The Muddy Duck

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“What’s in a name?” I asked myself as I drove along a dreamy, curly English road called Sally In The Wood, through the forest and straight along past the Muddy Duck pub.

These names entertain me as I settle into life here in Bath, Somerset, England. With their entertainment comes also relief, recognition and comfort. The relief and recognition is brought about by the fact that they are not numbers, like many of the other roads here, so they quickly embed themselves into my memory. It is taking some time for my non-numbering brain to remember which road is the A360 as compared to the A361 or A330.

But ask me where Sally In The Wood Road is and I’ll show you the way, just past the Muddy Duck pub, it circles Monkton Farleigh along the River Avon, with sweeping views over Bath, arriving leisurely into Bathford.

The comfort may come from the name itself, which brings only fond memories of my dear friend Sally. Her name evokes only warmth and positivity and therefore driving along Sally In The Wood makes me inexplicably happy.

Do you have words like that? Names which have never been tainted with conflict or heartache, just brushed with love and integrity.

Hold those names sacred.

I begin to think more about names and what they evoke in us – foreign names which lure us towards them.

Sadly, a short trip to Croatia to visit a friend didn’t eventuate this European summer. The desire to meet my Aussie-Croatian friend there was washed with exotic names and the imagined experiences we would share. Would I have been drawn so strongly to a town called T35 instead of Dubrovnik, or T350 instead of Split? My friend’s heart, hilarity and bear hugs are enough to draw me in, yet imagine the added pulling power of a surname I still struggle to pronounce.

Hold the exotic sacred.

Where would we be in this world without names like Calcutta, Timbuktu, Slovenia, Bolivia, Wagga Wagga?

Where would Bath be without it’s history of the Romans regularly bathing here to give it it’s name?

Where would I be without the Muddy Duck pub along Sally In The Wood?

Lost probably.

Liquid Amber Leaves

liquid amber

When a place is new to us, all our senses fire up. Transitions are addictive like that.

I ran through crunchy liquid amber leaves today, kicked them higher than the uncertainty I was feeling. It brought me confidence and calm.  Somehow.

Have you ever moved cities? Or just moved house? Each change we have in life grows us somehow, but there is often some friction en route. My most recent move has been fairly friction-free; a few red-herring hurdles but nothing too mean.

I’m living in Melbourne now, an ‘experimental’ few months in this fair, funky city. I am living south of the city, in Elwood by the bay. Between my house and the bay there is a canal. Its perfect for jogging or strolling along to get to the bay.

What’s most beautiful about this canal is not it’s arching autumn red and orange-leaved trees, or chilled out noisy ducks and birds, or even it’s buff joggers pumping up the energy with ipods and pbs. What’s most beautiful is the stories which are literally chalked up along it’s edges. Beautiful snippets of people’s lives have been captured and written into specially placed bricks every fifty metres or so. Tiny memories from locals of Elwood, artistically captured by a feel-good council.

Pauline Thompson was one such local, she has a few memories etched into the bricks, like “I used to swim with dolphins at Elwood beach” and “my grandfather used to lower me down here to catch worms. When it was time to get out, I’d hang onto the edge of his fishing rod and he’d haul me out”.

There is a number of them I have paused at as I wander, and today this memory from Isabella Dorfman stopped me: “Every day we meet our friends and walk to the sea. This experience always brings back memories of the Ukraine and the transition to a new life made in Elwood”.

It was the word ‘transition’ which held my attention, imagining Isabella moving from one country to another, under circumstances unknown, and how she must have hurtled herself over many high hurdles to eventually settle in her ‘new life made in Elwood’. More captivating is the fact that there is activities in the new space which connect her directly back to her old space, walking to the sea reminds her of Ukraine. It’s as if her legs hold memory which her mind alone could not muster.

Elwood is a vibrant Melbourne suburb, so many miles from the Ukraine. There is wooden clad cafes with jittery smiling baristas, whipping up tea-inspired cocktails, ‘chai-tinis’ , while black and white John Lennons on canvas chaperone all the leather jacketed young locals on Tinder dates. Yet within this world Isabella Dorfman finds memories of the Ukraine, as she strolls from the cafes along the canal to the sea.

