Adios primavera

The wide brown land is baking today. Fire warnings abound, as all creatures great and small look for caves and cool. Tomorrow, rain and storms are predicted, along with icy southerly blasts. A change, they call it at the weather bureau.

Spring is exiting stage left, but she is not going gentle. She is burning and raving, raging, hurtling to her end, free of fear or doubt. “Adios”, she calls over her shoulder, kicking up dust as she leaves me behind.

When that dust settles, I look down and see the rose, a shock of crimson, past its prime and out of place. This is a lonely path. I chose it because no-one ventures through these ravaged gullies where thousands once excavated for gold, and trees whisper of disappointed avarice. The foot-width trail, made by kangaroos through spindly burned gums, yields wonders sparingly, demanding a walker return over and over to its flinty surface before it reveals a snuffling echidna or a native orchid.

So how did the rose get here?

I want to pick it up and see if there is still any scent to be had, but something stops me. Its stem is short. Was it worn in a lapel to a dance where things did not go to plan? Was it nestled in the upswept hair of a girl as she swayed and dipped across a polished floor? And what befell her, that her rose ended here, at my feet?

The forest is silent. It broods. Would it yield up a body to me if something terrible had happened? We are remote enough to speak of shallow graves.

There are no marks in the dirt to speak of struggle, no indentations or footsteps in dried clay, no signs to tell me how a cultivated, blood-red wonder has been transported to the goldfields rough, its petals in danger of being crunched into the quartz by my boots.

A shard of sunlight finds the rose, exposing it as dry, its stem withered. Done.

“Rose…” I whisper into the eucalypt-scented silence.

I walk away, straining to see or hear something that might explain it, but there is only the creak of a trunk against the branch of a neighbouring tree, and the scrunch of my feet. This forest does not give up its ghosts, but they are out there. Somewhere to my left, the thump-thump of a wallaby; overhead the shriek of a cockatoo; somewhere very close, the slither of grass parting at ground level.

Feet on earth. Marking out time. The scrunch. The rhythm. The passing. On.

To the cemetery.

Coming out of the forest into grazing land, there it lies, framed by grandfather eucalypts and pines, introduced and indigenous standing sentinel around the bones of other grandfathers. And children.

I walk through the creaking metal gates and up the central avenue, passing the century-old plinth where only one word of the inscription remains intact – SACRED; past purple thistles rising out of the earth and marble crucifixes crumbling back into it; past the granite stone for Laurel, “Giver of love and joy”; and past the holly bush that has grown on the still-tended grave of an infant who would now be a woman more than a century old.

On the high ground, under a row of whistling pine trees, there’s a slab of red stone for Norman, who died almost twenty years ago. Neighbour Norm, a flirtatious bear of a man who used to joke that he joined the Progress Association to ensure there was no progress, and whose inscription tells me that the greatest of all is love. To Norman’s right is a matching stone for his grandson Michael, whose life was taken by depression over a decade ago. I’m glad Norman went first.

I plant myself between them, looking over the field of the dead to the young eucalypts planted across the road. They will be harvested for commercial use. Their fate is known.

Norman, Michael and I sit on the hill. Norman reminds me to feast, to laugh and to love well. Michael reminds me to relish the days of sun, because the dark ones can claim us. The eucalypts speak of the honour of usefulness, and the imperative of remembering that the end will come.

Except of course, the end doesn’t come. Why do we assume “it” ends when we do? “It” goes on. “It” keeps turning, and feet keep walking, roses keep growing, and we keep remembering.

The sun is high and the pines smell like Christmas.

Time to move. The road is waiting.

I walk back down the central path toward the eucalypts.

Some of them have been burned.

Their trunks are charred black, but at the base of one tree, silvery grey leaves have sprouted, thick and determined.

New life from old.

 

My feet crunch on gravel.

The scrunch. The rhythm. The passing.

On. On. On.

The scrunch of feet on gravel – click to hear!

