Tag Archives: Garden

a writer’s day

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Life has become more highly ritualised now that production of my doctoral creative artefact – my permaculture travel memoir – has begun to ramp-up.

In the morning, it goes like this…

5am or 5:30am rise. Empty potty (it’s too far to walk outside to the composting loo during the night). Get dressed. Wash face. Boil kettle. Pick fresh sprigs of mint; dodge bees drinking from flowers; brew pot of mint tea. Simultaneously brew a fresh cafetiere of coffee… carry both into the writing studio, place them on the heat-proof ceramic tile on my desk. Back to the kitchen to fetch a mug.

How can I impress upon you the importance of choosing the right mug? Which one today? So much depends upon it – the success of the written word.

Shall I choose this one or that? The green, or the midnight blue Japanese mug… the mottled, sandy-coloured oldies that came with the house… or my favourite, the cream-coloured Korean mug with the picture of the purple and yellow plums on the side?

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Start work.

Three to four hours of generating ‘fresh’ words. I call this process ‘seeding’. It’s how I flesh out the narrative and get words down on paper.

Break. 

Usually about 1 hour, during which I undertake a combination of the following: wash dishes (whilst listening to Margaret Throsby’s midday interview); make bed; browse the garden; eat lunch; prepare the evening meal.

Afterwards I resume work for another 2-3 hours. Time to edit the ‘old’ work I produced last week during my ‘seeding’ sprees. I call this part ‘weeding’, though sometimes it’s more like turning over the compost, trying to make the various elements disperse and break down more evenly. Integrate. Obtain a fine tilth. A perfect growing medium.

The final hour is of gentler, less intensive work. Sometimes it’s note-taking from secondary texts I’m working with: travel memoirs; natural histories; permaculture handbooks; or ethnographies…  This is the most brain-dead part of the day, reserved for things like notetaking or backing-up. 

Eventually, it’s time to finish. How to break the intensity of the day? 

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I try to leave the studio neat and tidy for tomorrow. Coming into an orderly space helps. I neaten the piles of books, pages, pens, drafts and drafts of drafts. They’re piling up. Soon I’ll have to confront them and file them away. When the doctorate is over I’ll probably mulch the garden with the seeding pages. I’ll be eating my words!

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The birds

A Rufus fantail pip-pip-pips in the garden. I watch it skitter along the central rib of a palm frond, which in an act of biomimicry, is also fantail shaped. The bird doesn’t stay long in one place. It swoops between frond and treetrunk, pausing  to unfurl its flashy tail, dancing from side to side. The bird is as fleet of foot as it is of wing. Two bounces and he’s off, taking his provocative self-advertisement elsewhere.

I’ve seen the Lewin’s honeyeater already this morning. I assume it’s the same bird I saw yesterday but it might not be. There are loads of them about. The Lewin’s has a liking, I’ve noticed, for the creamy two-inch trumpet-shaped flowers hanging in clusters from the drooping green stems of the male papaya tree. The birds have a knack for reaching their beaks right up inside the flowers, probing for nectar. The plundered flowers fall to the ground where they lie concentrated in piles beneath the Lewin’s favourite perches. The pattern they make on the soil a reflection of the Lewin’s desire.

I watch out the window of my studio as another creamy trumpet flower floats to the ground. The soil it lands upon is dark, rich and wet. It’s not like Richie and I to leave soil exposed: big permaculture no-no! But it’s something we’re trialling. What we’re doing is waiting for the rows of miniature broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, kailarn and kale that we sewed directly late last month to get a wriggle on: once their heads are a few inches above the soil we’ll lay on thick mulch, tucking them in to enjoy a slow season of growth and productivity. We’d never try it in summer. Too hot.

Looking again at the soil I imagine it smells sweetly of hummus, microbes and mycelium.