It takes just the tinniest of similarities to trigger our memory gene. The walking wakes her past, shuffles it into the now and gives her life a storyline, the snippets of her life are no longer disconnected, rather they become always relevant and bleed into her life eternity.

Now, each time I kick the crunchy liquid amber leaves I wonder if Isabella Dorfman does the same.

More Elwood Canal Memories

“One day when my son was riding home from school, he swerved and went hurtling into the canal. He hurt his arm so we had to get a chair and lower it into the water so he could scramble out” [Katie Ragheb].

“There used to be a swamp here. My father was paid to light kerosene lamps along the edge so that drunks and cows wouldn’t fall in. The next morning, before he went to school, he would return and blow them all out” [Don Taggart]

“Leaning on the rails of the canal bridge reminds me of my childhood on the Murray River” [Helen Graham]

“There have always been dreams for the Elwood Canal. In the 1800s they wanted to transform the waterway into a little Venice and have gondolas plying up and down the canal” [Roslyn Blackman]

Be Vulnerable, Be Love

adelaide

It occurred to me recently that vulnerability is where the deep love is.

Go with me here…

Do you remember that feeling of being totally utterly vulnerable? That moment you allowed another to hear the hidden whispers of your heart and hoped to hell they liked what they saw, or at least slightly understood the rumblings. These vulnerable scary moments can occur on a small scale and on a frighteningly life changing scale.

And here’s the thing…in those moments of terror and vulnerability, we have a choice. We can choose to fall towards and into the vulnerable hole or run like hell to our comfortable donnas, bury our heads between the sweet soft pillows and wait eagerly til the moment has passed.

I would encourage you to fall in. Go towards the dark cess pool of fear and you will, if you look, see love.

In that split second before your sweaty palms open the front door to a potential new lover, you can hear love loitering. In that heartbreaking moment you say goodbye to a friend who has died, you will be smothered in deep profound love. In that nerve racking second when you hear the word redundant, you can paint a larger future full of new love.

When we retire from work, when we quit a job without another to go to, when we discover we’re pregnant, when we suddenly are no longer pregnant, when we sign the divorce papers, when we propose in a restaurant. When we swipe our eftpos card and hear the tone of rejection. When we have no idea in which direction to go. When there is no map.

In all of these moments, when our hands shake and our hearts rise up, these are the times to be love.

Being love enables us to connect with others inside the vulnerability. To look that lover in the eyes, both of you being fully seen by the other and therefore able to drink in more. And that is what will pull us through this crazy vulnerable life – having no map together.

So, go ahead and fall in. Jump in, dive in, swim through it. Be vulnerable: be love.

Armour Dresses

“Where’s your armour?” said the morning as it laughed in through the window and ravaged my alarm, “you’ll need more strength today”.

“What’s that? You left it in the afternoon of yesterday?! But today there is that child, the one without a home. He is lost again. Oh! And that, last year’s trauma to be tested and poked all over again. Please, tell me of your heartache and the times you most unravelled”.

“Where’s your armour? Gather your strength please”. Today; and then again, the sunshine creeping in.

With each snooze the morning blasts reality across a bed I made myself yet cannot lay in.

Slip on a dress, a new one; floral armour or pokadot strength?

 

-for my colleagues, the strong

Same Love More Love

wedding 1

Are you a ‘wedding person’? Do you find yourself holding back the tears, trying not to ruin your mascara as you exhale and try not to be overcome and start sobbing into your bubbly?

Last week I went to my cousin’s wedding. My beautiful cousin married the love of her life, another woman. My god, it was beautiful. So beautiful it’s difficult to put to words.

The ground we gathered on in the Australian bush was warm, earthy and solid, despite it’s illegality.

The words shared were genuine and deeply heartfelt. They fell on our open ears, passed through our warmed hearts and dropped softly out our blue-green eyes.

The love being celebrated was palpable, grounded in respect and delightfully joyful.

