Nurturing Nature The Way Forward

Happy-earth-day

World Environment Day was celebrated on June 5, but perhaps celebrated is the wrong word when you examine the state of  Earth. These statistics and photographs are quite depressing. How I wish people could appreciate and value nature like poet Joyce Kilmer.

His poem, Trees,  although criticised for being simplistic and sentimental is a classic that everyone remembers and quotes – many writers would wish for such an enviable record !

Frankston copy Frankston

The poem automatically springs to mind whenever I am in a botanical garden, a forest, a wood, or just walking down the street!

Trees  by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

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HAIKU by Mairi Neil

Tree blossoms despite
Salty air and sparse rocky soil
Resilience plus!

Sturdy trees stand firm
Withstanding storms their purpose
Golden harvests win

Cherry blossom time
Nature blooms in profusion
Fat and happy ducks

ducks Aspendale spring in suburbs

I don’t know when I became enamoured with trees -I think that’s one of the gifts I’ve received from living in Australia. My early years growing up in a housing estate in Scotland didn’t contain many trees!

However, living in Croydon in 1962, we were surrounded by trees to climb, to lie under for shade, to feast off when plums and apples grew, to strip and use as make-believe spears and guns in our childish games or have plum and apple fights, and to harvest as kindling and firewood for Mum’s Raeburn stove and the living room fireplace.

We took these magnificent living structures for granted, used and abused them, rarely appreciated their beauty, or significance for the planet’s survival because of their amazing capacity to stay alive, regenerate and survive against all odds.  Knowledge, appreciation and inspiration came later.

Aussie Childhood
Mairi Neil

I grew up in bushy Croydon
the trees grew thick around,
milk and bread delivered
to a tuneful clip-clop sound.

Kookaburras laughed and swooped
to steal our pet cat’s food
it wasn’t Snappy Tom, of course
but ‘roo meat, raw and good.

The streets were mainly dirt tracks
a collection of pot holes and clay,
most people walked or cycled
and even strangers said, ‘gidday’.

Our weatherboard house peeled
the corrugated tin roof leaked too,
a verandah sagged under honeysuckle,
the rooms added as family grew.

Mosquito nets caused claustrophobia
possums peered down chimneys three,
but the dunny banished down the back
the most terrifying memory, for me.

Electricity brightened inside the house
so torch or candlelight had to suffice
night noises and shadows of the bush
and the smelly dunny, were not nice!

The path to the toilet lined with trees
growing tall to seek the sun
but when the dark cloak of night donned
branches became hands from which to run

During the day our block was heaven
definitely a children’s adventure-land
blue tongues, geckos, tadpoles and frogs
all shared our world so grand.

A snake the greatest danger
or a bull ant bite on the toe
a truly carefree wonderful time
my rose-coloured glasses show.

When I came to live in Mordialloc in 1984, I was an adult, soon to become a young mother. When John and I began to renovate our new home, plus create a garden, I not only noticed the trees, but became fascinated and attached to them. Involvement in a local conservation group meant I was even more captivated, not only interested in the environment, but ecology. I formed an emotional attachment to Mother Nature.

The Chestnut Tree
Mairi Neil

We cut down our chestnut tree today,
a sadness gripped my heart –
will the pain ever go away?

The tree was diseased, slowly dying
Attempted cures failed –
we stopped trying.

It was like saying goodbye
to a much-loved friend …
Is this how we all end?

The tree dominated our backyard
soft green foliage a contrast
to fruit, spiky and hard.

Veil-like shadows of leaves heralded spring
lazy days sitting beneath branches
listening to blackbirds sing

The baby lying on a blanket mesmerised
while a breeze rustled leaves and
birds and bees danced through the trees

In summer it delighted with endless charm
a shady spot for the wading pool
sun’s rays could not harm.

Warm balmy evenings, relaxing in easy chairs
sipping cool drinks at sunset
peace and tranquility, forgetting cares

Cherished memories; strong boughs hanging low
hooking the toddler’s swing
pushing the old tyre, oh so slow…

In winter, stripped bare, unattractive
as if the alien climate
is kind only to natives.

All living things eventually die
there’ll be other reasons to laugh
other reasons to cry.

seasons will come and seasons will go,
there’ll be other trees to nurture
other memories to sow.

When I put together an education kit about Bradshaw Park and discovered just how important trees were to the indigenous Australians I’m ecstatic much of this knowledge is captured in the beautiful tranquil Milarri Garden Trail  at the Melbourne Museum. It’s sad how easily generations of knowledge and expertise can be lost.

