Listening Lisa

Here is a guest post by Lisa J Cole.

It was written in response to the conversation last week between me, Bruno Lettieri and Barry Garner, at the Twilight School at Rupertswood in Sunbury.

Welcome Lisa!



Tell me, what is it you plan to do                                                                                             with your one wild and precious life?

That sentence is from Mary Oliver’s poem titled The Summer Day. Mary is an American poet, and right at the very end of her poem we are left to answer this question. The beginning of the poem, where first she describes a grasshopper cleaning its face with its feet and having enormous and complicated eyes, takes us on a journey, and then we are left with a question to ponder, grapple with, conjure or create with.

For many of us, it’s a tough question to answer at the best of times. But it didn’t seem that way the other night for the Pilgrim and the Verandah Sitter at the first Open House event at Rupertswood Mansion for 2013.

Ailsa Piper, writer, director, actor and graduate pilgrim shared with her captive audience that to live this ONE life is a good place to start. There is no other, just this ONE. Barry Garner, local Sunbury writer and author of Haloes in the Windscreen, shared that he sits on his verandah and reflects where he’s been and where he’s going next with the PRECIOUS people who he loves and respects around him.

These accomplished authors read from their books, laughed together and relaxed over a microphone last Wednesday night but most importantly publicly declared their personal journeys of walking. Ailsa’s pilgrim-style walking took her 1200km across Spain, alone and carrying with her a bunch of other people’s sins. Barry’s life centres in and around his suburb of Sunbury and he retold stories to the audience how he used to walk around the block with his daughter, Kylie, because she wanted to get fit. He discovered a deep connection with his daughter again. Is the importance on the ONE or the WILD or the PRECIOUS? Maybe it’s all of them.

We discovered, as we listened into this conversation that Ailsa’s greatest addiction is poetry, followed closely by walking and the intrigue and unique beauty and slowness of snails. She has a small snail engraved permanently into her skin to remind her to slow down in life.

Barry declared that he’s spent over 55 years believing he’s not good enough, but once he found writing he could express himself to the world and published a piece about his daughter Kylie leaving home in The Age. He had a rough ride last year through the festive season, but a brisk visit to Philip Island with a loyal friend filled his lungs with hope and belief that no medicine could. The room filled with enormous gratitude for two people who simply were brave enough to open up their lives and hearts to us.

The cooler Melbourne weather brought relief and fresh thoughts. As I sat and listened, my gaze fixed out the bay window on the quick, darting black birds moving efficiently and effortlessly from branch to branch. I wonder if they ponder taking on the snail’s slow life. I hear words and then applause. The bay window of the dining room sparkles; clear as if the glass was an illusion.

And in a moment it’s there – life is not a dress rehearsal. Not for a snail, or a grasshopper, or the darting black birds outside or for Ailsa Piper or Barry Garner or for any one of us sitting in that room. We have enormous lives full of potential and possibility, often complicated and too busy. The secrets to answer our question are locked up in the den and they need to be set free, especially the secrets about the ONE WILD and PRECIOUS life we all wish to live. These thoughts need to breathe and grow and walk across countries or around suburban blocks. Set them free.

How about we all start with this ONE moment in our lives and see what happens next.


Pilgrim, Verandah Sitter and Bello Bruno

Gracias, Lisa. It was such pleasure to sit in those remarkable surrounds and to share the stage with two such thoughtful gentlemen. Gentle men who attend to the world about them, and to their place in it. That is what dignifies Mary Oliver for me – the way she pays attention, and in doing so, makes me open my eyes, ears and heart to wonder. Natural wonder, in particular. Her grasshopper is so particular and real for her.

Rather like my snail.

Yes, it was an evening of paying attention and shared humanity. The audience at Rupertswood was welcoming, the stories they shared were inspiring, and the birds sure did sing. My sister Amanda came along with me to take photos of the evening, and life really did feel precious…

Gracias Lisa. Gracias Bruno and Barry.

And as always, Gracias Mary Oliver.

IMG_2883A postscript…of course!

Do take a moment to look at the comments on this post. Very grateful to Darren and Jim for two beauties. A camino and some snail-talk!


6 thoughts on “Grounded at Twilight

  1. Re:
    “She has a small snail engraved permanently into her skin to remind her to slow down in life.”

    I have a copy of Scott Alexander King’s book ‘Animal Dreaming’ and in his book the snail is a representative symbol of resurgence.
    He writes,
    ” it was once thought that snails slowly wore away their bodies as they dragged themselves across the ground,their remains ending up nothing more than slimy trails.It was also believed that after wearing themselves away,snails were literally able to rebirth themselves as they inexplicably re-emerged whole from their womb-like shells.Snail nurtures the simple truth that after ending we are given the chance to start over;that after an old door is allowed to close a a new one must open.It helps us recognise the significance of the cycles being played out in our life,and how we might harness the potential offered by necessary change by simply acknowledging their presence.”

