1 thousand, 2 thousand, 3 thousand, 4 thousand, 5 thousand, 6 thousand.
It was Easter 1980, I was 19, married with a 1-year old baby and spending the holiday parachute training with 60 young officers from the Duntroon Military College in the ACT.
Some of you might wonder, what a tender young mother of 19 was doing parachuting with 60 soldiers. But the question I was asking myself was, how did I end up a 19 year old mother living in Canberra?
Not that I regretted motherhood for a second, but it just hadn’t been my plan….my plan was to buy a kombi van, drive north to join a commune in Hippy central tropical Nimbin, tie dye, make soap and live in bare feet. But there I was in cold Canberra, our seat of government, as far away from Nimbin you can get in climate and ideology, knee deep in nappies, and wearing two pairs of sox and boots. My plan in tatters, my sense of identity shattered and my self-esteem flattened… that’s why I was lining up in the ranks of our defense forces finest young men, taking a leap of faith…to restore my faith in me.
Every year the local skydiving club hosted the royal Australian army’s Duntroon officer cadets’ compulsory recreational parachute training camp. And that was the weekend I signed up for training. Our Instructor was Major Andrew Harris of the S.A.S, the special armed services- our elite trained killers, the toughest of the tough, the bravest of the brave and in major Harris’s case the macho-est of the macho.
One of the first things he taught us was the PLF, the parachute landing fall. In those days, we only had round parachutes and they came down hard and fast. So, to avoid breaking bones you had to land with your feet and legs together at a slight angle then roll onto your thighs and hips to help distribute the shock. Major Harris had us jumping off the back of an army truck to practice. However, It was painfully obvious that I couldn’t do a PLF to save my life.
The 1 thousand, 2 thousand was our parachute drill. 1 thousand you arched your back, arms and legs out to fall stably, 2 thousand look and grab ripcord, 3 thousand pull rip cord, 4 thousand roll slightly to see if parachute deployed, 5 thousand grip reserve ripcord and 6 thousand pull reserve rip cord. The drill I had, I still have it, what I didn’t have was the strength to open a reserve parachute. My partner repacked the reserve chutes yearly and he often ran me thru the drill on the ground with a reserve chute which needed repacking but I in all the years I skydived I never managed to open one reserve chute on the ground.
Despite my lack of grunt power and the injuries I sustained just falling of the back of a truck, I was allowed to jump (Remember this was 1980 before health & safety seemed important.)
The day of our first jump dawned, a chilly Canberra morning, crunchy frost under foot and air so crisp you could almost snap it. My nerves were so tight you could have snapped me! I wasn’t alone, the soldiers’ fear shrouded the drop zone like fog.
Time to kit up, leg straps check, chest straps check, helmet check, “all right soldier in the plane”. I waddled over to the plane looking more like a turtle than a burly soldier. My fears crowded into the plane with my fears, I thought this could be the last time I see my daughter. But as the plane ascended into the crisp blue sky a calmness descended on me.
Jump Run: Go
On the first jump run, Major Harris ordered power down, the plane backed off its speed and he sent the first soldier out. Hand over hand with military precision, the young soldier climbed out and hung off the plane’s strut. The Major yelled “go” but the soldier hung on, The Major screamed “go”, still the soldier clung to the plane, Major Harris roared “GO”, and still the stricken soldier hung on for dear life. In a change of strategy Major Harris called to the pilot for “power on” and the reluctant paratrooper was blown away.
Second jump run and my turn. “Power off, all right girlie out you go” Unlike the soldier before I was slow and clumsy climbing out but when Major Harris ordered go, I went! 1 thousand 2 thousand three.....my chute opened…. I enjoyed a few minutes of euphoria till I come back to earth with a thud…. I jumped up, waved to the crowd and smiled… then made my way to the hospital to check for fractures… luckily there were none just a massively bruised pride.
While most skydivers claim they lose their fear after a number of jumps, I never did. Though I continued skydiving for many years, while I was on the ground there was fear, I would always think, this could be the last time I see my children but once in the air, I was ready for that leap. Luckily during those years I graduated to the modern and softer landing square parachute….which was a great relief as I never mastered the parachute landing fall…and I still hadn’t managed to open a reserve chute.
