Natural AestheticsVIRUS 2020

25 September VIRUS 2020

25 September VIRUS 2020

We accidentally found a whole new genus of Australian daisies. You’ve probably seen them on your bushwalks. The Conversation

The Extraordinary Ways That Animals Sleep. There are dozers, dreamers, nappers and hardcore dead-to-the-worlders. BBC earth newsletter

To fully understand why droughts begin, persist and end, we need to answer the question: where does Australia’s rainfall come from? It may seem basic, but the answer isn’t so simple. The Conversation

‘Sliding towards extinction’: koala may be given endangered listing as numbers plummet. The Guardian

Marine heatwaves are human-made. Heatwaves in the world’s oceans have become over 20 times more frequent due to human influence. Science X Newsletter

Forest fight: Mayor King calls on Forestry Corporation to do things differently. Coffs Coast News

Bird Cruelty at Moonee Beach. Coffs Coast News[1]

Call for Urban Koala Report. Coffs Coast News[2]

Legal Perspective on Koala Protection: Sue Higginson [environmental lawyer] says that normal framing practices are not under threat. Coffs Coast News

Researchers show conscious processes in birds’ brains for the first time. By measuring brain signals, a neuroscience research group at the University of Tübingen has demonstrated for the first time that corvid songbirds possess subjective experiences. Science X Newsletter[3]

The surprising organisation of avian brains. Science X Newsletter[4]

I leave in the night as Figbirds start waking the lake next door,
the town is snoozing, I climb the rocks alone.
Turner’s Beach – what is its real Yaegl name?
Eos sticks to the horizon, between us the undulations
remind me of school physics and waves
and why fish don’t get seasick. I clamber the easy rocks I’d have loved
as a challenge as a child, a thin red line is pinned to the Eastern flood
white points of light are fishing, beacon reds mark the breakwater,
the lighthouse above is advertised in blue – Eos is a mirror,
an orifice of liquid time, liquid light washes our mineral hearts.
I think of Rod who we are staying with, setting up a centre
for mental health, exhausted doing it all by himself, linking
with the existing services and working closely with Yaegl elders.
I suggested he use natural aesthetics, the therapy of bird song,
bush walks and being immersed in nature – he was already there.
The nor-east corner positions an orifice, a black hole sucking
in excess sea then vomiting out white foam, dangerous energy
we live with, blood surging through the Daoist way, form appearing
and dissolving continuously, our cells dividing and the damaged
ones scavenged in the order of things, skin breached, repaired
succumbing, the cycle of life and death on display below me
ever two seconds. The ocean playing both yin and yang.

Triassic-Jurassic sedimentary sandstone wears infinite variation,
smooth rocks are partly pitted, honeycombed weathering
where salt crystals replaced sand particles then dissolved,
the wind smashed sand grains back in sandblasting cavities.
Joints filled with mineral solutions have laid thin straight walls
of harder rock in boxwork weathering and rocks wedged with conglomerates, cannonballs of stone, sculptures!
Then there’s unusual smooth grey pillows of siltstone rock. Endless transformations of the autonomous world,
endless rehearsals, and one, one day will have ramifications.

The everlasting universe of things
Flows through the mind . . .
Shelley, Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni


We leave a day early, Wyn not feeling well, stop off at Sawtell
swallow the view all over again, feeling happy, Nuungu Mirral
across the bay, the water and sky as blue as the mountains.

I don’t want to think of the future, prefer to touch each day
as best I can, each day extraordinary, and ordinary.
Mountains were venerated in China and there were various sacred mountains, Taist and Buddhist where qi energy was concentrated. Thus mountains became important in Chinese art and were represented in Chinese gardens by rocks.

In the Romantic thrill of the sublime, mountains were frightening:
‘Mont Blanc yet gleams on high:—the power is there,
The still and solemn power of many sights,
And many sounds, and much of life and death.’ Shelley, Mont Blanc, Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni’ 1816.[5]

‘Mont Blanc’ is a direct response to Coleridge’s ‘Hymn Before Sun-Rise, in the Vale of Chamouni’ and its take on benevolent nature (but then Coleridge wrote the poem after climbing Scafell Pike in the Lake District in 1802 – the title is a cheat). [6]

