What remains

This week, the children carried magnifying glasses. The first things that drew their attention were the kangaroo bones at the Ngaraka Shrine.  Some crouched low, studying intently the intricacies of the bone textures and shapes.bones through glass

Others walked around holding their magnifying glasses up to the sky.  This led to an unexpected discovery as one child, holding a magnifying glass at arms length, found that it made things appear upside down.  Others soon caught on and the children delighted in this new way of looking at each other and more distant objects such as trees – ‘Everything is upside down’ and ‘You look upside down.

upside down1

 

 

 

Before long, the children remembered their favourite spot from the last few walks. ‘Let’s go to the fallen trees!’. They ran in eager anticipation towards the site that had become so familiar.

heading to trees

But what disappointment! Where the tangled trees had once lain sprawling and invitingly across the ground was now a bald clearing. There was nothing remaining of their favourite fallen tree playground but some sawdust and a few scattered bare stumps. The area had  been ‘cleaned up’, as had the small shelter the children had built with the branches.

trees gone1

Oh no‘ they kept repeating in shock. After recovering from their initial dismay and disbelief, the children started to reminisce  – ‘I remember I used to crawl along this’ and ‘Now I can’t climb on there anymore’. They noticed a pile of tell-tale sawdust and fresh cut marks, quickly connecting this with the recent work of chainsaws.They examined the sawdust trails with their magnifying glasses, thinking they might lead them to the culprits – the ‘bad’ people who had sawn up and taken away their fallen trees.

 

trees gone cut traces                         2016-08-18 10.39.47

With some encouragement, and their magnifying glasses still to the ground, they eventually set off towards the kangaroo grasslands, looking for new trails.

There, they found ample evidence that the rabbits were out and about again. There were new scratchings everywhere. As well as plentiful signs of rabbit life, a small group of children stumbled upon the remains of yet another dead rabbit. Its decomposing body held their attention for quite some time. Armed with their magnifying glasses, they intently studied the details of the rotting corpse – spotting a centipede crawling inside the stomach cavity, noting that the fur was coming off the skin and there were lots of exposed bones. ‘I can see where its eyes were’, ‘I can see its nose. Its nose is peeled’.  ‘Hey guys’ they called out to alert the other children, ‘dead bunny, another dead bunny, with a centipede on it!’ The subsequent discovery of tufts of rabbit fur in a nearby grass clearing seemed to trigger their imaginations of yet another crime scene, and as with the cleared fallen-tree site, they started speculating about what might have happened.

dead rabbit - 18 aug walk

As if mapping the action, one child offered this explanation: ‘Maybe a fox grabbed the bunny and pulled out its fur, and then picked it up and ran over here, and killed it. But it didn’t eat it all, and it ran away down there’.

This reminded another child about the day that a fox killed her pet chook. There was an air of sombre acceptance about the fate of small animals who become prey to others – a moment of fatalistic reflection on the harsh life and death realities of the food chain. ‘I’m sorry this happened to you bunny’ declared one of the children.

With the remains of the fallen trees and the bunny now witnessed, registered and remembered, it seemed the children were ready to move on. After all, it was a lovely sunny late-winter day, with the promise of spring to come, they wanted to be out in it. A bit like the rabbits, they returned to whole-heartedly immersing themselves in the warming world around them.

grass rabbits

This meant that the rest of the walk was spent by many ‘being rabbits’. Pealing off their winter coats, many children hopped enthusiastically through the grass. Eventually tiring themselves out, they found a small weeping acacia to be their new tree-cubby ‘rabbit home’.

rabbit home2Uncannily, this walk, with its unfolding theme of (tree and rabbit) loss, remains and remembrance, was intermittently marked by the sounds of the Long Tan Vietnam memorial event, being held at the nearby Australian War Memorial. It started early in the walk, with the arresting distant boom of repetitive cannon fire. By the time the children had become rabbits in the grass, their play was accompanied by the reverberating sonic roar of a large formation of vintage war planes circuiting the city. The planes did several laps and were quite deafening as they zoomed directly overhead.  For the children being rabbits under the weeping acacia, this reinforced the need to further retreat into their bushy hide-away:

We don’t like noise

Those are army planes’

We don’t like noise or army planes

We like hidingrabbit home3 sleeping

This is the perfect spot to hide

‘I’m going to be sleeping now’ [snoring sounds]

‘This rabbit is sleeping

Uh oh! Person!  Evacuate, evacuate!’

No, we just have to hide a bit more. No one can ever see us’.

When it was time to return to the centre, the rabbit children had to be enticed out of their new hiding place with the promise that we would soon return.

trees gone carrying last bit

 

One child carried a souvenir from the cleared fallen-trees – a remnant branch that she had held onto resolutely for most of the walk.

