G’day from Footscray City College, Australia

Image: Footscray City College - oh so cool (so says Tony Birch)

Footscray City College – oh so cool (so says Tony Birch)

G’day from Footscray City College, Australia!

Footscray City College is a state school in the inner west of Melbourne, Australia. We have 46 different nationalities at the school, and almost 1,000 students. We overlook one of Melbourne’s great waterways, the mighty Maribyrnong River. We are an excited bunch of 14 and 15 year old kids with some great, committed teachers. We are exploring the city of Melbourne as well as the natural landscape that surrounds the city.

Here’s a film we made on our first day with Weather Stations

Our group are working with Tony Birch and the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas to improve our own writing and knowledge about climate change. Tony has written multiple fiction books including Shadowboxing and Blood. The Wheeler Centre is an organisation that organises talks and events for the public about lots of topics including writing, climate change and more.

Our goal is to get people talking about climate change and how it might impact on us in our own suburbs, streets and homes. We want people around the world to know that we’re thinking and uniting around the issue. Not only do we want people to think about climate change, we want to provoke them to action.

We look forward to sharing our work with all of the other Substations in Berlin this September!

– Students of Footscray City College Substation

Big Noise Tony

I have spent the last year or more writing my weatherstations entries with one eye cast on the Australian prime minister – a man who came to office with the one-word climate change policy – ‘It’s crap’. I have followed Tony across sun-drenched beaches, capturing him in all his ‘manhood’, emerging from the surf in his Speedos – the great white explorer cometh to save the nation. The Abbott government’s ‘policy’ and initiatives on climate change and sustainability are so devoid of energy (no pun), ideas, and vitally, action, that we actually do not have a climate change policy in Australia.  Unless of  course, we are in agreement that a regressive-denialist- worship of coal is a policy, rather than a sick and destructive joke. In Abbott’s latest foray into the issue he has rallied against wind farms in Australia.  Tony doesn’t like them because they’re apparently noisy and ugly; a remarkable position to adopt, considering the damage wrought on the environment by coal mines (and other mining ventures) in Australia. I don’t know the last time Tony ventured to the Latrobe Valley in eastern Victoria. If its ugliness, incessant noise, pollution and environmental hazard he wants to rally against, the Valley would be a good place to start.  Not only has coal mining in the region destroyed the natural environment, it has impacted severely on the lives and health of communities for many decades.  Mining in Victoria and other regions of Australia has also destroyed Aboriginal lands – both sacred cultural sites and community homelands. The position of the Australian government on climate change is an international disgrace. And while the Australian Labor Party makes ‘noises’ of its own about doing something more effective in relation to climate and the environment, it has never adopted more than a lip-service approach to environmental policy, hoping to wedge voters who would otherwise vote for the Greens party. In Australia we are going nowhere but backwards – and in a hurry.  We cannot rely on government to move us forward.  We need action – Direct Action – and in quick time with all the noise we can muster.

 

http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/noisy-compared-to-what-tony-abbotts-claim-wind-farms-awful-and-noisy-dismissed-20150611-ghlnd9.html

In Balance – Sophie Allan

Sophie_AllanI once slept with a lover in a grove of pepper-trees by a bike path in North Fitzroy. Romantic with drink in the warm night and too broke for a cab, we hoisted his swag from the boot of my Corolla and each took an end. A streetlight shone moon-like as we felt for a flat spot to spread the bedding. We sank into deep sleep, hidden in the inky dark. Whirring bicycle wheels and heavy metal trams woke us. We became self-conscious; we were uninvited. Workers pumped along Nicholson Street towards the heart of the city, and over on the Merri the spotted pardalote still cried ‘sleep dee-dee’. Above us the leaves of the pepper-tree hung like the picked-at skeletons of fish.

[Sophie Allan is a writer and publisher who lives on Wurundjeri country]

 

The Fig Tree

By Mirko Bonne December 1, 2014

fig tree 1Summer’s rubbish everywhere, plastic splendor on every slope. Tossed away, trodden flat, left lying, forgotten – the packaging of what once was, and is never to return, bottles of all colors, rust-corroded tins, a faded bag, a torn suitcase. Cars abandoned years ago by the roadside, wrecks, half-cannibalized, half-decayed, shat in, besmeared, oil-slicked. You squat, eye caught by something pale on the asphalt, and see a little goddess doll, with just half a head, no more body left, but Aphrodite’s smile on its lips. In the dry grass, layer upon layer, lie the remains of what couldn’t be stuffed into the crevices and niches of these walls whose stones have been used over and over, over and over again. Severed power lines in the trees, a branching of wires. On the beach a tide of toothbrushes, a spume of bags and bottle tops, caps and pens, laces, buttons, and the faded blind eyes of stuffed animals.

fig tree 2On the tiny Greek isle of Symi, just a few sea miles from the Turkish coast, a house stands in the upper town of the fishing harbor, its roof beams, walls and floors prized open by a tree that has claimed, bit by bit, the abandoned masonry. The beautiful dark green fig grows on the junk and trash that is tossed in through the windows – tossed as though into a shaft in which the inevitability of decay merges with emptiness, and time and death fade in the face of sheer life.

