“Very few beings really seek knowledge in this world. Mortal or immortal, few really ask. On the contrary, they try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds — justifications, confirmations, forms of consolation without which they can’t go on. To really ask is to open the door to the whirlwind. The answer may annihilate the question and the questioner.” ~ Anne Rice, The Vampire Lestat
The next installment in my Kimberley Story…
Many years ago, when I lived in the remote Outback on a million acre cattle station at the top end of Western Australia I learned a number of important lessons. One of them was about questions and answers.
It took me a while to understand the etiquette involved in directing a question to an Aboriginal Elder. At first I just did what I’d always done. I looked the person in the eye and said exactly what was on my mind. Politely, of course. Respectfully. I would then wait for my answer. If they seemed to misunderstand I would reform the question in my mind and ask again in a slightly different way.
Somehow that didn’t work for me once I moved to the bush.
One of the first things I did was ask the Aboriginal Stockman what was so important about me seeing owls. At night I watched the owls as they came to the trees around our campfire. If I went on a moonlit walk they followed me. Owls had suddenly become a big part of my life.
He ‘hmmphed’ at me and turned on his heel, slouching off in the opposite direction. My question? Ignored. After that I was too shy for a long time to ask again.
As I became comfortable with Aunty and Grandmother, two Aboriginal Elders who came visiting, I decided I needed to ask about the owls once more. I was seeing so many of them now. There were usually seven at the camp fire each evening, sometimes nine. Two always followed me as I made my way back to my room or out for a walk with my dog. It seemed a bit weird.
“Aunty?” I started one afternoon as we drank tea in the shade of a big tree near the camp kitchen. “Can you tell me about the owls?”
Aunty ignored me. She sipped her strong sweet tea and scuffed dirt with her toe. After a while she took a hard gingernut biscuit and dunked it in her tea before slurping at it noisily.
I tried again. “Aunty, I did ask the stockman about it. I asked him several times in fact, but he won’t tell me.” I looked across at her but I couldn’t catch her eye.
Grandmother, who was much younger than Aunty, nudged my arm. “Not his place.” Her voice was gruff with disapproval. “Dat question for you to ask women. Dat question women’s business. You rude girl to ask him. Make him feel very uncomfortable.”
My cheeks burned with embarrassment. I’d made a huge cultural gaff. “I didn’t know! Oh goodness, I’m so sorry. I should go and say sorry at once.”
I stood up, and Aunty put her hand on my arm. “Sit, girl.” She laughed softly. “You aren’t to know our ways.” She went back to dunking biscuits in her tea. After a long silence she said, “Hurry-hurry answers no good for a big question.”
“Is it a big question?” I asked stupidly.
Aunty reached for another biscuit. She dunked it in her very sweet milky tea, turned it and dunked it again. Then slowly she nibbled around the edges in a neat circle. The remaining biscuit she placed on her spoon, lowering it into her mug of tea and watching it carefully. After a few more minutes she brought it to her mouth and slurped the soggy mess with great satisfaction.
I sighed. We weren’t getting anywhere.
“Aunty, I keep seeing owls. The Stockman asks me how many I see but he won’t tell me anything about it. No-one will tell me anything about it. Why is it important? Why is how many I see important?”
She put up her hand to stop me talking. “Girl, stop askin’ dem questions. Listen!” The old lady then resumed her biscuit dunking.
Listen? To what? No-one was talking. In the background I could hear the hum of the station’s big diesel generator. In the kitchen Cookie was clanking pots and pans and whistling badly to some tune on the radio. Down in the yards one of the men was breaking in a horse and I could hear the occasional crack of a whip. The afternoon breeze rustled the leaves above us.
I was really getting frustrated with this cultural divide. Why wouldn’t they talk to me?
“Need more tea,” Aunty finally said.
I took the empty pot into the kitchen, and was surprised when Grandmother followed me. “Girl, let me teach you how to do proper asking. Okay?” Her eyes were kind.
“Aunty a very old lady now. Elder for our mob. She holds many many things inside her. Big job to do that. You want to ask something? Go up to her, not looking in her face. That shows respect. If she sits, sit beside her, facing same way, looking out. If she stands, stand beside her. Not too close. Look out like she is looking out. Then ask your question.”
I’d been doing it all wrong. I felt sick with shame.
“One more thing,” Grandmother stopped me in the doorway. “If your question little question, not very important, Aunty tell you straight up. But if question big-time question, big important one for you, she make you wait so you will respect the answer. If it’s not your question she say nothing at all. She just look away. If not your time she look down. That tell you one day it can be your answer but not now.”
I wrestled the information in my head. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear. It wasn’t how I’d been brought up. I grew up with teachers and libraries, encyclopedias and dictionaries. I’d been encouraged to learn, and to seek answers everywhere. I was used to information on demand, or as a result of how hard I worked. How could I succeed in a system where I couldn’t make things happen as and when I wanted them to happen?
Banging through the screen door I brought the teapot back out to the table. Aunty was still sitting in her chair, so I dragged mine around to her side of the table. I looked out to where some lorikeets were playing noisily in a blossom-laden tree.
I poured more tea and we watched the birds. I waited, agonizingly patiently, before starting again. When I spoke I looked out at the birds, and kept my voice calm and moderate. “Aunty, why are the owls important?”
She blinked and nodded her head slightly, indicating that she’d heard me.
“Well?” I wanted to yell. “Why can’t you just tell me?!!!” But of course I didn’t. I sat there patiently all afternoon.
