The forces that shape us, strengthen us.
There is much beauty in well weathered people and places.
After last week’s cold snap the weather here has returned to autumn glory. Cool mornings, wispy with fog, turn slowly into blue-sky days, ending in golden afternoons, gently warm under the mellow sun.
It’s perfect gardening weather, the lazy afternoons calling me to spend time in my little patch, harvesting the last of the summer’s goodness and preparing the soil for winter. There’s seed to collect and to be planted, late kale and cherry tomatoes to harvest, herbs to prune back and dry for the winter and the compost is long overdue for turning. It’s a busy time for a gardener but this year I’m doing less than usual, and the pleasure of the work is tinged with sadness: I’ve built this productive tiny garden up over two-and-a-half years of living here but now I’m moving on. The thought of leaving it all behind makes me glum, not yet knowing if my new place will have a real garden or just space for a few pots.
When I moved in here I told myself I wouldn’t get too invested in a garden. Just a few herbs for the kitchen, nothing more. I’d set up veggie patches and herb beds before, just to leave them behind in a year or two’s time, never reaping the full benefit of the work. It started innocuously enough: planting out some of the potted herbs brought from the flat I’d been living in, and a basic compost heap to save throwing good veggie scraps in the bin. Then I got a little excited about the idea of spring bulbs (having previously lived in sub-tropical climes), so in went some tulips and irises and a few months later a riot of colourful blooms rewarded the effort.
I turned the soil, added water crystals, clay-breaker and compost, and soon the sad soil I’d arrived to (with nary a worm to be found) was becoming rich and black and good. In went tomatoes, with great success (and many jars of relish). In a fit of excitement at the prospect of berries I planted a raspberry cane. Friends passed on seedlings and so I grew broccoli and kale. I gave into temptation at the farmer’s market, so in went sea celery, spinach, rocket and tatsoi. An artichoke came up, all by itself and another crop of tomatoes went in.
I am a compulsive gardener. I can’t help myself, and this is my patch. I’m going to miss it and can only hope that the next tenant appreciates what they’ll inherit. I hope the new place, when I find it, has space to dig, though if not I’ll keep myself going with what will cope in pots and dream of the day I own a patch of dirt of my own. Oh the things I will grow!
My potted garden basics:
- Italian parsley
- Rocket (arugula)
- English spinach
What are your favourite edible things to grow?
Autumn: it’s my favourite season here in southern Tasmania. Cool evenings, foggy mornings, high blue skies, apples and wood smoke; the season of fullness. This year it just might pass us by. Today Hobart took a short-cut straight to winter, with single-digit (celsius) temperatures, icy winds and a liberal dusting of snow on the Mountain.
Winter approaches and I failed to make the most of the summer just past. Injuries to hips and knees kept me away from bushwalking for the best part of January and all of February. Personal trials and tribulations turned my attention and energies inwards while I dealt with some complex situations and emotions, leaving little energy for the garden or photography, with what energy I could muster expended on maintaining the friendships that ground and nourish me and the life-affirming practice of taiko drumming. I missed the harvest of plums and blackberries: there are no jars of sweet preserves stowed away in my pantry this year. I haven’t sown seed for my winter crop of brassicas. I haven’t been present, in tune with the life around me.
I have been thinking, feeling, sketching out the roughest blueprints for building the next phase of my unfurling life. It’s difficult to act when my employment future is so very uncertain, but act I must. Waiting, rootless, disconnected is so evidently unhealthy for me. I am a creature of action and I need to be moving (physically, metaphorically), so moving I am, in the most literal way.
I’m leaving the House of the Gumtrees. I am done here. It is time to create a new home. The sudden onset of winter weather confirms my decision: this house is cold, and with its open plan design, high ceilings and poor insulation it is expensive and horrendously inefficient to heat. I don’t need to shiver my way through another winter wearing a coat and fingerless gloves while I work at the computer. I dream of a smaller place, easy to heat, quick to clean and much more environmentally friendly in design than this too-big building with no winter sun.
I’m looking for a home that’s more sustainable, and not just in the environmental sense. It also needs to be a place that meets my emotional needs and helps me to look after my health. A place that feels safe and welcoming where I can relax and live the way I want to. I can’t do that here:it’s too big, too expensive, too far to walk places and too badly built. There’s no lagging between the walls or between the upstairs living area and the downstairs bedrooms. My housemate works shifts and his comings and goings disrupt my sleep. There’s no auditory privacy in a house where you can hear the other person talk in their sleep.
