simple living

San Fran to Portland, and the trees in-between.

freeway 101 sign

It didn’t take long after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to hit highway and countryside (in unison). Alas, between one mother and one small person, the need to take toilet stops is ever-present. I was surprised to find how difficult it proved to locate a toilet sometimes – we stopped at a group of shops but found no public options. A kind waiter in the restaurant allowed us to use the bathroom, despite the large “no public restrooms” sign posted in the window (a common sight on our trip). It was also a pleasant surprise to find some tiny houses moored in the nearby water.

 

floating houses santa rosa

 

The first night on the road approached and we spent it at a ‘rest stop’. It was incredibly well appointed with large clean toilets, lots of car parks and lush green space to run around on or picnic in. It also had an on-site ranger patrolling the place. We couldn’t believe it, after having come from staying in Australian ‘rest stops’ which were more like code for ‘patch-of-dirt-on side-of-road’ – and where you were lucky if you weren’t kicked out after night hours struck. To be fair we did also stay at an Australian rest stop that provided a toilet and parking space, but it was a stark contrast to this. Indeed this was an example of how much America is geared up for driving holidays. And to boot, petrol was incredibly cheap at the time – about $2USD/gallon. Thats around 70 cents Australian per litre – certainly no discouragement there.

Back on the road again, we followed highway 101 Northward. Our first planned destination of the trip was the Redwoods but we stopped in at a number of the small towns along the way, like Garberville which had an interesting alternative vibe to it. It also had a frozen yogurt place that made the waffle cones right there in front of you – customising the level of crunchy vs chewy quality if you had such a degree of preference. Yes, we quality tested them. Not bad.

collage yoghurt at garberville

 

Next we made a beeline for the toilet in little Miranda, which incidentally, wound up being the worst we encountered. Nevertheless, undeterred Michael found a dinky little booth serving organic coffee and baked items while I wandered up the road to a woodworking shop.

collage woodwork shop miranda CA

After striking up a conversation, we discovered Mr Korbly had been in business 45 years. After unwittingly learning from one of the great woodworkers of his time, he used his skills to steadily build a livelihood. Deceptively, what looked like an inconspicuous, small operation was actually home to the much sought after skills and products of Korbly and his team. So much so that they now took orders 5 years in advance, turned down hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of work a year and have regularly serviced clients such as Dianna Ross and Clint Eastwood. Wow.

It was really interesting to hear him espouse the lessons which were seeming repetitively clear of good operations and good lives: start young, do what you love, don’t get into debt, work hard and don’t compromise on what is important to you.

Oh, and he just happened to have been eating a local and organic diet for the last 45 years. Not in a ‘rebellion to the food industry’ kind of way but rather the old-fashioned, ‘this is just how we do it in the country’ scenario. He mentioned this point like it was nothing but it struck me as something perhaps not many people can claim anymore – a healthy, chemical and processed free diet for over 4 decades. I suspect it contributed a lot to this man’s vigour and health – we were astounded to learn he was much, much older than we had guessed, and evidently he was only just starting to slow down. Mind you, it often happens this way in the country, something in the air perhaps… Regardless, it was an honour to meet and chat with him.

Onwards and we came to the start of the Redwoods – which is not ‘one place’ per se but more like a series of preserved areas in state, national and private parks/landholdings. We tried to stop in at the ‘drive-thru tree’ – the one you can literally squeeze a car through. However I had seen a sedan scrape through within a whisker on youtube so didn’t hold high hopes for our people-mover. It was also shut and so we could neither try the car, nor see it. So the challenge was not taken up!

collage redwood signs

We moved on and hit ‘The Avenue of Giants’ and Humboldt Redwoods State Park. We didn’t do any official hiking or such but instead stopped off in random places, strolling in and out of the groves – there are so many interesting things to see at each turn. We walked a small loop track in one area and crossed a creek on a fallen trunk at another.

emma mic loop walk redwoods

 

girl in the forest fallen tree creek crossing 2

 

The experience was something else. An immediate sense of wonder and calm washed over me.

We describe the visit as having ‘seen’ the Redwoods, when in reality it would be more accurate to say we have ‘felt’ them. Wandering through the groves felt like walking with elders. It makes sense really – these living beings have been alive for hundreds of years – right there in the same place seeing change that encompassed indigenous habitation, invasion, settlement, wars, farming, houses, industry, television, man on the moon, logging, factory farming and a tech boom borne of the second biggest network going – the internet. I say second biggest because it seems to me that the world’s soils and ecosystems are the largest (have you ever seen the web of soil fungus going on?). As an aside there is some really interesting research and discoveries going on in this area – check out this BBC article.

Indeed we all loved it there amid the beautiful, amazing giants – what a way to invoke reverence.