Photos: Plastic in the Mediterranean near Rhodes (1), house with fig tree on Symi (2), fig tree in Santa Barbara, California (3)

Translated by Isabel Fargo Cole

The man who loves trees – Sean Gaston

The Trees of Summertown

Since I moved to Summertown in North Oxford nine mature trees have been cut down at the back of our house. When we first arrived, there was a natural wall of trees that sheltered us. It reminded me of the tall hedges we had around our house in Scotland, which I would have to climb up and to trim during the brief Scottish summer. A lot of academics live in Summertown and the first great tree to be cut down was replaced by a redundant study. It turned out that the couple that owned the house were both academics and retired at the same time – he, naturally, wanted a study of his own and the tree came down. There were once great fruit orchards here; now there are only a few scattered apple trees. We are only some twenty minutes walk from Port Meadow and the poplars of Binsey that inspired Hopkins’ 1879 poem. Even then, he lamented the cutting down of trees that ‘quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun’.

Sean Gaston is an academic and lives in Oxford.

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April 1 around the world – as experienced by students from the Romain-Rolland-Gymnasium

BERLIN, GERMANY

I woke up because of the sunlight shining through my curtains and some birds chirping outside, which is not really delightful for me as a late riser that usually gets up at 10 a.m.

Only a few hours later the nice spring weather has changed and the blue sky, which only sheltered a few white clouds, turned to a dark grey one. Furthermore, it started to drizzle but soon after that it was bucketing down. Additionally it started to hail and I could hear the hailstones falling down on the rooftop.

Around the evening time the weather brightened up again.

(Leonie Heyen)

 

This day left a powerful impression on me regarding the weather. Such a weather situation is often considered as typical for the month April. It is almost a cliché that the weather during April is a healthy mix of rain showers and the first sun rays of spring letting the temperatures rise in a moderate way. But what we experienced that day was a little different. Sure enough it was a mix out of rain and sunshine, but did it feel healthy? I would rather say it was an extreme, an extraordinary mix. The weather was changing – or rather shifting – almost every minute. Heavy rain, clear skies, rain again, showers along with sunshine and even hail was falling from the deeply grey clouds. Just like a huge slideshow which lets pictures from all seasons of the year flash by in front of your eyes without any discernible order. I was not leaving my home until the late afternoon hours, but I still witnessed the whole weather slideshow by looking out of my window. I was waiting for a comfortable period in which it would not rain so I could finally leave home and go to the fitness center. Later, I actually managed to catch such a rain free window and left home to do some sports. However, returning home I got caught by a rain shower anyway. Nevertheless, I still consider myself lucky. Riding through a hailstorm would have been much nastier.

All in all I have to say that the weather today gave me several flashbacks of the time I was living in the Netherlands. Why, you might ask? Because this was not typical April weather, this was typical Dutch weather.

(Igor Zaytsev)

 

The whole day felt like a big April fool. The day started very sunny, a few clouds pushed through the beautiful blue sky. A few birds were piping melodies while sitting in a tree. But then the weather changed from one minute to the other. It started raining and not this great warm summer rain but a crackling cold rain. After ten minutes, however, it stopped raining and the sun came out again. It looked so nice and you thought about doing stuff outside but by the time you changed your clothes to go outside, it had started to snow. Yes, it started snowing in April… But what started as snowing quickly changed and turned into hailing. The green grass received a white dress but soon the sun came again. The snow and hail melted. And since we hadn’t had any wind that day, the wind came in the evening.

(Hendrik Zanzig)

 

My day doesn’t begin early. At 11.13 I wake up still baffled because of the past night. Apparently the weather matches my condition with the sky being as foggy as my brain.

Once my friends have all woken up, our teenage stomachs are starving. We dress up and leave to buy groceries having the most amazing brunch in mind. The hope of this meal added to the sudden sunshine put us in one hell of a good mood. Who would have thought we’d have so much fun while doing a chore. Even the wind that is blowing and messing with our hair – us girls with uncontrollable hair whipping into our faces and covering us like clouds – can’t put us off.

And here we are. Back home at 13.20 in that tiny single-man kitchen – meaning as empty as cluttered – all being left now is the cooking. This is not the easiest part. Bread is toasted and bacon grilled. The room fills with a delicious scent. But suddenly the weather decides to change. Huge drops crash down on that little window without warning. The tree outside starts shaking so hard that we think it’s dancing to disco-music. The sounds have changed: the smooth banging has become brittle.

