Being called (back) by place

It was in reading Deborah Bird Rose’s most recent blog post Site Fidelity, that I was reminded of a conversation with a friend earlier in the year.

S and I were sitting on the verandah of the ‘new’ cafe in the Botanic Gardens. The moving shade of the rain trees above us formed dancing shadows on our bodies. In this light and in the thickness of the ‘build down’, we began to talk about place. I had just written about my longing to go back to Wamoon (“I can see the sea, it is a lovely blue”); to be in the crystal blue waters and speak with the mountain again. S told me that she too had felt called to be in place, many places, all over the world. As our conversation dropped into that other space (the one that is thick and holds you in timelessness), I asked S, “What if we are called to be in place because country has something to reveal to us?” We spoke about the communicable presence of places that deeply resonate with us. Uncle Max talks about the communicable presence of country when he takes people up to Gulaga Mountain, he says, “Let’s watch the land talk to us.”

Even if we are not consciously aware of why we need to be in a place, it feels right, our bodies sing when we are there. Does the axiom ‘being in the right place, at the right time’ hold more currency than we think?

Rose (see link above) writes about the attachments of human and nonhuman animals to place and the tendency to return to place:

How one comes to be attached to specific places is a process that is both deeply known and yet also forever mysterious. Many attachments are formed early, some stick and some do not. Some people experience them more deeply and non-negotiably than others, but in all cases attachments to place also involve time. Memories form around places, and as they are acted upon they accumulate, and so they are enhanced.

Place-action becomes part of the process of meaning-making, so that place, like the living creatures who grow into it, exists in the lives and minds of creatures who themselves come and go, and are sustained by place. It may not be so well known that humans are by no means the only creatures to form attachments to place. Amongst nonhuman animals one process of attachment is known as site fidelity (the tendency or desire to return).

This coming back, being called back to place is something that memory alone can not be responsible for. We are connected to place through our collective stories (we are never alone in place for there to be personal stories, our stories are always shared with the more-than-human entities in place making them collective), but also perhaps, by the mutual recognition (Roe and Hoogland 1999; Abram 1997) people-place have for one another. Just as our dear friends and family members may long to be with us, so too might place. The idea that country calls people to come and be with it is not unfamiliar to First Peoples on this continent. As F said on the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail “… country loves people, it’s always been part of it from the beginning. It wasn’t country and then people, people and country always from the beginning, one time, always connected.”

Reference:

Abram, D 1997, The Spell of the Sensuous Vintage Books New York

Roe, P & Hoogland, F 1999, ‘Black and white, a trail to understanding’, in J Sinatra & P Murphy (eds), Listen to the People, Listen to the Land, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, pp. 11-30.

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Spirit of Place: Topophilia

Poetica, Radio National, ABC Radio

Saturday 31 May 2014 3:05PM

Topophilia: from the Greek topos “place” and -philia, “love of”

When we meet someone new we commonly ask “Where are you from?” It’s a recognition of the affective bond between people and place, which has been a subject of contemplation as far back as Aristotle, but has gained more attention in recent decades with the emergence of the discipline of psycho-geography. It’s also long been a subject of poetry, and there are many poets whom we identify closely with a particular place – either that where they were born and raised, such as Dorothy Hewett in the West Australian wheatbelt, or the place to which they came later in life, like Margaret Scott, who left her native Bristol for Tasmania at the age of twenty-five. In this program a range of Australian poets describe their relationship with the place that has shaped them.

Click here to listen

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The life of stories

I was sitting in a cafe with friends in Darwin on the weekend, sharing stories about my time in the Mäpuru homelands (in NE Arnhem Land). It had been a while since I last recalled stories of my being with the people and country in Mäpuru; amongst many other things, this time in my life was characterised by deep learning about myself and what it is to be embraced by hosts whilst being a guest and in the cultural minority [1]. My recollections over coffee turned into storytelling and an actor that I have not been with for a while resurfaced from my past – the story about the Basket and the Book. This story describes a critical moment in my life, when the cultural lens through which I perceive the world became glaringly visible. The story also traces my own unraveling as ‘Nia’ and the process through which I was remade through my new connection (gurruṯu/kinship). If a humble basket and book have the potential to unravel and re-make, what about all the other things in our everyday lives?