mic mel emma hug tree redwoods emma hug tree redwoods
Perhaps, it was an apt time for me to ponder the ‘bigness’ of things in the States – in this case the trees, but also other things like bigger shops, bigger food, bigger roads…
Carrying on, we hit another example of the States’ driving culture – a sign that said “No services for 1/2 mile”. That’s less than a kilometre – as Australians we responded with hearty laughter. Coming from a country where interstate travel can involve large tracts of land and sparse towns, the prospect of notifying people they would have to travel less than a km without access to food, water or gas was nothing short of hilarious.
In the night we crossed the border from California into Oregon – woo! We planned a pit stop in the college town of Eugene. It was a nice feeling town, rich in the coffee shops and well-to-do looking people/students that were presumably attracted by/or a result of, the college. We met a homeless man who said if we picked 5 words, he could make a rap on the spot for us and we’d be “helping a homeless boy get by”. We had seen lots of homeless with cardboard signs detailing their plight or needs – this was a new one. Impressed by the man’s willingness to work for help, Michael quickly said yes to paying for a one-off spontaneous rap. Homeless or not, he was awesome – conjuring up a great rhyme about things coming in circles, like the seasons and “even though November brings cold it also brings warmth through the family”. His creativity was testament to his spirit.
We carried on watching the world blur by – which I love. Sometimes I am happiest just seeing what is, watching the landscape, buildings and people go past. I find it’s like meditating – resting yet absorbing your surroundings at the same time, and all while you are productively getting somewhere. It ticks a lot of boxes for someone who doesn’t like to be idle or sit still!
mic mel riverside
on road portland sign
Approaching night again, we found yet another wonderful spot hidden in a random unmarked path off the road. We had dinner here and carried on.
 mel and emma dinner by river and mountain
As we headed on, I considered one more musing which crystallised into thought – maybe it was all that forest air. There appeared to be a kind of common trait in the attitude of Americans. It was something I had perceived even back in Australia during conversations with American friends. There is some kind of inbuilt confidence they acquire here – a cultural normity where one is not afraid to say hello and express their opinions forthrightly, nor to contradict another, but in a way which gives space for everyone to own their views.
An interesting cultural mannerism – one that I would like to take a little of and add to my own…
Next stop, Portland!
forest dinner sunset

 

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Roadtrippin’ begins

 

drive blur

 

Today was the day to pick up our rental car so we bussed into downtown San Fran – bang on the right stop this time, woo! We were early and so took a walk down to the Ferry Building area. It was a bustling little place with the beautiful and historic Ferry Building itself, the nearby piers and trolley cars coming and going. There were also vendors setting up lots of stalls with tourist trinkety plus some decent photography.

 

collage ferry building

 

We also saw many homeless here – not unlike the rest of San Fran – it is very visible. It proved a good conversation starter though for the issue which Emma took in – I think perhaps realising for the first time that not all people have a house to sleep in.

After some more wandering we found the car hire office. We had booked it earlier in the year, while still in Australia. Initially it was looking to be a horrendously expensive exercise once you added milage and insurance to the price tags. We also investigated the “car moving” companies who get paid to move cars for dealers or the wealthy retired population that migrate south to Florida each winter. Seems like an ok deal for a traveller, very economical but you do give up some freedom in how long you can meander for.

Luckily for us we eventually came across a couple of sites set up specifically for renting cars to foreigners. They act as a third party, offering deals on behalf of most providers and usually all the requirements are included – i.e. our’s included unlimited milage, all insurances and no fee for pick up at a ‘special’ place (like the airport). For some unknown reason, this ‘all-inclusive’ option for tourists is way cheaper than booking directly. So with all the fine print and finances agreed upon, we took the deal. When we got there it was as easy as present your printed third party voucher, sign the register and “here are your keys” – sweet!

And even sweeter was the unexpectedly fancy-pants example of a car we got – a minivan type vehicle: the Chrysler Town & Country. It was bright shiny new in flashy red with electric everything – windows, sliding doors and seats. It had fold-flat-in-the-floor capable seats and cup holders everywhere. Oh, and even usb and standard electrical outlet charging points – we could charge our phone and computer on the road. Whoa – it was all a bit much for us budget travellers to take in. It sure was appreciated though, particularly the flexibility and comfort as we were using this for part-time accommodation.

collage car

 

We discovered a Whole Foods Market was nearby (a very large organic/fair trade supermarket chain all over the US). We stopped in to stock up for the drive – and got lost in the world that is Whole. After the lengthy diversion we set off, dropping Michael in the absolute deep end of driving on the wrong side of the road amongst downtown traffic of a busy US city. But, as with most things, he took it in his stride and did a fantastic job.

Contrary to our map’s suggestion, we opted to exit the city via the Golden Gate Bridge – how could we not? It took us past the pier district which was alive and interesting. We could tell we were getting closer to the bridge by the proportionate increase in traffic congestion. But before long, there it was – a stunning red icon to drive along. While we missed out on a car park to stop and admire it better, driving through it was a picture to remember.


golden gate bridge

Now, we looked forward to some country driving en route to California’s famous elderly – the giant trees in the Redwood State and National Parks.

 

rainbow tunnel coastal road

Onto the trees!

 

WWOOF round 2 – with a side order of village, permaculture style

village hill view

 

Next stop: Crystal Waters Eco Village in the beautiful Sunshine Coast hinterland of Queensland.

For us, this was to be round 2 of WWOOFing, and a chance to visit family just down the road – my Dad, Step-mum and two sisters. Actually, they are the whole reason we went to Queensland. And why we even thought of taking the car and some extra time to see Australia on our way out – cheers to that!

It was also round 2 of seeing community life, though this time we could settle in and experience it ourselves for a while. For the first week however, we stayed alone on the property (dejavu!) as our hosts, Max & Trudi, were away for birthday celebrations. Max gave us some excellent instructions so we set to work on those jobs.  Despite this, and that there are always jobs around, it’s still a little harder to get into the swing of a place and its work without the owner there to point you in a particular direction. or mention how they do things – at least to begin with anyway. Nevertheless we managed to find our way around and make ourselves useful. When all else failed we had a weeding bonanza – it may have been a little more than necessary but, a good old weeding blitz every now and then is a good thing 🙂

In the topographically endowed plot they have two garden areas, plus various plantings of useful trees for bees, birds and humans alike (such as the freaky but fun – and yummy – Jaboticaba). One garden is up high and close to the house with crops that require more frequent care, as in the permaculture idea of zoning (highest maintenance areas are placed close to where the labour is). Think greens and such: lettuces, herbs, spinach, onions, cucumbers, salad greens, tomatoes and flowers for companions. It was a good sized area with about 6 large raised beds sitting over a sandy base and plantings around the edge (another permaculture principle; value and use the edge – in this example it is taken literally in terms of space but one could also consider it more laterally in valuing ideas, people or products that are on the fringe). And just like at home, cherry tomatoes were proving to be troopers so we foraged lots from stray bushes to make many a tabouli bowl with the abundant parsley.

