Hello. It’s been a little quiet around here, and it’s going to stay so for a little while longer. Life is busy: big plans are afoot.
Last week I found myself a new home: a tiny cottage tucked away in the inner-Hobart suburb on Lenah Valley, neglected gem among ageing flats and renovated grandeur.
The cottage is old, though a thoughtful make-over about 15 years ago has made it comfortable. It’s small, basic, and is going to be a great exercise is living simply, as there’s no other way to make the place work. Aside from a few kitchen cupboards there’s no built-in storage and little room for furniture. There’s a cosy lounge, a workable but modest kitchen, an enclosed porch that’ll be my dining room (under lovely north-facing windows), a crowded bathroom-cum-laundry, a big-enough bedroom, and a teensy “second bedroom” that will just fit my desk and become the study.
I succeeded in getting my northerly aspect and efficient-to-heat spaces but didn’t do so well on insulation. The enclosed porch cannot be insulated and I’m pretty sure the main part of the cottage isn’t either. The floor has been tiled too, which may be a little chilly on winter mornings! Despite this, I don’t think I’m going to be too cold, for the lounge room houses a wood heater, built into the old fireplace. With a fire going the cottage will be toasty warm.
I was a little hesitant about taking a place with a wood heater, I must admit. It is more work and expense, buying and preparing firewood and collecting kindling, and the fire will need some time to get going before the cottage heats up. On top of that, burning wood for heat really isn’t the most environmentally-sound option when your power supply is hydro-electric. Of course hydro’s not a perfect option, but it’s a damn sight better than coal and green enough to make me think twice about lighting the fire.
In the end, the cottage ticked so many other boxes that I decided I could cope with the wood heater. The location is perfect: walking distance to shops and friends houses, a nice cycle to the office and my favourite coffee haunt, on a major bus route and in a surprisingly quiet little cul-de-sac off a main road. Although the kitchen window faces south, the rest of the cottage opens to the east and the north, making the most of the winter sun. Best of all though; it comes with a surprisingly large garden, ripe with potential!
It’s going to take some hard work to realise that potential, but I’m already dreaming about potato patches, beds of leeks, reams of beans and peas and a raft of sunflowers. The yard is fenced, so perhaps I could convince the landlords to let me have a couple of chickens to help keep the bugs down and give me fresh eggs. Oh, my mind is so full of ideas my hands itch to put into action!
I get the keys next week, on Friday the 13th (What better date to start a new adventure?), but there’s much to do between now and then. I’m sorting through and culling my possessions, reducing the amount of stuff I have to manage the lack of storage. The things I don’t need are being sorted into lots to sell, store, throw or give away, with attempts made to re-home as much as possible (I hate throwing out useful things!). I’m tidying the gardens here in preparation for leaving, digging up plants I plan to take with me and collecting seed. I’m refusing to shop, using up the food in my cupboards and cooking up all sorts of unusual but tasty things. Then there’s the inevitable paperwork associated with moving… Oh, and I’m broke. Paying bond plus double rent for a month will do that.
It’s Easter this weekend and the associated days off would be perfect for getting started on packing, but I won’t be here. Instead I’m travelling up to the sunny southern Gold Coast to spend time with family I haven’t seen in over a year. A trip booked in January, long before I’d thought about moving, to soothe the sting of not going home for Christmas. Yep, life is busy.
Wish me luck!
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:
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?
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.