The grass is greener on the other side of our city to country-coast tree-sea change fence but it hasn’t quite panned out the way we expected.
We love our new life at Taylors Arm, and not given the city life we left second thoughts. A few days short of two months along, much has been accomplished; some planned, some figured out as we go. We haven’t had a proper break yet… in hindsight we realised even thinking it possible to combine holidays with a move was kidding ourselves. We’re settling into a home that’s been marking time for a decade, and fielding new challenges & opportunities including preparing for our caravanning travel adventures. Most things take longer and more effort than we think. More often than not our days leave us feeling exhausted. The effects of our previous life of 5 am starts 6 days a week has collided with the new and caught up with us. I keep repeating the words Relax – Patience – Process – Journey like a mantra. I have a multitude of blog post narratives running around my head and a miscellany of photos on my phone which I
will need to share.
However, in the midst of it all we garden, which is a good place to begin catching up. I started taking photos and planned this blog post weeks ago. Ah well, these things take time…
Our situation is sub-tropical, coastal hinterland. We use little water on the garden as it only comes from the sky, the house rainwater tanks and grey water run-off (we use eco-friendly green household products). Over the years we’ve supplemented the original hardy garden -the house was built in the 1930’s- adding native & flowering shrubs & vines, cottage plants, herbs and odd little garden ornaments. We’re starting off simply with a vege garden in containers using those we had on our city apartment balcony and others cached from footpath discard piles because for much of this year we plan to be away travelling. We don’t use chemicals or sprays. No matter how much effort we put in, the garden will never be orderly… or finished. Having such a garden is a blessing.
I get the appeal of an adventurous leap between disparate lifestyles + locations but part of me is thankful I already have the lay of the land to which the G.O. and I are headed; not so much tree-sea changing our life from city to country-coast but evolving via steady steps of progression… alleviating the possibility of transplant shock.
Later this year the G.O. and I will have owned together our house at Taylors Arm for a decade. I grew up in the country but lived in urban environs all my adult life. My rural village experiences haven’t been quite as were depicted in the U.S. TV series Green Acres but the weekends and holidays we spend at Taylors Arm give me the opportunity to reacquaint myself with the vagaries of country life prior to leaving the city to reside there permanently.
Our house was empty for some time before we took possession and it was in need of a good clean. We were up for the job but after having spent our first hot summer day in situ scrubbing dirt off the surfaces and onto ourselves, we were also up for a cold beer and a hot shower. As it does from time to time, the electricity cut out, minutes before we were about to jump in the shower.
As the house water is supplied via rainwater tanks fed by an electric pump, no power meant no water. The electricity came back on in the early hours long after we’d half filled the bath via saucepans of water obtained in a trickle from the sole outside garden tap and heated on an ancient gas fuelled camping stove. At least the beer was cold.
The first Christmas is etched in our memory as being hot as hell; 40+ degrees Celsius (104 F) on Christmas Eve as I was trying to roast a turkey in a too-small electric kettle barbecue under the back awning of the house. To make it fit, the G.O. flattened out the turkey in the manner of Portuguese style chicken, to be forever remembered as the year of ‘roadkill turkey’.
Since then we’ve installed roof insulation, whirlybird roof vents, ceiling fans and window awnings; making the summer months much pleasanter. And we’ve reverted to more manageable roast chicken and cold ham for Christmas lunch.
Resident fauna don’t care whose name is on the deeds, or who does the work. They come with the house as a package deal. I’m not overfond of bats to say the least but have become accustomed to sable microbats at dusk flitting past, darting into almost imperceptible cracks in the house’s structure.
Over the years we’ve been friendly with neighbouring turkeys, geese, chickens and cows. We’ve had visiting wallabies, goannas, ducks, dogs, cats, snakes and a fox. Also, we aren’t the only inhabitants of our house. Fortunately George the carpet python moved on from our roof space but making themselves at home in addition to the bats we have; birds, frogs, lizards, mice, a bandicoot and the biggest mangiest meanest old possum I’ve ever encountered. Its traverses of the roof sound like not just a single creature but an army.
The G.O. wasn’t convinced of the possum’s notoriety until one summer evening he decided see for himself what was on the awning roof near the big bottlebrush tree. The G.O. climbed the ladder he’d used for cleaning the guttering, strolled across the roof expecting to encounter one of the neighbour’s cats enjoying the last of the warmth… but was instead met then pursued by an aggressive arboreal marsupial displeased the G.O. was interrupting its constitutional. The G.O. didn’t bother with the ladder beyond the first rung down, leaping to the safety of the ground as the possum growled its disapproval at the invasion of its space. Possum 1: G.O.: Nil.
I have a horror of dead things, so the G.O. and I have an arrangement. I deal with live things -except snakes which we tend to just leave alone- and he deals with the demised. That means particularly incursions of spiders and mice are my domain. To the G.O.’s frustration I usually let the spiders be -even if it means showering in their proximity- but if pressed I will corral them into a plastic tub and release them into the garden, usually too close to the house to suit the G.O. but I refuse to walk for miles to appease him.