mic emma upper garden

 

Then the other ‘lower’ garden, as per its name, was located down the hill a bit. As you might guess, the less frequently visited crops were down here. At this end of spring it included the last of plants like broccoli, kale, cabbage and more onions and parsley.  We partook in these too, then helped prep for new plantings in the five super long beds with some home grown chook poo and worm castings (aka, you guessed it – poo) for fertiliser. Turns out, moving wheelbarrows up and down the slopes was, deceptively, much harder than I expected – gardening on a hillside will keep you fit! Then we topped em’ off with locally abundant shredded bamboo for mulch and they were ready for the next planting – some of which we got to do before we left. We sowed peas and beans in time to see them raise their little heads and stretch leafy wings – I love seeing the birth of seedlings!

upper garden

 

Emma was prospering in the setting and lifestyle here too. While on our own, she quickly settled into a routine of looking after the chickens by herself – ushering them in and out; checking water, grain and eggs; and dragging over spent broccoli. I say ‘dragging’ because, by this time, the broccoli stalks had grown to be pretty much bigger than her.

collage em food

em chicken chillinWe often found her taking solace in the hen house, just hanging out with the ladies. She really enjoyed having that responsibility – I think the morning and night animal chores punctuated her day.

She also took to playing hospitality – ‘the tea party hotel’ as she liked to call it. She set up tables, took our orders,  made food for real and even sometimes did the dishes after packing it all up! True to her independent ways, she was completely adamant that she must do it all. Well, it was her hotel I guess. In light of her enjoying this kind of service role, we took the opportunity to add a related responsibility – doing the breakfast dishes while Michael and I went out for another couple of hours work in the morning. Despite not being over the moon about it, she agreed, then volunteered to make the breakfast too, go figure! Seems the freedom to take responsibility and feel strong brings on a flourishing in her.

I’ve yet to mention our accommodation – a beautiful swiss style chalet. And when I say Swiss chalet, in sunny Queensland, I don’t think its a joke. Max is actually Swiss. Picture a wooden cabin with two bedrooms, decks, central lounge and kitchen, viewing the Northern woods and dam. We certainly felt spoiled – even Ruby got a bed!

collage cabin

 

And as for the village’s landscape, Max & Trudi’s lot sits within the 640 acre bush property – 14% of which is allocated to residential land. The rest is owned in common – as preserved bushland mostly, plus commercial land (the village green, commercial kitchen & deck venue, other business space/ventures, paddocks and an eco caravan park).  A body corporate, community co-operative and sub committees manage the public facilities and village green activities. The property is a wildlife refuge and so a no dog/cat policy is in place to protect the diversity there. And diversity abounds – as do the kangaroos and wallabies that frequented our cabin and the gardens every day. Literally. Plus deer – not as often or as close, but not far enough away for a gardener, hence the wildlife-proof fences which surround the edible plantings. Birds, frogs, butterflies and snakes also visited us. And spiders, lots of spiders. But after daily clearing of webs, and nightly refilling, you just let it go and get used to it. Throughout the village are dams, ponds and a sparkling, rocky creek – containing fish and even platypus. It certainly is a beautiful slice of bush that seems to succeed at incorporating refreshing environments for humans and wildlife alike.

collage animals small

 

Then early one morning we met Max – up with the sun, as he is everyday. I think he was a little surprised to see some WWOOFers doing the same. Lovely man – matter of fact and warm. Not long after we met Trudi – working diligently in the bee house and equally lovely, exuding what I think of as a typically wonderful country disposition: equal parts down-to-earth frankness and friendly hospitality.

Then, the bees – oh the bees! This was our first introduction into bees and beekeeping. Scary and captivating is how I want to describe the experience. The gentle calmness Max demonstrated seemed an essential qualification for checking the hives and collecting honey. For that reason I donned a bee suit but mostly watched while the born-calm Michael learnt the ropes. Fascinating – I would love to have a go one day. For now though, I headed in to help Trudi with the processing. Sticky fun sees waxy caps of the honeycomb taken off frames with a heated knife, followed by spinning to release the honey. Then it just goes through a series of mesh filters and into a bucket. Voila! Simple, and such a bonus that honey keeps just fine at room temperature and is naturally anti-bacterial – great product to work with.

collage honey processing

 

While Max and Trudi keep bees and sell honey as a business (Crystal Waters Raw Honey), I suspect that for them, as for others, its about more than just honey and money. Watching Max with the bees was like watching someone in pleasant ritual. In mediation. Not to mention the importance of helping to sustain a healthy bee population – both for their own sake and ours.

collage max bees 2

In case you’re uninitiated, bees are responsible for pollinating, and therefore producing, a significant chunk of our food. As well as who-knows-what other valuable roles in the eco-system. Seems they are having ever-more trouble from disease, habitat/food loss and our increasing use of chemicals in agriculture. The American (aka Californian) almond industry is a great case in point. The sect has turned over massive tracts of land to almond trees – and usually only almond trees = massive monoculture. They rely solely on bees to pollinate their crop and turn blossoms into almonds, but there aren’t enough bees around naturally, (i’m thinking it’s pretty hard to live in a place with only one food at one time of year), and so they truck them in seasonally from all over the country. Increasingly though, more bee deaths are occurring after the event and across the country in general (the mysterious, cause-unknown, syndrome is being called ‘colony collapse disorder’). And it looks like the chemicals the growers are using are also a contributing cause. It got so bad that they had to ship bees in from Australia! Can you believe it? I was shocked, having no idea they did that. I know what we’re like after such a long trip – I can’t imagine it does the bees any good either, never mind the resources that go into the transportation and quarantine issues. Turns out quarantine issues did emerge and the risk of foreign disease/parasites from our bees caused the US to put the Kibosh on that option. Looks to me like plugging a badly designed boat with ever-growing wads of bubblegum. As for a solution, well in my opinion, it seems it might just be the same as what we need – diversity of clean food. We don’t do well eating the same thing endlessly, nor living in a food desert or consuming processed/chemicalised (yes, I’ve now made that a word) food. Neither do they. So plant something else with the almonds, its not hard (unless the system is set up to be a large scale mechanised factory in a field…). It’s just another reason to support the growers using more responsible and sustainable practices – i.e. without the chemicals and mass-scale.