Like Richie and the papaya tree, the soil isn’t native to this place. It’s a ring-in. It landed here on the end of mine and Richie’s spades, gathered in wheelbarrows from the mountain of shit towering in the back of the ute: rotted cow manure from a dairy ten clicks down the road. Good Obi Obi cow shit. Continue reading

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the one that got away…

Richie peeping through the window at the Bali Marina as our boat-dreams sail away

Richie peeping out the window of Bali Marina as our boat dreams sail away…

I write from Bali Marina where Richie and I are staging a stake-out (steak take-out?). We’ve been here three consecutive days for 3-4 hrs at a stretch. Today we’re pushing out the boat, clocking up a total of 9 hours, and counting…

Today we have our sights set on Churaki, a sturdy-looking catamaran. Onboard, 3 middle aged fellas from the Gold Coast/Tweed Heads area. All surfers in their day. Only one continues to ride his board, the other two have resorted to boogie boards and body surfing. No shame in that.

The skipper, Peter, is the founder of Kirra Surf. He and his ‘boys’ limped into port on monday to attend to a couple of engine filters that had become clogged by ‘dirty fuel’. Today, with their engine troubles behind them they’re out shopping for supplies in Denpasar, and tomorrow, after breakfast, they sail for Darwin via Komodo Island. Headlong into trade winds. Will they or will they not take us with them?

We watched slack-jawed from lounge chairs on the open-sided deck of the Bali Marina this morning while they loaded their boat with yellow jerry cans plum-full with fuel. Shirts off. Naked brown skin and bulging beer bellies. A brightly painted timber boat drew alongside and pumped their 800Lt tank full of diesel. We wished we were onboard too, scrubbing down the deck, checking charts; caught up in the muscle, hustle and bustle of preparation. Out of limbo and into the deep blue sea.

try and look casual... stake-out in the Marina cafe

try and look casual… the stake-out in the Marina cafe

We waited breathlessly as the sailors re-robed and marched purposefully off the pontoon toward us… straight into the black 4WD which was waiting, we guessed, to take then to Denpasar for one last attempt at having their sailing navigation program, Sea Map, installed on their brand-new computer. Silently, forlornly, we watch as they walk on by… barely a glance in our direction. Continue reading

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never miss your water

Now, I-I know that you never miss your water ’til you’re dry…
Diesel

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April in Koh Phangan and my body is a mobile irrigation system. Perspiration seeps unceasingly from pores that never close their eyes on the world. At the slightest sign of exertion – picking up a towel from the floor of the bathroom or tearing a square of paper from the toilet roll – a new response is triggered. I’m wet: perma-wet.

Cotton clothing works overtime in the heat, wicking moisture away from hard-to-reach places. Fresh sarongs, singlets and trousers become sodden in minutes, drooping un-flatteringly from my arms and legs in flaccid pockets that resemble a pelican’s throat pouch. My clothes have a permanent case of tuckshop lady’s arms, or is that just me?

The capacity of my body’s inbuilt sprinkler-system is astounding, if not slightly embarrassing. I’m dishing up salty water all over the place and meanwhile, more than half the island’s households, not to mention their gardens, are screaming out for water. Continue reading

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Blues in the night

The rain comes down and we do not run for cover: not Richie, Giovanni nor I: we’re in the garden planting plugs of capsicum, aubergine, tomato and cabbage into beds that have humped backs like camels and are as hairy as Cousin It. The shawn grass we’ve piled on top of the beds shields a treasury of seeds: garlic, onion, spinach, alfalfa, buckwheat, corn – a cocktail of life… pure vegetal goodness

Richie tears a packet of borage seeds open with his teeth, prodding the tiny specks into the earth with soily fingers – here, here, there, over there. He scatters a pile of seeds underneath the leaf beat plants that have remained in the soil since last summer and are as thick and mutinous as an oasis of miniature date palm, seed heads drooping like sprays of dates on the stalk.

The sky is caught between smiling gold and the blackened blue of bruising. The lights in the village are shaken by the thunder until they burn a furious shade of cocktail-peach.

There’s lightning on the mountaintop and I’m cackling because Giovanni is laughing loud and it’s nice to be in the garden, planting plants, and letting the rain soak our backs. Before long we will be inside drying off, packing our bags for Greece, sending one last wave of emails rippling out across the globe.

In twenty four hours Richie and I set sail for Igoumenitsa, and that will be the end of Italy, for now.

