It’s irresistable to get up at dawn. The light is coming through the frangipani tree in full pink blossom, it’s branches winding their way through the verandah. The first birds are sounding their notes: the cackle of the kookaburra, the sublime liquid sliding song of the Australian magpie, the resonant single notes of the butcher bird, all so different to the dawn chorus at home.
Yesterday the kookaburra paid a visit. It felt like The King had arrived as he sat on the frangipani trunk about 4ft away, standing a foot high with his five butcher bird companions twittering around him. We had a few moments of eye to eye contact before he flew off – and I flew off to get my camera.
From time to time a flock of bright rosella parrots arrive in the tree opposite.Then the unmistakable call of the whip bird sounds. These are my favourite companions in the early mornings. You can hear a glimpse of the Australian Dawn chorus here.
I have met many other creatures along the way: an echidna in the local woods (about 3x size of hedgehog) – one of few mammals who lay their eggs. Walking home from the beach yesterday I stopped in my tracks as I realised a snake was crossing my path. It continued straight up a brick wall! Wallaby on the right.
Nature is so lush here (100” rain per year), so many bright flowers, so wild. A few days ago we visited a place called Minyon Falls (waterfalls in the wet season but dry as a bone now), with high cliffs and a path which takes you down and down and down into a hot, humid, primeval, sub-tropical rainforest full of palms, tree ferns, strangler fig trees, red lilli pillis and more. The cicadas were almost deafening as their zzzzzzz echoed off the valley walls. Here, in this still forest, I met goannas 5ft long, a python, and many very beautiful, very ancient HUGE rainforest trees. Dinosaurs could appear at any moment. I LOVE THIS PLACE. It reconnects me to a wild, primal and ancient part of myself.
In 2004 I was here in this very same place when I met a gigantic tree – who you will see below. Returning in Jan 2014 I was eager to be reunited with this Great Being again. I shot off like an arrow from a bow as soon as we arrived, with John and Helena lagging behind. Not far into the walk I came upon a large tree which had fallen across the path and it was quite a challenge to either climb over the enormous trunk leaning at a precipitious angle, or to walk up and around through the bush. Helena decided not to continue, and they went back to find a waterfall and pool. That left me excited by the prospect of walking alone, no longer having to slow my pace in line with my friends.
I had not realised how much I longed to see this tree again. Perhaps I felt a little shy to admit it. As I breathlessly made my way through the rainforest I wondered whether the tree had become larger than life in my memory, and would I recognise her when I found her? I passed tree after tree, no she wasn’t here, she wasn’t there. An hour or two passed. Eventually I started to walk uphill and it began to dawn on me that I had MISSED the tree. Oh NO! How could I possibly have missed this enormous being? But it was true. I was now climbing long and hard and coming into different forest; there were no more large trees, but now eucalyptus and other smaller trees with peeling bark, a cooler breeze circulating, and suddenly the car park appears. Oh NO!
John & Helena appeared, it was time to go home. I made light of it, it was too much even to admit to myself how devastated I felt not to see this tree again, and maybe I would never return to Australia. Besides the calamity of missing the tree, I felt there was an uncomfortable lesson in here for me about walking too fast and missing what was in front of my nose. A very basic lesson for a very seasoned ecopsychologist: SLOW DOWN!
We returned home to the comfort of Byron Bay and the next day I started to hatch a plan. Perhaps I could borrow the car and return to Minyon Falls? I bumped into a Norwegian woman who I’d met a few days earlier, and she was enthusiastic to join me on an early morning trip. So 2 days later, on my final day, we left at 6am with me in the driving seat.
The rainforest was steaming after a heavy rainfall the previous night and the moment we stopped for breath in the humid valley leeches jumped onto our skin and started to suck. We started the walk from the other end this time, and of course I was looking out very carefully. We walked on and on and the tree didn’t appear. Two hours passed. I began to wonder if she had fallen down. I had emails composed in my mind to the forestry people asking when this giant had died. Eventually, as I rounded one of the last corners of the forest walk, there she was, large than life. Reunited at last. I wonder if the tree recognised me?
Feb 2004 Jan 2014 inside the tree
Not such great meetings were with the red ant who bit my toe – telling me to get off his home – and made his presence felt for several days. And the mosquitoes who are after my blood at dawn and dusk.
The clear turquoise sea continues to refresh my spirits everyday. Some days it is raging with white horses and I can hear its roar as I wake up in the early morning. Today, New Years Day, it was calm as a mill pond, with sleeping bodies strewn about the beach after a night of revelry.
I’m staying in Byron Bay, NSW famous for swelling from 18,000 people to 1m over New Year. It’s the eastern most point of Australia, a peninsular that sticks out into the Pacific with plenty of currents, winds, surf and dolphins.
My friends John and Helena live on the edge of town. I met them at Schumacher College in 1992, and then stayed with them in Ladakh the following year. They set up ISEC (International Society for Ecology and Culture) www.localfutures.org a green NGO, after witnessing the rapid changes that the Ladakhi peoples were going through due to the influx of tourism and the new pressures of western ways. Their films are worth watching if you haven’t yet seen them: Ancient Futures and The Economics of Happiness.
Here they are with an Australian friend Carol Perry (right), one of the founders of Dharmananda, an eco-Buddhist farming community which began in the early 1970’s. Many of the community were away so we were invited to pick aubergine, peppers, leeks, lettuces, beans, and the yummy fresh sweetcorn from their abundant garden.
While we were sitting on Carol’s verandah beside the forest, an interesting discussion arouse about how conflict is managed. One of their recent debates which split the community was whether to use Round Up (herbicide made by Monsanto) on their land. I’ve heard several people here talk about the many, many hours of human labour it takes to keep veg patches and gardens clear of unwanted (and huge) plants as the growth is so abundant. So the decision was eventually taken to use very small amounts of Round Up, judiciously, to free up time. Another heated debate was whether to eat the animals on their farm and their decision was yes. So Carol said at the beginning that she didn’t know whether they could call themselves a Buddhist community any longer as they now kill cows.
An even more heated debate arose among us about non-violent action, when John talked about the points raised by Derrick Jensen in his book Endgame. He argues that most people who call themselves pacifists may actually use violence in extreme situations, for example in defence of their children. So, he continues, if we acknowledge that we are part of the earth, and the earth is being attacked, poisoned, and more, is violent action justified? Everyone around the table immediately rose up in defence of non-violent action and John was left trying to hold a position of ‘I’m not trying to defend violence, but given the state of the planet, I think Jensen’s questions need to be thought about and answered more carefully’.
We have visited a number of their other friends who live in various parts of Byronshire. Some of the same people who defended the ancient rainforest trees against loggers 40 years ago have been involved in a very successful campaign in The Channon against gas fracking, which was supported by nearly all the local community. The company had to withdraw their plans. This was inspiring to hear about.
Many of their friends have built their own houses using wood or adobe walls, with compost toilets – sustainability all so much easier in this climate which is warm most of the year. Imagine having this view to wake up to in the morning from your verandah……….
It has been a quiet time here, a chance to slow right down. One of the things I love about travelling is that it brings alive a child-like quality of being present in every moment. There are so many new things to see. I feel like I’ve been away for 10 months, not one. Each night I fall into a deep sleep, full of the sensory impressions of the warm day. Each morning I wake up eager to hear the birds again. The different phases of the day are accompanied by the change in tone of the cicada. Right now they are gently singing in the evening.