The Last Tree & The Eyrie: In Dialogue
started by Ilka Blue Nelson, 24 Aug 2011, 8 comments

The Last Tree is a creative environmentalism studio using transdiciplinary practice to activate & envision an ecological paradigm for our collective global futures.

The Eyrie is a nesting space; a place to perch and observe the interconnectedness between all things, from which creative ideas and visions are born.


We realised we had a lot in common and thought it a good time to start weaving a story...or two.



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Cherise Lily Nana Mon, 29 Aug 2011 7:35pm

A little while ago I mentioned to you that I'd been inspired by Vandana Shiva's comment in a film, whereby she feels that there should be "grandmother's universities" everywhere for people to learn local knowledge. My thoughts are that part of the disconnection from a holistic understanding of life that the world seems to be troubled by would definitely be aggravated by our disconnection from our elders. It's like breaking a natural cycle. The unique perspective that elders also have is a big picture view from witnessing and experiencing so many different occurences. This view is crucial in order to see the roots.

Since this time, though, I've been bothered by a persistent notion that perhaps I'm romanticising this idea of oral history? I instinctively turn to indigenous cultures and think we should be modelling our storytelling practice on theirs. But I wonder, with all of the unique elements of different cultures perhaps this approach is far too simplistic? Have we merely lost our way when it comes to our relationships with elders or do we just have a different story that I'm not seeing? (Stuck in the fishbowl?)

I have a hunch that a book I've just started reading may shed some light on exploring this topic. It's called "Nature and the human soul" by Bill Plotkin. I haven't read much but from what I can gather so far, his premise is that ageing in a developmental sense does not just occur naturally with time. He believes there are certain qualities and challenges at each stage that must be fully integrated into the person's being before they can mature to the next level. Each of these stages involve some level of connection with nature and soul. Plotkin feels we are mostly stuck in an adolescent state and that there are very few real elders getting about because of this disconnection with nature and soul in the early stages of life.

It's an interesting concept...

Ilka Blue Nelson Tue, 30 Aug 2011 12:25pm

Provoking thoughts! You've hit several social nerves.

I don't think you are romanticing the past. It's always a risk - I ask this of myself often - not wanting to idealise a utopian past but also, sensing there's a wealth of learning that needs to be recovered, voiced, celebrated....and history has many voices....not only the dominant one. How do we combine the reality of now with lessons from the past?

If we imagine human evolution as a singular person and then consider Plotkin's words "each stage must be fully integrated into the person's being before they can mature to the next level" then I feel we'd be foolish to disregard all the stages humans have passionately and courageously lived through that have brought us to this present moment. There is never a time to be frivolous about our past - it reminds us that we are beholden to a constant state of flux along with all matter in the universe.

But I think the rise of frivolity & ignorance is exactly what is happening in some social sectors. Last night slam poet Omar Musa recited a poem on Q&A about the apathy of his generation. His account of a narcissictic people was in stark contrast to Afghan Activist Malalai Joya's stories of her people suffering mass oppression and killings. I think context is extremely relevant and environmental connection is critical (though mostly ignored and I'll address that in another discussion).

More and more for me, it's about respect & responsibility. With the sensory overload we western mob invite, the rush rush and techno tick tock, we DON'T manage to practice responsibility in respect of our Elders and our Land. It's a disgusting reflection of our society - that we gather the old people and house them out of sight - their wisdom lost to loneliness. So yes - I think reviving oral storytelling is paramount for community health, specifically for its active practice of LISTENING - something my society craves - to be heard amongst widespread disconnection. There's so much irony in all this...

I could write much about the issues you've raised but what I am really interested to do, is burrow in to you questioning if we have a different story - lets consider this? Can we get a sense of what this story might look like?

One of the most significant differences between cultures (and species) is LANGUAGE. I worked alongside Jo Tito at the Floating Land Festival. The festival centred on conversations of 'water' - Jo taught us that in her language, the Maori word 'Wai' 'has two meanings: 'water' and 'who am I'. This is a great example of language being the connecting point (or seperation) between self and place. Have I explained that succinctly?

So I wonder, in respect of what our story is and how relate to Elders and Land, what LANGUAGES are we using that connect us and seperate us? Can the language of consumption and technology influence a connected future?

Ilka Blue Nelson Tue, 30 Aug 2011 12:50pm

I wanted to check with Jo about the Maori word 'Wai' - this is what she said:

wai = water

Ko wai au? = Who am I? 

So water is very much the central part of who am I. This word, this concept, this part of nature which is deeply embedded in our beautiful language and who we are. 

Waiata is song, music... waiora is life giving waters and because our language is so conceptual, every word tells a story and is not exclusive to itself, always connected to something else somewhere.

Cherise Lily Nana Tue, 6 Sep 2011 4:15pm

This reference to water is so touching. I read something a while ago about writers from around the world taking up french, because the language is so fluid and different words allow for more layers of meaning than their english equivalent. I'm interested in what you mean by a language of consumption and technology? I'm swaying towards feeling that they won't encourage a connected future. For all of the so-called connectivity benefits of the internet (as one example) I think for the most part it's lacking something vital. Something real. (Perhaps some irony here in that the very platform we're using is allowing us to explore connection!) For a start it seems to isolate certain groups of society, especially elders for whom a lot of technology is not second nature. When I spoke with my grandfather about the wisdom of his generation, he said that the differences between his grandparents and his generation as compared with his generation and mine is huge because so much has changed in his lifetime. This would explain the widening gap. For me, what's missing with the kind of typical connections fostered with technology  is time. It's like what you mentioned in your post on 'control and chaos'- it's so difficult to slow down in this fast paced world. So our language becomes like a series of staccato moments where there is no time to reflect. The world is on such a rapid trajectory that I don't know that it's possible to deviate without this time to reflect. So this is why I struggle with defining what our story might look like (ties back into the crisis of imagination, I suppose). Whilst I absolutely believe that we do need to readopt traditions of the past, how do we integrate that with the reality of the current pace? It's like trying to insert missing shipping containers into a high speed cargo train!

