Posted in art, Australia

To the outback – in a taxi

Reading an art magazine I came a brief paragraph about a little known Australian woman artist, Violet Teague (1972-1951) who once took a taxi from an outer Melbourne suburb to central Australia. Intrigued, I did an internet search to find out more about her. The more I read, the more interested I became.

Born into a wealthy Melbourne family Violet was educated by a French governess then, later, at a private girl’s school. In the 1890s she travelled to Europe where she visited the art galleries and studied art in Belgium and England. Returning to Melbourne in the early 1900s she established herself portrait painter of international renown. She also co-created a book of woodcuts and haiku style verses with another woman artist. This book is now considered to be the first Australian artist book.

The story of how she came to take a taxi to outback Australia is particularly fascinating. During a prolonged drought in central Australia 1920s the pastor of the Hermannsburg Aboriginal Mission wanted to pipe good drinking water to the mission from a spring 7km away. Neither the church or the government would help him. In 1932 the Melbourne artist Jessie Traill visited Hermannsburg with Violet’s sister, Una. When they returned to Melbourne and told Violet how aboriginal people around the mission were dying because of the drought she became determined to do something.

Hiring a Studebaker taxi and driver Violet and her sister Una journeyed to the mission, nearly 2,500 km away from their home. Camping along the way, Violet painted delicate watercolours of the country they passed through.

Central Australian Sunset – image found – https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/collection/work/138082/

When she returned to Melbourne Violet sold her paintings and other works donated by the Victorian Artist Society. She also set up newspaper appeals and was able to raise enough money to pay for the pipe line.  Aboriginal men dug the trench to the spring by hand and in 1935 fresh water was piped into the mission. 

It is in her paintings of the wild ocean coastline of Victoria that Violet Teague’s strength of character and indomitable spirit finds visual expression. She is an artist that deserves to be better known.

Schank Lighthouse – image found https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/collection/work/3100/


Posted in Climate Change, Fiction, Planetary renewal, poetry, The Journey

Beginnings

In the canyons of the mind
lightning bolts illume consciousness.
In the outer world,
the storms, the fires,
the wars and plagues rage.
Our excesses are exposed.
There’s nowhere left to hide.

The mind reels at the impact.
What’s left now?
The conditioned life is not enough.
Something new is called for.

Deep in the magical imagination
something stirs.
The elves and unicorns come forth.
Remember, they say in dreams,
the world of childhood innocence,
the beauty and the awe
of life in all its glory.

Now is the time to call that forth.
To imagine the world anew.
It begins in words.
The ecologist’s findings,
the intellectual’s musings,
the poems and stories woven in the dawning
then shared at midnight with wide eyed star gazers.

After the seeding comes the crafting.
Ideas shaped in the collective imagination
built, oh so carefully,
and with the purest of intentions,
into the world of form.

From my novel ‘The Journey’ (link in sidebar):-

‘Back in the early days of Jedahra people realised the first priority was to grow food. To do that we had to restore the environment to health,’ Red said.  ‘Since then we have come to understand that if we want to take from the Earth we must also give it.  Feeding the soil through composting, mulching and growing a diverse range of crops is the mainstay of our food production. Soil health has improved and the diverse plantings cut down on plant diseases and insect infestation.’ He gestured to a pumpkin patch where golden flowers nestled amongst large spreading leaves.  It was edged with a rambling bramble bush covered in ripening berries. Above them an old walnut spread its green branches out like protective arms. Here and there little round buildings topped with conical roofs covered in succulents punctuated the greenery. 

‘The buildings look like mushrooms,’ Raven giggled.

‘A lot of people say that,’ Red grinned.  ‘We build them like this to reduce the fire risk.  There were some savage fire storms in the early days of Jedahra.  Since then we’ve been very conscious of fire safety.  The mud walls of the buildings don’t catch fire and the succulents on the roof are fire resistant.’

