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.

11 thoughts on “Awakening the Songlines.

  1. I love this post more than I can say, and the thought you are writing about it makes my heart flutter with joy. Please keep writing! And share it ultimately!

    I’m not a singer. Like you, I was squelched by school and became very quiet, but I think originally I was a dancer and a talker. I subsumed it all into writing.

    I have been to places that clearly don’t like people. Taranaki was one of them. I have lived in places that are lonely and want people too much, and they keep hold of you even years after you’ve left. I do have songlines, both in the way you beautifully describe them and the more traditional sense of landmarks along the path. There are paths in this world that I can walk blindfolded, despite how twisty and complex they are, because I know so well the rhythm of walking them, the feel of tiny waymarkers under the feet, the sway of the path around trees and rocks. It is both a blessing and an uncomfortable heritage.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I wanted to get here earlier, and respond to your wonderful comments, but came down with an almighty something yesterday.

      Anyway, How I would love to sit down and chat about all this with you! It’s endlessly fascinating to me, these paths that become a part of us. The ones that elude or resist us, as well.

      And what you say about Taranaki is so interesting, because I lived there for a time as a child. And despite loving its fecund intensity, its antedeluvian darkness, and ferocity, I understand exactly what you mean.

      School has so much to answer for, hey? xx


  2. Oh and I understand about the worry of sharing. I’ve had people take my ideas. Its a real shock when it happens. I’ve also had the weird experience of writing about something and a couple of weeks later someone else will write about the same thing although in different words and it’s really hard not to wonder … It’s especially frustrating when they make a big confident show of what they’ve written, as if they are the expert, until you get to wondering if maybe you copied them! Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being inspired, and extendinga conversation, etc. But the border line can be very fine.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. so happy that you had rain and a break in the heat. I know how wearing a long stretch of unrelieved hot weather can be, especially when the nights offer no relief. I’m sure all of nature was simply radiant after the rain.

    songlines…I’ve often wondered how long a person (or a people) have to live in a place before it claims them, before they let it speak through them. I suppose the first criterion is how well they listen to the land…whether they even know it does speak.

    as I’ve said before, the land in England and Scotland speaks more to me than my birthplace does in many ways… I mean that quite literally; having been to the UK a number of times, I found myself utterly at home in the countryside. its rhythms and plants and creatures all feel deeply familiar, and seemed practically to shout something to my very cells. here, “home”, where my people have lived for a bit shy of 400 years feels familiar also, but oddly less so than the rural UK places I’ve only visited. when I have been in other locales, like the US west coast, or the Caribbean, I have felt not at all at home. while I enjoy visiting Oregon, or Northern California, they don’t feel familiar at all. and I’m sad to say that I felt both unwelcome in the Caribbean and positively uncomfortable there. (oddly enough, I have been to parts of New Mexico that felt unfamiliar, as they should, and yet welcomed there.)

    I want to feel at home where I live. it seems wrong for me not to cherish the place where I reside, where generations of family are buried, where indigenous peoples before me found a living, but somehow it doesn’t quite *feel* like home. but I feel I can hear it speaking, nonetheless. I think we have a duty to listen…

    (oh, that music thing during fevers! I know that!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The UK. *Sigh*. That feeling of home just makes me howl, shamelessly. Because, I understand that not feeling quite at home where you’re from, despite the family connections.
      It’s a full-body relief, and release, to feel so wholeheartedly embraced by a place. And I believe our DNA holds so many more ancestral memories and knowledge than those science acknowledges.

      I do believe I would feel like merely a visitor in the Americas, (as I should). But who knows? If I’m every fortunate enough to travel there (I’ve only been to NYC, where I felt like a very welcome visitor), I would be so conscious of so many different ancient strands and histories. It would be interesting to sense and experience the different songlines in that land – and which ones I could hear, which remain hidden to me.

      I’ve not visited the Caribbean, nor New Mexico – that’s really interesting. I’d love to visit Scandinavia one day, not only because of strong ancestral connections, but because I feel very drawn to that land and the stories it holds.


  4. Songlines are so mysteriously amazing. Before GPS we sang ourselves out and back home again. It’s beautiful. I think I’m more visual than anything. I see things. Events. Birds and animals just show up and tell me things through their actions. I wish I could hear the music you hear. It sounds amazing. So glad you had some rain. Our last summer here was unbearable! It was so hot and dry. Fall will be with you soon. Spring will be here soon. I’m not much for the extreme weather of winter or summer. I get depressed and lose my motivation. Take care. I love this post! It feels like a songline in itself.


    1. “Before GPS we sang ourselves out and back home again”. Yes! That’s so true. I actually feel a little choked up when I think of that.

      It’s already feeling like Autumn is on the margins here. Others would disagree, because we’re still in for some heat. But it’s the angles of light, the orb weaving spiders, the chilly mornings heralded by magpie song. The sedums budding. The signs are everywhere.
      I too get terribly blue and lose motivation in extreme weather conditions. It does put a damper on creativity, I find! xx


  5. Oooh this…. sings to me I guess. I’d like to hear more. The way a place feels, I never thought of it as song, perhaps because I’m primarily visual – but yes, I think that is actually what it is. (I have some mildly traumatic experiences with singing as a young child which may be why I’ve shut out that aspect of life thinking I simply didn’t miss it.)


    1. It seems so many of us have had childhood experiences that quash our natural instincts – to sing, dance, express. I’m fairly visual, but not nearly as much as I am auditory. I often can’t bear to be in a noisy environment.
      The senses have been a little underplayed for too long, I feel. But they can be “portals” perhaps, allowing us to connect with the spirit of something, beyond the mundane. xx

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You write so beautifully, thank you. I’ve discovered I’m quite ‘auditory’ too – the techie joys of podcasts and audiobooks have lifted me back to my radio-loving childhood – and I’m almost synaesthesic with natural sound. I can feel the sound of wind-blown leaves for example. But mostly, in nature, it’s a feeling/knowing. A physical sentience? In our nearest litte wood, when visiting for the first time in months recently, I was horrified to feel overwhelmed by toxicity, sludge, death even. Heartbreaking. Last week I went back, somewhat reluctantly, and found that there’d been management work going on. Trees pollarded, chopped back and even cleared. At first my kneejerk reaction was horror but I quickly realised that the feeling there now is clean, airy and strong again. The woods felt happy and relieved. So did I.


    1. Oh – I’m quite addicted to podcasts these days! I’ve had some real lightning bolt moments whilst listening. I feel I can just really go there – into an idea or concept, when I have the auditory function engaged more than the visual.

      Your experience in that little wood – that’s so interesting! Hearing accounts like yours confirms to me that we humans can have a positive relationship with the environment, shaping it, nurturing it, and working cooperatively with nature. Guiding it towards its ideal state. Or, at least helping it be healthier and sustainable. I get so weary of our self-hatred as a species, especially as I learn more about indigenous Australians (among others) and their care-taking and shaping of the land. The intensive relationship between humans and the wild, and how it can be mutually beneficial.
      Anyway, I could go on! xx


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