The Swim

Oh, what a feeling

July 11, 2011

For the past three days and nights fierce wintry winds and rain, sleet and monstrous 26 foot waves pounded, still pound, relentlessly onto the cliffs and shoreline of Windgrove.

Over the weekend I ventured out with numbing fingers to photograph these waves as often as I could to capture the essence of their beauty and power, because even after living here for 19 years, their dramatic energy still captivates and fills me with wonderment and awe.

Looking at these waves now, as I write this blog, takes me back several years to when I poured myself into the essence of the elemental sea daily.

Yes, daily for 1212 days — that’s three years, three months, three weeks and three days — I went down to Roaring Beach to immerse myself into its sometimes gentle, sometimes wild waters. This was done, not so much to prove anything, but to learn and feel what, perhaps, women know intimately.

Click here to see a really big wave

Maybe what women still know through our biology — what we cannot help but know — is what modernity refuses to men; an undeniable resonance with the elemental sea. We are tidal in our moods and wombs, the high waters and low waters of mind and body. We are flux, salty blood, tears, tides, waves, ebbs and flows.

Jay Griffiths, ‘Wild’

If I were a man, I might also feel a kinship with the seas — and if I did, I’d relish it.

I know I am oceanic. I fathom it in other women too. I know we can speak at the shoreline and feel in our depths. I know we are pervasive. I know we have a capacity for empathy with others as if the seawater within us flows out through our permeable nature, not recognizing the boundaries of our own skin.

We dissolve, they say, into tears, as if that salty dissolution were a weakness. I cry easily, letting the inner sea out, with women or with ocean-minded men, and it is not weakness but expression; the sea expresses itself this way. And in our feral state we smell of the sea and we taste of the sea.

Jay Griffiths, ‘Wild’


Protective arms

December 16, 2009

I’ve been back from my world tour for over two months now and I find I only want to stay nestled in the wind grove of trees that surround my home. So much so, that I have yet to go into the water at Roaring Beach, nor even venture down to the beach except for two brief walks with friends.


On one hand, strange. Strange that for twelve hundred and twelve days without a miss I once faithfully went into the waves of Roaring Beach; always delighting in the interaction with the wetness of water. Through three Christmases my mistress of the sea gave to me many gifts.

On the other hand, as I look out through the sturdy trunks of trees that serve, in no small way, as protective bars housing my healing heart, maybe this is my sleep time; a time to go inward, to gestate, to hide, to be quiet, to listen, and to love the little small cub bear seeking an inner womb of nourishment.

Somedays, I’m just holding on.

It’s good that the trees are within reach.

Their constant proximity gives me cause to “think about these brothers and sisters, quietly and deeply.”

The Trees

Do you think of them as decoration?

Think again.

Here are maples flashing.
And here are the oaks, holding on all winter
to their dry leaves.
And here are the pines, that will never fail,
until death, the instruction to be green.
And here are the willows, the first
to pronounce a new year.

May I invite you to revise your thoughts about them?
Oh, Lord, how we are all for invention and
But I think
it would do us good if we would think about
these brothers and sisters, quietly and deeply.

The trees, the trees, just holding on
to the old, holy ways.

Mary Oliver

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Wanting to Mingle

February 7, 2007


Laurie Duesing has a line in a poem that reads: Now I am rapt and looking for the still point between earth and air.

There is also the line: I want to drive spirit into flesh, a desire often confused with sex.

To me, living at Windgrove is an excercise in doing what Duesing writes about. Whether working on the land or simply meditating on the Breakfast deck, there is a felt energy associated with being “amongst the trees” on a daily basis that aids in this endeavour. The land is infused with spirit. The sacred and the profane mingle easily here. My role is to open myself up to all that is present. Some days this is easy.

However, there are those days when engaging is hard. It was only a few days ago that I went for my first swim since returning three weeks earlier from China. Something held me back from even walking down to the beach and mingling my toes with the sand. (The wave photo of two weeks ago was taken from the cliff top while sitting at the Drop Stone bench.)

Considering I recently surfed at Roaring Beach everyday, rain or shine, for over three years, I’m certain Freud or Jung would have a word or two to say about this. For me, though, the timing just didn’t seem right and it wasn’t until after Sally had arrived and settled in that the desire to enter those sometimes languid, sometimes turbulent waters of Roaring Beach returned. Now I am rapt once again.

Roll on life, roll on.


