IMG_5256Last time I wrote, I spoke of my superstition that January can foretell the year. In some ways it did. I’m in-residence again, this time at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre in the foothills outside Perth.

What I couldn’t have guessed when I wrote from Bundanon was that I would get glandular fever, and with it a master class in s-l-o-w. Hence my lengthy absence, for which I apologise.

The community at this site – my “village” – has been a constant for me since before Sinning Across Spain was released, and I value the comments and care I’ve received from you here, so to have gone AWOL feels neglectful. I’ve been an absent friend.

I’m sorry.

IMG_0278While I’ve been here in Perth – almost four weeks now – the temperature has only dropped below 30 degrees on two occasions. Today it was 37 again. The trees outside my cabin drop their bark as though they’re being stifled by layers of cardigans. The clay earth has closed over completely, trying to retain what little moisture it holds. Magpies and crows start the day with loud calls, wheeling between the trees and past my window. But by day’s end, they can barely hop, and their voices are little more than faint squawks.

IMG_5306The sunsets from my writing perch, looking down to the city, have been end-of-worldly.

I am cocooned in this cabin, just down the hill from Katharine’s place. I’m aware of her and of her work every time I open the door to sniff the air. “Get back inside,” I hear her scold. “Stay still and conserve your energy for your work.”

Everyone tells me to conserve my energy. I’m not sure how to do that. It has never been an issue for me before. I’m on a different camino. I’m learning…learning…

The lessons of the guru-snail.

Listen to the internal rhythms. Slow. Stop.

I’ve barely left this piece of land in all the time I’ve been in the west, but last weekend my sister took me to Cottesloe to see the sculptures there. It happened to be one of the two cool days, and the breeze was intoxicating. I crawled along, more entranced by the sea and the salt spray than by any of the installations, wonderful as they were. Moisture, cool, families, movement, swimmers, music, gulls wheeling…

Ken Unsworth's Entry in Sculpture by the Sea
Ken Unsworth’s Entry in Sculpture by the Sea

Life jostled about me, and it was good to be among it again. Good to see the whirling and colours and to hear shouts and laughter, the rhythm of running feet on pavement.

No. Not mine!

After less than an hour of toddling like a two year old on wobbly pins, I was ready to go. When you’ve been so solitary, the world is a wonder. Almost too much.

But no. Never too much. Never.

I know it’s there waiting. And I’m coming back, world. Yes I am.


Meantime, may good health and strong legs be yours, ever and ever. Walk strong. xxx

Spot the fevered pilgrim photographing the wondrous mirror-dog, if you can

PS. Thank you Alanna for all your help. I couldn’t have done it without you, mysis.

15 thoughts on “From an absent friend…

  1. Hi Ailsa,
    I was wondering where you have been.
    We are now back home from our Camino, we walked the Portuguese route in September, then spent the next 5 months in Europe house exchanging and seeing friends.
    I have included a link to my blog, maybe a little light reading for you while you rest and recover after Mono.
    Take care and can’t wait for your next book.

    P.S. We would love to see you on the Sunshine Coast one day.

    1. Hello Julie!
      How wonderful. I’m envious. There, I have said it! The house exchanging is more and more popular isn’t it? Hope you went to some magical places after Portugal. I’d love to have a look at the blog, but can’t see a link. Is that the Mono, or is it missing? And i would ADORE to visit the Sunshine Coast…hopefully soon… xxxx
      Thanks as ever for waving and dropping by.

      1. Hi Ailsa,
        I put it in the website place, but here it is

        I am right now writing the last post, our last few days in Paris, but if you start at the beginning I may have it finished by the time you finally get there.

        We saw ‘Tracks’ a couple of weeks ago on an advance screening and thought it was wonderful, when you are up to it you must see it.

        Also I have just come across another interesting blog by an American photographer on his two Camino’s, just beautiful words and photos.

        Take care of yourself,

  2. Cara Ailsa,

    Sus palabras están caminando porque Vd no puede – por razon de su enfermedad. Mucha suerte en éste tiempo.