Adios, primavera.

Goodbye spring.

Of newborn buddhas and dusty boots

On the Great Dividing Trail – no division!

“Isn’t all that walking boring?”

It wasn’t the first time I’d been asked that, and I understood the question. After all, walking is just…well…walking. It’s slow, repetitive and not particularly cool or sexy.

All I can say is no, it’s never boring for me. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s exhausting. But I’ve never found it boring. My mind, which can judge activities and label them as interesting or dull, is lulled by walking, and even at times released by it. Walking gives my mind a freedom it achieves nowhere else, as I describe in the book.

My compañero from the Camino Francés sent me the following words from teacher, poet and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh. I love them because they describe a state I long to achieve in all areas of my life. I trust that it might one day be possible, because I can achieve something like it when I walk. See if you can get your mind to attend to every word. It’s not easy.

To my mind, the idea that doing the dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you are not doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in warm water, it really is not so bad. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to go and have a cup of tea, the time will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity, for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and the fact that I am here washing them are miracles! Each bowl I wash, each poem I compose, each time I invite a bell to sound is a miracle, each has exactly the same value. One day, while washing a bowl, I felt that my movements were as sacred and respectful as bathing a newborn Buddha. If he were to read this, that newborn Buddha would certainly be happy for me, and not at all insulted at being compared with a bowl.

So, in direct answer to the question about walking, and begging forgiveness from the wise teacher, please consider the following, knowing that your mind will try even harder not to attend!

To my mind, the idea that walking is unpleasant can occur only when you are not doing it. Once you have put on your dusty boots, and loaded your pack onto your back, it really is not so bad. I enjoy taking each step, being fully aware of my foot on the earth, the landscape, and each movement of my chest as I breathe. I know that if I hurry in order to get to the finish line, the time will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity, for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The steps themselves, and the fact that I am here taking them, are miracles! Each kilometre I travel, each song I sing, each time I let my arms swing past my hips, is a miracle, each has exactly the same value. One day, while walking, I felt that my movements were as sacred and respectful as bathing a newborn Buddha. If he were to read this, that newborn Buddha would certainly be happy for me, and not at all insulted at being compared with walking.

I hope the venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, and my compañero, will not feel at all insulted at my rephrasing of that beautiful text.

Chop wood. Carry water. Wash dishes. Bathe newborn Buddha. Walk.

Peace.

Peace was the wish made by my amigo in Baños de Montemayor.

Paz.

It was a wish made by many of us at last week’s conversation with Tony Doherty. If you’d like to view the YouTube clip of that, please bear in mind that we take up the first 75 or so minutes of the 100 min total. Also bear in mind that our conversation took place the day after George Pell’s press conference about the abuse of children within the church, and as a result the talk is coloured by that.

The last thing I ask you to bear in your wonderful mind is gratitude – to all who read these offerings, and in particular, to all who attended that night. It was humbling – and painful – to hear some of your stories afterwards, and I am walking with you in my heart.

Paso a paso. Step by step.

 

Cleaning and purging

Today I cleaned.

I re-ordered bookshelves and desktop, making room for new research materials. I bundled up all the books that were in need of another home, and hung them out on the front fence for passers-by. I tucked away my recent workshop notes and discarded a pile of advertisements for printers and office chairs. I filed the dreaded tax papers and, then, in desperation, I cleared out my wallet.

I know! It was procrastination and avoidance.

The new book is coming along in fits and starts, but it likes to hide from me at regular intervals. I try to chase after it, running to keep up, but sometimes it just gets away, and so I apply myself to something else as I lie in wait for it to return. Hence, the wallet purge!

Amid the bills and receipts, the forgotten shopping lists and library reminders, I found treasures. There was a holy picture of the Santo Niño de Atocha – the one given to me by Ricardo on the plane to Barcelona. There was a florist’s gift card from eighteen years ago, when I was trying to realign myself after the death of my mother. There was a verse, sent to me almost two years ago by a fellow peregrina in Tucson, Arizona. And there was a tatty piece of paper I have carried for years, maybe decades. On it are lines in my own handwriting – recognisable, but somehow changed – that continue to call to me.