Wild and Blue

I want to be lifted, to meet the air
halfway—two reasons I can’t forget
that gospel singer in her sassy
middle age. The way she mixed
everything up: black hair, bleached
red; tacky expensive dress; that muddle
of church and sex. But when the voice
of the Lord said, Throw yourself into it,
she did: jumped right into the air
and screamed. I didn’t think a heavy woman
could get so far off the ground.

I want to rise under my own power
but the closest I’ve come
is the afternoon I threw myself
down on the ground and wept.
The scene was the woods and a person I loved.
That day, that place, that man
were not repeatable. Why wait, I thought
and gave into grief.
The ground folded around me. I could not talk
but as I listened,
the earth began to stutter.

Perhaps direction does not matter
but before a woman can descend or rise,
before the universe can move her,
she must show she can pick up
the beat, the way people speaking
in tongues allow another voice to move
through their mouths while their lips
keep time. When I get the blues,
I am trying to show the earth I can reflect
her deepest colors, that I will take
whatever she sends through me.

I want to drive spirit into flesh,
a desire often confused with sex.
I once made love to a man
who had lost the woman he loved.
He sobbed and sobbed but I kept on
to show that when grieving stopped,
he would have something to look forward to.
If we are broken or forcefully
opened, it is only to get our attention.

Now I am rapt and looking for the still point
between earth and air. I am willing
to wait while the world turns red,
to watch while everything comes at me.

Laurie Duesing


What’s next?

January 30, 2006

Last week I celebrated the 10th year of my becoming an Australian citizen (Australia Day 1996).

Yesterday morning, I also celebrated reaching the end of a huge undertaking to learn what I could about my new country (or, at least, the tiny portion of it called Roaring Beach). With a group of friends gathered at the base of a sand dune to share coffee, cake and a platter of fruit, I walked into the water to mark the end of this particular journey.

Today, I went to the very same dune at the top of Roaring Beach like I have done for the past 1212 days, but I didn’t descend down to the beach and allow the ocean to grab me with her wild wetness and toss me around. I walked to the top with a yearning to taste, one more time, the salt of the sea in my mouth, but stayed and only looked.

How strange it felt.

I stopped at the top because it felt important to honour yesterday’s ending of my more than three year surfing commitment with a day away from the water. Some form of closure seemed proper. A day of no swimming was appropriate in order to separate what had been done with what next will happen.

A new moon will rise tonight, and with it, an opportunity for new beginnings.

So, the wet suit has remained hanging in the tree, the boogie board and flippers propped up against the wall and me just feeling odd.

Storms, sun, on shore winds, off shore winds or no wind. Big waves, little waves, clean sets, confused sets, messy swells, right hand breaks, left hand breaks or dumping straight across. Pleasant times, scary times; big smile days, sore bone days. It was one hell of a ride.

There were plenty of days, especially in the winter with a southerly blowing, when all I wanted to do was to flop down on the couch by the fire and call it a day. Or, when hail pelted my face walking to the beach, wishing I had never started something so bone chilling cold.

But never once in all those days did I “exit” from the water without feeling refreshed, excited or exulted. Sore, possibly, but not regretful. I invariably bounced back up the hill to the house and felt wonderfully alive. This was especially true when I did a 3:30 A.M. swim two winters ago (under a eerie quarter moon with frost on the ground) in order to make it to Hobart for a vigil at Parliament House. Boy, did I greet the dawn all fresh and full of beans.

One big lesson learned, among many lessons, is that inertia stops many of us from truly engaging in life. Once engaged, however, magic happens.

And, after having experienced 1212 magical days in a row, I can only feel lucky.


Three years and counting

October 6, 2005

For three years, the waters of Roaring Beach have been my daily companion. For three years, I have immersed myself into her various moods and, only once, when the waters were a maelstrom of madness, was there a symbolic ritualistic swim; where the water was simply scooped up and splashed unto my face as the churning waves sped through my legs on their way up the side of a dune.

3rd_anni_surfFor three years, under all conditions I have maintained the discipline to walk the kilometre down to the beach and throw myself into the waves of the day. Waves that were sometimes languid, sometimes breaking out of reach. In this discipline, I have achieved something.

But although words “discipline”, “commitment” and “goal oriented” might float easily to the surface as descriptors of the third year mark, they are only the envelope from which spring the more full flavoured qualities of this time.

Being as it is that my chosen career is that of an artist, discipline comes naturally, yet it only serves “staying in the process”; something I am much more involved with than product or outcome.

Consistently going to the beach daily is how a potter goes to his wheel with a ball of clay and turns, yet again, towards perfection. I am as a weaver at her loom, daily threading gold into another prayer shawl. I am the poet seated patiently at the desk waiting for the words to spill mysteriously onto the page. I am the Sufi dancer spinning, spinning, surfing out of control in the embrace of God.

