~ with Sunshine Coast celebrant, Kari ~

This year was the tenth anniversary of an extraordinary pilgrimage; the Long Yarra Walk, as told in Maya Ward’s book The Comfort of Water.

She says of her book,

The Comfort of Water: A River Pilgrimage is the story of my three-week journey along the Yarra River. I walked from the sea to the source, through city, forest, farmland, following an ancient songline.  In the book I tell of those 21 days and 20 nights, but since it was a journey through my home city, a place I’d lived all my life, I also include anecdotes from before and after the pilgrimage…

The book begins:

“Walk the path

And journey to the source

These are not metaphors

They are instructions”

image from Maya Ward’s website. 

This modern reinvention or re-exploration of pilgrimage explored the lessons of River.  River can teach the importance of the path of water, and all who live along it’s way.  River teaches history and story; connection to place, the importance of flow.

The ritual of walking a path evokes extraordinary learning, deep understanding and great forgiveness.  This is pilgrimage.

Maya’s book is both a true tale and a guidebook for path.  I loved following her journey as I imagined my own.

Recently a kindergarten teacher was inspired to use Maya’s text as a guide for a program of education for very young children.  A film was made about their learning.  Songlines of the Yarra, is an 8 minute short film which explores the children’s intimate relationship with the Yarra River and their sense of belonging to time and place.  It has been selected to screen at the Little Big Shots International Film Festival for Kids, Australia’s major annual and travelling children’s film festival.

Maya is my friend.  She has also been a mentor for me in the field of ritual.  We met at a wonderful community ritual celebration some dozen or so years ago.  The community event was the annual Return of the Sacred Kingfisher Festival held at CERES in Victoria.  We were both a part of the artistic team who created the event.  Maya inspires me always to do better, and to think more.  She is one of the most connected people I have ever met when it comes to understanding place, and environment; deep ecology and connection.  Maya helps me to understand the importance of ritual, and the many layers of ritual.

Let me diverge

…to tell the story of a creek.

The Merri Creek runs into the Yarra River not far from the centre of Melbourne.  A twenty minute tram ride will get you there.  Maya took much longer walking the river  trail, for the Yarra winds around many bends through the city before you come to Merri Creek.

Decades ago the poor Merri had been reduced to a trickle such was the degradation of the environment.  Industry poured raw effluent from pipes directly into the creek.  The steep banks had been denuded of vegetation.  It was used as a tip.  The creek could not flow any more.

Sacred Kingfisher’s cry had not been heard along the creek for many years.  He had simply flown away.  Wouldn’t you?

A community turned their love to the creek and put a stop to the decline of the Merri.  The clean up began with bulldozers to remove the rusted car-bodies, rubber tyres and discarded washing machines from the creek bed.  Work continues to this day with countless hours by community volunteers, revegetating, weeding, caring.

One day the Kingfisher was heard along the Merri again.  Ki Ki Ki Ki They had returned!

The Return of the Sacred Kingfisher Festival is an annual community celebration welcoming the Sacred Kingfisher back to its original habitat, along the banks of the Merri Creek in Brunswick. For the CERES community, the Sacred Kingfisher bird has become a symbol of “hope” connecting people and place. It is a community ritual and a working relationship or collaboration with the Wurundjeri people, various cultural communities and performers of all ages and abilities. As long as the Kingfisher returns each year in Spring, it is a sign that we are taking care of our local environment and the home of the Sacred Kingfisher.

The Sacred Kingfisher on it’s annual migration also stops at the Sunshine Coast, my home of twenty years.  Each year I measure the first day of Spring, from the first urgent call of the Kingfisher in my tiny forested garden.  It was the Kingfisher festival, and this team of artists who taught me most about ritual and celebration.  I bring this experience to all of my work as a celebrant.

Kingfisher follows River.  Waterways are the arteries of our land.  River and Creek are characters in our lives.  Ritual can connect us to these pathways.  Kingfisher invites us in.