Towards the end of the novel Terran, the main female character, returns to her home at the institute. There is she confronted by the crippling depression that keeps the inhabitants locked in inertia and fear. Inspired by all she has seen on her travels, she projects the digital images she has made onto a wall screen in her parent’s apartment:-

 With uncanny synchronicity a bright, energetic representation of Jedahra appeared on the screen.  Against a background diagram of a path spiralling through a housing cluster she’d placed sketches of the circular adobe houses alongside photos of people of all ages, races and social groups mingling together in the streets.  Decorative disks depicting the glass mandalas were dotted across it all and the words she had jotted down at the Seed Bank were scrawled across the bottom. ‘Dynamic processes /climate change mitigation/higher yet deeper/seeds regenerating,’  

‘Dynamic processes,’ Ralph boomed. ‘That’s what we need here.’  

The same idea flashed through Terran’s mind but rather than thinking on a societal level she plunged into her own interior realms for, ultimately, the change she was seeking began within the self. She recalled stumbling over tree roots behind Bliss on the Ways through the forest. Clumsy as she had been, she had felt enthusiastic and alive. The night before she’d felt deadened and defeated by the institute. The difference between the two states was palpable. She couldn’t simply stop travelling now and try to slot back into her old life. The walls in her mind had been breached by her travels. Now she wanted to tear them down completely and experience herself and the world in new and unfettered ways.

linked to: https://earthweal.com/2022/08/01/earthweal-weekly-challenge-beginnings/
For this week’s challenge, write of Beginnings — wherever they may be found.

Posted in Climate Change, Fiction, Planetary renewal, The Journey

More future possibilities

Towards the end of my novel ‘The Journey’ Terran, a young botanist takes a train to Saranath, a university town with an older woman named Amara. During the trip Amara fills Terran on in the recent history of Saranath. Before the university was established the town had been the centre of a coal mining enterprise. The coal had been transported down to Pennington, the old State capital by train.

As the train picked up speed and the hamlet was left behind Amara told Terran the story of the trains of Saranath.  Back in the coal mining days trains had transported the coal down to Pennington.  When people realised how burning coal contributes to climate change the mines were closed but the tracks into the mine tunnels were never taken up.  They were all but forgotten until rising seas began to flood the libraries and art galleries of Pennington. Important cultural art and books were loaded into containers and hauled by train up to Saranath and left in mine tunnels. The original plan had been to leave them until flood proof buildings were erected in Pennington but the effects of climate change were far more devastating than people had expected.  As conditions worsened entire trains were hauled into tunnels that were then sealed.

Terran’s mind reeled.  ‘What happened to all the art and books?’ she asked. ‘There must be some amazing stuff,’ The story sounded implausible but here she was sitting on one of the trains.

‘For a long time everything stayed where it had been stored,’ Amara said.  ‘The chaos at Pennington mirrored what was happening across the globe. Life became a test of survival as we struggled to adapt to the changing climate and the breakdown of the old system. It’s only been in recent decades that we’ve had time to open up the tunnels and explore the treasures we’ve inherited. The dry air in the tunnels protected the trains and their contents. Many of the trains have been put back to use and their contents are being catalogued. What we’re discovering is that we’ve inherited an archive of art and culture that stretches back for millennia. We exhibit some of the art and artifacts at the university but the atmosphere in many of the tunnels is more stable than in our old buildings. We’re in the process of creating libraries and galleries there.  Temporary reading rooms have been set up in some of the containers in the meantime.’

Terran’s mind was abuzz.   ‘Could I go there?’ she asked.

‘Of course. Everyone in the Alliance has free access to knowledge. It’s essential if we are to create a better future.’

Deep in thought, Terran gazed out the window.  The idea of having access to a treasury of cultural artifacts from the past was foreign to her.  Back at the institute, there were a few historical reference books in the electronic databases but most were of a technical nature.  

Once at Saranath Terran explores the library tunnels.