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Living Fossils (a villanelle)
Mairi Neil

Celebrate parks and open spaces
How they let us breathe and play
They put smiles upon our faces

Nature provides wondrous places
Adding beauty to the everyday
Wildlife parks, wilderness spaces

Trainers recommend 10,000 paces
Exercise and be healthy they say
They put smiles upon our faces

In childhood egg and spoon races
Kite-flying, hide-n-seek, even crocquet
Celebrated parks and open spaces

Living demands no ‘airs and graces’
whether skies are blue or grey
We must put smiles upon our faces

In the future they’ll look for traces
Of how we spent our lives each day
They’ll dig up parks and other spaces
Perhaps put names to forgotten faces.

Trees, the bush, flowers, gardens – anything to do with nature can inspire me to write and I try and encourage my students to observe, reflect and write too. Inspiration is everywhere – even at Bentleigh Railway Station – this tree fascinates me as I wait for a train after class – an amazing example of how trees flourish against the odds.  It stands proud amidst concrete,  buildings, pollution and neglect, roots bulging through the fence, clinging to concrete wall. And then there is the building in the city with shrubbery sprouting like hair from a rooftop garden and trees straight and proud sentinels at the entrance.

Bentleigh station 2

melbourne city copy

HAIKU by Mairi Neil

Shadows on the hill
Early daffodils shimmer
Caught a winter chill

Beneath skies of blue
Swaying fields of amber grain
Bow heads, pray for rain.

Age does not weary love
Nurturing flowers and shrubs
Investment in health

Tranquil forest scene
Paths hidden and overgrown
Does danger lurk there?

A trip to Tasmania in 2008 to spend two weeks in the wilderness of the Tarkine was a spiritual experience as well as an exercise to prove I was still fit and capable of carrying a backpack and camping, after a bout of ill-health.

I defy anyone to visit this unique area and remain untouched by the timeless beauty, the unbelievable diversity. Experience  awe while in the presence of trees hundreds of years old, or in the case of Huon pines, thousands of years. I felt privileged to be in their presence, but also humbled by my insignificance – any time I spend on earth as transient as a leaf in comparison to these ancient monuments.

I came home rejuvenated and enervated after being close to what must be one of the most beautiful forested areas in the world. An area so many Australians value,  yet for decades has been under threat by miners, loggers and even so-called ‘eco-tourism’.

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Currently, Australians are increasingly aware of the effects of climate change, the need to invest in renewable energy and divest from fossil fuels. I worked hard for Environment Victoria during the last state election and will do so again. Our political masters want us to believe the biggest threat to our world is terrorism, whereas I believe  environmental disasters pose a greater threat.

Writing is one way I can express how I feel, but also encourage others to do the same. We only have one world, let’s look after it – trees are its lungs – acknowledging their value and importance is a good start.

Winds Of Change
Mairi Neil

I am the balmy breeze that becomes the whistling wind
I wonder at the foolishness of architecture
I hear the sighs of lovers and the curses of farmers
I see the cricket matches and the collapsed houses
I want to travel the world and display my power
I am the balmy breeze that becomes the whistling wind

I pretend that I am always in control
I feel the power of Mother Nature’s other children
I touch the clouds and make them weep
I worry that there are places I cannot reach
I howl and keen in the eye of the cyclone
I am the balmy breeze that becomes the whistling wind

I understand the flutter of a baby’s hand
I manipulate heaving white horses
I whisper soft sentences and rant furious prose
I try always for my poetry to be heard
I hope always for a memorable role
I am the balmy breeze that becomes the whistling wind.

Poetry is thriving – There are so many lovely Trees!

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“People in suburbia see trees differently than foresters do.  They cherish every one.  It is useless to speak of the probability that a certain tree will die when the tree is in someone’s backyard ….   You are talking about a personal asset, a friend, a monument, not about board feet of lumber.”

Roger Swain

Today is the anniversary of the birth of A.A. Milne, author and creator of Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Eyore and Tigger. An appropriate day for Anne and I to take Aurora for a walk into Bradshaw Park, a small bushland reserve in Mordialloc, just as important to my daughters’ childhood as the hundred-acre wood!

Trees
Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

 

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When Anne and MaryJane were at primary school I was involved with the Friends of Bradshaw Park as a volunteer. Once a month on a Saturday morning, we would weed, plant flora and observe the fauna.

The group worked hard building relationships with schools and the council to ensure the park remained as a reserve and did not get swallowed up in a tide of development that was threatening to swamp parts of the City of Kingston, especially when the Kennett Government swept to power.

Many park rangers were made redundant, funds were slashed and compulsory competitive tendering became the norm because of the mistaken belief that privatisation of public assets and jobs is cheaper and better. When dual occupancies and high-rise are seen as the most profitable use of land many people are unaware or scathing of the value of places like Bradshaw Park.

It was a difficult and uncertain time, but I met many dedicated conservationists, environmentalists and knowledgeable gardeners in the small group of community-minded volunteers who made up the Friends of Bradshaw Park.

They generously passed on their knowledge and nurtured indigenous plants to sell for much-needed funds. My garden at Mordialloc benefited and the native bushes and trees that still give me pleasure today originated from Bradshaw Park.

