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Ten panniers, four instruments – most of what we’re taking

Meg’s bike, or rather Magpie’s bike (we’re going to use our forest names for this trip), is called Cosmo, after Cosmo Sheldrake. Here is the breakdown of what she is taking:

Pannier 1. Daily food pannier number one (6.4 kg). Thanks Marita Smith for the gift of Golden Lion and the Reishi. We’re taking our sourdough leven with us to make fermented crumpets for lunches. We’re committed to doing this trip single-use-plastic free so will be only buying produce that comes in its own packaging like avocados or that we can buy in bulk and put in our own bags and containers. We are taking a little of Magpie’s homemade miso, some cacao from Loving Earth, and oats and spelt from Burrum Biodynamics via our wonderful not-for-profit food co-op, Hepburn Wholefoods – making best practice farming affordable for low income households like ours. Thank you to all the volunteers.

Our food co-op is the same age as Blackwood, who has grown up with home-grown, foraged and not-for-profit organic food. He initiated his own co-op film last year and this year he was asked to be in one of a series of short films about the community-owned model.

Collective health doesn’t exist in the exclusive hands of science, science is just part of a much bigger story. Community health belongs in the many giving and making hands of strong community. To feed the world industrial food and medicine only serves a treadmill of ill health and produces destroyed habitats. This tradition comes from the death-seeking ideology of mechanistic scientism, which still proliferates western medicine in new profit-driven forms like virus engineering and other kinds of synthetic biology. We say enough of that sad old story! Community health is a return to eldership. Our dear friend Alison Wilken has been the volunteer-buyer at Hepburn Wholefoods for several years. Alison also co-runs our town’s Community Supported Bakery (CSB), Two Fold Bakehouse. Last time we left home for a year on our bikes Alison spent our last day helping us clean our house. We kept the tradition alive today too. Thanks Alison – your commitment to nourishing your community is both seen and respected.

Back to the pack… we’ll never leave at this rate… so many loved-ones to farewell…

Pannier 2. Daily food pannier number two (5.3 kg). Thanks Su and Dave for the gift of dried Melliodora strawberry grapes. Thank you again to Hepburn Wholefoods for stocking dark chocolate from Spencer Cocoa (Mudgee, NSW + beyond) and spelt pasta from Powlett Hill (Campbelltown, VIC). Thank you Tree Elbow soils for the humanure-grown garlic. Thank you Tree Elbow garden, chooks and nearby commons forest for the gifts of our dried-ground porridge additives. The organic soba noodles we buy in bulk from Hakubaku (Ballarat, VIC). And thanks to the local rural livestock supplies for stocking animal grade diatomaceous earth, which we use as a natural wormer and for being able to drink dodgy water.

Pannier 3. Magpie’s clothes pannier (4.8 kg). We have chosen books we adults both wish to read. Since taking this photo we found (in the pack-up) a half-size hot water bottle for sub-zero nights. Our loads are going to less weighty in a few months but right now woollen thermals, jumpers, beanies, mittens, scarves and jackets are essential to squeeze in.

Pannier 4. Artist as Family’s bedding (5.3 kg). We have liners for our light-weight, down-feathered, down to 0 degree celsius sleeping bags, making them sub zero proof, at least we hope. We have sleep mats to rest tired muscles upon.

Pannier 5. Artist as Family’s general ‘sub’ (5.0 kg). This pannier includes wet weather gear, spare bicycle tube, sun hats, 10 lt water bladder, towels, first aid kit, toiletry bag including spiralina gifted by generous community friend John Mayger, and other things since added like the gourd shell shaker – see below instrument pic.

Magpie is also taking our tent (2kg), violin and shaker (0.8 kg) and Zero (6.5 kg) on Cosmo with water bottles and handlebar bag filled with daily necessities (22.5kg). In total (not including Magpie’s weight) Cosmo fully loaded (including bike weight) = 58.6 kg. With Magpie (52kg) and Zero upon a fully loaded Cosmo the overall weight = 110.6 kg.

We are very excited to be taking these story-making tools with us.

Blue Wren (Patrick) and Blackwood’s tandem bike is called Merlin, after Merlin Sheldrake, brother to Cosmo. Here is the breakdown of what is riding on Merlin:

Pannier 6. Blue Wren’s clothes pannier (6.5 kg). Books, journal, pen, pillows for Blackwood and Blue Wren, warm clothes, sleeping bag liner and rain jacket.

