For some time now I’ve felt a sensation akin to opening an unwished-for gift over and over again in public, wearing a polite expression and appearing to be gracious for fear of offending the attendant audience.
After a passing mention “for me the cost of the pandemic has merely been two years of truncated life” in my previous post, I decided going forward I wouldn’t blog anything Covid related: we’ve all been doing our very best to put on a brave face, make the most of it, got the drill down pat.
However, after two years… it happened in a moment. Cabin fever à la pandemic finally got to me.
The past six years since we relocated from city to country in late 2015 have had their challenges, especially the Covid years 2020-2021… and now 2022.
“The fool represents the hero’s journey – taking chances, leaping into the unknown, following one’s inner truth, trusting the self and embracing life’s experiences with the spirit of your life force. Step into your personal adventure with lightness of heart and an awareness of the true self – let your intuition guide you through the unknown journeys that lay ahead. Be the fearless journeyman.”
― Cathy McClelland, The Star Tarot
Beginning our new life here in the village, we pursued the idea of reinventing and sustaining ourselves via self-employed handyman, lawn and garden care services. The G.O. started mowing lawns, a modest beginning helping out neighbours who couldn’t do it themselves. With a little financial support from Austudy, I studied horticulture, attending face-to-face classes at Tafe NSW twice a week during 2017 to June, 2019, then in July 2019 began studying permaculture by distance education, i.e., at home.
One of the gambits contributing to my successful transition from city corporate-legal work life to rural dweller-downshifter was not spending 24/7 at home. So, I really needed to find something to get me out of the house…
In February 2020 shortly after devastating local bushfire and flood events, a couple of local friends and me decided to begin the process of submitting an application to Increasing Resilience to Climate Change Community Grants which aimed “to support projects that help communities to take action and manage climate change impacts by being able to better plan, prepare for, and respond to drought, bushfires heatwaves, storms and floods, to increase their resilience to the impacts of climate change” with a view to implementing a resilient community initiative in Taylors Arm. Unfortunately, if it hadn’t already been an early casualty of Covid, additional extenuating circumstances meant this venture lost momentum before it even had a chance.
After completing the permaculture course in June 2020, I breathed a sigh of relief at having some spare time, and post-study got my life back by catching up on things I’d had less opportunity for. Reading for pleasure, gardening, blogging, recreational cooking kept me occupied -at home- while I began rolling out my permaculture design, five-year plan and Sunshine Cottage Urban Permaculture.
In February 2021 I signed up for a Fundamentals in Ceramics course with Phoenix School of Arts… after attending for couple of weeks, it became another casualty of Covid.
In June 2021 I submitted an expression of interest to Permaculture Australia to include Sunshine Cottage Urban Permaculture in their Open Permaculture Places initiative… but soon after they emailed me advising it me wasn’t going ahead as they were trying to resolve an unexpected issue. I’ve made follow-up enquiries but I’m still waiting… another Covid casualty, I suspect.
Mid 2022, we made much-anticipated things happen when the G.O. officially retired. He bought a vintage motorcycle and joined Coffs Harbour & District Motorcycle Restorers Club. He’s been to two meetings and no group rides but does ride over and hang out at his mate’s clubhouse from time-to-time. We bought a new-to-us van and joined Coffs Coast Caravan Club. We’ve been on one club trip for 10 days, and one of our own for a week. What hindered our plans? Yep, you guessed it.
When things don’t go to plan… make another plan… and another and another.
About the time I finished the permaculture course I became a fulltime carer for the G.O. whose nagging injuries we assumed would mend when he quit operating heavy machinery after almost a lifetime of earthworks, didn’t. In fact, they worsened, necessitating an industrial deafness workers compensation claim and 3 surgeries over 4 years, that improved the situation somewhat but for a few troublesome issues that can’t be remedied. He soldiers on, weathers the effects using moderate amounts of over-the-counter pain relief as he is adversely affected by commonly prescribed opioids and NSAIDs. During this time, with the G.O. medically unfit to work, at the suggestion of Services Australia he applied for disability support with the assistance of our wonderful GP and later the Disability Advocate… three soul-destroying years and two appeals on, he gave up and waited for his Age Pension.
