Peace Fire

Camping out near home

April 11, 2007


It was the 5th anniversary of the Peace Fire this past weekend so it seemed important to honour this through all night meditations, cups of tea and quiet conversation while the moon inched slowly across the sky. There was even a tented swag set-up to crawl into when weariness overtook the body in the wee hours of the morning.

Beyond the seriousness of the occasion itself, the best part of “camping out “ was that it all happened in my backyard. It was just plain fun to be able to spend the night camping around a campfire so close to the house. Just like us kids did when we were young and a little fearful of ghosts and other things that moved in the dark.

Knowing a quick cookie run into the house is possible, a little courage (along with the crumbs) finds its way into many a brave seven year old’s sleeping bag.

Now, as I think about kids and backyard camping, I am reminded of a time thirty years ago where there wasn’t a backyard with a safe house within reach.

In the lightly forested area of Roan Mountain on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee and at the end of a mile long spur off the main Appalachian Trail, my buddy, Dan, and I, along with two others, set up camp after a day walk of easy hiking, kite flying and playing with the gods. At sunset, while taking in the beauty of a pollen enhanced red sky (hence, “smokey mountains”), we could faintly hear boisterous chatter coming from enthused boys setting up their own camp back down the trail from us. Most likely they were young scouts on a first camping adventure. Most likely, being off the main trail they were unaware of anyone else camping nearby
Later, being a bit curious about who they might be, Dan and I set off towards their camp in the dark using only the light of the moon to guide us. Our intention was to just sneak a peek at their camp set-up and then walk back to ours.

Carefully darting from tree to shrub to tree so as not to reveal ourselves, we got, if not exactly on top of the tents, fairly close; enough to hear the many peppered conversations between the 20 or so boys.

Occasionally, one of the adult “leaders” would belt out: “Quiet down.” “Shut up.” “It’s time to go to sleep”.  Following these commands, there would be a few seconds of silence. Then, the first murmuring would begin and within the time it would take a marshmallow to burn, every tent would erupt in giggles and the rapid fire chatter of boy energy all accompanied with any number of flashlights wildly piercing the canvas of the tents not too unlike the search lights of antiaircraft gunners frantically looking for enemy planes.

Then, for whatever reason, possibly because of a boyish nature still resident in the two of us, Dan and I started to howl like wolves.

Big, ferocious wolves. Big enough to eat several boys at once.

Well, a star’s twinkle could be heard in the silence that instantly dropped down upon the tents.

Not one word. From them or us.

Little boy imaginations began to stir.

One minute passed, then two. A total silence with not a single flashlight piercing the dark.

Then came one very soft, yet audible cry from one very scared boy. Then, from a second tent came another cry. Then another. Before long the whole camp and every tent was flooded in teary, fearful crying. Between sobs were the words: “I want to go home.”

Dan and I didn’t know what to do. Reveal it was all a joke? But then the boys might become even more fearful knowing there were two crazy humans out there.
We slunk guiltily back to our tent promising to return to the scout camp in the morning to apologise. But when dawn arrived and we summoned up the courage to face the wrath of the little boys, when we got to the camp it was no longer there. At what hour did they pack up and leave? If it was in the night, there would have been no home to go to just 100 metres from the campsite. This was no one’s backyard.

To this day, I wonder whether or not I so ruined someone’s first camping experience that they never again have ventured outside the confines of their home on a summer’s evening to seek out the peaceful beauty that could be there for them on a mountain top somewhere along the Appalachian Trail.

Then again, maybe there is an ecologist or two with Ph.D.’s still searching the hidden caves of Roan Mountain looking for that elusive creature who is said to be half wolf, half man and who survives solely upon the blood of young boys.


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.


What’s in a stone?

June 23, 2005

From across the kitchen I can look through the guest bedroom, out the window, down the lane and see the smoke of the Peace Fire curl upwards into the air.

fire_house_viewWhenever I do so it comforts me. Wisps of smoke, in this instance, signal that there is a caring in this world. A caring associated with being human and a caring associated with being in the more-than-human world.

This caring prevails, has prevailed and will continue to prevail despite Mugabe’s attempts to tear out the shanty town food gardens of Zimbabwe’s poor, despite the Japanese government’s attempts to slaughter more whales, despite the Australian government’s incarceration of refugees, despite the Tasmanian government’s callousness to ancient forests and, even, despite my own inner demons working within me to create unrest and sleepless nights.

rock_eastrock_northrock_westrock_southDaily, for over three years I have walked a mini pilgrimage to the Peace Fire and, in the circular walk around it, have gone to each stone cardinal compass point, faced outward from the fire and said a prayer for peace out over the lichen encrusted rock to the world beyond.

East, North, West, then South. In doing so, over a thousand times my gaze has fallen onto each rock in the morning or evening light. Out of this “attention” has come a knowing and a loving and a caring for each individual rock, as well as for the fire and smoke.

In essence, these stones have become sacred and the smoke is alive. Here, spirit is fused with matter. In return for my giving attention to them, they, now, attend to me. This reciprocity of caring I am grateful for. It sustains me as I sustain them.

