“So it is possible then! To be a mother, and to have your dreams?!”
“YES!” I smiled to my young Finnish backpacker friend. I came across Sami upriver in the bush in the middle of nowhere, when I had gone looking for a treasured knife I had left behind on a recent solo kayaking expedition. Sami gave me a lift back to my car and we exchanged life stories in about 20 mins as we bumped along the dirt road in his van. His second-language-summation of my offering made me smile.
In my family, everyone’s dreams are valid. Everyone’s dreams are worthy of equal support. When I gave birth to my sons nearly seven and four years ago, my vision wasn’t vanquished, it slowly began to crystallise. In my journey of identity I realised I didn’t trade my life for each of theirs. I brought life, and it added to mine exponentially. The key I have found, is to dream together, but to take turns bringing individual dreams to fruition. To take turns in the lights, and on the cheer squad.
I’ve been back on the cheer squad supporting my husband and sons for four months now since I completed my personal goal, a 400km solo kayaking expedition navigating one of Australia’s most powerful waterways, the Clarence River. From its source high in the Great Diving Range in QLD to where it empties into the Coral Sea inside the South Pacific Ocean in Northern NSW. For 14 days I sustained my life from the river and the land, and although I didn’t plan it, the kindness of strangers who wanted to give what they could to be a part of my journey. I overcame many challenges to paddle in to the waiting arms of my family, including a fractured arm suffered in an accident on day two of the expedition. The physical and mental challenges were ever present but it was the spiritual and emotional revelations that proved the refining kiln as a woman and mother.
In preparing for this trip I undertook bush survival and navigation courses, spent time learning with indigenous elders and locals, and clocked up countless kilometres on the water kayaking. For two years I grew into the person I needed to be to achieve my dream and my sons were with me almost every step of the way, learning as I was learning, growing as I was growing. It took careful planning, commitment and discipline to create the faith and trust in myself and in the hearts of my family, to make it safely home. I was dropped off in the middle of nowhere in the mountains with very little food and water and fought my way back through some of the thickest, toughest and harshest country Australia has to offer to my home, the sea. While I sat under the stars by my fire every night I wrote in my journal. Among the many reflections and revelations that flowed, several salient lessons came to me which I hope in sharing, are helpfully resonant. Here are 10 things Mother Nature taught me about motherhood:
1. GROWING IS GIVING
When a mother grows she feeds her family. The journey of identity after becoming a mother felt like being in a maze. I found myself aimlessly running in a million different directions hitting dead end after dead end. A woman is a well. She nourishes best when she is fresh and abundant. Society often punishes a mother for replenishing her well. It is my conviction that this cannot stand. At the bottom of a well is mud, debris, and darkness. How can that sustain life? To refill ourselves, to seek a life of passion, not as a priority over our families, but in service of our families – is an act of altruism. Mother Nature has taught me that to grow is to give.
2. GO WITH NATURE
On my recent kayaking expedition I navigated a stretch of river that I had been numerously warned about as a solo woman because of the heightened human threat. The river was an impenetrable tangle of gnarled wood and rock, and virtually unnavigable in many parts. I ended up arriving at the beginning of the stretch at nightfall. I camped in the river with no fire that night, and cleared the section the following morning under complete cover of the fog. Mother Nature has taught me to go with her, to not resist but to channel and flow; to accept her discipline and protection, and to use her power to my advantage.
3. STAY CURIOUS
Cultivating a curious mind is a tunnel to joy. Children are born this way. They experience euphoric joy, from a lady-beetle landing on their hand, or a grasshopper pouncing onto their shirt. Children see the miracles adults become immune to. I prepared for my recent expedition for two years and took my children with me for as much of my training as possible. Screens cannot engage a child’s senses. I wanted them to learn the old ways and realised that I needed to know it so I could show them. Their growth through my adventure pursuits has been my greatest joy. Mother Nature has taught me that when you are curious you can find meaning and appreciate beauty, finding happiness in moments otherwise easily missed. There are miracles in the seemingly mundane.
