Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A birthday break

Birthdays are great for making you stop, sit up and look around. They are for me, anyway.

This year, I repeated last year's whale-watching expedition.

But I took more time, and fit in a few extra adventures...

I find getting away from home is the best way to get a fresh perspective on the place, and my place in it. But to take a good holiday and echo it a year later gave me an even stronger sense of reflection than usual.

As I stood on the clifftop the first night, I realised that here was a chance to look back on what had happened in the last twelve months, to see how far I felt I'd traveled, and what I thought I'd learned. And so for three days, that was what I did.

I stayed at a budget motel that has views over the water, and where the lovely sounds of the sea reach right into the rooms.

At night I missed the deep, dreamy silence of Farmette. The coastal countryside is greener and easier than the land around here. But when I got home, the wind in the trees reminded me of waves lashing wet sand. And I found myself dreaming of being a cow-herd when I grow up.

The break convinced me that spring really is coming now—and there's so much to do to get ready for it. The blackcurrant is already in bud; the goats are only getting wilder. I came racing home with plans for Farmette, and plans for myself: new goals and a fresh perspective on what I can make of things here.

The birthday break gave me lots of ideas.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Small-scale sustainability

I started today trying to read an essay by Patrick Jones called "Eating Birds."

I had no ida at the outset that this writer lived so close to me, though he identifies as living on Dja Dja Warrung land, and I had a feeling that was nearby.

He's a champion of a lifestyle more connected to the place in which it's situated (to put it simply), and "Eating Birds" is ostensibly about killing and eating a cockatoo. With a bow he'd made himself after attending a bow-making class—exactly the kind of thing that has hardline sustainability wannabes swooning.

But I couldn't read his essay. There was too much vitriol:

"...the poisoning of medicinal-edible weeds and wild edible faunas—are unrelated in a local ecological context ... but are systemically related in a global financial sense. A globalised and privatised food system designed to 'feed the world' must have dominion over everyone and everything and it is this idea (driven by power and profit) that links Judeo-Christian monotheism to what I call 'shareholder science'—a most aggressive form of dominion ideology."


"Supermarket food, synonymous with anthropocentric junk culture per se, is the epitome of indirect anthropocene violence."

I don't disagree with Jones's points (the ones I read before I got put off, anyway); what I can't understand is why anyone would use loathing and bitterness as the seed for a philosophy on life, or to try to persuade others.

To position sustainable living in a context of supermarkets and Facebook (which he argues is "reliant on the exploitation of middle-class wage slaves—programmers") is, to my mind, far too limiting.

Whether or not you're anti-GM, anti-pharma, anti-regulation, and/or opposed to the management of invasive species (all of which are extremely complex issues with many grey areas), you can still be interested in, practice, and advocate for more sustainable approaches to life. Even if you're a wage-slave/programmer!

To be honest, I think these smaller-scale acts have more objective value in the long run than a family shacking up in Daylesford to eat rabbit and cockatoo and writing holier-than-thou treatises about it.

Small-scale sustainability is more achievable for more people. It brings consciousness of things like production, consumption and waste to the foreground of every day we have—and through us, the lives of more members of the generations that follow.

Best of all, small-scale sustainability can be practised whether you live in a city apartment or the midst of a rabbit-ravaged forest. It's also easier on the cockatoos.

P.S. If you want something inspiring to read on sustainability, try Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Witchdoctor

Farmette has many mascots: goats, roosters, a hen who's lasted six years.

But when they're all hidden by darkness, I find I need something in the house. Something benevolent and tender and strong. Something secret. Something magical.

Previously, it was the Thirsty Dog, but since he moved on, the walls of my living room have been bare.

Not so long ago, a friend had an exhibition of her paintings. I was hoping one might speak to me, and it did. The Witchdoctor.

This is him in detail. In the picture he is both gloved and feathered, antlered and horned, seeing and perceiving. He makes things light enough to float; he creates ideas, then throws them into colour and makes them sparkle.

The world revolves around him. He waits on my wall day and night, watching, sensing, absorbing Farmette. He has a presence. He belongs, but with a light touch. And at night he truly glows out of the canvas.

The Witchdoctor reminds me that what's unseen is real, and that all senses count. In his world—which is my world—the impossible is a necessity. It is natural and effortless. It envelops us.

What treehouse can do without a Witchdoctor?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


"I'm not normally the kind of person to bring a rooster to the vet," I said.

"Everyone tells me that," the vet chuckled.

But Blue Rooster is very, very unwell, and on discovering last night that maybe it wasn't terminal, I decided to fork over the $65 consultation fee and see the damned vet.

This is the first time in my adult life I've taken an animal to the vet.

