In order not to have to email everyone who has asked about it, I will tell here about the poetry awards.

On the weekend between the camping trips (14th October), Justin and I went up to Darwin with our friend KB (a.k.a. Kibby) to attend the NT Literary Awards. I was invited because I had submitted a few poems back in May or June. I was told (in August maybe?) that one of my poems was a finalist for the Dymocks Red Earth Poetry Award, the winner of which would be announced at the Awards night.

I already felt satisfied because my poem would be published in the little journal, as all the finalists in all the categories would be. I was looking forward to getting my copy of the book. Although I haven't pursued getting published much, each time I have submitted something somewhere and had it published, I feel happy about it. Despite my laxness in pursuing an audience, I do in fact write for an audience.

Anyway, my poem won the prize of $1000 (that's US$750)! The big cash prize seems especially funny since poetry is so notoriously not something anyone does for money. Here is the poem:


Each delicate strip carefully positioned,
layers of colours held in place
by the glue of your conviction

Invention is easier than
absolution automatic:
the person C. hates “doesn’t exist anymore”
past is shrugged away

You construct yourself
from Robert Anton Wilson,
Freud, and superheroes;
the old you disappears under
acid, long hair, macrobiotics;
in public you read Burroughs and Starhawk
while sipping mulled cider

I’ve never heard you laugh with joy
or at your own folly, only snicker
at people mistakenly satisfied
with ordinary lives

Still, I like how you notice beauty
in surprising places, how your fingers
are kind, sometimes your smile is fragile.
You dance with clumsy abandon.
Beneath sandalwood and goldenseal,
I smell some sweetness.

Your colourful tissue-paper shell
makes me wonder what kind of stick I would need—
whether I could do it blind-folded—
how hard I’d have to swing—
and whether I’d do it for the candy
or just for the pleasure
of breaking you open.

You'll notice the Australian spellings. Some of you may recognize the idea in this poem from an earlier draft. Like many of my poems it sat for a long time because I was unsatisfied with it. Suddenly I looked at the poem in a new way, focusing on the speaker rather than the subject, and it came together in a way that satisfied me. There are, of course, still lines I don't quite like. In saying that the poem "satisfied" me, I mean that the poem became more effective and more interesting than it had been, it came to have a reason for being, and that was enough to let it go.
These seedpod/cone things feature as the villainous Banksia Men in a much-beloved series of Australian children's books about the Gumnut Babies, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (or is it Cuddlepot and Snugglepie?). Posted by Picasa
There are so many interesting and really varied seedpods here. I always pick some up as we're hiking, but most don't make it all the way back to our flat. These did, though I photographed them in camp. Posted by Picasa
Can you stand one more waterfall picture? Posted by Picasa
I forgot to mention that Princess Leia (P for short) came hiking with us.  Posted by Picasa

Previous Camping Trip

Following this post are photos from our camping trip of October 8-9th. At that time Waz wanted to go to Biddlecombe, but the rangers said it was on fire and therefore off-limits for the weekend. So we decided to go to Dunlop Swamp instead, a place none of us had been, but less than 9 kms in.

It was very hot and we started around 2:00 in the afternoon. Probably unsurprisingly we didn't meet anybody else on the trail (that was true for our more recent trip too).

There was supposed to be water (for drinking) at Dunlop Swamp, but when we first got there all we saw was a murky pool and some other muddier bits that feral buffalo had been trampling in. It seemed that the name "swamp" wasn't overly modest. It was late, we were tired and our only other option would've been to continue on down to the gorge, another 2-3 rough kms. It would've gotten dark while we walked.

Instead we decided to stay. We explored further and found that there was cleaner water available and even a nice little pool for swimming in. We set up camp in a lovely spot under the trees, had a swim, a campfire and were in bed by eight thirty. (Californians need to remember how close we are to the equator here--it's dark around or by 7 most of the year.)