Now, as I’m grappling with a story that has, at its heart, the landscape of my childhood, I wonder how I will ever come close to those words. Perhaps I’ve carried them all this time because I knew that one day I would try to write about my experience of this land, in the same way that Marcus Clarke did. If I’m really honest, though, I think I carry them because I believe they’re perfect, and I don’t know of many things that are. Least of all, me! So from the depths of my battered red wallet, here is a piece of perfection.

In Australia alone is to be found the grotesque, the weird, the strange scribblings of nature learning how to write.  Some see no beauty in our trees without shade, our flowers without perfume, our birds who cannot fly, and our beasts who have not yet learnt to walk on all fours.

But the dweller in the wilderness acknowledges this fantastic land of monstrosities.  He becomes familiar with the beauty of loneliness.  Whispered to by the myriad tongues of the wilderness, he learns the language of the barren and the uncouth, and can read the hieroglyphs of the haggard gum-trees, blown into odd shapes, distorted with fierce hot winds, or cramped with cold nights, when the Southern Cross freezes in a cloudless sky of icy blue.

Last night I had to consider other monstrosities and distortions, when about one hundred people gathered at an event that was billed as a conversation about pilgrimage between me and Monsignor Tony Doherty.

I think it would be fair to say that most of the people in the room were, or had been, Catholics. I think it would also be fair to say that everyone there was reeling from the barrage of information that is surfacing about the extent of abuse – of sinning – that has occurred within the Catholic Church. Words like “horror” and “disgust” were in the air, and with cause.

Tony and I decided it was not possible to avert our gaze from what was happening out in the world. He spoke of his sorrow and distress, and then we went to the book, choosing to  discuss my amigo’s story of the childhood sexual abuse and suicide of his brother. Mostly, as I commented in the previous post, conversations about the amigo have focused on my battle with desire. But last night, amid the pain and shock, we were able to honour his story, and the story of his brother’s suffering – and I was once again humbled and grateful for the trust he placed in me when he told it to me.

At night’s end, I felt changed. I remain appalled and enraged about the unimaginable suffering of so many at the hands of clergy, but I’d been reminded that it’s only by facing up to darkness, by looking squarely at it, and expressing our grief and abhorrence, that any kind of change can occur – and that then, we might be able to offer solace and support.

It had been a tough day for other reasons, too. I’m currently wading through the “Bringing Them Home” report on the stolen generations. The first-hand testimonies are heartbreaking and shameful. Fresh in my mind was “Devil’s Dust”, the two-part TV drama about James Hardie’s handling – or total non-handling – of the many who fell ill and died from exposure to asbestos while working for them.

So much suffering, and such unwillingness to take responsibility. Why the stubborn refusal of some in power to do the simple human thing of looking people squarely in the eyes and saying “sorry”?

I don’t understand why it is so hard. I don’t care about the legalities and the reputations and the money. I can’t understand. I don’t think we can ever be fully at home – in ourselves, with each other, or on this perplexing and mysterious land of hieroglyphs and wilderness – until we are able to do, privately and institutionally, what my amazing sinners did: to look directly into the eyes of another, to admit to shortcomings and fault, and then to begin to create change from that position of humility.

Hard but beautiful, that humility. And within it, surely, lies hope.

At the end of last night’s discussion, a lady called Eve Cazalet came to say hello. She said she was into her third reading of my book, which was gift enough for this first-time author, and then she handed me an envelope. When I opened it, I saw that she had inscribed a translation of selected lines from Antonio Machado’s poem – my amigo’s favourite. His road gift to me, given again after we had remembered him in conversation. A circle closed with a soft click.

