A Stroll To Serenity – thank Goodness for Mother Nature

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It’s been a tough week – no make that a tough year, so far – and although I’ve become accustomed to putting a smile on my face and “faking it till I make it” my mind has difficulty switching off from traumatic events.

Energy is hard to find and inspiration for creative writing, a lost cause.

If my wee, Irish Mum was still alive, she’d suggest I’ve had a week of ‘not being able to get out of my own road’ .

A family member died suddenly, much too young at 48. The unexpected death leaving everyone devastated, especially her thirteen-year-old daughter. This tragedy occurred only weeks after the funeral of a cousin who found living with illness too difficult and chose to end his life. His close family still grieving his older brother’s death (another of my cousins) from a heart attack just before Christmas.

These tragedies feed the superstition that catastrophe happens in threes but this is just an urban legend  –  isn’t it?

Each death made past grief raw with a numbness descending. I had the line ‘what’s it all about?‘ from Alfie playing in a loop in my head.

However, lessons must be planned and presented, letters and emails written, an IWD presentation prepared and worried over, and this blog written – the cliche ‘life must go on’ indeed a truism.

Thank goodness then, for close friends, and nature’s beauty, to distract from the doldrums and reinvigorate a purpose for life and joy in living.

My dear friend,  Glenice Whitting suffered a home invasion and could laugh about it over coffee and despite inclement weather and a busy schedule, another friend Lisa Hill picked me up after work and we went for a walk in the park as a balm to troubled souls.

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Karkarook Park is located on Warrigal Road in Heatherton, nestled among an industrial estate and not far from several housing developments. The park is ideal for a relaxing stroll, providing an oasis of tranquillity. Traffic sounds diminished by evergreen native trees and an undulating landscape.

Karkarook, a tribute to those with vision and prepared to work hard to rehabilitate land owned by a mix of parties, including council, state government and private companies. To shape a place for the public to enjoy with recreational facilities such as: cycle and walking tracks, angling, BBQ and picnic areas, playground, canoeing and kayaking.

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View towards Warrigal Road, Moorabbin

 

“Karkarook Park is a recreational and environmental oasis, revegetated with indigenous plants. The 15 hectare lake is a good spot for canoeing, kayaking or sailing. Explore the park on foot or bike on 6km of trails. Take the dog for a walk. Or try your luck fishing for Rainbow Trout or Red Fin. “

Fisheries Victoria restocks the artificial lake with about 4000 trout a year.

Sanctuary
Peaceful, secure
Feeding, breeding, nurturing
Providing responsible ecological balance
Wetlands
© mairi neil

 

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Parks Victoria provides the following information:

The area around Karkarook would have been a rich source of food for Aboriginal people. “Karkarook” is an Aboriginal term meaning “a sandy place”.

After European settlement, Karkarook was used for flood retarding, market gardens and horse agistment. Through a partnership between Parks Victoria, Boral, Readymix and the community, the area was mined for sand, then transformed into the beautiful park you see today.

Flora and fauna
Karkarook Park is gradually being restored to a healthy environment. Over 500,000 indigenous trees, shrubs and grasses have been planted, many by volunteers. As the park improves, birds are returning to make Karkarook their home. More than 110 species of bird have already been recorded at the park.

Karkarook is represented by the dragonfly, chosen to represent a healthy environment and metamorphosis (transformation). The information display is in the shape of a dragonfly.

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Successive councils and state governments, and the community have supported the concept of a Chain of Parks since it was first suggested and the recent development of Karkarook Park was an important catalyst project.

Kingston has a number of landfills and there are limited ways that land can be used after landfills are closed. The idea of a series of linked parks in the Heatherton/Dingley area has been around since the early 1970s when Sir Rupert Hamer’s  Liberal Government first established the Green Wedges in 1971 .

In 1994, this idea was formalised into a report by the former Melbourne Parks and Waterways (now Parks Victoria) and in September 2002 the Bracks Labor Government finalised new green wedge zones in a process to protect Melbourne’s Green Wedges for future generations.

But of course life is never that simple and environmentalists will tell you the battle in Kingston is unrelenting with the Planning Department forever wanting to rezone land. Fortunately, in 2015, the council made an effort in the northern part of the city for the first time. Kingston City’s C143 amendment rezones old quarries and landfill tips to green wedge and assures no more concrete crushers and similar inappropriate uses.

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Pathways form grey ribbons for relaxing walks

Other parts of the city are not so lucky and currently arable land and a part of the Green Wedge is under threat from The Cemeteries Trust, who want to remove the market gardens and build a cemetery. A chain of parks trail, agricultural activities, equestrian activity such as a riding school, or even environmental conservation such as a horticultural school – all of these preferable to a commercial enterprise involving a lot of buildings, concrete and cars.

The fight for sensible, sustainable environmental policies on going but as Lisa and I enjoyed Karkarook Park I welcomed the chance to reduce my stress level.

