For weeks after my Dad died I saw the world as if I were seeing it through his eyes. My Dad was a painter in love with seeing beauty. In his absence, the world glowed with colour and light, and for the first time, I fully appreciated all the subtle ways he had taught me to see what was around me. Years later while the Gospers Mountain fire burned, I picked a small vase off my window-sill, there in its absence was a silhouette marked out in the ash; at that moment I saw all the trees, the animals, and insects present in the ash. Looking deeply at the space left by the vase, my windowsill became both a world and a columbarium*.
Recently I walked through that burnt-out landscape near my home in the Blue Mountains and heard nothing: no birdsong, no flies, no hum of insects marked out against the rustle of leaves. In the absence of any sound, I keenly understood all that nature had freely offered, it was gone, and I am heartbroken.
I now understand my distraction, my narrow domestic vision of life, and the fear that holds me apart from looking deeply at what is an apocalypse in slow motion. If we run away from the profound loss that is to be looked at and felt, we have lost our pathway to redemption and will miss the chance to conserve and protect what remains.
My work hopes to widen the gaze, to look deeply into the things that we instinctively may want to shy away from, so that we can collectively grieve and hopefully move forward with greater compassion and wisdom.
Beth Norling, 2020
*Columbarium: a place for holding the cremated ashes of many as opposed to a mausoleum, which holds the remains of only one.