The Magpie is Australia's Bird of the Year, narrowly defeating the Ibis in second place and poor old kookaburra in third. I do happen to love magpies, they often to drop in for a visit. Sometimes if we are up late they stand at the back door and sing for their breakfast.
This is a Magpie story I wrote some years ago.
The Magpie’s Song
Once upon a spring time, this story and a song were hatched.
As three magpie chicks pecked through their shells and spilled into their nest, it was apparent, even to the dimwitted parents that while their first two hatchlings were perfectly ordinary magpies, there was something extra ordinary about the third hatchling…and as the third chick grew feathers… her beauty became apparent for all to see. With feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight, they named her Mirrabooka, after the stars in the night sky.
And so it was that Mirrabooka grew into a bird of spectacular beauty. While the other magpie chicks were learning to catch food and build nests, Mirra was kept in the nest and taught how to preen. Mirra longed to hunt and fly like the other young birds but her parents were only concerned with her appearance so Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight stayed in the nest and preened.
Long after all the all other chicks had left the nest, Mirra’s parents persuaded her to stay behind, so they could bask in the glory of their daughter’s beauty. They even continued feeding Mirra so that her time could be better spent preening.
One day, when Mirra’s parents were sitting on the ground discussing which angle was best for viewing her beauty, a couple of neighbourhood cats pounced on the dimwitted birds and gobbled them all up. Alone in the nest, Mirra preened tears of sadness into her feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight.
Mirra was terribly lonely and she was very, very hungry. The only skill Mirra knew was preening and preening did not fill her belly. Eventually loneliness and hunger drove Mirra from the nest, but her flying was feeble and her hunting skills poor. Mirra called to the other Magpies but they thought her vain and they left her alone. Each night Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight returned to her nest to preen, hungrier and lonelier than the day before.
On the third day Mirra woke to find a scruffy, old magpie sitting in her tree. His feathers were grey rather than black and white and they weren’t smooth and sleek like Mirra’s but sticking out at rather odd angles. The old bird cocked his head and sang. Despite his appearance he had a fine strong voice and Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight listened and preened as the old bird sang.
He sang of flight and beating wings,
Of long fast glides on freezing winds.
He sang of practice and determination,
Skillful maneuvers through hanging branches.
He sang of flying for pure joy,
Of reaching heights only gods enjoy.
Then Mirra with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight, beat her wings and flew. She flew for the learning, she flew for the yearning and she flew for the sheer joy of being a bird.
The next morning Mirra was delighted to find the old magpie still sitting in her tree. Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight listened and preened as he began to sing again.
He sang of worms and early morning,
Foraging for food under leaves fallen.
He sang of patience and keen sight,
Of creeping danger and delectable delight.
He sang of hunting as employ,
Of feeding his soul with pure joy.
Then Mirra with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight, beat her wings and flew and hunted. She hunted for hunger, she hunted in wonder and she hunted for the sheer joy of being a bird.
The following day, after filling her belly, Mirra looked to find the old bird still in her tree. So Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight, listened and preened as he began to sing again.
He sang of friends and companionship,
Of lasting ties and fellowship.
He sang of friends won and lost,
Of what he gained and what it cost.
He sang of care and company,
Mutual respect and harmony.
Then Mirra with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight realised that though the old magpie’s voice was strong and clear, his body was old and his eyes weak, and so she flew and hunted then she shared her food for fellowship, and the sheer joy of companionship.
In the cool of the morning Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight listened and preened as the old bird began to sing once more.
Love & Family
He sang of passion and of love,
Of sweet young partners long since gone.
He sang of romance and delight,
Of responsibility and sacrifice.
He sang of families he loved best,
Of joy and sorrow and empty nests.
Then Mirra looked at the old Magpie and saw his eyes growing dim. As a cold wind blew up and swirled around them she stretched her wing and sheltered him with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight. Together they perched in companionable silence while the winter storm raged around them.
In the morning, Mirra listened… but there was no song, her tree was empty. Below the tree, she found the old magpie, as cold as the frozen winter earth. Then Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feather whiter than starlight flew down and kept vigil, preening the old bird’s feathers with her tears.
