Wednesday, July 31, 2013

recording a journey on the rail line from canberra

By rail - Journey from Queanbeyan to Canberra July 2013

Cold of station hands in pockets, geometry of rail lines and point rodding. The locked toilets and well maintained brickwork of the station with waiting room opened mysteriously for no staff in sight. Train snakes into the platform and into the warm of the railcar. Plenty of room in my seat to spread out and unwind scarf and slowly pull off my woollen gloves as they resist my touch.

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Im entranced by swirling mist along Molonglo valley, through cuttings of solid rock along ledge above the rapidly flowing river. There are piles of termite eaten old telephone poles in strange geometric patterns lying alongside this uneven track. Our train slows as kangaroos leap fence and the horn sounds, breaking into sunlight by the huge military communications base. Meal ticket for a hot lunch as train gathers speed. The distinctive movement of train wheels on track and the shadows of trees across windows. A series of tunnels with brick porticos and stygian black with sudden reflections back into the carriage suddenly transformed to winter sunlight. Tight curves and freshly painted white marker posts. From cuttings to high embankments as the train descends I to the valley of Bungendore. The intersecting v of the Captains flat line and an old signal with exposed washed away ballasted wooden sleepers and the rail removed for a few metres to prevent any possibility of a connection even by accident with this branch line.

Slowing into the Bungendore loop and into the platform, blue station signs against dark red brickwork and the traditional serrated platform canopy edge with cast supporting pillars.. Here telephone posts now unlined stand alongside , some leaning at an angle with a supporting wire guy rope. Some are grey fragile looking wood and others on old rails with small white telephone isolating caps. Currawongs and Ravens find these useful purchases from which to survey the landscape.  Some like old soldiers have fallen twisted to the ground and others have arms twisted in different directions, pointing wildly like spirit crazed prophets We gather speed as the traction motors increase their tempo. In the siding I noticed that the rails were not welded, held by fishplates with expansion gaps. Alongside the line occasionally a line of old wooden sleepers much eroded lies alongside the track like a second ghost line.

Grey sheep against sparse winter upland grass, creeks full of water with willows alongside, the water dark and still. Rocky outcrops of broken stone, they seem to rise above the ground like the backs of whales surfacing for air. Grey sheep sprint away from the now speeding train against the clear resigned voice of the female announcer.  The train speeds and slows according to the need to traverse quite marked curved. Occasional mobile calls and slightly raised voices and the excited voices of the mother and eager interested young children in the seat alongside me.  As we move across a valley over the embankment a burst of wind blows diesel fumes alongside as we come to a signal stop perched above a dry creek bed. A discarded rusty rail is like a snake alongside the track.

As we move ahead at speed I

meet the lady with the resigned and calm voice who assures the passengers in a quiet but with quite polite authority for those in wrong seats or bags in the wrong position.  The blue cushioned seats all point forwards and car A with the buffet is towards the rear of the train. Just like travelling by air a safety card, menu and magazine are in the net pocket.

At Tarago the sun shines again, there are piles of new looking steel sleepers lying alongside the track as beanie suited travellers board.  This is a reminder no doubt that we are now on a heavily used freight line.

A set of steps for the low platform is chained with shining chain to brightly painted brickwork. There is a siding here, the remnant of once was a goods yard and rail workers in white utes watch us pass as the train climbs above the valley. The variegated harmony of train noises. brings back so memories for me. I recollect journeys across the Salisbury plain as a boy but these vitas of the high Monaro plains are different. Cars now travel beside us and slowly as if with some pride we pass them. The undulating road beside the flat line gives an odd look as if the cars were in some kind of game with the competing train. Space opens up as if for a lost station as we travel past the Little Bathurst tea rooms. Horses looking up, heads high as we pass and horned deeply brown cattle hardly seem  to notice our passing.

