‘To live in the gap between the moment arising and the one just experienced…’
Laurie Anderson, ‘What if the sky froze?’ film soundtrack, Heart of a Dog, 2015.
Each week (this the beginning of week 3) the ground unfolds and encloses a little more of a new life. Tomorrow the wethers arrive.
I have just moved in
to an empty house
by death and other creatures: time stood still.
Heavy, dark, dead, it’s the furniture that haunts me. Too much of it imposing its regent weight, sucking out the air with intrigues. And ‘fittings’ (such a word for the unfixed bits) books, crockery, paintings, rugs woven and knotted, wall hangings, fur coats, frocks, shoes — all histories and memories: forces clamouring for attention. There’s a long dead life of art here too, of hopes and expectations, and a pit of snakes under the verandah.
Qualities, directions, creatures, actions and material things
‘the diagrams speak of the most complex things under the sky’
birds in the field / parties attacking for plunder / joints in the bamboo / lost axe / penetration from below the couch / evil / pheasant / lost arrow / foxes / yellow arrows/ porters / robbers / traveller / Lord / servant / King / wife / golden arrow / stranger / loosening a knot / The Great Man / auspice / humility / scarlet knee covers / integrity / caution / brightness / elegance / serpent / fire / wind / water / thunder / lightening / mountain / unravelling / great good fortune / falling / remove your toes / falcon / high wall / nothing to be furthured / the army / the host / beehive / deliverance / solution / moon nearly full / horse in a chariot / exhaustion / vermillion knee covers / ministers with scarlet aprons / sacrifice to spiritual beings (I burn fresh bay leaves from Aldo’s tree) / nose and feet are cut off / a clean limpid well
Beyond the white painted X lattice balcony, reading glasses on, the distance blurs edges between almonds trees in bloom dotted against a background of lush green pasture, farmers paths have been mown into the hillside making vertical bands across its face. The little village, such a European cliche, (transpose ‘I’m the only gay in the village’ to ‘I’m the snake woman behind the pub’) is nestled below, rooftops peek through a few trees not yet covered in foliage — most of the buildings seem to be pre 20th C. The road cuts a path on the valley floor between the hill I’m on and the one directly opposite and is surprisingly busy during the day triangulating McLaren Vale up through to Blackwood and on to the city, or west down to the coastal plains where the Onkaparinga runs into the sea.
Pristine is the view from the hill, this point of vantage, of looking over and not being seen: it grows more real each day. I’m not sure yet what I mean, it doesn’t mean familiar — it should stay strange for ever — though the initial shock at the beauty is not always here now, by real I mean (as Kristeva does) something less of language and more of atmosphere and affect: emotion + sensation + thought before thinking steps in to box things up. And the snakes. So many snakes. I won’t call them vipers, that’s devilish, and its the cultural memory of devilish I want to uproot or divert or relocate. It’s too easy to separate ourselves from things we don’t get by calling their occurance evil (Trump world view for instance) as if evil isn’t a human capacity, I’m with Hannah Arendt on this one – evil is profoundly banal, like facebook posts and twit slurs. Serpent is a term closer perhaps to a mythological ambivalence, though still the biblical warnings are there. Vituperous? ‘From French vitupéreux, from Late Latin vituperosus, from Latin vituperare (“to blame, censure”), from vitium (“fault, defect”) + parare (“to furnish, provide, contrive”), vituperous? (comparative more vituperous, superlative most vituperous) 1 (rare) Vituperative. 2 (rare) Worthy of blame.’ The English language is being reduced to only what’s deemed modern usage, informative, informational, aimed at a foundation that doesn’t exist.
Still in the valley/gully this morning, the foliage does not move, not even a breeze, a current.
A morning of despair. Starting where I am at my desk, looking out, I decide to clean the windows. This is the method: Gather bucket, and other tools (hot water, cold water, newspaper, Chux, paint scraper, screwdriver, gloves, iPhone) unscrew the four screws and remove the frame; take a photo of the accumulated geology of millipede carapace, felted dust, dead moths, and the small wasps’ nest in the window corner, document it all; remove the wasps nest, document it; clean.
Hang the washing on the clothes horse on the balcony — this is not a place for washing line at ground level — I’m living here in the air, not yet on the ground with the snakes.
