Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… And Spring

A pearl has no meaning to the pig, says South Korean director and writer Kim Ki Duk. His 2002 film Spring Summer Autumn Winter …and Spring is an anecdotal portrayal of time. Phrases, movements, events and conflicts circle back on themselves. People are shown as unwitting participants in a world with its own logic. Buddhist and mystic symbolism underpin and overlay the action. We learn about the characters through their actions, not what they say. The film requires little dialogue to convey its meaning.

In the opening sequence a young boy teases a frog, a snake and fish by tying a rock to them. The little creatures struggle. His grandfather – we can only assume they’re related – watches the kid torture the animals. That night while the kid is asleep the grandfather ties a rock to the boy. When he wakes up he’s distressed and is told the rock can be removed once he has seen to it that the rock is removed from the frog, snake and fish. If, by this time, any of the creatures have died then the boy will live with this burden. The boy drags the rock around the great lagoon where they live. The frog is alive. The Fish is alive. The snake has died overnight. The boy is distraught. The boy has a heavy heart.

If the grandfather had not disciplined the boy then we can assume he would have continued on in life thinking torturing animals was okay. We have seen already that it is in the boys nature to be cruel. Discipline is a way of altering that nature.

Later on in the film, the grandfather paints the heart sutra on the deck of the house that floats on the lagoon. The young boy, now a man, has returned, a fugitive after having fled the home with a girl who was visiting. Viewers do not witness this, but the young man murdered the woman one night when she sleeps with another man. The boy returns home and when detectives find him the grandfather requests that before he leaves the boy carve out the heart sutra with a knife.

The rationale of the film dictates the Buddhists wishes are respected and the detectives wait all day until the boy has finished carving. Only then can the boy begin healing his heavy heart, that began with the murder of the snake, some fifteen years before the murder of the woman. The return of the heart motif shows that the master played a small part in the boys downfall. As Phillip Larkin wrote: Your parents, they fuck you up, even if they don’t mean to, they do.

Larapinta 

Ken lay awake, content in his sleeping bag, and thought about how this short journey was beginning to end. He imagined boarding the plane tomorrow and how the inflight procedures were identical to the ones he witnessed on his way out here, but would now feel in reverse, as if all that had been built, the friendships made and landforms experienced, were being unravelled. He would arrive at the airport early, he thought, putting on his beanie, and sit at a bench and try to summarise his last twelve days on paper. He knew this trip was not about details. Twelve days was not long enough to get a feel for the subtleties of Alice Springs, the West Macdonnell Ranges and Uluru. It was too late to learn even a single word of the Arrente language, he told himself, but he’d be better prepared next time, if there was a next time. In less than twenty four hours the plane would taxi to the take off position and a baby would be screaming and the professionals would be reading, and he’d remember a critical comment a hiker made that allowed him to realise that when you spend most of your time traveling you rarely spend long enough with anyone to see the nasty side of their character. Lying on his back on the inflatable mattress that had developed a slow leak, Ken looked up at the stars and the tops of the ghost gums and the outline of the gorge falling to the sandy riverbank where he lay, and he thought to himself that we allow ourselves to roam where nothing is sacred, that we’re afraid of going to sacred places for fear of spoiling them with our presence and that it’s better to have been to a sacred place without knowing it is sacred, that the landform is merely a landform where no rituals and stories had taken place. That way you avoid being culpable of destroying the magic of the place. The rituals we do hear about, Ken repeated to himself, tell an ancient story of ownership through having lived there, and you cannot know the stories that make these places unless you live there for a long time.

A kind of interloper, Ken concluded he did not have knowledge enough of these stories to respect the places as they should be respected. He longed to be given the truth of the situation, instead of having to determine that truth for himself, for then he felt he could understand clearly what was the admirable way to behave and the best possible way to look after the land. As he lay out in the open this ambiguity kept him awake and he knew that he never fell asleep on his back and that he might sleep for an hour or so on tomorrow’s flight home.