Pannier 7. Blackwood’s clothes pannier (4.4 kg). Warm clothes, sleeping bag liner, rain jacket and cycling gloves.

Pannier 8. Artist as Family kitchen (7.4 kg). The plastic case contains a breadboard made by Blackwood out of his namesake, a diamond stone for knife sharpening, a Trangia stove and cooking kit, a strainer, matches, steel wool, a 3 lt billy, a foldable Luci solar lamp, three sporks, and (since added) a spatula. Additionally in the pannier we have a Trangia fuel bottle, two bottles of gifted garden-grown and locally pressed olive oil – one from friends Sandipa and Sambodhi, the other from Yonke (so much gratitude!), gifted friend-harvested salt (Thanks Yael and Matt – who stayed with their family at Tree Elbow on our last year-long adventure), a foldable bucket, Tree-Elbow grown Mountain Pepper, two tea towels (if you think they look grubby now, just wait a week or so), Tree Elbow honey, Tree Elbow dried chilli, more sneaky chocolate (thanks Brenna Fletcher!), and almond butter.

Pannier 9. Artist as Family’s dry store food packaged in reclaimed ziplock bags (8.9 kg). This includes rabbit, goat and roo jerky, various fruit leathers and dried fruit, dried mushrooms, and dried vegetables. Living well away from the slow-death-by-industrial-food grid is labour-intensive, as it is love-intensive. It demands close relationships with the living of the world and direct, sleeves-rolled-up encounters with birthing, consuming (in an earth-first sense), growing, ageing, dying and decaying.

Pannier 10. Artist as Family’s hunting, foraging and fishing ‘sub’ (8.2 kg). This pannier is our food-procuring kit. All these tools will mean that we can harvest fire wood, weedy root vegetables, wild fish and feral meat. Needless to say, this is Blackwood’s favourite pannier. Tyson Yunkaporta speaks about accountable and direct violence in one of his chapters in his book Sand Talk. This echoes a chapter on accountable killing in Blue Wren’s doctoral thesis, Walking for food (2014), where he reveals all the veiled violences of industrial food, be it a vegan, vegetarian or an omnivore diet. The 70 pound carp bow (below) has a coil and line that attaches to the front of the bow. We are taking our Carp song with us to share on the road. It starts with the story of us cooking carp on wood coals by the Millawa (Murray) River, and ends with these words – Eating carp cleans the river and the charcoal will clean you. We look forward to making a recording of this song at some stage on our pilgrimage.

Blue Wren and Blackwood are also taking a blanket (2kg) and the guitar and recorder (2 kg) on Merlin with water bottles and handlebar bag filled with recording and film equipment (33.7 kg).

In total (not including body weights) Merlin fully loaded (including bike weight) = 71.1 kg. With Blue Wren (75 kg) and Blackwood (30kg) upon a fully loaded Merlin = 177.4 kg.

Well, that’s the summary of the material things we are taking with us – our home (tent and bedding), food and tools. One more sleep before take off. We are sooooo excited!! Thank you everyone for your kind messages of support and love, and for your generous gifts. We are feeling so held and nurtured by our community, both near and far.

This will be our last post for a few weeks. We are going to go offline to lose our bearings and find our touring legs. We will throw the sulphur crested cockatoo feather up tomorrow morning to determine our direction. We hope, Dear Reader, that your feather takes you in the direction of where you need to go this year.

Signing out from us here in Djaara Country,

Artist as Family

Forest & free – an out-of-school experience and the power of risk

There are few places left where kids can use knives, climb trees, navigate forests, tend fires, sit in circle, speak their story, and generally get scratched up and stung by being participants of life. This is why we re-established a children’s forest group this year and why we volunteer our time to run it.

Forest & Free not about setting challenges that are too great for children, and we don’t encourage an overtly competitive or risk-taking culture, rather we encourage children to meet their own challenges and learn from others around them, and of course from the forest. We are observing, however, that the broader cultural narrative of ‘safety at all costs’ is harming children, making them less resilient, less mobile and suffering more health problems at an increasingly early age.

Forest & Free is about embodying resilience, meeting difficult (at times) challenges, and allowing uncomfortable things to occur – cutting oneself, standing on a Jumping Jack ant nest, putting all your weight on a rotten tree branch while climbing, taking off from the group and getting lost, and generally playing around with life.

