"Including human people, critters are in each other’s presence, or better, inside each other’s tubes, folds, and crevices, insides and outsides, and not quite either. The decisions and transformations so urgent in our times for learning again, or for the first time, how to become less deadly, more response-able, more attuned, more capable of surprise, more able to practice the arts of living and dying well in multispecies symbiosis, sympoeisis, and symanimagenesis on a damaged planet, must be made without guarantees or the expectation of harmony with those who are not oneself – and not safely other, either. Neither One nor Other, that is who we all are and always have been." Donna Haraway
So. Again. Restless, waiting to find the thing to bring and here it is: dragonflies hunt a sunlit clearing in a stand of young wattles. There, on a carpet of dusty grasses among clumps of sedge and cranberry heath and nibbled coprosma, tiger-coloured butterflies pause, wings spread, between bursts of zigzag flight. A lacewing, beautiful small green fierce, has attached its eggs by glistening threads to a juncus stem. Up in the canopy of adjacent eucalypt forest where the dragonflies leave off, flycatchers hunt and call.
In all the universe, here only, this.
Silver wattles are making leaves and flower buds. Their tenderness looks baked even as it appears, so early, in response to a rainy summer – blessed reprieve in these years of fire – as storms push up one after another from the Southern Ocean and fend off blasting heat. Our life-and-death axis: northwest fire and wind, southeast soaking rain, soft.
Sleeping and waking in the living world. The feel of the hill as I ride its shoulder through my days and nights. The feel of its sentience moving through mine each day and in nightly conversation, dreaming. And my capacity to express all this to myself and others filtered through what language can do and be – language that means I can receive understandings from those who came before me; language that also actively limits my ability to become present in and towards the next necessary thing, until someone does the work to bring it into vocabulary, to find proper thoughts and stories.
So shoulder’s not it, except in the sense that it’s living, that it carries, that it turns toward and away from. Whatever the hill is, it’s much stranger and more complex than some discrete, comprehensible entity. It’s the entangled life and history and intentionality of everything, everyone that’s happened here (and here is perhaps most entangled of all) in the field of intelligence, the imaginal realm, in which rocks form and soils elaborate themselves and living things appear and die and go back in. The presence of all this as it goes itself as GM Hopkins would say.
Thinking about this interrelationship and my part in it as a form of entrainment, the way after a certain time (two years?) in close proximity, people become neurologically entrained with one another – for better and for worse. Thinking about how this experience (in multigenerational time) extends itself to all persons, human and nonhuman, including the beings of place that underlie or interfuse or aggregate the lives on and in and under. How we form and are formed by place, mutually influencing. And given the way language mediates our entrainment with and in place, thinking about how long it takes – tens of generations? – to develop a nuanced vocabulary of country. Catastrophes of invasion pushed such a vocabulary and its names and stories aside here. First Nations groups have begun the long work of repairing language.
Thinking about how lands and seas and airways must grieve disruptions such as those caused by invasion, war, despoilation, to attuned responses achieved over thousands of years. And about how refusal of what Donna Haraway calls our human response-ability, refusal of attunement to the tangle of things, creates its own form of entrainment and engenders its own pushback, which is what we’re experiencing now.
Since I last posted online, fire has run through 70,000 hectares of forest directly across the river from here, and the following year it seemed the whole southeast coast of the mainland went up in flames – the fringe that’s supported forest growth till now, erupting as columns of fire into the upper airs. This year, the Indian Ocean Dipole to the west and El Niño/La Niña to the east have shifted from drought-bringing to rain-bearing parts of the cycle for Australia, and we have respite. But everything feels more urgent, less tolerant of thoughtlessness. Fire will come again – like Covid-19 that briefly touched the island and withdrew – though maybe not this season.
Sleeping and waking in wild wind and quiet after a storm half the size of the mainland wheels up from Antarctica and clips the southern tip of the island overnight. It passes into the Tasman Sea and breaks on the shore of Te Waipounamu, dumping metres of rain along the west coast there.
In the morning, bronzewing pigeons begin their hoom, hoom work of pairing up again and laying eggs and rearing chicks to replace those blown from flimsy nests. Fantails collect gobfuls of redbrown fur from the tree fern at the back door and whisk away with it over the roof to a nest they’re building in the westerly hedge. Is it the same pair that raised two chicks weeks ago, ferrying whiskery mosquito-mouthfuls to them in the willow windbreak to the east of the house? It’s a good year for insects, small and large. Wattle goat moths are hatching, thumb-sized, from holes bored by their grubs as they fattened and sweetened in the hearts of host trees through years of rumination.
In the fruit garden, things ripen late this year: little blueberry bushes under the newly netted frame of an old polytunnel offer handfuls of dusty-black fruit, and because of the net, for the first time we get some cherries too. The first tomatoes are reddening, weeks later than usual, and grapes, and the pōhutukawa – Christmas tree! – has just now offered its nectar to honeyeaters and bees.
All of this the hill imagines – ancestor who gives me substance and draws me, one of its entanglements with elsewhere, into its lives and deaths and hauntings. I contribute what I am, knowing I bring disturbance, knowing that not all ancestors are kindly. I want to wonder more accurately: What is sensing and what is being sensed, here? What is perceived and how, by whom? What is intended? How do I respond?
Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Durham and London: Duke UP 2016, 98.