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So what happens to stories when we ‘put them down’? By placing The Basket and the Book on a website, surely the story has a life other than in my own memory. Verran and Winthereik (2012) offer discussion on ethnographic stories and suggest that they have agency; that they ‘make and work relations’ (p. 1). This idea that ethnographic stories are not just representations of other but actors with interventionist potential is a critical way of disrupting the view that stories are static and inert. But what gives ethnographic stories their interventionist potential? Verran and Winthereik (2012) attribute this potential to their capacity to ‘re-present the world in ways that are generative for the people and practices that the stories are about, as well as for the authors and their academic collective’ (p. 1) and their ability to ‘… ‘dive into’ the everyday, a move towards the inside to show what the everyday is made of’ (p. 2).

Looking around me whilst sitting at my desk, I wonder about all of the things (beyond the basket and the book) which have the agency to unravel and re-make me in this moment… my computer, desk, text books, the light streaming through my west-facing window… Each day I sit amongst these things and perform ‘doing a PhD’, often whilst longing to be amongst the other networks of association that I have performed in through my research (mamara, sand dunes, brolgas, morning star, moon cycles…).

References:

Verran, H & Winthereik, BR 2012, ‘Ethnographic stories as generalisations that intervene’, Science Studies, vol. 25, no. 1.

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[1] Anderson (1998) writes about the re-naming of the colonised and colonisers as ‘hosts’ and ‘guests’ in Aeotearoa/New Zealand, highlighting the importance of ritual in welcoming guests to country so that newcomers to the land create connections (physical and cultural) as a process of becoming of that place. I am struck by the potential to re-story people-place connections through welcoming rituals and feel that the Arnhem Weaving workshops with Yolŋu in Mäpuru, the walks up Guluga Mountain with the Yuin people and walking the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail with the Goolarabooloo people are all experiences where I have felt welcomed to country in a generative way.

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Native Planet – Protecting our songlines

The following documentary forms part of a six-episode series that highlights Indigenous peoples’ struggle to protect their lands from industrial development. Although the Browse LNG Processing Plant will not be developed along the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail and Northern Traditions Song Cycle (songline), the traditional lands of the Goolarabooloo and Jabirr Jabirr people have still been compulsorily acquired by the Western Australian government. The WA government intends on industrialising the monsoonal vine thicket of the Dampier Peninsula, which is now a threatened ecological community and functions as a year-round food and medicinal resource.

The Native Planet documentary was respectfully made with the Goolarabooloo people and gives voice to their fight to protect country and shares the perspectives of others with supporting and divergent viewpoints.

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Dingo Love: towards multi-species peace

On reading Deborah Bird Rose’s latest post, Dingo Nation, I discovered a man by the name of John Cooper. In an ABC Open story on Cooper, Debrah Novak writes:

This is a story about a man’s love and passion for his Australian Dingos. He and his pack live in the the upper reaches of the Clarence River country in Northern NSW. With him I had the privilege of watching and recording a very special moment for this story: dingo pups being born in their lair. It is just one special moment in a story about a farmer who has come up with an unusual way of keeping wild dogs under control on his property.

The truth that rings clear for me, in both Rose’s post and the video on Cooper, is the opportunity to expand our (human) deep listening and compassion to more-than-human animals and other entities. Rose refers to research by Arian Wallach which highlights the capacity for dingoes to exist in…

complex family structure (known as a pack), collaborative care of the young, cooperative hunting, territorial defense, limits on family size and structure, individual personalities, and other features that indicate highly social animals with strong loyalties and a deep sense of duties and responsibilities.

To exist within, and maintain closely-knit kinship structures is surely evidence of a highly evolved and intelligent community of beings. To know what we belong to, and our role within kinship structures, gives us a place to dwell within.

This is obviously a huge questions, but, what is it that we as humans need to resolve, to be at peace amongst ourselves and other species? Is it a Deep Ecology/Transpersonal Ecology approach to life which shepherds all life forms (I would claim all entities) into a realm of identification, where we perceive ourselves connected infinitely through multiple networks of relationships?  To have a heightened sense of compassion and expand our concern with more-than-human life surely requires the realisation that we depend upon the well-being of living networks for our own physical, psychological and spiritual well-being.