I can’t see why because I am too busy between eggs, bacon and fruit salad. But when Nolan suddenly screams: “Hail storm?!” everything becomes clear. We now hear the sound of wind and ice while we are eating – delicious by the way!

Now that our stomachs are filled we have to be productive again and I decide to go back home.

By getting out of the house I notice no more rain or hail but the wind is colder and stronger than ever. Ouf! Here’s the underground station. I can’t see the sky anymore but at least I’m no longer afraid of flying away. The tube is coming.

Almost an hour later, when I finally get out, I can see holes in the blanket of clouds which seems a little less white, less aggressive… warmer.

It’s 16.30 and I arrived at home. I know I said I‘d be productive but actually all I want to do is watch a movie and finally I stop observing today’s weather.

(Claire Antonetti)

 

As I woke up at 9 o´clock I thought April was kidding me. It was a cloudy and ice cold morning, snow and frost everywhere. Then suddenly at 2 p.m. the sun made its way through the thick grey wall of clouds. It was getting warm up to 16,5°C and I could feel the spring coming. Birds were singing and I saw some cats finally having the courage to go out. Early in the evening clouds and rain pushed away the light and suddenly it felt like fall.

(Lukas Fraesdorf)

 

Waking up, looking at a cloud-free sky,

knowing that this day will be mine.

Going for a nice long run,

looking at the bright hot sun.

Using my vacation to train some muscle,

picking up books, I need to hustle.

Enjoying this chilly day at the beach,

where I am now writing this speech.

This weather, no wind, inspiring to go have some fun,

just like taking some pics with my sis’ for Instagram.

Eating a nice big meal, healthy.

Smiling, ‘cause I know the nature is wealthy.

Going home to the resort,

to finally finish my weather report.

(Niklas Hervé)

 

I wake up and make myself ready for a mindset of not believing anything incredible that is said or done to me, but I rather am very skeptical and expect an April fool’s joke everywhere. But the April fool’s joke is already waiting outside of my window. Yes, there seriously is snow on the ground in April. I guess the German saying that April does whatever it wants concerning the weather has once again proven itself to be true. But the frosty surprise in the morning wasn’t everything and a little while later the snow is gone. Now, it is windy, no stormy outside. Sun and rain alternate. One time I look outside the window it´s raining, the next time the sun is shining and yet another time it is hailing so hard that you can hear that muffled noise of millions of frozen drops of water hitting the earth. It is true April weather.

(Manuel Plonsky)

 

CASTELLANE, FRANCE

It’s the morning, a wonderful sunny morning.

The first view through the window is attracted by the sky.

Already now it has a bright, gloriously blue color which I haven’t seen for a long time in my home country. There are no clouds up there, not even a small one in the distance and almost no wind with 15 degrees here in the mountains at 850 meters elevation.

During the course of the day the sky remains in its breathtaking beauty and only some clouds appear like smears at the horizon.

My father ponders: ”We can be so happy about such beautiful weather.” and points out some small special details in the surrounding area.

And he is right – of course he is – but you only ever see the “nice weather” and do not really recognize the special features; you often take it as a matter of course.

Well, now it’s getting higher, up to 1.200 meters. There is no change in the sky but the temperatures decrease, almost collapse to 8 degrees and the wind starts roaring and gets so powerful that it almost blows me away.

While driving to a lower altitude, the temperatures climb up to 13 degrees and along the way one can see the first green buds on the trees, some cherry trees in flowerage and even the jasmine shows its first summerlike smelling blossoms.

The wind, now much more slightly, cockles at the turquoise lake and the sun feels warm on my skin.

In the evening the sun sets, first slowly but then disappears at a moment’s notice and the wind rears up again to let the trees stagger.

Finally another wonderful day is over, just gone.

(Gina Grimmer)

 

SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE

When we woke up the sky was blue

We went on the streets and enjoyed the view

No clouds in the sky, but later the day

The blue sky was gone and it turned into grey

It was very hot and not at all windy

It was overwhelming, we enjoyed our iced tea

The 5-minute-rain was intensive but short

The weather at home is different than abroad

Noisy thunder broke through the night

Followed by flashes throwing their light

The remaining night was very calm

As the breeze of Singapore blew through the palm

(Kim Burkart)

 

As I woke up there was a slight breeze in my face. One you do not even notice but you are still mad because you’re freezing. I was lucky for I could simply get up and turn it off. Air conditioning systems are so useful. As I walk outside I feel like I’m running into a hot wall. I could feel the water and the air and immediately started sweating. No wonder with 30 degrees and humid weather outside. Throughout the day I had to deal with this alternation between hot and cold weather but after a while, you get used to it. Later on, it went a little dark and cooled down by several degrees. About an hour later, there was a shower. Just 10 minutes long. And then suddenly the sun came back.