We approach the main line with a steel bridge at right angles as with a gentle curve we circle past a green light to the main line and to double track. We pass a roundhouse and yard, brightly painted sky blue locomotives and others in different liveries. As the train pulls away a railway staff member takes down a wooden destination board. It is many years since I have seen these and remember well these boards from Britain where kept upright on the platform they were inserted to announce the route of the next train and the stations where these stops. Of course these are all electronic boards now.

Beyond Goulburn alongside the track over rivers are massive pillars of former bridges now replaced by modern structures.
Some have telephone posts cemented in the top of the bridge now themselves disused.

Beyond Goulburn I eat my hot meal served in a cardboard tray to be reused and watch as countryside changes, we travel through small stations without stopping and climb again through woodland and green pasture.

The feel of the train has changed and its song too as we travel along the welded heavy freight rail towards Sydney.

There are four movements in this symphony, the first is the endangered branch line to Canberra surely under the doom of closure, the second the freight line that runs along half the length with clear intention for upgrade and the third is the well ballasted main line into the Southern Highlands.  The last is the dance with electric trains through the suburbs to Central Station in the heart of the city where I change to a suburban train across the Harbor bridge.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Songs of wind

I'm familiar with this place and with these deserted country roads where I will hear a car or truck from a distance. I practice walking, saying the Jesus prayer with eyes closed, opening my left eye, that is the cloudy one for a moment after each prayer like a swimmer breathing after every stroke. This practice keeps me from wandering off the road.

In this manner of walking I am prevented from hearing with my seeing and my senses become more attuned. Walking I hear the wind passing through a line of pines bordering a home. The wind hisses like an intake of breath but passing into the gum trees on the other side of the road a mix of young trees clothed with leaves and older trees with branches further up with there a different melody. I feel in my body and through my being this melody and the richness in the soundscape.

There are single notes from a bird, the far off cry of a raven, a brief lorikeet cry, distant cars and the experience of flesh and blood moving through my body sustaining this movement and deep listening.

The feel of my woolen rosary moving through my left hand, the blink of my eye to check the location and a sense of openness and gratitude to The One in whom I live and move and have my being. I have heard a symphony of silence. I am embraced and the song of my heart drawn into that movement.


Those who like me seek and cultivate solitude are sometimes thought misanthropic. I'm rarely thought this way given my way of life in fact solitude and silence becomes then a way of having 'time out' as if being and becoming we're somehow earned or measured in terms of future creativity.

In my experience the more I practice silence and solitude the more I'm conscious of my interdependence with other human beings and with this living breathing universe. I'm more conscious of people and situations that draw from me the prayer of compassion and loving kindness. I'm more grateful, more appreciative and more generous in my thinking and later in relationship with people.

Crowds or crowding through physical proximity or through emails and immersion in the media or in surfing the net draw me like a moth to a candle. I don't know what it is that draws me, some kind of inner need to feel appreciated or liked or some kind of needing to draw energy from others if that was possible. This over exposure moves me into the illusion of my own independence and importance and my ego seeking to be admired. It also moves me into poor judgement either not conscious of the agendas of others or into a kind of misanthropy and hopelessness.

Today after the funeral yesterday after a night of confused sleep and restless dreams I appreciate this aloneness and the gift of space and solitude to pray and reflect. As I walk through the trees and hear birds I breathe. I'm conscious that human beings have walked this land for 20,000 years or more, I'm invited into a new sense of self and of rejoicing in my interdependence.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sitting with

This evening it seemed like old times in ministry, late visits to the hospital, sitting alongside a person on the threshold between life here and life beyond. I sit and talk and pray, I cry and sing. Each moment marked by a breath, my breath and that of this beloved person. The noise of the hospital ward seems to recede and the world seems to contact to this small space where the sound of breathing and the seemingly intense click of the wall clock mark the passing of moments. Leaving here the world seems different as I walk to my car several streets away, my tears mingled with the slow spitting rain sipping bitter coffee from a cardboard cup from the hospital vending machine as a kind of communion. Laughing young women in pretty dresses and high heels bring two world together. Their voices sound at first discordant and then hopeful as I cross back over the threshold.