Talk with the corvids — each day they fly close in to check me out, I say ‘hey crow! this is your space, and I live here too now!’ I can talk with the crows and not feel the neighbours think ‘she’s mad’.
‘Tell the animals, tell all the animals.’
Laurie Anderson, writer and director, ‘Tell the animals’, Heart of a Dog, 2015, film soundtrack.
There’s a white owl on the piano, and a large trout on top of the china cabinet.
There’s a rat in the kitchen an its eatin’ my cheese / there’s a snake in the cellar and its drinkin’ my wine.
My Brightest Diamond, ‘There’s a rat’, All Things will Unwind, 2011, Asthmatic Kitty. I love this rehearsal session version on YouTube (it’s six years old now and only had 250 views), Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) in her less sophisticated form and it’s all there, her brilliance as a song writer, vocalist, and musical arranger. If you haven’t seen/heard her before watch this David Lang arrangement, ‘Pain Changes’, Cantaloupe Music, NYC. Nov. 2013.
The strategy for ridding the place of snakes is clearly about establishing a kind of animal heirachy with human me at the top. It’s less clearly about being an equal in an ecology of affects, yet it is this too. One of the dorper wethers was called Mouse, for today (151016) I’ve changed his name to Jeffrey-Jeff, his mate was Tobias and today is Walid-Walli, or Will, I can’t decide yet. And Shara’s song is clearly metaphorical: it’s worth calling out the way humans have colonised animal qualities as a metaphors for their / our own power at the top of the pyramid. We more-than-animal animals. More about the wethers later/before now.
Of snake captures
#1 snake 051016 12 23 pm, Rolly and Ange, garden bed below verandah north steps.
#2 snake 051016 5 00 pm, Ange, verandah east end trap.
#3 snake 061016 1100 am, Ange, verandah north, second step trap.
#4 snake 061016 5 00 pm, Cory, verandah east, trap.
#5 snake 061016 5 07 pm, Cory, verandah east, came out of the hole just as the Cory dropped the fourth one into the sack.
#6 snake 091016 12 pm, Cory, verandah north, second step trap. Belly-up so still, I thought it was dead. It wasn’t.
#7 snake 101016 3 57 pm, Ange, verandah north, second step trap. Rolly and Ange had droppped in while I was out to talk about a management plan. They checked the traps in any case, and the second largest was there. Either the Queen or the King.The divine serpent, the cosmic serpent, the Noela serpent.
I just walked down the front verandah steps into the garden with M, the person who’d come to quote installation of a glass fence around the pool. A breakthrough walk, I stepped over the snake holes on the verandah step … and I felt them every step of the way.
no snakes today / no snakes today / perhaps they’ve gone away —
— to the chicken shed perhaps, or the cottage, or the print studio, or the robot house. Somewhere safe were humans won’t cut them out of fine plastic mesh, drop them in a big pillow case, pop them in the back of a truck or a car, rumble rumble rumble bump bump bump, hand in, pinch around neck, photo shoot, let loose in a new place where human hikers are the boots to look out for.
Snakes captured = 7 : how strange, serendipitious, freakily apt that would be. An artist lived here – art world unfashionably, iconoclastically – as a fire goddess. Marked her life in cycles, she moved here at the beginning of her 7th (years included — where do these numbers come from, was it Jung? it’s in her book). According to Noela’s logic I’ve moved here at the beginning of my eighth cycle. Maybe there’s a snake for each cycle. The first one taken was big, very very big. Ange held out the large black bag for for Rolly to drop it in, ‘Biggest I’ve seen in forty years’. The last one taken was by Ange, it was also large, not quite as but almost. The inbetweeners were variously sized, none as large as the first and last. By the time I’ve finished writing this there’ll have been more I’m sure.
The worst I’ve had to face are the slithering things, seething under the verandah, the house and the garden theirs. The change has happened suddenly. This time one month ago I didn’t know I’d be here, sitting by a window I’ve just cleaned that opens onto a bowl of air currents ridden and crossed by birds, dragonflies, moths.
