Awakening the Songlines.


Well that blessed heat has broken at last! Nights where it doesn’t drop below 30 degrees C can leave one feeling decidedly groggy and out of sorts.

But last night I crawled into bed and lay there listening to the rain on the tin roof, and it was blissful, indeed. The rain continued all through the night, and into the morning. The magpies are huzzah-ing outside, and the land exhales. It feels like Autumn today, and the first of the orb-weavers are slinging their webs between the railings on the balcony.

I went for a splashy wander first thing, because it’s my natural habitat. I suspect I might be a bit amphibian. Maybe it’s no accident that Kermit the Frog was one of my first childhood crushes.

As I traced my steps through streets and forest reserve, through huddlings of trees, and circled around clumps of fernery I thought about songlines. I think about them a lot.

That word, the meaning of it has been following me around. Prodding me into a constant awareness of how little I know, really, about this land. Its indigenous songlines. For an explanation, or further discussion of songlines, go here, or here.

I don’t profess to know the indigenous songlines of this mountain. They’re not mine to sing or share. I’m not a keeper of that knowledge. So I’m careful here to make a distinction between ancestral, indigenous knowledge, and my own dreamings and listening to place.

I remember being a small child, and singing to and with the land. I was always singing – more than I spoke at that point. I would just sing all the time. To animals, dolls, flowers, and trees, to imaginary people. I bubbled over with a lot of nervous energy. And often that electrical energy would spill over as song. And singing helped my thoughts flow. It felt like my most natural form of communication.*

But I was a fairly shy child, and starting school made me go very quiet. Because you can’t just break into spontaneous singing at school, without being chastised or humiliated. I lost my voice for a while, it became tiny and muted. Between the ages of 5-8, you could hardly hear me speak during school hours. When I returned home, I would sing again to the chooks and cats, to the strawberry patch. There, away from humans, it felt safe to let my voice out.

Singing to the natural world was pure impulse. In nature was where I sang the most. There was no knowledge involved, no conscious decision to do so. And I remember the sensation of the song coming through me, and shaping me. That the air and leaves and earth would express these songs through me. I was just a tiny human conduit for something held there. Made from the same minerals and atoms.

And I do believe children just have these kinds of instincts. Not all children sing them, of course. But some part of us knows instinctively that we are of place. We can often feel, even unconsciously, the particular music of the land; its thrum in our bones, and nerves, and temperaments.

How many of us talk about the “vibe” of a house? We can often sense the energy of a building or a location, or at least have an idea of how it makes us feel to be there. I hardly have to mention this here in this space, because I’m pretty sure the vast majority of you reading this would need no explanation at all. Not news at all, hey?

But even though I rarely speak of it, (it’s easier now that you don’t risk being locked up for “hearing things”), I’ve often noticed the music of place. I’m an auditory type of person. So is my daughter – who is actually a fine, natural songwriter, (I don’t have that talent). Music comes through her, because she’s that kind of tuning fork.

And I hear things from the land – it’s not exactly audible in a literal sense, but a vibrational music. Like a memory, or a scent. Perhaps, it’s the sound of light.

Sometimes it’s physical. It can be sweet and quiet in some places, joyful, melancholy, or jarring in others. Sometimes the land wants us there, and in other places it recoils from us, pushing us away.

I’ve only had one really awful experience, where I was living before I moved to this mountain. I was walking through the bush and I found myself on a part of the land that felt so very angry. Enraged, even. There was no birdsong there, even though it was a bright, sunny day and the birds were everywhere else. It made my blood run cold. The land was veritably screaming at me to leave. And I didn’t second-guess that. No.

But then there are times when it’s as though we’ve found our own musical key, in the land. We become a tuning fork to the frequency of place, and sometimes that key (pun intended) unlocks something new. I had that experience recently in a place, and it registered in my body as deeply restful – as though I was being held by a dear friend. Possibly my most profound experience of Mother Earth, as we imagine Her.

It humbled me and sang me home, quite unexpectedly. I feel there are songlines everywhere. Some are singing to us loudly, some are sleeping, waiting for us to awaken to them. If we really listened to them, if we could hear them, I wonder how our species would behave in relationship with the land.

Do you have your own songlines? A sense of place that speaks or sings to you?

Without revealing too much, and perhaps I have already revealed too much here – I am writing about the above. I’m weaving this into a story – but with some twists and mouldings. Perhaps I should lock this away, so that it doesn’t get picked over and plundered. That has happened before with my stuff. But it’s against my instincts to hoard. I’ll have to trust that there is enough for everyone.

My voice will always be mine.


*Whenever I’m ill – in a fever – I often hear extraordinary music. Music I wish I could write down, but it’s gone again. During those liminal moments, between worlds, (where children often dwell) we can often be attuned to that Otherworld music.