Flannel Flower Heaven by Colleen Keating

Flannel Flower Heaven


Here’s me in Flannel Flower heaven. 

In Wyrrabalong National Park North . 

It is along  the Coast Walk from Crackneck Lookout to  the Trig Station. 

This is now a pilgrimage experience for me ( i will explain later)  

This pocket of  White Flannel Flowers  attracts many walkers each October. 

The walk includes wonderful ocean vistas and a few vegetation environ-changes

along the way. 

The show of flannel flowers begins slowly, and in the early stages can be easily missed . . . one here, one there,  and suddenly once you have seen these few you begin to see them everywhere.. . . .their presence, breath-taking. 

They clump gracefully together and move gently in the breeze. 

They cluster in masses growing from unobtrusive grey furry wavy leaves.

Stems grow  up and buds appear and then the flowers emerge and blossom.

Ten star petals velvety to the touch each with a delicate pointed tip, exposes a downy pin cushion centre conducive to  bees, butterflies, beetles to land for a feed.

Viewing these plants leaves me with a visceral sense of joy and satisfaction . 

I felt bewildered last year when I snuck along this track during lockdown  (in my 5 km permission radius) to find it had had a back burn, I guess to clear the bush  against fire for the houses further down the hill.  

Now I felt uplifted  this year, 2022, that I had returned with hope for this Flannel Flower Pilgrimage. 

This is not an illusory emotional response but a physiological one

triggered  by the sense in my brain of well being,   

given by the release of neuro-chemicals, endorphins and dopamine.

I wanted more.   I could not get enough.

Every corner I turned and I was not disappointed.

A walk in this Wyrraablong National Park with its Spotted Gums, its few old river Gums (one i take my grandchildren to, for it has the most generous arms for climbing and holding little kiddies,)   for the its banksias, Acacias and wattles and for its Flannel Flowers this week

is one of the places, 

special places for Michael and I, 

that encourages ‘Forest breathing:’  the Western term

for what Japanese call ‘shinrin yoku’. 

This is the practice of  walking and being mindful of the surroundings, letting your senses take in the sights, sounds, smells ,tastes and feel of the forest and bushland.

The health and well-being benefits of ‘forest bathing’ are well documented. There are good research  articles about this.  Today  walking here, reminding each other to be aware is enough, to be very present . The small white nodding heads of the flowers seem to be speaking to us.

They take us out of ourselves and for an uplifting and refreshing time,

we are with them in the world of nature.  

Of course we do not need this marvellous stand of Flannel Flowers or even a forest or the bush to  find ourselves immersed in ‘forest breathing’. 

The mystic and Abbess, Hildegard of Bingen said as far back as the 12th century,  that nature and the green colour in our eyes is very healing.  She was speaking well before modern medicine and she found this way for women who came to her for help. She would say to those feeling depressed, feeling down, feeling overwhelmed:

“Go out into nature ,  find the green: into a park, a paddock, even to a tree  . . .
Feast your eyes on the green, the thousand shades of green.

for its healing powers.  and now japanese Doctors even prescibe a wlk in a forest for healing and for well being. 

(The story for those who have read to the end of this.. . )

My mother loved the sea: my father preferred the hills and bush and so they bought a weekender near both, as the saying goes ‘where the forest meets the sea’.

When Mum went off with the family to the beach it turns out my quiet Dad would put our dog, Skipper in the car and drive to Kincumber Mountain.

He told me once that was his favourite place. 

My father  died  suddenly one day while mowing the lawn and he died young. It was a tragedy in our family life. 

Later as healing of loss and grief progressed I decided to visit Kincumber Mountain to help me find something. . . maybe lost . . . I knew not what. . . 

It was a late spring balmy evening,  I got out of the car and found myself immersed in a forest of flannel flowers and my father was there  .  . .we were there together .  His presence filled me mayup for the lostness in spirit we were talking.   it was  i understand an out of mind experience. It might have been a second, a minute or an hour . I do not know but we walked together. Michael came later and took a photo of me in those wild flannel flowers  nearly as tall as me and I seem lost in them and in that photo I feel my father is there. 

When I started my healing business  ‘Touchstone’ that flannel flower photo was one of my motivating photos . . .maybe about the mystery, or the more then . . but it stayed on my self all the years of my work inspiring me.)

Many years later when I was facilitating a retreat, over lunch with a friend who was Artist-in-Residence and one who understood these things, I shared my Flannel Flower experience with my father.  He listened with joy  and understanding . . .and I felt heard.

  He arrived the next day with  a framed painting of his, saying:

I have always wanted a good home for this painting and I now know where it belongs. He presented one of his signature paintings of flannel flowers.

 It was an amazing generous gift I have always treasured.

So this is the explanation why Flannel Flowers are my spiritual flower. 

PS. I have never gone back to Kincumber Mountain. I never wanted to spoil that moment and today I don’t need to go there.  But this walk along the Coast track is a beautiful reminder.