Jaaningbirriny For A,A,A,M&W.
We bring friends back from the tavern, find torches and head into the forest beneath half a moon and a thin quilt of cloud with plentiful fissures. The rain has gone, the nippy wind collapsed, we are looking for fireflies. I see one! calls out Nettie, then an admission. A star low on the horizon is quivering between branches.
I explain they are male beetles advertising potential, but not one light is seen, we are too late, had forgotten they are a phenomenon of dusk, and no owls either. We walk back torches off, beneath the fragile net of silvered illumination, among trees taking an infinite number of poses, a calm deceleration stepping carefully between the shadows. Branches weave an infinite series of baskets, beautiful without the need for colour, with no sense buildings need to exist, and too early in the season for mosquitoes.
We pass round our recent the art books, remainders of the contents of the Prado and D’Orsay, reminders of work I doubt we’ll ever see again. Wyn makes hot chocolate, I find some chocolates, everyone is sated. I glimpse Brueghel’s’ cart of skulls and think of the three returning hunters in the snow, caught above their village passing black crows in bare black trees with their dogs and a just a fox to show for their endeavours. They look spent, and by chance, the other day I heard that fox meat is tough and stringy.
Wyn and I try hunting again as the western horizon sails into yet another night. The moon is haloed, Venus showy and the Southern Cross is tipping south. This time we find the magic, slow steady motions alternating dark and light, silent wonders passing by at head height. We keep still as if they might land on our bodies, worthy of some attempt to worship in the days of candles and oil lamps.
There is still some uncertainty of how everything works, how the cosmos existed in pitch darkness for a billion years. How the oceans will survive. Why moths are rapidly disappearing? How beetles have become the most important organism on our planet and the most successful order ever seen with over 30 million species.
What stories did the Gumbaynggirr tell their children of these tiny technicians of light? That there is a world outside of this one, rarely revealed and that we are called the talking giants by all the insects in the forest.
I have only seen Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s ‘Hunters in the Snow’ in Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna once. He painted it in 1565, the coldest winter in living memory. Glaciers cruised down into Europe and Elizabeth the First walked across the Thames.
‘Even for atheists, amongst whom I count myself, there are swathes of the unknown beyond the present reach of science and understanding. There a central question remains: are there unknowns that are unknowable?’ Martin Kemp, Visions of Heaven: Dante and the Art of Divine Light, Lund Humphries, 2021.