The Australian Aborigines traditionally live in a world they call the Dreamtime. The natural world is not “an environment” or a “landscape,” but the living path of spiritual beings, the footprints of Creation. They co-participate in this timeless life by singing, dancing, painting, storytelling the tracks of the Ancestors, walking through the world following “the songlines.” We in the West have songs about mountains and lakes and wildlife, we have Beethoven evoking the natural world in his 6th Symphony or Charlie Parker referencing it in “Ornithology,” but this is something different— singing the world itself. Driving up to Pt. Reyes for a few days of hiking with several families, I got a little taste of this with my granddaughter Zadie.
It’s hard to resist not constantly hugging and kissing and wrestling with and joking with and singing and dancing with and talking with Zadie, but sometimes the greatest pleasure is simply to leave her alone and watch and listen. She sat in the back seat singing to herself an continuous improvised song incorporating the things outside the window, the people inside the car and whatever else surfaced in her own Dreamtime imagination. It was a wonder to be-hear and I believe my daughter Talia videotaped a bit, for some future lecture I may give on the innate musicality of all beings.
On the first day of hiking, I carried Zadie in the backpack and got another concert in my ear as we tramped through the woods and out onto the open fields. Naturally, we were far behind the group with no 30-lb. children in their backpacks and at one point, Zadie was getting hungry and a bit cranky. I saw the group up ahead on top of a hill and as we began to ascend the hill, it was my turn to soothe Zadie with song. Not exactly the songlines of Pt. Reyes, but I turned to my preschool class-starting repertoire and we ascended to the beat of Old King Glory, The Ants Go Marching, The Wheels on the Bus and were in the midst of Here We Go Loopty Loo when we joined the others. I kept singing and spontaneously, we all joined hands and circled around on the chorus and danced the verse with various body parts. I’ve vacationed with these families for some 25 years, but I believe that this was the first time we sang and danced Loopty Loo.
And how glorious it was to put our right hand in and take our right hand out and give our hand a shake-shake-shake and turn ourselves about on a high grassy knoll with the ocean spread out before us and a warm December sun shining and Zadie spinning happily on my back, all joined together in some timeless Dreamtime at the turn of the year, embraced by a California landscape and the circling song of traditions renewed, our children close to our age when we first began and now the first of the next generation with us as a promise to keep it going far beyond our own mortality. Loopty loo, loopty li, loopty loo, singing the world alive.