John Smith

March 1, 2015

This is a tribute for my friend and colleague John Smith who passed away last week.

John Smith

It was late autumn (northern hemisphere) 1984 and I was in Hawaii with my partner Linda for a week’s vacation before heading back to North Carolina where I worked as a designer-maker of sculptural furniture. On a whim, I called my home phone to see what business messages might have been left. After listening to this strangely accented voice asking whether or not I would like to come to Tasmania and lecture at the School of Art on a two year contract, I hung up, turned to Linda and said: “Where is Tasmania?”

Two weeks ago I celebrated the 30th anniversary of having arrived in Tasmania in February 1985.

The person with the “strangely accented” voice was British born John Smith. Considering the history (think 1776) between America and England, I am culturally inclined to not speak favourably of anything English; especially, the monarchy.

But without the slightest hesitancy or phoney smile, I can unreservedly say that John Smith, and John Smith alone, gave me the golden ring that would spell out the deeper meaning and purpose of my adult life.

Yes, I, myself, had to grab that gold ring when proffered, but the hand that extended it has to be acknowledged. The hand that shook my hand at the airport upon my arrival thirty years ago has to be acknowledged and that acknowledgement has to be both heartfelt and full of gratitude. Which it is.

Without a doubt, the shaping of my adult life, the deep ecological perspective of my art work, the eco-feminist nature of my home Windgrove, and, the fulsomeness of my creative life could only have happened by John placing that original phone call. For this I will be forever in debt to John’s physical existence on this earth.

And herein lies the strength and legacy of John Smith. Without his determined vision to create a world class design-in-wood department at the School of Art, there would hardly be a ripple of designer-makers in Tasmania making their living out of their craft. Just like Claudio Alcorso had the vision to create a vibrant wine industry in Tasmania — against the “perceived wisdom” of the day — John Smith stuck to his belief that Tasmania could educate and foster the talents of many people.

Like all artists and people of vision, John had his critics. And, at times, this would include me. But underlining every engagement with John, whether in agreement or disagreement, the look in his eyes spoke of a steely determination to achieve his dream. This, surely, must be admired.

Today, just as there are over 250 vineyards springing up across all of Tasmania, designer-makers are also springing up across this small state. In both cases, my guess is that most people will not know who laid the foundation stones for their respective careers to survive and flourish. They should, though, know this history.

I’m not suggesting that we build a statue of John in front of the School of Art. However, a simple plaque carved in huon pine and then cast in white fibreglass polished to the highest shine — this, now, would be symbolic and appropriate.

….The above photo of John was from the 1980’s when I arrived in Tasmania.


Valentine’s Day

February 12, 2014

Soon, the day of romancing the heart, or, more commonly known as Valentine’s Day, will emerge to grab our attention as a time of acknowledging love. Whether requited or unrequited, on this day people are given permission to state — with roses, candy, poems — those hidden feelings secretly tucked away in the privacy of their throbbing hearts.

the loversLast week’s blog on duende talked how a “duende love” goes below the surface and swims down to the bottom of the well of grief and grasps hold of those gold and silver coins thrown by well-wishers who remain at the top too timid to make the plunge.

An authentic love, Rilke would write, is more than the ecstatic yelps of orgasm “however vibrant that makes one’s voice”.

Valentine’s Day is the celebration of love between two people, for sure. But what about the love of Self? Shouldn’t we also take the time to honour the love we have (or should have) for our own unique place on this earth?

It’s not always easy to peel away the layers of who we are, where we have come from and where we might be going.


But one thing is certain. Unless we first honour who we are — and this means honouring both the dark and light places within our hearts — then attempting to be with the Other in any loving and lasting way, could prove to be difficult.

Therefore, along with giving out the red roses on Valentine’s Day or that special box of Belgium chocolate, let’s not forget to give ourselves the first bite.


#500 — Slight of hand?

January 14, 2014

The hand of feminine consciousness. Whatever/whomever it touches turns a thing of little bounce into something of florid extravagance.