Aunty never gave me an answer that day. When they said goodbye she put her warm hand on my front, over my heart. “You got to listen. Dat big heart of yours can listen. Dat heart know tings. Too much head, too much hurry-hurry no good. No good for you.”
As I lay in bed that night all I could think was that somehow my question was a ‘big-time’ question. But she hadn’t looked away, and she hadn’t looked down. She WAS going to give me an answer. Not in my time though. In her time.
How long would it take?
To be continued…
19 thoughts on “Girl, stop askin’ dem questions. Listen!”
Hi Nicole, I stumbled across your blog last night, while searching for the answers to my own questions about owls. I too have felt the significance of owls in my life, beginning a few years back with a really strange coincidence. One night while driving home I noticed a white owl on the road in front of my car, just sitting staring, ghostly looking, and I had to swerve to avoid it. I had never seen anything like it, it was just around the corner from my house, and i did a u turn to check if I’d been seeing things as it just felt so strange, but when i turned there was no sign of it anywhere. I drove around the corner and pulled up at home, and as I got out the car the sky looked really creepy, dark clouds swirling, and I had the most eerie feeling. I couldn’t get inside fast enough, and the feeling lingered that night, though not as intensely as it had been when outside looking at the sky that night. The next morning I woke to a phone call from a friend, informing me that a mutual friend of ours had lost his life in a car crash that night, and that it had happened right around the corner from my house. I think the time of my seeing the owl and the time of the car crash were very close, and the last text message I ever received from the guy who had lost his life that night was about five minutes before the owl crossed my path. I confided in my friend about seeing the owl that night, about the eerie feeling I’d had, and how I’d come to feel that the events were connected somehow. I told my friend I was a little freaked out by it all, as I’d started googling for info and had come across a lot of negative stuff about owls being a symbol for the Illuminati (first time I’d heard of them and the New World Order etc), or that they can be messengers/harbingers of death. My friend replied “well I’m going to freak you out even more, I’m sorry.” And she went on to tell me that the last time she’d spoken to our friend, before he lost his life in the accident, he had been telling her about an owl that had flown into his car window while driving, and that he’d been trying to shoo it out the wimdow but it just kept flapping around inside the car for ages causing chaos while driving. My jaw dropped, but then my friend opened up about her belief that we all have spirit animals, that hers is the dragonfly, and that perhaps mine is the owl. She said dragonflies always show up for her at times when her faith is shaken, when her soul needs a lift, or when she feels spirit is close. When we attended the funeral together I was amazed to turn around about half way through and see my friend behind me surrounded by her spirit animal, there were suddenly dragonflies absolutely everywhere, more than I’d ever seen in my life. After that, I began seeing owls absolutely everywhere, and seem to have developed a strong connection with birds. I’ve come across quite a lot of injured or trapped birds in recent times that I have rescued and helped , earning me nicknames like Bird Woman or Owl Woman, and even causing others to call me for help or advice when they’ve come across birds in need of help. Anyway, I still have questions, and am especially interested in your story and whether you received any answers from your Aunty. Is there a follow up post yiu could direct me to at all? Your writing is amazing and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading through your posts. Thank you for your beautiful sharing, you have a true gift.
thanks nicole for the continuing installment of the kimberly story. i waited 2 days to read as i like to linger over your stories!
Been learning lately how to live from my heart. 🙂 Beautiful resonant story. Thank you for sharing it.
Now you’re making this white girl wait! Well? What happened? 🙂
I am learning patience myself but my hurry hurry mind wants to see part two! xo
I really, really, really adore this post! So much wisdom! And a real hindsight into a beautiful culture! Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for sharing the wisdom these two powerful women taught you. I wonder what Aunty would think of Google?!
I love this blog because it means that you have turned that corner and for now are not befuddled. Thank you for this lovely bed time storey Nx
I’ve waited all day to read this…smilin’ from ear to ear…love the bit about nibbling around the edges of a dunked gingernut…and dishing out the last soggy centre…bit like life hey! nibbling off the crunchy bits to final get to our centre…XOXO
love this and all your blogs/posts… thankyou <3
Sublime..if I were you ……I would of course have been tempted to stand up, place hands firmly on hips whilst growling or making some such impatient noise before striding off into the bush in one hell of a strop! Patience in the face of adorable nonchalance with a good measure of elder wisdom. How wonderful. Patience that’s how we eventually find the diamond in the muck. The last image f the aboriginal woman (as always like the quotes ) is more than beatiful
Loved this, it was a truly lovely post I want to read more
You see, patience! Must slow down and check spelling! 😜
Aaaah, so now you make wait, oh wise one, so that I may trul feel into the essence of your story! So a deep breath and I will wait patiently for tomorrow’s blog! Bless you, beautiful one, be well! Love Sue 💜xxx
Beautiful post and I love the part of telling you to get out of your head (no idea why that may have resonated, no sirree, not at all). Beautiful storytelling. A GORGEOUS way to start my weekend. xo
I love your aunties. I love how you describe respect. This is a perfect description of all questions and answers we seek from human and non human guides. Totally hooked – tanks! sx
Very excited to be back in the Outback, immersed in your soul-filling experiences. Thank you for sharing your magical journey with me, with others. Blessings x
This is beautiful on so many levels…Wow, I can’t wait to read more! Lessons on love, patience, respect, shame, owls…I’m hooked. Thank you for a delightful adventure in my afternoon…
You’re welcome. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂 xx