John Ruskin’s first exhilarating view of the Alps was, ‘not only the revelation of the beauty of the earth, but the opening of the first page of its volume .  . . the only days I can look back to as, according to the powers given me, rightly or wisely in entireness spent, have been in sight of Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa, or the Jungfrau.’[7]

Victor Frankenstein represents a Romantic ideal combining imagination and deep feelings with curiosity and innovation: ‘I resolved to go alone to the summit of Montanvert. I remembered the effect that the view of the tremendous and ever-moving glacier had produced upon my mind when I first saw it. It had then filled me with a sublime ecstasy . . .’ Mary Shelley[8]

Preparing to climb Mt. Tai
All around me, Zhao and Jiang, a distant blue
Good Fortune, the God of Time, bestows and
Balanced in dawn’s early light are Yin and Yang. . .
Du Fu (died 770), ‘Gazing at the mountain’
The sacred Mount Taishan (shan means ‘mountain’) is the most famous sacred mountain of the five in China and is a Daoist place of pilgrimage. Jade Emperor Peak on the mountain is the holiest of Taoist pilgrimage destinations in China. It is also significant for Buddhists.

Taihu Rocks

Bai Juyi, poet and Prefect of Suzhou (died 846), found two weird rocks in a lake that intrigued him (so the story goes). He brought them home and wrote a poem called ‘A Pair of Rocks’: ‘Their appearance is grotesque and ugly.’[9] He doesn’t talk of mountains, but has a Daoist sense that rocks can communicate the powerful forces that created them, and then eroded them. He warns that collecting such rocks is addictive.

The most treasured rocks (and very expensive) were Tai rocks or Taihu, from Taihu Lake near Suzhou. Typically, these rocks are hard, glossy with hollows and twisted peaks. By the Tang Dynasty (618 – 906 CE) an aesthetic for garden rocks was formalised with three key features:

  1. shou thin, vertical stones and top heavy;
  2. tou refers to open holes and cavities in a rock; and
  3. zhou refers to wrinkled erosions on the surface, such as crags, furrows, striations, or pitting.

Mi Fu, a famous 12th C writer, artist and philosopher of the Northern Song dynasty wrote a treatise on the rocks that added another aesthetic quality, lou which are cracks and channels in the rock. There was a huge demand so limestone rocks were drilled into and then immersed in the lake and exposed to erosion from the sand and water.

Smaller decorative stones for indoors became known as gongshi. This interest spread to Japan and Korea and continues today. Rocks are beautiful, but that aesthetic was only explored in the East.


[1] ‘I have had to warm off a number of kids and adults for throwing stones at the nesting birds and otherwise interfering with them.’ Ern Mercer, p20.

[2] ‘. . . following recently recorded deaths of several koalas, including breeding females, on local roads . . . [from] an estimated resident population of only 50 individual koalas.’ Dave Wood, p21.

[3] Published in the journal Science, 24.9.2020.

[4] ‘Ravens recognize themselves in the mirror and plan for the future. They are also able to put themselves in the position of others, recognize causalities and draw conclusions. Pigeons can learn English spelling up to the level of six-year-old children.’

[5] ‘Thou hast a voice, great Mountain, to repeal / Large codes of fraud and woe; not understood/ By all, but which the wise, and great, and good/ Interpret, or make felt, or deeply feel.’ ‘Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni’. Shelley writes: ‘the poem was composed under the immediate impression of the deep and powerful feelings excited by the objects which it attempts to describe; and, as an undisciplined overflowing of the soul, rests its claim to approbation on an attempt to imitate the untameable wildness and inaccessible solemnity from which those feelings sprang.’ Preface, Mary Shelley’s History of a Six Weeks Tour (1817).

[6] Though Coleridge did climb Broad Stand alone, ‘in what probably ranks as the first

recorded act of mountaineering adventure in Britain.’ Chris Smith, Wordsworth and the Mountains. In The Prelude Wordsworth describes walking across the Alps and past Mont Blanc.

[7] John Ruskin, Praeterita, 1888-1889. ‘In later years, he came to regard the mountain, and especially Mont Blanc, as a retreat, a land ready to harbour his shattered mind, a place in which to be again at home with the world.’ Laurence Roussillon-Constanty, ‘In Sight of Mont Blanc: an Approach to Ruskin’s Perception of the Mountain’, Caliban, 23, 2008.

[8] Chapter 2 of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818)

[9] ‘Gongshi’,

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