Beyond issues of incompatible hours and house design we’re not a good match for each other, Housemate and I. We’ve lived together for a year now and are still just as much strangers to each other as we were then. Our values don’t align and so many small incompatibilities have gradually grown into irritations. I’m interested in low-impact living and growing a sense of community; he’s interested in watching TV and playing poker. I cook locally sourced seasonal produce, heady with spice; he eats McDonald’s and Lean Cuisine. On a good day we manage perhaps 15 minutes of conversation. There is no companionship, only someone sharing the space and the bills. It’s not home.
Our lease expires in 7 weeks’ time so the search is on. I’ll most likely end up living in a place of my own, though I’m keeping an open mind about sharing if I find the right place and person, after all the research shows that those living alone are more likely to suffer from depression, plus it’s cheaper and less resource-hungry to live with others, which makes it the more sustainable option (at least with the right place and people). So what are the factors I’m looking for, as a renter, in a sustainable home?
- North-facing, sunny position: the winters here are long and cold. Sun is a must for mental health, light and warmth.
- Not open plan: it’s far more efficient to heat smaller rooms than big open spaces.
- Insulated: this may be impossible, but it would be great to find a place with proper ceiling insulation, wall lagging and heavy curtains. Why so few houses in Hobart are designed for the cold is a mystery.
- Workable kitchen with natural light: I spend a lot of time in my kitchen. It’s the heart of a home and needs to be big enough to put on a feast for friends and feel good to spend time in.
- Space for a garden: preferably a patch of dirt in which to grow herbs & veggies and to keep a compost heap, but even a sunny, sheltered spot for a container garden will do, so long as there’s somewhere to store my growing-things gear.
- Community: a walkable neighbourhood would be brilliant, but I’ll settle for neighbours who talk and look out for each other. Good neighbours are a joy and one of the things I will miss about this place, along with my little garden and the (dwindling) patch of bush over the back fence.
Of course there are many other things I’d like to have in a home, like a gas cook top, solar hot water, a garage, a wood stove and a decent bath, but while I’m renting they are insignificant luxuries. When I’m able to buy my own place, however… I dream of farmhouse kitchens, chook runs, evenings in front of the fire and other blissful things.
For now I’m just looking for a place to call home and mean it. Somewhere I can live more sustainably.
What makes a place “home” for you?
A few years ago my friend Tom shared with me an idea for an alternative to making New Years resolutions; those promises to ourselves that are often so hard to uphold. What he was trying instead was to choose a word that focussed in on what he most wanted to accomplish over the next 12 months. Brilliant in its simplicity, it’s a powerful idea for maintaining direction and motivation without the high risk of failure associated with making specific resolutions.
For a few years now I’ve been carefully choosing a word each year and using it to guide my energies and frame my choices. There were the years of resolution, of consolidation, and of discovery, and after much consideration 2012 has been deemed the year of sustainability.
So what does sustainability mean? It’s something of a buzzword at present, frequently thrown about by corporations and governments to generate a sense of “doing the right thing” by people and the planet, in a fuzzy, avoiding actually doing anything different sort of way. We hear about triple bottom line outcomes and business strategies and not all that much about what sustainability might mean on an individual and community level.
There are myriad ways to define sustainability, but to me it’s about balancing the needs of people with the needs of the environment over the long term. We humans are part of the complex ecosystems of our planet and are dependent on the continuing good functioning of these ecosystems for our survival. We also have an ethical responsibility to conserve other life on this planet and share the finite resources we all depend on. Responsible environmental management and resource use is an important aspect of living sustainably, but it’s only one part of the picture and needs to be balanced with the people component: building communities and societies that will allow us to live healthy and fulfilling lives.
My vision, then, of a sustainable life is one where people work together to build strong, supportive communities, care for the land and reduce their resource use. It’s about being aware of the impacts of the decisions we make and choosing options that provide good outcomes (or sometimes just least-worst) for the environment and humanity as well as meeting our own needs. It’s about connecting with the people and places around us to grow something bigger, beyond ourselves.
This year I’m focussing on making my life more sustainable: environmentally, financially and socially. Part of this is contributing to building the kind of world I want to live in, sharing my skills, experiences and mishaps and seeking yours so we might learn from each other.