Another cousin and I sat on the wooden bench in the sun-drenched natural rock cathedral, white-trunk gumtrees gently swaying overhead, dusty toes beneath our thinly strapped dresses, shoulders warmed in sun and us giggly waiting for ladies in white to arrive. I always get nervous for the wedding-ees at this point, walking down that aisle with all eyes on them. But as soon as I saw my cousin and her wife-to-be walking with their dads and their 3 month baby girl all cuddling down the aisle, I exhaled. Beautiful. Cue: tears.

Each moment then and after was love-filled. The ceremony took place at one end of the natural cathedral, the women standing tall on a raised rock at the end, framed by a hand-made alter, lovingly made from plaited tree branches and weaved wild bush flowers. Free from the requirements of legal weddings, every word was blissfully true, un-encumbered by legislative rumblings, just requited love in its purest form. A commitment of self to the other and to their life ahead as “us”.

A big party followed of course. The speeches were strong, the food divine, the grappa shared and the dancing wild. Kids ran amok, aunts danced with new in-laws, and one of my little cousins became overly wine-induced excited about the fact that all our family have exactly the same eyes. She would run up to another relative, yell “let me see your eyes”, stare them out, claiming loudly how she couldn’t believe we all had the same eyes. Blue-green, with a tinge of hazel, and quick to shed love-tears.

That same cousin and I were sitting together during the speeches. I’m not sure at what point the love and beauty became too much for me, but I turned to her and said “I think I want a gay wedding, its so damn beautiful!”. Her response was immediate and emphatic, slamming down her glass in agreement “Oh my god, me too!”. We laughed at our own excitement and being so overcome with the love in the room.

There is something deliciously stunning about love without any requirements, borders, restrictions. Love that grows from giving love and being loved right back.

 

“And in this moment I swear, we are infinite” – Stephen Chbosky

wedding 4

 

 

 

 

 

Into The Wild

into the wild kindness

 

Have you heard of Christopher McCandless? Or the film and book Into The Wild?

 

McCandless is the main subject of the story, his life and death explored by author Jon Jon Krakauer. It’s an exploration of the human desire to shake off the perceived chain of materialist society, burn your cash and live a life emerged in the wilderness. McCandless tramped around North America for two years before surviving in the Alaskan wild for about four months, alone. It’s believed a previously unknown toxic seed took his life while living off the land in Alaska.

 

McCandless’ story is not simply a story of losing oneself to the wilds, and not just an attempt to “find oneself”, but it is a hopeful journey about following the magnetic pull of your life, right into the depths of the wildest interior of land and self. Krakauer talks of McCandless wanting to “test himself… in ways that mattered”, being “drawn west past the edge of the known world, by nothing more than a hunger of the spirit”. McCandless read the likes of Jack London and Tolstoy on his journey, aiming to live his life according to “truth” above all else, in harmony with nature, new horizons and himself.

 

How indulgent and life-affirming to literally walk into the sunset every evening, rise with the sun in the morning and move each day only in the direction of your latest mood or survival need.

 

Do you ever wish for this? In some ways, I wish to do this. Yet I now know that the pull of sharing life with others is too great for me to wander all alone.

 

Over the past month I have been given the chance to explore this reality in a mini version. I did not burn my cash or travel light that’s for sure, and European hotels are unfathomably far from McCandless’ walk across North America. Yet I tried for about six weeks to live without definite direction or desire other than to explore new spaces and follow my mood and survival needs.

 

I moved through the struggle of my need to constantly have a plan, and at times was overcome with the ever fortunate yet debilitating condition of option anxiety. By the end I understood some of the conclusions that McCandless had come to, primarily being: nature is supreme; survival is not always easy; the spark of new beginnings is unbeatable; and the warmth of close relationships is crucial to our well-being. It’s this last point about relationships which has been on my mind a lot lately.

 

McCandless made one attempt to walk back to civilisation before he was poisoned, but his path out of the wild was cut off by an impassable river. On returning to his camp to wait it out he wrote about the experience of loneliness, and his desire to re-enter the world, return to his family and friends, to re-connect. “Happiness only real when shared”, he wrote. This was in direct opposition to his previous experiences of profound peace while alone in nature.

 

McCandless was experiencing the freedom-intimacy dilemma acutely.

 

It has lead me to many questions. Whether your “freedom” is travel or some other personal desire, it seems these are questions we could all relate to.

