The smell of nostalgia

November 10, 2014

When I was a youngster in Detroit, a “chore” I enjoyed doing was mowing the lawn. Nothing petrol/gas driven, just a simple hand mower that made a lovely twirling sound when pushed.

I could earn a quarter if I mowed the neighbour’s lawn, or a couple of dimes, at least. Pocket money, for sure, but more than the money, the best part about mowing was to both see the straight mown marks across the freshly cut lawn, and, to breath in the fragrance of this cut grass.


Whoever has mown lawns as a kid knows exactly what I’m talking about. Seeing the tire marks signified a job well done. And the smell — so uniquely suburban and innocent.

As an adult, the sweet nostalgia this smell can elicit when mowing one’s own heavily mortgaged house lawn, makes life seem to be a perpetually soft, easy going Sunday afternoon. Except now, the sweat accompanying this nostalgia is accompanied with a gin and tonic instead of lemonade.

In the below photo, my G&T “sit spot” is at the far end of the curving retainer wall.


But back up a bit, dear reader, and place yourself just behind the flowering red kangaroo paws and take in all that the photo shows. Looks rather picturesque, yes? Nicely mown lawn, blue sky, balanced composition; tranquility.

Step closer and gaze down at the white flowering prostrate kunzia bush in front of the massive stone guardians at the entrance to the house.


Rather tame looking, isn’t it.

And this is my point. No smart phone or iPad or blog photo can deliver the smells associated with being outdoors. In the case of the kunzia flowers, their fragrance has to be the most sensual of all flowering plants: a deeply delicious buttery coconut.

Stick your nose into these flowers and one cannot help but be transported to an adolescent summer’s day where one’s fingers are tentatively rubbing sun tan oil onto the skin of the first person you’ve kissed.


When simple is enough

October 20, 2014

Even though I appear to live alone, whenever I look out onto the storm deck — especially in the evening light — I feel comforted and never, really alone.


Comforted in knowing that the trees are there for me daily as family.

Comforted when the chairs around the dining table conjure a vision of past meals with my family of human friends.

Comforted in knowing that the empty chairs will soon enough be embracing warm hearts and touching conversation.

Life can be really peaceful. If we choose.


Is the below photo an abstract painting by Kandinsky? Perhaps, a late Rothko? Or, simply the exploratory work of a first year art student studying the effects of highly textured daubs of colour?


Better yet, can you see the troll like face of the “little guy” in the upper right hand side of the photo?

Remember when a burnt piece of toast went global because the face of Jesus was seen on it?

Maybe the appearance of “my” little guy has some hidden meaning? For me? For us all? Should I consult with a Jungian analyst? Or the Dalai Lama? Would it fetch $10,000 on eBay?


Best if you shut your right eye and only focus on the visually imagined little guy with a squinting left eye.

You see, the left eye is wired to your brain’s right hemisphere and this is where intuition, metaphor, paradox, humor and imagination all reside in mutual acceptance of each other.


The left hemisphere is more particular and only sees the detailed obvious: slimy mold, fungus and bacteria created when I left a pot of chicken stew in the pantry during the month of May as a scientific experiment.



May 27, 2014

Your Life

You will walk toward the mirror,
closer and closer, then flow
into the glass. You will disappear
some day like that, being
more real, more true, at the last.

You learn what you are, but slowly,
a child, a woman, a man,
a self often shattered, and pieces
put together again till the end:
you halt, the glass opens —

A surface, an image, a past.

William Stafford


The above poem is dog-eared in my much loved and read ‘The Way It Is’ book of poetry by William Stafford. Written just two years before his death in 1993, “Your Life” is, to me, a beautifully distilled awareness of how one’s elder years can be approached. Not with fear or trepidation, but with a calm, slowing down acceptance of one’s place on this great spinning earth.

“a self often shattered, and pieces
put together again till the end:”

These are not bleak words. These lines speak most truthfully of the lives of nearly everyone I know; including myself.

