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Artist as Family’s Book of Neopeasantry (sixth excerpt – between the town and the forest)

If you are just coming to these excerpts now – welcome! We spent a year journalling every day and currently we are spending a year releasing excerpts as we combine our journals into one manuscript. If you would like to read the previous five, please start here, then go to two, three, four and five. If you’d like to give to our labours and writing in one of four ways, please visit our Support page. Your comments and questions are always welcome. We’re open to all forms of generative feedback – critical, loving and all that is.

 

November 28
Meg

Our neighbour Andrew brings around a box of dusty jars. He is cleaning out his shed and thinks we might like them. Blackwood and I are cooking our respective dinners when Andrew drops by. He also offers some insulation bats, so I tell him I’ll message our friend Leif who’s building a tiny house to see if he wants them.

After dinner in the tree house, Blackwood and I put on our hiking packs and head torches and walk up the street to go hunting. We are on the lookout for newspaper; a precious resource in our home economy that we wouldn’t waste our money on buying.

We know which recycling bins always have newspaper, but we inspect them all anyway. I take one side of the road and Blackwood takes the other. We turn our head torches off as we run between the bins, and then on again as we open each lid. It’s like lifting up river stones when we hunt yabbies.

After a successful session of collecting and filling our backpacks with newspapers, and some 2-litre plastic bottles, (which we are going to clean, fill with water and put in our chest freezer for Blackwood and Patrick to take next time they go fishing), we drop some newspapers at Andrew’s as he said he’d like some too. Like us, Andrew heats his home with wood, and like us, he doesn’t read newspapers.

There are some huge eucalypts outside Andrew’s house, and while Blackwood tells him about our night of hunting, I collect an armload of kindling from his nature strip. We farewell Andrew then walk home with our heavy backpacks. My arms are full of kindling, while Blackwood is carrying a box he found in someone’s bin containing an internet modem and a whole bunch of cables that he and his friend Django are going to make something with tomorrow.

 

Patrick

The men saw me off last night. I left the warmth of the firecircle and my soft-hearted brothers and walked into the forest without any light except for a fine crescent moon. I didn’t know where I was going or where I was going to sleep. I just headed southwest; everywhere else was town. It was already late.

After some walking towards what I’ve come to call Fear Country, which is mostly country within me, I arrive at a creek but find the water too high over the stepping stones to cross. Without thinking, I’d started on a course to the part of the forest where all my big visions and happenings have occurred over the years. Where a wave of blue wrens had saved me from an abyss of evil and permanent dying, and the place where white serpent revealed himself, writhing elegantly from out of the forest and across the sky, covering me in peace and belonging. All revelations and visions had occurred once I’d gathered up the courage to let go of the fear I held in my body and open to the grace and immensity of Mother Country’s spirit world.

But I turned back. I was spent and did not have the wherewithal or the light to negotiate the creek. My tiredness and growing fear of the dark turned me back towards my goats. To sleep beside them. Something I’ve always wanted to do. I felt shame for turning back and novelty, all mixed up in my fatigue.

Alice, our oldest nanny, was intrigued as I set up a crude bed, and she stayed close to me with her kid Daphne throughout the night. I fell asleep wondering if I’d botched my first challenge on this outing and how that would play its part.

~

I wake with both the dawn and the goats beside me, pack up my dew-sodden gear, wish the horned ones a goodly day, and walk an alternative route to the creek to explore a part of the forest I’ve never camped in.

At Sutton Spring I take a breakfast of mineral water, cross the creek and head off through the brambles, sweet bursaria and broom and on and up to a woodland hill. I sit for a while before I speak my two intentions for coming: to open to the oneness of the worlds of the world, and to fully accept everything. Acceptance and oneness.

The morning holds just enough sun to dry my gear, and with darkening clouds in the afternoon I set up my hammock tent between two trees, the base touching the ground where I’ll sleep. I crawl in and out for the remainder of the day, with a heavy fatigue.

Occasionally I hear bushwalkers, a truck growling up the A300, or an aeroplane going over, though for much of the day I listen to running water, little gusts of wind stirring dry leaves, and continuous bird song and call.

Falling in and out of sleep I dissolve into the thrum of the forest.

 

Wise and curious Alice has taught us much about oneness and acceptance.