The full moon

With autumn coming to the Adelaide hills with mist and rain, the turning of leaves on the vine outside the house I felt called to celebrate the recent full moon. It's the autumn moon and in the northern hemisphere this would be the autumn festival or Samhein. The Church placed All Souls here with All Saints to overlay the ambiguity of bonfire lighting, mask making and dancing. In the south it's still Easter and indeed I feel that the turning of the year lacks significant ritual points which I certainly feel within my own soul.

I'm conscious of the moon since my nightly walk with the dog keeps me in touch with the waxing and the waning, the new moon and the dark moon. So I set my alarm to welcome the rising of the full moon at 0545 with the intent of travelling to a nearby lookout at Windy Point with a view out to sea.

My plan was foiled by heavy mist over the hills so with a large strong coffee and my Bible I drove to Brighton. Here there were gaps in the clouds and the glorious full moon seemed to dance through the sky, 'sister moon' as St Francis might have said. I felt a deep sense of connectedness and at home in this experience and very open in my heart. I recorded the gentle sound of the waves and the wind and photographed the moon on my phone. It was a time to breathe in silence and then walking along the beach to remember and name people who have died who have touched my life and ministry. There were names that seemed to rise from no where, people I had not thought about for years but they all seemed to gather in that walking time.

Soon there were the sounds of birds, other people appeared jogging or walking or cycling and the light changed as the moon visible over the sea in the west gave way to he rising of brother sun.

I drove home ready for more coffee ready for the autumn season, a sense of lightness within to the hills still shrouded deeply in the mist.

Come autumn, come gentle rain, come cold, come plants sprouting anew after the fierce summer sun, come the silence of reflection.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

I heard a presenter yesterday on ABC Radio National discussing the anxiety that pervades our culture and the results that has on our health and well-being. He made the point that our over exposure to the media through newspapers, the internet, news feeds to our smart phone, radio and television add to this anxiety.  News is often conveyed and created to distract us and focus our attention and engage us in thought and emotion.  News is conveyed in ways that draw us in and engage us with the provider of that news. This makes sense to me and coheres with my own experience.

I have been a news addict for years and in this I follow in my father's footsteps.  Like him I'm prone to anxiety and I add to this a sense of inadequacy together with a desire to bring a degree of control to life. This is of course to follow a set of illusions and a set of all habits that do not any more fit the sense of who I have become as someone set free from the illusion of a separate autonomous self. In the past I have given up attention to news and the other ideas and articles that fill newspapers printed and online and discussion and opinion programs that present 'trending ideas'. For the past month I have been on a news 'fast' rather like the 'fast' I have been on for some years from alcohol.

This has a spiritual component for me since I do drink alcohol at Mass but not elsewhere, (in the Uniting Church its grape juice for Communion). If I  pick up from conversation information about a significant item that I need to know about from the news I will look that up for prayer and for conversation with others.  Then from 'Arts and Letters' and from back editions of the 'Guardian' online and other source I can learn what might enrich me in relationships.

This is a good form of practicing silence and it brings with it a sense of liberation together with a sense of incomprehension that I was so attached to news and had a belief I needed to know.

I'm re reading 'Pessimism' and the author Joshua Foa Dienstag offers the experiment of reading 3 day old newspapers to see how uninterested we become in the passing excitements of the day.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Yesterday brought participation in a Board Meeting and today another meeting to discuss research ethics. These meetings are like occasions for dancing.  When is it right to speak and when be silent? When is the silence a profound listening and when is it a disengagement? When is speech expected and how is that thought communicated in words?

I am often overwhelmed by listening and this is because there is so much flooding into my brain requiring thought and internal discussion. I think I need to make more space and listen more deeply and adopt more of a no nothing approach than trying to second guess the intention of the speaker or my own values always present.

Listening is so hard, it is indeed an art as we place ourselves in this space and time seeking to be attuned to the person or the group of people and attuned to oneself.