Category Archives: Birds, Dogs & Trees

Cycads as lyrebirds

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October 23, 2013 · 6:14 am

The Women and the Mamara

Jigal

It was during my stay in the jigal tree camp at Milibinyarri last year that the trees really came alive for me. I sensed their presence with new sensitivity. I took the time to be with each of these old, old beauties. This year when I returned to that camp I visited each, tried to get a sense of who each was. One had another tree growing in amongst it. They felt like lovers in each others’ embrace. There was an unusual sexual energy near that tree. I didn’t dwell long. The next tree was much older. It had offered me much firewood over the months of staying there. There was a distinct old man energy about this tree. He seemed content to just be there and for me to be there. There was no push or pull. The next two trees which grew quite close to each other felt to be women, but of different generations. This is right near where I pitched my tent. I felt nurtured in this nook and I know of many other women who have camped here and felt the same. Maybe all of these trees are part of the same family. I felt like I was camped amongst a family. Over near my makeshift shower (a hose dangling over a branch) was a big old cutclore (law, initiated men’s business) tree. I tried to give that tree space and always maximum respect. So it was from these humble beginnings amongst the jigal tree family that I started to see, but more through feeling, the other trees on the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail.

Gulung

S had spoken to me after trail last year about an old twisted tree at Murdudun which had pulled at her. She went weak in the legs as she passed it and had to sit with it a while. An old female tree she thought. She said it felt like it wanted her to stay for a while and just be together. I met this tree about a month ago, but not before K told me about her experiences with this tree in the mayi (monsoonal vine thicket). She too had come across this tree and felt compelled to be with her… sit against her trunk, climb into and rest amongst her branches, play in her presence. She is a big old twisted gulung tree with smooth bark and a sprawling canopy.

A small group of us walked through the mayi, learning about the plants that fruit in this extraordinary thicket, when we came upon her. I knew it must have been her from the way K’s face lit up. Another young woman who was walking trail for the first time looked mesmerized too. She walked right up to the gulung tree and placed her hand on her trunk and smiled. That tree made her so happy. I asked her about it days later. She too felt drawn to be with this tree, she felt her strong presence.

Marool and Pittosporum
Last year T took me to her camp under two trees at Walmadany. I had always assumed that they were one, but no, they are a Marool and a Pittosporum living side by side, their canopies intertwined. It feels like an old, old camp sitting under those trees. From there you can see the sun set into the ocean, way out east over the mayi and over the dunes to the south and north. Camping under trees where you know people have camped for many years (thousands and thousands) is grounding. That ground, the trees must remember our form, drink in our heat and feel our presence.
Red Gunbinge
I could feel her reeling me in as we walked along the dune system from our lunch spot at Dugal to Minarriny. Not to say that the walk was effortless, it wasn’t. I was tired, worn out, but something kept me moving forward. Some kind of magnetism. She was way off in the distance, perched high up on a dune. Although she was far way, she appeared large, expansive. Walking up the final stretch of steep dune I looked up at her rustling leaves and felt a warm recognition, like a friend smiling at another in reunion.

We collapsed in her shade. I sat with a happy feeling, a memory of being with this tree and our mob last trail. We were sitting on the side of the dune and under the canopy of the tree listening to Richard tell us a story about his mothers and this place, Minarriny, the place where their rai (spirits) come from. The density of that moment shifted as Richard’s story unfurled. We were taken into something, or in by something, consumed by something that was seeking to emerge. A story… a dreaming… I’m not sure. This tree remembered me from last year, I could feel it. I couldn’t leave her when the group pushed off to Bindiyangun, I needed more time under her canopy, more time to stay in that happy feeling. Resonance in country, a sense that my own vibrations were in harmony with those around me. That’s what I felt at this tree.

It wasn’t until our final night at Bindiyangun, sitting around the billy tea fire that I thought to ask F about this tree. He said that it is a special one. A mamara (spirit) tree. People think that the Red Gubinge is a hybrid of the Marool and Gubinge trees. F has a different theory… that one tree was the original tree and it made the two different trees. A oneness and from that came more.

