What Remains

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We descended a long, rutted track, overgrown with ti-tree, into a valley at the base of a towering escarpment. Nestled amongst the underbrush on the banks of a burbling creek, the little handcrafted stone cottage stood askew – abandoned – bereft.

Vines scrambled over tumbling stone walls, rendering the attached water wheel motionless. The air made thick with insect buzz and chiming bird song. Humidity settled damply on my skin.

Ghosts murmured softly, and I turned expecting to see somebody. No one was there. But I could feel their memories like a soft mantle on my consciousness, just beyond reach. We crossed the threshold, into a dimmed hush, compelling me to whisper. Somehow, I felt we were trespassing, treading on the past, stumbling over someone else’s dreams.

Jewelled parrots sat bathing in light spilling through a window at the end of the room, fooling me for a moment. A stained-glass window remained miraculously intact amid the rubble of a partially collapsed roof.

A closer look around revealed a living space more recently used for storage – old car parts, machinery, building materials. It seemed sacrilegious. Others before me have violated the dreams this place once held.

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How tenuous are human aspirations, indeed how tenuous are human lives. The things we leave behind are not just material artefacts but vessels for memories and dreams once held. They tell those who come after, stories of who we were, who we aspired to be. Is it the whole story though?

I took my ten and eight year old grandies to the brilliantly curated Egyptian Mummies exhibition at The Queensland Museum these school holidays. Advanced technology allowed us to see through the swathes of linen wrappings and even desiccated tissue and muscle to their skeletal frames which gave some clues to how they lived, and in some cases, even how they died. Some from arteriosclerosis, some from accidents. The amulets, canopic jars holding organs, and other artifacts that accompanied the bodies, told stories of the social roles they held, what their culture deemed important.

I applied the stone cottage experience to the Egyptian mummies and realised the enormity of what was missing. In fact, it’s the very essence of those who have passed.

You see, I knew the builder of the stone cottage. How he laboured to gather river stones and cut timber to build his dream. I knew the tragic details of his life and the subsequent impact it had on who he was. By that I mean, I was witness to the impact of events on his life, but not necessarily the meanings he attributed to them nor how he made sense of them in the greater scheme of things. How could I know? He left no written records that I know of.

While the scribes of ancient Egypt left records in the form of hieroglyphs or “godly writings”, many are still undecipherable. Those writings on the tomb walls were thought to be accounts of deeds and accomplishments which would ensure the passage of their subjects into the afterlife. Since it was thought only scribes and priests could write, and only those of elevated status could pay them to do so, it’s unlikely we will ever know the inner thoughts of ordinary Egyptian folk.

For all we think we know of those who have passed, their possessions – personal information, social status, official records, even diaries – what they leave us is an imperfect record, it can never be the whole story.

Our essence, our innermost self is largely unknown territory, unknown to most – including ourselves – a quest through time.

There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.

Benjamin Franklin

114 responses to “What Remains

  1. Very evocative photos Robyn. I love all these handmade bush houses.

    I remember when I was living in Bega in 1985, we drove through rough mountainous bush for half an hour before we reached an abandoned commune called Tralfamadore somewhere on the Tuross River (I think it may have been within the Wadbilliga National Park, but I’m not sure I could find it anymore). There were about a dozen handmade houses of all sizes and shapes, made from stone and wood and mud-brick, all with lovingly made features. Most were intact, though some windows and doors were gone. There were Indian posters on the walls, and children’s paintings scattered around. The place had such an eerie feeling, in the heat of the bush with the sound of birds and the river.

    I think it had only been abandoned a few years earlier (another blog indicated that most of the people had joined the Sannyasins (who were numerous in the Bega Valley then) and moved to India, the US or Sydney – see here https://antarnavjot.wordpress.com/2012/10/03/38-suffolk-st/ ), but it already felt like a lost world. Thanks for bringing it back.

    Liked by 2 people

    • What a great story. You would well be aware of the gems hidden in this beautiful valley then. I must ask my contact about Tralfamadore. I have not heard her mention it although she came in the early seventies. Thanks for taking time to comment. I will look at the link you offered too.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Ironically, when we visited Tralfamadore (named after the ideal planet in Vonnegut’s book), we were also building a mud-brick bush house that we later ended up abandoning when members of our group started to drift back to the city and off into different relationships. We visited the block for a number of years and spent holidays there, but eventually sold it years later, and I haven’t seen it for 20 years so I don’t know what condition it’s in.

        Now I’m in Greece with building remains from hundreds and thousands of years everywhere, reminding you of different past worlds and lives.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Such a contrast. What remains of the ancient Greeks – so much that is still relevant today. Much of it intangible. It’s sounds like an interesting life you’ve led both then and now. Thanks for the reflections.

        Liked by 1 person

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