Do you have a happy place? Somewhere you can go when the world gets too much, a place to re-charge and reconnect?
I do, and I’m lucky that my very special place is practically on my doorstep. It’s one of the reasons I love Hobart so much and am loath to consider leaving. My happy place is Mt. Wellington, the dolerite peak that makes this little city so unmistakable. Hobart folds itself around the Mountain’s flanks, seeking shelter from the westerly gales that batter this latitude and drinking from the many creeks and rivulets that drip their way down the slopes and run through the gullies. The Mountain’s unmistakable silhouette can be seen from most every part of this little city, watching over the lives below.
Wellington is special, and not just because it’s an ecological treasure-trove (A Gondwanaland remnant, with wet and dry sclerophyll forest, temperate rainforest, stunted alpine woodlands and alpine heath-lands, it’s incredibly diverse). There’s a power to the place; a deep, quiet presence that sinks into you and reminds you that the world is so much bigger and older than your little griefs and anxieties.
I like nothing better than to lose myself in solitude for hours on one of the many trails that criss-cross the Mountain’s peaks and valleys. After a year of walking on the Mountain most weekends there are still dozens of new trails awaiting exploration, plus old favourites to re-visit and experience in different seasons. In autumn the rainforest is full of fungi in a riot of shapes and colours. In winter the summit may be dusted in snow and the woodlands wreathed in mists. In spring tiny wildflowers sprout unexpectedly from rocky crevasses, tiny jewels in a harsh landscape. In summer the views stretch out forever and every inch of Mountain hums with life… There are hidden waterfalls, arresting outlooks, vast alpine plains and craggy peaks to climb.
Wellington is the wilderness on my doorstep, and it calls to my soul. Every hour spent walking the slopes is time well spent, restoring my spirit and reminding me why these wild places matter. That’s what is so important about preserving pockets of wilderness: these spaces nourish us and help to keep us connected to the ecosystems we rely on. Wild places teach us how to be alone, how to reach the sacred inside ourselves and how to reconnect with our environments. My Mountain, it is love.
Where is your happy place? Where do you go to get away from it all? Does the wilderness call you, or are you refreshed by city life or the sea instead? What makes a place truly special to you?
…and if you ever want a walk on my Mountain, you only have to ask.
Y’know something that really annoys me? Food waste. It could be the many hours I spent working in kitchens to support my studies, or it could just be simple economics, but it riles me.
There’s little sadder than seeing the hard work of our primary producers wind up in the garbage bin, uneaten and unwanted. You’re not just throwing away your own money, but also the labour, water, nutrients, transport and storage that got that food from the farm to you. It’s not just the lost resources either. Food rotting in land fill produces methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more climate-affecting than CO2. That’s a whole lot of unnecessary waste!
How bad is the problem? I don’t know about the rest of the world, but here in Australia we throw out around 7.5 million tonnes of food waste every year. That works out to about $ 7.8 billion in food waste, just looking at sale price alone! 40 % of our average household garbage is food waste – that’s taking out the people who compost – and in some parts of the country as much as 20% of the total food we buy is thrown away. With 30% of our population living below the poverty line how can we afford to waste so much food? I just don’t get it!
Lately I’ve come across a few organisations doing their bit for reducing food waste in Australia by taking the surplus from the fortunate and using it to feed the hungry. Here in Tasmania there’s Produce to the People, who collect the excess from backyard veggie gardens. In the bigger Australian cities groups like OzHarvest, Second Bite, Foodbank and Fare Share collect from supermarkets, restaurants and farms. Similar volunteer groups and food charities are popping up in major cities across the westernised world. These are fantastic programs, helping to reduce the environmental impacts of food waste and redistributing the surplus it to where it’s needed, but I think it’s also important to do what you can on a personal level to ensure you get the most out of the food you grow and buy.
Very little food goes to waste in my house and what does goes back into the system via my compost bin, rather than rotting away as landfill. It does take a certain amount of effort though! I have to think about what I’m buying and make myself cook even when I really don’t feel like it. I buy in smaller quantities and seek out fresher local produce, so have to hit up the shops a little more often, and when I have over-bought or have been too busy to cook I need to come up with creative ways to use up the excess before it spoils (or freeze it until I land an idea later). As a side benefit, getting the most out of my food gives me a little more disposable income to splurge on a nice wine to wash my meals down with, or the occasional gourmet treat!