(Kim Krause)

 

Soft sunrays are shining through the leaves and warming up the air until clouds clench together and push themselves relentlessly in front of the sun.                                                                                            Suddenly rain drums on the ground and people hurry to reach dry places. Some thunderbolts light up the sky. But then the clouds disappear as fast as they have come.                                                                          I reach the airport, feel the warmth of the sunshine again and wish to stay for a few days longer but then the plane takes off and I wonder if I will ever see this place again.

(Louisa Kühl) 

 

DAHAB, EGYPT

A day at the reef of the Blue Hole – from a fish’s perspective

I was woken up by a plastic bag covering the entrance of my crevice that morning. I usually spend the night in this small crack in the reef. A few weeks ago, I was living in a bigger crack further north, but it was destroyed by divers. Many of my friends’ houses have been destroyed by air tanks and fins as well. The amount of available crevices is starting to decrease considerably…

Back to the plastic bag. Plastic bags in the morning meant one of two things: a strong current carrying the plastic from other parts of the Red Sea towards our reef or a strong wind on the surface blowing trash from the streets of Dahab into the ocean. Dahab is not the cleanest of cities. It is not as bad as some other places I have heard of, but the presence of trash is ubiquitous wherever you turn. Wind plays an important role in the lives of almost everyone here. When it is windy, the fishermen cannot go fishing because the waves are too high for their little boats, divers cannot access every dive site because the entry is too difficult and the merchants on the market have to run after their wares. Only the kite surfers on their boards are happy about the wind. We do not get so many of the surfers at my reef, however. They tend to stay closer to their hotels. The Blue Hole – my home – is located about thirty minutes away from Dahab and is bordered by the Sinai Mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. It is the world’s most dangerous dive site with several people dying every year, yet there is a lot of diving and snorkeling activity in this area. I do not mind the divers much, as long as they stay away from the reef and leave nothing but bubbles.

As I have already mentioned, the day started out quite windy. You can feel the surge underwater and many of my plankton-eating friends love this kind of weather. The surge and current carry nutrients closer to the reef and they have new food. I myself eat corals, but since the corals feed on plankton as well, I am glad for a little bit of wind now and then. The wind also meant more divers coming to the Blue Hole, though. The entry to the reef is protected from the sea and not exposed to the weather, making it one of the few dive sites in the area accessible in these wind conditions. Most of the divers keep their distance to the reef and just pass by. Some divers, however, grate on the corals every time they enter the water. Tech divers, that have many tanks attached to their bodies, do the most damage. Three of my homes have already been destroyed by carelessness of tech divers.

At around noon, the sun decided to come out and the wind settled down a bit. The effects of the windy night were still visible: plastic bags, empty cans and carpets were floating in the water. The sun was illuminating the plastic hovering over our reef and trying to bring beauty to the tragedy. Although the light reflecting off the trash had something almost magical to it, I know that in reality there is nothing magical about plastic. It will most likely kill some of my friends in the next few months.

After a short interval of sunshine, the wind picked up again. It was around three o’clock, time for the reef checkers. The reef checkers are a group of divers that return to our reef every year and take notes on its health. They will lay down a line and then record everything within a certain distance of that line: the fishes, the substrate, the invertebrates, the amount of coral damage, etc. Apparently the data they collect helps the humans understand the reefs. They want to know the developments throughout the years and find the causes for some of the problems that they find. I do not think you need to search hard for the answer. The root to all of our problems is mankind. We can deal with thunderstorms, flash floods and crown-of-thorn breakouts. What we cannot recover from are divers kicking up sand which lands on the corals and suffocates them and the plastic which takes years to decompose. Even then, the plastic does not just magically disappear. It is still present. You just cannot see it with the naked eye anymore. My friend the turtle once told me of the Giant Pacific Garbage Patch. An enormous area covered with human trash. Many of her brothers and sisters have lost their lives trying to escape the jungle of debris.

Nevertheless, I appreciate the reef checkers’ efforts. It lets us know that at least some people are taking notice of our situation and want to help us. On this day, they are rewarded by the sight of a young whale shark passing by. It has come into this region to feed on the plankton that the wind of the early morning has stirred up. I watch their excitement at seeing such a rare animal and smile to myself. If only they knew how many rare and unbelievably astounding animals are hiding in the walls of this reef.

The rest of the day is uneventful and I go about my business without much disturbance from divers or snorkelers. My only concern is the undulated moray a few corals down, who is continuously eyeing me in a strange fashion. I return to my crevice and know that – despite the plastic – it has been a good day at the reef.

(Silke Müller)

 

ZEVEN, GERMANY

It is that time of the year again, when April is not quite sure about its appearance.

I woke up to singing birds and sunshine in the morning. But soon the once clear blue sky turned grey and it began to rain, not just once but in several ten minute intervals alternating with the sun. One time, it even started snowing and every time you tried to go outside, it would start raining and snowing again.

