Saturday, June 2, 2007

'This is my church'

It's early Sunday morning and I head for the river where the bushland group is working on removing noxious and invasive weeds and bushes from the riverbank. These plants are out of place along the waterway but are beautiful in their own right and their own place. As we chop and spray, the woman I am working with today says how much she enjoys taking care the river. Here she connects with the spirit of the river and says, 'This is my church'.

I define spirituality as the process of creating relationship with what we hold to be sacred, in this case, the river and its surroundings. It is perceived as safeguarding something precious, that needs to be protected, loved and enjoyed. The American River Network says that people care for the river as it 'presents an opportunity to live out our values' (2000:1). In their publication 'River Voices', they say people get involved in river and watershed care: 'To connect with nature. To make a lasting difference in the world. To meet other, like-minded people. To get out of the house. ... the simple opportunity to get together with neighbors and work towards the common good provides a rare feeling of community.'

Similar findings emerged in a study conducted in Queensland's catchment areas by Margaret Gooch (2003). She found that the issues of belonging and identity are bound up in a person's decision to volunteer and become responsible for special places. Gooch found that people develop a strong affinity with land and waterway in part because they already have a strong connection to the area, and also, because their involvement in land and rivercare brings and reinforces a sense of attachment to the places they look after.

Other research from the field of ecopsychology shows that while people are out taking care of nature, they are also enhancing their sense of health and wellbeing. Habitat restoration worker and ecopsychologist Elan Shapiro (1995) outlines that when individuals are involved in land restoration work, they not only feel a sense of wellbeing through connecting with like-minded others, they also feel restored by their connection with nature. She says that being involved in 'environmental restoration work can spontaneously engender deep and lasting changes in people, including a sense of dignity and belonging, a tolerance for diversity, and a sustainable ecological sensibility' (225). So while they are taking care of nature, nature is taking care of them. It is a reciprocal and sacred process, and according to Shapiro, volunteers 'often fall in love' with the places they care for (226).

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American River Network, 2000, Volunteers, River Voices, 11, 1,
Gooch Margaret, 2003, Voices of the Volunteers: An Exploration of the Influences that Volunteer Experiences have on the Resilience and Sustainability of Catchment Groups In Central Queensland, online PhD thesis, Griffith University, Qld.
Shapiro Elan, 1995, Restoring Habitats, Communities and Souls, in Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes & Allen D. Kanner, Eds, Ecopsychology. Restoring the Earth. Healing the Mind, San Francisco, Sierra Club.

Friday, June 1, 2007


It's drizzling lightly as I walk to the river. The birds herald the coming of the wet, however thin the water feels. With shrieks and cries the parrots, lorikeets and noisy miners welcome the faint memory of downpour. A whip bird cracks the morning air. The ravens sit in the treetops above the river and signal the dimming of the full mooon.

As I wake the moon is full, round, luminous but as the darkness ebbs into the day, the sky greys over and the light glows bright almost yellow on the trees. It has been raining this week and the rain and grey skies often bring such a golden radiance and glowing light.

This morning there are alot of people about, walking their dogs, chatting about the river and how much they enjoy the time they spend here. But not everthing is peaceful. One of the local residents tells me how she has rescued a number of injured flying foxes caught up in the barbed wire at the edge of the track. One day, not long after I moved here, I had seen a flying fox stuck, imprinted onto the wire, I thought it was dead. But I was wrong. The rivercarer described how the bat had looked at her, imploring for help and she hurried home to phone the local wildlife rescue service and they took care of the injured animal.

It made me realise I need to be more aware, to listen to the riverplace, to feel the land, to hear the cry of others. This morning the rivercarer told me she had rescued another fruit bat caught up in the wire. She said the sight was so distressing that the other people who witnessed the rescue are now trying to lobby for the barbed wire to be removed.

At dusk the fying foxes fly up from the river valley and spread through the sky in search of nectar and fruit. I feel grateful that these beautiful creatures have someone who cares for them.