    Sydney friends are at this very moment just a month from walking el Camino from the French border to Santiago de Compostela. They’ve done a number of walks in New Zealand, the Offa’s Dyke walk in Wales, etc – but not something with the spiritual dimension of this coming pilgrimage.

    I can’t begin to imagine how the West has been this past summer – such temperatures as you describe – and I am sure that the spirit of Katharine Susannah PRICHARD has indeed been advising you – as you say. Here on the coast in the East of course far easier – we suffered some days of heat and bush fires in mid-October last year – since which generally pleasant weather. I’ve been walking lots – around Beecroft, the Fernleigh Track in Newcastle – and now around “leafy” Pymble – the Sydney sites are house-sits. Last Saturday was around nearby Bobbin Head – the mangrove walk and finding Guringai Indigenous peoples’ rock art/carvings and stone axe grooves – powerful!

    Katharine Susannah PRICHARD has been a hero of mine since reading her book Coonardoo. Best wishes to you in this slow time!

  3. Gracias amiga. Muchas gracias por tus palabras.
    All that walking sounds glorious Jim. ANd yes, folk have been telling me that it has been much milder – actually a bit autumnal – on the east coast. We thought we had it here for a day or two, but summer returned today with a vengeance.
    Weather! Normally I love all its variations, and I love the heat. Just a bit different this year, that’s all.
    Isn’t Coonardoo astonishing. I read it again during my time here. Incredible book now and even more so when you think of the times. I also went back to Sally Morgan’s My place while here. Equally wonderful in a different way.
    Thanks Jim, for your words and wishes.
    Walk strong. x

  4. PS I’ve just read Tim COPE’s On the Trail of Genghis Khan – his 10,000 kms from Mongolia to Hungary – on Mongolian horses – with a dog – a pilgrimage through Asia and histories largely unknown to the Anglo-world – truly fabulous. And my wife and I saw the beautiful film “Tracks” – of Robyn DAVIDSON’s 3,000 km walk with three camels – and a dog – from Alice Springs to the north-west coast of your beautiful state. So many pilgrimages… Jaime

    1. I am desperate to see Tracks. Can’t wait. The trailers look so beautiful and I have always admired the book. And I keep hearing about the Cope book too. Such pleasures ahead. I’m reading Ann Patchett’s new book of essays and am lit up by them. So clear and such a great voice.

  5. Sorry to hear you have been under the weather for all the wrong reasons Ailsa. I wanted to attend your recent book launch in Perth of “Sinning across Spain” but unfortunately was unable to get there. I hope to catch up with your book soon .
    I have wanted to do that El Camino walk for a while and I still hope to get there sometime, so it is of particular interest to me.

    I attended your writing workshop at PWF last year and found it very inspirational – thank you. .Hope you are back to feeling A1 and KSP will be a great place to be. Might see you there one of these days. . …

    1. Hi Ingrid,
      Thanks for your well wishes and how lovely to make acquaintance again after a year. I still remember you all whirling about in that courtyard at UWA. It was a fun day. Hope you get to walk the camino one day. When it calls it is hard to say no.

  6. Darling I refuse to advise you on what I know about ‘slow’. Refuse to open your mind to the experience, to the details you won’t have to live and plan your life around. Think of it as a holiday, transit… you won’t be slow for long. xxxx

  7. Ailsa,

    For someone so used to pace everywhere, it must be difficult to slow down. I like your suggestion that it is a different sort of Camino. I hope the healing is happening as I write, and that the quietness of life brings more creative juice to the fore.

    1. Oh me too, me too! it is certainly a trip, and the writing has been slower and fuzzier, but still flowing, so I will see what it is when I’m clearer. Meantime,I walk with small and slow steps, and am trying to think of it as a way to access childhood – even when I feel like a crone! Thanks for wishes! xxxxx

  8. Hi Ailsa,
    Perhaps you have conserved your energy already. Now you are using it to heal.
    I wish you a healthy recovery and look forward to hearing you at Village School at the end of the month.
    Love, Karen

    1. Thanks Karen. I am coming back, step by step. And the diversion has had lots to teach me. Slowing is not all bad, it seems! I’m looking forward very much to the gathering at the VS. Lots to discuss and discover. Thanks for stopping by. xxx

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