Friday, July 13, 2007

Awash, Aglow, Aflame

The river speaks ... ssshhhrrrrr .... ssshhrrrrr ... ssshhhrrrrr ...
One day's rain a couple of weeks ago, plus the slightly warmer weather and the sometimes biting wind, and the trees are awash with new growth and flitting birds. Silver-eyes dance from branch to branch while the Willie Wagtail chatters on the ground below. Mudlarks graze, a Cormorant waits on the dead tree just above the mangroves, the Grey teal family parades along the overhanging branches high in the tree's canopy, Parrots murmur through the eucalypt flowers, and the Galahs suddenly take off screeching with what sounds like delight, their pink wings aglow. The new growth on the trees is a mix of pinks, reds, coppers, aflame in the shining light. A raven and a currawong chase each other crazily through the trees - it's hard to tell who is chasing who or why. It's just another day on the river. But it's more.

In the book Sustainability and Spirituality - a journey through science, spirtuality and ecospiritual and ecotheological communities in the US - author John E Carroll (2004) cites the holistic perspective of mindfulness, kindness, joy and purposeful living, from Helen and Scott Nearing (1997), who list a number of qualities or attributes which underline living with true harmony among earth and community (human and otherwise). They write (and here I am summarising): 'Do the best you can; Be at peace; Find a job you enjoy; Live simply; Contact nature every day; Feel the earth under your feet; Take time to wonder at life and the world; Keep in close contact with social justice issues; Do research; Write, lecture and teach' (Carroll, 2004:17-18).

This is the world I seek, where social justice and eco-justice blurs, spirals and soars. It's the way the river speaks - as it flows through this evocative poem by Jeanne Lohman.


is whatever comes along,
practice always here while we

keep on shore, all the time
saying we want to get wet.

But the river has ways
of sound and light, ripples

and waves that tell us:
don't be so serious, rumble in

where nothing is finished or broken
and nothing asks to be fixed.

Jeanne Lohman, Jan 27, 2006

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Carroll JE, 2004, Sustainability and Spirituality, Albany NY: State University of New York Press.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Breathing the River

Carbon dioxide, and its impact on the global ecosystem, has been the topic of media debate in Australia this week as the ABC airs the anti-'Inconvenient Truth'-global warming documentary. It's simply the sun's fault, the doco. says, not the fault of humans. This falls happily into the lap of those who seem unaware of the interconnected land, sea and sky ecosystem problems, or turn their backs on ecological devastation.

It was David Suzuki some years ago who pointed out that, often, the effect on the natural environment is not noticed as the incremental damage occurs little by little. Suddenly there are no trees in an area, or the air becomes over-polluted, or the traffic becomes clogged, or the water runs out. Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke (2004) in their book Blue Gold tells us that the water is under severe threat, globally, of running low and then, running out. A recent ABC program pointed out that, for example, that glaciers in Bolivia are melting at such as pace that the iced water from the Andes mountains that supplies the people, will disappear. Then where does the water come from?

Anita Roddick (2004:48) in the book 'Troubled Water: Saints, Sinners, Truths and Lies about the Global Water Crisis' (written with Brooke Shelby Biggs), tells us that 'water is a closed system'. What is fascinating about what they say next really brings home the water issue -
'All of the water that exists on earth today existed when the planet was first formed. The water in a dinosaur's drinking hole 250 million years ago may be the same water in your afternoon tea tomorrow.'

The book is filled with vignettes of water shortages, and water pollution globally. From scarcity to damming rivers, from sewerage outfall to privatisation, there is a thirst in the world; rivers are thirsting; rivers need 'cleaning'; rivers need to be healthy for the wellbeing of human and other-than-human.

Breathing the earth, the life giving oxygen, from trees and the oceans, supports our existence. The image of the mangroves at the beginning of this blog is a reminder of the sweet breath of the tree - to me - to the tree - to me - to the tree - to me. That's why caring for the precious ecological processes is so important. Being aware of the little-by-little removal of trees, especially in water catchments/watersheds, as well as whole-scale logging of rainforests and bulldozing of bushland, and the constant development which flattens the land, these things engender a world where nature is, sadly, in the descendent. Without the life giving processes of the dynamism of refreshing water exchange and clean air flow, our lives are .....well, you decide.

Here in my new home place, the chain saws are at work whereever you look/hear. The bats are losing their feeding trees, the possums are losing their tree houses, the birds are losing their trees to perch and search, and sadly, our lives become less full. But by the river there is life and a sense of wellbeing that the river gives. Thank you river.

