embers of our
earthbound and of the
the old ones
In 2008 I attended a Women’s conference. The keynote and many activities were provided by the elders and supporters of the Kapululangu Aboriginal Women’s Law and Culture Centre. One evening some of us had paint up and danced a traditional dance. Then the elders sang around the campfire and we watched the ash and embers rise into the sky to join the stars.
My hand is stiff and clammy from gripping the phone. I take a deep breath & I wonder, ‘what is like to be her?’
2. being or involving an altered state of consciousness.
That afternoon, sitting on the front step beside an empty tab of Panadeine Forte & the dregs of a beer I feel the gut punch of her rage, loneliness, & fear. From miles & years away I hear her voice, quiet and calm like I have never known her to be: I do the best I can Rowy. That’s all I can do.
We are walking in the forest. It is cold and softly raining, but we are well dressed for the weather and the dense canopy above reduces that gentle rain to a fine mist. I am feeling happy and carefree, I want to skip and jump. You seem contemplative, quiet. After a few minutes we settle together into a calm and companionable silence.
The path ahead diverts around the buttress roots of one ancient tree. We stop at this giant, and I step over the buttress and lean in, pressing my palms against the damp bark. The bark is rough to touch. Close up I can see the rain seeping down the channels in the rough bark, to be delivered gently to the soil and the roots below. Standing here, I imagine those roots reaching down and down into the earth. The roots hold the tree to the earth, and in the process hold the soil to the hillside. The roots of this tree and the forest around it support the tree, support the earth, support you and me.
Deep underground, the roots of this tree also take nutrients from the soil. These nutrients are pulled upwards. They are pulled to the very top of the tree by the evaporation of water from the leaves. The tree is selecting elements from the soil and using them to build more tree. But the roots of this tree are also communicating with other trees nearby, sharing nutrients and chemical messages in a two-way collaborative network. This tree and the trees nearby are not just building themselves. They are building the forest. My palms are on the tree, touching the rough bark. But my mind is down with the roots and wonders whether ‘tree’ is just a human construct and there is only forest.
I turn my face to you. You are leaning backwards on the part of the forest we call ‘this tree.’ Your eyes are closed and you are smiling a gentle smile. Your warm breath makes a little mist as the moisture condenses in the cold air.
You and I, we are both breathing. We breathe in. We smell the damp and the earth and the forest. To me, the air smells green. To you, the air smells clean. We breathe in the air and take the oxygen that the forest has released in the process of photosynthesis. We breathe out. The forest breathes our breath and in the process of photosynthesis it takes the carbon and creates more of itself. Some of this carbon is shared from tree to tree via the roots. The carbon that started in our bodies will nurture the entire forest.
We breathe the forest. The forest breathes we.
My palms are on the tree, I am breathing in my body but my mind is far above and below with the exchange of carbon and oxygen and I wonder whether ‘you’ and ‘I’ are just human constructs and there is only forest.