We are all just walking each other home… Ram Dass
I have been away from home for a very long time now and suddenly so soon I will be going home changed – and to a changed world.
Leaving my life and everything which is familiar to me for three months has been a complete total perspective overhaul. Like an uprooting I had the chance to experience total physical detachment from everything that I thought defined me. My role with my children & grandchildren, home, farm, , music, friends, family, animals, routine, work, roles I played – all gone in a day. The first few weeks in Australia were very difficult. I saw clearly how much I was attached to things, people, events and roles as a part of my identity. My mind was filled and busy with the loss of what seemed like my entire life; my activities, my animals, my family, my possessions. All aspects of daily life that create the illusion of constancy and predictability. But of course what I quickly came to see was that everywhere I am is home – and absolutely everything changes. It does not stop because I am not there.
The first few mornings I would wake nearly choking with tears from dreams about my dogs. They were my constant companions and who I had spent all of my time, literally each day and night with for so many years. Now I was going to a life that would not include animals at all. In fact, in my frantic need to have alive beings in my life – the very first day we got to our temporary house in St. Andrew’s Beach, I ran out and bought goldfish to add to the planter pot outside, that the previous tenants had left a couple of fish to fend for themselves in when they left for England. Maybe I was unreasonably sad that the goldfish had been abandoned, feeling like my dogs and family may feel also abandoned I was transferring all this onto those little fish. It is quite a thing going into a world where you own nothing, you have no identity, you have no resources or friends, you don’t even have any idea what things look like at the grocery store.
I reflect on this memory now as I prepare to leave Australia and return to my life back in Canada. Things have changed while I have been away. I have changed, my home has changed – and everything seems to continue. Some of my family has been altered by sad or happy circumstance. My daughter got her new house – I am excited to see it. My other daughter is moving out, I am so happy to see many of my children moving forward making happy and healthy decisions for themselves. There were also very sad changes, like my beautiful lovable but damaged dog who was put down because he became dangerously aggressive. This was a tremendously difficult decision being so far away from home but we had to to keep everyone safe. There were many eternally long moments I couldn’t have felt farther from home had we been stationed on Mars. There are spaces now at home where beings I loved lived – spaces that I will not fill, but allow to stay open and remember that everythin changes, everything passes. I was lucky to have loved and been loved.
I also discovered unparalleled joys here. The ocean only a step away, watching surfers at high tide even in winter! Taking walks in the crisp air, feeling alive and healthy. We are very lucky as musicians because seeing a new country most intimately through the eyes of a creative community first of all is a very privileged experience. In the Australian musician’s world, the minute you are a “muso” you are accepted and adopted into an intimate community of fellow songsters,, like a brotherhood or sisterhood of instant acceptance. In other words we didn’t feel out of place here for very long – maybe minutes?
We literally got to know Australia through its music and musicians – and what a beautiful creative place it is! Music seems to drip off the streets. It is never hard to find a live local venue for music lovers in this country – people play seven days a week. Communities are created through music, and we found ourselves very quickly adopted and loved by the strong community of players we met from all over. Friendships sprang up that will be life long.
There have been challenges to match the joys of this experience For example, maybe you as a Canadian or American would snicker smugly like we did at the idea of an “Australian Winter” . How bad can it be, right? During our first days staying in town before we arrived at our house torrential rain fell in sheets, and Australians in denial ran around in shorts, sandals and woolly hats. I reflected bleakly on my “denial packing” with my suitcase absent of reasonable things like sweaters and jeans, filled with 6 sun dresses two pairs of shorts and sun tan lotion. What was I thinking?
I have to say though as a Canadian in Australia, and since so much of our lives and culture are surrounded by ice and snow, observing how another country experiences winter was really fascinating. In Australia, for example “winter”, is when the weather goes from +35 every day on the coastal lines, and to +45 in the interior to +8 to +13 on average days in July and august – the winter months. Horses are blanketed at temperatures as balmy as +13 with a full body fall or winter light sheet, even neck coverings. When I first arrived and saw this I was amazed. Somehow it seemed ridiculous. At home we START to blanket at -10. But I learned over time what the theory of relativity really means. Going from a long summer of +40 to these 30 degree drops in temperature, horses shivered and really were much more sensitive. The other interesting difference was that simply because of the desert like sandy loam and flora in Australia, the hay that is provided for the horses is really just a past time, with a near zero protein content. Most horses are fed grain daily to supplement, 12 months of the year.
Winter here presents has similar challenges to those back home as well. For example, reclusiveness as there are often periods of days, or even weeks where we can spend less than an hour outside each day. It was with a measure of “bravado” tucked under my belt that I ventured out frequently, properly dressed for the Australian winter and quickly discovered that everything is relative and once your body adapts to the climate, then the feeling of cold quickly adapts to your lowered resistance. I was almost embarrassed to say i was cold – I WAS Canadian after all!
There are great benefits to winter though- admittedly, I walked the depths of the local national park way more safely than at any other time of the year since snakes don’t move one inch in the winter and spiders are also on their down time. So if you don’t enjoy the 1532 species of things that can kill you in Australia, I recommend highly to come during the winter season.
Another glorious upside of being in Australia in the winter means no one else wants to be here either, so there were no tourists no line ups no traffic – it was gloriously free open and clear. And being here with locals rather than tourists really gave us an opportunity to develop sincere friendships and live the real life of an Australian for the short time we had. No matter where you travel, there is always a sense of wariness and small resentment of tourists and outsiders. This wariness that dissolves with familiarity over time. Australia is a nation filled with incredibly friendly people however, and for us, this familiarity arrived within just a couple of weeks when all of a sudden we had a social circle, a community of musicians, friends, places to go things to do and see.
The fact is, Australians love Canadians and vice versa. We seem to view each other as twin nations – both having suffered under the complexities of British Colonial rule at some point in history, like historical survivors in our similar methods of declarations of independence. Maybe this is why we are strict about our identities: Canadians prefer not to be confused with being American, and Australians prefer not to be confused with being British. We like the same foods, and admittedly, Australia rocks seafood if you’re into that. Fresh fish every day mostly for us really had an amazing positive effect on our health. Eating like a tourist every day did not however – and quitting smoking in conjunction with that just added a few more pounds of me to love I suppose 🙂
I learned what’s important to me in Australia. In Australia, nothing was mine. Not even my clothing, which I bought second hand at a few of the popular “Op Shops” – or Opportunity Shops. My house wasn’t mine, the neighbourhood I lived in was unfamiliar, the people and sounds all around me unfamiliar. Now I feel like a “citizen of planet earth” no so attached to one place or one set of circumstances.
I have seriously considered the fact that maybe I should be a little perturbed that my “world” seems to run very well without me – but I’m not. The farm is fine, kids are fine, everyone seems healthy, well cared for – no one seems even remotely close to being as affected by my absence as I do.
What a tremendous opportunity for anyone to be able to step out and see that things still move along quite nicely without them! Seeing this has given me an incredible sense of freedom and a little bit of a “victorious” feeling in my heart because it was my “plan” all along to create a place that could continue without me, and more importantly it was incredibly important to me that my children grow up to be independent, self loving, capable humans, and that is what has in fact happened.
Now after three months of absence, I will take a LONG journey to return home. First stopping off for sunshine and some summer, which we have not seen since last September, I hope that the sun will work its magic to sew together the conclusions and understanding I have garnered from this three month journey.
And so I will go home to a place I do not know, with a renewed sense of self and a future that I am, as usual, completely oblivious to. I’d say that’s just – S.N.A.F.U.