Thursday, November 03, 2005


I'm listening to Great Big Sea's hymn to summer:

Everything's gonna be all right when summer comes
The darkest stars will burn so bright when summer comes
We will open up our bodies to the warming of the sun
When summer comes

The words are not so very poetic on their own, but combined with the lyrical, folky melody and the gentle, raw voice of the singer, it makes me feel quite alive. The sun is shining through the window as I type this and I'm waiting for a subtle sea breeze to stir the leaves of the peppermint gum outside and answer the starlings that are twittering away in its branches. The native irises around the base of the tree have exploded with white flowers that come in waves every few days. Summer is already here, although the calendar doesn't recognise it yet.

The poignancy of Great Big Sea's song makes me realise how the coming of summer must seem even more miraculous to someone who lives in Newfoundland than it does to an antipodean. The frosts of winter, with plants and animals hibernating and dormant under a thick blanket of snow, must be a stark reminder of death every year, while the revitalising spring thaw must seem like an annual miracle. No wonder so many ancient civilisations worshipped the sun!

In the Australian climate, especially in Sydney, the contrast between winter and summer is not so stark. There are flowers and animals all year round, of some sort or another, and it never gets so cold and dark that the world seems frozen and dead. In Australia we always live among "the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky" (those are e. e. cummings words, but they fit) so summer seems less miraculous to us. Perhaps that's why Aussies are so typically carefree: we don't have that annual reminder of death to tell us that "She'll be right, mate" is not the answer to everything.

Those who live in the tropics must truly think themselves indestructible! No wonder they are so notoriously relaxed about time. I think that's why I love visiting Vanuatu so much: it makes me feel immortal. I can spend hours on end every day swimming around the reef and watching the denizens of that underwater civilisation going about their business: an eternity passes in every moment.

An aside: I wonder if Bruce is still running the restaurant on Hideaway Island, and if his daughter Alison is still bewitching the guests to worship her. She was five and Wonder Boy was eight last time we went: she was such a tiny thing but she would call him into her presence like a monarch when he came down the steps to the beach: "Come," she would command, with her impish smile, leading him away for some game of collecting broken coral, or chasing hermit crabs, or splashing in the shallows and examining giant blue starfish that looked like velvet but felt surprisingly hard and brittle. He looked so big and pale and grown up next to the dark, quick, lithe child, but he would follow her around like a faithful puppy. (End of aside.)

Another thing I love about Vanuatu is the genuine reverence for nature. Last time we were on Hideaway Island, a baby coconut palm just 20cm high had sprung up a couple of metres from its parent, right in the middle of the path between the steps and the jetty. Instead of digging it out or snapping it off, the island's inhabitants simply stepped off the path to skirt around it, and built a little coral wall to protect it from being accidentally damaged by passing traffic. There was no sense of being inconvenienced or outraged by the chance intrusion of nature: no need to bend nature to human will. Just acceptance.

Now that is a true recognition of immortality. To acknowledge that a palm has as much right as you have to be in that place, and may be there when you are gone: not to claim any privelege on the earth because of the species to which you belong. To know that everything is part of a continuum of existence, and to live fully in the moment. To quote cummings again:

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

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