The sheep have arrived, X two, each one a single twin. They’ve been bred, that is they come from breeding stock and didn’t quite make the grade so have been made wethers, males castrated. Their names were Tobias and Mouse. Tobias has a slightly offset mouth, and Mouse didn’t grow to the size expected, making both unsuitable as studs, sires to future perfection. This is obviously a longer story and I’m running out of time and space, animal husbandry is a rich precursor to genetic engineering (Dolly the sheep for instance), I’ll come back to this thought. Things to remember for now is C. the breeder, her as a person, and her remarkable expertise as a breeder of dorpers. She reckons wethers are sweet natured, while dorpers overall are much smarter than other sheep because they have good memories. Over a cup of tea she explains that they are entirely vulnerable without humans, and they know it. They rely on the head of the pack for food, water and reassurance. They will look for the pack leader when they are afraid. And now I am head of the pack, the flock or whatever. Neither a wolf nor a sheep am I. Good memory is a trait, which makes them smarter than other breeds. ‘The boys’ examined the perimeter of the paddock pretty quickly, stopping to eat —probably the point of the examination — what’s here to fill the belly. Did they look happy? I can’t tell. They came forward and watched when the previous handlers, carers, owners drove away down the drive and out of their lives.
Early Spring and already very warm, FdR and I went to Clarendon to check out the house I could live in for a year, a residency / retreat, a place to write and make: lots of work to be done, unlived in for a long time, needs to be loved. The grass was very long, we walked carefully. The day after, on a Sunday, I took my mother, father, and sister who live not too far away in the coastal southern suburbs. We encountered a very large snake. It was kind of folded rather than curled, and looked a bit like it may have just flopped out of its hole in the wall to warm up its colden blood on the cement.
I called a snakecatcher, early in September, that was a disaster. He met me up the hill one morning before going to the Royal Adelaide Show where he managed the ferris wheel or somesuch. Just a puffed up kid, he was scared: the grass was long, everywhere for snakes to live well. He said he climbed the ladder ‘the client always provides’ and threw rodent baits in the ceiling though I didn’t see the baits or him throwing them. I didn’t pay the huge sum of money he wanted for future work, I did pay a smaller amount to get rid of him — the catcher, not the snake. He reminded me of my own incompetency as a small business operator, you’ve got to make it easy for your client to buy your services. Capitalism is difficult dreary labor if power and accumulation are not what drives you. This kid-in-a-hurry gets his business through abject fear.
I went up the hill a few times between now and moving, to check out this and that, a contractor to install a hot water service, the solar guy put panels on the roof of the print studio, a locksmith released the years-unopened-door onto an overpowering reek of rodents piss, printing machinery, ordinance boxes, cast metal objects. Each warm day I saw snakes around the verandah below the balcony. They’d have until I moved in and could watch them, where they came from, what they did.
All kinds of labor
Removalists, artists, thinkers, managers, property owners, breeders, gardeners, arborist, snake catchers, pest eradicator, solar panel installers, electricians, pool fence sales rep, and others, (tree guy just now, they are all gobsmacked, overawed by the, by the, v a s t v i e w : ‘Live here alone? It’s a lot of work. Keep the dead tree,’ he reckons, ‘it’s strong and it’s habitat. We used to paint them at home in England, any colour, all colours.’ This afternoon Alan, this morning Brodie and his mate. Others include Clinton, Ben, Rob, Mark, Michael, Will, Geordie, Paul, and my new best friends the snake catchers Rolly, Ange and Cory (the well-loved Cory, not the first one — can you believe there are two — same name, roughly same age, in what can’t be a huge local industry). Just one woman, all the tradies are men it seems. And then the breeder C. and her partner H.
I’m curious. I can see it in their eyes as they encounter the aspect/the view (except for the breeders who have a view of their own from a place called Mt Pleasant which says it all). First up the men notice what’s wrong with the place, what they’d do, and then they are overawed by the view and want it, want what it could be, what they’d make it. While Ch., the dorper breeder, notices what has been done already, the retaining walls, the gardens (‘I’m also a gardener’), the art works, and Ange and Rolly the snakecatchers, get the ‘touch lightly’ ecology of the place without judgement, Rolly suggests native fish for the pond, they’d eat the wrigglers, and breeding them there would increase the population.
Moved in for real on the 27th of September, that is, the removalist truck and two men came at 8am and did their thing with great speed and competence, with a lot of help from me and my son when the truck couldn’t make the turn up the narrow drive and everything had to be hauled the last several several meters uphill by hand, or in the little car. The day was sunny and warm. Only one item had to go in by the verandah downstairs and the hauler wasn’t too fussed about the snake and the snake, sunning in the sun, slid away for a moment and came back out when he’d gone. I watched from the balcony above.
