"The song you heard singing in the leaf when you were a child is singing still.'
- Mary Oliver
I love the Geoffrey Bay shoreline. It is laden with She-oak trees that sing softly in the warm tropical breeze. These melodious evergreens have also been known as the Whistling Tree. It is cool and tranquil as I walk quietly under her foliage, listening to her early morning tunes.
I imagine that her songs hold secrets to the feminine line of woman who walked this land before European time. Secret knowledge that seems lost in the wind but is held safe within the ground beneath my feet, embedded in the sands of time. Woven and sung through the song-lines, these secrets would be safe with me, but I am not of the 'song- woman' lineage. The only female privilege that I hold is one of respect and my ability to hold the intent of devotional regard to my surroundings. My song honours the feminine presence of the She-oaks ... At the foot of her boughs, I stand in reverence and apologize to the women wisdom keepers who lost their ceremonial and birthing ground, due to the ignorance of control and conquer ideology.
However, the feminine power of this land has not been lost. Her power is not 'power over'... it dwells from underneath... surging maternal matrices of life-giving energy... reciprocal and symbiotic... she receives, and she gives in a multitudinous manner...it is the underlying power that nourishes. I sense her omnipresent pulse and the ancestress governance of her sacredness.
Under her canopy the wind whistles...the She-oaks weeping branches arc over my head offering me protection from the emerging sun. Her salted dew-wept leaves glisten, as the light pierces her needle-like fronds creating dappled shadows that dance on the sand.... She is nature's holy shrine to the ancient feminine... sit beneath her and you will be touched by her agile grace. Her species name is Casuarina Equisetfolia, but I call her the 'wind dancer'... she is the feminine spirit that dances with life flowing and weaving in the wind submitting to the force of its elemental power.
She is both wind resistant and salt tolerant; her flexible form can withstand penetrative gushes of oceanic air without breaking. She is wildly feminine, her subtle strength is admirable as she sway's softly in a gentle breeze, or dances fervently amidst the howling gales. She moves effortlessly as intense winds rush through her limber timbered structure... she is the feminine essence that bends and does not break... her branches bow in a devotional manner towards the earth... as her elegant leaf spindles attempt to touch the sandy ground...
She is the tree goddess guardian of coastlines and estuaries. This graceful wind-swept creature has been forged by the elements of air and water. She is both protective and restorative as she serves as a windbreak, guards against sand erosion, and restores nitrogen back into depleted soils. Her flowers are wind pollinated and produce small cones that contain 'winged seeds'. My favourite winged friends the black cockatoos feast on her seeds. These seeds are highly medicinal, they help with sugar-level imbalances and have anti-parasitic and anti-spasmodic properties. The cambium layer beneath her bark is used as a sedative for nervous and mental disorders. The bark itself is an excellent astringent, and the root extracts are used diarrhoea and dysentery. A decoction of the young twigs can be used as a mouth wash and for throat infections.
As I pay homage to this tree, I also want to honour my formidable friend Pamela Oates. A fellow She-oak tree lover and nature goddess, who has a practical, yet ethereal quality about her. She is the quintessential feminine spirit that exudes calm tolerance and the gentle stillness of the She-oak essence. And for those that transverse her magnetic orbit you will be graced with nourishment and nurturance. She is the paradoxical female both regal and humble. Like the She-oak, Pamela is pliable, yet steadfast. She allows life to shape her, not through complacency, but through trust. And when life wavers my trust in her is unwavering.
She is reciprocal and not transactional and gives graciously to the world with elegance and kindness... Nimble minded and nimble fingered, her organizational skills are phenomenal. She is constantly moving; her feminine fluidity appears effortless, yet she is highly productive, adaptable and emotionally attuned to the needs of the others. She rests but does not stagnate. She is contained, yet not rigid.
She-oaks are the great stabilizers of deep sandy soils, protectors of eroding coastlines. One of the great stabilizing forces in my life and protector was my sister-in-law Lisa Oats.... The name Oats apparently was originally spelt as Oates... according to family legend... the 'e' was removed. Story has it (and Lisa loved to tell stories) ... that her forbearing family lived in a small country town in Northern Queensland. There also lived another family in the same town with the same name. They were not connected through bloodlines only by their matching surnames., they decided to vary the name slightly to distinguish the different families ... so, they dropped the 'e'.
Lisa joked that maybe they discarded the 'e', so they could 'sew their wild oats'. I'm not sure whether promiscuity ran in the family, but eccentricity certainly did!
Lisa was eccentric and she could sew. She collected beautiful cloths and material. A deeply creative and intelligent soul. She combed the beaches for small shells and accumulated eclectic objects found in secondhand stores. She had a symbiotic approach to life; she was inclusive and utilized her surroundings to benefit others. A quiet achiever and observer with high values as an environmental and social activist. She was thoughtful and tasteful, but lived beneath her means, a humorous 'idea person" who upcycled before it became trendy.
She was a singer like the She-oaks... A hidden talent that I wasn't aware of until after her passing. My brother told me she could sing like Patsy Cline... In her humility she hid her greatness.... and we miss her greatly.
These two Oates/Oats women are held within my heart like the She-oak roots that bind to the earth. Lisa has passed, but her essence is similar to Pamela's, a feminine graciousness, a kindly presence of gentle power that humbly safeguards and cares for others. May the sacred sound of my gratitude to both of them be carried through the whistling wind, and on certain windy days I hope that you'll hear my song of appreciation enveloped in the leaves of the She-oak...
I've included this poem by Henry Lawson, because his great-nephew, artist Peter Lawson lives on Geoffrey Bay where the She-oaks reside...
Sheoaks That Sigh When The Wind Is Still
By Henry Lawson
Why are the sheoaks forever sighing?
(Sheoaks that sigh when the wind is still)—
Why are the dead hopes forever dying?
(Dead hopes that died and are with us still.)
As you make it and what you will.
Why are the ridges forever waiting?
Ridges that waited ere one man came,
Still by the towns with their life vibrating
Lonely ridges that wait the same.
Ridges and gullies without a name.
Why is the strong heart forever peering
Into the future that speaks no ill?
Why is the kind heart forever cheering,
Even at times when the fears are still?
As you make it, and what you will.
Why is the distance forever drawing?
(The wide horizon is round us still!)
Why is resentment forever gnawing
Against a world that may mean no ill?
Why are so many forever sawing
On strings that rasp and can never thrill—Soothe or thrill?
As you make it, and what you will.