Here are my favourite methods for using up food and preventing waste:
- Save any sad-looking veggies or edible offcuts for making stock. I have a bag in the freezer that scraps get thrown into as I go, then once it’s full I’ll add some dried mushrooms or the bones from a roast chook and turn it into tasty stock.
- Preserve it! Make sweet sauces from over-ripe fruit, turn a tomato glut into chutney or simply pickle extra veggies for a piquant treat to enjoy when they go out of season.
- Turn extra herbs into pesto, or chop them finely and freeze in small servings for future cooking.
- Freeze cream or plain yoghurt into icecube trays, then add a few cubes to stews or sauces when you need to.
- Poach or bake fruit that’s past it’s best and add it to your morning cereal or enjoy it as a dessert.
- Get creative in the kitchen; challenge yourself to use up everything perishable before buying fresh food and see what you can invent from the odds and ends hiding in your fridge and cupboards (I’ve made some of my favourite meals this way)
- Cook it all up into tasty meals and freeze them in portions for lunches. With a hot home-made curry or stir-fry instead of a sandwich you’ll be the envy of the work lunchroom!
- Share the love: put on a feast for friends or give away food you won’t use instead of letting it go to waste.
Wineglass Bay, Freycinet National Park, Tasmania.
My greatest ambition is to just be a good man. To be better than I was yesterday. To do no harm. To give more than I take. To never strive for perfection but to try to live and love more perfectly. Being a good man to my family, my friends and to my community is the greatest ambition I can dream of.
Wood heaters, eh?
In the month I’ve been living here in the Cottage I’ve developed a complicated relationship with mine.
I’ve learnt, now, how to get a decent blaze going with minimal fuss and there’s little nicer than curling up in front of a toasty fire on a cold night, glass of red in hand. The heat it produces is lovely, and when it’s working properly I can set it before bed and the house will stay toasty warm all night. Poking and prodding the fire into cooperation is fun and it’s immensely satisfying to get a good burn going on a cold night.
It’s less fun, however, on nights like tonight when the weather’s foul and I work late, and at 9 pm it’s still a little chilly even with the fire going. It’s been raining all day so the firewood is damp and the baffle plate on the flue has bent (yet again), jamming the flue wide open and significantly reducing the efficiency of my burn and heat transfer.
Heh, a month ago I had no idea what a baffle plate was, let alone what it did. I’d not spared much thought to wood moisture content or burn efficiency, and I’d never considered the price of firewood by the tonne (between $150 and $200, for the curious).
I still feel a little guilty about lighting the fire. In a State where my power is hydro-electric (not exactly environmentally benevolent, but a darn sight better than coal), lighting the fire is both less efficient (in terms of energy cost by yield) and generates a lot more emissions (CO2 and particulate emissions) than using electric heating.
On top of that, the wood I’m burning has to come from somewhere. The current fuel for my fire comes from a beautiful old eucalypt tree that had to be felled over at the House of the Gumtrees (mmm, free firewood!), however my ex-landlord only let me take what I could fit in my Corolla (a surprisingly large amount when you’re determined…) and I’m about to run out. Firewood sales in Tasmania are unregulated, with many sellers setting up trucks on the roadside with cheap loads for sale. Problem is you don’t know where that wood has come from or what condition it’s in:
- Is is green, wet or rotten?
- Was it illegally taken from State Forests, National Parks or trespassing on private land?
- Were old hollowed trees felled that provide important habitat for wildlife (including several endangered species)?
And that’s without considering if it’s actually the tonnage they’re saying it is!
There’s no hiding from the truth: the wood heater is not an environmentally friendly way to heat my home! It’s what I’ve got, however, so it’s up to me to make the best of it.
I’ve been researching wood heaters and firewood recently and I’ve learnt that:
- The moisture content of your timber needs to be below 25% for an efficient burn.
- Burning green or wet timber increases particulate emissions (as well as being much less efficient).
