Understory – A connection through trees

I have just finished gorging myself on this, a book that I bought half heartedly at first, thinking it would better suit a close friend of mine than me – I was going to give it to her as a present but then I thought ‘stuff it, I’ll read it first’ and I’m glad I did.

I am such a tree girl myself. So much so that last year my vision board (I do a board every year) had me declare my mantra to be ‘be strong, stand tall, you have deep roots and can weather any storm’.  I am tree woman. I love living with them, find it easier to breathe when surrounded by them and feel most grounded in their presence.

Inga’s personal life story is entwined into the story of the forests and country that has, and continues to shape her.  The personal stories are neat and as crisp as morning dew yet they touch deeply, leaving a real sense of a person you both know and don’t know in equal measure.  Inga weaves in her childhood inspiration – a land of Tolkien, Dragons and bush camping giving the very real narrative a sense of other-worldliness as if she has stumbled across a porthole to another world when really it is just another way of seeing this world I guess.

Anyway, for a tree-loving, bush-walking, loner like me this book is just perfect and no, I’m not going to pass this copy onto my friend, I’m going to buy her a fresh one and keep this as a permanent reminder of the language and power of trees.

 

Dark Emu Black Seeds: Agriculture of Accident? Bruce Pascoe.

Dark Emu Bruce Pascoe

I cannot recommend this book highly enough! After waiting four weeks for it to be re-printed I finally got my hands on my copy on Saturday and promptly went back to lie on my bed and read it, which didn’t take too long given it is only just over 150 excellent and thought-provoking pages.

The idea that Australian Aboriginal mobs were wandering around the bush, spear in hand ready to hunt and gather whatever they chanced upon is  not only challenged in this book it is blown apart and named for what is was and still is – a white invaders narrative, a lie, a convenient agenda-driven mis-representation.  Instead we hear first hand evidence of what was really going on in Australia at that time, ironically told through the journals of the early white settlers and explorers.   The fact that the truth was out there all along but ‘we’ (the majority)  didn’t go after it, didn’t question our own history enough, didn’t ask and didn’t think is shameful and deeply saddening but this book isn’t sad, angry or judgemental, those are my thoughts.  Pascoe’s tone is curious and then proud, excited by what this means for the future of our country (and it is OUR country or rather it is a country for all of those who reach out and connect with it) and empowering in light of the challenges that the world is currently facing.  We can do this, we can grow Australia but first we have to become the soil.

One of my favourite parts of the book was the story of how Aboriginal people thrived on land that us white fellas dismissed as barren, inhospitable, harsh, dead.  Aboriginals were the worlds first grain farmers baking bread long before the Egyptians worked it all out and it wasn’t just bread, bush tomatoes, Daisy Yams and many more seeds co-evolved with humans making life not only possible but comfortable and culturally rich.  Aboriginal Australia was a thriving, fertile place because the people learned about the land, respected it, cared for it, came from it and returned to it.

As someone who is about to dive into the world of farming I am holding this book up as a reminder to me and my family that before we do anything, plant anything,  change anything we first have to return to the land, become the land, breathe with it, respect it and feel it running through our veins.  Connection  to the land can’t be bought or sold, these days we wouldn’t dream talking about owning our mothers, fathers, children, sisters or brothers – we never should have – so why would be talk about land that way? Why turn it into a commodity, a transaction?  I am sure that I’ve been guilty of parroting out that old phase ‘we want to leave the land better than how we found it’ and thanks to Dark Emu I now have a reference point for what that really means.  I doubt that we can achieve in ten, twenty, fifty years what it took Aboriginal mobs tens of thousands of years to do but we can at least start and like all relationships the best and healthiest mindset to approach that with is one of love.

So first I’m going to go out and give the land a cuddle.

Amanda x

 

Watching grass grow

All of a sudden that old idiom ‘it’s like watching grass grow’  seems like a really silly thing to say.  Grass just isn’t boring at all!

Grasses from Blue Mountains Garden

 

February’s farm planning course covered many things but the segment on ‘Grasses of the NSW tablelands’ captured my imagination the most.  It only took five minutes of standing outside of our classroom in Bathurst to spot three, four, five maybe six different species of grass – that’s up to six different stories, opportunities, histories and futures right there beneath my feet!   And to think that all I’ve done previously is trampled on it, sat on it, sneezed because of it  or tried to remember to mow it.  Value it?  Not really, not deeply.  Not until now.

My attitude to grass ‘it all looks the same, it’s boring, show me the pretty stuff,  most of them are just weeds’ demonstrated to me the power of ignorance and how my ignorance had shaped my values and directed my actions.   We purchased Fox Hill Hollow at the end of winter and then went travelling so it wasn’t until summer that we really got to spend some time there getting to know our piece of land.  I remember feeling worried and somewhat disappointed at the fact that the land was covered with bushy tufty dried out grass that was in turn covered by crickets and other ‘inconvenient’ and unattractive insects.  My ignorance of the value of grass led me to believe that our land was in bad shape, that the soil was probably pretty worthless and that we would have an up-hill battle on our hands to make the land good again.  Thank goodness for our local Land Care group and our farm planning course!