The thing I love most about John Cooper’s approach to life is his openness and surrender to embracing the life that surrounds him – oh the love!

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Nothing in-between?

In amongst all of my mussings over interstices and what dwells in-between the strands of the web I came across a statement by Latour (1996) about how actor-networks deny the existence of the inside/outside duality:

A network is all boundary without inside and outside. The only question one may ask is whether or not a connection is established between two elements… Literally, a network has no outside… The great economy of thinking allowed by the notion of network is that we are no longer obliged to fill in the space in between the connections… A network is a positive notion which does not need negativity to be understood. It has no shadow (p. 6).

Oh dear… I’m not sure that I totally agree with Latour on this one, unless the ether was conceptualised as being part of the network, i.e. that we drag what appears to be nothing and give it form in the web/network.

Thoughts anyone?!?

 

Reference:

Latour, Bruno. “On Actor-Network Theory. A Few Clarifications Plus More Than a Few Complications.” Soziale Welt 47 (1996): 369-81. Print.

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Thin places

I was listening to ABC Radio National’s Encounter program today and right at the end of the episode Selling God’s House, Bishop Ian Palmer made this statement about thin places:   

The Celtic church used to talk about thin places and it would have geographical places that it would consider as ‘thin’ where heaven and earth seemed to meet. But also they would cultivate them as well. And through prayer they would create a thin place. Often when they were thinking about putting a monastery in a place, they would go to a bend in a river and they’d camp out there for weeks, often for forty days and they would just pray there, before they even decided to build.

The idea of people camping by a bend in the river, taking the time to sense the spirit of the place (genius loci) or praying to create a ‘thin place’ reminded me of a story shared with me by Yuin Elder Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison. In a conversation about songlines/songcycles, Uncle Max said that rivers form many of the songlines that travel through country. It is in the bends of the rivers, he said, where much of the energy pools, that is why these are good places to go fishing.

After hearing Palmer speak about thin places I did some hunting about came across Corrine Cunningham’s thesis ‘Remembered Earth: Mythopoetics from the American Southwest of the Spirit of Place and the Re-Enchantment of Humanity.’ In her writing about genius loci, Cunningham (2007) beautifully weaves together threads such as thin places, enchantment and the liminal to elucidate the feelings that are so often indescribable about our engagement with sacred places:

Places associated with enchantment are part of the ancient belief that within this earth, there are sites where the veil between the inner and the outer worlds is permeable, and where an individual experiences what the Japanese poet Basho (1644-94) describes as “a glimpse of the under-glimmer” (qtd. in Cousineau: xix). The Irish call these landscapes “thin places”—as in Roadside Well in Leix, home to the spirits of the land. Anthropologist Victor Turner describes these places as “liminal” ” [ . . . ] a threshold, a place and moment, in and out of time” (Dramas, Fields and Metaphors 197). The liminal landscape of the American Southwest was often the subject for photographer Ansel Adams, who described artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s desert home “Ghost Ranch” in New Mexico as “isolated in a glowing world [.. . ] where everything is sidewise under you, and over you, and the clocks stopped long ago” (qtd. in E. Turner: 19). (p. 5)

In particular, Cunningham’s statement, that ‘… the veil between the inner and the outer worlds is permeable’ in these ‘thin places’ reminds me of a metaphor used by Mathews (2007) that is akin to the veil:

… if one somehow managed to slip under the psychic skin of the world, and “enter” its subjectivity, would one experience the “outside” as “inside”? If one stepped inside the world, in this sense, might the trees and grass and rivers no longer appear as external to oneself? Might they – along with oneself – now be experienced as internal to the psyche of the world? (p. 4)

Rather than lean towards the references of heaven and earth, my own reading of ‘thin places’ is one of places in which I feel a sense of resonance, a being with, outside of temporal constraints. These ‘thin places’ beckon me to allow them in. A pause, a deep breath and a lifting of the veil to see through feeling, that which is waiting to be acknowledged.

 

References:

Cunningham, Corrine Lara. “Remembered Earth: Mythopoetics from the American Southwest of the Spirit of Place and the Re-Enchantment of Humanity.” Pacifica Graduate Institute, 2007. Print.

Mathews, Freya. “The World Hidden within the World: A Conversation on Ontopoetics.” The Trumpeter 1 (2007). Print.

 

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