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Friendship trees

October 6, 2003

Exactly a year ago on October 6, I began the simple ritual of going into the surf everyday. When I first wrote about this to my dear friend Debra Frasier she sent back an email all full of worry. I replied, in part, with the following:

“I am standing on the beach looking out across Storm Bay and into 2000 miles of open ocean. I am thinking of what you wrote in your email about dangers and needless risks and the need to exercise good judgement.

I question myself on why I am down here, on this Sunday, in this weather, standing like a clown with my blue flippers and tiny green, blue and white boogie board with its four foot black cord strapped tightly onto my wrist. It all looks so ridiculous. But only in the same way that a devout atheist might look upon a Muslim kneeling down to pray on a crowded city street in the middle of the day and view this as ridiculous.

I am here to pray. It is a very physical manner of praying and it is guiding me into a deeper relationship with life.

I am here on this Sunday to receive the sacrament from the most holy of waters. The breakers coming in are not fearsome. They are a chorus of white angles rolling in the aisles singing their praises of this world. Before joining that great hallelujah chorus in the pews out back, I pray a simple prayer asking that we humans learn to revere, once again, this wonderful and incredible planet we all call home.

I walk into the baptism willingly and with a hugh love welling in my heart. I take a moment to acknowledge my humble gratitude to this great body of sacred water by dipping my face into her divine wetness fully. I come up kissing. I come up praising.

So don’t you worry about me, Debra. I intend to be around for the complete unfolding.”

friendship trees

This morning, both in honour of the completion of this first year of surfing and of my long standing friendship with Debra, I planted out a friendship circle of trees. Look closely at the photo above and you will see a tiny whitish circle with a tinier red wheelbarrow next to it.

This deliberately chosen site is out in the open, exposed, with infertile soil, prone to salt spray, intense winds, drying summer heat, cracking earth and rapacious rabbits, wallabies and even currawongs hungry for anything.

I wanted this site for the reason that friendships, especially long distant ones, need a more concerted effort to maintain if they are not to be lost in distant memories. In a very real way, keeping these trees alive in this setting is as daunting a task as keeping any important friendship alive.

I figure that since our friendship has seen tougher times and survived, these trees will grow just fine.

friendship 1Around the circumference there are 27 tree placements; one for every year we have known each other (since 1976). Inside each of these 27 protective bags, two she-oaks have been planted side by side within the single dug hole. (How’s this for a symbol of a close friendship?).

All up, this makes for 54 trees or about the half way point between our respective ages of 57 and 50 (sorry for the public outing Debra).

As the seedlings are only about six inches tall at the moment, it will take fifteen or more years for each set of twins to grow large enough to embrace and interlink their branches with those next to them. Whether I’ll get the chance to sit inside this tight circle of woven friendships, we’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, I’ll keep watering.

In the “after” time, I’ll be around watching and helping out where I can. Forever flying in with friends to check out the sunset.

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Day 333

September 4, 2003

Yesterday was day 333 of swimming daily at Roaring Beach. During the preceding night I was awoken by thunder, lightning and a noise only made possible by terrific winds howling through trees. The Tasman Peninsula was being hit with gale force winds gusting to 90 knots.

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Trying to photograph mountainous seas in salt spray laden air while bracing against a continuous barrage of walled winds proved difficult through the whole day. The image above of an 8 meter (25 foot) breaking wave caught in a flash of dawn sun, although demonstrating a particular moment, does not fully convey the immense powerful story that was happening all around. Sound, taste and smell were equally demanding of attention as were numerous other senses.

As if this wasn’t enough sensory overload, I experienced an event that would literally define what it means to live “Life on the Edge”.

Despite the immense wildness and extreme potential danger of going into the surf, I did.

It was initially actually fun and completely different to any of my previous surfs. I would follow the retreating wave down the debris laden sand, wait an anxious moment and then catch the 8 foot tall frothing incoming wave and let it shoot me back towards the dunes and, several times, up into the creek bed behind the dunes, so powerful was its force.

After 45 minutes of mashing with this outrageous surf, I rather cockily got out of the water, feeling more than a little proud for having braved the severe conditions of this, the 333rd day of my commitment.

With flippers off and wrist strap undone, I was swept up by a wave…..

I had actually seen the wave coming; had even judged its ability to reach me. I had guessed wrong. The volume of the surge behind the wave was the unknown factor. It had stayed hidden until I found myself being lifted up off the sand, buoyed along like a cork.

Moments earlier, I saw this wave begin its roll up the beach and I figured there was enough time to skirt along the sheer wall of collapsed dune to a safer vantage point 100 or so meters further down. Jumping off from the rocky outcrop of about five feet tall onto the sand below, I had gotten about twenty feet along when I saw that this particular wave was now half way up the beach. From all the many thousands of beaching waves that I had seen over the past twelve years, I mentally calculated its speed and height and guessed that, at best, it might just reach my ankles.

Within seconds, though, the thought “Oh, shit” was severely flashing motor neuron warnings as I was suddenly, totally out of control, flippers in one hand, boogie board in the other and floating towards some hellish end to my life.

Lucky for me, though, the divine goddess of the sea decided to give me another chance and not force me to pay too heavy a price for my hubris.

The actual incoming wave was so massive in volume that, instead of immediately carrying me directly back to the sea, its continuous inward flow pushed me laterally along the vertically sheer wall of eroding sand dunes and, as luck might have it (or forgiveness) deposited my hapless body on top of the same rocky outcrop I had just jumped off. Then, rid of me, this wave washed itself back out to sea.