So it turns out that our land is not over run by grasses that are worthless, weedy and ugly at all, in fact many of those grasses are native, some are excellent feed for animals and others will help to slow down or even prevent erosion. Of course this isn’t rocket science and I’m sure that deep down inside my head if I had thought about it I would have realised that grasslands, like every other form of habitat has its place and value but it wasn’t until I’d taken some time out to learn more and listen to the stories that the grasses told that I began to really see its beauty and potential.

Isn’t that true with everything in life?

Here are some books that are helping me to identify my grasses and learn their stories.

Grassland books

 

Going Feral

1:  of, relating to, or suggestive of a wild beast <feral teeth><feral instincts>

2: a :  not domesticated or cultivated :  wild

b :  having escaped from domestication and become wild<feral cats>

I once viewed this term as a bit of an insult, ‘she’s gone feral’ being Aussie slang for ‘letting ones self go’.  Unkempt,  trailer trash, bogan etc. Not any more.  Thanks to George Monbiot Feral now means something magical, wild, free, natural and exciting.  Damn, I actually WANT to be feral.  I NEED this in my life!
I’m not going to offer a long drawn out review of the book here as there are plenty of much more intelligent reviews to be found online including that written in the UK’s Daily Telegraph or here on Monbiot’s website.  No, I’m going to focus on how the book made me feel.
I walked into the small book-cum-fishing tackle shop in Tobermory on a chilly, damp October day looking for something as good as the book I’d just finished reading (Stoner by John Williams) but different.  I wanted to feel the enchantment of the land that I was standing on. Feel the flow of the words like I felt the wind in my hair and become immersed as if swallowed into the ginger heather-covered hills and the moss-covered rocks. I wanted to smell the sea coming through the ink,  taste the rain and sea splashes in each paragraph and weave myself into the very fibre of this great part of Scotland.
I was on holiday with my husband, children and mother, taking it easy,  enjoying the wildness from the comfort of our car while allowing our minds to wonder deep, deep into the fabric of the island.  I’d become obsessed with the history of this small piece of paradise.  The clearings. Dreadful, shameful, heartless clearings that had tried so hard to wipe out the celtic spirit that sang the lands song replacing it with the march of profit and progress.  I dug deeper, further and further back in time,  intent on finding my own place in this landscape on finding out if my blood came from here?  Did my ancestors toil this land, worship her gods, give birth amongst the heather?  It would seem not but that was of no consequence.  We had come to this land via Scandinavia in an un-planned re-tracing of Viking steps.  I learned of the raids that had peppered this and the other islands. Of the temporary shelter offered by Iona to holy men on their missions,  of the subsequent bloodshed and tragedy.  The hills bore the scars and imprints of these human-led action packed triumphs and tragedies.  I wondered what they thought about that.  The hills, not the people…..
I fingered each book that I came to as if one of them would grab me back and pull me in but it was my eyes that found it.  We had seen a deer earlier that day, a beautifully disguised specimen camouflaged amongst the autumn leaves but not quick enough to be missed by us in our tour-mobile.
Deer
This was the sign that I was looking for.  It felt right to buy it despite the fact that I had no idea what rewilding or George Monbiot was.  It was just meant to be.
feral
I’ve often wondered why I feel dead when walking around one of those new housing estates or gigantic shopping malls.  I assumed it was the fakery, the man-scaped skyline (or lack of), the un-natural assault on the senses, the monotony.  I assumed that this was just a matter of taste rather than a biological longing to escape but now I’m not so sure.  No, I am sure,  that sort of thing quite literally KILLS me.  It is biological torture.
For me a day in the forest amongst the trees and birds is not just a pleasant day out, it is a re-birthing and I had plenty of opportunity to experience that as I journeyed both physically and mentally through the pages of the book.
I realised that I had been allowing myself to re-wild for the last two or three years after falling out of love with the life that I’d created back in 2011, just after my book (my supposed Magnum Opus) was published.  It had started simply by forgoing my bi-monthly hair dressing appointment,  dressing for comfort more than ever before,  saying no to outings in favour of sitting, listening to the birds for just a little longer.  I had what seemed to be a thousand things to address back then and I did so, with the diligence and determination of a Doctorate student, becoming both subject and teacher seeking answers amongst books such as Bill Plotkins Soulcraft (where I learned about letting go) and “The Spell of the Sensuous” (which re-connected me to our animalistic origins)  by David Abram.  Now, three years on I’ve found the missing piece of the oh-so fashionable trilogy here in Feral, a book that has given me so much rational fact to justify what really doesn’t need justifying – that it isn’t feral that is uncivilised, it’s domestication.  Our world would be a different place if in the ships of the 1600’s had felt this.
Reading this book made me feel alive, real, vital and connected.  It is the kind of pivotal book that makes everything make sense.  Re-wilding myself, my environment and my family is no longer a choice, it is our destiny.