Ken’s thoughts, as always, were about the next day, the next passage that awaited him and as he watched the flight path of a plane overhead he imagined himself the next day reading the inflight magazine with the grey kangaroo on the front and he would read through from cover to cover the mining advertisements and the articles about miners and then he would look out the scratched window overlooking Alice Springs and know he’d been down there somewhere and that when he was there he could not see the shape of the river as it cascaded between the ridges and conglomerates and he could not know, as he later read, that no water had flowed there for hundreds of centuries when the entire region was submerged in salt water. Now when the rains fell only puddles formed on the surface of the riverbed and a subterranean stream may trickle slowly on top of the cap rock. Ken pulled his sleeping bag upwards to allow his body enough space to rotate so he could lay on his side and the mattress made a crinkling sound and then he sensed movement under him and he sat up and saw in the depression he had dug where his canister stove sat, the sand turning to a darker colour. He knew water was rising all around him and at first he thought of collecting his belongings and moving to higher ground, the liquid now filling the spaces between the ridges of his mattress, yet he could still feel the ground firm underneath him. He unzipped the sleeping bag and pulled his legs up to his chest to remove his feet and he threw the sleeping bag on top of a large boulder nearby, and at first he was scared but he soon realised the water was not flowing downstream but coming straight up out of the earth and now the mattress was holding his weight and keeping him just below the surface of the rising water. Leaves and twigs circled around him and his empty water bottle, shoes and headlight floated nearby. With his legs in the water and his lower half now soaked Ken grabbed the headlight and pressed the on button and looked below as his feet could no longer touch the ground he could see the groundsheet held down with rocks. In the opening of his backpack he shone the torchlight on his notebooks and at first he was sad to see that they were now ruined, saturated with clouds of blue ink spiraling to the surface. He knew the notes for his stories were now ruined, and a condensed sense of the effort he put into compiling them now struck him, and he winced and shook his head in disappointment, and from the surface of the water he collected his small lighter and put it in the fold of his beanie to dry. A whining from a dingo could be heard and Ken made no hissing noises to stop her.

TWELVES FOR THE TWELFTH NIGHT: POEMS IN SUPPORT OF THE BEELIAR WETLANDS

Similar to The Other Report: Poems Against the Destruction of the Beeliar Wetlands, Twelves for the Twelfth Night is a rapid poetic response to the 100 hectare desecration of natural bushland for the Roe8 highway.

From the introduction: Traditionally, the twelfth night of Christmas falls on the fifth or sixth of January and signals the eve of Epiphany, or Epiphany itself. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and ours were written in the spirit of twelfth night entertainments, and Malvolio figures large, whether as an antagonist come to grief through greed, delusion and crazy ambition, or a here-to-now quiet road in Coolbellup that woke to find a major highway mapped across its vitals.

Our Twelfth Night was triggered by the wonderful and occasionally bizarre use of Shakespearean characters as street names in Coolbellup, including Cordelia Avenue, Romeo and Juliet streets (which never meet) and Malvolio, poor Malvolio, which only ever wanted to be left in peace, adjoining the best bush block there is.

Each of the twelve poems in our Twelfth Night contains a four-line stanza by Wendy Jenkins, John Kinsella and myself.

Please press on the image below to download the free book.

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Inside View: Save Beeliar Wetlands

In June of 2014, I took two buses and a train from my home in Fremantle to the trail head of the Bibbulmun Track in Kalamunda. In rain and a leaky jacket I walked for three hours to Hewitt’s Hut, arriving in the dark. Already at the hut was my friend, his brother and two friends of theirs I had never met before. My friend was walking the entire track. His mates had driven in as close they could to the hut. They had brought eskys full of alcohol, meat for the bbq and mobile phones to watch AFL on.

Read the rest of this article here.

The Battle of Northlake Road

“If we don’t take action now, we settle for nothing later” Zack de La Rocha

Your Mum swims with polar bears before heading to Beeliar
she has a square blue patch pinned to her blouse
she joins us watching an Empire collapse
our leaders with their misfiring synapse
nothing makes sense, their actions don’t add up,
this bulldozer inside bush in Coolbellup.
The protectors are more compliant, more attentive
to the rules than the State is,
good luck keeping keeping them to their word, kid.