(Jördis Gerhard)

 

NEW YORK CITY, USA

It was 8:00 a.m. in the morning when I was woken up by the first sunbeams chafing my face. In front of me was an amazing view consisting of the sparkling Hudson River as well as the skyline of Manhattan. Everything seemed so calm: Just a few people on the streets, some ferries on the river and the sun which turns the windows of the skyscrapers into blazing fire. Even with the sun shining throughout the whole day, the temperature stayed at around one degree and you could feel the cold wind flitting through the alleys. Fortunately, the day was cloudless wherefore you were able to see every helicopter flying around the island in the blue sky. In the evening we went back to our apartment and observed the sunset from the 22th floor while the sunbeams on the buildings and the sparks on the water disappeared little by little. Next, the sky dyed itself dark blue and the first stars appeared.

(Sophie Charlotte Adam)

Postcards from the Baltic Sea

  1. The Palace of Culture

Before heading towards the Baltic Sea, I have to stop in Warsaw and stay in one of those over heated small hotel rooms which stink of smoke. Well, each time I visit Poland, I get a mixed sense of desolation and nostalgia. Even though this time I come here for the Weather Station’s project to do with the issues of climate change, still, I feel I am a cultural tourist – wandering in those foreign streets reminiscent of some old Polish films I watched when I was in China.  From a historical point of view, one can say Poland is a sorrowful land, that gives an impression like the solemn landscape of Siberia seen through a Dostoevsky novel. As a Chinese growing up in a communist house, we had some interesting ideological connections with East European countries. Bolesław Bierut’s name is still mentioned a lot in post-Mao era China. As I walk along some stately broad street in the center of Warsaw, I feel I am back again in Beijing, passing through a gigantic brutalist urban space, trying to find somewhere agreeable to sit and think. Actually, the more I walk around Warsaw, the more the city resembles for me Harbin – the northern capital of Chinese Manchuria. Harbin has this particular style of architecture that shows up in Warsaw: a mix of classical European mansions and brutalist socialist buildings.

The Palace of Cultural and Science was the place where I screened my film UFO In Her Eyes some years ago. I thought it was a perfect place (a gift from Soviet Union) to screen a film about totalitarianism. The building itself reminds me of my mother. For about twenty years, my mother worked in the Cultural Palace of our hometown Wenling in South East China. The Cultural Palace of my hometown was not as grand as the one here, but its function and its style were very similar – serve the people with well intentioned entertainment. And my mother was proud of her job, until one day the building was torn down along with other socialist buildings in my hometown. For some nostalgic reason, I do hope this grand building survives in Poland, not only symbolically, but also pragmatically, despite its complex ideological background.

  1. Czesław Miłosz

Last night I was drinking with some obscure Polish artists in Café Amatorska, discussing the gloomy future of our planet. ‘Stop worrying! Humans will die, but the planet is not going to die! That will be the scenario. It’s a good scenario as far as other species concerned.’ They told me in Vodka infused loud voices: ‘Human species are over-rated! The most selfish species should have been wiped out long ago’. Obviously this bunch of Poles was not Christians. ‘You know what’s the most ecological way to live?’ A painter stared at me earnestly: ‘It’s this: we humans must stop giving birth. So the most destructive species can eventually die out. Charge me with the crime of Against Humanity? Oh yes, please!’ He concluded bitterly. Perhaps they were right, and were more absolute than me. The night continued with sarcasm. But I have never been a good drinker, nor do I like to indulge in fantasies of an apocalyptic world. So I left early with a headache.

This morning, on a train to the Baltic Sea, I am clear-headed, and want to write again. I enter the dinning car, ordering a bowl of Zurek – Sour Soup – meanwhile reading a book from Czesław Miłosz. Is there any connection between this sour soup and Milosz? There must be. Both are great stuff. Sour soup is one of my favourite Polish dishes. The thick broth comes with a boiled egg and sausages, a hearty thing to eat in the cold weather. Miłosz, the exiled poet, essayist and Nobel Laureate, was someone whose poetry I loved reading when I was still writing poems in Beijing. He was hugely important in China with his books – especially ‘The Captive Mind’ and ‘Miłosz’s Alphabet’. Exiled in France then in the USA for 30 years, his writings examined the moral and psychological pressures of life under a totalitarian regime. In that respect, Milosz is similar to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, except the latter went through a much harder life in Stalin’s gulags. I, naturally, feel akin to these writers, especially when they talk about the dilemma of the impossibility of returning to one’s homeland, and the alienation of living in the western ‘free’ world. Even though Miłosz had a good professorial position in California, he still referred to himself as ‘The Wrong Honorable Professor Milosz who wrote poems in some unheard-of tongue’. He returned to Poland after decades of life in the west and died in Kraków at the age of 93.  Some of best lines from Milosz in my opinions are these:

On the day the world ends

Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,

A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,

Vegetable peddlers shout in the street

And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,

The voice of a violin lasts in the air

And leads into a starry night.