Ok, I’m back from ranty-town. Shall we continue?

Max & Trudi also run cows – on some of the communal land the village holds. Residents have the opportunity to lease land from the Co-op and now it’s free to do so, provided you agree to look after the parcel of land in whatever venture you are using it for. So Max and Trudi have several paddocks to run the cows through, including their orchard of pecan trees. They break up the land with the portable electric fencing that was a game changer for sustainable farming,  letting farmers run stock using cell grazing techniques (see the start of this article). A higher density of animals in the smaller area, for a shorter period of time, mimics nature more closely. Thus producing a myriad of advantages like more complete grazing, quicker recovery and higher quality pasture. The better management creates a healthier environment which translates into more nutritious products. They ran four beautiful black lowline cows – these girls don’t grow horns and are shorter than your average cow, but still rather hefty. So much so that when we first met them, Emma stuck herself firmly to my side and said:

“Mummy, will they eat me?”

Snigger. A lesson followed on the, suddenly relevant and contextualised, meaning of a  ‘herbivore’.

collage cows

 

In addition, Max & Trudi also have an orchard of kaffir lime trees and work on their other business in environmental consulting as well as a non-profit which encourages and educates in the area of communities and eco-villages. So a day’s work on such a property can cover tasks in many areas. To paint a picture of our WWOOFing days though, think of time spent in garden beds working the soil with natural amendments, weeding, planting and watering, as well as tying cucumbers and putting the ingeniously simple shade cloth covers in an infinite number of configurations, according to the days weather. Then other tasks were decidedly bee orientated – helping to check, clean and collect from hives and process the honey. Emma enjoyed watching and helping with the bottle labelling too. And I think we all enjoyed getting a good dose of woodworking when drilling, hammering, nailing, gluing and wiring up new bee frames was required. While Emma was busy learning to use the electric drill and hammer in eyelets, I made a comment about this being a woodworking lesson for her, but despite my best efforts she didn’t believe me. Oh well, apparently those skills belong in some other category!

collage em drill

 

We also went to one of the local markets at Witta to help set up Max & Trudi’s stall, which adjoins that of Pat and Johns – they recently bought the Lindegger’s long held seedling business. They were a great couple of stalls in what was a lovely example of a country market, selling lots of great local, sustainable produce.

In amongst the work hours – which can be a flexible arrangement by the way – we tried to get involved with some of the many activities going on. Most days we would wake up early to do a couple of hours then do another couple after breakfast or leave it until the afternoon. We also did more on some days so we could organise larger allotments of free to time for excursions. The type of work schedule depends upon the host and the work they have going – but from what we have seen and heard, most hosts are more than happy to be flexible and give WWOOFers encouragement, time and help in getting to know the area and people. It’s a sharing platform after all.

Well, at Crystal Waters there is so much to see, do and join in with that we tried our best to take advantage of what we could. For example, Every Saturday in the village green their organic, handmade sourdough bakery opens up to serve it’s bready delights, plus morning sweet treats and coffee. The second hand shop located across the way also opens and people can mill around, sit on the outdoor tables and chairs or shelter up on the deck. People come down for their weekly bread, some stay for a cuppa and chat, or many with kids come down to socialise while the children amuse themselves with the play equipment and each other’s company. Its a lovely, relaxed atmosphere where people are happy to linger and socialise. In contrast, on the first Saturday of each month it grows into the Crystal Waters Market where you find a busier, lively atmosphere. In addition to the bakery and second hand shop, there is live music and vendors selling an array of things like second hand goods and foodie items (ranging from fresh produce and ready to eat yummies – think home made pies, curry, sorbet, real lemonade and juices – to more specialty stuff like kombucha). And the commercial kitchen and communal cafe on the big deck opens up too.

collage market

 

Thats just the tip of the iceberg though. Every friday night there is a movie on in the Eco Centre, followed by the bakery saturday-moning-social (as i’m calling it) and then usually a saturday night show of some sort – we caught a comedy performance when were there, great fun. Then on Sunday morning they shake it all off with a bush walk in the property or surrounding area. After the bush walk I joined in some of the other happenings during the week – like taking Emma to the community choir (thought she might find it fun) only to have her abandon me for a new friend  – well! It now seemed I was there to join the choir – nothing left to do but try and sing. Not to worry though, I found it was so much fun I went back the next week! And it was of course great for Emma – she and Ellenie had a wonderful time. We even organised to come back for another play date.  Then we all went along to watch the Marimba band practice. If you’re not familiar with the marimba, imagine a mutated wooden xylophone-like creature big enough to have its own legs and stand at an adults waist. Now imagine several of them in one room with players beating in time and tune. On arrival we were given instruments and an apologetic forewarning that they may not be right on top of things – it had been a little while. The instruments were great fun, the sounds jubilant and the warnings unnecessary – we enjoyed every minute of it, especially emma who surprisingly found a comfortable home and rhythm upon the drum.