But this is the Premier’s hamartia
after the E.P.A. failed us in the boardroom
the frontline is now the courtroom
the camera pans, a human dolly
as locals clang the fence in rage at this folly
and colonial cogs churn out arrests,
after you’ve lost patience to peacefully protest
the cops will knee cap you, threaten violence
as the bulldozer rips apart animals silent.
Dust correlates to root depth, the drive-belt gravity,
the trunk incision, upper management depravity,
with each frame the forty metre tree falls.
Slow. Gargantuan. De-metabolic.
Who knew Barnett’s buddies were this shambolic?
A thousand media views to each frame,
hundreds of shares, likes and vitriolic blame
into the night and to the next day you truncheon nasty trolls
while on Malvolio dried blue tongue lizard skin rolls,
the now empty vision your friends see on their computer screen
oh echo chamber, oh deaf ear collective, listen to this:

your xmas presents won’t capture the war
the trees have with the bulldozers, blades score
the soil until the top is too light, the muscian’s play,
you pause the video, Earth-Shattering,
cockatoo scattering, drowning in mounds of dead balga trees,
the smell of lost oxygen, the fronds that no longer flap
these fallen stakeholders, you call this democracy,
the precondition to being human is hypocrisy
they say ‘the road will be built, you’re wasting your time’,
but I’ve seen the monk doused in petrol
so we’re here to document the fall
and after the machines have left we go in with stitches,
every surgery a lesson to future witches
you don’t need gas to have tears in your eyes
when your friend John is too shocked to cry
too confused to take notes or offer sacrifice,
too bewildered to even think, we know we’re born
of a broken Environmental Protection Authority
who can’t even follow their own policy.

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After Heat

This story appeared in Rumble Strip. 

Sorcha told me that whenever she walks in the wind blown streets of Fremantle, she always tends to think of the place underwater. She said she doesn’t know exactly how the buildings will change, but some will have a permanent watermark and their basements and ground floor will become fish tanks. The warming air is warming the oceans and melting icesheets and sea levels are predicted to rise as much as one point one metres over the coming decades and if the seas rise a salt water triangle beginning at the northern end of Packenham street, to Bathers beach, to Little Creatures and then up to South Terrace will all be inundated, the waters rising and falling with the tide each day. The skatepark that runs south-east along the line of the train tracks within the grounds of the Esplanade park will have water rising half way up the half pipes and filling the bowls. This, she said, as if she had been pondering the image for some time, will be an unexpected reversal, as swimming pools are usually drained to make bowls for skateboarding.

Sorcha said you can feel the planet getting hotter and nowadays nobody goes out during the middle of the day and just last night, the temperature rose two point five degrees from 11pm to 1am and has continued to rise all morning until only the brave or those with air-conditioning venture out. The heat, especially standing in direct sunlight, is hot enough to burn the dash board of cars and many arguments have erupted about the apparent ownership of shaded parking bays closest to the markets or to the Woolstores shopping centre. These violent outbursts directed at complete strangers occur daily and onlookers are seen filming the incidents on their mobile phones to upload on social media. I too, began Sorcha, witnessed one of these outbursts, when a woman with black hair and black clothing had been attempting to reverse into a parking bay and a man snuck into her spot near a paperbark tree. When the passengers of the mans car opened their doors they were ambushed by the woman, speaking in Cantonese, which they understood, except for the driver who instructed the woman to get lost, before making his way through the steaming vehicles to the food court. The irate woman who missed her spot left her car stationary in the middle of the car park causing a traffic jam and all kinds of honking from other drivers. As the passengers were following the man to the food court they spotted another car leaving and stood at the entrance of the bay until the angry woman was able to slowly reverse her late model Mercedes into the spot and hastily throw her foil sun protection screen inside the windscreen and secured it with the visors. I often wonder, said Sorcha, if people suddenly find themselves at a breaking point and lose their shit one day or live their lives going from one confrontation to another without realising.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson – review