Our culture, up until recently, used to see breaking a bone, receiving stitches, getting lost and a myriad of other uncomfortable things as ordinary rites of passage for 7-12 year olds – the pre-initiation age – necessary for the development of children. In the past few decades the possibility of embracing and learning through discomfort has been almost completely eliminated. This doesn’t serve children.

While we don’t wish on anyone any great pain – and we explain each skill, challenge, game or wild food in terms of the risks involved – adversity is the underlying, ever present flip side of enabling such learning and growth. That’s why we ask parents, carers and children to share the risk with us. This is the community model of organisation, which is a powerful antidote to the culture of fear and risk aversion that so greatly limits and incarcerates our children, and therefore inevitably our society.

As adults we come to understand that our greatest learnings come through some sort of discomfort, pain or suffering. And it’s how we respond to these things that really matters in building resilience, wisdom, freedom and bouncebackability. Overcoming fear is liberation!

In allowing a child to attend Forest & Free we ask parents to accept that some learning occurs through risk taking, that sometimes adversity will present itself as part of this risk, and in turn this presents itself as a gift of learning for everyone. When we go through adversity we gather in circle and share our story.

Children choose a forest name when they participate in Forest & Free. That is, when their forest names avail themselves. Sometimes this is a rapid process, sometimes a slow one. We have in our mob Echidna, Plantain, Blackberry, Deer, Silva, Blackwood, Jumping Jack, Thistle, Silent Night, Raven, Black Thorn, Fox, Black Cockatoo, Gum Tree, Huntsman, Brown Snake, Brush-tailed Phascogale, Pine Cone, Kangaroo and Kookaburra, amongst the dwellers who gather on a Wednesday afternoon.

Brown Snake’s mother: “I have watched such growth and confidence blossoming in Brown Snake recently, in huge part because of what you are offering – this space of adventure, risk, freedom, resilience, learning and cooperation. He holds himself slightly taller, prouder because he inhabits this space and can carry it with him. Without risk in the equation, as cliched as it is, there wld be no such reward.”

Huntsman’s mother: “There’s nowhere where the skills you share are offered in this manner & we are extremely grateful to be a part of it. Each week Huntsman is ecstatic when we meet up and can’t wait to tell his family and friends about the adventures you’ve been on.”

Pine Cone’s mother: “Thank you for all you do, for encouraging, empowering and enabling our children to rewild and connect with nature. We all try to avoid our children’s suffering at times, even when it’s beneficial for them to go through the process. It’s good to reflect upon this.”

Kangaroo’s mum: I love how much extra perception Kangaroo has of what’s going on in nature. That a tree has fallen on its own, or has been cut down, which [plants] to use for ailments etc. Probably most importantly, he has developed a better sense of his limits. So when he is climbing a tree, or a cliff, I feel more comfortable knowing he can make decisions for himself about how to stay safe and still take risks.

Black Cockatoo’s mother: “Forest & Free has given our child a sense of belonging and place at a time where he has been challenged to find that. It has reinforced and amplified his joy of being a part of a group and the relevance of safe behaviours in risky settings. Our child has been put down by educators for his engagement in “risky behaviours” such as jumping from things or climbing things that are “too high”, for questioning and pushing boundaries with a desire to understand. He has been made to feel like he is bad and naughty for wanting to explore and push the edges of his curiosity which has led to his exit from the education “system”. Through beautifully held mentoring where he feels respected and therefore chooses to be respectful… What is more, he is learning [to be in] a space where his intelligence, silence, ideas AND his wildness are ALL embraced. At F&F the world makes sense and therefore the boundaries are respected and embraced (because they make sense). Best of all, he feels like he is a part of something, something special, it is a place for belonging, a place to be his wild, loving, risk taking self and it grounds him, fills him up. Every week upon returning from forest and free he returns in the dark, dirty, beaming and bright eyed. He gets in the car and shows me his wet feet, scratches and cuts with joy from a good time well had. When asked how it was he always says it was awesome, or the best, something he never said about school.”

Many thanks to all who have contributed to the fun, adversity and adventure of Forest & Free this year. A big thank you to Blue Tongue and Thornbill who have both assisted us with the children. It doesn’t take much to organise a bush group, and the forest has so much to teach us, it’s just about getting children into forests, deserts, grasslands and any other non-mediated environments, and not placing too many restrictions on how they engage in these places so they can keep connecting to the living of the world’s worlds. Here is a short video made by Thornbill Fizzy Mitchell that gives a little more insight into how children connect if they have the opportunity.

Sending much love out to you, Dear Reader,

Magpie and Blue Wren