Over the following days she spent her time in the tunnels delving into the vast repository of knowledge and creativity stored within the pages of old books trying to discover why she felt separate from the natural world.  Researching the history of Western thought she came to see that many of the ways of thinking she’d been taught at the institute had developed during the 1800s when reason and rational thinking led to the scientific discoveries that powered the industrial age.  The roots of such thinking lay further back in the development of scientific thought during the Renaissance. The more she read, the more tangled her thinking became. While she could see that analytical scientific thinking reduced the world to a series of separate parts, she could not deny the benefits such investigations had brought to humanity. 

‘You look worried,’ Amara said when they met for dinner that evening.

Terran explained the convoluted thinking that had her tied up in knots. ‘We haven’t ditched scientific rationalism at Saranath,’ Amara said in response. ‘It still forms the basis of much of our understanding of the world but investigations into how plants, insects and animals within environments interact with each other has led us to think in terms of systems.  Rather than seeing the world as a collection of unrelated parts we have come to see that all life is interconnected. The parts can only be understood within the context of the larger whole. Looking at the world in this way we come to see that humans are part of nature and depend on it to live.  We have a responsibility to care for the natural world for, if we don’t, we jeopardise the survival of ourselves and all life on the planet.’

Terran shivered as a sudden draught of cool air crept into the dining room through the cracks and crannies in the old stone building.  The ideas Amara described worked on her mind in much the same way.  They were like a mental blast of cool fresh air that cleared away old, stuck thought patterns and created room for more expansive ways of thinking to develop.

‘It can get cold up here sometimes,’ Amara said, unaware of the effect of her words. ‘These old stone buildings are hard to heat. There’s always the temptation to burn coal and fire up the old central heating system but we know that is the one thing we must never do. As it is, it will take thousands of years for the climate to stabilise and even longer for the seas to stop rising.  Continuing to burn coal will only exacerbate the effects of climate change. If people continue burning fossil fuels and pumping carbon into the atmosphere until there is nothing left to burn, it will take hundreds of thousands of years for the atmosphere to return to pre-industrial revolution levels.’ 

Terran thought of the black coal gleaming in the slag heaps.  ‘So every day you’re confronted with a way to solve your problems in the short term, yet you know taking that option is the one thing you can’t do.’

‘Exactly!’  Amara sat back and looked into the blackness of the night outside the window. ‘We’re at the coal face of climate change,’ she said wryly.  Her voice grew reflective. ‘This is the challenge we all face.  Do we continue the behaviours that led to climate change, or do we strive to find new ways of living on the planet?   Everything we do has to be weighed against the long term consequences of our actions.’

Posted in Climate Change, Fiction, Planetary renewal, The Journey

Another possible future

In the excerpt of my novel The Journey that I posted yesterday Terran, a young botanist travels through the land laid bare by unchecked climate change. Today’s excerpt is from further along in the story. Terran and her companion Raven have been rescued by a group of riders and taken to Jedahra, a settlement in a protected ravine. There, Terran is taken to a greenhouse by two of her rescuers, Red and Kya. The biodome mentioned in this excerpt is where she worked the institute, an isolated prepper community. At this point in the story Terran no longer has her laptop.

Everything inside the greenhouses was thriving. A memory of the sickly plants she’d seen on her last morning in the biodome flashed across Terran’s mind.  Here row after row of seedlings glowed with glossy vitality.  Despite her anxieties the sight of such healthy growth made her feel more at ease. As she took it all in, Red got to work cranking back the hand operated blinds that screened the roof. Terran watched the process intently. 

‘We cover the glass roof and windows during the night to trap in the hot air,’ he said, seeing her interest. ‘Those black rocks over there absorb the sun’s heat during the day and release it at night when the temperature drops. Because they are porous we douse them with water when it’s very dry.  As the rocks heat up they then release moisture vapour.’ Terran filed the information away in her mind as she took in the piles of volcanic rocks mounded up between the trays of seedlings. Maybe they could do something similar at the biodome. It would be better than struggling to maintain their faulty electrical apparatus.  Ideas for images about the processes began to form in her mind and, yet again, she wished she had her laptop.

