‘How are we to live?’ author/poet Angela Rockel posits in the penultimate of sixty chapters in her memoir cum essay: ‘Rogue Intensities’. By this point a superfluous question since she has eloquently answered it in the preceding 325 pages. Sixty chapters because each one corresponds to a month in five calendar years diarising and detailing both inner and outer life, semi-subsistent, on an old farm in, I assume, the Huon valley south of Hobart. This book is, I believe, destined to become some kind of classic, what kind I’m not too sure, but I know it will savoured and passed on by lovers of literature and the natural world in an ever expanding readership. It is an amalgam, a miscellany of poetry, history, philosophy, science, all interpenetrating and bound together by the author’s singular vision, realistic and mystical.
Rockel migrates as a young woman from New Zealand to marry into a generational farming family, entering fully into her newly adopted life. She becomes an active agent in a landscape long worked over by dispossession, violence, plunder, hope, hardship, pollution, erosion, wastage, and now evolving and responding to the pressure of global climate change. She observes and describes how through all this the land endures and renews. Giving no precise co-ordinates―this could be any number of places anywhere―a confined, relatively remote farm and landscape she has come to love passionately. Love and reverence are printed on every page of this book.
In the daily and seasonal rituals she presents both an encyclopaedic and intimate knowledge of the birds, insects, reptiles, mammals, some of which co-habit with her in her writing shed, some of which she farms, and also the plant life, which she cultivates, the fruits, vegetables, flower essences. It is an enviable life gradually constructed over decades; Rockel seems almost at one with her varied varying environment.
She stares down all the terrible things we have done to the lands we have colonised, and offers the possibility of hope. Just look, she says, how the natural world can show us life is miraculous after all. Got a city-chafed soul like me? Start each morning with a chapter or two of this book and things will seem worthwhile, well at least until mid-afternoon. Highly recommended.