As the golden light of the next day dawned, Mirra felt an unfamiliar pressure building…building, building in her chest. Feeling like her heart would burst, Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight gave her friend a parting caress and then took to the sky.
Up and up, she flew, higher and further than she had ever flown before. Mirra flew over gardens and towns, rivers and lakes, over valleys and plains and she flew to the highest mountain and there her chest burst open… and out flew a song;
Hopes & Dreams
And she sang of her friend and his life so swift,
Of her profound love and his great gift.
She sang of her joy and of her sorrow,
Of her hopes and dreams, for tomorrow.
She sang of a young bird lost and alone,
And a friend who found her heart and home.
Mirra sang from the depth and the breadth of her heart and when at last her song was done; she found to her surprise, another Magpie listening. He was a fine, handsome bird. Mirra looked down at her own feathers...she couldn’t remember the last time she had preened. Her feathers were scruffy and dull, but he didn’t see her feathers, he saw Mirra, with heart brighter than sunlight, and heart softer than moonlight …and together they sang:
Love & Joy
And they sang of love fresh and new,
Like mountain streams and morning dew.
They sang of happiness, joy profound,
Of hopes and dreams in each other found.
They sang of life and building nests
And they sang of an old magpie, who was heaven sent.
At last our Government has recognised that all love is equal, and now it will also be recognised as legal. Ulf and I had the honour of performing a handfasting ceremony for my daughter Jessie and her partner Hayley a few days before the announcement. (love has it's own timetable) These two wonderful women celebrated their love, their commitment to love one-another always in front of family & friends. And we found the perfect story to tell at their ceremony which speaks about the awesome power of love.
Love is Love is Love
Lindy: And soon we will celebrate the day, when all love is recognised as equal and legal. For Love is love is love… and heaven knows, the world needs more love. A very wise man Plato once said;
Humans have never understood the power of Love, for if they had they would surely have built noble temples and altars and offered solemn sacrifices; but this is not done, and most certainly ought to be done, since Love is our best friend, our helper, and the healer of the ills which prevent us from being happy.
Plato said that to understand the power of Love, we must understand that our original human nature was not like it is now, Plato tells a very different creation story…
A Very Different Creation Story
Ulf: In the beginning human beings were not singular beings as we are today but a fusion of two beings into one- each of these ancient beings had two sets of arms, two sets of legs, and two faces looking in opposite directions. So of course there were not just two sexes man and woman… There were three manwithman, womanwithman & womanwithwoman. The unified beings of two men were called the Children of the Sun, the second unified being of man and woman, were called the Children of the Moon and the third unified beings of two women called the Children of the Earth.
The power of these original unified human beings was great. So great that the Gods themselves felt threatened. So they looked for a way to end the humans' power without totally destroying them.
Mighty Zeus cast down his thunderbolt and split these unified-beings in two. Alas, not only reducing their power but rendering them incomplete, so that for evermore each half would long and search for their missing part. … And if by chance they found one another again they would throw their arms about one another, desperately trying, to be one united being again.
The Ancient Desire
This ancient desire is imbued in all of us. Today We still seek to return to our original double nature, reuniting two into one, and thus healing the state of humankind. Each of us when separated, having one side only, is always seeking our other half.
Those whose original nature lies with the Children of the Sun, are men who are drawn to other men. Those from the Children of the Moon, are men and women drawn to one another. And those from the Children of the Earth are women who love other women.
And when one of us meets our other half, we are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and would not be out of the other's sight even for a moment. We pass our whole lives together, desiring that we should be melted into one, to spend our lives as one person instead of two, and so that after our death there will be one departed soul instead of two; this is the very expression of our ancient need.
For our human nature was whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called Love.
Congratulations and much love to the beautiful couple.
PS: We'll do the legal stuff after the honeymoon
My home is across the road from a lagoon, it’s an old house with million-dollar views of the water and bush. It has a rusty tin roof, it there’s a large hole in the ceiling and it rains in my kitchen. I even have vines growing through my bedroom wall, and I kind of like that, but what I don’t like unwanted house guests. They always arrive with the first autumn cold snap. That’s when they move across the road seeking the warmth of a family home, my family home.