I’m figuring out the shape of things to come and I’d like you to help build our future, together.
Rafting the Franklin River was one of the most amazing experiences of my life to date. Physically challenging, stunningly beautiful and incredibly remote, the trip is something I will never forget: days on the dark, tannin-stained waters and nights in the ancient and undisturbed forest.
The Franklin is a true wild river, harsh, astonishing and breath-taking. I highly recommend the trip, but it’s not for the faint of heart.
For those with rafting and wilderness experience it’s possible to go alone, but be prepared for a very difficult river (people die on the Franklin) and invest in a decent trip guide. For the rest of us I recommend one of the commercial operators.
I went on the 7 day tour with Water by Nature, a Hobart-based small operator employing guides who know the river backwards.
Both Water by Nature and Rafting Tasmania have solid reputations with the Hobart rafting community.
If you’d rather enjoy the Franklin from the safety of your sofa there’s wealth of information about the River online, including the battle to save the Franklin from being dammed, along with some spectacular photos.
Day 5:Now where was I? Ah yes, camped at Coruscades and enjoying an early morning on the river. Slowly the rest of the camp stirred and people joined me out on the rocks, watching the sunlight slowly slide it’s way down into the deep gorge. Brett, our trip leader and normally the first one up, remained steadfastly in bed, putting off the day ahead as long as possible. At loose ends, the rest of us read books, wandered about, went back to sleep or settled down on a convenient boulder to soak up some sun.
Eventually Brett found the motivation to get up and we packed all the gear and carried it a couple of hundred metres downstream down a pretty winding path, to wait while Brett and fellow guide Jim brought the rafts down through the tricky section at the top of Coruscades rapids. We then loaded up the rafts and finally paddled out around midday to see what the last day of 2011 would bring us down the River.
Not far downstream the River brought us to the Faucet, one of the most fun rapids of the trip (and not just because no portage was required!). Pure rushing water joy!
The Faucet behind us, we hit the major portages of the day and worked out why Brett had been so reluctant to get out of bed: Sidewinder, Thunder-rush and the Cauldron. The waters were tricky and we unloaded and re-loaded the raft many times. As the day wore on I wore down, feeling sicker and sicker as my choice of left-overs for breakfast decided to disagree with me. There’s no room for resting on the River, however, so we all just got on with it and eventually my guts ceased grumbling and I made the most of our last proper day on the water.
Once past the portages of the Great Ravine the river opened out, giving us a gentle paddle through the forested green slopes, spotted with the white blooms of flowering leatherwood trees and the red shoots of fresh summer growth from the myrtles. We saw a family of endangered Tasmanian white-bellied sea eagles watching the world drift by from a branch over the water, a pair of wedge-tail eagles circling their territory high above and a party of great cormorants startled several times by our appearance up-river. They were happily added to our wildlife tally for the trip, including two platypus sightings, some devil scats and suspected quoll tracks. We paddled in companionable quiet, stopping here and there to explore a creek joining the river, cool off with a quick drink or just to admire the view until we made our unhurried way to camp at Rafter’s Basin, around 8 pm.
Once camped we settled ourselves down to see the New Year in, making quick work of what little booze had survived this far down the trip. Young Sam begged iPods from those who had them and a set of portable speakers from Jim and declared himself DJ for the night, doing a decent job of mixing classics, decent indie tunes and the odd dance track. We chatted, sang along and got to know each other a little better as the clock ticked towards twelve.
Those of us over thirty were much amused when Sam boasted about being into the dance music scene and reminisced about our own misspent youths and the days of acid house (the Scottish half-brothers having been in the UK when the “scene” first kicked off. At one point I demanded that Sam back up his raver claim by showing us some Melbourne shuffle moves. He responded by busting out the most ridiculous running man I’ve ever seen. My laughter and derision was met with a challenge and so I found myself drunk, in thongs, in the middle of the wilderness pulling out some dance moves I haven’t used in a very long time. I felt utterly ridiculous, but by popular consensus I was deemed winner of the dance off, and I believe I drank to that.
Not long after the clock finally struck twelve – though it felt totally irrelevant out there in the forest – and we made our slightly-swaying ways up to bed.
