Mail Bag

Same hands

November 19, 2004

Sorry about the late entry this week, but today is the first day that my fingers can type comfortably. If people have a sense of deja vu looking at today’s photo, they are correct in their assumption that they have seen those hands before.

Just over a year ago I wrote a blog entry entitled “Holding the Vision” and used this photo. I am including it again for three reasons.

HandsFirstly, last Friday while swimming in relatively calm waters I pulled a shoulder muscle and lived with a high level of discomfort until I could get to Hobart to see a physio-therapist on Wednesday. And not one but two. Tethys did some osteopathic work that helped tremendously in relieving the chronic pain. Then Michael, my masseur for the past 19 years, did some deep tissue work that complimented Tethy’s earlier work. Their hands were healing hands for my neck and shoulder and I am tremendously grateful for the skills these two people possess.

Secondly, during the nights preceding the visit to Hobart when sleeping was nigh impossible, I would question whether or not I would ever again have the ability to use my hands to carve in the way I am used to carving. This nightmarish fear in the dark space of night was quite scary. Only now, as the future outlook seems not to be a surgical one rather a management one, can I marvel at the beautiful complexity (and fragility) that is our body. How astoundingly wonderful are just our hands.

And thirdly, while pondering what photo to use for this week’s blog entry, I received an email from the Trinity Respite Center that read in part:

“We are a rural, non-profit program that takes care of seniors with Alzheimer’s. We loved the image of “Holding a Vision,” and wanted to check to see about using this image for a publication…”

When I wrote back agreeing, I also asked where in this internet world they existed and how did they come by this photo. The reply (in part):

“We are located in Ashland, Oregon and serve families living with memory loss. We hit “images” in Google and then “hands” and Voila! Clip art! We have a day activities program for 22 seniors with Alzheimer’s, stroke or related dementias. Your photo will be the front of a card we are using to hold the vision for compassionate care for our seniors. One man here claps when he is happy–often–and his hands are strangely beautiful. It is inspiring to know that people like you are out there. Your sense of service makes it possible for us to get out our mailing without more angst over the image. You must be a lovely person.”

Makes my pain very bearable indeed.


“Our” star

May 5, 2004

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety —

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light —
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

Mary Oliver

roaring dawnThis morning, very early, before the storm clouds swept in from the west, I was able to witness the eclipsed orange moon hang tenderly in the diminishing starry sky; its coloured beauty totally dependent upon the very sun that Mary Oliver so eloquently writes about in her newly released poem (received in yesterday’s mail).

And, although my little camera wasn’t able to catch this particular wonder, the same star light powering the moon’s beauty, was as piercingly beautiful bouncing off the cliffs of Roaring Beach.

dawn lightThe squall has passed and I now sit in the far corner reading more of Mary’s poems, letting the sun stream into the house and touch me also with its healing light; letting me, once again, start the day in happiness, in kindness.


Fresh morning love

December 3, 2003

ancestral shadow 1

Last night, after a big meal, I tried to write a journal entry using this photo of the ancestral bench’s shadow pointing to the reflected spiral in the water. (In the Peace Garden, the spiral symbolises the future.) This was after receiving an email from a friend who had movingly related the dying of his grandmother,

“a young catholic girl named Herta with a high Nazi uncle who followed her Jewish boyfriend and his family from Austria to Shanghai China, who gave birth to twins, of which only the stronger, my mum, survived and then emigrated to Australia as a post-war refugee to make a new life.”

I wanted to write of the importance of connecting to the stories of our ancestors so that we, in the present, can find some guidance to lead us to the future.

But…. my eyes could not stay open any longer as my mind slowly closed down in rhythm to the last evening light diminishing into darkness. Pillows cushioning my drooping head was a siren’s call impossible to refuse.

This morning, however, for whatever reason, all thoughts of “past” and “future” have been forgotten and I find myself firmly planted in the “present” and firmly caught up in an exuberance of being with “today’s life” as it deliciously falls around me in honeyed waves of pure delight.

Roaring westRoaring north eastThese photos, one looking west toward Roaring Beach and the other looking north east out over the Roaring Beach water catchment, convey the morning’s crispness and clarity, but not the full sensual quality of its richness.

Six cockatoos fly squawking into the valley, four surfers are letting out screams of joy while riding the breaking dawn waves and the subtle fragrance of thousands of coastal flowers hang in the air. A chorus of banjo frogs provides light entertainment.