 

And those who expected lightning and thunder

Are disappointed.

And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps

Do not believe it is happening now.

As long as the sun and the moon are above,

As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,

As long as rosy infants are born

No one believes it is happening now.

I close the book, thinking back to the conversation we had in Café Amatorska last night about the end of the world. Yes, no one believes it is happening now, as long as the sun and the moon are above.

  1. Gdańsk

It’s a three hour train ride from Warsaw to Gdańsk. I pass the grey yellow plains of April. Ah, northern landscape, I sigh. How ironic that a southern person like me has ended up in the north. All my adult life seems to be about living in the cold and big northern cities: Beijing, London, Berlin, Zurich. And how I dream everyday about returning to a warm and lush semi tropical land. I miss the heat and those big leaves and smelly flowers. In my eyes, those small-leaved northern trees are never as beautiful as the big-leaved tropical plants. But probably there are fewer and fewer big leaved plants surviving in my tropical land. This is not only a metaphor but a reality: the tropical land is going. It only exists in our memory or imagination. It only remains in an anthropologist’s photo archive. The Amazon rainforest appears only enchanting in those well-angled expensively-produced documentary films. Perhaps the day when Claude Lévi-Strauss finished ‘Tristes Tropiques’, the tropical land had already been swallowed by the northern civilization – the process that began in England with the pre-Victorian era factory chimneys.

Gdańsk is another sorrowful place. The most famous thing in recent history about the town is perhaps its German character. After the World War One, Germans formed a majority in the city and Gdańsk was not under Polish sovereignty. In accordance with the terms of the Versailles Treaty, it became the Free City of Danzig. In  1939, Germany invaded Poland and the attack began in Danzig; later on the Soviet Union trashed the city entirely. Double rape! No wonder the country has produced those incredible poets and artists in the last century. But the future of Gdansk looks uncertain – the houses have been re-built after the war but most of houses are empty and unemployment is high. People are poor here, with all their good qualifications fading in their drawers.

I stand by the once famous port, now abandoned, with broken ships and messy cranes lit along the bank. The area by the water is waiting to be ‘developed’, to ‘shine’ again. I try to stretch my imagination, visualizing the newly built budget hotels one after another along the harbor in the next five years, with the holiday makers from all over the word coming here to kill their summer days.

  1. Sopot

This is where the famous ill-tempered German actor Klaus Kinski came from. One could not be totally convinced that the eccentric German cinema icon actually was born in this calm and pretty little Polish beach town. Now the city has a population of 40,000. Most are elderly people, and then many tourists. On the beach, the Royal Hotel stands proudly on the white sand facing the peaceful blue bay. Somehow, those grand family houses remind me of the rich town of Deauville in northern France. Maybe Poland’s Sopot is the Deauville of France, if you restrict the comparison to landscape.

In the local library I meet a little group of readers who were given some photocopied pages of my novel. In fact, three pages out of my four hundred page long novel. They admitted that they didn’t have time to read through my book. One woman told me she hadn’t read a single book for years after she had her baby. ‘Of course, I understand that,’ I reassured her and everyone else: ‘Don’t worry, we will just chat.’ So we talked about the reality of being Polish, being Chinese, being in between German power and Russia power. It seemed to me that everyone preferred to be under German influence rather than Russian influence. ‘And what about Communism?’ I asked. A blonde woman shook her head violently: ‘No, communism kidnapped our freedom. We prefer to hide in the religious’. Then a man from East Germany added: ‘And capitalism. It’s better. There is no freedom anywhere anyway.’

  1. Hel

Hel is a pine-tree covered beautiful peninsular. ‘It is the end and the beginning of Poland’, as the locals jokingly claim. It is so long and slim that nearly every house is located right next by the water, with a great sea view.

We stay in the Marine Station where they have kept members of many endangered sea species in their lab. The grey seal is a big thing in the Marine Station. They even have four infant seals in the pool at the moment. As I stare at one of the large, fat, young seal babies diving in the water, I am almost sardonically surprised that this big sea mammal has managed to survive alongside human world for so long. And their great whiskers! I can only admire them. I am told that when they sleep, if they are in the water, half of their brains remain awake, so they can detect any danger around them. But if they sleep on the land, both sides of their brains go into sleep mode. I wonder, given human’s barbarian nature, wouldn’t the seals be killed more often on the land than in the water? In order to survive, perhaps they have to learn to not sleep at all.