One hot summer’s day when the heat was rising off the tarmac in shimmering waves at the Australian National Skydiving Championships, I was jumping out of an old propellered DC3 with 49 other skydivers. This many skydivers in the air at one time posed all new dangers. You could be hit by someone in freefall and killed. You could open your parachute, be hit by someone in freefall and killed or you could open your parachute and slam into someone else who has just opened their parachute and killed. But 50 of us took that leap of faith.
Do Or Die
We exited the plane at 15,000 feet, giving us over a minute’s freefall in which we were to perform numerous formations. At 3000ft we broke contact and I headed for a clear space to open my chute. At 2000 feet I pulled my ripcord…nothing, I tried again, nothing-terminal velocity, seconds to impact and time stopped. I remember thinking “SHIT this is it, do or die” (my military training), The emergency drill kicked in, I took hold of the emergency ripcord in both hands and pulled.
My emergency chute had an interesting history. It was secondhand and known locally as the “eighth of an inch chute”. You see its previous owner, deceased, had neglected to pull the emergency ripcord all the way out. Accident investigators found that a mere eight of an inch stood between his life and death.
I pulled again and again…. The chute snapped open. Somehow, I had found the strength.
I guess it would be true to say that all my parachute jumps had been physical leaps of faith…and though there was fear, it doesn’t compare to the fear that comes with life’s metaphorical leaps of faith, starting relationships, ending relationships, changing jobs, moving home. In comparison skydiving is easy, make the decision then leap. No time to wonder did I make the right decision, no time for regrets, definitely no turning back and once you leap, the outcome is known within minutes, or if you are unlucky seconds.
But metaphorical leaps take so much longer to land. They allow so much time for agonizing and that’s when the fear really kicks in. Did I make the right decision/ the wrong decision, what if it goes wrong, what if what if what if… time stops as the what ifs immobilize you…. And with the metaphorical leaps you can even turn around and scramble back on the airplane and continue on as before, safe and sound… but long plane rides though safe n sound eventually feel confined and uncomfortable…..and at some time you are forced to stretch your legs…. just like life sometimes forces you to stretch.
My Soul Called GO
I recently made the biggest metaphorical leap of my life… but when my soul called GO, I went. The fear was overwhelming. The “what ifs” and “what have I done’s” plunged me into free fall. Not a nice stable free fall but a messy out of control flailing decent-terminal velocity, seconds to impact, then, grace and courage unfolded like an emergency chute. And I landed that leap when I married my new Swedish husband Ulf. And now we take another leap of faith as we look for a country to call home but happily that leap of faith is a tandem leap.
The Journey Begins
This journey began in 2011 when I googled the International School of Storytelling, UK. When the photo of Emerson College appeared on the screen my heart burst into song. I didn’t know how or why, but I knew I was going there; my GPS had been set.
But I wasn’t to take the quickest route there and the school said they were not taking students outside of the EU. But I persisted and encouraged by my terminally ill mum, I embarked on an email campaign stating all the credible and incredible reasons why I should be allowed to attend.
After 2 years, on Christmas eve 2013, I was finally accepted into their flagship course “Storytelling as Performance Art” and excitedly I booked my flights and accommodation. But then I received an email from head teacher and master storyteller Ashley Ramsden, “if you haven’t booked don’t, this isn’t a suitable course for you because you don’t have the prerequisite of attending earlier courses, “too late coming ready or not”, I replied. Ashley said the pixies must addled his brain when he rubber-stamped my application.
So, with my late mum’s blessing (and eventually Ashley’s) and with the funds from mum’s estate, I flew to England. It was midsummer, and perhaps it was the pixies again or midsummer madness but I was filled with joy, dancing through the summer country, singing to the fairies. There was a deep sense of coming home.
In the storytelling class of eight, there were eight nationalities, a blonde Columbian, a small Geordie Jew, a young Japanese warrior, an Irish pirate queen, a Danish Valkyrie, a Mexican goddess and a tall serious Swedish storyteller.
Beware of the Woods
In those first days, I was walking everywhere barefoot to connect with the English soil and I soon noticed there was another barefoot enthusiast in the group, Ulf. The rather shy Swedish storyteller, eventually asked if he could walk with me and as we climbed over the stile and headed into the woods- I remember hearing a little voice saying, “Danger! If you go into the woods with that man, things will never be the same ever again” but I wasn’t some naive fairy tale character!
