A regular walk
Updated: Jul 12, 2022
I've been thinking for a while that I must post more often what's out in Barrm Birrm. I had been walking a lot in the second half of summer, then down through autumn. The flowers had finished up, but there was plenty of growth happening, like this pulse in the crown of the grass trees.
I posted a note about the epicormic growth on damaged trees, but the small changes I was noticing in Barrm Birrm got away from me. Hauling the images out of my phone and putting words to them takes time, and other things came up. So it had to wait.
Walking out through a sunny afternoon at the end of May, the light falling down the hillside, I found a whole new set of plants making moves, and I felt impelled to capture some of that here.
Afternoon light on cassinia, end of May, 2022
The cassinia longifolia was putting on new growth and the dianella sending new shoots up along its established leaves, shards of fresh green beside the darker leaves from last year.
This is what a regular walk has to recommend it: these small changes point to a life that is not yours.
Without much conscious effort, I realise, I have begun to piece together the cycle of specific plants I have been following, and sometimes I get a sense of the cycle of a particular part of the land. I recognise a little more of what's going on, not as dull matter but as if other lives are living their way through the seasons.
There are always surprises. Last spring I was ambushed by the slender bitter pea on the slope above Prince Alfred St. All at once the hillside bloomed and I fell in love with what had previously been, to my untutored eye, an undistinguished plant and a boring part of the hillside. I was so wrong! (see it in this post)
Now I find it at the end of May busy throwing up new growth.
My well-thumbed copy of 'Macedon Range Flora' says that slender bitter pea flowers later September-early October, but in May, here and there, a plant is venturing to flower. I wonder why? Are these perhaps stronger, established specimens, ready to get on with flowering right now, in this mild autumn turning to winter?
These are the sort of questions that come on a regular walk in Barrm Birrm. I suspect this is how knowledge of a place develops: through constant attention and a curious mind. And perhaps what is happening as I walk is not simply me developing more knowledge of a place, but the place talking to me.
In 'Sand Talk', Tyson Yunkaporta introduces indigenous ways of knowing, and it has been Tyson's book that has encouraged me along an exploration living here beside Barrm Birrm: what kind of relationship can a whitefella like me have with Country? Country is not simply where indigenous people live, but life itself, a pattern of relationship between the beings of a place within which people are embedded, which lives itself out continually and within which humans have a particular role as custodians.
Having read about indigenous understandings of the world, and keen to deepen my own relationship with the place I live, I have tentatively been to take some of the precepts of indigenous ways of knowing and acting as if they are true, then paying attention to what happens.
How might Country, for example, talk to me? When I'm out walking, along with all the other things on my mind, I assume that Country is talking to me, whether or not I hear that talking. Waiting and listening is a good start, and I wrote about that here.
The shifting growth of specific plants, as the seasons progress, now seems to me to be one way Country is talking to me. I could assume that it is my intelligence that is picking up and making these observations, but I could just as readily assume that Country is talking to me through these details of the fresh plume of growth in the grass trees and the bright edge of the Cassinia. It's a flip of perspective, to drop myself as the centre of the world and imagine Country as alive, communicating.
Thinking this through as I write, for a moment I let go trying to place agency for meaning making in either myself in here or the natural world out there. Then the field of meaning making goes blurry. I wonder if there is a shared field, me and the Cassinia, that is Country. Maybe knowing, in this case that winter is bringing on new growth, maybe knowing happens somehow in the interaction between me and the beings in this place.
It's easier to imagine this in natural places, bush places, than in the city, but what if all places are Country, as I've heard contemporary indigenous thinkers saying? Places like your suburban block, the slope of land that now holds houses and city streets: perhaps these places too speak to their humans.