4. PERCEPTION SHIFT
As a girl the river was the object of my boredom. Often I felt taken out by the tide, as though I had no control over my destiny. As a woman I created it. I rode its waters alone, from its source high in the Great Dividing Range in QLD, 400km to where it meets the Coral Sea and South Pacific Ocean in Northern NSW on the adventure of a lifetime. It was the same body of water. It was under my nose all along. But everything had changed. I saw it differently. Mother Nature taught me that if you see things differently, they are different; that if you change your lens, you change your life.
5. BE STILL
One particularly good day of paddling I covered a lot of the river without having to get in and out of my kayak to climb and drag. I paddled for hours on end without changing the position of my body and was awestruck to look down and find that a spider had spun its entire web and had made its home peacefully between my knees. Mother Nature taught me that stillness creates the space for life.
6. THE PRICE OF INDECISION
On the river I learned that there is no such thing as not deciding. When there was a boulder in my path, and the water was hurling me at it, not choosing to paddle hard right or left was choosing to hit the boulder head on. Mother Nature has taught me to step into difficulty with courage, to be decisive, and to back myself.
7. CROSS CHECK
One night, after building a beautiful camp, I went to bed at 830pm. Two hours later I awoke with a start as the plovers nearby began a frantic warning call. Acting on instinct, I perceived a threat and immediately broke camp. By 11pm I was packed up and on the river paddling off into the pitch black fog. My headlamp was useless in the fog so I switched it off and let my eyes adjust to the night. At one point whilst I was looking at my map, my kayak spun a gentle 180 degrees and I paddled 300m back up the river. After three hours of paddling blindly into the night the water started pulling away from me and I started getting sucked sideways and backwards. I charged hard against it and didn’t stop paddling until I hit land. Sometimes our instincts operate to our detriment. The safer option would have been to stop and remember that I was in a safe camp and that paddling blind on the river is literal madness. Mother Nature has taught me to not override intuition but to cross check it with logic, and to cross check logic with my intuition.
8. BALANCE AND PATTERN INTERRUPTS
In the tangle of motherhood I dreamed longingly of peace and quiet, of a fire built with my hands, lying beneath the diamond canopy of the night sky. On night number six of my expedition I got it. Exactly the way I had dreamed. The nature of the previous six days had been very serious navigating, with very little pause for enjoyment. This night, when I slowly raised my eyes to the stars, I gasped, dropped my head and immediately covered my eyes. I didn’t look back at the night sky until several nights later. The magnanimity of the universe I lay within was too beautiful to take in without my loved ones. In that moment I realized that it is possible to be too wild. I became human again, and I was completely in love with it. Mother Nature taught me balance, and that regular pattern interrupts can negate radical change.
9. DAILY BREAD
In my search for authenticity and digging behind who I was and what I was standing for, I decided to do my expedition solo unsupported, surviving solely off the river and the land. I learned how to hunt and trap, how to forage, source water and survive in harsh conditions. I connected with our indigenous heritage and learned old ways of living. The river provided for me the entire way down, but not in the way I expected. Our concept of ‘daily bread’ can be quite conditional. One day a farmer I met, without knowing I didn’t have any food, gave me a packet of 2 minute noodles. That night as I went to the water’s edge to wash out my saucepan, my headlamp lit up the water and swimming peacefully below me were three turtles and an eel. I sat with them and fed them the rest of my dinner. It was transcendental to watch them gently eating my food knowing they might otherwise have been my food themselves. That night the river provided for me in another way. Mother Nature has taught me to only take what I need.
10. UNDOING CONDITIONING
One beautiful day about a week into my expedition I realised I was making good time for the day. I rounded the corner to a beautiful section of the river with sweeping bends of sandy beaches. I pulled over to the bank, pulled my hair out and took off all of my clothes. A galvanising beauty washed over me as I stepped into the river. A baptism, as I sunk beneath the surface and lay on the river stones. Mother Nature gives me the freedom to simply be, free of the boxes society tries to fit me inside. It is the blank canvas of my becoming and accepts me for who I am, in turn empowering me to accept myself and others as they are. Mother Nature is my greatest role model, espousing wisdoms I most hope to emulate in my own journey as a mother, channelling and guiding the flow of my sons.