Our first walk was a two-hour barefoot stroll meandering through the woods and down the hidden paths of the summer country. The second was a three hour hike over hills and dales and through paddocks of stinging nettles. The third walk was an epic four-hour barefoot journey with a much needed “stop revive survive” at my first real old English pub.
It did appear at times that Ulf didn’t always know exactly where we were, or where we were going, but some-how he always managed to get us home…. eventually. On these glorious twilight walks we exchanged stories and discovered a beautiful soul connection.
While Ulf introduced me to the enchanted countryside, English pubs and East Sussex Best Bitter, I introduced Ulf to the pixies, and the pixies to Ulf
Walks, Pixies and Work
Of course, it wasn’t all walks and pixies, there was hard work, as we each had to present an hour plus long performance for the public at the end of the course. It was confronting, difficult and oh so wonderful. Ulf and I rehearsed together, Ulf brought his wisdom and experience and I provided the pixies. The weeks flew by and our friendship grew.
After the hectic final week of performances, in the last days of the course, I had time to reflect on my 5 weeks at Emerson. The learning, the striving, the walking, the journey and the wonderful man. I couldn’t imagine not seeing that tall whimsical Swedish storyteller again. We both sensed that together, we held the potential for something wonderful.
On our final walk, a five-hour trek through fading golds of summer harvest, Ulf surprised the two of us saying… “I think it would be good idea if you married me”.
However, the next day Ulf left the college for Sweden, without my answer. I was in shock. My stomach was churning and churning, my thoughts were turning and turning, my heart was yearning and yearning and my big toe was throbbing and throbbing as almost tore the top of it when I was packing.
By the time I picked up my hire car from London… I was a mess, I didn’t know what to do, I wasn’t sure of my feelings… all I knew was that I needed to go to Findhorn in the north of Scotland. It was another irresistible urge, the same global pixie signal(GPS) which led me to Emerson. I didn’t know how or why but I set the hire car’s GPS for Scotland and drove.
I discovered European cars have the indicators on the opposite side of the steering wheel. I was already confused and this just compounded it. I spent that first day driving, flicking on the wipers every time I indicated and indicating when it rained
Scotland-the Long Way
And I had to indicate a hell of a lot, on the first day I drove 5 hours and ended up only an hour or so from London. In my defense, I was still in shock; from my mangled toe and the unexpected marriage proposal. I was in a strange country, I had no idea what direction I was going, or where I was…. But it did seem like I was driving a long way without getting very far.
When I pulled into a small petrol station and asked the young attendant if I was heading in the right direction for Scotland, her face might have given me a clue that something wasn’t quite right. I mean I had heard that English roads were narrow and quaint but every road??? All the way to Scotland??? I was ready to murder my GPS as she said for the 366th time in a posh English voice “In one hundred yards enter the roundabout and take the second exit.”
It was a slow trip to Scotland, an incredibly slow trip to Scotland. If I had been in a better state of mind I might have enjoyed the scenery, if I had been in a better state of mind I might have thought to check the car’s GPS settings. Even glimpses of large straight motorways in the distance just added to my confusion.
My hire car’s GPS reflected my emotional state…
Fairy Godmothers do Exist in Findhorn
At last I arrived in Findhorn, spiritual home of the Scottish wee folk, only to find everything booked out. Well, I did what all tired stressed out tourists do; chucked a temper tantrum, I jumped up and down; “Pixies, if you want me here, give me a place to stay now or I leave” and then “poof”, a woman appeared and said, “Are you looking for a room, I have a room”. Obviously, Scottish fairy godmothers do exist.
Sheepishly I followed to her beautiful B &B and the first thing I noticed on her wall was a photo of the Blue Mountains, then she told me about her connection to Australia and how she met a Swedish man on a short course and married him…and that’s when I heard my GPS giggle.
Findhorn is a magical place. Every time I felt overwhelmed by emotions I’d walk outside, and tree or a rock would call for me sit and rest. I even found my ancestors in a graveyard on the banks of the Findhorn river and I sat with David and Margaret and poured out my heart. They listened as only great great, great, great grandparents can. My ancestors and beautiful landscape of Findhorn calmed my mind and let me know my heart; I reconnected with my internal GPS; my Global Pixie Signal and it was calling for a complete change of direction.