Thank you Eve. Cleaning and purging might well have been avoidance, or perhaps it was a natural response to horrors, but you and Marcus Clarke both reminded me that there remain glimmers of perfection. I will look out for them.

Thank you to everyone who came last night, and loud applause to Garry Eastman and the Garratt Publishing team for making it possible. Deep gratitude and admiration to Tony Doherty for his honesty and generosity.

Gracias, gracias.

It means “grace” as well as “thank you”.

A postscript on 22nd November…

Some of the comments on this post are particularly long, generous and thoughtful. If you can find the time to scroll through to the end, you will find gems. Gracias to the amazing sub-scribers. I’d never considered it before – but you are scribing when you comment. Isn’t that lovely?

Gracias. Again!

A pilgrimage in time

This is where I have been…

The photo is taken on the property where I spent my first five years, in the Gascoyne in Western Australia. I flew across the country, drove north with family for company and stories, and travelled back in time over decades, to find another kind of meseta in the outback.

Now I’m home in Melbourne, beginning to try to make something like sense from the pilgrimage. Time will tell whether or not that is possible. I hold onto the words of T.S. Eliot…

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

It may take forever to find sense, or to achieve any kind of knowledge, but exploration is surely the vital thing, and in one of those curious serendipitous occurrences, we were back on the land where my mother’s ashes are scattered on the very day when the Fairfax newspapers published this piece I wrote months ago. The photo is theirs. I wish I’d looked so glamorous out on the camino roads! You can read the article online in situ, with ads, here if you prefer.

 

Sun and shadow

When Ailsa Piper made a walking pilgrimage across the length of Spain, her late mother was a constant companion.
In lock step … the author often felt her mother walking beside her.In lock step … the author often felt her mother walking beside her. Photo: Getty Images (posed by a model)

 

I write this on my mother’s birthday. Mum loved an occasion. Christmas was a day-long fiesta that started at dawn when she woke before we did. Mother’s Day was tea with toast burned by us as she pretended to sleep. Birthdays were top of her pops; she insisted they be celebrated. Her last wish was that every year we raise a glass on the day she was born.

 

Often I slip up when toasting her birthday and refer to it as the day she died. It’s as though her birth has become inextricably linked in my mind with her death – as though I can’t think of her beginning without remembering her ending. Maybe it’s because I can’t recall her full-force gales of laughter without immediately seeing her reduced to a coiled spring of suffering in a hospital bed.

 

Mum died almost two decades ago, her hair still dark, and with few wrinkles, although cancer had begun to etch itself into her face. Now, when I think of her, she is birth and death, pleasure and pain, joy and grief, simultaneously.

After a city birth, I went home with Mum to the family sheep station, where my world was bounded by the fences my father regularly rode out to check. Desert country. Unyielding. But Mum gave me other possibilities. Each night, she recited Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat to me until I fell asleep. She did it for years, until I could recite it back to her.

Surrounded by drought-afflicted soil, she whispered of a pea-green boat bobbing on a star-lit sea. In a place where every drop of water was as precious as platinum, she described lush Bong-tree woods, and a runcible spoon scooping slices of impossible-to-imagine quince. Strange fruits and lands, exotic and enticing. And, of course, there was that impossible couple, owl and cat, dancing under a distant moon.

I know the poem by heart. By my heart and her heart.

 

Just after I decided to walk 1300 kilometres across Spain from Granada to Galicia, I heard a psychologist talking about the importance of the tales we’re told as children. He believed the best any parent could offer was The Owl and the Pussycat. Think about it, he said. The central characters celebrate their differences, and set out on a great quest, with plenty of all they need: honey and money. The decision to marry is instigated by the cat, and the owl loves her strength. Not a bad template for life.

Some people were dismayed when I part-financed my Spanish walk by selling the two paintings I’d bought with my modest financial inheritance from Mum, but I think she’d have approved. I used her legacy to take myself out into the world, whispering our poem to unfamiliar skies.