Unwanted House Guest
I knew I had a rat in the house, I read it in the runes-his little black dropping on the kitchen bench. This particular rat was sneaking in at night, right under the sleepy noses of our two dogs Patch and Pixie. Rat would help himself to a midnight snack, making sure always to leave his little black calling cards on the kitchen bench for me to find in the morning. Even then, I had noble intentions, I didn’t want to kill him merely remove and release him back into the wild.
At the local hardware store, I approached the expert handyman and asked for a humane rat trap. When his raucous laughter died down, he explained. “No such thing luv, just kill the nasty buggers, funniest thing I ever heard being humane rat trap”. He handed me a very ugly instrument of death.
That night after the kids had gone to bed, I sat with the trap….To kill or not to kill Would it kill cleanly and swiftly? What if it didn’t kill cleanly, would rat suffer? What if he was still alive but incapacitated, would I have the guts to finish him off…. Would there be blood and guts?
Late that night, instead of setting the trap, I decided to give rat three warnings, verbal not written. “Rat, you have three days to leave the house or I will set the trap.” The next morning, I found his little black runes once more. The second night “Rat you have two days to leave the house or I will set the trap” Again he mocked me with his droppings. The third night “Rat, please, please, please leave the house or tomorrow I set the trap”.
Alas, the third morning dawned with sun shining on those little vile black bullets scattered with such disdain over my kitchen bench. As with all unwanted house guests and relatives who outstay their welcome, drastic action was called for……
I baited the trap with organic peanut butter, my conscious smoothed with the thought, rat would enjoy a wholesome last meal of crunchy peanut buttery goodness. I pulled back on the spring, set the trap... then to sleep perchance to dream.
SNAP! 3am, a scream and the scrambling of paws. I raced to the kitchen and beheld the grisly scene…one bloodied rat running in circles dragging the trap, trailing bright red blood on the white kitchen floor. The two dogs stood in the corner of the kitchen, they looked at rat then each other “Wouldst thou put an end to this foul deed? Nay I shall not sully myself”. Their eyes turned to mine. The burden was mine and mine alone.
Clad only in knickers, I stood wondering what the hell I was going to do…when rat ran drunkenly out of the kitchen still trailing blood and headed for the lounge. Spurred into action, I grabbed my trusty broom and nudged rat towards the back door, but with every touch of the broom rat screamed, screamed! I didn’t know rats could scream! Nudge scream, nudge scream. Every scream cut like a knife. Eventually I pushed rat to the back door where I putted him out into the yard. He flew in one direction and the trap in another. I slammed the door shut. Then I returned to mop up the grizzly crime scene in the kitchen under the accusing glare of the dogs. “Yet Who would have thought the old rat to have had so much blood in him.”
"Out Damn Spot"
I washed my hands over and over again, “Out damn spot! Will these hands ne’er be clean? No more my lord no more”
Well the next year another cold snap brought more unwelcome guests. I couldn’t face the trauma of madam guillotine again and so I after three verbal warnings I put out rat bait. I felt awful, I didn’t want anything to suffer, not even rat, but I had a family to protect. Consumed with guilt I laid out the poison…
Now it says on the poison packet that after consuming rat bait, rats will go outside to look for water. Perhaps my rat was illiterate,or a lateral thinker, perhaps a vertical thinker, because my rat decided to die in the bathroom ceiling. At first there was just a whiff of something not quite right…and then after an unseasonably hot day with the sun on the rusty tin roof, the smell of death and decay, “all the perfumes of Arabia would not sweeten this little bathroom”. On that first day, you could hold your breath long enough to use the toilet but then came the flies! The room turned black overnight. A black seething mass covered every surface in the room, maggots dripped from the ceiling vent. We couldn’t use the bathroom for 10 days, and the smell lingered even longer than Lady Macbeth’s damn spot. It seemed a fitting punishment for my heinous crime. “Will these hands ne’er be clean? No more o that my lord no more o that”
The next year a new mega hardware store opened…I asked the young handyman What do you have to have to kill rats?” “We have large range of humane rat traps, mam” he admonished and he showed me a whole aisle with a dazzling bright selection. They looked very modern indeed, lovely steel and glass apartments for rats and mice. I perused the shelf, reading all the information, gauging each humanitarian ranking. This wasn’t an instrument of rat torture this was a rat condominium. My nobility restored, I hurried to catch my rat and return him to the wild.