Sought after by gardeners and sportspeople alike, shown above is a most coveted trophy. Who is touching whom?


Early this year — just after Christmas and, in fact, only about a week ago — I was visited by three wise women offering the gift of service. Walking out onto the playing field, they appear to be taking their positions as referees in some great match about to happen.

Today’s blog entry is about, not only what impact their visit had on Windgrove, but how their visit neatly coincided with and fit into this, the 500th “Life on the Edge” blog entry starting way back eleven years ago in January of 2003.

The question I have posed myself is how to create in this blog a synthesis and encapsulation of the previous 499 entries. Should it be serious? Maybe tongue-in-cheek? Hopefully, enticing?

Here is the attempt to blend fact with the artful truthful efflubiating lie.


Let’s start out with a photo of the tennis court as it appeared this morning. Not quite ready to handle the crowds that will eventually pack the viewing platform off to the left, or for players wanting to climb the ladders of success, but the parade car capable of holding ten tournament players has made a practice run around the court’s surface and is not parked in an advantageous viewing position to capture as much attention as possible.

The crowds will be coming to WWITTY 15 — Windgrove Women’s International Tennis Tournament Year 2015 (perhaps).

But enough tennis balls have to be available in sufficient quantity for such a prestigious tournament.


And this is where the aforementioned women came to the fore. You see, being isolated from most of everything, and China being too far away to guarantee a steady supply of balls, there is a necessity to grow and produce our own Windgrove tournament balls.

With their help, balls for upcoming games were harvested like “seed potatoes”, then cleaned, separated into the choicest perfect size and, finally, planted out.

As shown in the above photo, ball girl Mia has already harvested two seed balls from mature “macrotenisorbiums” or as is more commonly known, “tennis head” flowers.


Only the blue gloved hand of feminine consciousness can plant out these yellow seed balls in a linear, rational pattern where a friable soil has been properly prepared and fertilised. The job is delicate. Utmost precision is required to serve up a successful crop.

And bingo. Because of intensive coaching, within just a few days another batch of tennis balls are fully grown and ready for the next selection process before court appearances are made.


Off the court and as an aside, let me toss in this statistic: according to my web master Allan Moult, “Life on the Edge” consistently averages over 5,000 unique visitors per week. My considered applause, therefore, and a standing ovation to all my consistent readers.

May I and the plural “You” be around for the next 500 entries.


Giving thanks

December 2, 2013

Even though I’m an ex-pat American and have been living in Tasmania for close to 29 years, I still harbor a love for the holy day of Thanksgiving. Last week I didn’t roast a turkey and bake a pumpkin pie, but I did reflect on those times in my life for which I am deeply grateful as they eventually led me here to Roaring Beach. Here’s the story of one such seminal event.


Back in November of 1968 I was fresh out of Harvard and in Hawaii on the Big Island preparing to go to Korea as a Peace Corps volunteer. Part of the training was to spend three days/two nights on our own with little or no preparation, supplies, maps or substantial protective gear. I was dropped off along a fairly deserted southeast coastal road and proceeded to walk with zero idea of what or how to “survive”.

One must remember that back in 1968 there were relatively few visitors to the Big Island of Hawaii with most people only flying into and staying in Honolulu. Hilo had just opened up an international airport, but no airport yet on the drier, western Kona side of the island, and little or no infrastructure on the southeast coast.

While at Harvard I quickly learned that my intellectual capabilities for memorizing and spewing forth facts and theories was rather deficient and not comparable to most of my peers. But what I did have — that most others didn’t — was a Detroit born-and-raised street cred coupled with Daniel Boone summers in the woods of northern Michigan. In today’s jargon, I had stacks of “emotional/earth intelligence”.

So, back to Hawaii. Even though — on the one hand I had no technical knowledge or training on how to forage for food, build a shelter, survive the elements — on the other hand I intuitively knew that this didn’t matter and that I would/could survive, even it meant going without food for three days and getting soaked at night with a tropical downpour. With a quick summation of the present circumstance I found myself in, I wandered along the road joyfully and replaced fear of the unknown with a delight in the beauty of this very sensual, tropical, fragrant, deeply green landscape.


