Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Stoicism for Beginners

There is tomato sauce on my dining room ceiling due to the incident with the exploding sauce bottle. There is brown poster paint on the floor due to the Grade 7 history project.

The weeds that were ankle high last week are knee high this week and will be waist high next week. There is mould in the refrigerator vegie drawer. I accidentally left the sauerkraut in the sun, and it too developed an exciting mould. The builder stepped on a tray of germinating seeds, and every time he turns up he discovers another problem with the roof or drains which will involve tearing up half the garden and maybe selling one of the children to pay for it. In other words, it is situation completely normal.

I am sitting by the open window with a gentle breeze blowing in, watching the evening sunlight glow golden on the garden, ignoring the paint, the sauce, the mould, the weeds, the dirt, the things I haven't done, the things I have done and maybe shouldn't have, and enjoying the bees and the flowers, and the golden light on the spiders' webs that festoon the dining room windows.

This week I am reading the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius was Roman Emperor from AD161 until his death in AD180. For many of those years he fought on the borders of the Empire, commanding his legions and living in camp with them. He was the most important man in the Empire, and yet he believed that fame and power were worthless. Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic. His writings were really notes to self, reminding himself to live a good life and accept what comes. The Stoics taught themselves to live cheerfully whatever their circumstances, to live the simplest life they could, and they believed that much unhappiness stems from restlessly desiring what is out of reach. Their motto might have been: be thankful for what you have, and find the good in it.

Marcus Aurelius began his Meditations with a list of the people who had taught him how to live a good life. Is this maybe the first example of an author acknowledgement page in literature? I am going to use this post to acknowledge my mum, who will soon be celebrating her 70th birthday. It was she who taught me how to appreciate tiny beautiful things. Throughout my childhood she would point out patterns on bugs, flowers made up of other, tiny flowers, dew drops on spiders' webs. She also modelled the importance of appreciating trees, sunsets and good books before worrying about doing the cleaning. Thanks, Mum :)

I like the Stoic philosophy. I would like to be more focussed on inward calm than outward stressors. I don't actually have a life full of big worrying problems, for which I am very thankful. I will practice being thankful for what I have, and being calm about the daily annoyances. Bees and the sunset are easy to be thankful for, and there is possibly even some good in the drainage situation, although I have to admit, I am still looking for it..

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Convict Cemetery

Convict Cemetery in Launceston. A quiet field under the blue sky.

For twenty years or so I have been winding my way up or down a particular hill in Launceston on a semi-regular basis. However, it wasn't until about eighteen months ago that I noticed the sign on a small side road that reads 'Convict Cemetery'. This intrigued me, but it wasn't until last week that I finally found myself with sufficient free time in front of me as I drove down the hill, that I turned off to find out more.

As it happens, I still know little more. The only information provided by the council is a board that reads, you guessed it, Convict Cemetery. Well, yes, but you know, who, what how, when.. I guess the where has been covered. A double row of bricks has been set into the path with the names and details of the convicts who are presumably buried here. I imagine that, at a guess, they have been inscribed by the pupils at the local primary school. This is a charming idea, but not much help if you happen to be doing genealogical research, as many of them are completely illegible. Here is one of the clearest:

Dennis Bien
Age: 23
Ship: Starts with a B
Date of something or other:1848
Sentence: 14 years

Dennis, whose name was maybe actually spelt Denis? To go with his French surname?
I just did some internet research, and the only convict with a similar name who arrived in Van Diemen's Land around 1848 is a Denis Brien. See? This is why you don't get eight year olds to preserve historical data. But it might not be Denis Brien at all. His ship, Boddingtons, as it turns out, arrived in New South Wales in 1793, which is rather early for a death in Launceston in 1848. If that is indeed a death date. And when Denis Brien's age is mentioned, is it the age he was when he died, or when he was transported? So many questions. This is why I am going to be a gardener, not a genealogist.

So let us turn from the cemetery to the woods. There is actually a perfect small forest next to the cemetery.

There is a pine grove, some beautiful oaks,

a thicket of elms.

It's like the Hundred Acre Wood, but it is a one or maybe two acre wood. A perfect pocket of verdant treeness in the middle of the city, and I never knew it was there.

The moral of this story is, always explore down the road that is signposted 'Convict Cemetery'.

In a similar adventure I got lost at a TAFE campus this morning, but in the unregarded tiny parking bay where I ended up, I found a plum and an apple tree. Always a silver lining. Maybe I will remember to head back there in the autumn and pick some well-educated fruit..

Also at the Convict Cemetery - olive trees. Worth a visit in the winter..