So the activities were great and we had a blast, but what we enjoyed most was meeting the people. The chance to meet, chat and connect was invigorating and I enjoyed hearing other’s perspectives on all sorts of topics, including the village. We spent the rest of our free time visiting our family, relaxing in the cabin, chillin down at the creek or exploring places outside like nearby Maleny, Ananda Marga River School, Manduka Coop Community and Chenrezig Institute Budhist Retreat (all of which, were very rich and interesting in their own ways).

collage emcreek chilling collage CW spare time

 

Looking back, I think of the mixed messages we got about this place. It’s reputation as a worthy model is based on the fact that it’s been around for about 30 years, is still going and was the first permaculture eco-village ever designed in the world – not to mention the leading examples of sustainable buildings which can be seen there. Yet, the village seems to suffer from a different reputation in some parts of the greater area – with negative hippie-type stigma or insinuations that things there aren’t working. When we talked about going there to see an illustration of a good intentional community, we received discouragement – the source of which I suspect lay in mismatches of expectations or the natural frustrations & challenges which are present in managing that amount of land and people.

Later on, Max (who also co-designed the village) chatted to us about the issue too, saying people often expect the village to be one way or another. For instance, everyone getting along or thinking the same way, all being into some healing or spirituality, or that the place would be dripping with food. He added that in reality, expectations are often wrong and the village just is what it is – about 200 people co-living in an area with the accompanying diversity one might expect of a group that size.

But in the face of the initial contradictions, we decided that whatever the actual situation was, we could learn from it. Examples to emulate are just as powerful as examples to avoid. And I’m so glad we did – what a rich experience we had.

While we may not know all there is to know after seeing it for a few weeks, it’s still true that we were actually there. We met people, got involved and saw it for ourselves. We saw that there are challenges to be worked through, and trade-offs for the lifestyle – but I think that’s the case anywhere. More importantly, we saw why is the villager’s have decided the up-sides and positives outweigh them – we saw a place where the land and environment are respected, where people come together for activity, joy and in need. And where a healthy lifestyle can flourish.

As a result, we have real admiration and respect for the village and what they have done/are doing there. The continuing journey ahead will be an interesting one that we wish them all the best for, and hope to hear more about.

Lastly, we are grateful to have met the people we did – it was such a pleasure. And particularly to our hosts Max & Trudi for their open and sharing spirit – thank you for the opportunity and conversations. We took a lot away from our time there – we hope we also left a little piece of ourselves behind….

 

WWOOF WWOOF – the first foray


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When we talk to people about our interest in farming or growing things, a lot ask if we come from that kind of background. The answer is no, we don’t. While there may be some historical farming further down the generational line, our interest is born out of exploration, rather than upbringing. As well as what we feel the world needs today – responsible farmers and real food. These farm warriors are already out there  – we just want to see more.

Oh, and the idea of growing something as simple and necessary as food fits in well with the capitalist/entrepreneur/opportunist in me (yup, that’s all in there too…). Maybe we can make a living out of this – after all, it’s not like eating is going out of fashion anytime soon.

Seems as good a livelihood as any in which to place our bets….

But back to the original point – we don’t come from farming and so arriving at our first WWOOF stop (willing/worlwide workers on organic farms), Sat Chit Ananda, was the first time for any of us living on a farm.

 

 

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I feel like I’ve written about the concept of WWOOFing already so for those who have missed it, or in case I was just hallucinating, here is a link to a quick wiki explanation, or see here for the international website.

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While this would only be a two week stay, and it can take a lifetime to read land or perfect farming craft, it was long enough to get a good feel for the farm’s routine and lifestyle in that particular season. It was also the longest we had been in one place since starting our travels.

Getting used to life here was hard for me at first. I think I came unconsciously with expectations of what would happen on a ‘farm’ and what might be expected of a WWOOFer – like so many hours per day of work and structured job lists, etc. Indeed, I’m sure there are places like that out there, but it was different here. In fact, I came to realise that like anything, the deeper we delve the more variation we find – farms come in all different shapes and sizes. And motivations.

Sat Chit Ananda is not a commercial farm. And so that is not what drives the activity here. Kerrie and Paul are building themselves a sustainable refuge from the world. And one that they want to also be an example for others. I admire their aspirations in what they are wanting to do here – in fact what they have already done here. We arrived near the end of Spring, to a land parched and desperately waiting for summer rains, so at first it was hard for us to see easily what was happening here. But soon enough we realised just how much they had accomplished.

Taking old cattle land that had seen much degradation and little water, they set about transforming it towards self-sufficiency. While it isn’t there yet (what ever is, really?) Paul and Kerrie have made long headways into a food forest, water collection, solar power and composting toilets. They have farmed food and animals for veg, meat, milk and eggs – even producing their own cheese. They’ve also delved into alternative farm transportation with miniature horses and built the most magnificent ode to sustainable housing in the form of a 2 storey geodesic dome – a sight to behold, which even greets you from the roadside.

 

collage Sat Chit Ananda trees

 

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All of this, amongst life and its setbacks. Certainly, Paul and Kerrie showed us a down-to-earth attitude and acceptance of life’s realities that I hadn’t seen before. They were great examples of how to operate positively while living in the truth of our own limitations, which we rarely stop to acknowledge. Seeing our resources, like time, energy and money, as they actually are rather than what we want them to be, is a healthy habit I want to take on. Acceptance of how things are, and what we really have control over, seems tantamount to freedom.

One example of which is Paul. After having a stroke some years ago, there are limitations on when or how much he can do in a day. As a result of this, and just life’s limitations in general, the work here often follows opportunity, rather than schedule – taking advantage of the times when resource planets align and going for it.