‘The blinds are also useful for protecting delicate plants from the intense rays of the sun,’ Kya said as she bent over a row of bushy seedlings. ‘We’ll plant these babies out in the Salt Lands next autumn. They’ve got a lot of work to do and should be strong enough to withstand the conditions out there by then. They’re a very hardy variety of saltbush and provide good ground cover. Getting them established is the first step towards creating healthy soil. They help with erosion problems too.’ She pulled a couple of the weaker seedlings out of the planter trays and disposed of them in a compost bucket. 

‘Of course it’s all trial and error,’ Red said. ‘We never know for sure that our ideas will work.’ He gave one of his good-natured laughs. ‘We just try them anyway. We figure we’ve got nothing to lose.’

‘That sounds like a risky strategy,’ Terran said, falling back on the institute idea that it was better to stick with methods that were somewhat successful rather than attempt a different approach that might end in dismal failure.

‘What’s the alternative?’ Red asked. There was no laugh this time. No attempt to lighten the moment. Just a bleak stare. ‘You’ve been out in the Salt Lands. You’ve seen what it’s like out there. If we don’t try and restore environmental health things will only get worse.’

‘The old practices of clearing land for broadacre crops and irrigating it with water from underground aquifers caused the salt in the soil to rise to the surface out on the plains. A lot of our work involves reducing the salt levels in the soil,’ Kya said, moving on to rows of eucalyptus saplings growing in planter pots. ‘These eucalypts help stabilise the soil because their long taproots take the salt down deep into the soil. We’ll plant this lot out in the Salt Lands when the autumn rains come.’ She stroked the leaves tenderly.  

‘Our ultimate aim is to re-green barren areas so that they become a carbon sink.  The more green cover we can create, the more carbon is drawn out of the atmosphere and fixed into the soil.  Reducing atmospheric carbon is always our first priority,’ Red said.  He’d finished cranking back the blinds and was now pulling tools out of a storage cabinet. ‘There’s more carbon in the atmosphere now than there has ever been. If we don’t try to reduce it, the problems we face will just get worse. We have to do what we can.  Even when we feel hopeless we have to keep trying to make a difference. I guess you could say our approach is risky,’ he added thoughtfully as he piled the tools he’d selected into a handcart.  ‘The risks we take are calculated though. Just what we plant and where we plant it is something we spend a lot of time considering and planning. That’s why Amara is keen to see your research. You travelled through areas we know little about.’

Terran felt like a fool. She’d been judging everyone and everything she came across by the values she’d been taught at the institute. Even though she’d come to question those values they still influenced the way she saw the world. Her own narrow-mindedness had blinded her to the greater purposes that motivated the people of Jedahra. A sudden awareness of how deeply Kya, Red and people across the Alliance cared for the wellbeing of the world around them humbled her. ‘Thank you for helping me,’ she said. ‘You saved my life.’

‘It’s the Jedahran way,’ Kya smiled. 

‘It’s been fun too,’ Red said.  He gave her a fatherly pat on the shoulder and began pulling the cart down the aisle between two rows of seedlings.

Terran could see they were both eager to get to work.  Leaving them to it she left the greenhouse and took the path Kya told her would bring her to the study gardens. 

The Journey is available on Amazon (link in sidebar). 

Posted in Climate Change, Fiction, The Journey

A possible future

Here’s an excerpt from my novel The Journey (available on Amazon – link in sidebar). The novel is set in a future where the world failed to act on climate change in the 2020s. In this excerpt Terran, a young botanist is walking through a wasteland with a team of scientists from the institute, an isolated prepper community.

The group trailed behind Mitchell as he strode along the dry riverbed snaking out from the waterhole. It was baking hot but the steep river banks protected them from the dry wind that blew ceaselessly across the plains.  Every afternoon they would climb up to the scraggly trees that lined the banks to get their bearings. At those moments Terran felt the desolate environment searing itself ever deeper into her heart. Even the sky had a muddy look to it as if particles of dust hung in the air.