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Walking the River Track

Standing on top of the hill
Looking to the four corners, to the river in the east, to the mountain where the river rises in the north, to the forest in the south and again, to the river in the north,
I walk in the direction, walk in beauty and reverence in the direction where the sun rises, sun rises.
Along the dreaming track there are traces of life in the drought,
To the bend in the river
Currawongs lope across the sky crying currawonnggg, currawonngggg.
Ravens sit in the high trees and languidly caaawww out through the mist as the dawn breaks
And I reach the river, the river flows, is flowing, was flowing, will flow
Along the waterway, along the waterway,
The eels and fish are at play, the eels and fish are at play,
The kind parrots dash by with their red wings flying, red wings flying,
And the willie wagtails are dancing,
Dancing up and down, dancing on the ground, chirping all aroudn,
Along the river way, along the river way,
Where the big trees tower above the water,
Where the big trees tower above the water,
And the blossom blooms in bunches of white,
Along the river way, along the river way,
The ducks are swimming in the lake,
The ibis are digging for food,
The bush turkeys are fossicking in the dirt,
And the wind blows its breath through the land, through the trees, to me.
It is sacred.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Trail is not a Trail

I have been inspired by this adventurous poem of Gary Snyder called The Trail is not a Trail. He writes:

I drove down the Freeway
And turned off at an exit
And went along a highway
Til it came to a sideroad
Drove up the sideroad
Til it turned to a dirt road
Full of bumps, and stopped.
Walked up a trail
But the trail got rough
And faded away
Out in the open,
Every where to go.

I love this poem as it gives licence for an exploration into any direction, to take any path, to journey down any road - wherever you are is called 'Here'. This is the start of the trail I take along the Brisbane River where I come face to face with what direction to choose. I walk along wondering where the trail heads. Down past the golf course with its manicured greens, along the riverbank hedged with mangroves and under the tall gum trees filled today with ravens calling the morning sunrise. King parrots flit past, their red wings flashing, while cheeky willie wagtails chirp and dance telling me to take care of their territory. This is a special trail where I find the unexpected.

A small bridge crosses a creek I later learn is called Sandy Creek. It is a mud-filled waterway whose mud is almost the colour of chocolatey charcoal. There are signs that birds have been patrolling these shores; they've left their footprints pressed deep into the muddy banks. As I watch the reflection of trees in the water, hidden amongst the tree trunks I spy remnants of fishing tackle. In the early days of colonial settlement this creek was known as a great place to fish but then and now, it is also a special place to watch birds and has been for many years.

In 1925 the government declared the area as a bird sanctuary, and watching the birds now is testament to the foresight of those city fathers and mothers over 80 years ago, especially because around the same time, the river was disregarded, almost discarded and treated as a sewer and mine site for gravel.

Thinking about this history and comparing it to the now very precious bird haven, I step back onto the trail. Out in the open, every where to go.

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Snyder G, 2000, "The Trail is Not a Trail", in F. Lynne Bachleda, Blue Mountain: A Spiritual Anthology Celebrating the Earth, Birmingham, AL, Menasha Ridge Press.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Seeking Place, Finding Home: Blue Soul of the Planet

Arriving in a new city, my desire is to get to know place and connect with local sacred and special places. Here in Brisbane it is the river, a wide tired tidal river that brings identity to this place known also as the River City.

The river is wide and flowing - a rowers' and walkers' delight. Rowers' and kayakers' voices rise up the steep slopes from the water as I walk along the narrow track, getting to know the river, its qualities, its colours, the way it looks blue or brown depending on the time of day and weather. Red wrens scatter through the undergrowth; currawongs call across the wide expanse. It's a quiet pleasant morning until I find an injured possum hiding in the bushes along the track.

Luckily there are locals about who can help and know what to do. These are the same folk who look after this patch of river. The bushland river keepers. I've joined this band of volunteers who love this place. Today we're clearing weeds but as we scrabble under the native Hibiscus cutting out one of the nasty voracious weeds, its tiny thorns cut our arms to shreds and our blood drips onto the dry dry earth. There's a severe drought here, so severe that the trees are finding it hard to cope. Some trees have lost all their leaves due to stress of no rain; others look like they might die of thirst. Their leaves droop patiently waiting for rain. It comes sporadically, drizzling, no heavy downpour to give the river a real drink.

Pedro Arrojo, the inspirational Spanish economist calls water 'the blue soul of the planet'. The river is the soul of this place. The people who care for it support the river's soul to continue flowing from the mountain to the sea.

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