 

How can we explore this world without limit, while maintaining our connections to our closest kin?

 

How to allow your feet to walk freely, while strengthening our tightest bonds?

 

The self-indulgent answer is take all your people with you, to be pulled magnetically in the direction of your desires with your loved ones by your side. If only we all wanted to go to the same places at the same time!

 

Thanks to all the people who have joined me on this journey so far, moments with you were by far the most life-affirming.

 

Let’s go into the wild side by side whenever we can 🙂

 

“There are no events but thoughts and the heart’s hard turning, the heart’s slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip, and tales for other times” – Annie Dillard, Holy The Firm.

 

 

 

Everyone’s Sicilian Fish Business

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Everybody’s business is everybody’s business in Sicily. It’s a beautiful thing. And a loud thing. Especially in fish markets.

 

Never before have I travelled through a country where buying postage stamps is a community effort; finding the right bus stop becomes the interest of at least half the bus; and where the idea of ‘going out your way for someone else’ appears to be a foreign concept. Everything is part of everyone’s business, therefore there is no “for someone else”, it’s just living, participating.

 

Plans often go a little sideways in Sicily, due to the Sicilian’s tenuous relationship with the term organisation. The fabulous thing is that when a situation gets tricky then any person within earshot automatically becomes part of the solution, or at the very least part of the long loud debate about how the issue should be solved.

 

I have been helped throughout my solo journey here by many random people, young and old, men and women.

 

My absolute favourite experience of this was quite cute and extremely generous, and involved a fishmonger in the Catania Fish Markets. Celebrity chef Rick Stein has described these markets as his favourite fish markets in Europe and I must agree. It’s one of those places which wakes you up, stirs you around, and takes full hold of all your senses.

 

Many fishmongers make a huge racket, with their verbal adverts singing out competing over each other. They sing to everyone and no one in particular. It doesn’t even mix together into a one rumbling sound. Every voice must be heard, with individual pitches raised up above and around each other. I see one seller try to call out but his mouth is full of freshly cooked crab meat which tumbles out. He playfully shoves the second half of the meat into his friend’s mouth, passionately yelling at him as he does so. The look on his face is deep enjoyment, fresh crab bouncing out of his mouth as he smiles and sings and munches away. Must have been a great catch that day.

 

He is a young one. The rest are aged. They know fish – the quickest way to catch them, precise place to chop them, tastiest sauce in which to cook them. They walk through the rows of fish with tight, white t-shirted chests puffed up, cigarettes dangling from lips, large knives hanging casually from weathered bloody hands. They live with fish on them, somehow in them.

 

Amongst the noise is the threatening mix of slimy fish. It’s tough to find somewhere to sit in the fish markets. After walking through I wanted to sit to take it all in, but with slime and guts and fish blood flowing all around its best not to sit. Large liquid fish eyes stare up at you, round and black and as large as my fist; swordfish heads sit amputated, perched in their own blood, their swords pointed upwards. Their tails separate nearby; they are not the sum of their parts anymore, and yet fiscally they really are the sum of their parts now; each piece priced for its own worth. Pippies squirt water through the crowd, still alive and trying to jump for freedom from their cramped death beds.

 

Amongst this someone brushes their purchases against me as they squeeze past. I look down to see a line of fish blood across my wrist. This I dislike. Yet I am all out of tissues and not willing to bloody up my new Sicilian dress. It dries deep red and I feel a little more like I belong. I suddenly become absorbed with my lack of shoes. Flip flops! Who wears flip flops to fish markets? As I traverse blood rivers, side step shrimp shell and prawn poo my toes become speckled and shiny with wet fish scales. I’m really getting into the flow of this place now.

 

As I jump a small pool of multi-coloured unknown-ness, a nearby fishmonger smiles, shaking his head at my foolish choice of footwear. He is sitting on a crate, and bends slightly to tap his solid, trusty, fish-covered, knee-high rubber boots. I raise my shoulders and arms in an Italian kind of “eh, well, what can I do hey”. And that is when he starts to take off his boots, raving on in Italian and waving his hands at me to sit next to him. He wants to give me his boots! This man would actually remove his own boots to save my silly tourist toes!