As it happened though, most of our first week was to be self driven, while our hosts were away on a much needed vacation. So for someone who’s strength is not self-discipline, battling the pre-conceived ideas, self starting and an energy-draining intense heat was: tough. Having said that though, those same conditions meant it was a really good place to dip my proverbial toe and inch into the new experience of living on a farm and being a WOOFer.

In that first week, we really appreciated and enjoyed the trust and freedom which comes with looking after someone else’s farm. We worked with their daughters to keep things going and tried to be newbie helpers rather than a hindrance. We managed pretty well I reckon – Michael in his element with fix-it jobs, Emma taking to the animals and me tackling a shed full of sorting. In fact, I like to joke that we had farm life pegged by the end of the first day – we spent it chasing escapee animals and fixing fences!

 

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We fell into a daily schedule more easily than I expected, centred around the animals:

Wake early, do some work, drink tea. Milk the goat, feed and move the animals, eat breakfast. Maybe some more work, let the chooks out. Swelter in the heat. Maybe some late afternoon work, round up chooks, feed and move animals. Have dinner, sleep, repeat.

It was good – there was enough routine work to structure the day with predictability, yet plenty of free time for personal activities or getting to know our hosts. We really enjoyed that aspect – Paul and Kerrie were very welcoming and inclusive, we shared meals and social time most days, Working, chatting and getting to know people in this way is really rewarding.

And in a wider sense, its been incredible for us to try out so many different sharing experiences (WWOOFing, couch surfing, out of the blue visiting, and the random occurrences that come from travelling overall). It has allowed us to explore the things we are interested in such a rich and varied way.

What I love most about these kind of platforms, or any groups that come together over some common interest, is the infinite number of angles to come at it from – so there is always a new experience, perspective or approach to be discovered. I have done it time and time again: come to a group assuming the people there will be of a particular mindset because of the common interest – but invariably I get surprised by those who differ from me in some way I had not expected. I fall into the trap of assuming these people must think and believe in the same things as me because of this one common point.

It was like seeing them as identical shapes which could overlap and stack on top of each other, fitting nicely and neatly into some vertical tower of understanding. Now it seems more accurate to view them as shapes on a horizontal plane, (or perhaps three dimensional space), that meet and overlap in just one part of themselves, not the whole.

More like a connected system of floating spheres – a network, not silos. Probably more like nature itself, eco systems are linked webs – creatures meet and cross paths at different points of commonality, morphing through time and space. And they change as a result of the meeting or missing of others.

Anyway, regardless of how I describe it, these experiences are always valuable reminders to step back and check on the narrowing of my own perspective.

So it was great to experience life here, and grow to know our hosts more. And that spirit of curiosity and sharing was certainly alive and well. Actually, it brings me to think of an advantage of WWOOFing in your own country – the absence of a cultural and/or language barrier. While you may not experience a new culture, it does allow you to get a deeper understanding of the people or processes you are meeting. For that reason, I would recommend WWOOFing both in your own country and abroad – getting the best of skill sharing, making friends and novel cultural exchange.
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When it came time to leave, it was hard. Particularly for Emma, who so quickly connected to the life, people and animals here. I’m really grateful for this experience, and to Paul, Kerrie, Janine and Tegan for letting us join their lives – we wish you all the best, and would love to cross paths again some day, thank you!

 

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To Mullum, to Mullum

P1030591 armidale pool   It was three days driving from the farm in Ruffy to our stop in Mullum. It saw us go through Albury, Wagga, Dubbo, Tamworth and Armidale, as well as lots of little towns in-between. collage emma pool armidale   Pondering the journey also makes me think about the variety of accommodation we have encountered to date – in three weeks we have slept in 2 rest stops (on the side of the road), a vacant block, 3 tourist parks and 3 houses – in beds, a tent or caravan. Talk about variety. That aspect has been very interesting. Its also been great for getting used to looking after yourself – setting up and packing down camp continuously will do that – and goes a long way towards becoming comfortable with change.   P1030606 armidale camp
We’ve noticed that Emma has the hardest times at transition – settling in somewhere new and packing up to leave. This was to be expected, and we have been pleased to see the amount of time she needed decrease as we went on. It also highlighted how well she handled all the change and newness during the rest of the time. For a mum and daughter who can be adverse to not knowing or controlling our surroundings – we are doing pretty well so far 🙂
Another heartening observation has been Emma’s ability to connect quickly with the animals and children wherever we have been. For a child who hasn’t really been around animals or had many pets, she has taken a shining to, and solace from, the creatures in our adventure. I’m glad about this – I hope it’s a connection that will stay with her into the future. I also hope it sparks reverence and respect for all creatures and life in nature – we shall see.
Anyway- back to the destination at hand – we were on way to our first couch surfing stop. What is couch surfing? For those who aren’t familiar, they liken it a little to when you travel and call on family or friends in your destination to maybe put you up for a couple nights, or show you around. You know – a nice friendly place to stay, good company to hang out with and a chance to get tips from the locals. Essentially they took that philosophy and built a web-based network so you could do it with friends you haven’t met yet. Cool idea, huh? They refine it with host/surfer profiles, reviews and search capabilities so you find a good match and feel safe in what you are doing. We found our host by searching within Mullumbimby and listed by how recently they had used the site. The first one up was an awesome host with lots of great alternative interests like us, a family of his own and experience hosting hundreds of other surfers. After reading reviews we were satisfied they would be great people to meet and sent a request through. Request accepted, we exchanged some details so we could meet at the appropriate point in the space-time continuum and we were set. Easy!
After shifting around so much on the road, it was really nice to look forward to 3 nights in one place with some insider knowledge. And Benny and Sophia didn’t disappoint – they were interesting, open, generous people. And they put us onto heaps of cool stuff in the area and beyond. Clearly community minded and accustomed to having people flow through their life, it was easy to settle into communal ways at their place .
In fact from where I sit now, i’m surprised at how easy it has been to meet and live with new people. I expected it to be much harder. I’m sure it probably is on a longer term basis. Perhaps it is the transient nature of these meetings and networks (e.g. wwoofing, couch surfing) that lay good foundations for communication of facts and expectations. Whatever it is, when everyone knows a good deal about what is going on and what to expect, things can go much smoother.
And from my experience so far, it seems the other factor at play is having space and time which offer a balance of being together and apart. There needs to be enough communal time to build relationships and understanding, but also time alone to debrief – there are a lot of new surroundings, dynamics and learning to process (as a family or individuals). Not to mention whatever lessons and emotions come up internally within each person.
But back to Mullum – as you would expect there were lots of colourful places and characters around town. We saw numerous outlets for organic and health related stuff like grocers, juice bars, cafes and even a herbal/homepathic shop concocting remedies to order.
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and you thought your local had lots of community notices!

