Creation stories

This year has been all about stories for me. I’ve never been more aware of how stories shape reality. The power and sheer proliferation of stories is overwhelming. Every person has their own story about every event. That’s billions and billions of stories, cascading, intersecting, feeding and birthing each other.

Back in April I found myself feeling offended that there wasn’t a single ‘right’ story about the coronavirus. Of course that’s stupid and naive. There has never been one right story about anything. And intellectually I know that. But sitting in my apartment, day after day, immersed in news stories, social media stories, conspiracy stories, friends’ stories, family stories, and being able to see that all of them were conflicting and lying and wrong drowned me. I needed one solid truth to hold onto, to get my head into the air, and there wasn’t one. I drowned in despair and fear and uncertainty.

Now I’m watching the Black Lives Matter protests and these stories burn me with rage and sickness. The lies and deceits, the omissions, the racist framing choices, the desperation, the actors, and the screaming into silence…all burn.

The protests and BLM stories playing out now are all stories that have the power to show people something they have no concept of. They reveal the stories that are so deeply embedded that you don’t know they’re there, or that they even are stories. You assume that the story is reality, when it’s not.

But that’s the power of story.

Stories are a human and linear way of understanding something that is not linear, something that is an intrusion of the unlimited, numinous potential of the universe, of creation. It’s called creation for a reason. Stories are the most powerful of ideas—ideas with shape, direction, force, energy and soul. Ideas that draw people and events into their flow.

Stories are an act of creation, making space for new things, shaping and changing reality.

A few months ago I wrote a story. It was a solarpunk-inspired story about what my street and apartment could look like in a hopeful and sustainable future.

A couple of days later I found that some pawpaw trees had sprouted in the abandoned and ignored garden attached to my building. It’s likely they’ve come from a possum or fruit bat. I thought it was interesting and then forgot.

A month or so ago, I discovered a random passion fruit vine had been quietly winding its way through the hibiscus and myrtle bushes and had produced a couple of fruits. Again, no human had planted it and it’s likely to have come from an animal. But I’ve lived here for years and this is the only time there has ever been food-plants on the property.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, one of my neighbours, who I’ve spoken less than 20 words to in the whole time I’ve been here, knocked on my door to talk excitedly to me about his plans to put in a communal vegetable and herb garden. Pretty sure I stared at him like I was going crazy.

Last weekend they started clearing the space. We now have a compost pile of sorts.

People are buying plants. One of my other neighbours is building raised garden beds in his garage. And my contribution so far is the weed matting and mulch.

I wrote a dinky little story about communal food resources and sustainable living in an urban environment and ended up manifesting the damn thing by accident.

That is the power of stories. Especially in the hands of magical people. That is the one truth I can hold on to—by telling the right stories we can create the amazing, beautiful, inclusive and hopeful future we want.

So I’ve started another story. And this time, I’m putting in effort. I can’t wait for it to happen.

Update:

One week later we already have pea shoots. Also, a neighbour randomly brought up in conversation how good intentions improve plant growth. It was very hard to hold a sensible expression while I responded that I’d read some research that supported that, too.

Dreams of the future

In my dream I turned off the main road onto the narrow footpath that leads to my street. The end of my street is walled off from the road by a line of fig trees. Their grey-skinned boles are massive—much bigger than I remember. Thick aerial roots brace wide-flung branches, curtaining off the rushing traffic with living wood.

My street was not there.

The asphalt of the dead end had been dug up. A mass of plants and trees grew in a riotous, scrappy, untended mess. I could see the remains of the sidewalks, though they were black instead of pale concrete. I made for the nearest one, picking my way through the jungle of weeds.

The bushes parted and a woman emerged from the tangle. Her black face, haloed by silver and black curls, wrinkled further in a smile. She was wearing a blue dress and sat in a copper, throne-like chair. The chair stepped delicately forward on its four articulated legs. Wide metal wings unfolded from its tall back, feather-like plates spreading and rotating to catch the sunlight. I realised the regal-looking woman could not walk.

She gestured to the pile of vegetables in her lap. “Just grabbing a few things for dinner,” she said.

She was entirely unsurprised to see me. “Can you grab a few of those mangoes?” she asked. “They’ll be good for dessert.”

I looked around. A young tree dangled yellow and orange fruit below thick dark leaves. The scene clicked into place.

This was a garden.

The whole end of the street had been turned into a communal food forest. Herbs and root vegetables hugged the ground under berry bushes. Vines climbed fruit trees. It wasn’t a mess. It was a perfectly ordered natural system.

I picked the mangoes and followed the woman to the black sidewalk. A few chickens strutted calmly out of her way. Bees buzzed, the scent of sun-warmed herbs wafted about me.

As the woman’s walking chair clicked down the path, dozens of shiny beetles flitted up out of the way, filling the air with sparkles.

“They’re our cleaning drones,” she said, noticing my gaze. “The kiddies make them in school and program them to keep the solar panels and water pipes clean. They have competitions over who can build the most efficient or prettiest ones.”

She watched them for a moment. “The little one with the moustache is my favourite.”

I looked closer at the bright blue one she indicated, hovering in the air. Sure enough, it appeared to have a huge bristly moustache, presumably as part of its cleaning function. It made me smile.

The balconies of the houses and apartments lining the street-garden overflowed with more plants and flowers. There were even more varied types, chosen for beauty and reasons other than food. Myriad pipes crisscrossed any available wall space, hugging corners and feeding into larger ones that disappeared underground. It took me a moment to realise that they were collecting every spare drop of water that fell on the buildings. Tall, graceful spiral and whorl structures lined all the roof peaks, rotating in the afternoon breeze.