Cherise Lily Nana Thu, 29 Sep 2011 11:45am

Just a little add note on the topic of slow... I've had a realisation over the last week in conversations with people about this topic. In my enthusiasm for the world to slow down long enough to reflect/connect, I've actually not been practising that myself in wanting change to occur overnight! Funny that.

P.S. I'm also still reflecting on my view of technology's role in connectedness. I think I'm a little divided on this issue and my response only showed one side.

Interested to hear your thoughts.

Ilka Blue Nelson Mon, 3 Oct 2011 11:27am

I've heard a concept that views western culture on a whole, as a person growing through the developmental stages of life. According to this view, the western world is currently growing through its adolescent years. I like understanding different systems in respect of scale. Two nights ago I saw an image of space that looks remarkably like our molecular universe (see the beautiful image below). I guess it's a loose idea to view western civilisation as one person but I like considering humanity from this perspective because it offers a bigger context to frame our story in and softens the urgency of now being the ultimate moment.

In our discussion so far, 'time' features across many of our ideas. Here it is again - referenced as scale and growth. So perhaps a good place to start writing our story is with respect of 'time'. I really agree with you and your grandfather about the difference between now and then - then it took time to do things because the technology of our tools was different but conversely, this also allowed for us to take the time needed. It was a good day when I realised 'it takes time to love' - it really does - it takes time to do many many things. And this is what I was referring to when I wrote of 'consumption and technology'. Speed is inherent in today's consumer world, the quicker we consume then the quicker we re-purchase - technology allows for mass production and speedy consumption - a hunger is being created that cannot be satisfied (which is great for those who profit from feeding the beast).

A culture of instant gratification exists. What is an 'instant'? It like the picture of the universe below - an infinite amount of instants are required to create a story - and if we are rapacious in every instant then according to the law of nature, ebb and flow, we are gearing up for a deep exhaustion when we finally exhale from this gluttonous intake.

I don't think technology is at fault - because it is a tool - it's how we use our tools that’s the issue. The responsibility is ours. We have the choice to use tools to lessen our impact, be efficient, connect, there's many positive attributes in technology - and in a way technology is great mirror in showing us what we choose and how we use it. In respect of our Elders feeling disconnected from today's technology, I see this as part of evolution. Our focus needs to be on how we nurture the connection between Elders and the rest of the community regardless of the technology that is evolving around us because that technology does not dictate how we act; we are responsible for where our attention is focused.

This is a great challenge for us - to understand what our story is now? There are many valuable lessons learnt and lived in the past and hopefully they inform our story now. But how do we integrate and adapt aspects of the past with the world today? How do we understand ourselves in context of humanity’s story, the universe's story? You've said "It's like trying to insert missing shipping containers into a high speed cargo train" so let’s take a redirective approach to solve this first step. We have a high speed train and we have missing cargo containers. I think we shift our focus away from the train because it's the technology in this equation, it's our tool which is constantly evolving (and there are many ways to stop a train if we really must). What's in the cargo containers? Do we need to find them or can we replace the contents? Is the fact that they are missing an opportunity for us to start using new methods of connection - perhaps we don't need to transport these containers anymore? I'm sure you get my drift - being there is always an alternative route if you're willing to first look for it and then take it.

I facilitated a workshop with a good bunch of people in Sydney last year. One of the exercises asked them to collectively use pen and paper to dump all the environmental issues connected to this one species relocation issue that had brought us together. The issues they amassed were far reaching and many (a good exercise in itself to see the ripple effects of our actions). I then asked them to write, next to each issue they had identified, at least one resource/project/person/activity/group that could work to remedy that issue. Wow - the group found this much much harder - and I don't think it's because the solutions don't exist, on the contrary I believe we have the tools required for managing our lives within equitable, respectful, efficient, healthy ecosystems, I think they found it hard because we our dominant information channels over feed us with disaster, hopelessness, depression (which whether calculated or coincidental helps to power the consumer machine). BUT this is only one shade of humanity, we prove time and time again particularly is times of crisis that our stories are filled with kindness, selflessness, compassion, and humour.

As I said before, it takes time to love, it also takes work. One of my favourite lines in a movie is "democracy is not a free ride". I believe that's the wisdom of your grandfather's generation, they had to work hard because their technology required them too, thus they understand this lesson really well - about working to create something be it a house, a business or a community. My grandfather walked 12 miles to school everyday because he wanted an education. The work is hard but it is deeply satisfying, it quells that hunger! So I reckon we need to work at finding and voicing our story. I also think if we come across a good story we need to share it - technology can help us do that. The more we hear about people doing good work the more it becomes our reality - that's one of the beautiful gifts of storytelling.

Take your time to imagine.

Ilka Blue Nelson Mon, 3 Oct 2011 4:37pm

Here's a 'timely' link I just found (excuse the pun) which offers good thoughts on similar questions we have been discussing. Some of the language makes me cringe and I still find it slihglt anthropocentric but I think it's worth noting the amount of hits it's had on youtube! People are interested in another story.

Which leads me to this link - check it out!

Cherise Lily Nana Thu, 1 Mar 2012 5:57pm

An aside- on the topic of technology and storytelling-  Interesting to think about the process and outcomes of children engaging in stories this way as opposed to oral means?