- Even stored under cover, firewood has an amazing capacity to absorb moisture on rainy days.
- Burning pine needles is fun.
- Baffle plates significantly improve the heat exchange from your wood heater (and having it bend and jam open – again – is a bad thing. *sigh*).
- Burning old painted fence posts is an environmental no-no, no matter how much free timber it is or how much your lovely new neighbours assure you it’ll be ok.
- Accidentally throwing in an envelope with a plastic window results in noxious fumes: don’t do it.
- You can’t add the ash and charcoal to your compost, but a small amount mixed with other things is ok in mulch.
- There’s no regulation of the firewood industry in Australia, and there are a lot of dodgy vendors in Hobart (if the internet is to be believed)
- There is a voluntary industry code of practice that sets out standards that wood will be sustainably harvested, in accordance with all laws and protective orders, stored correctly and sold with moisture contents below 25%, with weighbridge tickets provided.
- There is one supplier in the whole of Tasmania who is signatory to the voluntary code, and they’ll deliver to my suburb.
- The cold metal of my bed frame is very nice to rest my blistered skin on when I inevitably burn myself on the wood heater door/frame/handle
- So. Many. Splinters.
So, after a little research and environmental guilt I’ve come to the following positions:
- The wood heater only gets lit if (1) the temperature is below 10oC and (2) I’m going to be home all night (no fire on taiko training nights!)
- Use discarded newspaper from work and household waste (loo rolls, paperwork from the last lease, letters from politicians) to get the fire started
- Pay the extra to buy firewood from the lone code signatory supplier; it’s not that much more than other suppliers and I know it’s as ethically sound as I’m going to get.
- Keep my garden prunings to burn next winter: at least the damn invasive vine I cut down will be useful!
- When the fire’s lit, actively enjoy it.
Hence I’m writing this sitting on my couch, watching the flames over the top of my monitor instead of working with the lap-top docked in the study. If I’m going to commit environmental crimes in the name of keeping warm I may as well keep the most of it, and once Winter properly arrives and the fire is going during the day on weekends I intend to try my hand at cooking on the coals. I’m thinking coal-roasted foil-wrapped eggplant (that’s aubergine for the northern-hemispherians) is going to be a beautiful thing. Baba ganoush for all!
This weekend I’m going to buy my first load of firewood and spend far too much time hauling and stacking the stuff in the little space under the house, and I’ll be talking to my landlord about getting that warped baffle plate replaced this time instead of another attempt at repair. Right now though I’m going to finish this post then put another piece of tree on the fire, sit back and watch the flames while I finish the glass of red that’s mysteriously appeared in front of me.
Have you ever lived with a wood heater or fireplace? Got any firey tips for this recovered teenage pyromaniac?
Come sit with me and tell me all about it. There’s enough red wine to share and though my couch may be fat and bulky it’s pretty comfy.
Last week I was lucky enough to score an invitation to tour the new Sustainability Learning Centre, under construction here in Hobart (thank you, day job!)
Developed as a partnership between the Department of Education, Greening Australia, the Catholic Education Office, the Association of Independent Schools of Tasmania and the CSIRO, the Centre will be a mixed educational, research and operational facility, attached to Hobart College. That’s pretty cool and all, but what makes the Centre so exciting and the reason for our tour is that the construction is a showcase of sustainable design in action.
The architects (morrison & breytenbach) are aiming for a 6-star Green Star rating from the Green Building Council of Australia, which would place the building in the “world leadership” category for environmentally sustainable design. To get this certification the building uses a range of clever designs and materials. Being able to get a look at the construction process to see how it’s done was fascinating!
Here are a few of the design aspects and construction techniques they’re using for the project:
- Recycled building materials – all steel including the roofing, major structural timbers, bricks, crushed glass (as fill, aggregate and in concrete) and some insulation. Even the office desks will be made with recycled floorboards!
- Passive solar design – floor-to-ceiling north-facing windows (double-glazed) with Trombe walls and other convective and radiative heat transfer structures, coupled with clever insulation (ceiling, under-floor, window frames, etc.) and venting systems to allow good thermal control (openable windows – how sadly novel in a modern building).
