Saturday, June 16, 2007

One Day on the River

Bush turkeys. Ravens. White Cockatoos. Galahs. Ibis. Plovers. Whip birds. Mistletoe Birds. Magpies. Kookaburras. Currawongs. Welcome swallows. Noisy Miners. Wille Wagtails. Butcher Birds. Lorikeets. Parrots. Striated Pardalotes. Crested Pigeons. Ducks a' quacking.

These are the birds that accompany me along the river, that sing, laugh, dance, squawk, whistle, chirp and fly. But while it's mainly the big birds that are visible, the ravens, turkeys, cockatoos, currawongs and kookaburras, the LBBs, the little brown birds, are almost never to be seen. Are they there and I just can't see them? Or have they disappeared too?

After human interference, cats and foxes are the number one taker of birds and small mammals. The small mammmal population, in many areas, has been decimated by these predators. Then I think about the extinction of the Tasmanian Tiger, of the debilitating disease that is devastating the Tasmanian Devil population, and of the endangered Quoll.

With development, with tree and bushland clearing, the small animals and birds disappear. Cars and other human infrastructure can also cause harm.

As I walked home today, a flying fox which had been caught in the overhead electricity wires fell to the ground. It had been lying in the wires for several days, electrocuted, but today I was able to bury it in a garden nearby.

Recent research on the disappearance of birds and small mammals in Australia shows that when places are developed and trees cut, the animals disappear. It was previously thought that they would move elsewhere, to another place, but green corridors and blue spaces have been fragmented, strangled to such an extent, that the creatures are left homeless. Eventually their numbers dwindle, their food sources dry up or are too far to find, and they disappear......

Habitat destruction is a major problem for animals and birds. For example, Bentley, Catterall and Smith (2000:1075), found that after thriving forests were converted to agriculture and pasture production, 'none of the forest mammal species persisted'. While this study was conducted in a specific regional area, it is indicative of the fate of myriad fauna and flora throughout Australia, including here along the Brisbane River.

Bush Heritage Australia tells us the problem is dire. 'Australia has lost more plants and mammals to extinction than any other country and has more threatened animals than 98 per cent of the world's countries.'

'Over 5 million parrots, honeyeaters, robins and other land birds are killed each year by land clearing. For every 100 hectares of bush destroyed, between 1,000 and 2,000 birds die from exposure, starvation and stress. Half of Australia's terrestrial bird species may become extinct this century unless habitat destruction is rapidly controlled. Nearly half our mammal species, including some wombats, wallabies and bandicoots, are either extinct or threatened with extinction as a result of land clearing, habitat destruction and other threats.'

This pitiful litany suggests why LBBs along the Brisbane River are all but invisible. While the media talks climate change and the need, in Brisbane currently, to take shorter showers, land clearing, tree felling and urban development - especially along the river and coast - continues unabated. As economics paves over nature's spirit, the demolition creeps up and creeps up and creeps up until it overflows.

When development is mooted, governments recommend environmental impact statements but often act solely on economic impact. They conduct environmental audits and perform social impact assessments, but there is something lacking; they overlook the spiritual connection to land and place. When development is mooted, a new form of impact assessment should be conducted - a spiritual eco-audit or spiritual impact statement which recognises the intimate and reverential relationship people have with place and country. It is a two way or recipirocal relationship - the one in the other and the other in one.

If you would like to make a comment please click on 'Comments' below.

Bentley, Catterall & Smith, 2000, Effects of Fragmentation of Araucarian Vine Forests on Small Mammal Communities, Conservation Biology, 14, 4, 1075-1087.
Bush Heritage Australia, 2007, Land Clearing and its Impacts,

The Sound of Pain

I have called this blog The Sound of Pain to express my sadness at the events that transpired here yesterday. A quiet day in the river valley was shattered with the sound of chainsaws, the crashing of trees, and the grinding whirring engine of the bulldozer. Just behind the house a whole area was being cleared for development. I watched as the birds looked on, askance, at their trees disappearing into the earth.

The river provides a place of beauty and tranquility, a real contrast to the pandamonium that transpires when developers make place for new housing by destroying the housing of animals, birds and insects.

In the past few weeks, all round this area, the sound of the chainsaw has not been far away. Trees are making way for new housing and the whole area is undergoing a massive transformation as old houses are demolished for appartment living. The bush turkeys still walk up and down the street looking for food and digging up the front garden. And at night I hear the bats chatting and sqwark-a-ling, but the trees that were their blossom providers as well as food and home for possums and other creatures have been torn away, and the heart of the earth is in pain, like my own.

Yesterday was just the first of many days to come of the sight and and sound of painful devastation. To cope with this sadness for the madness, I seek solace in the inspirational words of Wendell Berry, in his poem 'The Peace of Wild Things'.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry

The pain of suffering of human and earth often acts as a catalyst for people to become more aware of social and environmental injustices. Witnessing environmental destruction as an adult or child has beern the impulse for action, as if the grief of feeling the earth's pain becomes the motivation for trying to ease any future suffering. When sacred places like the homes for small creatures are destroyed, when people catch their first glimpse of clear felling, when they, like the founder of Sea Shepherd look into the eye of the just harpooned, now dying whale, their grief overflows.

Environmental carer Joanna Macy balances the depths of grief and despair with action and ritual. Recently I took part in a Council of All Beings ceremony right on the edge of the Brisbane River.

In this ritual, we give voice to the being and species who have been silenced by environmental despair. We don masks of other beings, animals, plants, birds, elements, insects, fish, coral reefs, forest moss, trees, and one by one, in the guise of our chosen 'being', we speak out on behalf of, and as the animals, expressing our sadness at what humans have done,and are doing, to the precious and sacred environment.

The paved-over and over-logged society has forgotten its inimate connection with the natural world. We are nature but we need the otherness of nature to remind us of our human-ness. This is at the heart of the second part of the Council of All Beings ritual. After sharing our sadness, even outrage at what humans have done to the sacred land and sea, we stand in circle and one my one, still in the guise of our chosen being, we offer our quality, our character, the sense of our identity, to the human. Qualities of tenacity, of aliveness, of laughter, of dance, of beauty, of vision and wisdom.

Then we dance our connection with the beings. Us as nature, with nature, dancing in partnership, being inspired and in-spirited. The Council of All Beings ritual helps us learn to listen, and to hear with a different hearing, to speak with a different voice, to feel and declare with words, the songs and dances embedded in the land, the rivers and the oceans. Gary Lawless says it simply in his moving poem, 'Earth Prayers'.

Earth Prayers

When the animals come to us
asking for our help
will we know what they are saying?

When the plants speak to us
in their delicate beautiful language,
will we be able to answer them?

When the planet herself
sings to us in dreams,
will we be able to wake ourselves, and act?

Gary Lawless
(cited in Whitney, 1995:57)

If you would like to add a comment, click on 'Comment' just below.

Berry W, 1985, Collected Poems, New York, North Point Press.
Whitney D, 1995, 'Spirituality as an Organizing Principle,' in World Business Academy Perspectives, 9, 4, 51-62.