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Dusky moorhens
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Pacific Ducks
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Galahs foraging

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bubbling residue in damp sand
Ephemeral evidence of
Mankind’s footsteps

© mairi neil

 

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A Stroll to Shift Mood
A Haibun by Mairi Neil

Determined summer
captive to ardent grey clouds
beams silver sunshine

We stroll sculpted pathways hoping to avoid the next downpour of rain. A Melbourne afternoon justifying the city’s reputation. It’s summer and we’re prepared for winter, but must shed our jackets when the brilliant sunshine ignores bruised skies and radiates heat.

On the gentle breeze
amidst a flurry of rain
a tiny blue wren flits

The park abandoned apart from a seagull susurration above the lake and Pacific Ducks waddling for the water as we approach. Galahs peck at the moist soil but keep their distance. Magpies rush for the cover of trees their movement enticing me closer.

Through a highland mist
the repeated haunting call
of a lonely moorhen

Three Fairy Wrens decorate dull brown branches with brilliant blueness. If only the elusive Hooded Plover skittering along the sandy hem of the lake would pause long enough for the camera to capture his glory. And sheltered from the rain we watch the mist rise and fall over the lake, dark blue-grey clouds sweep across the sky and a defeated sun struggles to assert its authority.

After the shower
the gulls aerial ballet
brightens the dull sky

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The rain arrived
sunshine
and left as the sun came out

 

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A walk always blows the cobwebs away and helps me put life in perspective, especially the curved balls occasionally pitched that hit their mark.

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Melbourne has earned the title of the ‘world’s most liveable city’.  Kingston’s part in The Chain of Parks and the protection of the Green Wedge contributes to Melbourne’s appeal – so here’s to future sensible, sustainable policies maintaining the lungs of our city.

And getting some writing mojo back!

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.

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Serenity restored

How Haiku led me to Haibun and the importance of Kintsukuroi to my Writing Life

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Oh, how we need inspirational quotes and prods from friends and that nagging inner voice, to pick up the pen, or in modern parlance, sit in front of the computer and tap doggedly at the keys.

Today, when so many people are writing it is easy to be discouraged if you go down the track of comparing your offerings in a negative way. Instead of learning, experimenting, editing and rewriting, you give up because you think I can’t write like that… my book won’t be as popular as that… he/she writes so much better than me…no one wants to read what I write… I’m a poet, a short story writer, a musician, a blogger, a novelist, I don’t understand other genres… I’m not good enough… it’s too hard to change… (or is it in Robert Louis Stevenson’s words ‘the malady of not wanting’!)

Almost everyone in the creative arts, not just writers, suffers at some time on their journey from the fear of failure, rejection, inadequacy and ridicule, but we also experience the incredible satisfaction of doing what we love and when it works its akin to ecstasy! For me, as a writer, the secret is to ‘hang in there’ like a surfer clinging to a board in a turbulent sea. I also venture into unknown waters, sometimes a paddle, other times a deep dive, and most of the times I’m waving not drowning!

One of my changes of directions involved learning haiku, which led to experimenting with other forms of Japanese poetry and like most form poetry, attempting to ‘get it right/write’  can be a wonderful and creative distraction when words fail elsewhere in your writing life. I’ve shared some of my haiku in earlier posts and want to thank Nobuko Sakai, a longtime friend for introducing me to Japanese verse. Nobuko came into my life when I was sixteen and she attended my high school in 1970 as a Japanese exchange student. We have been friends ever since, visiting each other here in Melbourne, Tokyo,  and in London, England where she now lives.

Nobuko sent me The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse (1964), translated by Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite, which introduced me to the great Matsuo Bashō and Kobayashi Issa and so many others, as well as giving a potted history of 1500 years of Japanese tradition. (There is a not so glowing review of the book here, but sixteen years old me did not have the knowledge (or desire) to critique like this, I was just enthralled to discover a new world of writers!)

A more recent gift of a carload of books by a generous daughter from the estate of her mother, a local writer/artist, included Classic Haiku, a Master’s Selection (1991), a gold mine of poetry translated by Yuzuru Miura with a poet’s eye and they fit Bownas & Thwaite’s description:

(a haiku’s)… seventeen syllables should ideally – and nearly always did – end in a noun or an emotional ejaculation, and should contain their ‘season word’ (kilo) or expression hinting at the time of the year appropriate to the context.’

However, like all adaptations, if you become involved in the poetry scene you’ll find those who insist on traditional haiku, and those who accept changes to the form, whether in syllable count or subject matter. My advice – just write a three line image, manipulate the words as best you can and say what you want to say whether it exactly fits the parameters, or not. (It’s amazing how often it does!)

A frozen puddle
trip back to my childhood
worth wet socks all day

Mairi Neil, Hobo Poetry Magazine, Issue 21. (no longer in print)

Last year I introduced myself and the class to Haibun and without becoming too pedantic about the rules I tried to combine haiku and prose to tell a story aiming for the moon, but sometimes remaining on earth:

In good haibun, the prose deepens the understanding of the poetry, and the poetry gives greater energy to the prose. The relationship is like that between the moon and the earth: each makes the other more beautiful.