One day on the road, in a one-burro pueblo called Laza in the mountains of Galicia, I hobbled with a possibly broken toe into a supermarket and struck up a conversation with the woman behind the counter. We talked about mothers. When I told her that mine had been my best friend, and how I missed her, the woman’s professional face cracked. She said her mother had died only a year before, at the age of 80. I said I often walked with mine; that I still felt her absence, after all these years. Suddenly, we were both crying, hugging like intimates.

 

Through her tears, she said life is sol y sombra – sun and shadow – and you don’t value one without the other. She kissed my hand as she gave me my change and I walked into the late afternoon oblivious to the pain in my toe.

Sol y sombra.

I wondered about it as I limped to the town’s cemetery and looked across the gravestones to the surrounding hills. I remember thinking how Mum would have loved it all: the silent grey-stone town, the quince paste I’d bought in memory of the poem, the donkey grazing on lush grass studded with white and yellow daisies, the clouds whizzing ahead to road’s end. The swishing sounds of Spanish. The moss and lichen on granite fences. The mists. The otherness.

 

Mum never got to go to Europe. Sometimes I think my yearning for the road is in part a wish to wander on her behalf, a quest for Bong-trees.

“Sol y sombra,” I whispered, my bones aching for heat in that cemetery swirling with winds blowing chill from the north.

Sun and shadow.

I think the lady in the shop was right. We do value the sun more when we have known shadow. Why is that? I refuse to believe suffering is necessary for happiness, but it certainly puts it into sharper relief. I don’t want to believe I love my mother more for having lost her, but it makes the love, all loves, more precious.

Later along that road, I learnt the Spanish have a drink called sol y sombra. It’s equal parts brandy and anise. Not for the faint of heart. Maybe next year, on Mum’s birthday, I’ll shout myself a glass of sol y sombra and drink to the sunshine Mum gave me to navigate through shadows. Maybe I’ll raise a glass on the anniversary of her death, too.

No. Why wait? Loss teaches us to seize our days. I’ll find a sol y sombra tonight and raise it to love.

Serendipity.

Coincidence.

They always make me feel that I’m in the right place, even if that is nothing more than projection of my own hopes. No matter. It was a camino, I was a pilgrim, and I think the road is leading me somewhere. I’ll keep you posted!

Meantime, there are a few events coming up between now and Christmas, all of which will be listed on the “Events and Media” tab above, and updated on Facebook.

Did I just write Christmas? Ay caramba!

Thanks as ever for subscribing, and for your support and comments. And if you are a first-time visitor, welcome! Bienvenido! You might like to click on the “AAA – my favourites” link on the right to get a sense of the journey so far.

Hasta pronto, compañeros.

 

Listening

I wrote the first version of this some time ago, for a friend who was getting married. Then I returned to it and re-worked it, because I realised I’d actually written it as a reminder to myself to try to do better…

Listen….

To the stirrings, the whisperings, the demanding of your heart. Listen for change. Listen for needs. Listen for desires. Listen for the unspoken. Listen for fear.

 

Listen…

To the silences, the bellows, the hints, the demands, the pleasures of those you love. Listen for the unexpressed. Listen for change. Listen for the ordinary. Listen for fear.

 

Listen…

In the spaces between you and others. Let them expand. Let them contract. Let them be landing places and points of departure. Let them be returns and beginnings. Let them be attended to with care and attention.

 

Listen…

On waking. Before sleeping. When tired. When angry. When alone. When in company. With respect. With humour. Without fear.

 

Listen…

With the same wonder and stillness you had as a child, when you pressed a shell to your ear to hear the roar of the sea. Let that wonder support you and carry you, far and wide, and always home.

Listen…

And when you have finished listening…

Take a deep breath.

Then speak.

A note of thanks for the thoughtful comments and reflections that have been left on the last few posts. I am so appreciative that these offerings spark dialogue. My subscriber-village constantly surprises and inspires me. I listen with humility and gratitude.

