On the summer solstice weekend, I facilitated a Sacred Ecology workshop near Warburton, Victoria. As usual I arrived early, preferring to have some solo time on the land before others turned up. Especially if it’s my first time to a venue (as was the case), it feels important to encounter the country on its terms, to see what suggestions or invitations it might have before imposing my ideas for curriculum.
The blasting heat of a 40+ degree day was the overwhelming reality that greeted me as I gingerly left my air-conditioned car at ‘Camp Eureka’. After a brief look at the facilities, I took the ‘fern walk’ signpost towards the creek.
The towering gums and tea tree scrub seemed stunned into a heavy comatose stillness, broken only by the occasional groan by a bough. Sweat dripped down my back. Not a bird or creature could I see or hear, except for the shriek of cicadas.
My meander masked a mind busy with worry. Gale force winds and an even hotter thermostat were predicted. A severe fire warning had been issued, and while the CFA had assured us of an early evacuation warning, I knew how unpredictable fires could be.
Christmas carols in Warburton had been cancelled, and some residents were heading into the city. Was this crazy to be gathering for a workshop during the Victorian bushfire season?
The Sacred Ecology series was all about exploring elements and seasons. In June we huddled around our precious fire in the midst of a cold snap. September had been fresh and gentle, and here was the Australian summer in all its ferocity.
Approaching the green riparian belt, the temperature dropped a few blessed notches. I slowed as a bird flew into the acacia in front of me, turning a rusty throat upwards in song. Eeee-chong! Hello there rufous whistler, I smiled. Nearby a pair of grey
fantails perched with their beaks open on a branch, panting. I crept forward until overlooking the tannin-stained waters of the Little Yarra. Shallow and sandy and strewn with fallen wattle, it curved around itself sharply, like a moving snake.
Wrens danced down into the shallows to drink and preen, as did a grey-shrike thrush. Hearing a rustle I leant over to see a large crayfish emerge from the rushes and enter the stream.
Just about to wade in myself, I froze with the sound of a large splash. My jaw dropped as a large animal suddenly appeared out of a submerged hiding spot about twenty metres downstream; a deer, shaking water droplets from its spotty coat, before promptly trotting away into the brush.I burst out laughing, both in shock and wondrous awe.
Taking cues from the residents at the creek, this too is how we explored the element water on this summer solstice – splashing, paddling and swimming in the life giving waters of this humble creek, resting on its banks in the afternoon, and greeting the downpours that rolled in on the thunderous evening storms.