And shouldn’t we all stand proud? Scar tissue identifying brave souls who have weathered, matured and blossomed? More real, more true at the last?



It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.

It could, you know. That’s why we wake
and look out — no guarantees
in this life.

But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
like evening.

Like this lemon blossom.

William Stafford


Or, like these two lemons I saw this very morning on the tree I planted in my garden two years ago. One, tiny and young; the other, big, about to ripen into a final burst of yellow.


Post Easter thoughts

April 29, 2014

As of late, in the early evening when I walk along the dimmed paths of Windgrove searching for an understanding to the world’s current unsavoury directions, there are an increasing number of days when optimism is difficult to grasp. Yes, there is a glimmer of light in the sky, but is it being swallowed up by the gathering dark?


“What keeps us from falling down, our faces
to the ground; ashamed, ashamed?”

Mary Oliver

The above quote is from Oliver’s poem “The Morning Paper” where she castigates the governments of the world for their “unbelievable yet approved decisions”.

She continues:

“I don’t need to name the countries,
ours among them.”

She is referring to America, but Australia also seems to be hell bent on becoming a deeply conservative government where World Heritage listed forests are to be logged, asylum seekers from war torn countries denied their legal rights and direct action on climate change completely, deliberately ignored.

The Australian government is cutting spending to education, science, health and the environment. However, and without any sense of irony, they announced last week the purchase of $12 billion dollars of jet fighters. To do what???

If the government is to invest in aircraft, why not water-bombers to help put out the increasing number of catastrophic forest fires? But no. National security from a hypothetical external threat is more important than any internal threats.

DSC_3217But what always saves the day for me, is that when I do fall down with my face to the ground feeling ashamed, the micro beauty so obviously present is enough to bring me to my senses and send me back home — if not exhilarated — at least comforted.

The earth’s tactile presence reminds me that governments and corporations will come and go; that no matter how destructive they might prove to be, 4.5 billion years of evolution will not be totally undone by a few crazy fools. A blimp, perhaps, but the future holds promise of another 3 billion years for whatever species are around to enjoy the sunrises and sunsets of those coming days.

And in this present comfort of mind, an energy re-builds within me to carry out the patient, communal work of bringing a lasting peace to this world. I walk purposely back home knowing that if peace can’t be readily obtained, I’ll strive in whatever small way I can to keep the bastards honest.


Does size really matter?

March 3, 2014

In a review of the book ‘Conversations with Barry Lopez’ by William Tydeman, the reviewer (Peter Reason) writes:

Lopez’s work places issues of justice and politics alongside those of beauty and spirituality. He describes his work as ‘a quest for the divine […] a desire to identify and celebrate the numinous dimension of ordinary life’, those moments of seamless coherence when one is in touch with that which was ‘there before space and time’. His writing is ‘a deliberate attempt to re-infuse the ordinary with the extraordinary, to re-infuse material life with spiritual life’.

I read these words and I want to shout “Yes!”. This is exactly how I want my work to be perceived.


More importantly, beyond my own work, this is how I would want everyone to perceive their own lives: grounded in the numinous.

Numinous is a common enough word in eco-literature where “sense of place” is being described. From the Greek verb “numen” (to incline the head; or, the Latin: to nod), numinous refers to a revealing or suggesting the presence of a god; inspiring awe and reverence.

I can only nod as I watch the bee zoom past a human form of beauty to where she knows true gold resides: deep in the pumpkin flower.



Usually, numinous is associated with the big picture. Where one is standing, feeling small in a grove of redwood giants. Or, at the base of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

However, there is no better or easier way of intimately understanding what numinous means than to patiently observe the small hearts working wonders everywhere in nature — from one’s own backyard, to one’s veggie patch or verge along the city sidewalk.

By bowing down to observe the myriad of small things who work to keep the earth alive, one starts to feel what the dictionary can only explain.

For me, it is in the small heart of things that I most often bow. A simple arrangement of cherry tomatoes growing, first green, than red with ripeness, has me on my knees in gratitude for all that is/was ‘there before space and time’.