 

He has one boot off when he looks up to see my face. Sadly I am sometimes unable to hide my reactions from my face, and at this moment I am actually disgusted (yet honoured) by the idea of wearing this man’s filthy fishy hot rubber boots. Disgusted more than by the scales now firmly attached to my toes. We look down at our feet together, then look up and laugh together.

 

The man pats me on the back, puts his boot back on, and picks up a small hose to hose my feet. I leave the markets with clean toes and a tidy heart, feeling blessed by the generosity of these Sicilians.

 

Everybody’s business is everybody’s business in Sicily. It’s a beautiful thing.

 

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The Bright Moment

retreat

 

This blog is fairly experimental for me… And with that warning I will continue with this post!

A few people have been asking me about the writing retreat I went on recently. There was so much within it that it now feels a little difficult to know which parts of the week are ready for blog sharing… so I will keep this brief, with a short intro and short poem. Meanwhile I will allow my mind to chew over the rest of my very full notebook.

I spent the most amazing week at a writer’s retreat in Southern France called Writing From the Bright Moment. It was led by the inspiring, compassionate and very talented author Roselle Angwin.

It was an alchemic success of guided mindfulness sessions, clever writing exercises, an experienced teacher and an extremely trusting group of wise women participants. All of this in the most relaxed mountain scenery possible, with organic delicious meals, a masseuse and of course hammocks. This all resulted in a week of deep transformation, learning, growth, vulnerability and healing. Personal and skill development that I could not have imagined when I signed up.

Now, the experimental part of the blog…. Below is a “Haiban” which I wrote at the retreat – a style of poem that combines Japanese Haiku and short, sharp prose (with a whole bunch of other rules mixed in). I hadn’t heard of it prior to the retreat, it takes years to perfect and hence the experimental nature of this blog post. You may enjoy it, you may not. You may ‘get’ me, you may not. Either way, thought I’d share it, because being vulnerable and experimental is part of what writing is about 🙂

A big thank you to my fellow retreat-ers, without your eagerness to be in the bright moment together the week surely would not have been so profound, or fun!

The Haiban is called The Massage. It’s for Nuha.

 

 

The Massage

 

It was thirty-two degrees in the yurt yesterday. The massage yurt. With earthly Frances, cotton doors, air full of memory; heavy. I enter with reminder not to crumble, only calm lives here.

 

heart depth

grew between the two

cuddling through chemo

 

Heat increases, Frances flicks on the fan, removes a layer. Long strokes, one hand; shorter stokes with two. Melt away. Our bodies hold pain, between third and fourth vertebrate, a moment to the left of centre.

 

we travel sideways

to goodbyes

and back again to light

 

Frances glides hot palms off the sockets of my eyes. She shifts clouds. The yurt allows the sun through, eyelids smashed with yellow. That light – my friend fell through it, now painless on the brighter side. How she shines.

 

this bright moment indeed

 

 

Take A Hammer To It

France 1

 

Have you ever built a house? No? Me either. Have you ever built a staircase? Maybe you have. I haven’t. Have you ever built a single step? Maybe yes, maybe no. Yesterday I built a single step. It was amazing and changed my life….. Ok, slight exaggeration perhaps, but it was pretty cool. There is a lot to it, and then at the end you simply take a hammer to it.

 

The step I made was number 7 of 15 steps currently being built by my friend in his new shell of a home in Castelsarrasin, near Toulouse in Southern France. The stairs are steep and will eventually take people up into the attic bedroom at the top of the home. I came here to visit my friend Grant and his finance Lucie, and intended on helping them with the building. Grant lulled me in with talk of hammers and French wine and I was keen to help.

 

It quickly became clear that my extremely limited woodwork skills would result in less stairs being built than during an average day, and more wine being drunk. However my friend was entirely patient with me (wine helps with patience), trading in speed with showing me how to measure, cut, plane and sand.

 

What a delight! As soon as the angle grinder started spinning through the wood, the room smelt like school again! I was transported back to woodwork class as a 15 year old and remembered that calm feeling that comes from working with timber. The deep earthy smell filled the room and my whole body exhaled. The threat of the angle grinder’s blade dissipated, replaced with a relaxed concentration of ensuring the blade made a straight line.