Jigal

I am a creature of habit. My camp at Bindiyangun is always on the first high dune. From here I can see down to the kitchen, that’s out east where the sun rises, and out west to the setting sun. From here I can see the yellow ochre cliffs glow when the sun is dropping low. All of country looks and feels alive from my camp. On a journey to collect firewood one night I met this jigal tree. In the dark it looked like many. I crawled under the canopy and searched in the leaf litter for pieces of wood, the stuff that burns with a bright blue flame and leaves white ash in its place in the morning. From under here it looked like there were ten or even fifteen trees, trunks rising up from the leaf covered sand dune. In the morning I went back to this tree, I could feel something strong there. Again I ducked under branches and crouched under the low canopy. Suddenly it dawned on me that the trunks sprouting up out of the sand dune were actually branches; diving down, being covered in sand and rising back up to a reach up to the sky. An old jigal tree will do this, send its branches sprawling along the ground, then back up again. It can make one tree look like many. I was incredulous at this realisation… one tree taking up a whole sand dune. How old must this tree be?
I asked P about the tree when we were night fishing for salmon. How old is that jigal on the dune? “As old as that sand dune,” he told me. This tree must have seen a lot of sun and moon sets. J came and sat with this tree for the day. Another friend tried to sleep next to it and had bad dreams and the sensation of being choked. Maybe it’s just a daytime tree.
These mamara called to us women in different ways. They are part of this living country which speaks to us, shows us through feeling how to be with this country.

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Night songs

Murdudun is a place with strong women’s energy. Each time I walk into this camp I feel a flood of nurturing energy. Walking into this camp with my sister and women friends in July, my sense of this as a women’s place deepened. Many of us began our monthly cycles within hours of being there. There is a story about three women at a place just down the beach called Murdjal. Their miligan (digging sticks) live there now, on a small sandy knoll, in the form of three prostrate murga (saltwater paperbark trees). I had heard the story about these women (they live very close by in the form of three rocks at Lija) many times before, but had never known where their miligan had ended up. But this is a whole other story for another time…

Each year Humback whales swim north through the waters off the coast of Murdudun and Walmadany (right up the Dampier Peninsula), giving birth to their calves, playing and teaching them how to be proper whales. Friends of mine who are undertaking the Kimberley Community Whale Research Project at Murdudun told me a story about a night of strange sounds and songs, right before they started the project for the year.

They had been sleeping in their camps, dotted along the cliff tops and sheltered under mamagen, marool and gubinj trees, when strange sounds began filtering through the bush. Each person who told me this story struggled to mimic the sounds; some were high pitched, others were deep and guttural, but all were followed by a loud slapping of the water’s surface. It was a still night and the strange singing drew people out of their tents and swags, over to the cliff edge. The tide was high, lapping at the red pindan cliffs and there, not far from shore were whales in song, filling the night air with these mysterious sounds.

I carried this story with me to Walmadany, the next traditional buru (camping place) along the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail. It was a full moon the night we camped there. I dragged my swag up onto the high dunes where I could see all around – the monsoonal vine thicket to the east, north and south and the ocean to the west. I felt a balance when the moon rose from the mayi (bush) and the sun set into the ocean.

A perfect stillness, the water was like a sheet of glass. The breathless sunset turned into a still night.

Only the sounds of a fire burning, night insects and me writing in my journal, settled in around me in my dune top camp.

Then faint whispers reached my ears. The promise of a night song or a trick of the mind still racing with stories from Murdudun? But they were there, singing. The high pitched song, then the deep guttural sound and the slaps. The high tide and breathless night allowed this whale music to drift up the dunes. In my own stillness I was able to hear it, feel it resonating in my gut. How do we feel connected to something we don’t always see it? Maybe we can hear something, even if it is quiet to our ears, our body can feel the resonance deep within. Was this night at Walmadany a kind of encounter? Do the whales even realise we are here? I was grateful that the deep groans I could feel and hear were coming from these beautiful mammals, creating new life, unlike last year when it was a giant drilling rig groaning in their place. And the full moon, how wonderful to be kept away by the beaming light of the full moon and not the flood lights at the Woodside compound. All around us I felt a creation energy. Life perpetuating and us somehow part of that cycle as we walk this country as one mob.