In the afternoon I came upon a deserted beach. I didn’t know it’s name at the time, but could appreciate its beauty. Unlike Roaring Beach where the sand slopes gently [photo above] Punaluu Black Sand Beach was steeply inclined with deep water immediately following the back wash of a wave. It looked a little treacherous, but being a former competitive swimmer I felt it presented no real problem. I stripped off and just as I was about to dive into the breakers, I black fin broke the surface eight feet in front of me. Talk about an adrenaline rush.

Squatting with a certain amount of relief and gratitude, I continued to watch and soon learned that the black fin was one of the two tips of a rather large manta ray’s flippers and that this ray was mostly likely looking for bits of food in the churning surf. Dangerous? Who knows? But I didn’t proceed any further other than to get my toes wet.

I did, however, proceed over to the headland at the southern end of the beach and walked up a gentle incline to the grassy cliffs some 50 feet in height (if memory serves me correct). Perched above the rocks and breaking waves straight below, I decided this is where I would spend the rest of the afternoon, evening and night. I had no food or sleeping bag, but this was of no concern to my exuberance at being in raw Nature. At the young age of twenty two, I was beginning a life long pattern of choosing beauty over the “necessities” of survival.

And the reward for gambling on beauty? At sunset a group of four people wandered up from the beach to the cliff top, cast fishing lines, pulled up fish and then invited me over to share in their meal. They only spoke Japanese, but their smiles spoke heaps more. And laughter; especially as I, for the first time, tried to use chop sticks to eat fried fish, rice and vegetables. There might even have been a glass or two of saki.

Now, here’s the powerful part of the story as all the above is but a prelude for what happened next.

Dinner is finished. It is night. The stars are out. A toast is given to life (or what I think was said as “life”) and the four Japanese (two couples, old and wizened) pack up and begin the half mile walk back to whence they came.

Their bodies become indistinguishable as they meld with the blackness of night, but their four lanterns bob along the path like four little moons. As they slowly diminish in size and fade away, a near full moon peeks its head up across the darkened skin of ocean and sends a golden ray of reflective light across the water, touching them, touching me.

With an appreciative full stomach and standing on soft, grassy earth facing the moon and ocean, I am drunk on the double blessing of communal food and wondrous nature. The increasing moon light intensifies the whiteness of the breaking waves below. The salty air mingles with earthy smells and a night chorus of sound. The beauty is almost too much to handle.

Then… I turn around and see the dark volcanic Mauna Loa erupting red from a newly rent fissure on its side.

My emotional/spiritual/physical body explodes/implodes and I can’t contain the energy. Clothes feel a “civilized” encumbrance and are ripped off. Within seconds I am a dancing panther “with whiskers wider than my mind”. My skin is animal alive. My senses are sharpened beyond human norms. The whirling and spinning of my body becomes the whirling and spinning of the Milky Way, planets, moon and tides; of cycles, of years.

I had not yet heard of Sufi dervishes, but this landscape’s anima mundi allowed me entry into the vortex of creation.

Eventually, I collapse from exhaustion. Somehow I sleep and wake the next morning on grass cold and wet with dew. My soul remains on fire, though, as it knows it has been given a rare, visceral lesson in the essence of an authentic life.

I walked slowly down from the cliff top on a quest for breakfast, yet knowing all the while that my hunger for life as just experienced would be a long way off from ever being satiated.

I also, for the first time, knew — with an intimacy born of magic — that my decision to join the Peace Corps was an important beginning in doing something, however small, to make the world a more peaceful home for all.

It was there on the cliffs of Punaluu Black Sand beach where the notion was burned into my soul that the sharing of food with the “unknown guest” — in conjunction with a healthy and lush environment — was key to fostering a peaceful world.