Michael and Emma also had many comrades in their trademark bare feet. We wondered the town, looking at places and people, eating good food (including a cool little cafe called Punch & Daisy) We also hung out at home, watched the ducks, pottered in the garden, went for a walk and recuperated, even catching a community dinner. Between all that, lots of time was spent chatting over dinner and breakfast with Benny and Sophia.  So great to talk things over with others open to ideas or opinions – 1. to be able to express your own and get feedback, and 2. to hear those of others – it’s like exercise for your mind!
A short aside on this topic (warning, here comes an observational musing) – one trait I have noticed: those who seem most open to the opinion of others are usually those most secure in their own. Or more accurately, secure in their own values, from which all else is derived. So I don’t mean they are dogmatic about their own opinions, more like they are secure about what they are and why, which also allows a greater openness to change if it is sensible.
We also checked out the local community garden. It was a pretty cool place to see – it had permaculture demonstration plots, private plots, public picking plots (‘food for all’), a kids area, a shop to sell seeds and plants (and other stuff) a learning space, cafe/kitchen and more. Like a bio-char facility – got a fantastic explanation of biochar and it’s many uses from Don – in fact so many I have to admit it was a little overload for me to keep in my head. Michael’s brain may have been a better receptacle for that info!. Neverthless it’s definitely on our list of things to look into now.
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Even the garden’s toilets were fun – and of the composting variety of course. I feel fairly familiar with composting toilets, having seen and used a few now – but if it, and the whole ‘humanure’ world, is foreign check out this link.
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There was a pretty exciting initiative starting out of the gardens too called ‘Future Feeders’. Our hosts put us onto this and an intentional community called ‘Famunity’. I want to give them both more air time in their own posts though, so sit tight for those 🙂
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In the meantime, I would like to wrap up this post by thanking Benny, Sophia and little Mossy for making our first couch surfing experience a great one – here’s to the fun, sharing and growth of meeting new people – Cheers!
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Week 1 – The Places and the Lessons.

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Well, this may or may not be another short post as I consume a cafe’s internet for the price of a hot chocolate – and Michael and Emma play at the playground down the road in Coonabarabran. By the by, that’s something you certainly notice on the road – our place names. No wonder the tourists are confused – i’m Australian and have no idea how to pronounce half of them! Sad really…

Nevertheless it didn’t hold us back – the first week was a beautiful blur of camping and ocean views, with the obligatory specky coastline the Great Ocean Road is known for of course.

We had not done the Great Ocean Road before. I’m so glad we decided to make it part of our trip – it really is beautiful. And there were so many postcard nooks, lookouts and towns around every corner – not just the stuff they put on the tourist maps. In fact some of the other sites we stopped at were nicer in our opinion (and less populated). For example this picturesque beach below was completely deserted! Hello lunch spot.

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But before we even got to the ‘Road’ itself, we already had a bagful of fun. In fact when I asked Emma and Michael what their highlights were, they came from the places beforehand. Michael enjoyed cooking on the fire at our ‘rest stop’ camp just outside Beachport in SA.

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And also swimming in the Great Southern Ocean at our next camp spot, in a little vacant block abutting the bush and on the esplanade of a quiet beach.

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Emma’s favourite was Portland and watching all the goings on between ships, trucks and mountains of grain.

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Portland, Victoria – down at the busy activity of the port foreshore. If you look carefully you will see what looks like sand is actually a monster mountain of grain and a truck (yes, a whole truck) being tipped up to pour out.

As for The Great Ocean Road itself, it was smaller than I anticipated, not that it mattered. What I found interesting was how it seemed to be a shapeshifter – moving from dairy country and sleepy little towns to drier scrub, then mountainous forest – dotted with mega tourist hot spots, surfer havens or family friendly & funky locations. What a kaleidoscope!

Port Fairy was a quaint, quiet and pretty place – would be lovely for a recharging hideaway I think.

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Apollo Bay was my personal favourite – we hauled up at the local Recreation Park, right on the river overlooking the range and endless farmland. Then a short stroll down the street reveals a vibrant High Street with rolling grass, playground and views to die for of the coast, ocean and range – just gorgeous.

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And the surprise of the trip – Cape Otway Lightstation. We thought it might be nice to visit a light house so we drove down the (rather longer than expected) road to see the touristy looking car park and frontage – ok, here we go. We needed water so we went inside anyway. Without seeing the entry fees (that should have been our first lesson) we said we would go in and Michael coughed up what turned out to be $50 for all three of us – he did a great job of not choking on his drink. But it turned out to be  a whole complex of lovely sprawling grounds with lots of interesting things to do in addition to the lighthouse (which by the way is staffed by a guide up the top so you can ask him anything you want – (I thought that was cool). There was also an aboriginal culture centre (which is actually a super cool hut) – also staffed. Dale offered to let Em throw a spear he’d made with an aid called a ‘woomera’. She loved it. Michael and I had a go too – of course Michael picked it up straight away as he usually does! And they had a beautiful map and activity book for the kids – Emma took great delight in following the map and ticking off our adventures. Talk about value for money – it was a great spot to see the ocean, take a walk and learn about history, physics, electricity, maritime navigation, aboriginal culture and a myriad of other things – including how there used to be dolphins and flamingoes living in the centre of Australia (ahem…millions of years ago in the permanent inland lakes) – that blew my mind!

