#AWW2016 Review – My Year Without Matches – Claire Dunn

So I’ve fallen in love with this book, and the adventure behind it.

My Year without Matches

It’s a memoir; Claire’s experiences living in the bush for 12 months in a wilderness survival program. With her tribe of 5 others (also taking part in the program) as well as organisers Kate and Sam, and a variety of other ‘elders’ – those who come to lead workshops and teach Claire and her tribe some of the finer details of living on the land: bird watching, basket weaving, pottery making, tanning hides – Claire  navigates not only the outer landscape of her new home, but also the inner landscapes of her emotions.

“Its not being alone that worries me, but the company I keep sometimes when I am alone: the characters who come out to play in the empty rooms of solitude, the shadow walkers within.” (p.160)

Following Claire’s tale fills me with the urge to head out to my own trees, my own wilderness. I’m lucky in a lot of ways – home, at the moment, is a four-acre block, about half of which is bush, and surrounded mostly by bush. The neighbours are not too far away, but not visible either. Unlike Claire who lived in Sydney prior to her escape into the wilderness, I have my own bush, literally at my backdoor, and I find myself wondering how I can duplicate her experiences, here.

But it’s not only her experiences I want to emulate, I’d love to be able to write as she does, too. Her descriptions are so crisp, so clear: “a wisp of campfire smoke, curling….”, “palest of pink dawn skies…”, “Amber spreads in an arc across the horizon as the first star appears”. Beautiful. I know this is a weakness in my own work – the lack of description, something to think about in the next polish of my manuscript.

There were so many things worth reading in Claire’s book, but I’ll leave you with two thoughts:

“Survival is violent. It demands blood and bark, burning the flesh of trees and animals alike. In the city it is hidden under packaging and buffered by distance…Here it is in my face: ugly, raw, and real. A letter arrived from a friend the other day. He asked me what I was giving back to the land. Perhaps it is this, the willingness to confront the violence that supports my life.” p. 140

and…

“The fire gives off a large crack. Mark [a local Gumbaynggirr guide] stops, a serious look coming over his round face. “What you’re doing out here is important. We gotta keep the old ways alive, and it’s not just up to blackfellas anymore. We gotta get back to Mother Earth.”… In an ideal world, Mark would stay and hold our hands as we learn to walk the old ways. He would be our bridge, passing on the customs and gestures appropriate for this land… [Because] the world needs a new  dance more than ever. It needs people who feel so inextricably linked to the Earth that to damage or destroy it is akin to ransacking the family home.” (pp. 66-67)

In a way, this latter quote is what my novel is about – learning the ways of the land from those who knew it best. Fingers crossed I’ve managed to achieve that.

 

 

 

 

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