This, to me, is what Thanksgiving is all about. When I walk on Windgrove’s Peace Path and look out across Roaring Beach, I cannot but feel the deepest of gratitude for having ended up here.



Beauty unfolding in darkness

December 24, 2012

in memory of Helen Gee 1950 – 2012

They came in the night on the solstice eve and a waxing moon. Three trumpeting blossoms of translucent white announcing inner fragrant cores of several hundred pale yellow green stems of fertility doing their best to entice any passing moth into their inner sanctums of arousal.

On this same night I received a phone call telling of a friend’s passing away. Waking to these cactus flowers eased the sorrow of the loss of such a passionate and constant environmental activist, artist and writer.

Not for a moment do I believe that Helen’s death had anything to do with the cactus’s exquisite blossoming, but the synchronistic aspect of the timing did bring a smile to my heart. It reaffirmed for me that despite the fragility of “all” life on earth from the smallest to the largest; that despite whether one’s cycle of birth through to death is a brief two days (as were the cactus flowers) or a longer life span of 62 years, each and everyone of us has the potential for being beautiful. The flowers do it easily.

Helen Gee did it easily.

I Confess

I stalked her

in the grocery store: her crown

of snowy braids held in place by a great silver clip,

her erect bearing, radiating tenderness, watching

the way she placed yogurt and avocados in her basket,

beaming peace like the North Star.

I wanted to ask, “What aisle did you find

your serenity in, do you know

how to be married for fifty years or how to live alone,

excuse me for interrupting, but you seem to possess

some knowledge that makes the earth turn and burn on its axis—”

But we don’t request such things from strangers

nowadays. So I said, “I love your hair.”

Alison Luterman

We honour best those we love (and secretly admire) by carrying on with their work — which is now our work — of creating a thriving community of happy people gainfully employed, tolerant of each other’s complexities while always remaining constant in keeping planet Earth habitable.

Most of all, though, we honour the lives of others by daily rejoicing in the wonderful opportunity we are given to experience being alive in our very own fleshy, earthy bodies. Bodies wonderfully made up of star dust and the millions upon millions of those other deaths and births preceding ours.

So go ahead this Christmas and touch yourself. Marvel at the gift of life that is you.Your precious spirited body is the best present you’ll ever unwrap.

Thank you Helen for reminding me of how to live a life of grateful obligation.


Nearing the end / At the end

November 5, 2012

for Tina Smit 1925-2012

Yesterday, Sunday, I took these photos for today’s blog, the day of Tina’s funeral. I hope they capture the essence of Mark Strand’s words, but also hint at the importance for those of us still alive — and for those children about to be born — that we have no choice but to live and seek out beauty (and humour) in the craziness of today’s world.

The Old Age of Nostalgia

Those hours given over to basking in the glow of an imagined future, of being carried away in streams of promise by a love or a passion so strong that one felt altered forever and convinced that even the smallest particle of the surrounding world was charged with a purpose of impossible grandeur; ah, yes, and one would look up into the trees and be thrilled by the wind-loosened river of pale, gold foliage cascading down and by the high, melodious singing of countless birds; those moments, so many and so long ago, still come back, but briefly, like fireflies in the perfumed heat of a summer night.

Mark Strand

Dream Testicles, Vanished Vaginas

Horace, the corpse, said, “I kept believing that tomorrow would come and I would get up, put on my socks, my boxer shorts, go to the kitchen, make myself coffee, read the paper, and call some friends. But tomorrow came and I was not in it. Instead, I found myself on a powder-blue sofa in a field of bright grass that rolled on forever.” “How awful,” said Mildred, who was not yet a corpse, but in close touch with Horace, “how awful to be so far away with nothing to do, and without sex to distract you. I’ve heard that all vaginas up there, even the most open, honest, and energetic, are shut down, and that all testicles, even the most forthright and gifted, swing dreamily among the clouds like little chandeliers.”

Mark Strand

Both prose poems are from Strand’s book ‘Almost Invisible’