‘Should we cancel?’
This has been the theme for the past month, since I got back from Tasmania. We tend to lean into optimism, only cancelling or postponing retreats when we have no choice. Wherever possible, everything is fluid until the last minute.
July’s retreats were either redesigned to be smaller, to cater for local guests only, or moved to later dates. This week, however, we had to postpone all retreats for August. Thankfully, we haven't had to cancel or postpone Inner landscaping, and although our current group is much smaller than usual, we are already four weeks into the twelve work journey.
We did have to make a call and postpone our family birthday party, scheduled for early September. All four of us are having significant birthdays. Excitement was high, as we’d fantasised about a party to rival Peter’s legendary 50th.
Restrictions are wearing thin, and not just because I’m sulking about postponements. Like everyone, I’m not used to feeling caged, as if my world is shrinking, and I can no longer stretch my wings. Staring at the horizon and the sky beyond has become a hobby.
This has all been much harder on Shannon than it has been for me, as she is the one who communicates with our guests, facilitators, caterers, yoga instructors, massage therapists and housekeepers, as she constantly resets our calendar on these shifting sands. It is sad to have to pull the plug after all the work that goes into organising.
Trying to find forward dates to rebook is tricky too. Firstly, because we don't know when we’ll be free to do so, and secondly because our calendar was fully booked until well into next year, with no available dates for rebooking. I’m so grateful that Shannon took the reins while I was in Tasmania, and still holds them now. I did meet my writing goals while I was away, but there is still much work to do. Her patience makes it possible for me to continue writing, to reflect on my time away, and adjust to being back home.
There were countless moments, when I was tucked away in my cosy little writing-nest in Cygnet, when waves of wonder washed over me and I’d take a deep breath and say aloud, ‘I’m so happy’. I've loved writing a number of times in the past, when it undoubtedly felt like the right thing to be doing, but over the years I’d lost the joy. All or nothing, is my preferred MO, so I’m already thinking about dates to book for next year.
The deep, immersive experience of writing is like nothing else. Disappearing into creativity is bliss. I loved it so much I didn’t want to stop, and if I could I wanted to write all day and night. There was a time twenty years ago when I could sustain that kind of routine, but those days are gone. Now I know that in order to keep writing, I need to move, eat and sleep too.
In Tassie my days were curated to include daily walking, lots of soup and greens, and a minimum of eight hours sleep most nights. Sunrise and sunsets were my favourite times to walk, and I had weekly cookups when I’d prepare three or four different soups for the week ahead. Once a week my oldest friend Annie, and I would venture up mountains or into the bush for longer hikes.
Now I’m back into my routine of writing in the mornings until noon, leaving the afternoons free for life-admin, exercise and friends. But there has been a shift. Time now seems more expansive. Prior to going away it was as if fitness, health and wellness competed with writing time. Springfield competed with my writing time too. I love the work we do here, but I couldn't resist the desire to write too. Springfield work stole time from writing, and writing stole time from Springfield, so it was impossible to freely enjoy either.
What I’ve noticed over the past month is the feeling that writing is competing for time has shifted. Now it feels as if all of these parts of my life work together to enable me to keep writing in a way that is more sustainable. At least for as long as Shannon wants to keep working here. Sleep, exercise, walking, good food and time with friends are all essential if I am to have the energy and focus to keep writing. Somehow it all seems to weave together more easily now, like an ecology, where everything is interconnected and the diversity helps me to thrive.
Those waves of bliss keep coming, almost daily, even though I have fewer hours to write. Maybe I developed a new ‘muscle’ while I was away? Now I only need to sit at my desk, light my candle, turn on my music and I’m away, as if the memory of the deep immersive experience in Tassie is still fresh, ready for me to slip back into.
Birdsong has become a portal into my imagination too. Sitting in my beautiful studio here, the sounds of birds now makes me hold my breath and pause to notice more deeply, as I stand and creep to the window for a closer look. Most days, for the two months I was away, I’d walk in the wetlands just south of Cygnet, listening to the gulls, swans, herons, ducks and other shorebirds and seabirds that live there, observing their flocks, swoops and murmurations. Since I've been home there are either more birds than I recall or I’m noticing them more too. Peter has been busy with Native Grace Nursery, planting more than a thousand trees while I was gone, but they’re tiny, so I don’t think they can be attracting birds already.
It makes me laugh to think that I’m turning into my mother, first gardening and now birding, but I confess that my interest in birds is growing to the point that I found myself searching for information about birds in my spare time.
I used to laugh at ‘old people’ with their safari vests, birding books and binoculars, but now, if I’m lucky enough to spot them, I want to ask them what they’ve spied, hoping they’ll share their binoculars so I can have a peek too.
Most of the world’s bird species, I’ve recently discovered, can trace their ancestry back to Australia, and we are still home to nearly one in ten of the world’s ten thousand bird species. Pigeons, parrots and songbirds all evolved here. Our island continent has the greatest genetic diversity of songbirds, with an evolutionary history dating back thirty three million years.
All songbirds originated here, and the rest of the world was silent, without birdsong, for 10 million years before songbirds flew beyond our shores. Australian birds, including kookaburras, cockatoos, magpies, lorikeets, native miners and wattlebirds, are uniquely noisy. Our suburbs, rural lands, bush, deserts and rainforests are bursting with a wonderful diversity of birdlife. Even in the green spaces of our cities, birds flourish. As well as the seabirds of Sydney’s harbour and coast, the city is home to more than 200 species of native birds.
Not only do we have an incredible diversity of birds, our cities score high in bird habitats too. Sydney has more trees than almost every other city in the world, with trees on 25.9% of the urban landscape, according to MIT’s Treepedia, second only to Singapore’s 29.3%. With our increasingly urban population (86.24% in 2020) birds are becoming the most visible wildlife to our urbanites. The beauty, song and ephemeral presence of birds is a gift that is right before our eyes, and too often unnoticed. But now that I'm a newbie birder I hope to make up for lost time. Luckily I still have my mother’s bird identification book to help get me started.
The fourth week of inner landscaping group is about discovering the practice of imagining, and encouraging ourselves to expand our ideas and beliefs about what is possible in life. One of the blessings of these quieter, slower days at Springfield, is having more time to daydream, reflect and reimagine how we live. While I can’t roam very far, I can live vicariously through the birds that grace my days, and allow myself the time to be lifted and carried on the wings of their songs. When I watch them fly, wild and untethered, I take a long deep breath, close my eyes and imagine how it will feel to be free again.