- Alternative energy infrastructure – solar photo-voltaic cells, solar evacuated tubing water heating, underfloor water-based heating (powered by used cooking oil) and maximised sunlight.
- Alternative building materials & techniques – clinka for insulating aggregate and ‘concrete’, PVC-free materials (polyethylene plumbing and e-cables), using screws and nails in place of adhesives, minimal steel and concrete use (mostly recycled)
- Water saving – rainwater, greywater and blackwater capture, treatment and re-use, including water-garden filtering and small-scale drinking water treatment.
Sadly I forgot to grab my camera (first thing Friday morning is not my sharpest time) so I don’t have any photos to share. More disappointingly, there isn’t a web site for the project, so at present there’s no way yet to share all the great information and resources from the project with the wider public. Greening Australia are planning to put a site together soon though, and students at Hobart College have been able to study the design and construction as it progresses: a great hands-on way to build interest in and understanding of sustainable design.
I really hope this project gets some more promotion and the partners involved work to get information out about the techniques and materials used and the resources available for those of us interested in applying sustainable design principles to our own homes and projects. The people I spoke to seemed surprised that I thought it so important as “the information’s all out there”. Yes, there’s a lot of information out there, but without serious research or expertise it’s impossible to know what will and won’t work in a specific city or climate, or what is suitable and efficient to apply at domestic scales. It’s also hard to find information on what’s actually available in terms of resources, materials skills and knowledge in your local area, and to build those networks between designers, suppliers, builders and ourselves.
Hopefully Greening Australia Tasmania will get a suitable website going soon and we can all share in what’s been learnt through this project; meanwhile I’m happy to be sharing the many things I learnt last Friday. Most of all I’m very pleased to know that we have the knowledge, skills and determination to get a project like this happening in Hobart: little city on an island at the bottom of the world, far away from the environmental leading lights of Europe. If we can do it, with our small population, apparent skills shortage, shitty economy and the tyranny of distance, then most anywhere can. The key ingredient is finding the people with the drive and leadership to steer the idea to reality.
We need more people who believe that projects like this can be done, and finding that they exist might just have been the most exciting part of my little tour.
Have you thought about building ‘green’? Please share your projects, inspirations, experiences and resources!
Little pied cormorant (Microcarbo melanoleucos), Lake Daylesford, Daylesford, Victoria.
Seek moments of stillness.
This week marks a major work deadline for me, with the final draft of a project due tomorrow that’s been the best part of a year in the making. Despite the long lead-time it’s now a sprint to the finish to get everything done and off to the publishers tomorrow. I’ve been working long days, then dealing with the house move on the weekends and it’s fair to say I’ve just about had it.
It’s late, I’m tired, grumpy and in serious need of a massage, and I still need to do the dishes before bed. Despite a valiant attempt at writing something thoughtful about electricity costs there is no finished blog post tonight. I’m accepting defeat and prioritising getting some sleep.
One more long day tomorrow and I should be done. This weekend I shall sleep and sleep until I am no longer a tired and grumpy little fish. Unlike the gruff old fellow above, the grumpy look doesn’t sit well with me.
Right, dishes, shower, bed!
The weekend just gone marked the end of my lease at the House of the Gumtrees and I spent most of it tidying up the gardens, despite the inclement weather. I’d waited til the last moment to do it, resisting the reality of abandoning my lovely little garden.
Still, waiting for the colder weather made the emotional work easier, if not the physical. A sudden cold snap had finished off the last of the summer’s veggies that had been struggling on. The chilly weather also made shovelling out the compost bin a much less unpleasant task! Yes, I dug out my compost bin in the sleet and took the lovely mess with me, sleepy worms and all.
I had to remove the bin anyway, thus needed somewhere to put the contents. Musing on the quandary with a neighbour a few weeks previously, her dad – a fellow keen gardener – interjected to say he couldn’t understand the problem, of course I’d be taking my compost with me! So I bought a plastic garbage bin and shovelled it all in, locked the lid on tight and threw it in the back of my little car and drove across town. Now it’s sitting in a corner in the back yard waiting for me to dig a new bin in and get the process started all over again.
