about an hour to the south of brisbane lies lamington national park ~the home of binna burra~ a place that south-east queenslanders know and love. warm and fecund, the bush around there wears its’ beauty like natural haute couture, shamelessly tarted up with dripping water and a hundred shades of green. friday arrives, like an antidote for a slightly frazzling week, and myself and some friends make the escape from asphalt, metal and glass, looking for sweet connection to nature. the weekend is dominated by the chattering soundtrack of a wide variety of flying creatures as well as david bowie, whose chant “we are the goonsquad and we’re coming to town…..beep beep!!!” keeps popping randomly out of our mouths, travelling from bowie himself across time and space, emerging here in this place, mimicking our feathered friends who sing in the tree tops……………….i am desperate for the organic chaos of the bush, so, in direct opposition to the mostly straight hard lines of the cityscape, walking in binna burra is an opportunity to lazily watch leaves spin down from the canopy above as they follow the whimsical lines of curly forest breezes, and to witness the slow murdering of trees by enormous vines ominously twisting upwards, strangling at a snails pace………….. there, in the middle of nature’s fashion show we walk, listen, talk, and sleep, blissfully disconnected, engaging with some kind of cleansing, regenerative magic.
magic is such an interesting word. so pregnant with imagery, with judgement. in the universe of academia, magic camps out in the wild, unpredictable fringes of the research landscape ~yet, interestingly, in the past week this word has poked its’ head up from surprising places, inviting me to give it more serious thought. with the prompting of this word i conjure up others: ayahuasca, wicca, crystals, wands, dousing and broomsticks……i look around the room and my eyes skip over a pile of books before settling on a white cockatoo feather that i collected on the weekend at binna burra. it sits next to my bed, along with others that i have gathered in my wanderings. some people i know are really disgusted by feathers, seeing them as somehow being infected, dirty. for some people, birds are like the rats of the sky. i suppose the disgust is inevitable in a sense because feathers are like hair, beautiful while still attached to the body, yet becoming waste as soon as they fall away. and in an era where the pronouncement “kills 99.9% of germs” has become the ultimate mantra of the domestic god(ess), i guess i should not be surprised. but as you might well have guessed by now, i have an altogether different relationship with birds (and with germs)…..i love the aesthetics of these soft, spiny avian cast-offs and the random “luck” involved in finding them. i love to visualise the bodies that they were once attached to ~ like in this case, a beautiful, strong white cockatoo with a sulfur-coloured crest. an australian icon. the imagery that comes when i look at the feather is powerful. i imagine a body as it flies through the air, muscles pumping. it is a body going somewhere, gracefully resisting gravity. while i clumsily follow paths forcefully bashed out of the bush by others, it is the nature of the original owner of this feather to follow the path of no path, through the air. how magnificent it must be to move in this way, to be able to survey everything from above. i imagine the moment the feather detaches from this body and gently floats down, twisting this way and that………serendipitously landing on the same path that we walk……
somewhere in my mind, far away from empirical notions of “reality”, the cockatoo feather exists as a testament to the power of incantations. why? before walking i announce to my companions that i want to find a cockatoo feather…………i say this because only that morning, sitting on the deck listening to the early morning bush symphony, one flew past at eye level, close enough for me to see the determination shining in its’ black eyes. i want a token of that moment. i want to engage with the strength that comes from being midair, from the path of no path……….is an announcement of that which you desire not a spell of sorts? and if it is so in my mind and my sense of reality, does that not make it real? i say the incantation out loud to my friends, visualising my intention traversing the leaves that are spinning down to earth and the moribund tree trunks. i speak the words so that the birds might feel the soft whisper of my desire, enabling a conspiracy of conditions so that i might experience something inexplicable, an antidote for the asphalt, metal, and glass of my thinking. then………….the cockatoo feather arrives, a short while later as i walk through the bush, transported to me in the hand of a stranger who, seeing my eyes widen in surprise at the sight of it, gives it to me as a gift. it is a beauty, white with a faint tinge of yellow. is this not magic?
