La Professoressa is in New York, has been for a week now, leaving me and Cello to our own devices and those of kind friends. Patrizia bundled us into her car and off we went two days ago to visit friends in their lesbian homestead in the untamed bush, except for their lovingly built solar heated and lighted houses. Here I found another part of the Australian story, orchards buried in tall grasses, asparagus and garlic carefully tended to find a home in the untamed valley-- I sat in the early morning sun on a wooden chair, looking to the hills on either side of me, felt the wind move over me, rustle the gum trees and then make its way up the side of the hills, moving the grasses in purple waves and for a moment I felt as if the world was swaying, a pulse shifting the solids, wave after wave flowing up the low mountain. Cello sitting very still by my my side, all freedoms lay before him but still he sat, looking, carefully. He was, I think, a little overcome by the sounds and smells around him. A Flemish dog, this skippergee, a dog of barges and companionable nights on the low slung boats, listening to the captain spin her yarns. We were much aware of place--the cockatoos shrieked their joy of life, white large- bodied birds, first on the mountains, then in the tree above us, groups of them harshly joyous, and the tiny willy wag tails, small insolences, with the swallows swooping around the eaves of the house, their flight a known sight to me from the swallows of Black Slip Hollow deep in the Catskills. Again place talking to place.
Go to the edge of the grasses and you will find the river, the girls said and so Cello and I made our way carefully carefully, ever mindful of snakes and soon found ourselves by a huge fallen ghost gum with the turn of the small river below us and then in a boom I have come to know, the opposite bank came alive with a mob of disturbed kangaroos and as they pushed off with their powerful legs, the earth vibrated with their surge. This was a sight and a sound of my new place, an unforgettable moment of Australian animal, not the bounding of deer I knew for so many years, but the powerful hops to freedom of this place. A combination of humility and power that for me is much of this land.
In the morning we worked on netting the apple tree in the orchard and then one by one, we gave in to the growing heat and walked up the hill back to the house. Sitting with our cups of tea, we tried to find the homage to Dame Joan Sutherland that we knew was taking place in the Sydney Opera House that late morning, and the valley smiled on us because there on the dark screen, we could just about follow a moment of national homage, not to warriors or corporate controls, but to La Stupenda, a woman who had sung her way out of the confinement of this island home, and yet never left it behind. So there we sat, the two dogs, Cello, the interloper and Tom, the dearly loved house dog, and three of us, two Australians and one New Yorker, leaning forward to catch the words of love and praise and even more, the singing, the face as broad as a land, the body large and strong, the neck and shoulders pedestals for that monumental face and the everlasting flow of breath shaped into glory. I had never listened to that voice so intently, never known what Dame Joan had meant to a nation, a vast and yet small nation trying to be part of a Europe that seemed so far away and was. Place again, the ones we leave, the ones we carry with us, the yearning for replacement. And then on the screen in the concert hall in Sydney, Joan Sutherland, swathed in acres of black lace, stepped out of her role for the evening and took her leave of her first country, her first audiences, the daughter of a tailor and of a mother who loved to sing, of the country towns like Walla Walla where she first tested her young voice, towns to be left in the wake of Paris and London and New York and Florence, she stepped to the front of the stage, with her fellow performers standing behind, lifted her hand to quiet the audience, and standing so quietly, only her fingers moving over the bouquets she held against her chest, she gave her home crowd her final good-bye. There in the house of new friends, I heard La Stupenda, Joan, sing "Home Sweet Home," in the cradle of their valley and their hospitality, I heard her final anthem to place and the push of art. My friends quietly wept. I understood a little more now, this place that so often must be left to find the larger thing, but that never leaves those who came to life amidst its gums and seas, its country towns struggling to survive, its cities still green with ambition and its dry dry ancient land. I wept too for the homes I had lost and the knowledge that I would leave this one as well. I had entered into a deep place of the Australian spirit, strong women living with the wildness of their land, the booming leaps of roos, the wind moving through the gums up into the grasses on the hills.