Could I, would I really leave my old comfortable life in Australia for a new life with a man from the other side of the planet, who I‘d only known for 5 weeks?
You can ignore your GPS’ instructions…. but if you do she will tell you to do a U-turn at the first opportunity, and if you don’t do the U-turn she will simply recalculate the route to get you where she wants to take you. So, I went with my Global Pixie Signal. She had bought me to the joy of Emerson College in England, and then to the peace of Findhorn in Scotland and now she was guiding me Sweden and marriage.
New Setting on the GPS
So, with the new destination on my internal GPS, I took some time to check the settings on my hire car’s GPS…yes it had been preset to avoid all major roads and motor ways so I reset it too and “poof” the motorways magically appeared. I drove down the motorway back to Heathrow and caught the plane to Sweden. And we married 4 months later.
I highly recommend following your own Global Pixie Signal. You can take the direct route or the scenic route, it doesn’t matter. Only on the scenic route be prepared for roundabouts, lots of roundabouts but both routes will get you to the same place eventually. And keep a look out for your GPS’ “POI’s” or “places of interest” Because there just may be a “Person Of Importance” there, and he’s sure to be pure pixie magic.
The Forest of Fairytales
The Swedish forest, so very different from our leathery blue grey bush here with its brash cacophony of cicadas, cockatoos and kookaburras. The Swedish forest is dark, soft and hushed. Tall spruce and pine stretch into the sky like ancient battlements… beech and birch leaves glow green and gold in the shadows, blueberry bushes droop with plump ripe fruit and soft moss muffles all footsteps.
Dark soft hushed, the forest of fairytales ….
It was just such a forest I found myself living on the edge of this year. The forest was just metres from the back door of the folk school where my new Swedish a husband and I lived. I wasn’t surprised when local news reported wolves in our area, as I fully expected to see little red riding hood skipping through the trees at any moment.
A 5km circular walking track wound its way around the forest from our door down past a lonely lake and back again. Some days I would walk the path, content to tred barefoot where countless others had gone before but sometimes I stood on the edge of that forest… and it called me to explore its mysterious dark depths. And so, like Little Red, I was lured from the well-worn path.
Bigger on the Inside
The path which circumnavigated the forest was only 5 kilometers long, so that meant the forest was… I don’t know, smallish? (I studied humanities not mathematics) And indeed some days it seemed very small. The forest called and I would step off the path onto the royal green carpet of moss before me. I would wade through the blueberries bushes into the dark cathedral of trees. Somedays, I could walk through the forest and be out the other side in just ten minutes but other days, I would wander over verdant hills & through shaded valleys, lost for hours. You see this forest was bigger on the inside.
I have always loved walking in nature, connecting with the trees and the elemental forces. However, in Sweden, walking in nature moved to a whole new level. I enrolled in my friend Caroline’s online course “Walking with Heart” and it focused on opening to childlike wonder, engaging the senses, and allowing gratitude to flow.
How do you open to childlike wonder? You experience everything as if for the first time, seeing it, smelling it feeling it, touching it appreciating it, talking to it and yes, listening for the replies. You explore everything through the rose tinted magnifying glasses of possibilities. It’s being mindful of the magic and the miracles in nature. And with this wonder, I experienced the forest through my heart.
One day I was following a trail of golden chanterelle mushrooms and they led me to a valley I had never seen before. With my golden treasure spilling from my arms I sat within a stone circle that unknown hands had formed. Tiny forest frogs no bigger than my thumbnail leapt for their lives as I, the giant walked through their Lilliput land.
Connecting heart to heart
Another day when the forest called I went looking for the stone circle again but instead found the ruins of an ancient building. I sat on the lichen decorated wall plucking ripe blueberries and popping them in my mouth. I closed my eyes and imagined who might the ancient builders been, Vikings perhaps? I sensed a presence, the ancient stonemason? I opened my eyes, a deer and her fawn stood before me, for a long moment her deep brown eyes looked into mine. And in that time, it felt we had connected heart to heart, and I was welcomed there.