I also employ the same technique for evicting mice. The G.O. doesn’t have the aversion to rodents he does to spiders but after umpteen rounds of the kitchen in fruitless pursuit of Taylor’s Arm’s own Speedy Gonzales, the G.O. paused long enough for the mouse to jump up on the table to assess the worthiness of its opponent, and I swear I saw it laugh. After being bested the G.O. no longer deigns to participate in their contests. Mouse: 1. G.O.: Nil.
My own mouse-keeping efforts haven’t been without glitches. I learned the hard way after scooping them up mice aren’t as cute as they look, and their teeth are sharp. Still merciful I tossed the ungrateful bitey little bugger -alive- over the fence into the back paddock. Our neighbour’s grey cat showed me the error of my ways by returning it -dead- to the back step. And looking at me as if to say there, I’ve avenged you, remember the lesson. Mouse: Nil. Grey Cat: 1.
The rainbow lorikeets act out their own colourful version of Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds, stalking us demanding a feed. When service has been too slow coming, they’ve followed me door to door around the verandah, and set up a stakeout at the door en route from the kitchen to the garden. Unlike their demands on the neighbours at least they haven’t come inside our house. Yet.
Local knowledge is gold, and the G.O. kindly and wisely pre-warned me about frogs who know no boundaries. Leroy, the main-man of our green frog gang has no respect for personal space. He’ll springboard off a back or… his claim to fame is attaching himself to the nether regions of an earlier-era female houseguest as she sat on the toilet resulting in her panicked flee to the hilarity of the assembled company. As a child I admired green frogs, from a distance, in their ability terrorise my aunts. Now I enjoy how they casually hang out with us, like we’re part of the furniture in their house.
Visitors sometimes look askance at our tap water. Because the aforementioned bottlebrush tree overhangs a lot of the water collecting area of the roof, our water may be tinted an interesting shade of tan. Fortunately bottlebrush trees are also called “tea trees” and “frequently used in teas… has antibacterial, antifungal, and antioxidant properties”. Although the colour takes a bit of getting used to, there’s no taste or harm to it.
At a time before we’d installed gas appliances and a wood burning fire we’d been supposed to take a winter holiday in Queensland, however the G.O.’s boss vetoed the time off so we settled for a long weekend at Taylors Arm, but Mother Nature intervened causing us to spend a cold early-winter week flooded in, several days of it without electricity. The experience wasn’t quite camping, nor was it glamping.
To underline the lesson, once the power came back on the TV advertisements teased us with “Queensland… Beautiful one day perfect the next“. Taylors Arm might not quite live up to that but writers have long waxed lyrical about bucolic pleasures…
“There is virtue in country houses, in gardens and orchards, in fields, streams, and groves, in rustic recreations and plain manners, that neither cities nor universities enjoy.” ~ Amos Bronson Alcott
“Transplant shock is a term that refers to a number of stresses occurring in recently transplanted trees and shrubs. It involves failure of the plant to root well, consequently the plant becomes poorly established in the landscape. New transplants do not have extensive root systems, and they are frequently stressed by lack of sufficient water. Plants suffering from water stress may be more susceptible to injury from other causes such as the weather, insects, or disease. When several stresses are being experienced, the plant may no longer be able to function properly.”
Another ‘branching out’ story inspired by comments to my Out on a Limb post.
The G.O. drove. It was quiet and my thoughts roamed. I was thinking about numbers. Heading back to the city three days after we’d driven up to Taylors Arm for a quick busy Queen’s Birthday long weekend, my mind calculated we’re coming up to owning our house for a decade and we’d been driving this highway public holiday weekends and then some, so my very ordinary maths estimated we’d spent about 140 six-hour days in the car doing just that. Given I have a zero annual leave balance, to consider I’ve spent a good part of them in the car pains me slightly.
In contrast to this contemplation of distance between our city and country habitats is the realisation we’re making progress. We veer from a quiet home-life busy work-centric city existence to hyper-gardening home handymen on long weekends and holidays. In between we have plans and measurements and lists and reminders scrawled across numerous convenient yellow post-it notes.
But also we manage to get things done remotely. So far this year we’ve had a gas stove installed and a shed built without us being on site. Both items have been on the patiently waiting list while we figured out what we really wanted. Ditto for the new fridge/freezer purchased via phone & internet but which we managed to be around for delivery. No wastage there either, both the old electric stove and fridge found a good home with a neighbour.
Taking our time has enabled us to rethink our energy consumption needs towards a lighter footprint. Originally, back in the crazy days of cheap electricity when climate change seemed to be a catchphrase rather than reality we were aiming for pigeon pair fridges, chest freezer and a bar fridge! However, the days of thoughtless energy consumption are gone. The clothes dryer purchased because of my penchant for warm towels in winter is too good to get rid of but now rarely used, so has gone to a corner of the shed. The bar fridge is alongside it waiting for a new owner.
An upside to slow progress is better options come along, and it gives things time to find us. It took us years to source the right kitchen sink unit and longer to find the kitchen sink tap still in its box waiting for the G.O. to get time to install it, so much more functional than the current tap with a bit of rubber hose clipped to the end. Two big old cupboards, shelves and a pot stand have come our way in the last couple of months. And when he couldn’t fulfil my wish for a side burner addition to his barbeque, the G.O. bought me my very own barbeque with side burner & hood on sale at a ridiculously low price. He of course isn’t parting with his old-faithful.
