Wherever you are is called Here,
                                   And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
                                   Must ask permission to know it and be known.
                                                                                            David Wagoner

                                                  Do you remember?
                                                   that time and light are kinds
                                                    of love …                 Tony Hoagland

                                                                                    The valley spirit never dies
                                                                                                Laozi, Daodejing Chapter 6

A potoroo, a small member of the kangaroo family, long nosed and low to the ground where it finds the fungi and roots it lives on, has been scratching out potatoes in this year’s patch. It doesn’t eat so very many, but it exposes them to the light so that they become green and inedible – to us at least. T usually digs a stalk of potatoes when we need them – the climate here is suitable for leaving the crop in the ground – but now he digs a few stalks at a time and stores them in a dark place. He devises a delicious dish that uses up the very small chats, steaming them with carrots and broccoli then sauteeing the mixture in butter and herbs.
Still days, clear and cool or grey and cool. The low angle of the light signals what part of the year we’re in as nights grow longer – only a few weeks now till the winter solstice. Birds bathe even more diligently than usual to keep their feathers fluffed and warmly insulating, and the nectar eaters in the garden around the house feed hungrily from late ornamental ginger and sage flowers, and early grevilleas.

The 11-year solar maximum is near and the sun spits a vast plume of plasma in the direction of earth. For days it blows the planet’s magnetic field out beyond into space and then when the stream passes, the magnetosphere snaps back on the rebound carrying an intensified charge, and rays and sheets of glowing gas flicker across the southern horizon, outwards from the poles. The nights are illuminated more brightly and variously than I’ve seen in decades. 
One night the storm is so intense the lights fill the southern sky, form a crown overhead and extend far to the north, vast and silent, shaking. All over the island and far onto the mainland, people step outside and look up. I stand in the paddock for hours, wrapped against the cold. From a tree at the forest edge an owl calls sharply and another answers. 

A few days later it rains when the first of a series of high-pressure systems rolls across from the west and stalls in the Bight. These blocking highs bring dry days and weeks to the mainland, but pull a stream of cold wet air up from the Southern Ocean over lutruwita/Tasmania. When each slow-moving front eventually passes it drags drier air in its wake, though still cold, southerly. With the rain, fungi start to put up fruiting bodies from immense mycelial networks they’ve created underground and in leaf litter and dead wood. After a walk across fog-wet paddocks, T brings back a hatful of field mushrooms; we cook them in butter and eat them on slices of fresh bread. In the forest, wood mushrooms appear on and around rotting logs and the ground is dotted with red, orange, green, blue, yellow, purple caps and fingers of gilled and bolete and coral species. Bettongs and potoroos feast on the several kinds of truffles endemic to the island that grow under the local eucalypts and acacias.
Night fog forms over the river and fills the valley and all its tributaries. At dawn, wind stirs and the trees turn their leaves this way and that into its stream. Fog lifts late in the morning; everything drips and glitters, and across the river, first snow shines on the peaks. The day is bright enough to dazzle, cold enough to hurt my ears and I put on a hat and scarf to go walking. Droplets spangle delicate seedheads of browntop bentgrass where it hasn’t been trampled or grazed, and as I walk by with the dog, a pair of brown quail startle up in a purr of wings from where they’ve been sunning themselves on a patch of close-nibbled wallaby lawn.

I think of the tens of thousands of years of Melukerdee presence here, and of the entangled intricacies of knowledge about this place that must emerge from that immersion, and of the determined, ongoing colonial attempt to destroy and usurp this and other cultures and knowledge systems. But place is powerful and it wants to be known by those who belong to it; the valley spirit never dies. And though implicated, benefitting from the destruction and displacement brought about by settler culture, still, like every creature I have in my bones and muscles and neurons the capacity – the necessity – to ask permission to know, and to pay attention to how the world speaks in response. 

The northwest jet stream reasserts itself, the wheel of weather starts to turn again and cloud pours down from the tropics, a river of rain over the deserts, over the ranges and forests and croplands, and finally out over the sea once more. On a cold evening, I cook sweet shallots and shiitake mushrooms for dinner, as squalls, purple black against last light, blow from the mountains and spatter rain against the roof and western windows.

Within the shelter of the polytunnel’s pocket of air, snow peas climb on their net supports, getting ready to flower; two little orange trees the nursery sent us by mistake are loaded with ripe and ripening fruit; a cold-tolerant dwarf banana, wrapped just now against frost as a precaution, continues to grow verdantly. Alongside these things, kale and mustard greens and silver beet and turnips.

I will always be a stranger to my Here, calling out, asking, listening for voices, names that are being spoken, not too fast but too slow for me to follow over a single lifetime. Still, time and light pour in, soaking through, they stretch and rebound, and all of us, just and unjust, are admitted to the flow.

Tony Hoagland. ‘The Word,’ Sweet Ruin. University of Wisconsin Press, 1992.
David Wagoner. ‘Lost,’ Poetry, July 1971.


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