The buildings were familiar but so different.

My current balcony garden, featuring rosemary, lavender, mint, aloe vera, potatoes, carrots and corn.

We reached the cross-street at the bottom of the slope. A bank had been built across the width of the street, holding back the water of a wide green pond. Big geese clustered on the edge. Beyond it, shaded by trees, a group of nine or ten people were sitting silently on the ground in a circle, as if in meditation.

A bunch of shrieking kids ran up, chasing the buzzing cleaning beetles with small nets, followed by an over-excited terrier.

“Hi Gramma!” screamed a couple of the kids, waving at the woman.

She waved back. “I just saw Mister Whiskers up near the sweet potatoes, if you’re looking for him,” she called back. “How about you all head up there so you don’t disturb the Intenders.”

The kids took off back the way we’d come.

The cross-street had been narrowed considerably to make room for more plantings on the extra-wide footpaths. The clearway was probably only wide enough for one car and was paved with yet more solar panels. Narrow driveways, lined with flowers, led into the old two- and three-story apartment blocks. Only a couple of garages held electric cars. The rest had been converted into various workshops—potteries, smithies, machine shops, CAD printeries. A wide variety of people, young and old, were at work.

The woman turned up the narrow path of an old brick building that overlooked the communal garden. I almost didn’t recognise that it was my building. She wasn’t a new neighbour, was she? Her solar wings tucked in neatly down the back of her chair as she passed under the interlacing branches of a wattle tree and a macadamia tree. A cat lounging on the low garden wall got a brief pat.

I spotted a possum nest in the branches of the wattle tree. Native beehives hung high up the wall of the apartment building. Thick golden spiderwebs, shining in the sun, stretched above our heads along the path.

Everywhere was a feeling of clean, joyful, peaceful life. It was beautiful. Tension I didn’t even know I carried unwound in my heart and belly.

The woman’s walking chair clanked up the stairs. Some kind of gyroscopic arrangement meant that she floated smoothly upwards while the copper limbs danced underneath. Cool ferns and delicate climbing vines draped the rails and landings.

The door to my apartment opened automatically as we approached and the woman went inside. I hurried after her, alarmed that she had access to my home. But the furniture inside was different. Same layout, but not mine. But some of my landscapes still hung on the walls.

The woman piled her vegetables into the kitchen sink and turned to me. I realised that I wasn’t carrying the mangoes anymore. They had vanished. My body was fading, too.

Below the corn I’m currently growing.

“Well, grandad, what can I do for you today?” she asked.

I stared at her, bewildered and frightened. Her bright green-brown eyes watched me.

My eyes.

I woke up.

Balcony gardening and breaking stories

Somewhere along the line I picked up the idea that I couldn’t grow things, that I was the opposite of a green thumb. I repeated it and joked about it and told people stories of the pot plants I’d somehow managed to kill. I forgot about the gardening I did for my parents as a kid—but that was their garden, so the responsibility wasn’t mine. I also forgot about the small section of the side garden that I convinced my parents to let me have. I filled it with succulents and cacti and ferns and pebbles, all laid out in a very careful design. I was so into it for about 3 days before I lost interest. But some of those plants remained there for years until mum redid the landscaping.

When I moved into an apartment by myself I decided to brighten up the bare, glaringly hot balcony with some pot plants. I bought a bunch, put them in big plastic pots and cared for them with dedication and love. But no matter what I did, they wilted and died. I didn’t work out why until I uprooted the dead stems to find soaking wet soil.

Turned out I’d loved them a bit too much.

That was the turning point, though. I pulled out the ones that were still mostly alive, dried out their roots a little and cut off the rotten parts. I invested in better quality terracotta pots and replanted everything. And I monitored carefully just how much I was watering. (So hard to stop because watering is love!)

Three golden cane palms and one Yesterday Today Tomorrow survived. I’m pretty proud of that. I stopped telling myself the story of how I couldn’t grow things. That wasn’t true anymore, if it ever had been.

Last year Gordon White piqued my interest around permaculture and growing your own food. I decided to give growing food a go and see what I could manage in the limited space I had. I went all out. Nothing was off limits and most of what I tried was from seed. I planted tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, lavender, rosemary, sage, mint, lettuce, rocket and even corn.

It wasn’t a perfect success. I got aphids and white mold. Things didn’t get enough water. Some got too much. I underestimated the amount of plant food I’d need to add to the relatively closed systems of the pots and stunted growth. It got too hot as summer came on and a few plants got burned. But I adjusted. I learned a bit more about listening to plants and actually hearing what they needed. I put up shade cloth on the balcony railing (great decision). I bought mini greenhouses which I then had to cover with netting because they got too hot. I bought chicken-wire in the middle of the city and put it up to keep out the possums.

One of the most effective things I did was a regular recitation of the Orphic hymn to Ceres, goddess of agriculture, crops and fertility. Apparently she approved of my little garden because my plants took off, blossoming and fruiting as soon as I started that.

In the end I managed to grow a salad lunch.

After that harvest, the weather and my north-facing balcony got way too hot and humid so most things died. I could have tried harder to save them but I decided it wasn’t a good investment, especially considering that I don’t currently need to grow my own food. The goal of the experiment was to see if I could—to break the false story I’d told about myself—and that was a success.

I actually managed to grow corn on a balcony in the middle of a city.