Natural Stream near Kam Tin 2016 THREE


My own understanding of the great work when I was quite young. At the time, I was some eleven years old. My family was moving from a more settled part of a small southern town out to the edge of town where the new house was being built. The house, not yet finished, was situated on a slight incline. Down below was a small creek and there across the creek was a meadow. It was an early afternoon in late May when I was first wandered down the incline, crossed the creek, and looked out over the scene.


The field was covered with white lilies rising above the thick grass. A magic moment, this experience gave to my life something that seems to explain my thinking at a more profound level than almost any other experience. It was not only the lilies. It was the singing of the crickets and the woodlands in the distance and the clouds in a clear sky. It was not something conscious that happened just then. I went on about my life as any young person might do.


Perhaps it was not simply this moment that made such a deep impression on me. Perhaps it was a sensitivity that was developed throughout my childhood. Yet as the years pass this moment returns to me, and whenever I think about my basic life attitude and the whole trend of my mind and the causes to which I have given my efforts, I seem to come back to this moment and the impact it has had on my feeling for what is real and worthwhile in life.


This early experience, it seems, has become normative for me throughout the entire range of my thinking. Whatever preserves and enhances this meadow in the natural cycles of its transformation is good; whatever opposes this meadow or negates it is not good. My life orientation is that simple. It is also that pervasive. It applies in economics and political orientation as well as in education and religion.

摘自《偉大的事業──人類未來之路》作者托馬斯 ● 貝里 [美] 著 [Thomas Berry: The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future](1990 年)

Photograph: 香港錦田:小溪流 Small creek in Kam Tin, Hong Kong (2016)

Heat-waving at 45 Degrees Celsius. . .

summer eucalypt jan 2019

They’re such sky-oriented people, geared to changing weather, sings Joni Mitchell in her song “Paprika Plains”, and since my move to Chinaman Creek, my orientation has shifted noticeably skywards, too. Especially in Summer.

The other day, I noticed a small bird sitting very still out in the backyard. It was a sparrow. We have a problem here with birds hitting windows and stunning themselves, but this one was nowhere near glass. As soon as I scooped it up in my palm, I knew it was dead. From days of intense heat.

And then there was the frog. Frogs here take shelter in the metal canopy that houses the outdoor blind, and sometimes they manage to get themselves squashed into unhappy two-dimensional replicas of their former living selves when we wind up the blind of an evening. I don’t know why they seek refuge in such an unlikely place, but I am grateful all the same that they manage to survive in such weather. This frog had one of its back feet caught in the tightly rolled up blind, and was making a very shrill, plaintive cry. I got up on a chair and tried to prise its foot free with a knife. When that failed, I tried a chopstick. But no luck. We were on the point of despair — the frog was still screaming in discomfort — when all of a sudden it jumped down from the canopy and into the fish pond. Thank goodness, we thought, it could still hop.

Yesterday, it was 43 degrees. Today, the temperature is supposed to reach 45 degrees. Celsius, that is. Actually, the sky at the moment is a bit murky rather than clear, filled with high-blown dust from the Outback. Flies crowd around the doors in buzzing swarms, trying to sneak inside, as the hot air takes hold. Strangely, heat seems harder to describe than Winter chill: I feel it uncomfortably close to my face, and there’s an unpleasant pressure at the base of the throat, as if someone were pressing a couple of fingers aggressively into my skin. I check the vegetables, and I make sure the bird-bowls are full of water, and then I head back inside. Even the handles of the tin watering-cans burn. But I still can’t form picture of that Summer sensation.

Earlier today, for the first time ever in my life, I saw an eagle land on the ground and take a drink out of the muddy dam.

I was reading a post on G C Myers’ Redtree Times WordPress site about plowing snow: Winter in America sounds arduous. I realized that for most Australians on the other hand, Summer is the testing time, when weather becomes overbearing and insists that human beings adapt to its exhausting regime. Unlike people in the northern hemisphere, for whom Summer provides a welcome relaxation of the Earth’s demanding discipline, in this place it is often a trial, a trial comprised of discomfort, thirst and the dangers of lethal snakes and destructive bushfires. Yet we have so many northern images in our heads of Summer as release that we are often extremely vulnerable to Summer’s torrid powers. We tend to hide from the realities that surround us, and kid ourselves that She’ll be right . . .

In The Great Work, Thomas Berry writes of a psychic energy that comes from an intimate alignment with place, an interior force that enables us to endure the difficulties of life and which grants us the necessary endurance. But such energy is only available when we commit ourselves willingly to the test of the seasons and accept the rigours of natural limits.

I think I have had trouble getting heat into my poems. Maybe it’s a common issue: in Summer, we can’t seem to remember the feel of Winter, and in Winter, it’s almost impossible to summon any sense of searing Summer. Something about weather seems to defeat even the best imaginations. But here are a couple of attempts . . .


