Beastwatching in the urban jungle.

I went out walking in the city this morning, not far from the CBD.

Rising above an open park, some three blocks away from me, was a skyscraper. It was massive, multi-tiered, and like many buildings in this city, under construction. It bristled with scaffolding at every tier, themselves rising up at different (unfinished) heights, and there were two construction cranes sitting on the tiers, plus one more tall one on the ground.

Construction was under way, the cranes were lifting — what, I couldn’t see, it was on the other side of the skyscraper. As they laboured over this mysterious burden, they spoke to each other in groans and creaks and grinding of metal upon metal, a speech audible from half a kilometre away, a wordless language I didn’t and could never understand.

I thought of whales and whalesongs.

So I stopped for a minute to watch, from a distance, these inorganic creatures in their natural habitat, going about their lives, and speaking all the time. A strange song of (un)life, the sound of (in)organic industry and growth.

The machineworld has an unnatural, alien beauty that the natural world simply doesn’t have and the organic mind doesn’t comprehend. Who will have eyes to see this mystery? And what mystery was the cranes lifting up the skyscraper’s tiers, that they spoke about it the whole time?

I never saw the cranes’ burden. I had moved on, a little creature leaving those greater creatures crying and moaning to each other as they grew and raised the superorganism of the city into the sky.

Postscript: A week later, I passed by the same way. Nothing stirred around that skyscraper. The cranes were still and silent.

Chariots at the airport.

Was at the airport a few days ago. The flight was substantially delayed. I had time, so I decided to walk down the concourse to the end of the terminal.

The concourse went on straight ahead. There was a trick of reflection and lighting, for I saw it go on and on, off the ground and into the night sky. Indeed, the wall at the end of the concourse was a big glass pane looking onto the flight runways. I was hoping to walk through a portal into the air and into another world, but I had to content myself with just looking.

It had gotten quieter as I walked down the concourse, until there were no people around and all human voices were gone. And now, the un-human sounds of the airport and runways came to the fore: the bass roar of jet engines, the moaning of the wind (for it’s been a windy, cold day), and the groaning creaks of the building under the assault of the wind and time.

Beyond the glass were airplanes, in a row. In the gloomy runway lighting they looked like gargantuan chariots of titans, parked and waiting patiently until they would be summoned to fly. Airplanes are mundane things, but tonight I was indeed looking through a portal at another world, and those mundane things became strange and grand.

Then the boarding call came through, and I had to go.

I went running yesterday. It was partly overcast, shreds of sky amidst dark, grey-blue clouds. Yet the world was not gloomy, rather covered in a gauzy veil that made everything bluely luminous, and the muted colours suggested depth and richness instead of washed-out obscurity.

It was very cold, but my hands were warm. My hands are only warm during winter when I’m exercising.


Was oddly restless and fey after work, so I went for a walk by the river. I need to walk more: there is something to be said about disconnecting from all intermediary forms and immersing my direct senses into the immediate moment without mediation. And then to let my thoughts run wild.

Run wild they did, mostly in the existential direction today, and I found myself praying an undercurrent without really being aware of it. The sky was bruised with deep blue clouds, and the setting sun cast a last gasp of gold and radiant white upon the oncoming storm. It was surely going to rain tonight.

I ended up at the boathouse, on the pontoons the rowers used to lower their boats into the river. I love this pontoon, because it gets me right on the level of the water at some distance from shore, and gives me the impression of walking upon the river itself. Nearby was a power line that stretched across the short span between the banks.

On the power line hung the carcass of a bird.

Continue reading “Strangeness”


I went walking by the river the other day, and saw something I didn’t notice before at the side of the pavement. It was a raised cement platform standing on its own surrounded by large gravel around it. Embedded into the platform were three metal covers like manholes, except made from much heavier iron material. Two of them were manhole sized, about 2.5 feet in diameter, and the third one was larger, close to 4 feet diameter.

They were stormwater drains. Furthermore, the largest one was ajar, the lid tilted half open.

I stood on the platform and peered into the ajar stormwater drain. All I could see was dark water standing about a foot below the surface of the drain, clogged with debris and a bit of rubbish.

I thought, something has crawled up from the deep and escaped. Something hidden and secret is now at large, and civilization is no longer safe.

A few days later, I walked by the same place. The large drain was covered over.

Merry Christmas

On Christmas Day, I was woken up at around 5am by two ravens singing outside. They set up a call-and-response in the trees around the house, and went on and on. Ahh, uagh, uggh, ayaaahh… They did this for about half an hour, then flew away.

First creatures of the day to wish Jesus happy birthday.

I also heard the ravens this morning in a similar song and reprise. I thought: the birds are praising God. They sing because it’s in their nature, and it makes them happy. Even the most unco of birds still sing, no matter how drab their voices are. And God loves these ravens and their croaky, unmusical song.

So I will also praise God, small and feeble though it may be, because God loves me.

Heavenly Polyphony (or: Why I think angels sing in SATB)

I found this while going through my old writing files. The date on it was 23 Feb 2012. I wonder why I never published it; anyway, here it is. My views haven’t changed.


Music is a strange thing. I would almost say it is a miracle. For it stands halfway between thought and phenomenon, between spirit and matter.
– Heinrich Heine, 1797 – 1856

Music is the only sensual pleasure without vice.
– Dr Samuel Johnson, 1709 – 1784

Alone, unaccompanied, the human voice is a divine thing. So many different spoken voices, so many different singing voices, all unique. Arrange them together a capella in SATB, and you get more than just a chorus, but something exponentially wondrous.

