I went to the river

Sleeping out new moon 13 Feb 2021

Doing! Doing! Doing!

Against the shadow of grief

There is not enough water to grow new trees

When the old ones leave , who will hold the water ways?

What then?

I went to the river – the water was green, thick with the dust of land , floodwater green of water new to the system, algae green – they ( the cotton farmers) have graciously just increased the flow but the water level is like covering the front step of a four storey building. Be grateful they say. I went to the lake – it was green – with grass- how pretty they say…

There are weirs, there are systems, there are allocations.

Along the river there are so many bones of fish, from the great death event last summer, where the algal bloom took the oxygen from the water and took the life of thousands of fish including hundred year old fish that had survived so many droughts. It went viral. But the fish died. I found the body of a fish , ants feasting on the bank. I feel to make an artwork of the fish – to honour the fish. I take my camera and make photos to be used later. Studying the dead fish and the way the ants are eating it – I feel a presence behind, and I turn to see there in the middle of the river a huge fish is in the air. Just a second, but I see it and I know it sees me. I am startled ,heart racing. I call out Hello! A cool breeze moves up the river and seems to wrap around me. I have found my teacher, my guide.

I collect rubbish _ including discarded fishing line. I follow the river in the car and practice 4WD. Think of bringing Sal and Jess and others here. There is a forest along the river but its tired. I stop beneath the biggest mother-of-fuck trees and bow before them. Old ,old gnarled  trunks – so over awed I stare.

Across the desert plains to a picnic spot on the edge of the once was lake, trees skeletal, dead, mighty trees. A few old beings hold on to life and the deep once banks. There is not enough water to grow new trees

When the old ones leave , who will hold the water ways?

I am in a caravan park where once water lapped a shore. I didn’t pay to stay because there was nobody to pay. The “we are open sign” had blown onto the ground and collected red sand mud from recent storms. The kiosk sign faded; the “office” deserted. The big sign said Menindee Lake.

I walked to the lake edge and watched the new moon settle down into the horizon. I made notes for my painting. I walk back in starlight and am grateful for the light coloured sand that leads the way.

I slept beneath the stars, the milky way that the ancestors of the  ancestors knew.

I looked – I kept being called to the hunter – Orion’s belt- again and again- because that is what I knew- I craved to know more.

I fell asleep wandering if we see the milky way the same all year round. At different times of night at different seasons. I can’t remember. If feels like there is not enough time to remember.

What are the stars I know? Marvelling at seeing the 3D nature of the milky way. Shooting stars . Thinking about perspective. Where is Emu? Trying to see everything in my head. Seeing new constellations

I wake in the night with the words  “listen to the words of the great mother, who of old was known as Artemis, Dianna, Ahrionrod,  …. And by many other names. I struggle to remember and  to list them in order . I see the goddess in the stars as never before.

I awake in the night  -Ants  have invaded the sleeping bag . Marvel at the white milkiness of the night sky – how the big dipper really is full of starry milk. I wonder if the Pleiades is the little dipper or that small constellation near Orion. I can’t remember; my vision blurry.

Awake in the night I think of water flows and allocations, weirs and dams upstream. I see the silhouettes of tree skeletons against the starry sky. I think of cotton.

My body on the earth, feels the strain, the effort to survive.

The eastern sky is lightening when I awake again. The stars above me are completely changed. The southern cross now high in the sky. I struggle to recall what I know about the axis of the stars. What lay north south after sunset now seems east west . I am totally confused.

I wake to the pied butcher bird song and sunlight.

There is deep sorrow in my bones that I seem to have absorbed from the land overnight ,that is blending with the missing of my father. There is unexpected grief. It’s not that it was an easy relationship- but he taught me this – how to see and read the world, the birds and rock and trees. I miss those conversations. In the year before he died we used to talk about the lakes and look up the level on the dams across NSW. When we first started Menindee was at 0.7% and now, despite the floods up north that should be filling it –  it’s at 18% . He would shake his head.

Over east this is all so far away, and cotton is better than synthetics isn’t it?

 I love the Barkka, having visited its banks in Wilcannia for more the 40 years. In the 2000’s I stepped across this mighty river that once supported river boats. I cried – there are no words that describe that feeling.

You see, I was born upstream . the first water I played in was from this system. On the Gwydir – in Kamilaroi country.

I feel so powerless – what can be done. I doubt that I should be living out here. But the spirts all say stay , yes ,yes, live lightly, live well.

There is a place on the highway, a slight rise and a layby. 30klm from Broken Hill. I must remember to come here and watch the stars; the horizon is huge. I pull over- there is a tree. I walk towards the tree and see the ground is littered with plastics, so many shapes and forms. At least I can collect the garbage and put in the roadside bin, that eases the sadness somewhat. I gather seeds from beneath that fruit laden Wilga tree- when I return home I scatter them in my garden.

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