While in many ways this walk was marked by the memorialised sounds and visions of loss and destruction – there was nonetheless a strong sense that ‘what remained’ was far from a static, mournful and lifeless shell of past lives and events.  The children seemed very able to respectfully witness, grieve, remember and move on, and in the process, to creatively transform the remains of the past into an emergent and lively present.

 

 

Threads of connection

rainsun contrast

On this walk, we skirted the edges of alternating sunny blue skies, and looming dark rainclouds. This unstable weather brought with it the interchangeable experiences of brightness, shadow, warmth and cold and a continually shifting and enlivened quality of light.

One child commented that the trees were ‘sparkling’, as the sunlight caught on the multitude of fresh rain drops on the leaves.  Another child compared this to being out in the night, recalling that when he looked up at night time it was all ‘sparkly’ from the stars.

beetle camouflagedbark with shadows

On the damp ground, the saturated vegetation was rich in tones.

The children noticed the deepened colours of the bark, leaves and grass, both in shadow and in sunlight.

The base of a eucalyptus tree was littered with long strips of newly fallen bark.  The children were intent on finding the longest possible piece to play with.  Once located, this length of bark accompanied the children for quite some time. They took it in turns to carry it along with them.

puddles and bark1 croppedpuddles and bark

 

 

 

 

The children seemed to be holding onto the long bark as a thread of connection; one that linked them together as they walked and as well as acting as a moveable thread of attachment to the entities and places they were passing by and through.

One of the most notable things they came across while walking with the bark was (yet another) dead rabbit. This one lay exposed on its side on a grassy hillside. Once again, they started to guess about what had befallen it, with thoughts ranging from ‘maybe a fox got it’ to the more frivolous suggestion that ‘maybe the Easter Bunny hopped on it‘?  The children stood gazing at the rabbit for quite some time. It was only at the prompting of the adults that they moved on.

dead rabbit no 2

The lake water was higher and rougher after an extended period of rain. The children thought it was ‘a bit like a flood, and noted that the water ‘is nearly up to the trunks’ and ‘its got bigger waves.
wind by lake - swollen after rain2

When one of the adults mentioned that the water looked browner than usual, a child responded with the unexpected conclusion: ‘there must be a rabbit in the water’.  Although now standing at the lakeside, he seemed to be drawing stronger threads of connection back to the earlier encounters with dead rabbits than to the particular qualities of flood-waters.

 

Visible signs and hidden worlds

As the children become more familiar with the places we visit, they ask if we can return to particular sites.  This week we had requests to go the rocky bank and to the pathways under the casuarinas along the water’s edge.  The children were particularly keen to see if the birds nest (from last week) was still there. The nest was located; though it was in a somewhat disheveled state and showing little sign of habitation.  lake return

While we were pondering on the presence of the nest, a water bird feeding in the reeds captured the children’s attention.  Noticing that this bird was more easily frightened than the swans, the children approached cautiously; tip-toeing and whispering ‘shh’ to each other in their attempts to get a closer look.  From a distance of several metres the children followed the bird as it darted through the reeds and grasses and eventually back to the water.

Purple swamp hen

One child commented that he loved the way the bird ‘ran so fast in the water’.  Later, after the walk, the children looked through a field guide to find the name of the bird – it was a purple swamp hen.

We found that following the movement of the birds through air, water and land required us to adjust our own modes of moving if we wanted the birds to stay a while. Observing in this way required us to pay close attention to both the bird’s and our own presence.

In thinking about other animals that live here, we soon came across a different type of challenge: how could we possibly come to understand the habits of the wildlife that live beneath the surface?  We have witnessed an ant dragging food to its nest, but it soon disappears to territory that is invisible to us.  There is so much more to this place than what we can see, and attending to what lies beneath is not an easy task.

This week, the children had a chance to wonder at these hidden underground worlds. On our approach to the rocky bank (a steep incline covered in large rocks, small trees and shrubs), several scuttling rabbits caught the children’s eye.

rocky bank - on way

Some rabbits were startled and ran away across the grass, while others retreated to their burrows. Through all this activity, the children’s attention was drawn to the multitude of rabbit holes in the rocky bank. Peering into holes, and discovering new ones concealed by over-hanging rocks, kept the children busy for sometime.

standing on rabbit burrowThey became aware that underneath them was a network of tunnels where the rabbits lived: ‘I’m on the top of the rabbit hole’ exclaimed one child as he stood on a rock, while others called out ‘I can see another rabbit hole’ and ‘there’s so many’.

There were also clues as to how the homes were made, such as piles of dirt out the front of the holes and fresh scratching. The children enjoyed the feel of the newly turned dirt. It was easier to pick up and move around than the hardened earth elsewhere.

Towards the end of the walk, some children lay down in the cool, damp grass in the shade.  Watching the children enjoy the soft and prickly texture of the grass was a reminder that there are many ways we can get to know this place. It is not only about what we can see, but also about what is hidden and what all our senses might reveal.