I’m writing this from Albany in Western Australia, where a gusty southerly is shaking the treetops outside my window. Tiny honey-eaters flit from branch to branch, seemingly unfussed by the tumult. Whitecaps chop up the surface of the bay beyond and clouds race across the sky. The world is whirling, remaking itself before my bleary morning eyes.
I’m told that Albany is the oldest permanently settled town in W.A.
The weather patterns today seem intent on reminding me that everything is new and changing. The town wraps around King George Sound, which opens onto the Southern Ocean. Next stop is Antarctica. This is a place of extremes and edges.
I came here after three days at the Perth Writers Festival, which took place on the University of WA campus. While I was there I performed my Sinning monologue on a stage I last trod thirty years ago. Big time palimpsesto. It was privilege to be back, surrounded by family, friends, new friends, and a few heroes too.
I had the oddest sensation at the opening of the monologue. I was sitting in my “Spanish cafe” section of the stage, wrapped in a bubble of warm light, as the audience filed in. Gracias A La Vida was playing. I wrote in my journal. I sang along under my breath. I was introduced to the audience, my biog read out, the music came and went. House lights dimmed…
All normal. All to plan.
Except that I felt something completely new: I was in Spain and Australia simultaneously. I was in a bar on the road, and I was in Perth in my student days. I was a pilgrim and a writer/performer. I was present to both, yet also, curiously, outside of both, writing about the experience in my journal. Later, I realised that it was not unlike what happens to me sometimes when I’m walking – that sensation of being out of body, watching the small dot moving along the road.
Whatever it was, it was right. The monologue had a life all its own. Maybe it was happy to be on a stage, or to be back where it all began, or to be given to such a welcoming crowd. No matter. It was joy. The whole Perth experience was joy. Days of laughter and talk and folly and wisdom.
And then, a group of writers was flown south to Albany for the Write in the Great Southern Festival. A gift, because Albany sits at the end of the Bibbulmun Track, a 1000km bush path I’ve long fantasised about walking.
On Monday, I lead a workshop along a stretch of it. Sand got into my boots, salt spray into my lungs, and I was claimed. I’m not sure how or when, but I think I must return. Thank you to those who braved the workshop. It was a little unbalanced – rather too much time spent on the outward leg, because I didn’t know the track – but it was magnificent to watch you all out there writing.
Writing and walking and working. What else?
On Tuesday, I was fortunate to be lead in conversation by Sue Lodge-Calvert, the local Anglican Minister, a deeply thoughtful, light-hearted woman. On several occasions I was surprised by turns in our talk, but never more so than when she asked me to read the following section from the book. I’ve not looked at it since publication – I’ve always read other sections. On Tuesday, it shook me. It is a journal entry, immediate and unshaped, and maybe that is why. Or maybe it was just that it felt very true, here in Albany where I have walked with such gratitude and hope. Regardless, I am glad to have been reminded…
For me, prayer is walking. Every step is a prayer. And if there are sacred places, then the ones I have seen are roads that stretch to the horizon, empty of all save perhaps a fellow traveller, dotted in the distance, walking a separate but connected way.
A saint is a tree beside a road, the branches wide enough to
give comfort and solace in equal measure.
A sermon is a story told at sunset, two spirits meeting to pay attention, to listen, and to learn.
Divinity is the moment when heartbeats and footsteps
align, find each other, and mark miles together.
Miracles ask little and give much. Like a woman tucking homemade food into a stranger’s pockets, miracles quicken the step, light the way in the early morning dark, and are the first star of the evening cool. Miracles are journeys from emptiness to fullness, from heartbreak to heartache to heartburn to heart’s ease. And back again.
Heaven is a place where good people do bad things and bad people do good things and somewhere out on the miraculous road, good and bad people look into each other’s eyes and realise there is no separation. They are the same.
And ‘buen camino’ is a blessing.
Good road. Good path. Good way.
Perhaps it is the only blessing.
Now, this morning, I am off to Denmark!
No, not Hamlet’s place! I’m going about 40 minutes down the road to another festival, where we will share stories in the wetlands, and try to crack open some of the mysteries of words. I hope I will walk, too.
Meantime, the wind is still howling, crows are cawing, a pelican soared overhead, and those clouds keep racing from right to left across the windows. Out on the cliffs above the Southern Ocean, the wind farm’s mills will be whirring. Nothing stands still. Time is on the road, stepping out, calling us forward.
Buen camino, my village. I’d better get packing. Gracias for walking with me.
I’m indebted to so many people for these last days: Katherine Dorrington and Del Robinson at Perth Writers Festival; Jo Smith at Write in the Great Southern; Anne de Courcy for friendship and shared stories; Sue Lodge-Calvert for waking me up; Jon Doust for catching me when I swooned; Maree Dawes for walking and poems; Phillip Adams for the hero moment; all at the Stella Prize for the laughter…too many people. Too much kindness. It has been another master class in generosity.
OK. Hi-ho. Close the suitcase and wash the dishes. The road is opening…