In the morning I went down to the water for a swim and startled a big mob of red and green lorikeets out of one of the trees. A flock of colorful birds in flight is a lovely way to start a morning! I was not, however, able to get a photo.
Pas, Waz and Justin on the trail to Dunlop Swamp (heading up the first ascent and still smiling). Posted by Picasa
High temperatures made resting essential. The immediate uphill nature of our trail turnoff made this seem like a necessary place for a break! Posted by Picasa
There was no shade, so Waz made his own. Posted by Picasa
A fallen pandanus fruit. Posted by Picasa
Dunlop Swamp by early morning light. Posted by Picasa
Back at Nitmiluk Centre for a cold drink and some hot food. The sign says "don't fee the birds," but people leave their leftovers on their tables. These birds aren't stupid. They wait in the rafters of the patio. When they swoop onto a table, the remaining tourists whip out their cameras. I was one of them. Posted by Picasa


My friend J just emailed me this:

"-Georgia O'Keefe loved flowers and rich, wet gardens so much that she moved to the desert so that she wouldn't be distracted from her painting. It seems like she gave up what was second-best to her to allow her energies to be more fully realized. I wonder if I could ever make that kind of sacrifice?"

Today, before coming home and reading this email, I was at work creating a little module on learning strategies and goal-setting. One of the things in the material I looked at asked students to consider what a person has to sacrifice in order to pursue a goal of winning an Olympic medal. I expanded on this saying something like "we usually have to sacrifice something to get something else we want. We might decide to give up time or money or habits or even relationships if there's something that matters even more."

As I wrote it, I thought about Ruby Payne's work saying that people living in generational poverty have to give up a lot if they are to get out of that poverty. She says that relationships are central to cultures in poverty (because people are the only possessions you reliably have), while in middle class culture individual striving and effort are more important (inanimate possessions are the marks of success). She talks about middle class people giving up relationships for other things (like you might move in order to get a better job, even if it means leaving friends and family), but that would be unthinkable for many people in generational poverty (family comes first, including extended families and dysfunctional families and abusive family members).

Somehow, amidst all this, I find myself wondering if the idea of sacrifice is old-fashioned, not current, even in middle class culture? It seems like "you can have it all" is a more popular notion; "you deserve it" is the underlying notion in many ads. Then again, there's also the "you've worked hard for this--you deserve it" message.

Is there a culture of self-indulgence? Is sacrifice an outdated concept? What do YOU think? What about the role of sacrifice in religion? What about people who feel that if they pre-emptively punish themselves, they won't be so severely punished by their god or by the fates?


In order to foil further spam commenting, I've enabled a setting where you have to decode a word in order to post a comment. Please do not let it deter you from commenting. I really like comments from real people who are really reading my blog. I don't really like getting excited that there's a comment and then finding that it's actually an advertisement for some commercial blog. So. Let me know how it goes and if it's too much of an pain.
Picture yourself here. The sun is overhead. It's about 40 (C), [over 100 (F)]. You're wearing a pack. You still have a long way to go. Posted by Picasa
Because of the rain on Saturday, this area greened up overnight. Posted by Picasa
This is the landscape we were walking through. Posted by Picasa
On the trail (on the way back). Posted by Picasa
Biddlecombe Falls and its surrounds. There's more falls above and below, but we couldn't get the camera to capture it all. Posted by Picasa
Biddlecombe Falls. That's me there on the rocks near the top. Posted by Picasa
A view from on top. Posted by Picasa
A perfect pool. Posted by Picasa
This area burned two weeks ago. Posted by Picasa
Along the way to Biddlecombe Falls. Posted by Picasa

Spa Weekend

Justin and I spent the weekend at a California-style luxury spa. First was the sauna where we did some mild low-impact exercise in the steamy heat. Next we plunged into a cool pool with massage jets and we swam until we got a little cold. Then we lay down on heated slabs—just hot enough to eliminate our goose bumps and start drying out our swimsuits. Finally, we moved to a small room where we closed our eyes and meditated on the sounds of thunder and falling rain.

That’s one way of thinking about it. Here’s another story:

We (along with our friends W & P) hiked about 11 km across dry bushland in high heat and humidity. Parts of the trail wound through areas that had burned two weeks ago. Another part went along a lovely rushing stream. The penultimate stretch was an incline that seemed to go on forever. When we reached the top of the escarpment, we went along some more and then suddenly found ourselves at a beautiful waterhole. It was cold and small and not too deep (no fear of crocs).

We clambered around on the rocks. That waterfall is part of a series of cascades. W found a great camp spot right by the water. We set up camp, swam some more, and lay out on warm rocks and watched the storm clouds roll in. Lightning flashed in a three different directions.

