Darkness Visible

My neighbour has two dogs. Two dogs who are usually tied up in his backyard. The tan dog, almost brindled, tall, lean, perhaps a kelpie cross, is tied to a tree, while the squat, black dog, which looks like a labrador mixed with Staffordshire terrier, is tied up to a kennel.

When I water my garden I can see them. They have described big arcs around their confined spaces, big dusty arcs of earth that don’t seem to meet and from this, I assume that the dogs can’t touch each other.

They have escaped their unpleasant confinement numerous times. I have seen the pair trotting along the street, mouths agape, happy, firm friends exploring a world bigger than their dust circles. A world they might have already known if they had ever been walked.

Today they are in my yard having scraped a shallow trench under the shared fence.

There was a lightning storm yesterday and rain through the evening. Rain coloured with soot from the bushfire over the hills. So I wonder if the dogs, scared of the thunder that would rumble like a passing jet plane for 30 seconds, simply broke their bonds. The tan dog has a scrap of thick sisal rope, end unbraided, attached to its collar.

Wilson, my dog, who sleeps in my bed, is walked every day, and is loved, woke me this morning. His barking, which is often angry and insistent whenever people walk past the house, was frustrated and plaintive, as though someone, undeterred, was making their way towards the house and me.

When I came outside I saw the dogs, mostly oblivious to Wilson’s distress and discomfort at strangers in his territory. They were wet, dirty, greasy with neglect. They had callouses on their legs from lying in the dirt so often. I had manage to pat them before. They had been timid, something I hadn’t expected. And again, this time, they were reluctant to come close.

I brought dog biscuits for them and having moved Wilson inside, pat them a little.

I went inside to make coffee and entertained the idea of keeping them. Bringing them inside, bathing them, feeding them and simply not sending them back to their miserable lives.

By the time I had finished my coffee they were gone.

Fire in the hills

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

— Hermann Hesse, Wandering: Notes and Sketches

Four seed sourdough. An experiment.

“Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
for I had wandered off from the straight path.

How hard it is to tell what it was like,
this wood of wilderness, savage and stubborn
(the thought of it brings back all my old fears),

a bitter place! Death could scarce be bitterer.
But if I would show the good that came of it
I must talk about things other than the good.”

― Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy

The Nod

When we’re strangers that pass each other
in the street, it will come down to this tilt
of the head — acknowledging another
version of events set in a new-build
years from now, a mess of a place filled
with books and records, our kids thick as thieves
redefining all notions of mischief.

Perhaps our paths will cross in a city
of seven hills as the light draws your face
out from the bliss of anonymity.
Maybe you’ll be stroking the goose-down nape
of a small child with eyes the exact shade
of those I met across a room at the start
of this pain-in-the-heart, this febrile dance.

Kayo Chingonyi

Missing summer

Night comes so slowly these days. Creeping from the horizon, sunset blush to silver grey, the sky already pricked with stars.

I can hear the creek, that white noise of running water punctured by frogs and crickets and night things.

The cracked limbs of the cypress pines groan and as the wind whips through the giant eucalyptus I think for a moment that it might be have started to rain.

It is impossible to imagine you here.

Amongst the ripped spare tyre, fence post and broken gate junk pile. The cracked window glass and pitted linoleum. What shoes would you wear in the long grass I have yet to mow?

I am at home with these things. The shed door that won’t stay closed, the weatherboard arching off the walls, the mower with the broken light and flat tyre.

These are problems I understand.

These are things that can be mended.