Re-emergence

The children were bursting with energy on this walk. Full of excitement and attentiveness, they seemed as enlivened as their fecund surrounds. They were quick to notice that the rabbits were looking very fat after feasting on the lush green grass, and that the grasslands spreading down to the lake had turned into a carpet of wildflowers, harbouring the occasional poppy. Spring has finally sprung!

shrine-bone-rubbingWe stayed a little longer than usual at the Ngaraka Shrine to the Lost Koori. As well as remembering those who came before us, the children were fast to resume their ritual tapping and rubbing of the kangaroo bones on the steel frame, re-evoking pasts in the present. The tolling sounds seemed particularly alive too. They were richer and more resonant than the slightly duller tones of saturated bones on metal made on previous wet weather walks.

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As we approached the still-swollen lake, someone asked if it was a river. Perhaps they had recently seen the nearby Murrumbidgee River in flood and recognised something similar about the spreading water? This led to a conversation about the difference between lakes and rivers.

The children quickly noticed an unusually large scattering of rubbish and debris along the lake’s edge. They could see that it had been swept in from the lake: ‘The rain made the lake come up and the rubbish floated to the shore and got left behind.

We talked about how some of this rubbish might have started off on the streets of the town, and been washed down drains and into the lake – it took some pondering to think about the journey that a piece of rubbish from so far away might have taken only to emerge from the water where we now stood.

A small moth flying past distracted the children from the rubbish, and they were soon off following the fluttering trails of several moths and butterflies, eagerly looking for another as soon as one disappeared from view.  ants-looking-againThese meanderings led the children an ants’ nest that they had not visited for a while and that had seen little ant activity over the colder months.

There was much talk about the return of the ants and wondering at the comings and goings of the ant colony. As they watched the ants drag food down the hole, the children mused on where it could be going: ‘maybe they are taking it to the queen ant’, ‘the queen looks after the eggs’ and ‘she would need lots of food to lay all those ants’!

There was also puzzlement about how the ants navigated their way through the complex nest. One child asked: ‘how do they know which hole to go down?’ while another asked ‘do ants dig?’ The children’s attention turned to the ways the ants went about making their nests, watching as they carried up small stones from underground: ‘one ant is carrying a rock’.

 new-shoots-on-treeNearby was the first of the fallen trees that the children had enjoyed playing on. We asked them if they noticed anything different about the tree. They immediately remembered that it was ‘the big storm that knocked it down’. On closer inspection, however, they could see that one of the main trunks was now sprouting new shoots. It was regenerating despite that fact that it had almost been fully uprooted. The children soon realized the significance of this: ‘I think it’s going to make a new one’ and then ‘we can climb on it again’.

They were eager then to see if the second fallen tree that had crashed to the ground in the recent storm was still there, or if the ranger had already sawn it up and taken it away. This was the tree that the ranger had declared unsafe and they weren’t allowed to play on.

It was still there – cordoned off with plastic warning tape. A sculpture student from the nearby ANU School of Art was doing something with the smaller broken branches and the children gathered around him to watch. He was sharpening the ends with a small axe, making stakes out of the branches.

He was more than happy to talk to the children about his project. He told them that he wanted to re-purpose some of the tree’s damaged timber for an art installation that he plans to locate in the lake. The stakes will support his sculpture. The tree will then become a part of a new structure, rather than simply being sawn up and turned into mulch. He explained that this was his way of expressing something about the connections between people and the environment. We were invited to come along next week to see him working on the next stage of the project.

As we climbed the last hill to the centre, a couple of the children carried with them their own sticks they had retrieved from near the fallen tree. ‘I’m going to make a sculpture out of this’ one declared.

Weathering in wild weather times

In our initial exploration of this walking place, the intense heat of the morning sun provides a none-too-gentle reminder of the wild weather times in which we live. The presence of the sculpture ‘Ngaraka: Shrine for the lost Koori’ (Mundine and Foley, 2001) also reminds us that while we only pass through this place briefly, the process of weathering continues unabated. The rusty red steel frame and bleached kangaroo bones beneath attest to the ‘weathering’ wrought by sun, rain, wind and cold. At the same time, I reflect that this is not only the ‘weathering’ of erosion, corrosion and decay, but ‘weathering’ as resilience and a lively continuing of peoples, stories, memories and materials that linger and move through this place along with the ever-changing elemental conditions.

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The relationship between humans and weather is complex. It is easy to think of the weather as somehow external to us, or something that happens ‘to us’, when we venture outdoors. Tim Ingold (2007) challenges the idea that humans and weather can be neatly distinguished from each other, by proposing instead that we are part of a ‘weather world’, mingling with the elements in ways that are inseparable. Over the coming months I plan to engage with new ways of thinking about children’s relations with the weather. By walking in this place with a small group of children, parents, educators and researchers, I am interested in exploring questions such as: How might we attune more closely to the everyday affects of the weather? Are there ways that we can think about human/weather relations that could open up new pedagogical possibilities for environmental education in early childhood settings? And how might our immediate weather experience provide insights into the wider challenges of climate change? Given that humans are deeply implicated in the changing climatic patterns the world is experiencing, these questions are also posed within an ethics of responsibility to better understand our own part within the ‘weather world’.

Tonya

‘Ngaraka: Shrine for the lost Koori’

The photo that signposts our new research collaboration features a sculpture called ‘Ngaraka: Shrine for the lost Koori’. This Indigenous remembrance sculpture is set in the grounds of Canberra’s Australian National University campus – the place where we will soon walk with children and wildlife in these wild weather times.

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The sculpture is the work of renowned Aboriginal artists, Djon Mundine and Fiona Foley – constructed in 2001 out of kangaroo bones and paper bark (seen on the ground) and a steel tubing frame that has now rusted its sheltering form into the landscape.

Standing aside one of our soon-to-be regular walking tracks, it bears witness to the legacies we inherit in this colonised land. As a permanent landscape feature that ‘refigures presences’ (as Fikile Nxumalo puts it in her most recent publication), it will act as a reminder that we always walk in the footsteps of others. As we pass it by, we will remember that this is Ngunnawal country, and that this land has been traversed, imprinted, shaped and reshaped for millennia by all sorts of beings. As a constant reminder that we dwell upon and move across land that is not just ours, we hope that this sculpture will prompt us to keep pondering the implications of our own entanglement in the messy colonial and ecological inheritances that make up this place.

Affrica