my friends, the numbers, are very fast to of course point out that i live in a place where birds are a constant part of the landscape. they look to me, exasperated, before turning to their offspring, the laws of probability, so as to demonstrate what the “chances” are. beyond a doubt. i am not supposed to doubt. but thinking in such a way, having these inevitable conversations with the numbers, spirits the magic away, which is another way of saying that i feel it disempowers me as a living, breathing organism that exists as a part of a whole, connected to everything, even this feather, even to the germs living on the feather. all the way down to the most basic of levels, it and i are the same. my friends, the numbers, with whom i have a love-hate relationship, are only concerned with arguing how humans have got a line on everything, that we are above, separate. i understand this allegiance because we have accepted that numbers are the trustworthy eldest son of man, his successor. with their guidance, we will be able to move beyond this planet, beyond nature itself. they will help us to ignore the hubris of icarus in our quest to become gods.
i contend that working only with what can be measured is an ego trip of the highest order. the ego-quirks of we, the “moderns” (are we really modern? ask bruno latour), are now dominant, the new normal. we seem to exist somewhere in between two modes. some believe in a magical, but kind of scary sky-fairy that directs existence, pushing and pulling at will, judging, then giving or taking away. somewhere else, down the other end, numbers and mysterious equations keep us in line, measuring, comparing, polarising, historicising. and this is fine, because this is also part of the ALL. but my problem is that in these spaces both myself and the feather are subordinate to the workings of an external power or, worse still, the soullessness of probability. why must i look up for permission?
handing that power over to something/someone else only separates, drawing lines between things where none exist. lines where there is always somewhere else to go, something to be gained, something better. lines between people. lines between what i am and who i am. dangerously addictive lines in the ways they simplify, quantify. my traitorous eyes see objects as external to my body, constructing lines around me every second of every day, but magical thinking makes the edges fuzzy, just for one glorious moment.
beyond being a pretty symbol of an amazing creature, the cockatoo feather next to my bed embodies the desire that i carry to shed the simplistic framework of what my senses can detect, so that i can fly free and engage with a sense of “being” that is beyond the rudimentary sensorial existence of this body ~the magic. we are all searching for it, this feeling, i am convinced of that. i think we search because we are starved for connection and we know there is something more. we search in the fringe spaces~ at ayahuasca retreats, in the tarot cards, in crystals from the earth, in mantra, doing a pilgrimage……. ~for a connection to an indiscrimating energy that encompasses the ALL. an energy that we can have a personal relationship with, to not experience the boundaries of skin as we would an unforgiving straitjacket. to give a little, to take a little. i wonder about the many ways that this yearning for connection manifests in our society………….
to think magically is to humbly acknowledge the limitations of the human mind, and thus the senses. in the unseen/unfelt space, what i do and say has consequences. it brings me in contact with the possibility of interaction with the totality of what surrounds me, even if i don’t understand it. the possibility of the unseen is a doorway through which i can walk to become more compassionate and empathetic, even if only because there is a clear understanding that in fact, i know very little to be true. much of what i think is speculation, the product of conditioning.
when the human walks or moves or touches, sensory tendrils constantly curl outwards, searching, trying to mesh with something, yet always coming up against walls. and here comes a sad disclaimer: as much as i desire the feeling of separation to totally melt away, so that i can commune and feel magical, i must also accept that too much connection is not conducive to a material existence in this world, at least in its’ current incarnation. you must not step too far outside the lines, for the person who experiences life without boundaries and structures will probably be judged either a criminal or insane…………………..
the cockatoo feather, sitting brightly on my bedside table reminds me that if everything is “one”, only degrees of perceived thickness and thinness, heaviness and lightness- liquid, solid, or gaseous, then there is no distance between me and it, only desire…………there is no distance between you and i, only the distance between thoughts……
which brings me to one more magical thing…… as always, when i walk, especially in places like binna burra, i think about you, the one who emits a light, the one forever infused in the eucalyptus trees that stand strong, watching over me as i walk past, and offering shelter to the bush birds. the feather reminds me that your name is an incantation that i speak aloud in my mind every day, singing out, “be safe!”. and although i long to feel no separation between my skin and yours, it is enough right now for me just to know that you are somewhere, out there, breathing ♥.