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Roddick A with BS Biggs, 2004, Troubled Waters: Saints, Sinners, truths and Lies about the Global Water Crisis, Chichester, West Sussex, Anita Roddick Books.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Going Away and Coming Back

I walked in a different place. My former home place on the Bay. In the brisk morning not long after dawn the cold infected my fingers and toes. But the feel of cold was quickly displaced by the colour-changing sky which spread from mauve to mystic pink. And as I gazed towards the horizon watching for whales in the water, a pelican flew by above the small waves.

Whales had visited the Port Phillip Bay this year in increasing numbers. Humbacks. Magnificient leviathans. They are headed south to the place where the International Whaling Commission this year allows for numbers of them to be slaughtered. I can only cry and hope that the Sea Shepherd campaigners are able to stop the useless killing of these gorgeous creatures.

The Animal Freedom website tells the poignant story of how founder, Paul Watson, made the heartfelt decision to dedicate his life to saving sea creatures. It was 1975 and he and Robert Hunter, also founders of Greenpeace, were riding a Zodiac in front of a Russian whaling ship in an attempt to protect Sperm whales. It is such a powerful story of transformation that it is quoted in full.

'Paul Watson recounts how he looked into the eyes of the dying whale:

'With a shock, my eyes met the left eye of the whale like Odysseus facing the Cyclops. That one eye stared back, an eye the size of my fist, blackish brown and with a depth that astonished and gripped me. This was no brutish creature. This was no dumb animal. The eye that I saw reflected an intense intelligence. I read the pain and I read understanding. The whale knew what we were doing. This whale had discriminated. That message was beamed directly into my heart by a mere glance. Fear there never was, but apprehension vanished like a crest upon a wave. I felt love both from and for. I felt hope, not for himself but for his kind. I saw a selflessness of a spirit completely alien to our primate selves. This was a being with an intelligence that put us to shame, with an understanding that could only humble us. And the most shameful message of all passed over to me; forgiveness.

'In an instant, my life was transformed and a purpose for my life was reverently established.

'Contact lasted only a few seconds but it seemed like much longer. The whale became quiet and began to sink back into the cold embrace of the sea and death. As he slid slowly back, I could see the life fading from his eye. I followed that rapidly extinguishing sparkle of light as the cold briny waves doused the final spark and the soul of a majestic greatness departed, leaving only a mammoth corpse behind.

'Many whales had died during my lifetime, all victims of the ruthlessness of my species. It had all been academic. This was different. This was a death witnessed and attended by my shipmates and me. Between that one unknown whale and myself, a bond had been established. I would honour this great being with my service. I would side with his species in opposition to my own.

'That experience remains for me, to this day, my single greatest moment of revelation and the source of all my strength, courage, commitment and sadness. I was scarred and left with an accursed task. The experience robbed me of all sense of joy and wonder. Human happiness would never be completely possible for me. I had looked into the eye of God. I could never be the same again.'

This spiritual understanding and empathy between whale and human is profoundly moving. This kind of story is not uncommon amongst frontline activists. I have found that many environmental activists have had an experience of severe grief and trauma associated with nature destruction which, they say, has been the stimulus to their activism. For some like Watson, it is an immediate and sudden shocking scene - the death of the whale, the impact of clearfelling a forest or forest valley, the damaging effect of deep sea trawling with its huge catches, mega-bycatch, and devastation to the ocean floor.

For others, like the 2007 Australian of the Year, Tim Flannery, it was a slow and steady deterioration of the place where he grew up. The bushy beach suburb on the outskirts of Melbourne, and Flannery's place for play and exploration where his curiosity of science was spawned, was slowly whittled away through development and infrastructure. He felt it deeply; it was vandalism. In a speech a few years ago Flannery (2001) reminisces:

'When I was growing up in Sandringham it was a magical place. It was on the edge of the suburbs. There was still plenty of bushland there and I still remember, just as a young child, being absolutely enchanted by the birds, the huge diversity of birds, making cubby houses in the tea tree, the lizards, the frogs, this wonderful biodiversity was there. ... I was becoming aware of even though I was very young and within a decade or so, all of that bush and all of the birds and all of the frogs and the lizards, plants and biodiversity and that wonderful ** flora at Sandringham had virtually all vanished.'

Accompanying ecological conversion of activists is an ethic of care. A land ethic. A sea ethic. A river ethic. A place ethic. Being awakened to the luminosity of nature engenders not only a sense of care for the earth, but a sense of care for others, and a drive to preserve the precious ecosystems and all creatures - great and small.

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Flannery T, 2001, Inaugural lecture: The Normal Wettenhall Foundation: Memorial Lecture Series.