When the rain started, we ran for cover in our tents. Justin and I sat laughing in our cheap tent which consists of a mosquito dome (just screen) and a rain fly. This was the 5th time we’d used the tent, 3rd time we’d used the fly, but the 1st time we’d used it in the rain. It lasted approximately 3 minutes before rain started to seep through. We couldn’t help but laugh as rain plopped around us and all our things. Nothing got too wet. We seemed to have just caught the edge of the storm. The rain stopped before dark.

Sunday morning dawned beautiful. We had several swims before we headed back down.

Now here we are back in Katherine, happy but tired. A refreshing and invigorating weekend!

We have some photos, but they're taking too long to upload, so I'll have to do them later. Sorry.

This happened a few weeks ago...

Sophie says, “I want you to hear this song”
and puts on a cassette.
An old man’s voice comes wobbling through,
a strong old voice, singing alone, no clapsticks
or instruments to support him, just his old voice
forging through the chatter around him
like someone parting the long grass.
He stops abruptly to scold the young people: “Shut up and listen!”
and without waiting for response or compliance he goes on.

He is singing in a language I don’t know, a language
not many people know, a language perhaps nobody still alive
knows as well as he does. He’s what’s known as
“one of the last speakers” of his dying language.
The song sounds sad to me, and beautiful. It goes on and on and
on. I think he might sing till the end of time.
Sophie turns off the tape and tells us about him.

They’d gotten funding for some “back to country” fieldtrips, one trip for each of the seven language groups in the community. They’d loaded up a few troopies with some old people and some young people and drove out bush.

The old man sat down at the camp fire and started talking and singing and just kept going all night. Young people came and went, listening for awhile, then leaving and returning. Meanwhile the old man just kept talking and singing. After everyone had fallen asleep around him, around the dying embers of the fire, the old man kept going. He had so much to say and not much time left.

I'm imagining.

The changes this man has seen around him in his lifetime would astound the young people if they could really see it all, but he’s not telling his life story. He’s telling about the land and the time-before-time and the ancestors and spirit world that infuse the land. He’s telling what needs to be done to keep the world alive. His urgency is not just because he’s old and the knowledge will die with him, but because it’s knowledge that is necessary to keep the world in balance, and clearly the need is even greater now than ever before. Quick! The world is dying, I am dying, just like this fire here is only glowing embers. There’s still time to breathe on those coals and coax them back to life; the earth desperately needs our breath.

I’m imagining.

I can just see him, this old man, sitting on the ground or maybe there’s a rock or a milkcrate someone’s brought along. He’s sitting and he’s talking and the children have all fallen asleep around him, his voice is drifting into their dreams. He can’t stop talking because he has so much to say and time is running out. He uses a mixture of languages, the words coming out without any prompting, just tumbling out in a long stream, sometimes it becomes a song and the songs are only in the language of his childhood, the language of the old people who are now spirits. He can feel them all around; they keep him talking.

Sometimes the language coming out is the language of the munanga, the language of his young adulthood working in stockcamps and stations. Sometimes he uses the language of his wife’s people, a language he would say he doesn’t know well but there’s nobody left who speaks it and there are certain things he learned from her and her family that he can only say in that language.

He goes on and on, his voice a thin stream of smoke rising up, diffusing over the country, drifting in the air. Unseen, it sticks in the hair and clothing of the sleeping youths. Later, back home, they’ll smell his voice, like smoke, and suddenly remember the campfire and the magical night when they dreamed those amazing dreams and felt whole.

Or so I imagine.

I'm Back

So I went through a little depression (more of an indentation really) after getting back here from California. I just had such a good time seeing family and friends there and feeling that irreplaceable sense of comfort that comes with the familiarity of one's home culture/landscape/climate.

However, I am now settled back into my life in Katherine, feeling that other wonderful sense of place that goes something like this: Wow! This is a great place to be. There's no place like it in the world. I'm lucky to be here having this experience.

I will write more about the experiences that I am currently having on another day. Now I am going to go help Justin with dinner before we go to the fortnightly Film Society film. Tonight it's A Very Long Engagement. We know nothing about it, but that doesn't matter. Simply going out to the cinema tonight is an event. We will see many people we know or kind of know and we'll feel like we belong.

I hope you are feeling like you belong wherever it is that you are.