It was nice to see how well the compost was progressing and to marvel at the numbers of worms working hard at turning my scraps into soil. When I moved in to the place 2.5 years ago there wasn’t a single worm to be found anywhere in the garden, yet somehow they found their way: little red wrigglers writhing in the compost and big fat crawlers deeper in the garden soil. During my diggings (transplanting self-seeded annuals to tidy the beds) I also found some lovely fat grubs and scuttling beetles: signs of healthy, living soil.
I made this garden.
It’s the first serious go I’ve had at growing things. I’ve always had a collection of herbs everywhere I’ve lived, plus the occasional tomato plant and chilli, but here I gardened properly for the first time, learning about growing things in the strange cool climate. I planted bulbs for the first time and was rewarded with the splendid spectacle of spring blossoms. I got serious about tomatoes, as you can see! I went a bit bonkers for brassicas, growing broccoli (purple-sprouting and romanesco), kale (cavalo nero and frilly) and tatsoi. I experimented with edible natives (thanks to the wonderful Provenance Growers) and indulged my love of herbs.
One reckless day I came home with a raspberry cane and sweet dreams of summer. I picked my first meagre harvest last summer, but dug the now-much-larger canes up on Saturday and took them with me. They’ll go into the ground here this weekend, helped along by a heaping of that lovely compost, and hopefully I’ll be rewarded with a bigger harvest this coming summer.
For once I had the space to dedicate a little soil to frivolous pretty things, planting a cheery blanket of violas that renewed itself each spring (and hey, the flowers are edible!), though I did claw back some space from the ever-spreading seaside daisy I inherited. I waged an unending war with the arum lilies and went into chemical-free battle against an army of snails.
On summer mornings and evenings I’d sit out on the little deck, soaking up the sun and watching life buzz around me in my own little haven. Many days I’d come home from work, drop off my things and head straight out there to pick some fresh herbs or veg for that night’s dinner and I swear nothing tastes sweeter than what you’ve grown yourself.
I made this garden, but it’s mine no longer. Now I have a new neglected patch of hardened and compacted dirt to turn into something special. It’s going to take a lot of time and hard work, but at least I can choose not to work in the sleet!
For now the new garden lies unrealised, quietly dreaming of spring.
Tasmanian pademelon (Thylogale billardierii) – the smallest wallaby – Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania.
We share our world with millions of other creatures. Treat them with care and respect.
Last week I went to listen to Warren Macdonald give a talk about his life, philosophies and experiences. The key theme of Warren’s talk was coping with change and a comment he made in passing really got me thinking…
Talking about coaching corporate clients on coping with change Warren commented that they often find it impossible to accept that global economy has permanently changed; that the “Global Financial Crisis” isn’t a temporary blip but a turning point but a brave new frontier.
So are we really watching the death of modern democratic capitalism? I can’t help but think that Warren’s right. This economic slow-down isn’t like others we’ve weathered: for the first time we’re experiencing a lack of capital. We seem to have reached the limits of our resources.
Combined with the stressors of climate change and peak oil production it seems highly unlikely that the good times will return. Economies around the world are collapsing with the exception of those countries lucky enough to still have natural resources left to exploit (and living in one such country it’s obvious that the resulting two-speed economy is entirely unsustainable. When we run out of things to dig up and export Australia too will be in economic trouble.). Countries harder hit by recession are trending towards political extremism at both ends of the spectrum in what seem like great acts of denial that the way we live needs to change.
Meanwhile the global distribution of wealth slides ever further into gross inequality, with the world’s richest 1% commanding 40% of global wealth (though it must be noted that the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has continually decreased over the last 30 years) and the general public seems more interested in celebrities than science, and politics than policy, with the media happy to play along. Here in Australia the quality of political discourse appears to have hit an all-time low, with politicians obsessed with popularity and opinion polls instead of sound policy and solid ethics. It’s getting rather depressing.
I look around me, at the politics, the economics, the environment, the science and the culture and become more and more certain that big change is coming. We in the first world can’t keep consuming at the current rate; the rich can’t keep accumulating greater wealth; corporations can’t keep selling us more stuff we don’t need. Our resources are finite and we’re crashing into our limits, but there is hope.