El Ganso

Exactly three years ago, I was in El Ganso, just past Léon on the Camino Francés.

If I close my eyes, I can still smell cut grass on the warm evening air, and the sprig of lavender on my pillow as I drifted into sleep in a mercifully snore-free albergue. I can hear the dog’s bark ringing across the field below the town, reminding me that some creatures were working while I rested.

Most of all, I remember the contentment and internal quiet I felt in that town at the end of a tough and sometimes confusing day.

 

If you’ve read Sinning Across Spain, you may recall the story of Domingo, the old gentleman, or gentle old man, I met there. With all my heart, I hope he is still alive and well, and that he and his town have not been too much troubled by the economic crisis. I hope one day that I might return to thank him for the gifts he gave me.

The following passage from the book, and these photos, are to honour him and El Ganso. I hope that you, my village, will forgive me for posting something you may have read. But as Arthur Miller wrote – “Attention must be paid.”

And gratitude must be given.

Gracias, Domingo. Gracias, mi compañero.

Gracias…

At the end of a long hot day’s walking, I’d arrived in El Ganso, a pueblo my guidebook called “hauntingly crumbling”. It was dozing, and yes, perhaps a touch melancholy, with its Cowboy Bar at the entrance decorated in saddles and cowskins.

El Ganso means “wild goose”. I didn’t chase any.

I wandered out of the albergue as the sun flirted with the horizon. A lone dog barked and a bird fluttered among the beams of an abandoned adobe building behind me. To my left was the handful of houses that made up the town. To my right was the road out. Opposite was a narrow dirt lane between two tumbledown buildings, and walking towards me up that lane was a man with broad, open features. His eyes were surrounded by deep lines. He leaned on a walking stick and waved with his free hand.

Buenas tardes, peregrina,” he called, his face creasing into a grin. That smile was my introduction to Domingo. We stood in the main street, talking about the weather, how far I’d walked, and where I was from.

Australia got a good response.

He held out his free arm and suggested a little walk–un camino pequeno.

We set off at Domingo pace, stopping to sniff the wind, to look and listen.

He gave me the grand tour of El Ganso, where he had spent his entire life. We saw the houses of his brothers and sisters; a big two-storey house–not so nice as the low ones; the vacant land, just waiting for a nice lady from Australia to buy it and build a new home; the abandoned houses, falling into disrepair and back into the ground; the edible rose hips; and the scratching chooks with their scrawny chicks.

Stories everywhere. The house where he was born. The families who went away. The home that waits for his son. The flowers he planted for his sister. The figs, so good, so good…

Then he took me to his house and ushered me inside. He showed me his kitchen, and the kettle his wife favoured, their bedroom and bathroom, both modern and cool; the guest room–for next visit? Then his shed, with its tools and folding garden furniture. His backyard, where he picked for me white roses tinged with softest pink, and two perfect pears. He had sons in Seattle and Madrid, he told me. They made a lot of money but they didn’t come home much.

The whole tour took maybe an hour. Details, affection, the wonder of his almost-abandoned town…

Te gusta mi pueblo?” You like my town?

I did. I still do.

As the sun set, he walked me back along the empty main street to the albergue, where he left me with a stiff bow and a sweep of his free arm, saying, “Ésta es mi pueblo.

This is my town.

I watched him walk away, the scent of pears and roses wafting in the warm air as the church steeple turned orange. All around his retreating figure, the stones of the houses glowed. His home was radiant, radiating. I saw how full it was of loves and losses, and how much richer I was for him having stepped into my life to tell me of them.

I took my fruits and flowers to adorn my table at the Cowboy Bar. Cowboys were a disappearing breed, and I wondered about the future of those pueblos. Would they survive the rush of the young to the cities and beyond?

Water

Last week, I was invited to write something to read at the first story-telling night at the Grumpy Swimmer bookshop in Elwood. The theme was “water” – not an element in which I’ve ever felt easy, much as I love it.

