I’m feeling the heat of the Australian bush. Hot breath through the trees, startling leaves and birds into flight. Heavy branches moaning in this pubescent summer wind. The smell of eucalyptus teasing my senses. A washed cirrus sky splashing light on my skin.
La Victoire de Samothrace
I sketched the Nike of Samothraki as crowds of tourists paused to take a photo (strangely sometimes of me) then passed on to the next attraction. Back in Australia, I reflect, I write and I share these thoughts with you.
Goddess of victory
captured in digital
adored for ten seconds
dream of your island home
we will return
She learned to let go in this foreign land
Non-attachment had always been illusive
But now she practiced it with perfection
Until only the memory remained
In every heartbeat
The mountain god reassured her
That everything is just as it should be
How could it be anything else?
I begin to avoid my campsite and therefore the goat-man. Leaving doesn’t seem an option. I am enamored by early morning swims beneath the waterfall and my evening campfire under the forest canopy. So I wander further, where I discover other magical places, and I stay away until the daylight slips behind the mountain.
After three consecutive days, where I breathe the air of silence and feel the heartbeat of the goddess in every ancient tree, I return to my hearth for the night. Alone, I instinctively pause on the threshold just as a blood-curling cry tears through the stillness. Fear clutches at my throat. I know this is the goat-man and I feel his suffering.
I am a stone, invisible to the naked eye. The goat-man rushes past me and disappears further into the forest. Only then do I remember to breathe. My pulse beats slow motion. My feet find ground. I am propelled in the opposite direction, away from the fingers that tighten around my freedom.
I meet the goat-man on the first night I arrive. Shadows are dancing on the sleeping plane trees. He sits on a log and hugs his legs close to his lean body. His face is in darkness. Mine is flushed from the heat of the fire and my enthusiasm for cracking sticks to fuel the flames. The goat-man is impressed by my bush skills.
The next morning, he is outside my tent. I know this wild goat-man speaks no English. He points to the goddess slopes rising into the clouds and smiles. This is paradise: of course I want to explore more. I remove my sandals, they are useless on this terrain. I leap barefoot over the shards of igneous rock with grace but not with the speed of the agile man ahead. The mountain is in his blood. There is no path, but I remember the scuffed rocks and the landmarks behind me.
We pass a gate, climb higher, and settle at the edge of a cliff. Beyond is the ultramarine sea. I am caught between this breath-taking view and the man behind me. He is close and I can tell that he has not been with a women for some time. I am ready for a love affair but this is not it. My Greek extends to good morning, yes and no, three more words than the goat-man’s vocabulary in my native tongue. I point to my sex, then his, and cross my arms. In Greek I declare O’hi! Even if I say no with a bad accent, I consider this to be a clear message. It is not.
Early the following morning, the goat-man returns to my solo camp in the forest. I am caught by surprise, once again, and quickly wrap a scarf around my nakedness. He grins and throws his torso onto my sleeping mat. This is not going to be simple. Miming produces smiles and my phrasebook is useless. I try No, thank you, I’d rather not, leave me alone. My uninvited visitor looks confused. I want to laugh. I laugh! I know that I shouldn’t but he is innocent, confused, hopeful, stubborn. I am out of my culture, out of my depth, out of words and completely uncertain how I can regain my solitude.
I fall instantly, deeply in love, with Samothraki. Her bones are covered in flesh and water runs like sweat from her fecund thighs. She seduces me with her plane tree eyes and wild goat underbelly. I am lost in her canyons where the sound of water falling drowns out all consciousness except for stillness in movement … movement in stillness. I am full to bursting with passion for this island.
Photo © Jeni McMillan
Heart beating the slow dance now
we are circling the sun
day and night
spring flowers, autumn rains
and we dance
breathing as one
Photos © Jeni McMillan
The present moment is calling. I haven’t finished with my Travels into the Heart retrospective but… I have been waiting to paint. The itch has been out of control for weeks and last night I had to scratch it. While I have been away an old office block has been transformed into a vibrant art hub. Oh it does make the heart sing! Music, murals, scrummy food and beautiful friends. But this is Canberra and nothing lasts. In a matter of moments this space will be a dust-rising pile of debris. So, I painted and recorded the beautiful works of fellow artists.
Photos: © Jeni McMillan