Saturday, August 11, 2007

Standing People

From memory, the wonderful science fiction novelist Ursula Le Guin has an evocative short story told from the perspective of a standing person. The old tree watches the world but finds it increasingly difficult to deal with the modern industrial pace of life. Seeing the world from the tree's point of view sheds a whole new light on society's quickening, quickening, ever quickening lifestyle.

Once the tree was able to keep up with the pilgrims as they walked. Even horse-drawn vehicles were not so fast and the tree was sometimes able to match their speed. But bigger grander machines took to the road. The tree couldn't run fast enough. And the machines overran the tree's territory.

This is the allegory of life in Brisbane. Fast. Rushed. So fast that people don't see the trees disappearing around them.

Just as this blog plots the shimmering gentle river in spring, and its seasonal and tidal changes, it's also been plotting the rapid increase in the de-greening of the river valley. On one hand the drought has caused the tree canopies to become thin, wretched. The leaves begin to droop then drop, and many trees and plants are slowly dying without the winter rain. But on the other hand the frightening sound of the chainsaw, and its role in de-greening, is ever present here.

Not far away, on top of the hill, I spied two arborists standing on a cherry picker wielding their weapons. I took the glass half full approach and imagined they were pruning some big eucalypt trees because of the drought. It is possible, I thought. So I walked on.

But later, for some inexplicable reason, I felt called to that place. And when I got there I realised it was to be witness to the inevitable destruction. The glass was empty. The arborists had done their work.

Seven or eight huge eucalypt stumps about two metres high stood waiting to be ripped out of the ground. They were years and years old. The bulldozer was on its way. I felt sick. Angry. Sad. It is nesting season.

I wondered how many possums lost their home. How many nests were destroyed. How many flowers that feed the fruit bats and the bees were turned into sawdust.

Soon there will be a big new house.

I cried for the change I couldn't stop, at the thoughtlessness of the owners, architects, councillors, bulldozer drivers, arborists, who, without thinking, change this place irrevocably.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Grey Foggy Valley

Over the past week a pall of smokey haze has hung over the river valley. There is continual smell of smoke in the air and the images of the river are also swathed in this haze. This leads me to contemplate issues of pollution, responsibility and something that has become apparent in Brisbane's spectrum of weather, a lack of wind.

The river is consistently glassy and so smooth that the river bank vegetation flourishes, mirrored in the water's flatness. Each day it's beautiful, a beauty that is breathtaking. In this dazzling riverscape the absense of wind is hardly noticed. But when pollution hovers above and within the valley, the absense of wind is apparent.

Breath. Breeze. Zephyr. Wind. Blustery. Stormy. Gale.

The weather pundits say that the pollution will blow away when the wind comes - but away where? Attitudes like this abnegate responsibility. Instead of relying on the wind to blow the pollution away, why not limit or halt the source of pollution in the first place? A 'wait for the wind' perspective is another example of the 'out of sight, out of mind' attitude towards environmental degradation.

The word for wind in many cultures is directly related to the word for breath and spirit. In-spir-ation. Re-spir-ation. It's also evident in the spiritual beliefs of children. In a study of children from diverse religious backgrounds by Robert Coles (1990) found that many hold an animistic perception, that nature is alive and has feelings. They also believe that nature has a religious dimension and several describe their experiences of ‘the spirit’ or ‘the voice of God’ or ‘Allah’ as floating on the wind.

The connections are sublime: human-nature-spirit, wrapped as one.

Coles R, 1990 The Spiritual Life of Children. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.