At the same time, I was grappling with my piece for Women of Letters. I hadn’t finalised it, and was torn between three wildly different versions. I think the piece for Grumpy might have affected the outcome of my letter. It’s as though I dipped my toes into the water and was able to look back to shore and see where I had come from – and that is what I wrote about.

So, as a way of honouring the process, and as an offering to you, my subscriber-village, I thought I’d post the Grumpy piece here. It’s short – it had to come in under five minutes – but I’m so grateful to it. It is a step on the way to my next major project, I think. And it gave me the first words for my Women of Letters piece, too!

I was born at the end of the world, on the edge of a great ocean. Before my eyes could focus, I was taken to a place in the desert, where, like a cactus, I grew plump, drawing life from the red dust that was my whole world.

One day, they took me back to see that ocean I had not been shown. They told me I could swim in it, walk beside it, make a castle near it. They gave me a bucket and a spade, and I held them close in the hot car for hours while we drove to that great ocean.

They forgot one thing. They didn’t tell me about the noise.

“Look,” they said. “Look at the pretty blue.”

The pretty blue roared and crashed, it thumped and smashed. It frothed and bubbled and hissed, and no amount of cajoling was going to get me to step into its soupy swirls.

I ran from it, craving my desert silence.

When I had grown I went back to the great ocean. It was still loud.

Currents of warmth rose out of frigid depths. Sand slid from under my toes. Seaweed tangled around my thighs, trying to hold me. Water was sirens, sharks and lures. Water was not my element.

Too loud. Too belligerent. Too slippery and unpredictable.

I left the great ocean and returned to the reliable earth, to find my feet and my way. I walked. I walked myself away from my home and into the wide world.

Along the ways, I was always drawn to ocean-people. I loved their roaring laughter, their flicks and head-tosses, their flamboyance. But I couldn’t stay with them. Always I returned to the silence of the earth; to its unassuming wisdom and its wry smile.

One day in the midst of all the ocean-people, I met an earthed man, who brought me to live in his home near a stretch of water that is confident enough about itself not to need to roar. I came home to a sure shore.

On the edge of Port Phillip Bay, there is a trail, where I’ve walked for over two decades now. It is my camino. That word means road, or way, in the Spanish language. It makes a known path feel more seductive to me when I call it a camino. Sometimes, you need to find ways of making the familiar exotic when you walk a road every day.

My camino runs from the end of the Elwood canal, past Point Ormond, and along the beach to Brighton. Sometimes I turn right and head for St Kilda, but it’s busy along there. Too many ocean-people.

On my camino, the rhythm of my feet kicks in, and before I know it I have drifted to other roads…to the desert, to Italy, central Australia, and Tasmania; to the Great Dividing Trail. I can be in Spain, out on the dry meseta tableland.

But then I turn my head, and there beside me on my camino is the bullet-grey of Port Phillip Bay’s water.

Come back. It says. Be here. Be where you are.

Because now, after all these years of tracing that camino bay-trail, it is water that grounds me. Calmer, stiller water. The glint of afternoon sun on that wine-dark bay tells me I’m where I belong. The first pale light of day, sparkling on the lapping edge at my toes, whispers that I’m where I’m meant to be. It is water, that body of water with its softness and its steely grey, that holds me on course and stays the distance. It is that water that calls me home.

End-of-the-world-sunset across my beloved bay

My gratitude to all of you who are subscribers, and in particular to those who have left such rich and thoughtful comments in response to the offerings here. I recently re-read my first ever post, and I remember the skepticism I felt about things digital and social media. I realise I now have new communities. I love sharing snippets and pictures and fast updates on Facebook, and enjoy the thumbs-up LIKEs when they hit a nerve, or give a smile. I have learned that Twitter can take me down tunnels about writers and news outlets I’d never imagined. Here, on the blog, I feel I have conversations with guests at an on-goinng dinner party.

So thank you all, wherever you intersect with me. I will keep trying to offer tasty morsels!