And what marks my three year dance? For me, I partnered and swung most often between gratitude and pain.

Gratitude for being fortunate enough to toss myself into the shimmering beauty of wave, cloud, sand, salt and wind on a daily basis. Imagine it.

In today’s modern, hectic pace, it all seems so impossible. Did I really manage to be here everyday for three whole years? Did I really manage to organise my life so that schedules and appointments and meetings were so arranged that, for an hour at least within each day, I would be out in the water? Imagine it.

There was no sickness severe enough to keep me in bed (although, during the second winter when I had the flu for three days, I fairly crawled down to the beach). There was nothing that kept me away from Roaring Beach even for a day out of the last 1,096 days. Imagine it.

For this I am grateful. Even in the beginning after just one month of consecutive daily swims, I was grateful. The intensity of gratitude is what has kept growing.

And the pain? No, it is not associated with the numbing cold of the winter months, the dumping off a wave or pulled muscles and cramped legs. It stems from the knowing that my deepening physical and spiritual connection to this earth will have its inevitable separation. It has taken so long to fall in love with this, my existence, and with what surrounds me here on this earth that, although wrapped in gratitude, the pain of losing this gift comes sharp and harsh.

The earth is so much more “home” now. I dwell in it easily, have come to love it deeply and intimately and, especially while in the water, know that I am truly present at the meeting place where spirit and the sensual flesh of the earth reside.

hand_and_waterWith an embodied understanding I hold up my hand, my beautiful carving hand, and say, “Part of me”.

Likewise, I can now “hold” the wave and call out, “Part of me”.

I am grateful for this awareness and only too aware of its ending.

Then again, as I soar off some future day on the back of heaven’s eagle, just possibly, eternity might be wet.


One thousand plus five

June 30, 2005

Some days just don’t go according to plan.

faridahWhen I awoke yesterday morning, my schedule had me leaving around noon for the drive to Hobart for a series of appointments, culminating in my giving, that evening, the opening speech at an exhibition of paintings by Faridah Cameron (her ‘Rock Pool Starry Night’ is shown).

Instead of feeling buoyant about the day, I was both slightly nervous about the speech and troubled in spirit because of a current, neighbourhood issue dealing with the noise of trail bikes in the area. Nine property owners in the Roaring Beach community had written letters of complaint, but enforcement by the council wasn’t guaranteed. Without going into the details, there were a series of very early morning phone calls to me from some of the concerned neighbours. To deal with them, I had to cancel my first scheduled appointment in Hobart.

However, I was determined to make the best of it because the next scheduled appointment in Hobart was to have a massage. This was to be in celebration of this day being the 1000th day of my daily commitment to going into the water at Roaring Beach. And, boy, did my body and soul need some caring hands.

This appointment, too, though later in the afternoon, had to be cancelled.

The reason?

I was in the house putting on my warmed up wet suit for this one thousandth surf when I began to hear a series of “whoooooooo’s”. A lovely, deep, very guttural sound that I had never heard before.

Let me say here that one reason I took on the commitment to surf for three years, three months, three weeks and three days was to learn about the many voices of the land and sea at Roaring Beach that made up the large, communal “Voice” of Roaring Beach. The “whoooooooo’s” were an interesting new addition.

With curiosity I went outside to track down the source of the sound.

roaring_whales_1And there they were. A chorus of five humpback whales spread out across the width of Roaring Beach. Yes, five!

I won’t say that they were at Roaring Beach specifically for me, but as it was the 1000th day, I did allow myself the privilege of feeling honoured by their presence. It was as if they were saying: “We have gathered here for the day to support you and the rest of the Roaring Beach community in your efforts to respect and protect this very, very special place.”

roaring_whales_2They blew, they kept sticking their massive heads out of the water for a view of the beach, they flopped around, they waved their pectoral fins. One of the more frisky whales slapped his/her tail and splashed about repeatedly. They hung about all day. I watched them from every advantage point I could: from the cliffs and from the water. (I have to admit that when I went into the water, in my excitement I forgot to zip up my wet suit and when the first wave hit, my whole wet suit filled up like a balloon with some very cold water.)

But I still had to give the speech. At four PM in the afternoon, instead of ten AM in the morning as scheduled, I drove off to Hobart feeling fully loved. I opened the exhibition on time with a speech peppered with a passionate, fiery love for this earth and the greater cosmos; where all is a fusion of matter and spirit. My encounter with the whales had me totally reinvigorated and empowered and I throughly enjoyed the evening.