In the noon, there are about 20 middle school students around the age of 15 walking me through the forest by the sea. Most of them are local, born in Hel with their parents working on the island for the fishing and tourism industry. The boys impatiently want to show me all the war remains on the peninsular. The girls are talking to me about the pollution in the sea. We enter the ruins of bunkers which were built during World War II and look at the burnt forest in the southern end of the land. Young, beautiful, but vulnerable, they seem to be hopeful but also fearful to leave this place and to enter the big cities for their future.

‘Hel is the most beautiful place in Poland. Look the sea and the forest here! But I think maybe California is better.’ A 14 year old boy remarks while I gaze into the shimmering sea shore.

Standing by the edge of the water, a naïve but profound question rings in my ears: where is our future? What is our future? Well, I think the sea is our future. The sea is the place that gives birth to everything. Yet, humans don’t want the sea, Humans want the land, the useful land. One of the ancient folksongs from the Baltic Sea region goes like this:

Now I’ll sing the sea into grass, the seashore into fish,
The sea sand into malt, the sea bottom into a field.

‘Can we imagine a human world without the sea? Or, the Planet without the sea?’ I ask the students around me. They look gloomy when hearing such a question. We wander about some more, strolling by the abandoned fortifications one after another under the bright burning sun of Hel.

The Things On My Skin

For younger kids, or primary school teachers, here’s a little poem about Earth and the daft life that lives on it.

 

AAAGH!

These things on my skin!

These things on my skin!

I’m all that they’ve got,

I’m the world they live in.

 

Flowing waves, blowing winds,

Move like hands round a clock,

I’m a thin living skin,

Round a hard ball of rock.

 

Just look what they’re doing!

Can’t they smell the bad air?

I was fine with the poo and

The farts that’s all fair.

 

They’re all living creatures,

They have to let rip,

It’s part of their nature,

But I’m ready to flip!

 

AAAGH!

They’re drilling my skin!

They’re drilling my skin!

They’ve oil rigs and diggers,

They’re jabbing them in.

 

It’s the smoke that’s the thing,

That drives me insane.

That and the digging,

The drilling . . . the pain!

 

I’ve got land, I’ve got seas,

There’s enough to go round,

But stop cutting down trees!

Don’t dig up ALL my ground!

 

They crawl on my surface,

They’re making me itch,

The smell makes me nervous,

Makes my atmosphere twitch.

 

AAAGH!

They’re eating my skin!

They’re eating my skin!

Machines in their billions,

Gulping it in!

 

Watch them poison my soil,

Watch them making a mess,

Burning coal, burning oil,

Liquid dinosaur flesh.

 

It took so long to make,

It took millions of years,

But they’re so quick to take it,

They have me in tears.

 

My whole body’s ruined,

I mean, sure, it’ll mend,

If these slobs, these buffoons,

See some sense in the end.

 

They put stuff in the air,

That should stay in the land,

What’s that doing up there?

I’ve had all I can stand!

 

AAAGH!

They’re burning my skin!

They’re burning my skin!

Their fires like cigarettes,

I’m breathing in!

 

The air and the oceans,

Are losing their cool,

It’s got me emotional,

Feeling the fool.

 

The smoke’s like a blanket,

All itchy and hot,

It’s warming this planet,

When I’d just rather not.

 

My weather’s mutating,

And not for the better,

The bits they all hate,

Will get hotter or wetter.

 

AAAGH!

These things on my skin!

These things on my skin!

They’re changing my weather,

With new waves and winds.

 

The heat whips up storms,

Churns up the sea’s flow,

From the whales to the worms,

Nature’s hit with cruel blows.

 

But there’s still hope for me,

There’s still all those kids,

Who are starting to see,

What the grown-ups did.

 

To that thin layer of air,

The air they all breathe,

Now they’re starting to care,

About where this all leads.

 

Flowing waves, blowing winds,

Move like hands round a clock,

I’m a thin living skin,

Round a hard ball of rock.

 

I’m all that you’ve got,

I’m all that you need.

Before I get too hot,

You should stop and just . . . breathe.

After Flying for a Day and a Half Halfway around the World

By Mirko Bonne April 29, 2014

Tell it to the Bees: Australian Journal 1

The lovely light over Melbourne that first bright morning – as though the world, the whole south, would be nothing but bright blue. I hadn’t yet seen or heard a single bird, but all night long I’d heard the twitter of an air conditioner from the roof of the neighboring apartment building, exactly as though a flock of budgies were roosting there. A sudden loud swell of windmill sails, perhaps a dream, but then a fire siren came racing down the chasms of the streets. After flying for a day and a half halfway around the world – from Abu Dhabi on over Sri Lanka and the Indian Ocean, past Perth and Adelaide – it was the most restful sleep I’d had in months. To wake up in such light – to wake up just once like that from the unreality in your life.

