Waysides: Connections

This post is part of a collaborative natural dye and mapping project with Annie Cholewa called Waysides: Local Colour from our Home Grounds. Waysides: Connections is the second of two reflective posts that Annie and I would like to share with you, written in response to our experience of the Waysides project. Please pop over and read Annie’s response to Waysides: Connections.

I discovered something rather horrifying in the course of this project. I discovered that I feel alienated from the land. Actually, I felt this already. I have felt this for a long time. But I as I began to work on Waysides the feeling only grew.

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I don’t feel a sacred to connection to the place where I live but I think I ought to.  Books like Philip Marsden’s Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place and Robert MacFarlane’s Landmarks seem to suggest that a deep connection with place and the land is intrinsic to humanness.

But when I think about the land itself around here, I find it hard to love. I see a broken waterway with its bluestone bed ripped away to make road gutters. The wild spaces along the creek are plantings in a place that has been so modified, the original inhabitants would not recognise it. The weed are invaders, relics of pastoral colonialism, choking out native grasses, flourishing in the scars of urban growth. It is so hot in summer, the earth cracks open, the plants wither and leave the soil bare and baking. You need to walk carefully along the creek then as there are snakes, venomous snakes that somehow have managed to cling to the vestiges of what remains of their habitat. It bothers me that I don’t know the names of the trees here, the trees that were here before the land was robbed and pillaged.

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As I gathered my bits of bark, leaves, pods and flowers, I felt like an interloper. The act of identifying the eucalypts in particular was so frustrating and laborious that it only escalated my feelings of disconnection. The weeds made me angry, the garden plants made me angry, the trees in the park made me angry. What are we all doing here? I kept asking myself.

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The skeins began to mount and I made alot of beige. Each colour was very hard won, what with the fibre preparation and spinning and mordanting and gathering and dyeing. The results were underwhelming. I couldn’t really talk much about the colour in my posts so I started focusing on the stories instead. I reflected on the paths where the plants came from, what they meant to me. I read about the plant species. I read about the history of the wattle in Australia, I listened to a podcast about Australian birds, I started reading about Aboriginal life along the Yarra before European Settlement and up to the present day.

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But it wasn’t until I was puzzling over the Waysides shawl design, that things really shifted for me. I was writing a bit list of dichotomies: exotic vs native, modified vs wild, grid vs creek when I realised that the whole lot was beautiful. The weeds, the plantings, the creek, the trees, the cracked earth, the bare soil, held in tension between history and the will of all things to live. I saw that even the scars on the earth, the overlaid grid of roads and concrete, they were all beautiful, in their way. The whole thing is flawed, a remnant of a brutal incursion, but it pulses with life. The land is determined to live, to grow, despite all that has happened, all that is happening, it burns with a will to live, to endure, to continue.

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I still feel uncomfortable about my relationship with where I live but I am determined to know more about this place and see the whole of it, if I can.

Some books that changed my perspective:

Ellender, I. and Christiansen, P., 2001, People of the Merri Merri: The Wurundjeri in Colonial Days, MCMC

McLellan, R and O’Toole, J. (eds) Creek Life: Flora and Fauna of the Merri Creek Valley, MCMC

Moore, S., Howard, E., Topalidou, A., 2013, Moreland City Council

Also, that podcast about Australian Birds by Tim Low, thanks to Blue Mountain Daisy.

You can follow my Waysides journey here and that of Annie Cholewa, my comrade in dye-pots here.

Please subscribe to comments to follow the discussion.

 

13. November 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: dye, knit, look, spin | Tags: , , , , , | 33 comments

Comments (33)

  1. I have loved all of your posts, but this one in particular reflects my own feelings so well. You write beautifully. Thank you!

    • Thank you for leaving a comment Robin. I was a bit worried no one would understand what I was saying, that everyone was feeling content and connected to their place. It has been reassuring to find that others feel similarly. You are kind to share your thoughts.

  2. I, too, live in an area that is foreign to my personality. We live in the city now as opposed to many years in the suburbs. Perhaps there is some loveliness out there if you can overlook the broken sidewalks, graffiti. At least I don’t think there are any snakes around here as there is no water to support them. But marauding squirrels, raccoons and opossums are another story (in the city!!)

    Breathe deep and Carry on, Rebecca!

    • Dear Elaine, that must have been challenging to change your landscape so much. You are right, there is beauty there but I think it may reside in the graffiti and marauding wildlife itself. These are the symbols of the marginal making their marks on cityscape which is in fact the intruder. And that is the biggest challenge sometimes, to see the beauty in what we find ugly. I am still wrestling with this.

