Woman on Fire: Insights from an Elemental Career

On November 29th, 2019 I was awarded the prestigious Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) Gold Medal for my substantial contribution to ecology in Australia. The title of the Plenary Address was ‘Woman on Fire: Insights from an Elemental Career‘.

The slides and text following the introductory image below were used in the award presentation at the ESA conference in Launceston, Tasmania. Some additional information is provided in this blog, as well as links to the programs and publications referred to in the presentation. The post is around 5000 words in length, so find a comfy chair, grab your favourite drink, relax and read on.

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Mountains as teachers

Nature is a powerful teacher, especially if we pay close attention and use our full range of senses. In the UN International Year of Soils (2015) I wrote about the soil as teacher. In 2018 I pay homage to mountains as teachers by sharing a recent and remarkable experience in Japan. Led by three Shugendo masters, the two day pilgrimage I joined on Mt Ontake in January 2018 was extraordinary. The energy of the mountain, forests, snow and waterfalls was palpable. First published on my sister blog ‘elementaljapan.com‘, here is the link to ‘Shugendo now – a winter pilgrimage on Mt Ontake, Japan.’

Kiyotaki, Mt Ontake, Japan. January 2018. These sacred falls have been worshipped for centuries and have a great presence.

Exploring the elements, 100 times around

My 100th post is dedicated to my mother Edna. Our wonderful and marvellous mum passed away on December 22nd this year at the age of 90. She has returned to the elements – her body to the earth and her spirit to the heavens. She, and we, ARE the elements. The elements represent expressions of energy that can take many forms. These are the two messages that have come across most strongly in the 100 posts written in my two elemental blogs – fireupwaterdown.com and elementaljapan.com. These messages embody the intimate connection many cultures have with the elements: earth, water, fire, air, metal, wood, ether and consciousness.

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The five elements of the Dagara, West Africa

In early November 2016 I received an email from Rych Somdah, a gentleman living in the US who had traced his ancestry to the Dagara people of Burkina Faso in West Africa. Rych reminded me that in my first post on Africa I wrote that at some later time I would explore the shamanistic practices of the Dagara tribe in relation to the elements. Now is that time. I am grateful that Malidoma Patrice Somé has devoted his life to sharing the teachings and practices of the Dagara with the English speaking world. The five elements of fire, water, earth, minerals and nature are an essential part of his, and their, story.

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Let’s celebrate!

There is so much humans have in common. It’s worth celebrating. Along with music and dance, the elements represent a universal language that connects us. These languages nurture shared experiences and provide a means to communicate with others across the globe, and beyond….

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Food, glorious food

Food – fuel for the body, a feast for the senses. Many positive associations come to mind: energy, sustenance, nourishment, medicine, life, growth, sharing, texture, aroma, beauty, delight, joy, celebration, community, comfort, creativity. Glorious. Elemental. Since starting my blog I treat food with greater respect, reflecting on all of the elements that brought it to my lips. In a world where images of food have become a smart phone favourite, here its story is told in pictures.

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Metal, the evolving element

Gongs and cymbals of all sizes and styles were a feature of MOFO (MONA FOMA)– an arts extravaganza I attended over the weekend in Hobart, Tasmania. As well as being a joy to listen to, these instruments gave me a new perspective on the elemental aspects of metal. So now music making joins Chinese philosophy, the chemical elements, alchemy, blacksmithing, sword-smithing, sculpting and jewelry-making in the fascinating story of metal.

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Kinetic sculpture – wind, water and sun

Let me introduce you to Mariko Mori, Theo Johnson and Phil Price. Three remarkable artists that create kinetic sculptures, inspired by and incorporating the elements. Each artist brings a different perspective to our relationship with the natural world. To appreciate their work, videos are a must. They take us to worlds of new and ancient nature.

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Watching and truly listening

Dogs and thunderstorms. Frogs and rain. Elephants and earthquakes. These are some of the many observations, across cultures and the ages, of the acute ability of nonhuman animals to sense changes in the elements – of wind, water, earth and fire – often long before we do. They do this using senses many humans have lost in modern times, and some that we have never attained. While some may attribute these responses purely to the physical ability other animals have to see, taste, hear, smell or feel extremely subtle changes in the environment, it goes well beyond this. As people take the time to look and listen to what these animals sense, think and feel, our eyes are being opened to the extraordinary lives of the other species we share the planet with, both big and small.

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Celebrating our sense of wonder

We are born with a sense of wonder. Taking delight in the warmth of the sun, the colours of the rainbow, the leaves dancing in the wind. Mesmerised by the beauty of fireflies and dragonflies. Amazement in the smallest of things.  It is a sense to celebrate and recapture if it has been buried under day to day distractions.

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