Beneath the sunny sky

When we first started talking about a year of travelling we went through all the ecological modes we might employ to move around. Our humble pushies became the most obvious choice. And so too for Jeff, an American we met briefly on the climb to Batlow, who is on his fourth bike tour of Australia. Jeff is the first bike tourer we’ve met since we pushed off a month ago.

We made the decision to stop flying four years ago and made ourselves carless three years ago, wanting to see if it was possible to live well with such seemingly radical restrictions. These decisions have paid dividends in terms of the money we no longer need to earn and have given us more time to do what we want to do.

Before we left Tumbarumba we met Adam, camped at the caravan park for the next few months picking blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) on a nearby farm. At home in Tumut, Adam grows heirloom vegies organically turning his political energy into rich friable soil, knowing that the way to abstain from participating in corporate damage is to be accountable for one’s own resources. On our last night Adam brought us back a bowl of delicious blueberries he’d picked from the farm and in return we were able to pass on to him a little paperback edition on the uses and benefits of dandelions.

As an antioxidant, blueberries (eaten raw) fight free radicals that are damaging to cells and DNA. They rate low in terms of their glycemic index (GI) and therefore are considered slow-release energy food. They are high in vitamins K and C, and manganese and fibre. Thanks Adam!

Being on the lookout for local produce and exposed to all the elements as we ride may appear a tad utopian, but the reality at times is not so pleasurable. Our two most dreaded things to come across on the road are pesticides and big trucks. Coming into Batlow we copped a mouthful of what tasted like Mortein as an apple farmer was mass spraying on a windy day, and since Tallangatta we’ve had to contend with streams of heavy trucks.

Many of the trucks are carrying wood-chips or logs from the extremely damaging pine plantations that are rapidly destroying soil and water ecologies in this beautiful region of two thousand springs and creeks.

How our culture behaves is truly saddening, but it is land and the people we are meeting that counter much of this negativity. We arrived in Tumut and this lovely family greeted us in the street with the proposal of a warm shower and a place to camp for the night.

This portrait (sans Anthony who’d left for work) was taken just after Valerie had cooked us a delicious pot of breakfast porridge. Rose, Lily, Jasmine and Dom (Zeph would have loved meeting you all) shared their personal stories before they headed off for school and we headed off to the park to meet another colourful local family.

While recharging in the park we spotted what looked like a pretty interesting workshop being conducted. Waradajhi (Wiradjuri) ranger Shane Herrington was holding a ‘men’s honour’ workshop, teaching the art of making traditional hunting tools at the Tumut-Brungle Community Centre.

Shane immediately included Patrick in the workshop and got him helping to heat and layer with wood dust the maleable gum of grass trees (Xanthorrhoea),

which was used traditionally to help bond the spearhead, in this case red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), to the spearshaft. This one was made from native hemp (Gynatrix pulchella).

Shane then demonstrated how to turn various fibres (stringybark, grasses and reeds) into multiply string. No polluting machines necessary, only hands and thighs, a skill used by both men and women but according to Shane was exclusively taught by the women.

After meeting some of the Tumut-Brungle community we were eager to head out to Brungle situated on a relatively truck-free road about halfway between Tumut and Gundagai. This is truly magical country.

As we arrived we were startled by an incredible display of light. Is this what an animistic welcome to country looks like? It certainly seemed to speak of the same warmth and welcome we were offered back in Tumut.

Then after almost a month of travelling and observing unripe cherry plums (Prunus cerasifera) all along the roadsides, we finally cycled into country that offered up this free delicious food, ripe and ready for the picking.

Such gifts of the autonomous gods were true blessings and Woody hoed into the red ones too, fitting several in his mouth at once.

But not everything goes the way one might like it and after Brungle we had an exhaustive climb to Gundagai. Because Patrick’s motor has given up (again) his knees have been giving him grave troubles. Cursing expensive but poorly made Chinese technology he struggled in the afternoon heat, making for a long afternoon’s ride with a heavy load along the track winding back

We arrived in Gundagai in the early evening, crossed this lovely old river on a ricketty old bridge,

set up camp, collapsed into bed and breakfasted on these magnificent figs (Ficus spp.) found in the town.

Time now to rest for a day, plan our next leg along the dreaded Hume (little choice but to ride along this noisy highway for a while) and attend to the fruitful smells emanating from our clothes.