On our last night in Busso Giovanni promises to cook two bunches of agretti that he bought at the market the previous day. From a sealed plastic tupperware container in the fridge he produces two small inferior black truffles to show me; he and the dogs found them early that morning on their pre-dawn excursion. There’s every hope, I tell myself, that the scaly black eggs will arrive on our plates this evening, shaved over a mousse of polenta or a creamy risotto blanco.

A bottle of white wine is in the fridge chilling. There will be four of us tonight, like there was on the first night we were here, when Giovanni prepared a meal of sautéed wild chicory (prised from the lawn at the edges of the driveway), dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, served with fried eggs and shaved truffle, and fried polenta bread cooked on top of the stove in a cast iron pan.

Giovanni’s friend arrives with broad beans. He plonks them unceremoniously on the table. We’re invited to eat from the pods. They’re delectable: crisp, bitter and green. We snap-unlock the seams of the pods and throw the skins onto the table. “Good mulch,” says Richie, chewing reflectively while he gazes at the growing mound of skins: white and wooly on the inside, apple green on the outside. Broad beans will be one of the first things we plant in our garden, when we have one again, along with asparagus, artichoke, basil, strawberries, and agretti. Wonderful agretti! Pride of Italy!

When we arrive at Giovanni’s on the 24th of May our bodies are in Italy but our minds have set sail for Greece. We’ve stayed overlong in Italy, or so Richie keeps telling me. By my account, we’ve stayed exactly the right amount of time – neither too long, nor too short. Italy had been good to us.

As we pull up in front of Giovanni’s imposing stone farmhouse on the outskirts of Busso, I realise there’s still one experience I’m holding out for: Italian home-cooked food.

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The Wonder of ‘Alhambra’

Richie and I tend to eschew the type of tourist ‘experiences’ that require you to part with fistfuls of money. Waiting in line at the Alhambra ticket office in Granada was a fairly joyless experience. Richie fidgeted with his respectably hairy chin and seemed as likely to bolt as a colt after its first taste of the bridle bit.

I watched enviously as tourists who’d had the prescience to buy their tickets online breezed toward the open gates; silk shawls fluttering and leather sandals slapping the hallowed earth.

Eventually, after nearly forty five minutes of waiting, we acquired two tickets. Audio guide NOT included. “You’re kidding,” Richie breathed as he inspected the tickets. 2 hours to fill before the allotted time.

We walked back downhill over the saddle of Sacromonte where the sound of flamenco heels rapping on timber floors was almost sufficiently enchanting to disperse our penny-pinching fugg.

Through white streets; past portholes leading into mountain dwellings (the interiors of which we were never likely to see), we succumbed to the sadness and dislocation of being gypsies… of sorts…

Back up on the Alhambra we made ready to enter with our ticket and tourist map. “Choose wisely which monuments you visit,” the guide warned us, “save your legs.”

Richie’s permaculture perversion did the talking as we followed the shaded cyprus walkway to the gardens of the Generalife.

With the first glimpse of terraced gardens, fountains and scalloped bowls of trickling water everything was forgiven.

Richie was rapt by a series of channels and cisterns transporting flumes of water from terrace to terrace.

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‘La Granja’ Life

On day 58 of our ‘Overland to Oz’ adventure we arrived at our first Wwoof: a finca in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in Andalusia (Spain). The bus from Malaga took us along the coast road as far as Orgiva. From there it was a forty five minute hike up a rocky river bed to the steep white village of Bayacas.

Having divested ourselves of 5.79kg of excess belongings we were feeling lighter and more mobile than ever. “All we need now,” we said, as we trooped uphill, “is a 2-person tent and a saucepan for self-reliant off-road living.”

Shortly before nightfall we crested the ridge behind the finca. “Is this La Granja?” we called over a gate painted with images of free-ranging chickens. We were in the right place!

Our host, Kate, was expecting us. She showed us to our cassita: a rustic stone cabin with a timber and bamboo roof, wood burner, double mattress, 2-hob gas cooker, solar lights, table, two chairs and a few shelves of books/objects left behind by previous Wwoofers. It was a joy and a relief to be alone in our little cassita with a plateful of leftovers in front of us, and the night closing in outside. Very peaceful.

In the morning we joined the gang (4 others Wwofers + our host) to commence the day’s work. We cleared brush, stacked firewood and were shown about the finca.

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