As I hold onto the preciousness of this moment, I also think of the Greenpeace tree sitters in the Styx Valley and my heart flies out to them in a joyous exhalation of praise for their brave work in defending this earth.

Maybe mornings are meant for the living, while evenings are for the living remembering their past.

Maybe this is why we tell stories around a fire under the cloak of night where the physical reality and powerful stimulus of this earth is shut out.


A cry out of Africa

November 2, 2003

Sometimes in the mail a letter from the other side of the world arrives whose contents helps put my Tasmanian experience into a global perspective.

What I would like to share are excerpts from such a letter plus a poem sent to me yesterday by my friend, Bev Reeler, who now lives in exile in South Africa after having had to leave her home in Zimbabwe because of death threats to her husband.

rose candle

Unlike some of us in Tasmania who would put all our efforts into one issue (refugees or old growth forests), Bev has worked continuously and tirelessly over the years as an activist for both social and environmental justice because she firmly believes that the two are inextricably linked and that to resolve either issue requires the resolution of the other.

Bev Reeler’s main work is offering Deep Ecology workshops to victims of torture and social injustice.

November 1, 2003
Dear Peter,

During this week’s Tree of Life workshop we were visited by the South African National Intelligence Agency and a local white farmer. This followed two visits during the previous week’s workshop when 5 hours of our precious two and a half days were spent being interviewed by the South African Police on two separate visits: one from the police in Groot Marico and one from Zeerust. They were responding to the complaint from the farmer who had seen ‘new blacks in the area’- they said they were investigating a MDC training camp (run by 3 grey haired white women!).

Today I have felt overwhelmed by the task of healing in an environment that is designed to prevent it. By the unending attrition that seems bent on keeping the victims, victims.

By the phone call from Qulani telling me of the hundreds of refugees being camped outside the home office last Tuesday, trying to get asylum – their once a week try at getting legal – only to be told that they are taking only 4 people and the office will now be closed till December.

Overwhelmed by the phone call from Nkotaso who had got his papers and had been excited at the chance of a job as a waiter – at last. He had needed shoes for the interview – I wrote him a reference. “They said I couldn’t have a job because Zimbabweans are dishonest.”

Uncomprehending at the lack of empathy or sanctuary, in a country which was given solidarity during the South African struggle for democracy and freedom.

Overwhelmed by the constant rhetoric from the African leaders that Mugabe is a hero going through a difficult time.

Writing about the workshop in the following poem, “Late October – New Moon in Groot Marico”, has brought me back from my anger, rage and tears – to remember that there is – floating down a river towards the Limpopo, a small spark of hope.

much love, Bev

Late October -New Moon in Groot Marico

I sit in a circle with a group of young men
-some the age of my son
young bright faces
marred and scarred 
by torture and violation

Young intelligent eyes
dimmed and darting
weary and fearful

young lives used as tools
in another’s battle for power

Sitting in a circle
with both perpetrators and victims
all in refuge in a foreign country
for the same reason

We sit in this circle
-with the intention of healing

A silent line of people
walking out into a deep green valley
following a river of pure mountain water

walking our mother earth
asking for healing
asking for help in this enormous journey

touching the trees
the rocky sandstone cliffs
asking for healing
for the courage to tell our stories

back to the circle
to remember our roots
– our ancestors, grandmothers, totems
– our stories of childhood
of the hopes and fun and hardships
how the small seed grew into this tree

we walk to the river
asking for healing
the courage to remember
and let go
the courage to forgive

back to the circle
to tell the stories of the reasons for our leaving our home
the mothers,
the predawn stars
as they let out the cattle

We hear of the torture
and the unseen scars
of the burnt homes
of the violence committed
the raiding of townships which housed their relatives
the torment
the running away

different tribes
same tribe
different side
same sides
perpetrator and victim
random selection
look across the room

trust that they have heard the stories
that the suffering was the same
that this can change

We sit in a circle
reaping the fruits that these young seeds
have been able to gather on this awesome journey

They sit higher
bodies lighter
their eyes begin to meet

they speak of their courage
their ability to endure
their adaptability
their learning to trust
to talk to people of other tribes
the courage to stand alongside themselves
to survive a foreign country
of God
of hope

Hearing their wisdom

A silent line weaves its way down to the river
and meets in the tall green forest

On a small fire
we burn symbols of what the would like to leave behind
fear/distrust/abused friendships

a silent line stands by the river
each one throws a symbol of our hope for the future
ash from our evening fire
small flowers and leaves floating down the river
one day to join the Limpopo
to our home

Bev Reeler


Presencing hope

October 26, 2003

“The surgeon had only bad news for the large group of friends who were keeping vigil at the hospital (the surgery took 3 or 4 hours). He said these tumors don’t respond to treatment. It sounds hopeless….”