 

Picking up the plane I rounded off the edge of the stair and loved how the wood moulded so easily….seeming to want to be a stair (indulge me here!). For such a solid material, wood has this softness that allows you to shape it and create it, without it loosing its own strength. It never looses it’s own line, and imperfections are desirable.

 

With the measuring, cutting, rounding and sanding done, we slotted the new step into place. Grant took a hammer to it, and a few nails later we had a functional step! As easy and relaxed as that. It looked good and we were one step closer to the room above.

 

Happy with that progress we ditched the building site for bicycles and headed over to the canals for lunch. As we cycled I started to look at all the buildings with fresh eyes, suddenly seeing every single step, every tall door, every ornate door handle, every piece of curly iron banister and every hanging wooden shutter on the beautiful French buildings. In this part of the world beauty takes priority and you can find beauty in every rustic shutter hinge if you look closely.

 

The further we cycled the more beauty there appeared to be. Maybe it was the sunshine, and possibly the wine, but whatever it was, this place has a sense of the serene, with an impeccable attention to detail.

 

Humans can build beauty. One step at a time. One stairwell. One house. Keep on building. With a little bit of measuring up, cutting back, rounding off, and sanding down. Then, take a hammer to it and lock it in. Good as new.

 

France 2

France 3

 

 

When Berries are Ripe

Tom garden

 

Who taught you how to know when berries are ripe? When the time for picking is best? When to wait and when to act?

 

Was it your mum, your dad, older brother, or grandmother perhaps? Are you still waiting to be taught? Do you even like berries? If you are an Aussie like me, you may never have picked a wild berry until exploring the decadent gardens of the UK, only ever paying stupid prices for punnets of berries from Coles before.

 

I’ve spent that past week on the Isle of Wight…a gorgeous sunny relaxed island on the southern tip of the UK, Britain’s very own holiday destination. Sharing the week with a dear friend and her 22 month old, in the same week in which my own grandmother has passed away, I have been struck with a string of memories and thoughts about family ties, heritage, learning, and how we absorb our past into our very skin.

 

My friend’s son spends much of his time with his grandmother, quintessentially in her allotment (a fab British tradition of community based gardening), watering the many fruits, vegetables, berries and flowers that his grandmother labours over. He knows the lay of the land, his “ga ga” (garden), grabbing the hose and watering his favourite apple tree with ease and joy. He enjoys the natural pleasures of strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, and even gooseberries! He is learning when to wait and when to harvest, discovering how life is sweet with changing seasons and sharing the joy of plucking fruit direct from shrub to mouth, often with purple finger tips.

 

Sharing this with his grandmother and mum, these are indestructible memories, they are the fibre of his growth, building the core of his understanding, creating shared experiences which will bounce back to his mind in snippets in the future. They will perhaps be memories he shares with future girlfriends as he tells his own life-story on first or second dates… “when I was little I lived on the Isle of Wight and loved my grandmother and her garden….”

 

He will always know when a berry is ripe, and know what to do with rhubarb. He is becoming beautifully British.

 

With my grandmother passing away this week, I am flooded with shared memories long forgotten… school holiday train tips to the city, eating so many cinnamon donuts, hours spent in her hot kitchen baking and slaving, Sundays in church “peace be with you and also with you”, mornings spent brushing our hair 100 times and applying eye make up in pale morning light. I recall breakfast tea and toast in bed that my grandfather would bring to us, my grandma asserting that my future husband should have such basic skills and chivalry as this.

 

She never taught me when berries were ripe for the picking, mainly how to choose and cook them!

 

As I cruise along on this English train today, drinking Pimms and lemonade from a can and knowing how that would upset my Grandma (Pimms should be drunk only from a glass you see), I run my hand over my un-brushed hair and feel a twinge of… shame is it… or perhaps just disconnection from my past.

 

This week I learnt from others how to know when berries are ripe. Tomorrow I will brush my hair 100 times, drink Pimms only from a glass, and accept only partners who will bring me tea and toast in bed.

 

So hold on to those shared memories, and create new ones as much as you can. They seep into our skin and our selves and do not disappear.

gma pic