I Was Here Once, I Am Here Still.

A story for my children. 

Once upon a longtime I lived here in this place. I am small like you. In the forest I played hide and seek with my brothers. On the beach I danced and laughed with my sisters. We squeaked the sand and listened to the music of the sea. By the river and on the rise we sang. Song was our law, our lessons, our boundaries and our history. Songs told us who we were and showed us our place. Songs were our rules; songs and dreamings. No policemen, no walls or fences; just a place of songs and dreamings.

It was an elegant place and beautiful. Some would say we lived simply in it, and to those who don’t know the workings of it, I suppose we did. It was simple to us; as simple as being. But it would not be simple to pass on everything you are born knowing. You were not born with this knowledge, but I will give you something of it here. We did not have your televisions or your computers or your tall buildings or fast roads and wheels. We didn’t have the noises and smells and syndromes of your world. We didn’t want for manufactured things. What we had was our dreaming and our song and our land.

I have said the songs gave us teachings and law; our land gave us life. My mother and father knew all there is to know about our land, and what she needs to be happy. They cared for her and she cared for us. They heard the stirrings of the plants and trees, they read the signs of the seasons, the cycles of  land, the nature of fruits. And so they knew what would feed us and when. They would not make demands, but nurture the land’s offerings, so that upon them we could all feast.

They did not have bulldozers or tractors or chemical sprays, and if they did, they would never have harmed our mother land with such things. Their best farming tool was fire: with fire they helped our land in her cycles. Burning at just the right time meant that new things could be born from the earth, to grow up and all around. To say thank you, the grateful land would give us shelter from winter, food to her branches and animals to her woodlands. In her oceans and rivers she would bring us fish. We would catch the animals and fish and birds and reptiles we needed to eat; we would collect shell fish from the rocks and prepare the woodland roots and berries and leaves. We were never hungry. Everyone – people and land and all living things were growing and healthy and happy.

Then one day some strange men came to our land by boat. My father called them the boat people.  I called them the ghost men because they crossed into us without song and were so pale I thought they must surely be ghosts. I was frightened and hid amongst the trees with my sisters and brothers. When our mother called us back to her, she told us that the ghost men were not fearsome but friendly. They brought us dogs to help us hunt for food. I liked the dogs, especially the pups, but the ghosts made me feel cold and I was glad when they went away.

The ghosts came back too soon. This time they talked with our men and asked them to give over some of our land to them. They told us to keep our people in one small valley. Our men told them we could not stay in one small valley because we needed to keep moving, to rest the land from our takings. So the ghosts became angry and shouting. They became fearsome indeed, with short shining spears that cracked into the sky with noise enough to scatter us. In fear for their people, our men agreed, but they were bitter indeed.

We kept to the small valley but two of our men had bitterness that filled their hearts with rage. And when they saw ploughs cutting into our land – the beloved land that kept us – they raised their spears in anger, and brought a ghost-man down dead.

It was all terror then. Our two men were killed by the shining spears of the ghost men, which cracked into them and made their blood flow across the earth. The ghosts dragged them away from us and away from the land that could take them back and keep them among us, forever safe. We did not know where their bodies were taken and what might happen to their souls without their mother land. One of those men was my father. I cried for him, and I cried for my mother who never laughed again. Sometimes, at the memory, I cry still.

We stayed there for a time, on our little piece of land, quiet as we could be. We had enough to eat but without our fire cycles we could not replenish the land and things would surely run dry. We were forbidden to cross the land to the sea and it’s oysters and fish. Our people were very worried.

Then one day a ghost-man came and smiled at us and spoke our language. My mother smiled back at him but still I felt cold. This man asked us if we wanted to travel with him to a place where shearwater eggs were plentiful – an island to the north. There was talk for a time, then we were told to move. We went aboard a boat. We – the children  – were happy. The eggs of the shearwater bird were a treat, like your sweets. We laughed and sang as the boat rocked. The smiling ghost man sang with us.

On the island, there were no shearwater birds and no eggs. And when the ghost man sent the boat away with it’s skipper, he told us we would not be returning to our land for a while, that this – this country that knew us not at all – was our new home. And welcome. Welcome.

There were others there, others who had been betrayed and taken from their land. We clustered together and begged the ghost man to take us home. He assured us he would – one day soon. Soonday did not come, and many of our number grew ill. We found what food we could, we sheltered one another and sang our songs. But our voices were weak, and we hadn’t the heart to dance.

My baby sister was the first to die. Even by the sound of my mothers’ cry were the ghost-men unmoved. I have said, our land gave us life; without her, sickness would come. It came to all of us in one way or another. Many of us died. And when my mother finally breathed her last, broken breath, I let the rising cold take me too.

I am back here now, back with my mother country. The sickness has left me, and so has the cold. I know that my father is here too, and all my family, and that my mother has found a way to laugh. You might have heard her – up-up on the wind? You are here with us too. I watch you, I watch you with my changing land.

There is such drama, such mayhem in your world, such speed. But you are a child like me, and I know you can find me here. You can stop and watch and see me in the trees, in the river, in the hills. I am hiding but you can find me. You can hear me in the waves and in the rain. I will wait for you to see me. And I will wait for you to know what I know: that this land – yours and mine – will love you and care for you easily when you find her ways. But you must see in her your best friend, your mother, your songs.

I am here, I will help you, I will be your friend. If you can know me, all will be well.

Categories: Bonnet Bees, Stories & Poems


2 replies

  1. So beautiful, tragic and true, Meg.


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