memories

Memories: Thin Places

Memories. Circa 1989. Aged somewhere between 8 and 10. South-east Victoria, Australia.

 

It was December. Warm summer afternoon sunlight shone down on the backyard. When I was a child, that yard seemed so large and so magical. The hydrangea by the verandah shaded a soft living carpet of baby’s tears plants and moss. There were trees: frangipani, with its bursts of flowers and wattle birds hopping between its branches; a young silver birch with long draping branches; and the apple tree. A winding path led from the verandah steps to the back gate that opened out onto a gravel laneway. Other children lived on the laneway, and we built a cubby house from branches and bark under the tall old eucalypts behind the back fence. Magpies sang among the gum branches, and blackbirds sang from the top of the fence. From a particular vantage point on the verandah I could see my grandparents’ house, a few streets away. It seemed like such an enormous distance and a vast view. Between their house and mine was a large playground, swampy paddocks with herds of beef cattle, and houses. Funny how in a small town it’s still possible to not know everyone.

I lay on the trampoline. One of those big rectangular ones with exposed springs and none of the safety nets that my own children now take for granted. I could hear the neighbours’ family playing cricket. They must have been visiting for Christmas. Every so often a tennis ball would ricochet off the rubbish bin stumps and come sailing over the fence. At least it was tennis balls and not lemons, I guess. I begrudgingly threw it back, becoming increasingly infuriated by the interruption to my meditations. I was trying to recapture a moment. An earlier memory from when I was maybe six or seven. That had happened while lying in the same spot – though perhaps on the grass. It was probably in the days pre-trampoline. There was a small swing set there, too.

I had this overwhelming sense that in this spot I had once connected with God. It is the earliest spiritual memory I still have. There are glimpses, going a long way back, of church and religious school, but this one stands as a very sharp, defined moment in my earliest recollections. And so  I sensed Him – It, Her, They, I didn’t presume to know – in the vast masses of cumulus solemnly sailing through the shockingly blue sky. It was my own personal Jacob’s ladder. A mystical sense that there was, almost certainly, a link between my small mortal frame and the vastness of this life force or spirit that I personified as the God I had learned about in Mass. Nowadays I would describe it as a Thin Place, where the veil between the worlds was permeable. I could peer into a realm where Time itself had no meaning. There were angels there, too, classical, beautiful and masculine beings like those in the old Catholic artworks.

When I was ten we moved out of that house. We were still in the same town – I even took the same school bus, just took it from a different stop, and for years thereafter the driver waved hello whenever he saw me – but moving to the other edge of the town felt like half a world away. My cats were buried there. The trees full of song birds were there. The kids I knew were just a back gate and stroll down the lane away. My first Thin Place was there. It had been my great-grandparents’ house and while I never knew them, traces of their lives and legacy were strewn throughout that home. Gone was the pastel pink wallpaper I’d excitedly helped choose when my parents renovated the house. The plants we grew: poppies along the northern wall of the house, veggies right down the back, the nasturtiums with their population of cabbage moth caterpillars, the sprawling passionfruit vine, and the gums along the lane framing the view to the swampy farmland in the valley. I couldn’t look out of the front window anymore to see the horses lined up at the recreation reserve before the annual agricultural show’s equestrian competitions, nor hear the masked lapwings circling angrily when the weekly tennis club disturbed their nests.  I couldn’t see my grandparents’ house from the verandah anymore, and in the new house the view between us was obscured by the hills. (I was later surprised to discover that I could see our new house peering through the chicken wire fence at the edge of my primary school oval.) I was devastated in ways my limited language was unable to express. I came down with a nasty flu shortly thereafter, and I do think that time marked the beginning of my depression. But no ten year old can likely say, in a coherent and self-reflective fashion, “I’m really struggling with the grief of this major transition in my life, to the extent it’s clouding my ability to manage my internal thought world.” It would be twenty years before I finally got help.

And I did eventually find other Thin Places. Looking out over my other grandparents’ farm, alone, rain beating my face and wind soughing through the tops of the cypresses. The beach. The bush. Anywhere with flowing water. Silent moments in church, and sometimes, moments when the flickering candle light reflecting off the stained glass windows and the voices of the faithful singing soared and though they were raw and imperfect and sometimes seemed lost in the hugeness of the sanctuary, it was as though they rose to heaven like incense. But nothing ever again quite broke through the veils between the worlds the way that had happened lying there under the vast expanse of clouds in the yard that then seemed like a world unto itself.