A growing number of people seem to be challenging what I see as our toxic culture, questioning the conventional economic thinking that continual growth is essential, that quality of life is intrinsically linked to spending power. I keep meeting thoughtful, intelligent people who are opting out, choosing a simpler life in the search for sustainability and happiness. Revolting against the dominant paradigm, these folk are finding that a life with a lower income and more hard work can actually prove more joyful than the coveted big-house-in-the-suburbs lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not consigning themselves to struggle-street or sacrificing modern conveniences completely, but making a conscious decision to question their values and reduce their consumption. They’re living smaller, more connected lives, more closely linked to nature and community, and they seem to be happier for it.
More and more people seem to be accepting that the world has changed, working with it instead of fighting and proving that sometimes less really is more. They inspire me.
Change is inevitable, but when we embrace it we can thrive.
Do you think the world has irrevocably changed in recent years? Have you made significant changes to your way of life? How has change shaped who you are and how you’re living?
 A few years ago Warren lost both his legs in a freak hiking accident. Now he climbs mountains and inspires others to find their passion and test their limits. Learn more about Warren at www.warren-macdonald.com.
 Wikipedia: Causes of the Great Depression & Causes of the GFC
 France goes socialist, Greece rejects austerity measured but fails to elect a government with votes split between fascist & socialist parties and the Tory-led UK is looking more and more like a basket case.
Balance is an essential quality of living sustainably: prioritising activities and accepting limitations to reach your goals and avoid the pitfalls of over-commitment, burn-out and apathy. Balance is critical in managing our time, resources and health, maintaining momentum and juggling competing demands. It’s so damn important, and I’ve been so bad at it.
I may have the best of intentions, but I over-promise and under-deliver. I take on too many commitments, throwing myself into activities without allocating time to rest, relax and nourish myself. I lose sight of the big picture, expending too much energy on small stuff or prioritising things that really could wait. Depressingly, I still get sucked into the time-wasting void of the internet. I say yes too readily and I never, ever get enough sleep.
It’s a familiar pattern: procrastinate and fall behind then go into manic over-drive, or over-estimate what I can do in a given amount of time and run around like a mad thing trying to keep my promises until eventually the mind or body cracks under the pressure and I succumb to sickness or anxiety. It’s the habit of a lifetime but it has become a problem: it’s clearly unsustainable.
Experience and expert advice has taught me that I need structure and routine to help me find balance, though routine doesn’t come easily to me. The last six months have seen the routine I worked so hard to establish disintegrate completely due to housemate dramas, injuries, illness and a period of rapid change and uncertainty. It hasn’t been good for me!
Now I’m living on my own and starting to settle into the Cottage it’s time to work on establishing new routines and seeking that elusive balance.
I’ve been pushing so hard to get this place set up and the House of the Gumtrees ready for final inspection (not helped by my housework-shy and occasionally stupid ex-housemate) I haven’t been setting aside time for me, winding up tired, cranky and no fun to be around. After having a minor meltdown last week over a dodgy oven I realised I was long over-due for a break to re-charge and relax. Despite my seemingly endless to-do list I took some time out last weekend to look after myself, heading out to Mt. Field National Park with a good friend for some quality time in the forest.
It was just what I needed, helping me to clear my head and re-evaluate my priorities. I still have just as much to get done, but now I have a much better idea of how to do it. And the best part? We were lucky enough to find a protected pocket of fagus up there, still blazing with colour. *happy face*
Of course I’m going to keep struggling with balance. It’s going to take me a long time and a lot of conscious effort to learn to walk that fine line between effectiveness and burn-out, but establishing a basic routine and prioritising sleep and forest time is a positive first step. I have no doubt I’ll mess it up many more times, but the important thing is to keep learning and working towards finding that blissful state of equilibrium.
If I’m to build the life I want to live I need to find balance.
How do you maintain balance in your life?
Tamar River, Launceston, Tasmania.
Find time to stop, reflect and be amazed by where you find yourself.
(I need to take my own advice.)
P.S. I have home internet access again! Hopefully regular posting will resume next week.