Bryson is popular. His writing style allows for fast, readily digested prose. There appears to be no subject he is unable to broach. His narratives are simple and erudite. His messages are a mixture of learning and experience. In A Walk in the Woods (AWITW) Bryson attempts to walk the length of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in America. His attempt is unsuccessful, for Bryson is someone who writes books, and decides to go for a hike, rather than the other way around. Bryson is more comfortable at home surrounded by books. The majority of A Walk in the Woods is Bryson relaying information from other books, sharing his experiences of hotels/motels/bunkhouses off the trail, and at one point a monologue about how he’d given up walking to reconnaissance the Appalachian Trail by car. A Walk in the Woods is not a book for me, even though I found it easy to read.

For such a well known author, little is written about Bryson’s style and technique in academic journals. Actually, most journals ignore him completely. Mostly it’s glowing reviews in online newspapers. One serious article ‘Including Appalachian Stereotypes in Multicultural Education: An Analysis of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods’ takes Bryson to task for his depiction of hicks and hillbillies.
Stefano Calzati argues in ‘Travelling and writing and the form of travel writing: Reconsidering Bill Bryson’s (supposed) postcolonial legacy’ “that travelling and writing are two “practices of knowledge” which promote per se the marking of differences. In this regard, travel writing, as the novelistic genre that derives from such practices, cannot help but reproduce the epistemological distance between the self and the world.” And this is the overwhelming feeling that I take from Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods – his account re-enforces, through his armchair approach, rather than eliminates, the distance between the self and the world.

Bryson’s phenomenology is filtered through his project, his style and his constant attempts to shock the reader to keep reading.
Bryson is more serious about writing a book than walking the Appalachian. There are three main elements that comprise AWITW. The elements do not always hang together well, but the writer is able, through his prose, to weave them together. The first element is his commission by his publisher to write a book. The second element, is the Don Quixote set up. The third aspect that pads the book out are the lectures. When Bryson gets bored with one element he falls back on the other.

The first, why would Bryson disclose to his readers that his publisher had commissioned him another book? What purpose does this give to readers? Bryson is attempting to build himself and his reputation up reminding us ‘these books don’t exist in a vacuum’. Also, Bryson, the man, is the main character in his books. He realises that the success of his career hinges on continuity across his works.

The second, the Katz/Bryson play off reminds me of Don Quixote and Sancho, except Bryson isn’t deluded beyond not knowing why he’s walking the trail. Bryson is deluded in thinking he can walk the trail in one season. After walking for a few weeks, Bryson and Katz are killing time in an outfitters which leads to him looking at an overview map of the AT. He figures out that that the trail is long, much longer than he anticipated and instead of resolving to finish the trail, as Don Quixote would, both Katz and Bryson are put off and dejected. The most interesting struggle in the book is Katz’s attempt to quit drinking, but it comes very late in the piece.
Thirdly, unlike Don Quixote, Bryson, the character, can not be too out there, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to enter into armchair lectures on the history and value of a range of subjects consisting of: how dangerous animals are, the history and design of the Appalachian Trail, how Americans use cars too often, underground fires in Centralia, murder, climate change, geology, diseases, how stupid and fat people can be, especially ones who look like they’re from the movie Deliverance, forestry, the rise and fall of townships, hikers preoccupations with gear, botany, misdirected government spending, meteorology, hypothermia, ludditeness, war, ecological destruction, and so on. After a while, the trail becomes a backdrop for these fireside lectures Bryson, one can assume, wrote before or after being on the trail. In this sense the book is about Bryson’s ability to take cues from the trail and weave them into his research. Where he gets this knowledge from we don’t know, there are no references.
There is a morality to his lectures – but his attitude is incongruous to the way he has set himself up to interact with his characters. Bryson wants to give his readers guidance on the one hand, and then ask them to suspend their disbelief in the name of humour. So, for example, when he discusses how the AT avoids towns and is cocooned in green corridors (in contrast to the apparently more advanced designs of English/European trails), Bryson concludes: “doubtless it is all to do with its historic impulse to tame and exploit the wilderness, but America’s attitude to nature is, from all sides, very strange if you ask me.” p258 This is symptomatic of the manner in which Bryson presents his lectures. His information is to serve an agenda and his research concludes at the point where the agenda has been satisfied. The agenda appears to be primarily to provoke people to keep reading. Surely he must know that not all Americans wish to tame the wilderness and that some Americans share his views.
So when we turn to the people Bryson meets on, and (more often) off, the trail we gain more of a reflection of Bryson, than of the people themselves. Again, the agenda is provocation. Here is his telephone interaction when attempting to find a taxi in Gatlinburg:

“‘How much would it be to take two of us to Ernestville?’ I enquired.
‘Dunno’ came the reply.
This threw me slightly. ‘Well how much do you think it would be?’
‘Dunno.’
‘But it’s just down the road.’
There was considerable silence and then the voice said: ‘Yup.’
‘Haven’t you ever taken anybody there before?’
’Nope.’
‘Well, it looks to me on my map like it’s about twenty miles. Would you say that’s about right?’
Another pause. ‘Might be.’
‘And how much would it be to take us twenty miles?’
‘Dunno.’
I looked at the receiver. ‘Excuse me, but I just have to say this. You are more stupid than a paramecium.’
Then I hung up.”

Bryson’s characters are there to make him look smart and to support the preconceived worldview he wishes to push. It is because of this that the subjects of his lectures do not become integrated and he doesn’t appear to recognise the ecology and interconnectedness of the world in which he inhabits. A more enlightening approach would be to manufacture or even seek out an intelligent person who may be more helpful and illuminating. He could work all of his home reading into the voice of his characters.
Because of this provocative style, Bryson leaves himself open to hypocrisy and inconsistency. At the end of the taxi driver episode (in which he and his Sancho (Katz) buddy decide on a whim to give up the idea of walking the entire trail), they find themselves back in the dearth of commercial America, amongst shopping malls and carparks, the opposite of the woodlands they had been walking through:

“But come off the trail, properly off, and drive somewhere, as we did now, and you realize how magnificently deluded you have been. Here, the mountains and woods were just backdrop – familiar, known, nearby, but no more consequential or noticed than the clouds that scudded across their ridgelines. Here the real business was up close and on top of you: gas stations, Wal-Marts, K-marts, Dunkin’ Donuts, Blockbuster videos, a ceaseless unfolding pageant of commercial hideousness.”
While it is not the role of a writer to be morally consistent, it is their role, especially in the context of non-fiction, to research thoroughly and to show their readers an interconnectedness. Instead, when recounting the phase of American history where demand for new world seeds and botanical interest was high, Bryson speaks with celebratory glee, apparently unaware of the relationship between that unregulated process and forestry the ugliness he describes above:

“The first people to venture deep into the woods from the east (the Indians [sic], of course had got there perhaps as much as 20,000 years before them) weren’t looking for prehistoric creatures or passages to the west or new lands to settle. They were looking for plants. America’s botanical possibilities excited Europeans inordinately, and there was both glory and money to be made in the woods. The eastern woods teemed with flora unknown to the old world and there was a huge eagerness, from scientists and amateur enthusiasts alike, to get a piece of it…These and hundreds more were collected in the American woods, shipped across the ocean to England and France and Russia and received with greedy keenness and trembling fingers.”

Contrast the above attitude to the one in this passage:

“In 1987, it [the Forest Service] casually announced that it would allow private timber interests to remove hundreds of acres of wood a year from the venerable and verdant Pisgah National Forest, next door to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and that 80 per cent of that would be through what it calls ‘scientific forestry’ – clear cutting – which is not only a brutal visual affront to any landscape, but brings huge, reckless washoffs that gully the soil, robbing it of nutrients and disrupting ecologies further downstream, sometimes for miles. This isn’t science. It’s rape.”