Of course, there were days when I forgot the childlike wonder, and I walked through the forest like I was bustling down a city street. I would circumnavigate the forest and realised that I hadn’t seen a single tree. One evening, I’d been bulldozing through the forest, when I stopped and realised... I was laughing at myself when I saw a flash of light in a tree. Intrigued I wandered over and stood at the base of the tall pine. The tree showered me head to my feet in peace and from the earth joy snaked from my toes to my head. Then I heard grunting and snorting from the thicket in front, Wild Boar, more dangerous than wolves, so the Swedes say. Part of me screamed RUN! But the other part said Chill, its fine, you are welcome here. And I stood with the tree as two wild boar snuffled by.
I loved the generosity and bounty of the forest. To take a basket and gather berries, wild berries, rosehips and mushrooms was an absolute delight. The sitting and gathering invoked a sense of timelessness in me and awoke an inner ancient feminine flame. I began cooking and baking with a joy I have never experienced before or since. I baked bread, made rosehip soup and cooked blueberry jam & blueberry sauce, baked blueberry cakes and blueberry crumbles, all with the sense of wonder that the forest had freely gifted me all her bounty.
Early in September, the beeches leaves hung like golden hearts from the trees. It was the day after my mum’s birthday and two years since she died. She would have loved the forest and I wished that she could walk with me. I stood there in the dappled sunlight and shut my eyes. Instantly I was transported back to garden of my childhood under the massive eucalyptus that shaded the backyard, with the comforting sound of mum in the kitchen, mum was so near. When I opened my eyes, I felt her, right there beside me laughing.
Walking to Bliss
We wandered, whither the wind took us deeper into the forest. I told her all that had happened, about married life with my new Swedish husband, about the magical Swedish forest. And while we walked and laughed, I over-flowed with happiness, in a state of bliss. As we came to a rise in the forest, we stopped, I felt the invitation, the pull… here was a threshold. I felt the beckoning to step across, to lose myself. To lose myself… in oblivion? Oneness, nothingness or was it everythingness?
Perhaps I wasn’t ready to let go of my body, perhaps I wasn’t ready to let go of my identity. Perhaps I wanted to linger longer with mum. Perhaps it was an invitation to the great spiritual awakening. Perhaps it was a doorway to the elemental worlds. I don’t know for sure but I do know I spent the best day ever with my mum in that Swedish forest. And who knows, maybe one day, I will wander again whither the wind blows and that doorway will again open, and maybe, just maybe this time I’ll step through.
Did you do anything to commemorate your 40th birthday? I marked my 40th with few small acts of rebellion. You see at 18, I was married with a daughter, at 23 I had 2 daughters and by 30, three daughters….much too busy to rebel back then. So on my 40th birthday I rebelled with a divorce, a tattoo and a nose piercing, … and when I looked in the mirror at the nose stud I knew I was thumbing my nose at the men in my life, an ex-husband and a father who couldn’t love me... (they both really disliked tattoos but they especially hated nose piercings)
My ex-husband said he loved me, he seemed to love beer and pubs a hell of lot more than me. And my father? Well, perhaps he was a product of his generation... but not the father of my dreams. I longed for a father that would play games. A father that would hug and kiss me, a father who would tell me stories and say “I love you, Lindy”. A father who just wanted to spend time with me.
But dad was not a father to play tickles or ball, dad was not a father to chat or talk, or kiss and hug and hangout. He was a good man, he provided for his family, he was of sober habits except on Anzac day, when perhaps he remembered things he wanted to forget. Yes, dad was good man, but he just didn’t have much of a relationship with children. Mum reasoned that dad had never actually been a child himself. An illness had robbed him of his childhood, while his brother was playing sport, dad was cloistered at home. Mum reckoned dad grew straight from toddler to adult with all haste and seriousness.
Not Much of a Talker
Dad was great with babies and quite good with toddlers but after that? He just didn’t know how to play or talk with children. Our conversations were limited to he “good evening Lindy” when he came home from work and “good night Lindy” when I went to bed. Dad never came to watch me play softball or perform in plays, and Dad didn’t come on family holidays because he didn’t like the beach, surf, camping and I thought, perhaps he just didn’t like me.
I only remember two conversations, one about tomatoes, and one when I was 39 and I told dad I was getting a divorce… “good" he said, "I never liked the bastard anyway”.
