Every sunday at Crystal Waters Eco Village Peter Van, and anybody wishing to join him, does a walk. It started off as showing a few of the newer locals around, getting to know the land. He still does the same today but with more followers, and to more places. I joined the walk today in a not too far away patch of nameless national forest.
It was beautiful bush/forest with a surprising water hole at the end. Being from South Australia (driest state in the driest country for the more foreign among you), It looked perfectly full and flowing, but the locals assured me it was very low and dry (perspective is all relative you see..). Not to make too light of the situation though – they really are in their worst drought for a long time. And much to my surprise many of the locals had come prepared with bathers, or failing that, just underpants. One by one, many jumped or shuffled in. The sight of an apprehensive young man climbing the bank only to let go and launch himself in was so much fun, the locals clapping and cheering for the feat.
We walked and talked, stopping often to marvel at something unseen or a new tree in flower. I stopped to touch a magnificent log that had been abandoned long ago – left to be shrouded in it’s green moss and plant life, carpety soft to touch. Amongst it all I met lots of new village locals. I happily chatted and listened on all manner of things including the plants, travelling, religion, the environment, politics, the local birds and their calls.
I loved the way that nature was part and parcel of normal conversation. It’s something I have noticed amongst lots of people living here – they are inherently observant of nature. They are in it, they see it, they live it – for some it’s not necessarily by intention either, but just by being immersed in it they naturally absorb it (indeed that’s the best way to learn, is it not?). So these people know things like when plants are (are should be) in flower and what weather is coming and thus how it relates to them. The cycles of nature are therefore more naturally noticed, accounted for and integrated (or used to mould) their lives. By living the way they do, it simply becomes part of their everyday. Amazing how little effort it takes to connect to important things if the lifestyle is set up to do so in the first place.
One of the couples I met, Peter & Lizzie, invited me back to their house for a cuppa and to see some of the things they were doing there. I first pegged Peter as an interesting character when he made a reference to there being “too many hippies” in the early stages of Crystal Waters. It struck me that not only does he not identify with hippies but actively dissociates himself from them, contrary to what most might expect of someone living in the village.
It’s so interesting to observe the lifecycle of my own impressions – I came with ,unconsciously, preconceived notions about what people were like, I met them and it changed. And then find myself in some of those wonderful conversations – where and how they came to be unfolds in front of me – changing my impression of them yet again. Humans are intricate creatures I think. Seems Shrek (yes, kid movie reference) was right – we are layered like onions. I love seeing those layers shed and getting to know more about who people are and where they are coming from.
This meeting was no exception, we had a lovely chat about lots of things. We talked about the walk, and the village, the birds that come to feed on their front verandah and how we all came to be here. Lizzie, it turns out is a great storyteller and very entertaining. I listened avidly while she recounted the story of her and Peter.
First loves, they soon separated when Lizzie went off to the Navy to become a nurse. She apparently had loads of fun and forgot all about poor Peter at home. They grew into life, as people do – they moved on, married others and had children. Eventually both divorced and got on with life as singles, happily. Then a magazine ad caught the eye of Lizzie – an advert for the new “friends untied” website. Before the days of Facebook, it helped people locate old friends based on which school they went to. Lizzie found loads of her old friends. Apparently she had always felt bad about the way she treated Peter and wished to apologise to him. Thinking this might be her chance, she looked him up to see if he was doing ok. She found him divorced with grown up children and living alone in this permaculture village he helped to create. She took her chance to apologise and wrote him the letter that was always in the back of her mind. Not looking for anything more, and having finally got her life to herself in a place she was enjoying, it came as a shock when, within three days of that letter and talking to Peter, it was clear they were meant to be together again. What to do? Lizzie was in England, Peter in Australia. Come and see this place Peter said, but Lizzie had just spent all her savings on fixing up a the roof for her house – it seemed improbable at the least. Except for the phone call from the local newsagent that came not long after – “come around, we have something to show you”. It was a little competition that Lizzie had won first prize in – 1000 pounds. Woo! Guess how much the fare to Australia was? 950 pounds. And the taxi cab to the airport? 50 pounds. The parting of the red seas, as Lizzie described it, set her forth to Australia where she stayed for 3 weeks. When she returned she called in through the real estate agent to put her house on the market – she sold it the very next day. Signs, what signs? I don’t see any signs – just this giant cloud of something called serendipity.
