when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
                                the earth, ever so slightly, fell
                                toward the apple as well.
                                                                            Ellen Bass

                                Everything that happens
                                will happen and none of us will be safe from it.
                                Pull up anchors. Sit close to the god of night.
                                                                                                       Ellen Kort

Days are getting warmer. Tractors with mowers, tractors with rakes, tractors with balers bounce along roads, through paddocks, capturing and rolling up the hay crop with a rhythmic thump that sounds through the valley like a heartbeat. The ground is suddenly rock-hard, and the cows carry their shining bulk gingerly on tender feet from the shade of trees to the water and back. Forecast rain comes to little or nothing, despite flooding on the mainland where the first monsoon storms sweep through, a month late. In JP’s garden down toward the bay, the echidna that often passes through there climbs right into the birdbath to cool off.

Photo courtesy of Judith Parry
The farm pump breaks down. We spend a day tinkering to see if it’s fixable (no) – J and I in and out of the canoe on the dam, checking for air in the inlet hose and making sure the valve isn’t blocked (it’s a hot day so slipping into the water is welcome) while T looks at the pump mechanism. It has hummed along for fifty years with hardly a glitch. We set up the fire pump in its place to water gardens and fill cattle troughs, and that night we drink a toast of gratitude to machinery partnered with the water on which we depend. T buys a replacement machine and spends the best part of a week working out how to install it – things have changed since the old one was bought while he was still a young man.

While this puzzlement continues, it begins to rain and for a day, blessing soaks us. We’re breathed through by the smell of warm wet soil – petrichor – and the blossoms of the little pōhutakawa begin to revive, whose stamens were struck and shrivelled mid-furl by strong sun; now they change from dark red of dried blood to fresh crimson. Honeyeaters throw themselves ecstatically through wet leaves, bathing in the droplets gathered there. After the rain a huge, overcast stillness settles throughout the valley, day and night.

One morning Julie finds that the white hen – the one who brooded and hatched her chicks in the orchard among the quolls and snakes – has roosted with the other hens. No sign of her chicks; she has left them to their own devices in the night and now they’re gone. Then the red hen leaves her chicks and, accompanied by the cockerel, seeks out a nest in the manger and begins to lay a late clutch of eggs. Overnight the season turns – sounds of birdsong change in the garden and forest, and the angle of the light changes, and it’s autumn, despite what the calendar says.

The shift prompts me to makes changes too. After I got covid last year, my gut flared with an inflammation that has recurred from time to time throughout my life – usually in response to prolonged anxiety or distress, but in this case, I think mainly due to the inflammatory nature of the virus. I didn’t pay much attention at first, but then the flare went on and on. When I finally realised how much time had passed, I asked for medical help to check it out and made an appointment to see someone with a scope. 

Kind, busy nurses talk me through the procedure and help me get ready, and I sit with a half dozen middle aged and older women like me in the level camaraderie of waiting, all of us wrapped in blankets against the cold of aircon set at a temperature that suits young men. I go into the eclipse of anaesthesia while they look inside my gut and wake full of the wellbeing of the drugs, thinking at first that I’m hearing plovers calling – no – greenfinches – no – it’s the beeping of the machines that watch over me and all the others in the ranked beds of the day surgery theatre, coming round after our gastroscopies, our colonoscopies, our arthroscopies and phlebectomies. 

The specialist looms over me to say that there’s nothing new happening. I go home. Everything in me wants to rest, and I fast for two or three days and drink concoctions of slippery elm, then gradually add small meals of kefir, broth, buckwheat – they all taste wonderful, and my body gratefully accepts them, calming. My friend M, a naturopath I’ve known for thirty years, sends remedies to accompany these healing foods.

Patterns of wellness and disease are old in each of us – far older than the body that expresses them, passed down directly and indirectly over generations. And dis-ease is not separate from health – the wholeness of us – not something to be repudiated, as if this sympathy with the world that finds a voice in the bodily responses of the little creature were somehow wrong. Though we do everything we can to soothe suffering, whatever we feel, however the body answers is part of our connection within the weave of things. 

Walking, sitting, lying down to sleep, I feel my partnership with the ground – that is, the world – the perfect reciprocity with which it meets me and responds, with which I meet it and respond, touch for touch, weight for weight, the whole of the living web quivering with each shock of fear, love, rage, tenderness, along connections that go deep and subtle, preceding thought. And all of it emerges from, returns to mystery. 

Whether this clenching that comes and goes in my gut is the wave that carries me out or something else rolls me over, ‘it is the heart that kills us in the end,’ as Emmy-Lou Harris says – when the beat of us finally consents to disappear back into the vast reverberation. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.

Ellen Bass. ‘The World Has Need of You.’ Like a Beggar. Copper Canyon Press, 2014.
Emmy-Lou Harris. ‘The Pearl.’ Red Dirt Girl. Nonesuch, 2000.
Ellen Kort. ‘Advice to Beginners.’ If I Had My Life to Do Over I’d Pick More Daisies.
        Ed. Sandra Martz. Papier-Mache Press, 2010.



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