Here is my first effort at haibun (it doesn’t follow the rules of some traditionalists), but was  published in Celebrating Poetry by  Karenzo Media 2014:

Visiting Singapore 1973

Mairi Neil

We crowd on deck as the cruise ship glides into Singapore harbour, a week after leaving Fremantle. The silver sun aglow in a cloudless azure sky. Skin fiery scarlet from too many hours in the ship’s pool as Singapore City wobbles and wilts in the heat.

I ache for relief
from this tantalising veil
and covet the sea

Engines thrum and screeches of gulls mask the first hint a change is on the way. Rain falls in sheets and shafts. Solid blocks of water pound the decks.

Clouds scud across sky
The veil now a fog blanket
Hiding the city.

Beneath our feet racing rivers fill deck gutters and our shoes. On automatic pilot, we slosh for cover, although there is no icy wind in this downpour.

No unsettling chill
Just instant relief
From relentless heat

Rain hammers metal, swamps furniture and people, drenching everything not covered. Metal rails hiss. Steam sizzles on the shrinking, not sinking ship. No crevice escapes. A continuous stream of trickles and dribbles demonstrates the power of this deluge.

A turmoil of grey
Idyllic tropics in grip
Of monsoonal rain

Yet, within minutes, the ship docks and the downpour stops as quickly as it began. Singapore city a perfect watercolour painting showcases sunlight and serenity. The tropical shower and haze but a dream as perspiration leaks from every pore.

I tried to write another…

Sore Feet and Soaring Thoughts

Mairi Neil

A wonderful warm spring day. A clutch of residents from the nursing home walk around the block for a dose of Vitamin D and fresh air. Two carers dressed in floral finery, not wings and halos, their guardians.

Shuffling slippered feet
Walker wheels squeak and sticks tap
Dull pleated skirts flap…

Without a sideways glance, a gaggle of schoolgirls overtake the pensioner posse. They preen and prance. Laughter tinkles, iPod cords dangle, mobile phones jingle.

A raven squawks as
strutting peacocks and tired chooks
enjoy the sunshine

The ambulatory group not seeking to collide, or slide, to the other side. Today’s challenges taken in their stride.

Smiling carers guide
stumbling feet and rheumy eyes
to avoid a fall

Gnarled arthritic hands cling to walking frames bumping over paths once traversed with prams and baby strollers. Reminiscent of bygone children’s frolics, parrots chitter overhead as magpies chortle and caper.

Pavement cracks trigger
memories. Past lives flash of
mothers, daughters, wives.

The internet is a great resource for reading haibun online. To access several fine sites go to this link and here.

Saturday Morning Sojourn
Mairi Neil

Magpies trill
Ravens squawk, and parrots squeal
In morning mist chill…

The sea breeze tastes salty and brings a whiff of fish. Eucalypts counteract the exhaust fumes from an idling bus. My footsteps tap and click to compete with the clang of bells from the railway crossing, while a pink glow tinges a pewter sky.

An absence of folk
At seven Saturday morn
Commuters sleep-in…

The Frankston train grunts to a standstill, brake fluid turning the air rancid. Carriage doors open at the touch of a button. I smile. The heating works too.

Friday night’s residue
Stale beer and body odour
Bottles, cans, litter…

Fresh air, a relief at Chelsea Station. Community gardens glisten with dew, their morning hush disturbed by eager joggers and dog walkers.

Curtains, and eyes closed
Newspapers asleep on lawns
Doorstop cats restless…

Enticing smells float from a bakery and a group of young people huddle outside the tennis courts. Their dedication triggers memories of school hockey practice.

Teasing and giggling
the scantily dressed teens
Gather for sport…

I walk towards the medical clinic, a sixth sense telling me the lightness of step justified. I chuckle and feel ageless.

I’ll return to these poems and try to salvage the essence or write a new poem because that’s what I do – keep aiming for perfection and searching for words and form to share my thoughts and observations and ‘an overactive imagination’ – my Mother’s words!

And I’m grateful I came across this delightful image, which led to a discovery of another gift from Japanese culture and one I will share with my students when classes return as well as this delightful fable of its origins. The message to me as a writer is to never give up, find a home for those words, or rejig them into something different, perhaps even better, or just accept them for what they are – an expression from a moment in time – whether it be a deep and meaningful observation, a description or fanciful thought!

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As a philosophy kintsukuroi ,  treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. As a philosophy kintsugi can be seen to have similarities to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, an embracing of the flawed or imperfect.

Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated… a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin….Mushin is often literally translated as “no mind,” but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. …The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject. This poignancy or aesthetic of existence has been known in Japan as mono no aware, a compassionate sensitivity, or perhaps identification with, [things] outside oneself.

Christy Bartlett, Flickwerk The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics

Writers know about knockbacks, shattering truths, and lucky breaks – we also know about rebuilding dreams and that often requires rebuilding or salvaging our words – I can definitely relate to Kintsukuroi in my general life as well as my writing life!