That night I placed the organic chocolate in the condo, I rushed out in the morning eager to find my house guest but he was a no show. The next night I tempted him with the pungent aroma of Italian Parmesan cheese… but still no rat. The third night I went all out wooing rat, with Parmesan cheese, dark chocolate and a bottle top filled with hunter valley’s finest chardonnay. I drifted off to sleep confident rat would fall for my gastronomic charms…
Five Star Restaurant
The next morning, I peered through the glass window of the rat condo, no rat! The chocolate, cheese and wine were all gone to! It wasn’t a rat trap! It was a 5-star rat restaurant.
And so now with the end of another summer looming, we catch glimpses of pointy noses and long tails running around the outside of the house knowing the first cold spell will send them in to share in our food and the warmth of our cozy home once again. Again, I will be faced with the question to kill or not to kill. And if to kill, what manner of death should I deal? I know there is a lesson for me here, is it about guilt? Perhaps it’s about taking responsibility for my actions, but what if it’s bigger than that? For the life of me I don’t know, maybe I should consult a priest, or a fortune teller… or perhaps just ask rat, and he can spell it out for me on the kitchen bench in little black runes.
This is a story of life, death, everything in between and what comes after. It is the story of Warren Zevon, American singer song writer, death expert and me.
I was studying for my arts degree at Newcastle University in2005. I had just begun the subject “the sociology of death dying and human mortality” when I suffered a loss. It wasn’t the death of a loved one but the death of a significant relationship.
I had fallen in love with a gifted psychic. As well as my partner, he was my teacher in all things supernatural. And he was a great teacher and soon I experienced my first clear physic vision. Sadly, he not such a great boyfriend, as my vision was of him in bed with another woman. Our short but intense love affair was over, dead. Have you ever felt your heart ripped out of your chest and stomped on?
Death, Dying & Human Mortality
Well it was in this state I dragged myself to my “Death, Dying and Human Mortality” class, grieving for every bit of my frail human mortality. My class was to pursue individual major studies on some aspect of death dying and human mortality… Fellow classmates were enthusiastically picking their topics; suicide poetry, roadside memorials and death rites were a few. I however, was concentrating on getting out of bed and trying to eat.
Then I met the late great Warren Zevon. My brother-in-law Jack, gave me a cd, Warren Zevon’s “The Wind”. I played it…and I played it and played it. Here was a musician who understood loss. Warren Zevon wrote and recorded The Wind, his 15th cd as he was dying.
Warren wrote and sang songs of goodbye, of regrets, and of his thoughts on impending death. The songs touched a chord deep within, they gave me comfort. I remember after every song, shutting my eyes and taking a moment to say “thank you Warren”. Not only did I find comfort… but a subject for my major study; Warren Zevon.
Werewolves of London
Now I don’t imagine too of you would be familiar with the name Warren Zevon, but you might remember his hit song “Werewolves of London”, and he wrote hits recorded by many other artists. Warren was credited by his peers as one of America’s greatest ever singer song writers.
With a renewed sense of purpose, I set about researching the life, times and death of Warren Zevon. I listened to his songs, all 15 albums over and over, day in day out, much to the dismay of my children who despaired at my taste of music and state of mind. As I researched, I realised that it wasn’t just his last cd that was an exposition on death but in fact more than half the songs in his 15-album career concerned death. On every album cover and every poster Warren had the picture of a cigarette smoking skull. Irreverent, sardonic, poignant and thought provoking, Warren explored every manner of death, dying and human mortality through his songs.
Warren grew up with death. One of the first stories his grandmother told him was how his birth had almost killed his mother. Warren’s father was a Russian gangster with a history of violence, who courted death daily. And hanging on the lounge room wall was a portrait of Warren’s uncle and name sake, a dead war hero.
