The staff

August 27, 2018

I want to talk about a walking staff.

Not any staff, but this staff. The one I carved for Paulus Berensohn after his first stroke.

The above image is from five years ago in May of 2013 when the staff was freshly carved from sacred huon pine wood and about to be mailed over to North Carolina and Paulus’s home near Penland School of Craft. I was testing it for strength to make sure it would not break upon his heavy leaning.

Also, I was holding it to sense if it “felt right”, as it had to come up to the high standards of the stature of the man himself.

Just before his death last year, a photo was taken of Paulus with the now well worn, constantly used, “never-left-at-home” staff on the hill at Penland School. He — dancer, potter, journal keeper and mentor and fairy godfather to many — gesturing towards the mystery of light that awaited him whilst holding onto his “grounding rod”, his third leg, his earthly elegance.

I had hoped, when Paulus was buried, that the staff be laid to rest alongside him.

But not to be. He had a green burial which forbade such items and put into the earth wrapped just in a shawl and little else. The poke weeds shooting strongly up from his grave certainly seem well nourished.

So I brought the staff back with me upon returning from America this July…

… and now take it with me when needing a walk up to the Berensohn / Lawrence memorial bench for a gathering of the spirits, memories and re-connection.

Axe Handles
One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
“When making an axe handle
                 the pattern is not far off.”
And I say this to Kai
“Look: We’ll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with—”
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It’s in Lu Ji’s Wên Fu, fourth century
A.D. “Essay on Literature”-—in the
Preface: “In making the handle
Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand.”
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.

Gary Synder

The staff is neither hatchet nor axe, but the Gary Synder poem gives a hint as to how I feel when walking with it in the footsteps of Paulus.

I carved this staff for my mentor — who was the model at hand, in so many ways, at the time of the carving.

I now hold on to his memory which each grasp. Go to this hillside bench. And, if asked, will mentor others coming to sit with me.

“How we go on”, as Synder writes.

Who will hold the staff after I depart? That’s a question that will remain unanswered for a few more years.

I hope.



November 23, 2016

Where have all the people gone?


Generally, aside from an hour and a half teaching session from 9AM in the morning and an hour Daily Puja reading earlier at 6:30AM, most of the 16 people here for a nine day Buddhist meditation retreat were outdoors. Not naval gazing, but embracing their interbeing with all other life. Not as detached empty vessels, but as passionate, curious, awe-struck individuals in love with life and its many mysterious manifestations.

Tarchin Hearn was an inspired and delightful teacher who talked of — not just contemporary Buddhist philosophy drawn from Mahamudra and Yogacara teachings — but of systems theory, deep-ecology and poetry. For me, personally, a perfect blend of science, earth, art and the sacred that was devoid of restrictive and judgemental dogma. So refreshing.

What better to do after the morning session than to be outdoors with the rest of our animal and plant ancestors? Walking the talk, so to speak.


And, as soon as people had arrived and set up their tents, the nine days flashed by and they were taking their tents down, last hugs, and were off leaving me alone yet feeling throughly loved by everyone’s good energy in thought and deed — the deed being one hour of gift dana per day on the land and house.

Add this up: 16 hours per day by 8 days equals 128 hours of sweeping, raking, pulling bracken and weeding the veggie and flower gardens. Bursting with joy, the land, house and I were.

A day after everyone’s departure and I was contemplating the phase: “Before enlightenment: carry water, chop wood. After enlightenment: carry water, chop wood.”


The reason? I had to empty out the composting toilet. Two years worth of human excrement which had been transformed by worms and slaters into a nice nourishing soil. Three wheelbarrow loads later, the ground around the pear trees felt blest. Indeed.


Zaki and the Goddess

November 3, 2015

Standing as sentry to a new world of ethical behaviour, she’s youthful, if not young; strong, determined and committed to helping asylum seekers be treated with the love they deserve.


The many shoes that were strewn at the entrance to my home this past week — with the exception of Zaki, Victor and myself — were the footwear of 14 women. All holding within themselves the strength of Artemis: the Goddess of, and the very symbol of action.

The presence of all these women gives proof to what Sharon Blackie writes about:

“I believe we need to find our way out of the Wasteland, and I believe that women hold the key.

While there is mutual respect between the two partners – between the goddess and the king, between the land and the people, between nature and culture, between feminine and masculine – then all is in harmony and life is filled with abundance. But when the contract is broken, the fertile land becomes the Wasteland. And so it is that today we find ourselves in an ailing world, cut off from our roots. So we find ourselves in a Wasteland of unbelonging; in the throes of a worldwide environmental crisis of our own making which threatens the existence of so many species on this planet.”

Sharon Blackie, author of If Women Rose Rooted


What’s not unusual about the above photo is that it shows the predominance of women doing the grassroot’s work of the world.

Whether environmental, social, economic or spiritual, the leading figures or gurus doing the talking — but not necessarily the walking — are usually men.

The real work, however, happening behind the scenes, out of the lime light and in cities across the globe is being done by young women, middle aged women, older women, mothers and grand-mothers.

Self promotion is not in their vocabulary. But service is. And transformation.

Astrid and Jill, who have facilitated Ecoevolutionaries Wildheartfulness Journeys several times at Windgrove, were present once again for a three day retreat for the coordinators of the Welcome Dinner Project for asylum seekers and the Joining the Dots NGO.


The flag iris pops out of the ground at this time of year. Its visual strength lies in the grouping of the collective. In many ways, we are all dots and somewhat insignificant, but as a whole we can affect great change.

zaki roaring

And the endearing focus of this weekend was Zaki. A loving man. A courageous man. A sometimes fearing man. A hopeful man.