Notes from Melting Point

Red ants pursue acid paths over scorched earth.

In stiff mechanisms of grass massed rabbit pellets form ball-bearings of dust.

The hot-air lungs of a smoker’s breeze spin-dry fairy-seeds.

Wren song chips through chainsaw bark; calm is scored by the grind of a grader’s gears.

Trees shift focus into the fibres of their roots, listening at the tips for the drip of a drop of sweat.

In gaunt green mistletoe, a jezebel butterfly makes do in two dimensions, the palette of its underwings artificially colouring the landscape.

At this hour, a mouthful of water shuts down the world.

The rumble of distant thunder is a loud speaker — is it a long dash in proceedings or the promise of cool change?

Pools of shadow lengthen as they swim out past late afternoon.

To the drone of a light plane, a dusk hare jumps fur joy.


Summer in Winter: Patton’s Split-second Seasoning

As a frost’s smoke sheath whitens my breath,
and with the air’s sting-numb chill gloving both arms
and narrowly icing the gaps between fingers,
a swift Summer tremor of sunsettled glare
burns across the blood for a spilt
second: warning morning heat
stilts early up out of the ground;
the impeccable sky, with perfect balance,
stands on my head; and whirlpools
of birdsound percolate through the porous dry-grass realm ―
feel it thicken into something singing
my more than sad half-sense of this world;
all my open, close fears.

Giving Oneself to Place • Intimacy and Hong Kong Temples (Part I)

2017-11-17 Little Temple Tsz Tin Tuen Mun II

Temple at Tsz Tin Tsuen, Tuen Mun (2017)


The Shrine of the Earth

Tsz Tin Tsuen 紫田邨 is a small village in the north-western part of Tuen Mun. Its name means “purple fields” in Cantonese. Like virtually everywhere else in Hong Kong’s New Territories, Purple Fields is undergoing intensive “development” and has virtually completely lost its former identity as a farming community. As I made my way up a gentle slope to the entrance, I got a clearer view of new housing estates towering pristine over squat local buildings: the first one I encounter is called Luk Tin Lau 綠田邨 or “Green Fields Estate”, the name a painfully ironic reminder of what once existed where now only a geometrical conglomerate of concrete, glass, and metal stands.

Opposite, overcast in its deep shadow, sits a modest residence probably dating back to the 1950s and bearing the name of Chau Yun 秋園 (Autumn Garden). In this case, however, the name remains true to substance: some of the trees planted around the one-storey dwelling are beginning to shed their leaves, although on this particular day it still feels intensely like Summer. The contrast in design, in scale, in aspiration is simply overwhelming. I had come to Purple Fields primarily to track down a few rough paths (marked on my map with dotted lines) so as to get off the beaten track out to some remoter places, but with all the construction work in progress and the complete transformation of the terrain, finding any of them proved to be impossible.

I bowed my head, partly in resignation to progress, as I passed under the fine formal gate that marks the way in to the village proper, and meandered along the winding main street, lined with unassuming houses and a si do 士多 (“store”) or two which were yet to open for business. Before too long, on a corner block, something caught my eye: a neat, tiled building with couplets engraved in stone on either side of the open ground-floor recess. An altar was just visible through the gloom at the back, and on it were oil-burners, candles, a vase containing the long stems of luxuriant green-leafed lucky bamboo [富貴竹], and dishes piled with cumquats (from the Cantonese gam gat or “golden good luck”). Pink-sticked incense burned in a small bowl of sand just outside the entrance.

I was slightly puzzled by the fact that the temple did not appear to be dedicated to any particular god, but this did not really matter, because the four-character horizontal inscription on the lintel, marked with five pieces of fresh-looking red and gold lucky paper, bore the following remarkable message:

The Divine and the Human, Together in Delight

Without demeaning the supernatural powers, and without at the same time exalting the human beyond the limits of its station, this plain phrase assumes a wonderful intimacy between the two realms. There is undoubtedly reverence implicit in the physical appearance of the shrine — all is spotlessly clean and in perfect order — but there is no trace of the abject piety that so often infects our mortal response to the numinous. I recall to this day my shock and lingering pleasant surprise when I read a passage written by the great modern Chinese translator of Balzac Fu Lei 傅雷 in which he expresses his dislike of the grovelling element in the music of Bach. In this brief Chinese inscription, with its emphasis on mutuality and delight, we are transported to a realm that is so completely unlike that familiar scenario in which a sinful human being kneels in self-abasement before a wrathful deity. There is a hint here at a saner attitude, as well as a much more charming one, in which human pleasure is not necessarily contrary or offensive to the incomprehensible forces that shape this planet.

Continue reading “Giving Oneself to Place • Intimacy and Hong Kong Temples (Part I)”