Becoming like the desert

We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country.
We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.The Uluru Statement from the Heart

There’s a section of our local bush track that takes me past the only handful of homes designated for Arakwal people of the Bundjalung Nation to live on their own, hard fought for, land. The path slinks through shaded grass then into soft sand and birdsong-pierced coastal scrub that finally, but only at the very last moment, opens onto the profound blackness of tea tree lake. It is said to be a traditional birthing place, a pool of maternal creation. There is peace in that spot, an energy that has existed and will continue to exist for aeons beyond you and me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about animism, spurred on by my latest feature for Patagonia’s Roaring Journals about the idea that a better way to live with and on the planet might lie in imparting lifeforce to its volcanoes, rivers, pebbles and snowflakes. To breathe a soul into grasses and shady bowers and petals and bee’s wings. Within that way of seeing, humans are only part of the reverberating whole, equal to but not above any being, rock or vegetable.

In her singular work, Tracks, Robyn Davidson writes about the Pitjantjara people she befriends as she treks across the spinifex-knotted aridity of remote central Australia. Remote to you and me, I should say, as it’s home to those First Nations people and their ancestors and families.

“And as I walked through that country, I was becoming involved with it in a most intense and yet not fully conscious way. The motions and patterns and connections of things became apparent on a gut level. I didn’t just see the animal tracks, I knew them. I didn’t just see the bird, I knew it in relationship to its actions and effects. My environment began to teach me about itself without my full awareness of the process. It became an animate being of which I was part”, she wrote.

“In picking up a rock I could no longer simply say, ‘This is a rock,’ I could now say, ‘This is part of a net,’ or closer, ‘This, which everything acts upon, acts.'”

She explains that in Pitjantjara, there is no word for ‘exist’. “Everything in the universe is a constant interaction with everything else. You cannot say, this is a rock. You can only say, there sits, leans, stands, falls over, lies down, a rock.”

Lose boundaries and fragmentation: join things up to stay alive. The self seemed to be, in that extraordinary place, “a reaction between mind and stimulus”, she wrote.

“The self in a desert becomes more and more like the desert. It has to, to survive.”

There is no individual, but a community of things and beings. To separate indigenous humans from their land is to shred that instinct. Pull a piece of that gum from the whole and the entire system shakes. It’s the same with the Mapuche in Chile or the Western Apache. It’s what Zapatista rebels fight for, it’s what our next generations, our Violet Cocos, are being sent to prison for. It’s a sense of neverendingness, of never-not-vibrating energy, that is woven through the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Here walks a human, beside the fecund waters of the tea tree lake, past the fallen trees and the scythe tracks of a nearby snake. Here moves a community of humans, trekking across a vast and flawed nation.

Always moving forwards, together. Because, if the self becomes like a desert to survive the desert, does the self become like a prison to survive a prison?


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