And then this one:

“And there was a more compelling reason to go. The Appalachians are the home of one of the world’s great hardwood forests– the expansive relic of the richest, most diversified
sweep of woodland ever to grace the temperate world–and that forest is in trouble. If the global temperature rises by 4°C over the next fifty years, as is evidently possible, the whole of the Appalachian wilderness below New England could become savanna. Already trees are dying in frightening numbers. The elms and chestnuts are long gone, the stately hemlocks and flowery dogwoods are going, and the red spruces, Fraser firs, mountain ashes, and sugar maples may be about to follow. Clearly, if ever there was a time to experience this singular wilderness, it was now.”

Bryson does not draw any comparisons between the seed collectors, the forestry service ‘rape’ and climate change. The author seems intent on shocking the reader into further reading without considering an overall scheme. People starting and finishing Bryson’s work appears to be a more important criteria to him than jettisoning contradictory elements in his prose. An argument could be made that being in the same book, and written by the same author would constitute the correlations being drawn, but my opinion is that the structure, the schism between the elementsof the book, prevent such a reading.
When Don Quixote lectures, (Cervantes’ Don Quixote) he is so clearly out of touch with both the other characters in Cervantes story, and to us the readers, that we all humour him. Within Don Quixote’s absurd lectures, however, are some incredible conclusions, some of which we tend to agree with. But the Don Quixote, the character of Bryson, in A Walk Walk in the Woods never strays into the absurd. Often his observations are blatant and his treatment of others’ is cruel. One has to ask that perhaps if we didn’t treat each other the way Bryson treats people in his book, whether the planet would be in the state that it is.

Of course, Bryson and his fans might rebut my above points by claiming ‘lighten up it’s just a bit of fun’, or, present the book as a gateway to more serious studies of wilderness, ecology and nature. It’s creative non-fiction after all, so don’t take the deliberate littering seriously. There are light moments and Bryson does indeed reflect on the wonderful aspects of bushwalking or hiking. These appreciative moments are added and sprinkled throughout as if to remind us that that he’s not a negative bastard. There are some arresting moments that lift the reader up from the negativity I seem to keep returning to. Here’s a moment, on day one of their hike:

“When, after ages and ages, you finally reach the tell-tale world of truly high ground, where chilled air smells of pine gap and the vegetation is gnarled and tough and wind-bent, and push through to the mountain’s open pinnacle, you are, alas, past caring. You sprawl face down on a sloping pavement of gneiss, pressed to the rock by the weight of your pack, and lie there for some minutes, reflecting in distant, out-of-body way that you have never before looked this closely at lichen, not in fact looked this closely at anything in the natural world since you were four years old and had your first magnifying glass.” p53

At the end of the book Bryson wryly states the trail did not change his life: “but I certainly gained an appreciation and respect for the woods and wilderness and the colossal scale of America” p350. Perhaps, if he did complete the trail from one end to the other, if he allowed the experience to become more than an exercise for his publishers, he might have let go of the preconceptions that inhibit transformative processes. It is somewhat troubling that a writer takes on a major project lasting a period of years to finally say to his readers, ‘don’t bother, my book is all you need’. Perhaps he is attempting to provide counterbalance to the apparently naive rights of passage accounts that pervade nature and walking writing? Overall however, Bryson’s work is an intellectual, rather than phenomenological one.

 

References:

Bryson, Bill. 1998, A Walk In the Woods, Black Swan, London, England.

Including Appalachian Stereotypes in Multicultural Education: An Analysis of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods
Herzog, Mary Jean Ronan, Journal of Appalachian Studies, 1 April 1999, Vol.5(1), pp.123-128 [Peer Reviewed Journal]

Stefano Calzati (2015) Travelling and writing and the form of travel writing:
Reconsidering Bill Bryson’s (supposed) postcolonial legacy, Journal of Postcolonial Writing,
51:4, 422-435