    1. Oh Darren, thanks so much. More inspiration from my little gurus. They have such meaning for me. Gracias. Have added a postscript to the blog suggesting folk come and read your observations.

  2. Thanks to a Lisa (?!!) for permitting those of us far distant the pleasure of even the briefest part of the Rupertswood experience with Ailsa, Barry & Bruno. And to Ailsa, too – for a guest presenter on this site. I was in Sydney last week – guiding German kinfolk around during their two-day stop-over. The couple – from Gottmadingen on Lake Constance alongside the Swiss border (Lenin passed through it many years ago – a significant historical fact in an otherwise tranquil rural region, apparently) – are keen photographers. I had never met them before – she slightly my junior – he about eight years my senior – so what would they like to see or do – was my initial anxiety. No, interested in exteriors – but NOT interiors – of Museums and Galleries. They wanted to walk. It’s true that we did peer into the doorways of a number of churches and libraries – but for the most part we walked – the length and breadth of Sydney Town – from Central Railway through China Town to Darling Harbour and the moored boats of the Maritime Museum and across the old Pyrmont Bridge. They took the Sydney Tower visit – a clear day – we walked down through the beautiful old sandstone government department buildings of late 19th & early 20th century Sydney to the Quay – around the Opera House and through the Botanical Gardens behind Government House and the Conservatorium of Music and back along Macquarie Street (hello to Matthew FLINDERS and Trim, his cat) and through Hyde Park. Those who know Sydney will picture the delights of those streets and vistas. Then – tired but happy – the three musketeers toasted an enjoyable day with a beer at the kiosk behind Museum Station entrance. The next day it was more of the same – walking to Circular Quay and taking the ferry to Manly – walking towards Shelley Beach – water dragons galore posing for cameras along that strip – then back to explore The Rocks and look out towards the North side – Harry SEIDLER’s beautiful apartment tower on Blues Point named for New York Jamaica-born ferryman and favourite of Gov. Lachlan MACQUARIE – William (Billy) BLUE (1767~1834) “the old Commodore) whose daughter Susannah married George LAVENDER – hence Lavender Bay – the western side of the Harbour Bridge looming large almost within hand’s reach – from Observatory Hill – and a farewell coffee at the Four Seasons (formerly the Regent – where its former signature restaurant was named KABLES – for my 3 x great grand-parents – their late 18th/early 19th century home more-or-less beneath the present hotel). Walking and history – and finding friendship with those kinfolk from Germany – my own meagre attempts at the language being rewarded with some understanding – and repeated insistent German-hospitality invitations for my wife and I to visit Gottmadingen.

    1. What a glorious camino, Jim. Fantastic. I’m just back from walking in Sydney, out along the waters near Gladesville. Mangroves and mud. So surprising in the centre of the city. I am mad for the wild vegetation I keep tripping over in this city! Back to the south again on Monday, but I will be back.
      Your walks sound truly seductive. Lots of spots I know, but many overlooked. Must remedy that some time. And how intriguing that you have that history. I recall Kable’s from years ago. Swanky loveliness, wasn’t it?
      So now you are plotting a German trip…roads keep opening!
      Have made a PS at the end of the blog post as I hope people will come and read your tempting description of Sydney town.
      Gracias. Muchas.

      1. Can I reply here – will you receive it, Ailsa? Just to say – now end of June 2019 – my wife and I in Lisbo? till the week-end then – after three months in Europe – mostly Central Europe – we fly home. What I wanted to tell you was that we walked a six-day section of the caminho português from Porto to Tui just across the border into Spain. Okay – we did it the easy way – daypacks – baggage moved independently to get houses along the route (not the coastal one). Marvellous nonetheless. And my Merrells – though tread much worn down – perfect – not a blister in sight! Some amusing tales – should you ever respond to this – shoin(at-mark) – from Jim KABLE

        And a PS – apparently – according to Cassandra Pybus – Billy BLUE more likely born 1737 – so well into his 90s when he died in Sydney Town in 1834 – his image held by the NSW Public Library!

        1. How wonderful that you walked in Portugal, Jim. I imagine you would’ve been warm! It sounds like Europe is having a very tough summer. And so great that the Merrells looked after you.
          I saw the Blues Point tower this very day. Great to get the info.

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