Dad had a massive stroke a few years later, and the whole family, my mum 2 sisters and brother our kids spent the next 4 days in the hospital with him. Luckily for dad he was unconscious because he would have hated the noise. And dad’s funeral was huge, they had to rig up a video link to the church hall because the church was over flowing. So many people I didn't know stood up and told wonderful stories about my father and I learnt more about him in that hour than my whole of life. it seemed everyone knew him, but me.
Dad, On a Beach?
I was a little surprised when, one day when a clairvoyant told me my father wanted to talk to me, I was a little skeptical, dad talk to me? And then she said, dad suggested I should imagine myself on a beach, beside a campfire and he would come and talk to me. My dad, on a beach, a campfire, talking with me? I knew the woman was a charlatan because she definitely wasn’t channeling my father
Still, the thought of having a heart to heart with dad was tempting….so that night, I lay in bed I breathing deeply and allowed my thoughts to drift down to the beach in front of the campfire. And the fire fanned my memories.
I was about 4 or 5, very young. I had been sick in bed for a couple of days. I don’t remember what I had, but I was in mum and dad’s bed during the day, so it must have been a real illness because mum didn’t let you in their bed if she thought you were malingering. Dad came home that night and with his usual “Good evening, Lindy” but then he sat on the bed and gave me a small parcel. Inside was a small blue plastic bambi standing on a pedestal. Elastic held the jointed dear together and dad showed me how to press the bottom of the pedestal to make bambi nod, bow and even dance. I loved it
I woke the next morning to the precious memory of dad’s gift. When I looked in the bathroom mirror I saw that my nose stud was half out of my nose, up till then, not one stud had ever fallen out. They are so tiny that if it falls out they are impossible to find. I poked it back in without thought, but all day I felt the warm glow of dad’s gift.
The second night, I drifted to the beach to meet my father. Again my memories were ignited by the campfire, this time my memories were of food. We were catching the train, mum my sisters brother and I, into Sydney to meet dad for dinner at the Cahil’s restaurant at the base of the Centrepoint Tower… … it was a family restaurant that had something for everyone, a carvery, Chinese, seafood and my favourite, Chicken in a Basket. There was something very exotic when i was eight, about eating fried chicken and chips out of a basket instead of a plate.
After dinner we stopped at Daryl Lee’s sweet shop and dad bought us each a small jar of boiled lollies, Bo Peeps which we ate on the way home. I gave dad my black aniseed ones to eat because I didn’t like those. Then the memories flowed to I Christmas. Dad made the Christmas pudding and hid sixpences in them and though I hated Christmas pudding, dad always made sure a sixpence or two found its way to me.
I woke feeling nourished by my memories. When I went to the bathroom and again I noticed my nose stud was hanging out. “Funny” I thought, that’s two days in a row, then I pushed it back in and continued my day, filling full with memories.
The third night I again breathed myself onto the beach in front of the campfire, as the embers glowed, the memories flowed. I was 12 or 13 and I at beside dad in church for the Sunday service, at the keyboard of the grand pipe organ. As dad played the organ, the choir and the congregation sang, and my heart soared for he played the hymn, the Cat Stevens version of Morning has Broken. He must have known it was my favourite.
When morning broke, I woke with the song on my lips and the warmth of dad’s music in my heart. Then looking in the bathroom mirror I saw my nose stud was gone. I checked my bed, not there, I looked on the floor, nowhere to be seen. I jumped in the shower thinking about the nose stud and what it represented, a thumbing of the nose against the men who could not love me, and I wondered if dad, had somehow put an ghostly finger up my nose and pushed it out, to make some sort of point? In the shower I asked “So dad, is that everything you wanted to say, are we good now?”
The Language of Love
As I walked into my shag piled bedroom, one beam of light shone through the window lighting up a few dancing motes of dust and that one beam of light fell on the tiniest silver sliver in that deep forest of shag pile… my nose stud and I finally understood. Dad loved me. My father didn’t speak my language of love with the words & stories I longed to hear, or the hugs and kisses I desired, or the games I wanted to play but his love had always been there; expressed simply and quietly with a small blue bambi, a few sixpences and a Cat Stevens’ song.
A heart to heart blog on life, spirituality, storytelling & stories.