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Desert

I am currently decluttering my RedBubble Portfolio, to make way for more recent art that best represents who I am now, as well as to make it easier for customers to navigate the available products for sale. As a result I will be sharing some of my old creative writings here on WordPress, as a way of preserving them. In several cases my mind, opinions, beliefs, values and overall understanding of life have changed since the time I wrote these pieces, but I still feel that they are personally valuable reminders of the various stages of my life journey thus far.

This piece of writing was first posted at my RedBubble Creative Writing Portfolio.

Date of original post: 24 July 2012

Total views, at 2 May 2016: 587

Desert (A Reflection)

He was there: in the deepest recesses of my memory, in the earliest visions of a time now past, when I thought I saw him in the sweep of the sky and the cool touch of the living earth on bare feet. He is still here: sometimes a tangible presence, sometimes little more than a whispering voice intertwined with my own soul and spirit. He will one day return: and will strip away the mortal flesh that obscures my vision, so that I may see him for who he is.

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The Destruction of the Swamp

I am currently decluttering my RedBubble Portfolio, to make way for more recent art that best represents who I am now, as well as to make it easier for customers to navigate the available products for sale. As a result I will be sharing some of my old creative writings here on WordPress, as a way of preserving them. In several cases my mind, opinions, beliefs, values and overall understanding of life have changed since the time I wrote these pieces, but I still feel that they are personally valuable reminders of the various stages of my life journey thus far.

This piece of writing was first posted at my RedBubble Creative Writing Portfolio.

Date of original post: 29 October 2010

Total views, at 2 May 2016: 329

The Destruction of the Swamp

I grieved when the swamp trees were cut down. The trees razed to make way for cattle. In the marshy soil where nothing grew but snakes and thin straggly trees that turned red in autumn. Walking across the rich deep grass and sinking into the wet soil. Watching the ibis fly away at my presence. Alone and alive in the thick undergrowth.

Then the farmer arrived with his chainsaw and carved a swathe through the swamp. The trees, gone, to make way for a muddy sparse paddock of thin pasture. Heavy boned Friesian cattle struggling through the wet soil, their pregnant bellies swaying as they try to pick a path through the muddy ground.

I look out the window and feel deep sorrow. The trees, gone. The birds, gone. The cattle trying to graze where the trees once grew. There was not enough new pasture to make it worthwhile.

Ten years later: the trees have regrown. The swamp beings to reclaim the soil. The valley here is too wet to support the cattle.

 

Ice Cream

Originally published at my RedBubble portfolio. 2009

Ice Cream: Memories Of The Latrobe Valley

Brisk evening turns to chilled night, and the brilliant hues of sunset are lost in ink black. The haze and clouds from the power stations mingle with the heavy fog, and settle close to the ground. Steam rises from the ponds that collect the water spewed from the coal plants. All is quiet but for the rattling logging trucks turning onto the dirt track that wind behind the towns.

We don our warmest hats, pull on woollen gloves. The baby is wrapped in layers of blankets, until only a small face peers from the pram. We step out the front door, leaving the pale orange of the porch light glowing in the darkness. It sends shadows out behind the tall weeds that insist on sprouting from the unkempt garden.

Pushing the pram quickly to warm our bodies in the freezing cold winter night, we set off down the quiet streets towards the service station. It is dark in the poorly lit streets, where utes and caravans decorate front lawns and a lonely cat meows at the windows.

There, at the bottom of the next block, on a street mostly consisting of empty blocks of overgrown grassland, is the comforting sight of the fluorescent lighting and busy car park of the service station. Even at ten o’clock at night this place is busy. We head in through the automatic doors where the late night shoppers stock up on bags of chips and emergency toiletries.

Here, in the cold winter’s night, we wander to the ice cream refrigerator by the front door. I still don’t know why, but there seems to be something comforting about an ice cream on a freezing night. That, or we were just crazy.

Out the window

I am currently decluttering my RedBubble Portfolio, to make way for more recent art that best represents who I am now, as well as to make it easier for customers to navigate the available products for sale. As a result I will be sharing some of my old creative writings here on WordPress, as a way of preserving them. In several cases my mind, opinions, beliefs, values and overall understanding of life have changed since the time I wrote these pieces, but I still feel that they are personally valuable reminders of the various stages of my life journey thus far.

This piece of writing was first posted at my RedBubble Creative Writing Portfolio.

Date of original post: 22 November 2010

Total views, at 2 May 2016: 200

 

Out the Window -almost summer

Fresh warmth of late spring scents
Sky fading from violet to pastel blue and yellow
The clouds finally roll in after blazing heat
And a cool breeze stirs the trees
The crickets and birds usher in the evening
The last hues of daylight descend behind the gum trees