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On Beauty: A Letter to my Son

June 27, 2016 by

Yesterday you asked me, in that inimitable eight-year-old way of yours, if your birthplace, Australia, was the most beautiful place in the world.

Son, I was born in the most beautiful place in the world.

My first feelings were feet on soft earth, the smells of mushrooms and damp leaves rising from it. Thick trees roofed our play places, kept our secrets well in their thick, thoughtful trunks and shaded our summers carefully. Meadows and mountains were spring and summer havens, with wild, wild winters of crispy stars and bending, snow-heaped trees. A Hudson Valley autumn still stalks my dreams, apples and maples and the clever closeness of it all as it wound its way down to winter sleep.

I was born there and raised there and it was there, in that tumbling of seasons, that I intended to stay.

Now my footsteps crunch, but not with snow. It is dead grass, offspring of a long drought, that turns to dust beneath my boots.

The stock in the paddocks rely on the supplementary feed carted to them. The gauge on the water tank that holds our drinking supply slides ever lower. I scan a grey-blue horizon, squint into white light that drills through the sparse trees and sets vaporized gum-leaf oil shimmering above their crowns. I count months between rainfalls and years from the last snow. The seasons slouch along hesitantly, as if unsure whether we will welcome or reject them.

But tell me, in which other land do mini-whirlwinds whip up daily spirals of grass and leaves, making the trees dance in a cheerful corroboree? Where else have you seen the way a gum tree unfurls its tiny cup of honey preciousness, or the red, red banks crumbling their ochre secrets down into dry creek beds? Or how the gum tree’s skin holds a trunkful of the fading, golden light long after the sun has set?

Yes, son, you and I have seen this, and other things too: the warmth of the sun and of the people, the heart of a land that wants to give back what it has taken; the nutmeg smell of a crushed gum nut, and, at dusk, the earth shadow having one last chance to say goodbye.

And underneath the surface beauties of this land lies a profound toughness. I saw it yesterday in a eucalypt stump: a grey and long-gone thing, but with one strong leafy offshoot growing straight skywards out of its gnarled and spent parent. The tenacity of an ancient farmwoman who has barely managed for years, and the courage of a young one just starting out.

The daring to “give it a go” when it’s more of a give than a go.

A land where everything except laughter is sparse and carefully placed.

A land where children accept that thistles are a part of every paddock walk and wasted water is spilled gold. That sun is both friend and enemy.

I did not choose to live in this land.

By destiny it chose me.

At some point, every person who arrives here has to make the choice to love it or leave it. Without that choice, living here becomes an unbearable string of memories from the land of one’s birth.

Perhaps I love this land even more because I was not born into it. You, my child, were. You can never escape being a part of it.

With time and perspective, you will answer your question for yourself. But as for me, I know this truth: I live in the most beautiful place in the world.

The most beautiful place in the world is right now, right here. With you.


Are you in a country or place where you least expected to be? Are you able to see the beauty around you, even if it’s a different kind of beauty than you once were used to?

Thanks again to my amazing friend, Carol Drew, for allowing me to share these recent photos of landforms near Alice Springs, in the heart of “God’s Own Country.”

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About the author

Norann Voll portrait

Norann Voll

Norann Voll lived in New York’s Hudson Valley until moving to the Danthonia Bruderhof in New South Wales, Australia in 2002...

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  • This beautiful article filled my eyes with tears. Memories rushed up: of the dreams and longings of the land: both of my childhood and my present. To every transplant, every word written above is true. You have touched a long long string, that is still resonating. Thank you for writing it. A true community of poets.

    sona mason
  • Ah dear Norann, Stunning photos - yes! But also stunning prose! I love your unique and picturesque phrases. 'Wound its way down to winter sleep', 'The seasons slouch along hesitantly', The trees dance in a cheerful coroboree', 'A land where everything except laughter is sparse', 'Wasted water is spilled gold'. What a gifted writer. I love your work.

    Heather Kerridge
  • thank you for your warm heart We our family miss you all and we wish God's leading again to Danthonia humankind's life is so short beside of God's time We wish see you soon thank you

    Donghyeon Lee
  • Your article resonates in my heart. Born in America, (where I spent most of my life), I have spent 7 years in England and am about to return to New York state; I will leave a chunk of my heart here. Embrace the place where you are, and it becomes part of you. Thank you!

    Jenny