Anne recalled how our involvement in Friends of Bradshaw Park led to hours of after-school fun with mates,  playing chasie, hide and seek and a host of other make-believe games.

The children loved the place and learnt to value the importance of indigenous plants and trees in a natural setting. It’s no surprise both daughters are active environmentalists with strong opinions about climate change, food sustainability, the importance of rainforests and the scourge of overdevelopment.

“I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”
 

Dr. Suess

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I held writing workshops in Bradshaw Park for groups of children, many being home educated, others pursuing creative writing and appreciating a hands-on experience in a natural environment.

To raise awareness of the Park and the Friends group, I collated an education kit in 1998 with the help of a council grant. Every primary school in Kingston received a kit, which was packed with history, nature facts, quizzes, colouring-in sheets, poetry, writing prompts, a cassette tape of bird song and guided walk around the park, and my book ‘It’s a Dog’s Life’ written to illustrate the importance of keeping dogs under control in suburbia  and cleaning up their poo!

Talented members of the group helped with research, information and drawings.

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“Many people, other than the authors, contribute to the making of a book, from the first person who had the bright idea of alphabetic writing through the inventor of movable type to the lumberjacks who felled the trees that were pulped for its printing.  It is not customary to acknowledge the trees themselves, though their commitment is total.”

Rada and Forsyth, Machine Learning  

Oh, Ancient Tree
Mairi Neil

What are you thinking
oh, ancient tree,
have you thoughts to share
with insignificant me?
I stand before your trunk
so sturdy and strong
the canopy of your branches
stretches loose-limbed and long.
Will your rustling leaves
whisper secrets from the past,
tell of devastating changes
and the die being cast?

Are you just happy to be alive
and home for many creatures?
Glad you’re not yet floorboards,
wood-chips, or someone’s furniture features!

I can see you have scars
from days of long ago,
but never mortally wounded,
you’ve continued to grow and grow…
Beetles and worms nurture
the soil beneath your feet,
and the birds in your foliage
ensure insects don’t overeat.
The birds nestle in your boughs
singing daily as they dally,
enjoying food as well as safety
for your health they’ll rally.
And just by being here
you give sweet breath to me,
there’s truly nothing on this earth
as wonderful as you –
oh, ancient tree!

 

“When you enter a grove peopled with ancient trees, higher than the ordinary, and shutting out the sky with their thickly inter-twined branches, do not the stately shadows of the wood, the stillness of the place, and the awful gloom of this doomed cavern then strike you with the presence of a deity?”
   

Seneca

International Odyssey
Mairi Neil

The trees cling to fragile foliage
like mothers reluctant to let
their children go.
And the winter sun radiates
white light promising a day
of autumn glory…
It is Melbourne after all.

A blue sky pockmarked by fluffy clouds
reflects a sea of shimmering blue.
But beyond the benign bay
tragedy intrudes as
fear and desperation meets
fear and distrust.

No need of Siren’s song
to lure the mariners to their death.
The monster from the deep is
dressed in political spin and
ideological hubris.
Christian charity is in short supply.

To seek asylum is now illegal
it is Australia after all.

July 2014

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Lyre Bird’s Lair
Mairi Neil

A forgotten memory like shadow cast
Feeds a yearning for the past,
A picture of childish eyes entranced
The memorable day the lyrebird danced.
Performing his usual repertoire of sound
The lyrebird proudly claimed his ground
Tail feathers splayed shimmering white
Brown head hidden from onlookers’ sight.
And without proud peacock arrogance
The bird shyly began a seductive dance.
Throughout the day lovers came and went
Until the lyrebird with energy spent
Disappeared amongst the haze of trees
Ephemeral as the evening breeze.

Enthused by dreams of aeons past
I return to Sherbrooke Forest at last
Spongy green moss cushions city feet
Melodious warbles and insects meet.
Fragile maidenhair decorates the trail
Flighty butterflies appreciate their veil.
Eucalyptus tang replaces rich loam smell
Towering Mountain Ash cast their spell.
I hope to glimpse again the lyrebird’s dance
Tho’ its talent for mimicry limits my chance
This bird can repeat the magpie’s trill
Replicates man-made sounds at will −
Chainsaw, hammer, or car alarm
All perfected as part of his charm.

I pant with the exertion of the climb
Birds chitter and sing with voices sublime
My misty gasps whisper to the trees
When nearby rustling makes me freeze
Low in the fork of a wattle tree
A sight I never expected to see
Constructed with meticulous precision
A lyrebird family’s nesting vision
A beautiful ball-shaped structure appears
An ideal home developed from years
Of evolution, and remarkable adaptation
By a bird unique to the Australian nation.
But alas like the palette of fleeting dawn
The enigmatic lyrebird’s chick has flown.

2013

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