Stephanie Rose Bird, USA :
'Three excerpts from my book'
My memoirs are written around the theme of journeying home.
All work is protected under US Copyright laws and reprint permission will be required before posting one of the pieces.
Your project is exciting! I hope I can participate. If not, I'd still like to keep you posted so that when my agent and I find the right publisher, I can let you know more about the final book. Best Wishes, Stephanie Rose Bird
The Pathway Home /Page 97 - 110
Time for a cursory glance over the barren gray dirt and a plan hatches: a couple of Forsythia bushes over there, a smattering of Dutch irises here, maybe some deep pink peonies over there, a grouping of Pandora's lillies, Yes! At long last, a creative plan to fill in the void. Just before dusk, with boxes tucked safely inside, I venture back out.
After living in the city with barely one tree over five years old, having a yard, however small, is an emancipation. No bucolic splendour here, this tight brick two-room flat is only a block away from the train and ever-flowing expressway; no matter of importance, I plow the soil with my hand tools, flip her over, finding that she is fertile.
Just a few feet down, the soil is as black as a Yoruban Queen, and within these dark depths I plant an array of seeds and bulbs: lullabies at night for the little one; sunny daffodils by day for the boys; purple Viola wittrockiana for memory, hopes for the birth of a little girl growing within my belly; Hyacinthus hybrid, Narcissus and Tulipa greigii for grandma; Negro spirituals for grandpa; pennies for luck; Achillea filipendlina for great grandma; Rosa rugosa for my Godmother; water and fire rituals for protection; Aguilgia vulgaris for my second mum who is gentle and powerful at once; recipes for strength, health and fertilization; around cairn of stone-my husband the anchor; all set behind a white washed fence sprinkled with gopher's dust for security . . . and so it goes over the years.
Now, come spring, the elder boy towers over me and I feel the rustling winds of Oya's skirts as he passes in pursuit of hopes and dreams beyond my reach. As each child grows, the Helianthus annual will present their aspirations to the sun.
Our toddler and the newly transplanted French lavender-scented geranium, German chamomile and hyssop seedlings fight for a chance for some light and a precious bit of space to call their own.
Stooping over to lessen the load, the reflection in the puddle reveals a wide hipped, broad-shouldered black woman, flicks of gray intermingled with brown, looking back at me with the fixed gaze of one-who-sees. No longer a slender girl eagerly searching for homes on distant shores. Woman of the house, planter of seeds, tiller of dreams, too old to call maiden and too young to call crone.
When the cab pulled up to our apartment complex I noticed there were more apartments, just as big as ours, across the street and that our view, that coveted West Coast phenomenon. People in our income bracket could have at least afforded to obtain a view of a grassy mesa or a profusion of transplanted tropical flowers plopped in the parched Earth and drenched periodically with a high powered sprinkler - our view in Oak Park was of a streaming whirl of fast moving vehicles, framed by a mountain of apartment complexes.
As we got out of the cab, our last real link with our life under the sun in the pearl, my flouncy batiked skirt caught the wind, blowing over my head, disrupting my view.
When our family returned from the Southern Hemisphere, the worse part was that the frigid winds that rose up with us from the El tracks. It was the fact that we were depleted, completely drained emotionally. Transformed beings, never to be the same, enriched, enhanced, yet replanted into the same landlocked working class corridor of Oak Park, half a mile east of our original apartment complex, one block from the city and the expressway.
This time the building was ours, at least in theory, for while we were away the IRS saw fit to stake a claim on it, but then that's a whole other story. We stopped off in San Diego before our return, and surprisingly enough it was cold there too - not Chicago cold, but chilly just the same.
As much as I tried I couldn't find any playful spirits lurking there, not up or down the highway that hugs the ocean and not in our former home The Pearl (La Jolla).
The fires that I set to clear our land in Mapuru, the firewood I'd gather each morning at the outstation and in the tiny community of Galiwinku, the full submission to nature and survival was completely and utterly nullified in San Diego, where every inch away from the ocean is planned, plotted, prefabricated, paved or a strip mall. Feebly, I did scrape up a few dried leaves to attempt an offering on some terra-cotta tiles, when no one was looking, but there was no damper, jam, sweet Billy Tea or elemental spirits to be found.
The excruciating withdrawal from living close to the earth had begun with our venture to The Alice; well, Alice is what the White fellas named her but to the Arrernte custodians, their country, which snakes through the arid lands, creek beds and Todd River in the New Age-y suburban desert town, represents the journey of the Mparntwe caterpillar creation ancestors.
We flew in after months up on the Top End of the Northern Territory and began to live in a more civilized way. We were happy to stay in an inn with crisp sheets, eat at a restaurant, have a shower turned to full blast, splash on some cologne and perfume and other things often taken for granted but, little did we know, that upon arrival in Mparntwe that our fragrances had turned us into fly magnets.