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And speaking of surprises, we found out the hard way that Emma gets car sick on long, windy drives…… oh dear. Poor poppet!

So those were some of the places. There were also ‘lessons’.

What became painfully obvious to me, almost immediately after setting off, were the lessons we were being forced to learn – and quickly. You would think that after 15 years together Michael and I would probably have the whole communication thing down, right? Apparently not!

What seemed like a new phenomena for us was more likely just my amplified reactions to our situation. It was hard to believe just how immediately these things cropped up, and the ferocity of it. Up until now I have been able to avoid dealing with some of my shortcomings by escaping to another part of the house or busying myself with some other task. I no longer have that option here. My issues have been dragged out into the stark light of day by the challenge and change we put ourselves in. I don’t like seeing that side of myself – it is ugly and bitter. But, at this point in time, it is part of me – and part of why I put myself here. I knew those issues needed to be faced – so I keep choosing to do things which make me decidedly uncomfortable.

But the upside is growth, hard won strengthening growth.  And awesome, mind-opening experiences. To my amazement, Michael and I are already so much better at making plans on the run now – that’s been great!

Of course just when you think you’ve got it, something else comes along. In fact it seems to go in waves. We will do really well, then hit a hole again. I realised why – there were two lessons. We had both gotten better at communicating more effectively by being open, honest and forthcoming about what we want and what we think. The problem was the second lesson (and me) – doing it diplomatically. I hadn’t (and seemingly haven’t) figured out how to do that when i’m struggling. There’s nothing like being lost, late or constrained to make me really uncomfortable – and therefore less than pleasant to be around. What can I say – I’m a work in progress!

I love what this trip has given us already – not even two weeks in:

I love the experiences we have had, the things we have seen and the people we have met.

I love how astonished I am at the intensity of work my character is being put through, and equally by how fast we are all learning.

Boy, oh boy – what a crash course in how to be better – I love travel!

Lastly, I wanted to include this passage was that I thought was apt. It comes from a book a friend gave me to read – My Year Without Matches by Claire Dunn. In it she includes a little Rumi poem her friend sent to her:

Very little grows on jagged rock.

Be ground. Be crumbled.

So wild flowers will come up

Where you are.

You have been stony for too many years.

Try something different. Surrender.

mic & mel great ocean road

Mel x

The Web of Life(styles) – addictive goodness & Adelaide’s GroCo

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As I come off the back of a Local Grower’s Collective meeting (a little word on this later, below) I am realising two things:
1. Pruning is a real art form – requiring one to balance a hierarchy of botanical priorities, physical practicalities and a gambler’s nerve for now vs the future, and
2. It reminds me just how many facets there are to learn about when you become interested in a lifestyle more closely connected with growing/sustainability/simplicity/tradition etc etc (insert your unavoidable and inevitably stereotyping lifestyle descriptor here….)

It’s like a web – once in, you get tangled up in all sorts of wonderfully interesting threads, all connected together. And so much so, it can be hard to get out! Not that I imagine many people want to move away from this kind of life once they find it – more like once you start learning, you can’t stop. Maybe its more apt to describe it as some kind of enchanted garden that has seemingly endless nooks and niches to discover. The tricky part being, to navigate your own path.

Anyway, as a result of meeting up with new and old friends last night, I have a lot of topics rattling around in my head. I wanted to make a bit of a list of them and get them down somewhere – I thought I could do that here and share them at the same time. Perhaps it will be useful to someone? Or maybe it will just act as a “be warned – this lifestyle is highly addictive – symptoms include interest in, and possible partaking of, some or all of the following:”

  • wild mushrooms, edible weeds and foraging in general
  • hunting
  • fermented food and drinks (e.g. kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut – the list of foods on wikipedia is massive!)
  • cheese making
  • bee keeping
  • food forests
  • growing methodologies (e.g. organic, biodynamic, back to eden, eliot coleman)
  • permaculture (wiki description here, Australian goings-on here)
  • herbalism (growing and using medicinal herbs)
  • tiny houses
  • dumpster diving
  • living without the use of money (e.g. through exchange like LETS, gifting or hardcore examples like that of Daniel Suelo)
  • rituals and festivals celebrating the cycle of seasons, the year or our own life stages
  • story telling (see my little rant in a previous post here)
  • indigenous cultures and the myriad of skills they use(d) to live off the land
  • handcrafts like: basketry/weaving; spinning yarn; knitting/crocket; sewing…..

No doubt there is more to add – I just wanted to get those ones out of my head and in one place! Feel free to add your own …

I also wanted to talk about the Local Growers Collective here in Adelaide too – because it’s a great initiative. Essentially the ‘GroCo’ (as you will come to know it) is a network of people with an interest in growing – in any form that might take: currently growing; wanting to grow; novice; expert – whatever, it’s all good. Those who can, come together for a meeting, (about every six weeks), somewhere in Adelaide. The format is casual and normally includes some type of workshop, tour or brainstorming session at a member’s property or one of interest to the group. It’s all topped off with a share dinner and merry socialising – voila, recipe for goodness. So if you are in the area and would like to come along, or just want know more, contact Steven on 0421 816 106 or hoffna@gmail.com.

Thanks Steven for bringing us the GroCo and happy lifestyle addictions everyone!

Mel x

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