In parallel, over the past 6 years, the G.O. decreased his lifelong reliance on nicotine, first changing from tailor made cigarettes to tobacco and roll-your-own, followed by vaping, gradually reducing his intake. But last December after feeling quite unwell for a couple of months and suspecting vaping might be the culprit, he quit cold turkey. I’m so proud of him but it’s not an easy road for either of us.
Fortunately, I was successful in securing a Carer Payment. I know… I don’t understand how that works. My role as a carer is officially about helping the G.O. physically. On good days he does well enough… it’s more about on the bad days managing the feelings of frustration that understandably arise from not being able to do what and as much as he once could, and the pain he suffers when he inevitably persists in doing so. Emotional support is a valid and significant aspect of caring but there’s universal agreement that it suffers lack of formal acknowledgement. Nevertheless, it’s elemental.
Two days after that January blog post I hit a wall…
It’s taken a while –Taylors Arm rural location and the ongoing Covid constrained lifestyle significantly contributing- for me to comprehend how much the carer role shapes my life. Only in the moment before picking up my phone and making a call to the Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centre, did I grasp it, thinking… hoping surely there’s a face-to-face peer support network. Well, there is, apparently. After a phone interview with Carers NSW, I was linked to the Carer Gateway and referred on to my local Carers NSW services. But of course, hands on care of carers is yet another casualty of Covid, so it may take some time.
That’s when the funny thing happened…
A couple of days after my “moment” I stumbled across a Lock the Nambucca Valley Facebook post. Once again, our area (Upper Taylors Arm, Taylors Arm, Burrapine, Thumb Creek, McHughs Creek & Jasper Creek, South Arm, Upper Buccrabendinni and surrounding areas) is affected by exploration activities at this stage only, granted by Exploration License 3295 for precious metals. Should it progress to actual mining there is a very real threat of arsenic and other heavy metal pollution of the river system and floodplains, as happened over the mountain with the Macleay River, and the inevitable significant impacts to the environment and economy affecting households, families, farms, businesses, tourism, flora and fauna which are dependent on unpolluted waterways and habitat. Similar occurred previously for antimony and gold exploration that were opposed and didn’t go ahead, but the current development is a call to arms: distribution and placement of signs to create awareness and action; correspondence to local elected officials; and lodgement of written objections with Regional NSW’s Mining, Exploration and Geoscience Department.
The day after, yet another Facebook post… OzGREEN put the call out for participants for their Resilient Communities program being held in nearby Bowraville, Scotts Head and Macksville in the Nambucca Valley as well as neighbouring Coffs Coast, Macleay Valley and Clarence Valley. I signed up, and messaged the link to my friend who’d been part of the foundered February 2020 Taylors Arm resilient communities grant endeavour. Almost immediately I received a call from OzGREEN’s Program Manager, enquiring if my friend and me were interested in facilitating the Macksville sessions. Why not… let’s do it!
Just what I needed to get me out of the house. Almost but not quite in the nick of time… effectual nonetheless.
A week later… I began reading Tarot for Change: Using the Cards for Self-Care, Acceptance, and Growth by Jessica Dore
“A book of secrets, symbols, and stories, Tarot for Change is a charm for remembering that our problems are not new, we are never alone, and whether we know it or not, we are always in a process of change. “
I reviewed it thusly… “This book is like having a benevolent and wise friend at your fingertips. Read through from beginning to end to appreciate the author’s insightful take on The Fool’s Journey. Myself, I employ it as an oracle of sorts. In uncertain times, a simple exercise is to hold the book and ask “what is this about”, open it up to an entry, read and ponder upon what you take from it. Alternatively, similar to a simple tarot card reading hold the book, ask 3 questions… what is the past influence, what is happening presently, and what can you tell me about the future… opening and reading the entry each time. I find it useful to bookmark my most recent pages, and to go back and re-read as things play out.”
If you made it to the end, well done, and well may you ask why I’m sharing this profound and prolonged missive with its many links. There’s no shortage of happy stories about the positives of downshifting, sea change and tree change but not much about the pitfalls… ours is offered simply as a cautionary tale. Always have plan B, and C… and never ever lose heart.
Special thanks and gratitude to my blogging, Instagram and Facebook family and friends without whose virtual company I would’ve got to that last knot on my coping rope a long time before I did.
“If plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters – 204 if you’re in Japan.”
― Claire Cook, Seven Year Switch
My camera roll tells the rest of the pictorial story for February…
Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow