeed, how will we manage to maintain an open heart that remains honest to the perils of our world yet finds joy, beauty and a plenitude of moments to cherish on a daily basis?

Walking along Roaring Beach now is rather exciting in its massive transformation. So many things to explore with all kinds of discoveries to be made: big boulders strewn around as though dropped in by helicopter, buried ancient mudstone ochre of several colours revealed for the first time in who knows how many years or centuries, the sandstone cliffs at the western end of the beach carved into new formations, the dolerite cliffs on the Windgrove side fractured as though with dynamite. Gosh, these and more. So much more.

Click here for larger image of this sandstone erratic

The dynamics of nature are surely beyond imaging. The thrill of this investigation has given me happiness.

And the sound. I have to tell you about the sound: that most wonderful sound of stones clanging against each other as waves wash over them all along the length of this now very long stone beach. It reminds me of what I wrote several years ago when a much smaller section of the beach made such a sound.

The Stones

I stopped and listened to the stones the other morning. There’s a section of beach where tidal currents and wave action have washed away the sand exposing a pile of rounded stones about the size of grapefruit. These aren’t spread out level, but incline to the deteriorating top edge of a sand dune. Normally, in my early morning run I would skirt this section, running a bit below it; moving gingerly yet quickly to the other side where the beach once again becomes flat and sandy.

However, during a higher king tide, a chance wave hit just as I was in the middle, carrying itself right to the top and causing me to scamper upward to keep my sneakers dry. When the wave rolled in it had the sound of most waves as they break foaming on the shore. But when it returned as a smooth backwash it rolled and knocked together all the stones beneath it. Such a wondrous sound. In squatted rapture I waited for several more of the larger waves to repeat this Balinese like clacking of instruments.

“Peal me again, again, again”, I heard the stones repeatedly ask of the water.

It was timeless this sound, as though the beach stones and waves had been rehearsing together for centuries. For a moment the necklace shape of the beach became Earth’s rosary and the beads were pressed just once for me. In that moment, I felt holy.


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


Living with struggle

August 16, 2007

I thought the day was going to be fairly straight forward, easy and relatively light-hearted. Just use the Subaru to carry fencing material out near the cliff where Glenn, Sally and I would build a protective barrier against the wallabies. The sun was shining, the wind non existent. Perfect. I hadn’t, however, accounted for the soft earth to sink the vehicle down to its axles. Especially a four wheel drive vehicle. Frustrating? Yes. Tiring? Yes. Time consuming? Yes. Ultimately defeating? No.


Every farmer or person who works the land has days like this. Unexpected floods, droughts, mechanical breakdowns or other events that plague the agenda of any day. The struggle is always there.

When struggle comes, as struggle does to every life, it’s never easy to go on. It often seems that not going on at all would be the better thing. The easier thing. The only possible thing. Pressures from outside us, pressures from within, hang heavy on our shoulders, weigh us down, and dampen our hearts. Then the spirit is taxed beyond belief. Then all the pious little nosegays we’ve ever learned turn to sand. Then we begin to question: What is the use of all this pain? What is the purpose of all this struggle?….. And yet we sense that the way we deal with struggle has something to do with the very measure of the self, with the whole issue of what it is to be a spiritual person.

I could go on and talk about the bigger struggles I have with the world or of Tasmanian politics or with my own dark demons. But I also face a form of struggle with every tree planted at Windgrove and how I deal with this struggle is also a lesson in dealing with life’s other struggles.

For the past 17 years an effort is made every August to reforest those areas of land that were stripped clear of vegetation during the time Windgrove’s land was used for sheep grazing. It has never been as easy as in “plant a tree and watch it grow”. It’s been more like: “Let’s put in 500 trees, see how they do and then try to do better”.

Well, this year “doing better” is bringing in 300 metres of chicken wire and 60 two metre long steel “star pickets”. About $1,000 worth. Since 1992 I have been trying to plant out this cliff face with the hope that it would create a windbreak for other trees on its leeward side. The trees when planted — boobyalla and she-oaks — will grow, but the ever hungry wallabies have always outwitted any previous attempt to curtail their access to the young seedlings’ succulent leaves.


Well, with patience and the collective effort of six hands, three brains and four hearts, the car made it out of the mud and the fence got built. My fingers are crossed that this latest defensive effort will work. If not, I figure I still have a few more plans up my sleeve.

The great secret of life is how to survive struggle without succumbing to it, how to bear struggle without being defeated by it, how to come out of great struggle better than when we found ourselves in the midst of it.

The essence of struggle is neither endurance nor denial. The essence of struggle is the decision to become new rather than simply to become older. It is the opportunity to grow either smaller or larger in the process.

All quotes from Joan D. Chittister’s book, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope

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A Possibility

August 10, 2006

Although true, it is too easy to just say that the shadow figures nudging up to the Peace Pole are myself and my partner.

Although true, it is too easy to just only talk about the love that spirals up between the two of us and abandon the rest of the world.


What I want to say, what I would rather say, is that the shadow figures represent people who, though once full of enmity for each other, had a conversion somehow, somewhere and were finally able to humble themselves before the face of love.

Such a trite word these days, “love”. Sometimes almost as banal—or as silly—as “peace”.

What I want to say, what I would rather say about love is that it is nothing if not powerful.

If our imagination is courageous enough, powerful enough, the two shadow figures holding hands are a Lebanese Muslim and an Israeli Jew.

Imagine it. Imagine it happening. Imagine it happening and we can change the world.

The US serviceman who bombed children with napalm during the Vietnam war eventually met with the grown Vietnamese woman who was the naked, fleeing, scorched child captured in a photo at the time.

Karen Eberhardt Shelton writes of this 2nd meeting.

Making Amends

He has closed her horrified mouth
With a kiss of apology,
His own suffering
A bridge between them.

He is a rare gift:
To heal with an embrace
So many years after burning off her flesh
In a hateful war;
Having forgiveness come back to him
Was the closure of a century.

That she survived to face him,
That he lived to grow into compassion;
One of those perfect miracles
You can’t explain, yet it is so beautiful,
It illuminates everyone.

Karaen Eberhardt Shelton

(from Resurgence magazine #219)


A little orange fire in the ground reaching out to the larger world as reflected in the orange cloud in western sky. The dawn greeted me thus this morning at first light. Fire. Water. Air. Earth. They were all sharply present.

Peace_Fire_4I was up early tossing sprigs of eucalypt, banksia, she-oak, tea-tree, blackwood, coastal wattle and other fragrant leaves onto this fire as a simple honouring of the specialness of today; a day that marks the anniversary of the lighting of the eternal Peace Fire flame four years ago on April 6, 2002

It began as a request from an aboriginal woman to create a healing fire for peace between blacks and whites, peace between men and women, peace between all peoples, and, peace between humanity and the natural world.

For four years this fire has been smouldering along acting as smoke signal to a confused world announcing daily that there are yet beacons acting as still small voices promoting the message of peace; that there are people still willing to commit to the maintenance of this peace; that fire and smoke, in this instance, rises from the earth, not as an after-effect of a rocket attack on a defenceless home nor the burning off of ancient forests, but as a potent symbol of hope.

For the most part, I have stacked and then carried piece by piece, log by log, 50 tons of firewood and placed them into the now, deeply blackened rock lined pit that is the home of this eternal flame. During all this time of nearly 1,500 continuous days, wisps of smoke and burning embers have worked to keep fear and hatred in balance with love and trust. By any stretch of the imagination, I big task (not for me, but for the fire).

Has it been worth it?

On the down side, surely, one has to question the burning of this much firewood; the burning of which has neither warmed a home nor sizzled a sausage.

To defend the use of this much wood in a “rational and scientific” manner, there are two replies. Firstly, as the stated intention of the Peace Fire is to keep the flame burning for 600 years, if all the tonnage burned was added up over this 600 year period, it would equal what Forestry Tasmania and Gunns cut down in the first three hours of every 24 hour day. In effect, if in 600 years this Peace Fire can slow down the madness currently destroying Tasmania’s forests by just three hours, than the carbon trade off is balanced out. In other words, even at 12 tons per year, this amount doesn’t rate a blip on anyone’s radar.

Secondly, and more quick to the point, the wood has come from a plantation clear fell and was going to be burnt anyway.

On the up side, however, there is no question that this Peace Fire has worked magic. More than 3000 people from all over the world have stopped, smelled and been witness to this eternal flame. Most have been inspired by what it represents. Most have gone back to their homeland a tiny bit more joyful, hopeful and uplifted in spirit. Most saw this tiny fire as an important component to the global peace movement. Most admired the commitment to start something that won’t be completed for several generations. Most found a new courage to keep walking the path of peace.

I say “most” because some of my closest friends still think this eternal flame is a daft idea. They’re celebrating with me today, though, not because of the fire, but in spite of it. To them, they have honoured and maintained a friendship with me for four years despite my “silly, sometimes incredulous ways”.

The world spins. Let’s all dance.

Meanwhile, a little flame in a remote part of Tasmania does its bit to foster peace throughout the land.


Stone riddle

October 9, 2003

What is it about stones?

Charles Simic tries an answer with this poem:

The Stone

Go inside a stone
That would be my way
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.

From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river;
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen.

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill —
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star-charts
On the inner walls.

Charles Simic

stone 2

The stone I am holding in my hand is definitely a beach stone. Its shape rounded by who knows how many hundreds of years of wave action.

But it was far from the beach when I came upon it.

On Tuesday morning, in light mist, while walking around an area of land just off the Peace Path, an area of land I have never walked on before, there it lay half buried, glinting and shining like some polished jewel; like some dark moon shining.

The only way it could have gotten there was for an aboriginal man or woman to have carried it there; possibly even a child. The riddle I ask myself is: “When was the last time this stone was picked up and held?”

I close my eyes and allow myself to feel a black hand cupping this stone.

When it was put down could the holder foresee the tragedy about to fall across all of Tasmania?