God spoke, and made the world. If we, made in God’s image, can shape our own worlds through speaking… what happens when we start singing? And how much more is that multiplied when you sing together?

I think the medieval believers struck onto this (consciously or not) when they developed plainchant, and then reached the epitome with polyphony. You can’t get “unity amidst diversity” much clearer than this. And I’m certain that the principles that God declared in Genesis 11 are in full force with choral music — in a heavenly way. Heavenly, even in the secularized songs — it doesn’t matter, the principles still function. It may just be me, but I get the shivers listening to ANY choral music, and they are the same shivers I get when I’m conscious of the presence of the Holy Spirit, or in worship. No other music has this quality; not even contemporary praise & worship has it innately. I mean, don’t you feel your heart soaring just listening to these? –Morten Lauridsen’s sacred and non-sacred music. Eric Whitacre’s amazing choral pieces. — I sure do, something fierce, like my inner being threatening to burst out of my chest. Spiritual ecstasy in every sense of the word.

I truly think that choral music is the highest form of worship there is — the medievals took it to the pinnacle, and it’s never quite reached those heights since. We’ll be singing this in heaven, surely. Doesn’t need to be always, but if there’s no choral music to sing in heaven, I’m not going. Srsly.

Or, all this ruminating simply means that I absolutely, totally adore choral music. Egads, absolutely itching to sing in a choir again. Now’s the time, I’m in the perfect place to do it.

Day flock, night flock.

Yesterday evening, walking home from the train station, I saw a most wondrous sight: bats flying out in the dusk. At first I thought they were birds, but then saw the membranous wings, the blunt heads, the outstretched legs in place of feathered tails. They were departing from some distant roost, and they streamed overhead non-stop in loose groups, all flying in the same general direction. There was nothing inherently sinister about that flock of bats.

I marvelled at how silent they were. They made no sound apart from the faintest flap flap of soft wings. And, but it might have been my imagination, the faintest of chirpings. On and on they came; I must have stood there with my head craned upwards for a full five minutes, entranced by the bats.

Then I recalled, in a vivid flashback, an almost identical vision I had some years ago, watching a flock of corvids streaming overhead at sunset. Black crows in an endless stream, flying towards their night roost, cawing like commuters shouting news and gossip to each other as they made their way home. Now I saw the same vision, but these were bats, departing to forage and socialize, and possibly calling the same kinds of greetings to each other in their ultrasonic voices.

A fascinating mirror: one flock going home in the evening from their day activities, whilst another flock emerges at about the same time to go about the same business night. How wonderful!

In singing waters; in silent waters.

Written on 13 January 2013.

We are holidaying in Cairns.

What enchanted me upon first sight were the tall mountains overlooking the coastal lowlands. Green mountains covered in pristine, burgeoning tropical rainforest. This part of Australia is verdant green with no brown. Having lived in dry, mostly brown landscape for the last 10 years — even the southernmost portions of the nation are green mixed liberally with brown — this is a startling sight. A welcome sight.

We were riding up early in the morning to the Tully. The road up afforded the most charming view of high rainforested hills reaching up to the pure blue sky, some of their heads dreaming in fluffy white clouds.


We went white water rafting. So much fun! The mixture of calm water and class 4 rapids was an exhilarating ride all the way down. We rafted most of the time, but often went overboard to float in the water too, letting the current carry us in the quiet stretches. In the midst of the churning, clear waters, I could imagine them singing, making a joyful noise towards God — and I felt unafraid, because God’s nature made by the Creator could not harm me. Indeed, I laughd for delight and joy in myself. The rapids are roaring with praise to God, why should I refrain?

A wonder to be drifting in the river past volcanic basalt cliffs, past banks burgeoning with riotous greenery, past grand verdant trees and epiphytes, pure pristine nature rising high above us as we ride down the waters.

I love water and doing things in and on it. Together, the rapids and I rejoiced and shouted for love to God.


The next day we went on a cruise to snorkel off the Great Barrier Reef.

Coral grows to a maximum depth of 30m, so there was much to see from the surface. What a beautiful sight, to see corals and fish in another universe. One perceives the ocean to be a quiet world, so it was surprising to hear the sound of parrotfish eating coral. Of all things to hear in the water — the crunching munchings of fish?

Fish swam here and there, going about their daily lives, ignoring us human beings. In the slightly deeper waters, schools of tiny fish would swim around, scales flashing, all in synchrony. I found myself often swimming amidst a school — the fish swimming around me, dodging but not fleeing — yet always beyond arm’s reach. What a joy to be amidst animals, God’s creation so indifferent and unafraid!

Even one of the reef fishes approached me, studying me as if inquisitive, peering first through one eye and then the other. Eventually it swam away — but then it came back again sometime later. (Or was it a different one?) I dared not reach out in case I scared it off. But oh, it looked at me just as I looked at it, fascinated at how different we were, creatures from two separate worlds.


The trip was blessed. I felt such a strong sense of gratitude, praise and thankfulness at all I’d experienced. Neither the bad sunburn on the tops of my thighs, nor the really bad seasickness that nearly put me off the snorkelling, could change the overwhelming thankfulness of my heart. How wonderful was God’s creation, what a privilege to partake of it! The joyful roaring waters of the rapids, the silent magnificent waters of the ocean… for ages they had all worshiped God together. And today, I join them.

{Psalm 42:7, Psalm 89:9, Isaiah 51:15}