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I could go on…… The point I want to make, however, is that I never panicked or later felt stupid or angry with myself. I knew I had been in real danger, but there was an acceptance to it. I had made a mistake in judgement, but survived to tell the tale. Hopefully, wisdom and humility were part of the learning.

To truly live “life on the edge” requires an equanimity or balance between safety and danger and knowing how (and a willingness) to engage either.

I believe we should all try to live by Thoreau’s quote “In wildness is the preservation of the world”. As without, so within. The wildness within our own personal worlds has to be nurtured so that we don’t entropy into becoming domesticated house cats or politicians passing legislation condemning our rain forests to charred hillsides.

Our soul’s survival requires it. Our society requires it. Jung writes:

“…the lack of meaning in life is a soul-sickness whose full extent and full import our age has not yet begun to comprehend”.

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Styx lesson

July 1, 2003

Curled up in bed this morning — a morning of cold, wet and grey — I couldn’t help but feel slightly depressed about the ongoing destruction of Tasmania’s old growth forests. Especially now that the government has both lifted a moratorium against logging in the Tarkine, the world’s largest remaining tract of temperate rain forest, and commenced logging in the Styx Valley where some of Tasmania’s tallest trees live.

Wrapped in my warm doona, I reflected on how today is also the day that the Wilderness Society is beginning a thirteen day around the clock presence at the Styx Valley to coincide with the July 1 High Court decision 20 years ago that stopped the flooding of the Franklin River.

“Brrrrr”, I thought. “They are going to have a miserable time erecting their marquee and maintaining high spirits in this weather.”

With the thought of dedicating my morning prayers to the Styx Valley crew, I jumped out of my snug confines and made my way over to the Peace Garden in the light rain to greet the ancestors before making my way to the Peace Fire.

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And what should happen…… The dawning sun breaks through a small opening in the clouds and throws a rainbow down.

It was as if to say:

“Listen, within the storm resides beauty and hope. What you witness as turmoil is an agent of change, out of which compassion and love for this earth will grow. Stay steadfast in your commitment.”

I went back into the warm house more than buoyed to carry on in my own small way to raise awareness of the reciprocal, reverential connection humans need to have for this earth.

Edward Abbey came to mind:

“We are obliged, therefore, to spread the news, painful and bitter though it may be for some to hear, that all living things on earth are kindred.”

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Day 250

June 12, 2003

On October 6th of last year, I started out on what was to be a three week ritual of surfing daily at Roaring Beach. It turned into a six month ritual, then into a year ritual.

Well, after eight and a half months I still feel strongly compelled to make the walk from the house to the beach.

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The photo I took today, just after the 250th surf and late in the day, captures a lot of why the inclination is still there to carry on with this watery journey: storm brewing, but still relatively calm with just enough warming sun to create a sense of real grandeur.

To be in the water, tossed around on darkening waves when a beam of focused sunlight hits center stage, really does feel miraculous. It is not easy to give up on this.

And why should I? One compelling reason to stop now is that the really cold water starts coming into Storm Bay from the Antarctic in July and August, dropping the temperature to 8C/47F (down from a summer temperature of 20C/70F). Surfing then can become a real act of endurement.

One reason to continue, however, is that by going into the mystery, even if cold, something valuable can be gained. This then becomes an act of endearment, not endurement.

I suppose this is what “tough love”is all about.

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I like how the evening shadow of the Peace Garden’s Spiral acts like a large sideral sun dial as it casts itself over the pond towards either the Ancestral Midden or the Split Rock. There is a slow, six month journey of the shadow between the two sets of stones.

During the month of June the top most portion of the long evening shadow cast by the Spiral passes over the pond and stops just to the right of the Ancestral Midden. After the winter solstice (June 21) it begins to move back towards the Split rock and hovers there half a year later during the suimmer soltice period in December.

With the Spiral representing “the Future”, the Split Rock “the Present” and the Ancestral Midden “the Past”, the evenings sun dial effect of the Spiral’s Future’s shadow moving between the Present and Past, keeps the whole of the Peace Garden alive with its cyclic, clock work changes.

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What was a total surprise to me happened yesterday as I stood in front of the Ancestral midden while the Spiral and the setting sun were directly behind me on the far side of the pond.

The shadow I cast over the midden stones was a double shadow; one from the direct rays of the sun, another from the sunlight bouncing off the mirrored, still waters of the pond.

Almost eerie, yes?

If one wants to contemplate how the “Long Now” might be visualised, one need go no further than to look at this photo.

Rising up from the ancestral stones, the resultant shadow seems to be of an ancestral spirit wearing a chasuble or some other dark, sleeveless ecclesiastical vestment.

To the right, and in the raised hand of this chthonic figure, is the shadowy spiral staff of the future, held firmly.

I was tantalised and then became mesmerised by what I was seeing. Me, obviously the Present, being sermonised by the Past who is holding onto the Future.

Talk about lack of boundaries. Or, a visible representation of the “Long Now”.

Can you hear what I heard? Can your hear yourself being told to listen to the past to gain the wisdom in order to protect the future? Not the future of next week, but the “Long Now” future where your great, great, great, great grandchildren reside.

Can you, at least, hear the Hallelujah Chorus?

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Post Script…….. After writing the above, I happened to notice on top of the piano were these photos of my parents shown wearing the attire when my mother was the choir director of Detroit’s Serbian Orthodox church. Sleeveless vestments.

Celestial music, anyone?

I strongly believe that in imagination is the preservation of the world.

By calling upon those who have passed before us for help and guidance, we can create a future that is not only safe from terrorism, but full of reverential gaiety and fearless enjoyment.

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