  3. Rebecca, your reflections today hit home with me. I just returned from a visit to Nome, Alaska and it seemed so gray, non-descript and gray. But, on further reflection like yourself, I can see the powerful and determined breath of nature…especially the Bering Sea’s effect on the landscape. We will be more content, grateful and appreciative of our “selves” as we learn to reconnect to our land, our earth and waters. It is hard for me, as you so similarly stated, when we reconcile all that the human race has done to change and lay waste to the land. But, that glimpse of the fortitude and desire to live and survive that the land has also shown us provides faith and hope. One small individual at a time can surely make a little curve toward beauty and change for our planet. Your project has already changed your life and perspective so you have gone around the curve!

    • Dear Joan, it would seem that many of us balance the same kind of feelings of alienation and connection. Perhaps it is a modern condition. And yes, you are right, Waysides has changed my perspective enormously.

  4. This post really speaks to me… 4 years ago, back in my home town, I was barely noticing where I was living. I was studying, working, living my life without the conscious connection to the place. It was just a bland background that didn’t matter to me. Only after the move I started to physically feel the acute connection with the place where I found myself and the world really changed. It seemed I had been dreaming before… Now the surroundings, trees, houses really “spoke” to me. It’s really hard to explain, but only then you start feeling that you are truly home… As a family we are still in search of “our” place where we will stop and start building our lives. And the place should really “speak” to us.

    • Yes indeed Alina, places need to speak to us or as I have found, I had to learn to hear. I was so angry I could not listen.

  5. I’ve come to see you and Annie as landscape champions, Rebecca. Your struggles in particular to face and accept a brutalized place are inspiring.

    Why? To watch a person stand still and listen to a thing that repels them is to see bravery in action in the everyday. Shaking hands with what is really around and remembering its early glory is key, but using that key to unlock the magic of survival? Well! That act sets the stage for real discovery.

    By nature that act is exhausting, right? I salute you from my armchair and look forward to your future exploration.

    • Thank you Kate,
      This has indeed been a long process of understanding where I fit. Afterall, I am part of the ‘brutalizing’ forces on the land. I didn’t realise how difficult the Waysides journey would be, or how transformative.

  6. I will probably be pilloried for this but I was starting to get a little upset with you UNTIL I read your last paragraph!! Phew, you ‘got it’ and you came thru the other side just fine. I am proud of you!

  7. As far as your feelings of isolation goes, I do not think you are alone. Many, many people are not deeply rooted in the place that they live. I think the fact that you are making an effort to learn more, though, means you’ll find that sense of connection.

    • Dear Alicia, thank you! What I most feel is the distjuncture between the connection I feel I aught to have and the complex, paradoxical feelings I actually have. But I think you are right, the connection probably comes in actually connecting!

  8. Hej from Denmark, Very inspirationally and great to think about something positive for our future after the horrible nights events in Paris

    • Hej Hanne, It has indeed been a dark time in Paris over the weekend. I am glad you found something optimistic and hopeful in the post.

  9. I found this a very honest and painful post to read – and I really salute your courage, Rebecca, in saying these things so bravely. Alas, I don’t think there is any “ought” in the matter of feeling rooted in one’s locality. I think it is just luck if you do – for so many people that isn’t possible. I do wonder what your neighbours and friends feel – others in the locality? I also agree with those above who have said that you are on your way to finding a sense of connection – even if it is going to be a surprising one.

    • Thank you Katherine, It was actually quite a painful post to write and I was surprised at how angry I felt when I was writing it. I should say though that I first drafted this post at the end of a very long summer, so that may be partially responsible for the tone! When Annie and I agreed on the two themes we would respond to I did not realise that much of the connection I wished to explore was disconnection! The Waysides journey really has taken me to some unexpected interior places but also I think, a way forward.

  10. Dear Rebecca, thank you for your honesty. I found this blog post really moving and beautifully written. I think we’re all searching for connection with this land beneath our feet. Its often the hardest of things that can lead us to beauty. i’m so glad you kept on going with your Waysides Journey. i look forward to more.

    • Thanks Isabel, I am glad I took the Waysides journey too. It has been very enriching in unexpected ways, some of them uncomfortable. This post was supposed to be a simultaneous post with Annie but she has been experiencing some technical difficulties with her blog at the moment, so her experience of this aspect of Waysides is missing. It will be interesting to read her response to connections.

  11. How well I know those feelings of disconnection with the land and the place where I live. Today I find you have put into such succinct prose many of my own thoughts over the years. The Waysides Shawl and the gentle processes you used to create it over quite some time has led you to a remarkable place where now you are determined to forge ahead with a new way of seeing what is around you. Coming from England so many many years ago I have never ever felt part of the place where I live… I know I belong where I was born on the other side of the world. Whilst studying here some 20 years ago or more the lecturer suggested I read The Odyssey as a means to understand displacement and perhaps use that displacement to further creativity. Not a great success but The Odyssey is a terrific read! Once again a big thank you… encouraged by your posts my dyeing with what is around me continues… and wonder of wonders I have made bright green!!! Fermented sweet peas – now who would have thought.