When we departed from the tiny little plane, we were greeted by a stunning array of delicate desert grasses and wildflowers including awerreke-alyeye-alyey (Ptilotus obovatus), mulyarranu (Newcatelia spodiotrica), Native herre-herre (native lemongrass), parrkelye (Calandriniabalonenis), awerreke-alyeye-alyeye (lamb's tail), each plant is not only attractive but makes good bush tucker for the Arrernte, Anmatyerr, Alyawarr, Warlpiri and other indigenous groups who live in or travel through the area, yet the main course of the day was us.
We were attacked by greedy blackflies who touched us everywhere, including our eyeballs and nostrils as soon as they got the chance. We stayed at an inn for a while, but then I met Jenna. I noticed her often in the tiny desert town, especially since we seemed to be doing a lot of the same things. When we were cued up at Araluen Art Centre waiting for tickets to the Annual International Indigenous Film Festival the time came to make introductions. Jenna's glowing aura escapes from her green eyes and lights up whomever she embraces. We clicked, and I was relieved at last to find another kindred spirit - Jenna was the sister friend I craved in my life.
It was fortunate that we met Jenna and her family when we did for we were almost picked clean of money by our journeying, and then too we didn't have a way to enter Aboriginal society. Researching the art and culture of the Aborigines as a Fulbright Scholar is what brought us to Australia, after all. Jenna was involved with the Desert intellegentsia (yes, there is one), a loose collective of anthropologists, linguists, remarkable writers whose books and films you are probably familiar with, many well-meaning Land Rights attorneys and Aboriginal Rights activists, art collectors, art dealers, art advisors who lived in Aboriginal Country and a wide variety of Aboriginal artists.
Peeking out from behind her broad Irish-Australian shoulders, I was able to meet some of the most well-respected acrylic painters from Utopia in the Western Desert. With Jenna's linguistic gifts I was actually able to engage in conversation with the single painter whose art work had carved such an indelible inroad into my vision as an artist, that a journey around the world to meet her became imperative.
One of the most memorable desert experiences came when we travelled with her group of associates to a billabong near Glen Helen Gorge. I hadn't heard anything at all about the place, in the way there are so many stories, books, literature and tours to Kata Tjuta (the Olga) or Uluru (Ayers Rock), however, trusting in the groups enthusiam and Jenna's impecable judgment, I knew it must be a mystical place. We jogged and lurched, bobbled and jiggled down the track in her sturdy four-wheel drive toward the gorge.
The gorge is situated near the MacDonnell Ranges, which seems to put on a constantly changing show of color, ranging from French Ultramarine-tinged violet to Magenta brushed over Geranium Lake. In the evenings the ranges take on a hazy gray-blue cast, as though throwing off heat accumulated over the millennia since their creation.
The area is home to the 350 million years old Finke River, the worlds oldest, and you can feel the spirit of the ancestral beings that enriched it into being in the area. With no tour buses near our billabong we were able to strip off our clothes and plunge our sun-roasted bodies into the cool pristine depths without obstruction or observation.
No room for priggish modesty or voyeurism because this was an afternoon of direct communication with nature. We'd stroke passed each other's multi-hued bodies, touching or talking at times, but for the most part we were enveloped in the currents of our individual thoughts. Later that evening as the burning logs that had been dug into the sand smoldered, and our roasted prawns, lobsters, root vegetables and tropical fruits were digested, we fell into a deep slumber after polishing off a few bottles of wine.
We didn't sleep in tents, the common camping gear of the States, instead each of us zippered up our swags, though a few couples doubled up, and experienced the satisfying rest that comes from breathing clean air while resting under a canopy of brilliant stars.
My rest was disrupted briefly when I felt a tall, slow moving, elegant presence loom over us like a dark shadow and then pass by. I thought perhaps it was a dream, large bird, low flying bush plane or even a lanky Mimi Spirit that had followed us to the centre from the Top End - after all I'd had a visitation previously in my kitchen back in Oak Park, perhaps the Mimis liked me? A little after dawn we woke up for a chance to enjoy cool air during its brief appearance before the blazing sun rose completely.
Evidence of the graceful presence remained. Wild camels had plunged their hooves deep into the soft sand, as the caravan loped by, a few inches away from our dream-filled heads. Most likely they had been drawn to our area by Annalissa, since she had spent an entire year living and writing alone among them. As we move onward, ill-prepared for the brutal winds of change ahead, what I wouldn't give to be back at the billabong near Glen Helen Gorge on that gentle evening long ago squeezed between the thighs of the Great Mother, floating in her womb water, in the presence of spirited friends and the creation ancestor beings.
contact Stephanie Rose Bird at: BirdoSan@AOL.COM
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