Then it rained, the power went out across the whole state, I stayed in the hills for two days though I could’ve chanced fallen trees and water across gully roads. Instead I drank wine, wrote, sprayed orange oil at the pungent dead animal smell in the kitchen, ignored the spider webs and scattered piles of millipede carapaces, slept a lot. When the rain stopped I continued to go back and forwards from the hills to the plains to clean up the old place and to give away the stuff that didn’t make the trip. Each day the sun shone I’d watch the snakes from the balcony. I called the snake catchers — real ones this time.
Tomorrow the dorpers arrive. I email the breeder: cherylsdesk@… ‘there is grass, water, fence, gate — anything else needed immediately?’, she replies: ‘all they need is a loving mum who walks amongst them. To tame them properly a bit of nice hay now and again or a few lupins fed out of a bucket. They follow a rattly bucket. Can buy a few lupins (whole ones) from any feed merchant or pet store.’
‘A loving mum’, we all want that, and I like the implicit inter-species take on the world.
‘Just one question, did you ever really, love me?’ // ‘ I walk accompanied by ghosts…‘
Laurie Anderson, writer, director, ‘The Mother Meditation’, and ‘The Lake’ (vocal version), film soundtrack, Heart of a Dog, 2015.
Change is the most constant of life’s challenges, more properly catastrophe. The physical parameters have grown from a small suburban brick unit to something larger than I’ve yet to walk. I wake early, not as a writer she jokes, perhaps as a farmer. Rolling the red-lid-bin down the drive the elevated air is crisp, she’s dressed in light cotton layers and a Zimmerman designed woollen rib-warmer. Farmers make their own, grow their own, a farmer could live off the grid. All that knitting and unravelling in the northern suburbs of Sydney was preparation for this, for these hills, this dangerous pleasure.
‘I write when I am not merely translating an oral content, when I’m not merely engaged in defending certain ideas […] I stopped trying to communicate a meaning, expecting to get one by means of frenetic demand. In short, when I became able to just speak; in other words, when I gave myself up to the play of language, that is, writing.’
Sarah Kofman. Excerpt from an interview with Sarah Kofman in Shifting Scenes: Interviews on Women, Writing, and Politics in Post-68 France. Edited by Alice A. Jardine and Anne M. Menke
Columbia University Press, 1991.
Snake # 8. Just spotted a not-very-live looking snake in the eastern trap. First since Monday. I feel bad for the snake. It’s quite small, eyes dark dots against pale skin, rolled on its side and weirdly straightened in line with the stick that anchors the net to the verandah. It must’ve been there for a few hours because I’ve been writing and haven’t looked since this morning. I wonder if they close their eyes when they die.
Postscript for now
Ange and Rolly dropped in to talk about snakes, yes there is a nest of snakes under the house. Jeffrey and Walid are still in the paddock next door, the fence bloke fixed one hole and fashioned a gate out of five-wire so I can close it once they’ve come back for the lupin. I’d never heard of five wire before Monday.
**Note, “Bird Woman II” by Noela Hjorth is an aquatint etching, an undated artist’s proof.
Undertaken between September 15 and October 15 2016, ‘Fire weather snake: what happens now’ is a record of moving house from the dreary plains of capital accumulation to a wild place in the hills, a time inside the weather, with wethers. In order to calm emotions and focus action the single regular task I undertook each day was to throw the IChing, or The Book of Changes, and make a record; there were at least two remarkable throws where divination can’t be ruled out. ‘Writing without power’ is a term Sarah Kofman used to denote a writing practice that acts outside the dialectics of proof and rational knowing yet is logical in its own way. I think of this mode of writing as power-with rather than power-over. Sarah Kofman, French philosopher, took her own life on October 15, 1994 at age 60. This is made in memory of her work.
Teri Hoskin is undertaking a year long retreat at Noela Hjorth Residency at Clarendon in the Southern Adelaide Hills. http://too-also.com
Teri Hoskin has worked in the visual arts since the 80's as an artist, curator and writer, publisher, designer and educator. She was the editor,...