There's a fallacy around country frugality that dictates that unless you're a poultry breeder, you don't take birds to the vet.

The rooster cost $5 as a chick. Who could justify spending $65 on a $5 chicken?

I think, too, that beneath the organic-self-sufficiency ethos lies a suggestion that if you're doing it right, your animals should never get sick. If they do, and the problem's not curable by natural means, it's necessarily fatal and we should let nature take its course.

Antibiotics? The bird should be healthy enough not to need to resort to big (chicken) pharma!

There's also a thing in me about asking for help. Living out here alone is a personal challenge, and you know I enjoy it. But when things go wrong, I tend to just hunker down, hold out, and battle on. Even when some skilled advice could save the day.

I think this unwillingness to acknowledge when I need help is what drew me to the ideals of sustainability and self-sufficiency in the first place.

So it was something for me to take a rooster to the vet. After all the birds I've killed—out of need and choice—you'd think I'd have no qualms about putting this boy out of his misery. And misery it most surely is.

But perhaps all those birds are the reason I didn't want to do it this time. This time I didn't want to write my rooster off. I wanted a professional opinion. Because on this point at least—poultry—I feel I'm flailing now. And if the vet gave me antibiotics for him, perhaps I could use them next time one of the birds got a respiratory infection. Which someone does every winter.

He's only 8 months old, my Blue Rooster. Maybe he'll die in the night and it will all have been for nought. But at least I'll have given him a chance.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Winter sun

In winter, these kinds of days are the ones you long for. The days when actual sun hits the actual slab.

Having northern exposure, thermal mass and double glazing makes an enormous difference to the temperature indoors.

It usually means you can hold off lighting the fire for an hour or two longer. And maybe, if you're feeling like really letting yourself go, you'll put the clothing that's hanging all over the living room outside for some air and sunshine, if not to get any drier.

This is the view from my desk, where I work two days a week. It's a good spot to work because there are few distractions, but I do love rolling the chair back every so often and looking across the living room to that little copse of eucalypts that stands off the deck.

Especially when there's sunlight pouring in. Happy days.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Q&A: How can you stand to exercise in this horrible weather?

I get asked this question a lot, mainly by my neighbours.

As you know, I don't really believe in worrying about the weather. But it does pay to consider what's going on outside when you're heading out for a walk, run or ride.

This is currently what I wear to exercise.

The inventory: three tops, two pairs of pants, a parka, a waterproof windbreaker, scarf, gloves, and beanie. That's step 1: rug up.

Step 2 is to make daily exercise the norm, rather than the exception. If you go out every day, you'll never look out the window and think, "Oh forget it, I'll go tomorrow." Instead, you look out the window and think, "Looks like this drizzle's lifting. I only need a clearish 35 minutes. Might as well go now."

And if you're used to doing it daily, you'll miss it when you don't.

Step 3 is to mix it up. Having backstops is important. If the weather really is ridiculous—the potential for falling branches is real, for example—I'll do circuit training in the house, or go for a swim (indoors) instead. If it's windy (but not a gale) or rainy or dark, I'll walk in the forest, where the canopy breaks the weather's intensity. Otherwise, I'll run or ride.

Step 4 is to enjoy it. People around here use the town's hills as an excuse not to do anything. But I love to be out on some hidden forest track, spotting wallabies or echidna or a few shy kangaroo.

There I hear birdcalls; I see the sky; I notice wildflowers and fungus and cold; I can know the strength of my legs, the strength of my heart.

On a morning walk last week, I saw a shooting star. I was coming up the hill, the sky still black above me, the main road glistening at my feet. There were no lit windows, no cars. Not even the animals made a sound.

As I reached the crest, I glanced up to the horizon and saw it: a dying spark falling through the darkness, ephemeral as a dream.

It was gone before it got here, that burning star, vanished in the void to our north.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Passive cooling

Passive cooling is about avoiding aircon. The sustainable architect who designed my house was, understandably, all for it.

"It's the greatest!" he said.

"You'll love it" he said.

"These windows open to the south-west, so they'll catch the breeze. It'll be great in summer!" he said.

And in winter? Well, if you forget to close the windows (which I basically keep open all year, I guess because I'm insane*), and then you get a gale, this happens.

The outside comes in. Rain, leaves, insects, you name it. Passive cooling becomes active cooling. And dirtying.

Passive cooling is actually fantastic. The south-west facing windows are offset by skylight windows that let the warm air near the ceiling escape in summer, creating a current that draws cooler air in.

It works. It really does. I recommend it.

*Okay, so the reasoning behind keeping the windows open is that in a rainy place like this, if I kept my well-sealed, double-glazed windows shut up all winter there'd be no passage of air and everything would grow mildew.