As the days wore on the distances between each group member lengthened. Brad stalked along behind Terran but she ignored him. No one spoke much anyway. The heat was so intense that wasting energy on words felt frivolous. Unnecessary. In places the sandy soil of the river banks had fallen away to expose tattered ribbons of polyurethane and plastic sheeting, remnants of the agricultural practices of the previous era. The bleached bones of animals lying on the dry riverbed were further reminders of those times. The curving horns of long dead cattle and the eyeless skulls of sheep were both sculptural and haunting. 

Occasionally they would see shards of rusted metal sticking up out of the sandy dust of the riverbed. These relics of past industry excited Cody. He insisted they stop and examine them for useful parts but everything was too decomposed to be of any use. For Terran these scattered reminders of the old world brought home the fact that the degraded landscape they walked through was a result of human activity. 

Not knowing what else to do she bowed her head over her laptop each evening. First, she recorded the growing conditions of the plants she found in her official institute spreadsheets. That done, she opened her personal files and made images that expressed how she felt being out in the wasteland as the hot winds blew and the men cursed the yellow dust of the riverbed swirling around them. These things she noted alongside detailed drawings and photographs of the wider terrain. Jarad, the meticulous record keeper, had a habit of muttering the readings to himself as he checked his meteorological instruments. He often did this while she was working on her images so she would include these details as well.

This new way of working had developed from the sketch she’d made that first day at the lookout. It made more sense to her than the featureless lists she’d been taught to compile but she couldn’t imagine anyone at the institute being remotely interested. She was aware the men would react negatively to her images and always saved them to her USB sticks rather than to the laptop. When she returned to the institute she would be required to give the authorities her laptop and the data she’d recorded. She’d been trained to be a detached, objective observer of the natural world and had been taught to consider it separate from and even inferior to the human experience. Any research she did would be expected to conform to that worldview. Out in this wasteland laid bare by humanity’s excesses she found it impossible to maintain that position. The sight of the devastated plains stretching on, seemingly forever, hit her like a blow. It cracked her open and she felt as exposed and raw as the land itself.

Posted in photography, poetry, spirituality

A blink in time

A blink in time
yet part of the cosmological whole
we spin here on this sphere,
a speck of dust within the vastness.

We fight, we strive,
we love, we hate
and all the while
the cosmos turns.
Great yugas* of time
revealed in the scientist’s telescope.
A multitude of pasts and presents
existing simultaneously.

Here in this earthly now
we have our beingness.
Are we responsible for the whole
or are we here to play our part?
To do what we can where we can
before our day is done.

First image from James Webb telescope – (credit: Nasa)

*A yuga, in Hinduism, is generally used to indicate an age of time.[1][2]

In the Rigveda, a yuga refers to generations, a long period, a very brief period, or a yoke (joining of two things).[3] In the Mahabharata, the words yuga and kalpa (a day of Brahma) are used interchangeably to describe the cycle of creation and destruction. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuga

prompt: https://earthweal.com/2022/07/25/earthweal-weekly-challenge-sacred-glimmers/

Posted in Climate Change, poetry

Why don’t we stop?

What if we all just stopped again?

The scientists say the birds sung quieter in 2020.
These days here they scream, they screech, they shriek.
Sometimes a cry can be so loud I jump.
I guess they’re trying to make themselves heard
above the din.
The coastal construction.
The pleasure seekers driving here, there and everywhere.
The domestic noise,
the teenager drummer over the back fence
pounding the skins for hours every evening.
Letting off steam I guess, after another day of school.
My daughter works in a high school now.
She says the kids are out control.
They swear, they walk around the classroom any time,
They laugh at the teachers.
The worst kid, the one with major problems,
throws chairs around when he goes off.

But I digress,
it’s all just symptoms you see.
Stressed out kids. Freaked out birds.
Covid cases on the rise.
How about we all just stopped again?

