”We are the children of our landscape; it dictates behaviour and even thought in the measure to which we are responsive to it.’’ Lawrence Durrell (The Alexandria Quartet)
I am at Varuna, a house for writers in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. A friend drove me up. She too is a writer staying and working here. On the way, we keep an eye out for Wentworth Falls. She’s going to a burial there in the country cemetery surrounded by bushland.
It may seem odd to think of death in this month of Living Landscapes but maybe it’s a pathway to understanding my belonging.
I don’t want to be buried but would I want my ashes scattered here in the beauty of the cliffs and valleys and fast-falling mist? Would I feel comfortable under the thin shade of the eucalyptus trees, the screaming sulphur crested cockatoos?
Or would I want my ashes left somewhere in Ontario? In the wilds of Algonquin park, where I made my first solo camping trip after I left my French husband? Or left to fly on the wind with the sweet smells of autumn leaves turned yellow and red and lipstick orange?
Surely I don’t want my ashes thrown off le pont des arts in Paris, where I ripped and tossed the handwritten letter of an old boyfriend into the Seine (well before the bridge became lovelock). It’s a bit cliché.
Maybe then, somewhere into the ocean off Basque country in France? Or would I want them to go to the Portland sea cliffs in Dorset where I used to rock climb?
What’s clear, even if I can’t make up my mind — and I’m not planning on doing so for a long time — is that landscape is important.
A South African friend who has lived in Ireland and Australia told me we must feel a connection with the landscape to belong. She does not feel she belongs in Australia. The landscape does not speak to her.
Canadian writer Isabel Huggan, who lives in France, said in her memoir Belonging that to feel at home we need to know the ”proper names’’ for flora and fauna.
I look outside my window at the giant eucalyptus tree. For this week at Varuna it’s my muse. I see an aesthetic beauty. I smelled the oily astringent leaves that remind me vaguely of pine. Still, I don’t feel a connection to it or this country.
Can I learn one?I’m game to try.
So I’m off to discover this land and the creepy crawlies in it. I’ll look at nature, smell it and feel it, and hope that at least part of me will become a child of this landscape.