Poor Poor Pitiful Me
Warren, a classically trained musician, embraced rock and roll music and the rock and roll lifestyle of excess. Warren attempted to emulate his uncle by dying a young hero, a young rock and roll hero. Besides drugs and booze, Warren also played Russian roulette with real bullets. At this stage of my break up I could empathise with his death wish, “Poor, poor pitiful me. Poor, poor pitiful me, poor, poor pitiful me!” - that song particularly resonated with my post break up mood.
After a few albums and some years, of exploring violence, excess and death, Warren didn’t die, he went to rehab. Warren’s songs then reflected his ongoing fight with alcohol and drugs while I battled my own post relationship demons, with songs like “Accidently like a Martyr. The hurt gets worse and the heart gets harder”
Themes of death and dying continued to inform Warren Zevon’s songs. As the reckless years of his youth and addiction passed warren’s songs began to reflect his concern in broader social issues such as death by war, pollution, domestic violence and the breakdown of society. At this time of my post breakup blues the song the song that resonated was “Splendid isolation, I don’t need no-one, Splendid Isolation”
Life'll Kill Ya
When Warren turned fifty his thoughts turned to sickness, decrepitude and decay. His 14th album “Life’ll Kill Ya” was a hilarious, slightly scary and somewhat disturbing look at old age and dying. Out of all the ways to die, Warren said it was sickness and doctors that scared him the most.
Ironically it was Warren’s song “My Shit’s Fuck Up” about a belated trip to the doctor, which proved prophetically and fatally correct.
"Well, I went to the doctor
I said, "I'm feeling kind of rough"
"Let me break it to you, son"
Your shit's fucked up."
I said, "my shit's fucked up?"
Well, I don't see how-"
He said, "The shit that used to work-
It won't work now."
At warren’s first visit to a doctor in twenty years he was given the diagnosis, inoperable lung cancer, three months to live. Well and truly fucked, with a death sentence hanging over his head Warren set out to write and record his last album to say a few goodbyes and share his final thoughts on death and dying.
Home alone one night, I sat on the wooden floor in front of the TV and watched the documentary of the making of Warren Zevon’s final album The Wind. It follows Warren’s struggles to write and record the album as the cancer ravaged his body. The first song he wrote for the album “Keep me in your heart for a while” was the last one he recorded. Too sick to record in the studio, he recorded it at home on the lounge surrounded by his family and the paraphernalia of death.
Shadows are fallin' and I'm runnin' out of breath
Keep me in your heart for a while
If I leave you it doesn't mean I love you any less
Keep me in your heart for a while
When you get up in the mornin' and you see that crazy sun
Keep me in your heart for a while
There's a train leavin' nightly called "When All is Said and Done"
Keep me in your heart for a while
Sometimes when you're doin' simple things around the house
Maybe you'll think of me and smile
You know I'm tied to you like the buttons on your blouse
Keep me in your heart for a while
Hold me in your thoughts
Take me to your dreams
Touch me as I fall into view
When the winter comes
Keep the fires lit
And I will be right next to you
Engine driver's headed north up to Pleasant Stream
Keep me in your heart for a while
These wheels keep turnin' but they're runnin' out of steam
Keep me in your heart for a while
My tears flowed, and as they did, several shells sitting on the TV flew off then landed in my lap, then some ethereal fingers caressed my cheek …. Warren.
The weeks passed in Death Dying and human mortality, I continued listening to his songs, researching, writing and discussing my project in class, all the time comforted by his presence.
As I handed in my finished project, Warren Zevon. Songs of Finitude, I thought it only right to acknowledge Warren’s presence and influence throughout the entire project. So, with some trepidation I raised the spectre of supernatural with my lecturer “Warren Zevon has been helping me” I said, to which my lecturer replied “Oh yes, he was standing by your left shoulder every class.”
Sometime later I received MY grade, a high distinction, but it wasn’t about the grade because it wasn’t just an academic study, it wasn’t even a study about dying. Warren sung me from grief and loss, to love and life. And he taught me, death isn’t the end, there are no ends, just verses in the exquisite, eternal, song of life… and that song is love.
And my project, well that was a collaboration of love between Warren Zevon, American singer song writer, friend and me.
Songs By Warren Zevon.
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.