Arriving yesterday morning, the above email concerning a friend’s brain tumor was not encouraging. Later, on my way over to the Peace Fire to offer prayers, I passed a glance at the emerging spiral from the Womb of the Earth. Supposedly symbolising hope, it didn’t seem any too hopeful.

grey hope 2

A damp, light mist hung in the air and even though the frogs croaked noisily in appreciation of the wet, the thought of a good person dying young coloured me grey. Looking at the seemingly “distant” spiral across the ashen waters of the pond, I wasn’t able to draw any comfort with prayers of: “may Paula’s tumors dissolve into nothingness” or “may Paula have many more years of happiness”.

Notwithstanding my belief in the healing power of thought, these prayers seemed inadequate and hollow, somehow pushing falsely against the reality I see swarming around me daily at Windgrove: the cycles of of birth, life, death, birth, life, death.

It seemed more appropriate to pray that Paula, while she lay recovering in the hospital, be fully present with each passing breath and that she cherish each second of her earthly consciousness and was not consumed with what tomorrow might bring or not bring.

It also seemed more kindly that her friends not pray so much for her future, but that they just love her fully in the moment.

Later in the day while talking with a friend Elizabeth about “hope”, she presented me with her concept of “presencing hope”; about how, when her daughter was born with a supposedly terminal condition, she learned to live each minute second by second. Here, she held her daughter in the love of that particular moment and did not allow the future, whatever it might be, to push into the day with its distant hopes or fears.

Out of this simple, yet difficult task of just “being present” an envelope of hope did emerge to surround each moment. Out of this focused presence came a hopeful halo that hung delicately in the air with just enough glow to allow those in the darkened room to see the smiling, cheerful face of the baby who shouldn’t have been alive.

A smile so precious that its presence was enough to distil any sense of hopelessness for the future into a tiny ballooning “presence of hope” that floated ever so tenderly out into the world beyond.

By staying present with the goodness of each moment, hope was born within Elizabeth. Although fragile as a spider’s web, this presencing hope would continually whisper that at the end of that minute or that hour or that day Hannah would still be with them. And, seven years later, she is.

Smile, smile dear Paula. We’re with you.


Sand thoughts

September 15, 2003

The simplistic beauty of waves washing up on a beach can provide enough inspirational material for any artist for a lifetime.

water mark on sand

Beyond this, in the lulled space between washing waves, there is time to mull over thoughts that might normally get lost in the hurly burly of city traffic.

A couple of weeks ago someone criticised my online journal as sometimes being “too spiritual; too full of sermons”. This comment threw me about for a few days because, on the one hand, it is possibly true. On the other hand, I’m not so sure this is a bad thing. Why have a journal if I can’t write what I want to preach?

This morning I read the following passages from David James Duncan’s book ‘My Story as Told by Water’. It sums up fairly accurately how I feel about the subject of nature and spirituality.

“It’s a prickly topic, spirituality. Sloppy and pedantic talk about God is obnoxious and dangerous, and those who parade such talk have knocked the religion clean out of a lot of us, with no sense of loss. But reverence for life is not religion. Reverence for life is the basis of compassion, and of biological health. This is why, much as it may embarrass those of us trained in the agnostic sciences, I believe every life-loving human on Earth carries a far-from-agnostic obligation to remain primitive enough, and reverent enough, to stand up and say to any kind of political power or poll or public: Trees and mountains are holy. Rain and rivers are holy. Salmon are holy. For this reason alone I will fight with all my might to keep them alive.”

“…If we put our full conviction in such [spiritual] belief, if we feel no embarrassment over it, if we stand up and stand by it again and again, we might begin to discover a spirit-power in ourselves that moves from there out into our friends or kids, or into our scientific research, our art, our music or writing…”

David James Duncan

Or onto a web blog.