Zaki is/was from Afghanistan and fled to avoid being, not just persecuted, but executed. His arrival by boat is viewed by our two major political parties as “illegal” — which it isn’t — and his ability to remain in Australia is not guaranteed.

He is a more-than-shining-example of the good that refugees and immigrants can bring into a foreign country. His work ethic is enormous. His commitment to volunteer work is enormous. His heart is enormous.

Two weeks ago Zaki won the International Student of the Year Award. Being Muslim, he wouldn’t partake in the traditional bubbly. Instead, we popped open a non-alcoholic champagne and had an equally joyful celebration.

Welcome group

Women are at the forefront of most volunteer and social/environmental activist organisations. The ratio this past weekend was 14 women to 3 men. As Sharon Blackie hints at, women hold the key to bringing about change. My hope is that eventually many more men will join with them in bringing about this change.


For the past few weeks I had been attempting to write about the necessity of the activist artist to continually push ahead with their vision regardless of the many setbacks incurred along the way.


The photo I wanted to use as a visual analogy was a pair of glasses (see above) that had been accidentally poked off my head when I was cutting and burning shrubbery in preparation for the installation of a sculpture marking the end of the Gaia Evolution Walk.

I somehow managed to keep working throughout the day without realising what had happened and it was only that evening back at the house after a cleansing shower that, when looking for my glasses, I realised they were missing. The next morning, while getting ready to continue with the burning off of the shrubbery, I saw them in the embers of the previous day’s fire.

How does one continue with their life’s work when accidents/tragedy/misfortune knocks the clear vision off our heads?

Is it possible to continue? Is it possible to re-group? Is it even worth the effort to continue on half blind?


My friend Neil Lawrence died tragically this past week, suffering a heart attack while surfing with his son Tom in the Maldives.

Most Australians would know of Neil as the mastermind of the Kevin 07 election campaign.

I knew Neil, not so much through his creative genius as an advertising guru, but through his — behind the scenes — passionate environmental and social concerns for a better world. He once volunteered himself to the Greens to work pro bono on a federal election campaign, but was turned down because he wasn’t in the “inner circle”.

It was Neil who got the Recognise film crew to come to Windgrove a month or so back.

Go on-line to find more of his achievements.

Right now I just want to focus on how we deal with loss, especially big losses. And how we need to find a way to re-focus — get new glasses; possibly with a better prescription — in order to honour and carry on the work of those who have departed.

Not easy, for sure.

embers again

Just beyond where my broken glasses lay, a pile of ash and burnt wood looked dead and cold.

A little wind came up, however, and fanned a few embers back to life. They poked their red, burning desires through the greyness.

In no small way, seeing this little bit of glowing potential wanting desperately to burst into life again, helped me to carry on with the completion of the job at hand.

Find the love, find the courage, find the little spark to keep your environmental/social/artistic dreams active and progressing.

As hard as it might seem, we need to continually brave the cold waters and surf of this world.

We owe it to all those who have come before.


I receive a lot of visitors at Windgrove, but this past weekend was extra special.


Most notably were the Tasmanian singer/songwriter Dewayne Everettsmith and a Sydney film crew of five come to shoot a Recognise Campaign ad for Australian TV audiences.


For those people outside of Australia there is a major push here to include the first people’s of Australia into this country’s constitution — a constitution that implicitly begins Australia’s national story only from the time of British arrival and not the arrival of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people some 40,000 years ago.

A correction is needed.

So it was a real joy to be able to help out with this campaign by offering the use of Windgrove.

Such a delight to first share coffee and muffins and conversation in the house and to then walk the land with everyone.

I felt truly gifted by the presence and singing of Dewayne and the jovial camaraderie of the film crew. Yes, there’s always a bit of buzz meeting a celebrity, but another buzz came from feeling that the land I’ve been living on for 23 years is being recognised for its beauty and inherent power.


A power and beauty that was captured on the following day in a most extraordinary photo of Roaring Beach that included the Drop Stone Bench — the very bench seen in the above photo just below the image of Dewayne.

It was taken by James McIver as he walked along the Gaia Evolution Walk with his three friends Kiata, Crystal and Emily.

I, myself, have taken hundreds of photos of the Drop Stone Bench, but nothing compares with the mystical quality that this photo captures. There is something very special about the three women sitting huddled together looking out across the windswept waters of Roaring Beach while the she-oak tree’s branches to their left are wildly being blown around. Pure magic.

I can’t stop looking at it.

James McIver Drop Stone


Keys to coping

December 8, 2014

There are those days when my life seems to be on the verge of collapse; when standing emotionally erect is difficult. Same for you?


But there are ways of coping that do more than just stabilize. They inspire through a re-charging of the soul.

1. One of these ways is through connecting with nature. Not just once, but over and over again on a daily basis.


Think of nature as your lover, your most intimate partner. Take a vow of fidelity and life long commitment. Make a ritual of it.

2. Another way is to connect with people who share similar interests about art and the natural environment.


Recently I hosted ten interstate and international visitors on a MONA art-nature tour at Windgrove. Walking and talking on hallowed ground can’t help but boost those spiritual endorphins that are released with the inter-connectedness of all beings.


3. And just over a week ago I hosted a nature mythologies workshop given by photographer Lucia Rossi where the seven of us delighted in the mutually supportive challenge of learning new techniques and a new way of engagement with nature. Along with an intelligent and passionate presentation by a knowledgeable teacher, there is nothing like good food and conversation to nourish what needs to be nourished.


4. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, is the need to get down on one’s knees and look humbly and with awe at what is present in the natural world. It drips with gold. And is easily available should we look for it.

How rich we all are.