The time between Christmas and New Year is a strange limbo-land, a sort of other-time that feels out of step with the rest of the year. This year, I’ve entered the limbo-land earlier than usual, thanks to diminished responsibilities, and a sense of free-fall after a weighty decision that I’ve finally made. Up until now, my ‘career’ (whatever that is) had a scientific basis and a secure, public service reality. Charted with Cartesian coordinates and facts, and tempered with political realities and the dullness of bureaucracy. After years of unsettled dissatisfaction, I’m leaving this seemingly solid shore, and casting myself adrift in a little boat, onto an ocean of writing and art, of combining science with creativity, and all the time still celebrating and sharing the extraordinary natural world. Some of you will know that in 2015 I took 12 months unpaid leave from my permanent Queensland Government job to pursue other things. What I’m trying to say here, is that I’m not going back.
So is it any wonder I feel that I am floating in a weird other-land right now, when I have just untethered myself from that steady public service, science-based trajectory, that one I’ve been on for all of my working life?
I was raised by hard-working migrant parents who wanted to give me the education they never had. Both provided me with every support and encouragement to get to University and complete a degree, and then a postgraduate degree. But my father eschewed anything arty: “Micky-mouse” he called it. Good writing was valued as useful, but he could see no way that anyone could make a living from ‘art’. At a turning point in Year 10 of high school I gave up art and literature, and chose a course of maths and science. Nature was always my passion, so it was fine, no, it was more than fine – it was exciting, interesting and brilliant – to explore nature through zoology, botany and ecology. But now, 30 years later, I’m also reconnecting with my arty side.
It’s taken some courage over the last year to put my feelers out, to play around with combining science, creative writing and art. This blog has been an important part of the journey, and every one of you who have signed up, liked posts, tweeted or shared links, left comments, or told me in person how much you enjoy my stories and my pictures – all of you have given me that little bit more self-confidence and daring to keep going. Thank you so much for your interest and support 🙂 .
Then, in September of this year I hung out with ‘real’ artists – probably for the first time ever – while they were exploring and creating art at the Bimblebox Art –Science – Nature camp in central Queensland. I had often been in the field with other scientists, and was used to a scientific way of interacting with nature – observing, identifying, asking questions, measuring and analysing. During the Bimblebox camp I noticed that these artists were doing many of the same things, but also other things that I’d always done myself. Sure, there was observation and thoughtfulness. But there was also a fascination with forms, colours, the light, and with beauty in and of itself, and with different kinds of meaning. And then the need to express this creatively, with everyone working in their own style and at their own pace. After all these years, this experience finally convinced me of something that I’d always dismissed – that I was also an artist. Thank you to the organisers of the camp, and to those that attended, for allowing me to make this personally profound discovery.
So what comes next? Well, not exactly knowing is part of the fun. You see, I can only see part of the horizon just now. It is still about nature and conserving the environment – it always has been. But this year has strengthened my conviction that we need much more than facts to turn people on to nature, and to help change the human behaviour that’s destroying the natural world. You see, few people (apart from scientists) are excited by facts alone, or make decisions based on facts. Most people need something to ‘warm up’ the facts: stories, pictures, emotions, action, a human or personal dimension. And perhaps environmentalists spend a bit too much time telling stories of gloom and doom, and trying to inform people, when we should be telling the world how fabulous nature is, and how much fun it is to birdwatch, herp, rockpool, snorkel, spotlight (without guns!), botanise… or just spend time exploring nature, basking in the sun, having a cup of tea while taking in a splendid view, or just simply being in it. This is the space I’d like to explore further.
So next year I’m hoping to create more stories and pictures for this blog, perhaps another colouring book or two, maybe some other publications. I’m planning some ‘Creative nature’ workshops in wild places where I’ll be sharing ecological stories with people, and showing them ways of interacting creatively with nature. But as I sail on, who knows what else might be in store? This year has reminded me that seeing the straight steady road running ahead for miles (years) can be stultifying. In comparison, sailing beyond where I can see now, onto the next (now hidden) vista is a bit frightening, but so much more exhilarating. I may sometimes be daunted, and I will certainly be challenged. But I am unlikely to be bored, and that is a very good thing.
Thank you once again, dear reader, for taking the time to reach the end this rather long and fairly self-indulgent blog. I hope you get a chance to get out in nature this festive season. May your Christmas weirdness be delightful, and your New Year full of wonderful things.