Every so often, my solo pilgrimage to the Peace Fire is enhanced by the company of others.

steiner_kidsLast Sunday, for instance, 16 kids and 3 adults from the Sophia Mundi Steiner school in Melbourne joined me around the fire and around the whole of the Peace Walk at Windgrove. The youngsters were, for being just 13 and 14 years old, wonderfully composed, knowledgeable, aware and just plain nice in their exhibited exuberance for life.

They, along with the wisps of smoke in the morning, give me confidence for the future.


Three years burning

April 6, 2005

Today…. April 6… the third anniversary of the lighting of the eternal flame here at Windgrove.

Over a thousand days of feeding wood into a black, sunkened hearth now powerful with its own legacy spreading throughout the world.

Over a thousand days standing before it offering prayers of peace.

peace fire 2005

This morning was no different than any other morning. Lift the lid off, add three to four split logs to the flames, do salutations at each of the four cardinal points facing outward, finishing back at the East stone, but now facing inward to speak prayers into the fire, sometimes audibly, most often silently.

I feel quiet. No more need be said about today. Except to offer up this poem by Pattiann Rogers:

Trial and Error

The right prayer might be a falling
prayer spiralling down in the throats
and raised wings and white warmth
of tumbling pigeons, the joy
of a beseeching abandon, or a crossing
prayer in the fingers of oak branches
over themselves, their display
of a hopeful wind, or a drifting
prayer in the cerise petals
loosed and dropping from a stalk
of wild betony, a proclamation
in dissolution.

It may take two every night, maybe three
every dawn — prayers offered of one fact
against another — milkweed against winter,
reflected face against water, rapid
barking against fear.

I can compose any kind, prayers wrapped
in seaweed, rolled in grape leaves,
prayers sent spinning tied to butterfly
kites crackling in the sky over the sea,
prayers in wax bound to stones sunk
past coral cliffs or ice canyons
to the ocean floor, prayers delivered
with moans or howls, rattling gourds
or timbals, prayers in the cadence of rain,
prayers in the absence of breath.

I’ll send them out in signs, lanterns
on rooftops, candles on cairns, backward

Pattiann Rogers


Power of art

July 28, 2004

DispossessedOn Saturday last, my friend and comrade in arms Heather Rose (spokesperson for Artist-for-Forests), gave me the great honour of reading the just finished manuscript of her latest novel, ‘Dispossessed’.

On Monday, late in the afternoon while curled up in a cushioned chair with a quiet winter sun flooding into the room with a soft tenderness, I sobbed uncontrollably as the last few pages were read.

How is it, that what I know as fiction, can touch the deeper recesses of a buried sadness within my soul and bring it to the surface of the physical realm manifesting as great balls of tears, wet cheeks and guttural howls?

In moments like this, despite revisiting old pains, I marvel at how art, in the fulness of its creativeness, can move mountains and can bring to the forefront those aspects of our lives that can get lost in the hurly burly of today’s world.

Art is a reminder that a little more attentiveness be given to the ethical and moral responsibilities behind the priorities we have placed on ourselves.

The power of art is its ability to help us see more clearly what needs to be seen.

Peace fire dawn

This morning, while sitting by the Peace Fire watching the dawn’s light slowly advance from the distant hills toward the shadowed flames in front of me, I reflected on these words written by Heather in ‘Dispossessed’:

“What is true, is that it is but a fortunate few of us who make peace with those we have loved, and those we have hurt, before we die.”

“The curse of growing older is that we must live not only with what we have become but also with what we will never be.”

“Two fluid things, me water, it water, hearing one another, like two instruments lying side by side, a flute and a cello maybe, finding the sound we shared and playing it.”

“But was it a matter of struggling? Or was it about forests, and going when your time was up? Did a giant eucalyptus lament its passing? Did an oak, split in two by lightning, long for something other than its destiny?”

When I walked away from the Peace Fire, I left behind a simple prayer that somewhere there was a publisher who would allow the greater world an opportunity to read what I was able to read and found so moving.


Visit from Tom

June 28, 2004

I had a birthday yesterday. Being alone, I went to the Peace Fire where I could do a little dance. I thought I would have the place to myself. However…

fire dancer 1Tom Wyman, one of my old classmates from Harvard turned up. Hadn’t seen him in years ever since he succumbed to Aids about this time sixteen years ago.

fire dancer 2He walked into the circle, sat for a while and then began to dance. Boy, could he still dance.

Tom was always a good dancer. Smooth, composed, yet with an inner passion that cried to be released. Elegant, is how the women described him as he moved around the dance floor. Must have been his southern upbringing in Louisiana.

fire dancer
I miss Tom’s graceful manners. I miss his way with words; his intelligence. I miss that he wasn’t able to contribute more of his talents to this world to make it a better place for all.

fire dancer 3This world has taken a lot of my friends away before their time. Maybe more of them will visit. As Tom would say: “Y’all come back, now!”