Day 6:The next day was a rest day. Our camp location was only a little way upstream of where we’d be leaving the river at Mt. McCall, so we had a full day to relax, explore and enjoy the serenity. I had planned to make the most of it, hiking up the creek that ran through camp or perhaps taking a kayak out for a paddle. Instead I spend a lazy day reading, scribbling notes about our journey into my little notebook (without which these entries would not exist) and doing my laundry. You know you’re getting older when the thought of clean, dry clothes is more appealing than another day of adventure!
So I hung around camp, listening to the guides chatter and learning more about life on the River. At one point Brett and Jim mentioned they had one spare berth for the rest of the journey, and did I want to take it? Sorely tempted though I was I demurred: I had Es to accompany and was starting to fantasize about a proper shower and a night in my own bed. Instead I took my final bath in the river, luxuriating in the warmth of sun-heated rocks on my skin, in sharp contrast to the chill of the water. For one long, blissful moment I was free and wild, one with the cool, dark waters, the vaulting sky and the timeless glory of it all.
The sun set on our very last evening with a brilliant blaze of colour, but by then I wasn’t really up for soaking in the splendour of our surrounds. As evening fell so did my spirits as I discovered that something I had eaten was disagreeing with me quite violently. Oh dear. I believe I mentioned the toilet arrangements down-river back on Day 1, and I can tell you that having a severe case of the runs under those conditions is an extremely unpleasant experience. I have spent way too much time contemplating the quality and robustness of freezer bags under strenuous conditions. Still, I got to spend a lot of time that evening in contemplation, gazing at a sky so astonishingly full of stars.
Day 7:After my dramatic night this day was never going to be stellar: I was tired, tender, under-slept and horribly de-hydrated, but there was no time to sit around feeling sorry for myself – we had a long day ahead of us, going home. Despite an early wake-up we talk too much over breakfast and get onto the water a little late. We’re not going far, just a few hundred metres upstream to where all of us except N are leaving the river and a new party of punters are coming down for the last 3 days down-river to the junction with the Gordon. Brett is uncharacteristically cranky with the delay (turns out if we’re late for the pick-up) and rushes us down the River.
Initially it’s an uneventful trip, but then we reach a rapid that Brett needs to line the raft through. He’s rushing and makes a wrong move and suddenly the raft is pinned against a rock and quickly going under. The gear rack carrying our river bags, left unsecured in our hurry to depart (after all we weren’t going far and we’d just need to untie it again) slips off and threatens to escape downstream. There’s much cursing, scrambling and throwing of ropes and eventually we get the raft free and the gear re-stowed, but now Brett’s really in a foul mood.
We hurry on, past the junction with the Andrew River, to the haul-out point at Mt McCall. When the Hydro Electric Commission was set to dam the Franklin, construction started at 2 of the 3 planned sites: the famous Gordon-below-Franklin site and here at Mt. McCall. All that remains at Mt. McCall now is a very steep track running along the old haulage-way and some slowly rusting rails and pulleys, abandoned to the rainforest. The track connects to a rough old road, traversable now by 4-wheel-drive only, and eventually leads out to Lake Burbury and the highway up to Queenstown.
The track is seriously steep, the day fiercely hot (temperatures well above 30oC) and despite being the first off the raft I’m second-last up (with Creepy Wayne bringing up the rear) and am seriously feeling the dehydration when I make it to the top, but there’s no water to be had until Queenstown, an hour and a half away. At least the view from the top is pretty special.
The guides climb up with us to meet the new crew and load up on supplies for the end of the journey. We bid affectionate farewells (Brett having re-gained his composure), climb into the waiting 4-wheel-drives and begin the long drive back into civilisation. Well, something resembling a twisted parody of civilisation, at least: Queenstown is a frontier mining town renown for its environmental degradation and is a serious shock to the system after 6 days and nights in spectacular wilderness. Still, there’s a corner store open and after downing 2 litres of water in a hurry I’m feeling a whole lot better.
(I wish I had photos of the Mr. McCall track or the stunning views over the Wild Rivers National Park as we departed, but I was hot, thirsty and exhausted and my camera was packed away, out of reach.)
The 4-wheel-drives depart and we pile into the mini-bus for the long drive back to Hobart; tired, grumpy and hot but triumphant. We had made it, 7 days in the wilderness on the River, and we had loved most every moment of it. The Franklin River will always hold a special place in our memories.
One week later I was still rafting it’s waters in my sleep.