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Lyrebirds on the mountain

It was during our first morning meditation that I heard the lyrebird calling to me from the hill. I had only glimpsed and heard them on my previous visits to this place; a retreat centre perched on a hillside, shaded under canopies of tall mountain ash and tree ferns in the Don Valley. I took the first opportunity that presented itself to walk up the forested hill from where the mimicry emanated. A new, wide track had been cleared up the hill. Mud stuck to my boots, thickening the soles as I walked up the steep track. Eventually the track swung around to the south to meet an old track, which was thick with leaf litter, both fresh and decomposed. The track switched back on itself a few times and then I heard them again. Not one but several lyrebirds calling in song from the hill above. The sharp and succinct calls of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, Bell Minors, Currawongs, Rainbow Lorikeets and Kites all in quick succession. In front of me I saw two large forms fly over the track, down the hill and perch in the branches of a tree, high above the ground. I found a rock to sit on and then before me unfolded an epic bush theatre. Two male lyrebirds proceeded to engage in a chase down the hillside and back up again, circuiting through flight and running, up and down, up and down. Again they landed in the branches of a tree, this time just meters above me. Elegant tails fanned out, the definition of each feather visible from my vantage point. The male closest to me peered down and for a few moments we engaged in a stare. Then the chase resumed and the two birds launched into flight, veering past tree trunks and branches as they glided down the hill. It seemed like only moments later when the lyrebirds came careering onto the track from below, running with their powerful legs up the steep slope. All the while, another lyrebird was engaged in song, providing the soundtrack for the theatre that was unfolding before my eyes. The two males kept up their chase, flying down the hill, running back up with speed and then repeating the cycle again and again. I’m not sure whether the pursuit ended up or downhill from where I sat on the track. A faint scratching sound was the next thing to tug at my attention. A small female lyrebird scratched at the soil at the side of the track, moved back and looked at her scratchings to peck at any unearthed insects. She reminded me of a chicken.  She noticed me, seemed unconcerned and continued her foraging across the track and up the hill. I had always thought of lyrebirds as mysterious animals, elusive, shy. How then had I been let into this candid world?

 
The next day…
I had taken a walk down to the spring that emanates from the hillside, below the retreat centre. Under a canopy of tree ferns lies a rock pool where the spring water collects before trickling down to the forest floor. Sitting a little away from the pool my attention was pulled at by a faint splashing sound. A female lyrebird was standing at the edge of the pool washing herself. Neck bending down to the water, wings dipping in, splashing water onto her small, brown body. I’m not sure if she noticed me, I was wearing muted colours and was peaceful where I sat. After she left the pool I went to take a drink from the water pouring in from the tapped spring and then I saw her on a wet log nearby, preening her feathers, one at a time; wings, tail, each getting her attention. This time we meet each other in gaze. We each held our space and watched. Unperturbed, she kept on preening and hopped off the log when she was done.

 

After hiking back up the hill and into the warmth of the retreat centre I contemplated what the presence of these lyrebirds might mean for me. Other than an affinity with Rainbow Lorikeets, I have never felt drawn to having a relationship with animals in a totemic sense. So what sense did I get from these birds, what essence did they represent for me? At first I thought that they might hold up a mirror to the individual through their mimicry, but that didn’t feel quite right. Their mimicry of other birds is important, perhaps not to speak to some individual entity, but to draw together everything into one. A fractal. Each call is a fractal of something bigger. Maybe the lyrebird could represent unity. Everything together.

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Waking up to dogs

The more time I spend living at Milibinyarri, the more in love with dogs I become. I never grew up with dogs. Dad is a gardener and never let us have one, mum is a ‘clean freak’ and was equally as resistant. This awakening to the spirit of dogs seems to have happened in parallel to my waking up to birds. It is not as though I never noticed them before, it is my relationship with these beings that has slowly been transformed. Relating to these ones as friends, kin, beings that share an existence in this place, has been quite a revelation for me. I was trawling through photos of my last stay at Milibinyarri and came across these beautiful images. Our group of friends was swimming in the pregnant lagoon late in November last year. Can Betty Blue and Casey feel the spirit of this place too? I am sure that these dogs are much more attuned to the feeling of this place. Maybe I need to spend a day following them around. I’ll learn a lot about how to be with this country.

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I discovered birds

A pre-dawn visit from this little creature,
perched on the Jigal tree near my swag.
It’s song calls to the sun, beckoning it to rise
and make a new day.
A chorus… soprano, metzo and alto,
soon I am pulled out of sleep.
Sun warming my head,
and hundreds of birds singing me into this light.

I heard them before,
the other times I came to be in this place.
It’s somehow different now,
they’re calling to me, not just making sound.
Brolga families rise up from the flats
and make flight for Buckley’s Plain.
Delicate Double-barred finch coming over for a drink,
perched on the edge of the old enamel bowl.
Rainbow bee-eaters leave their branch and fly in a circle,
out to catch their feed and then back again,
a brilliant flash of green.

Ah birds, you fill me such with joy.
I see you, I hear you…

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