That was 12 years ago – she’s been here all that time. She accepted the fact that she was obviously meant to go off and have those experiences in-between. Including the two less than perfect marriages, which seemingly woke her up to something. When she was young, in her teens, she just expected to bat an eyelid for men to fall at her feet, as they evidently did. The clincher though was this: she expected them to all love her the way Peter did. He adored her, and clearly still does – given his currently misty eyes and temporary cessation of joking. Over her life she learnt to appreciate the love he had given her, and then return to it. How wonderful to come full circle in that opportunity.
The unsolicited telling of this love story was quite apt given that earlier out on the walk I had surreptisiously taken photos of this couple because they were just so gorgeous – walking up the track hand-in-hand.
Lizzie then made something else clear that I had not yet realised – unlike many people, she hadn’t come for the environment, or any other similar reasoning – it was for love. So what an interesting perspective to therefore have on crystal waters and life here. She told me about some of the lively times she had when first here, meeting the wildlife. A self-confessed townie, she once called her daughter across town to come and remove a rather small frog that had perched itself upon her front step. To see her sitting comfortably in one of the most creature inhabited settlements I’ve ever visited tells me she has gone though some serious learning and adjustment.
It’s true she says, and one such ‘learning experience’ came when having a quiet day at home. Peter was off at work so Lizzie went for a rest on the swing chair. She awoke to find a black snake curled up on her hip – also asleep. Following advice to stay still until it moved on, she stayed as still as she could – all except for her toes which would not stop channeling her inner terror in the form of trembling. Apparently it was enough to wake the snake and attract its attention. As it headed feet-ward she thought that’s it, i’m going to die – via a black venomous snake. After an acceptance that there was nothing else she could do, a wave of beautiful peace washed over her. In the end the snake escaped up a tree, revealing its tell-tale non-venemous coloured belly. A black tree snake, no harm at all! Relief and profanities propelled her back to the house before realising the washing was still out and needed collecting. So she ran up again and jumped down to the platform only to awaken another sleeping snake – this time it really was a venomous black snake. It awoke with such a fright it shot up into the air and vanished. It was so quick she had no idea where it went. Naturally she checked down her pants, just to make sure.
Well, you can imagine just how much my mouth hurt by now from smiling and laughing – it was wonderful. I loved chatting and listening. And seeing around their lot, where more passion obviously lies in things like Peter’s ‘eco-ponics’ (think aquaponics meets hydroponics) and ‘fruit jungle’ (the rambling fruit-filled food forest surrounding their house).
I really felt uplifted and enriched for having spent time there – when I returned home I found it hard to convey just how great it had been and why. Not because it wasn’t, but rather because it was something more than just a cuppa and chat which, I couldn’t explain. Later, I pondered what it was. I still can’t say for sure but one thing did flash in my mind: Stories. It was the stories.
I’ve come to realise I just love listening to other people’s stories. But only when they are genuine or passionate – they have a different energy about them. It is only the real feelings which evoke a response. What a privilege it is to witness people reconnect with the joy, excitement or fear of events that shaped them and linger in their memory.
But there was more to it as well, more than just the story. It was the sharing of the story. My mind repeated: “a story shared”. Ah – now I understood – it took me back to a passage in a book I had read (and quoted in a previous post too – ‘my year without matches’ by Claire Dunn). This is how Claire described it:
“That’s why this (sharing our story) is important, I realise. Kept to ourselves, a story is too fragile, liable to whither or blow away. The story is not truly lived until told. It’s only through the telling that the story can mature, can ripen and claim a life larger than its own – a gift for others.”
I think she was right – I certainly experienced it as a gift. Perhaps it is like the breath of life to a fading ember – reigniting an energy, emotion or experience within our own minds. And to bear witness to the story of others broadens our understanding of them, and humanity as a whole.
And so, what would appear outwardly as a cuppa and chat with strangers, left me feeling more whole and inspired than before. This is where I will finish – despite all the other intriguing tid bits and tangents i’m tempted to wander through. What I will say though, is how grateful I am to witness more and more of these types of people who are open, welcoming, willing to share, very generous and with a view broader than their own interests. Thank you for all those things. And thank you, for a story shared.