    • Dear Lydia, It would seem that disconnection is not an uncommon feeling, that it can occur in urban and rural settings, amidst cityscapes and natural surroundings. In this sense then it seems to be a deeply rooted feeling, not simply tied to the aesthetics of our environment but something else. The Odyssey is a cracker of a read and an enduring metaphor for all journeys and quests. Your dye experiments documented as @travelswithayarn on Instagram are very exciting to watch. Have you found that these experiments have changed your sense of place?

  12. I don’t feel disconnected as I have always looked to see what is growing when and where yes I live in the hills and the bush is on my door step but even the time I spend at. My mother which is only 8k from the city I watch the wild life coming back she has tawny frogmout owls nesting in the nature strip trees foxes running at night bats flying overhead and gradually the Rosella’s are coming back.I am going to miss watching the wild life returning to the suburbs. as next weekend will be my last time there. so nature is smart and is adapting,.to what is there. maybe we need to do a bit of weeding and planting ourselves to bring back what should be there as well as appreciate what is there

    • This is an interesting perspective Elizabeth…so you think perhaps connections to place/land are linked to the presence and experience of nature in our surroundings? I think you are right that the more we attend to what is growing when and where and what other lives are around us, the more connected we feel. Thank you, food for thought.

  13. I could really feel your emotion in this post and have had similar feelings about where I was living as well. I love that you have stayed put and found the connection. In our situation, we ended up moving and I found more wildspace for hiking and rambling and have re-established that connection. I still require a daily dose of the outdoors even when it is -35 and we are, quite literally buried in snow (so grateful for snowshoes).
    Thank you for sharing this post!

    • Thank you Simone. How interesting that similar feelings prompted you to move in search of a deeper connection to the land, a sense of connection seems to be a deeply held, significant feeling for many folks. It certainly sounds like the seasons make their presence powerfully felt in your current home. But you still want to be out in it even in the depths of winter.

  14. I guess this may be the fate of those of us who live between immigrant and colonizer status (US citizen of european background here!) But … as you have seen … we can love the life that is here … trying to be the best citizens and sisters of it that we can. Loving the hybridness that grows in. It shouldn’t go unloved, I guess. Even if its roots are ugly.

    • Dear Erika, yes, I have wondered about that peculiar status of coloniser/immigrant and the particular relationship with place it can produce. It is my own experience also. Your words strike a chord with me, ‘…It shouldn’t go unloved. Even if it’s roots are ugly.’

  15. So much wisdom in your post and in the comments others have made. Colonisation and environmental destruction are such brutal processes, it seems to me nothing can be straightforward in their wake. Weeds and pollution, rubbish, needless damage and the rest all leave me angry and hopeless at times. I have taken up weeding and replanting my neighbourhood as a way of having my hands very literally in the earth, caring for the earth. So that I can know to the core of my being that I am working toward restoration, even if only in small ways. For me learning about weeds, eucalypt identification, basketry and plant dyes put me in touch with plantlife, earth life, animal life, history and the fact of our all being part of one another as well as causing painful reflection on my status as a beneficiary of colonisation and a contributor to environmental degradation. It is never just one simple story. I am glad the waysides shawl has been part of your story of connection and awe. I also stand in awe, even of weeds, which come in to take up the task of stabilising soil and bringing in nutrients when nothing else has. And like you, I keep trying to find new thoughts about the way humans strike back at marginalisation.

    • Thank you Mary, I can see in your own craft and non-craft practices that you have struggled to find a place and connection in between the legacy of colonisation and environmental degradation. Sometimes in bushy, wilder places, we can forget such things for a while but urban areas especially can present us with very challenging truths. You are right though, it is in the learning and the engaging with the landscape itself that the connections are formed and nurtured and perhaps that is how a brutish yet privileged inheritance might be redeemed.

  16. What a wonderfully honest story of your relationship with your surroundings. I’m relieved you made it through to see the beauty. I feel priviledged to live in the beautiful place I do, but then I do sometimes feel guilty at the footprint we leave by being here, somehow it makes me more appreciative of the beauty.

    • Thank you Rachael, Yes, I am rather glad I made it through to the beauty bit too. I was beginning to think I had embarked on the wrong journey. But summer always gives me an existential crisis here. I think it may be possible to have too much sun!

  17. Such a moving post. Indeed we have a complex relationship to this land and especially because the battle of the Traditional Custodians is far from over. Even as a child my love of the bush was always tainted by sadness and haunted by ghosts of those who had played there before me. Through our pain may we help share the pain of others.

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