But no, that’s not to be.
We have to save the economy.
Forget the fires burning out of control.
Ignore the droughts and flooding rains.
We must go on, it’s imperative.
If we stopped, we’d have to think.
We’d have to look at the mess we’ve made.

prompt: https://earthweal.com/2022/07/18/earthweal-weekly-challenge-in-the-wake-of-progress/

Posted in Climate Change

Animals and Climate Change

Kerfe commented on my last post that birds might live on even if we humans don’t. It reminded me of this article I read a while ago.

https://news.wttw.com/2021/09/07/animals-are-shape-shifting-response-climate-change

Animals Are ‘Shape Shifting’ in Response to Climate Change

CNN | September 7, 2021 2:19 pm

   

A red-rumped parrot, one of the bird species that has seen its bill size increase. (Credit: Ryan Barnaby)A red-rumped parrot, one of the bird species that has seen its bill size increase. (Credit: Ryan Barnaby)

(CNN) — Some warm-blooded animals are experiencing shifts in their body shapes, likely as a response to the pressures of climate change, according to a new review of existing research.

Animals are getting larger beaks, legs and ears that allow them to better regulate their body temperatures as the planet gets hotter, with birds particularly affected, said Sara Ryding, a researcher at Deakin University in Australia and one of the authors of the research that published on Tuesday in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

The biggest shifts in appendage size in the more than 30 animals they looked at in the review were among some Australian parrot species, which saw their beak size increase by 4% to 10% on average since 1871.

“It means animals are evolving, but it does not necessarily mean that they are coping with climate change. We can see that some species have increased in appendage size so far, but we don’t know if they will be able to keep up as the climate crisis worsens,” Ryding said via email.

“We also don’t know whether these shape-shifts actually aid in survival (and therefore are beneficial) or not. This phenomenon of shape-shifting shouldn’t be seen as a positive, but rather it is alarming that climate change is pushing animals to evolve like this, under such a relatively short timeframe.”

She said that the changes were subtle and unlikely to be immediately noticeable but could be “functionally important.”

While climate warming was a “compelling argument” as the driving force behind these changes in shape, the study said that it was difficult to “establish causality with confidence” given the multifaceted effects climate change has on the environment.

Smaller bodies, bigger appendages

Within an animal species, individuals in warmer climates have larger appendages, such as wings and beaks — a pattern known as Allen’s rule, with the greater surface area allowing the animals to control their temperature more easily, the study noted.

At the same time, body sizes tend to shrink, since smaller bodies hold onto less heat.

In the United States, a recent study of 70,716 migratory birds representing 52 species showed that they have been getting smaller over the past four decades, and their wingspan wider. The birds all died when hitting high-rise buildings in Chicago during migration and were collected by the city’s Field Museum.

“Both of our studies look at how animals respond to climate change by altering their surface area to volume ratio,” explained Ryding.

While most research on morphological change over time has focused on birds, the paper noted that shrews and bats have increased their relative ear, tail, leg and wing sizes.

It said that more research on different species and in different ecosystems was needed to determine how wide the phenomenon was and could help predict which species might shape-shift in the future.

“Previous studies have shown cases where shape-shifting is happening, but these have focused on individual species or groups. Our review paper combines all of these to show how widespread this phenomenon seems to be,” Ryding said.

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

Posted in Australia, Climate Change, photography, poetry

Call of the Wild

On TV a man asks
is capitalism a parasitic culture?
Will we ever change our ways?

At the beach the gulls screech.
They wheel across the sky then,
out of the coastal scrub,
a white sea hawk flies.
Harried by the swooping gulls
it sounds one wild resonant cry.

Unconcerned and unmoving
a cormorant dries its wings
atop a pole of the old jetty.
Long disused the timbers stretch into the bay.
All that’s left of a bygone age
before the roads were built hereabouts
and all commerce went by ship.

Will the human parasites destroy their host?
Will the seabirds perch on ruined shopping malls?
Will we ever change our ways?

prompt: https://earthweal.com/2022/07/11/earthweal-weekly-challenge-an-ear-for-wild-language/