In turn, while wishing for his own the G.O. got by borrowing box trailers to move things, which twice involved doing running repairs on someone else’s trailer. The new barbeque and a cupboard bought in Sydney finally necessitated the G.O. parting with cash for his own. Delayed gratification sweetened his delight in a shiny new black trailer.
Then there’s the opportunity for serendipity that slow progress affords. As the shed build progressed, RHS neighbour put us in contact with an old friend of the G.O. Sixty years ago the G.O.’s family share-farmed on their property just down the road. This lovely, now older lady was cleaning out her late husband’s shed and offered the G.O., who’d spent much time in the farm sheds with him and his father before him, pick of the contents. Once again the G.O.’s trailer, plus RHS neighbour’s carted benches and tools home; the big timber bench coming back to Taylors Arm just up the street from the house where it originated.
Slow progress also requires flexibility, compromise, sharing and caring. We wouldn’t make quite so much progress without the kindness of neighbours and friends who are there for us when we’re in situ, and when we’re not. They mow our lawn, keep an eye on the house, help us move things, keep a spare house key and share a cat.
The G.O. and I although both cat lovers never considered our lifestyle suitable for a cat but Soossie Cat decided otherwise and shares herself between LHS neighbour and us. Soossie brought her kitten over for a visit last weekend. LHS neighbour wanted a litter of kittens, got two litters, and found other homes for them except Soossie’s grey and white daughter who will be staying. LHS neighbour now has our cat carrier so Soossie is off to the vet for her op, as will be daughter when she’s a little older.
We’ve still a little way to go, and inevitably more trips up and down the highway but steady-as-she-goes suits us just fine.
Some quit due to slow progress.
Never grasping the fact that slow progress…
… is progress. Anonymous
The sombre latter days of winter preceding the brighter busy-ness spring heralds provide me an opportunity to take stock of our life and progress moving it from city to country. After consideration, I pronounce it satisfactory. We’re getting better at living well in our quest for a simple life. Although it’s not perfect, fortunately we have chosen wisely many aspects we find good in the everydayness of.
Comforting when contemplating my sister’s escape from Melbourne’s chilliness to take a break in the Northern Territory, first stop Broome, one of my favourite places, then onto Darwin and Kakadu following a similar route the G.O. and I took a few [too many] years ago over a comparable fortnight period. A timeframe the G.O. and I decided was too short, too exhausting to ever again contemplate. I experienced a few pangs of Kimberley region holiday envy, and got on with Sydney day-to-day life.
I’ve been spending days at my desk glued to the computer screen reviewing documents to a tight deadline, which after I’d rapidly laboured though a thousand or so, the deadline stretched… Notwithstanding I was captive and working I was at least sat in the sun drinking pots of tea and nibbling consoling muffins, so I considered those worse off than me. That would be the G.O. whose unpleasantly cold, windy and dusty construction site environment I wouldn’t survive half an hour in, let alone his 50 hour working week.
The G.O. and I were planning our own late winter escape of a week-long road trip to Queensland but dissecting the time-distance continuum it was pronounced implausible, and shelved [yet again] in favour of a week of attending to a little business, and as much R&R as possible sitting in the sun or by the fire at Taylors Arm.
It’s a change of plan that if she hasn’t sensibly decamped to reside with LHS neighbour our Taylors Arm independent living Claytons Soossie Cat will approve of no doubt, as it will facilitate her access to the inside amenities.
In the meantime our latest Sydney independent living Soossie Cat has after a year of ad hoc beneficence become sufficiently familiar to intercept the G.O. on his evening smoke-stroll, somehow understanding when she does it causes me to appear with not one but two tubs of cat food to feed her hungry self.
We’re impatient to be off on our longer term adventures both at Taylors Arm, and travelling further afield. Consolingly though, we see our forbearance transforming our dreams and plans into the landscape of our future. We’ve recently moved a couple of big [metaphorical] hills but the process requires more industry until the exciting stage is practically and sensibly within reach.
Our basic tools:
buy what we need to live well but not extravagantly.
ask do we need it now, can we do it differently?
Simple… Although it took us a while to feel like we were balancing it well enough. It’s not flawless. Sometimes time & energy is short. External factors are encountered. But the more we live, eat and spend ethically, sustainably, enjoyably, prudently; the less effort it takes to live, eat and spend ethically, sustainably, enjoyably, prudently… makes sense, huh.
“So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. And remember that life’s A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 1/4 percent guaranteed) Kid, you’ll move mountains.” ― Dr. Seuss
Taking advantage of the embryonic interim we are assimilating much of the lifestyle we aspire to. Once we attain it, carefully considering the best use of our resources will be a necessity. But now it has the correlating benefit of furthering our efforts.
It truly is a mountain of a process, and depending what perspective we’re viewing it from sometimes it’s hard to see progress. At the end it will all come together quickly, and things will get busy and scary… because scary accounts for the other 1 and 1/4 percent in Dr Seuss’s math.