And don’t forget: from spring you flew into fall. Where was the summer en route? I grasp this autumnal April only in the Carlton Gardens, where I walk beneath the old sycamores and chestnuts and hear the first strange birds, a crawking and squeaking, an agitated bursting into flight, not a rustling, a rattling, clattering. Fallen leaves are everywhere, but the air is mild, a warm wind, a cirrostratus sky, but with clouds three times the size as those over Hamburg, Frankfurt or Paris. Again and again in these first days in Melbourne I observe vast cloud fields, mostly flooding in from the west over the Yarra River, seeming inconceivably swift, even when the wind barely stirs the treetops. Darkness falls quickly, dusk lasting barely twenty minutes, and the weather is just as quick to change. A cool rainy morning is followed two hours later by a radiant, warm noon; by an afternoon rent by gusts of wind and darkened by towering clouds; by an evening in which, at sunset, three frigate birds circle in the orange sky.

 

Translated by Isabel Fargo Cole

 

The Integrity of Facts

By Mirko Bonne November 5, 2014

Tell it to the Bees: Australian Journal 14

Meg, an environmental activist from Greenpeace Australia Pacific in Sydney, speaks about the gap between facts and feeling. To bridge this gulf, she believes, “the integrity of facts” is required from the scientific side, but new ways to convey them must also be found. Narratives and poetry can open doors that remain closed to the language of scientific research, as they do to political slogans and legal jargon.

It has taken decades (one might object), if not centuries, for literary narratives and poetry’s music of meanings to free themselves from the stranglehold of functionalization and instrumentalization.

But Meg is not demanding that literature and poetry be pressed into service; at most, she wants them to cease being sheer entertainments. Literatures can tell stories of climate change that reach people, she says, transforming facts and figures, filling them with life, translating them.

Leard State ForestMeg is in her mid-fifties, with a weathered face and black outdoor clothing, radiating anger as much as sorrow. She has spent the past several days in prison following protests against the clearance of large parts of the Leard State Forest, an attempt by the Whitehaven coal company to expedite the opening of the Maules Creek mine. Maules Creek is Aborigine Land; the Gomeroi have lived in this forested region for thousands of years. It is home to around four hundred rare and endangered animal and plant species.

Meg believes in the power of stories and in the magic of poetry, and she believes that both make it possible to reach people, because poetry and storytelling are a part of every human culture, no matter where you look.

Meg is the first person in all these meetings, lectures, conversations and tours who does not hesitate to use the word “God”.

 

She talks about the faith of the inhabitants of Kiribati, a Polynesian island nation in the Pacific, formerly a British colony known as the Gilbert Islands. The anticipated rise in sea level leaves no doubt that the islands, each of them rising just a few yards above the sea, will be flooded. However, the inhabitants refuse to leave their islands, appealing to traditional tales and the Bible to justify their decision. In Kiribati there is no doubt about God’s pronouncement: never again will a flood sweep the earth. And, they say, part of the earth is Kiribati.

Meg tells of Bangladesh. She asked women there what relief supplies they needed the most, and the women of the coastal region requested mobile ovens – ovens they could take with them when fleeing the next flood.

She tells of the Wurundjeri aborigines, about a thousand survivors of expulsions and massacres, half of them living in reservations where they are cut off from their land, the animals and trees, the rivers and their sacred places. Meg tells how the Wurundjeri say: “We won’t die out. We refuse.”

She tells of the Inuit and the sounds of Alaska. The Eskimos’ names for native birds imitate their cries or songs, and for a long time now the Inuit have been discussing what to do with the names when the birds no longer exist.

Meg tells of the Australian lyrebird. It imitates sounds in its environment, and more and more lyrebirds can be heard emitting a strange snapping, clicking and whirring, the sounds of cameras, while others sound like electric hedge clippers.

In the tradition of the Kulin, the lyrebird is the interpreter of the animals. The Kulin believe that all birds once had a common language, before greed and envy drove them apart. Only the lyrebird has continued to aid communication among the now mutually unintelligible animals.

I tell Meg that in Hamburg blackbirds imitate cellphone ring tones, evidently out of confusion.

It might be a confusion that shows a way out, she replies.

Meg is an activist; I am exactly the opposite. I feel thrown through the world, forced into wakefulness, day and night, caught in a restless state between all kinds of worlds, at the mercy of incomprehensible customs and still stranger intoxications, and seeking comfort in the belief that my writing might move someone to keep their eyes open – when in the end all I want to do is sleep, dream, and, in good moments, scribble down memories in a notebook, so that they won’t be lost along with everything else.

Just as she speaks of God in passing, Meg knows where to find those responsible: “The government violates Australia, and will violate the Australians”, she says. “No one is doing anything. We’re surrounded by criminals. We are criminals ourselves.”

Photos: Leard State Forest (1): leardstateforest.com; “Unbelievable Lyrebird”, Ambrose Pratt, 1932 (2)

 

Translated by Isabel Fargo Cole