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Artist as Family’s Book of Neopeasantry (second excerpt)

 

October 18
Meg

I’ve been meaning to check on them for ages and after work today I finally do. I take the tea towel off the bucket that’s been sitting under the fermenting table and realise I’ve left it too late. A 20-litre bucket of Jerusalem artichokes with a plate on top to keep them submerged under the brine. There is a thick crust of mould, and all of the pickles have gone soft. I’m so disappointed, and I curse myself for not putting a reminder in the calendar to check it earlier, as I usually do.

I scoop the mould off the top and feel around with my hand all through the bucket and find one big one that may be salvageable. It smells fine, so I give it a quick rinse and take a bite but it’s not as firm as I hope. I put it back in the bucket and carry the soft gloopy mess down off the deck, through the muddy swales and into the chicken coop to the very back corner and dump the whole lot there among 15 years of rotten down mouldy ferments.

When I come back up to the house Patrick asks me where I tipped them and I tell him.

‘Onto my midden of failures.’

 

 

October 23
Patrick

A plunge in the cold water tank, nude tea drinking by the fire, loft steps lovemaking, followed by more tea, reading out to each other the missives from thoughtsmiths and journos we subscribe to on Substack.

Blackwood wakes around nine and we ride our bikes up to the Sunday market. A sign catches my eye as we pass through town, ‘Relaxation Massage – $40 for 30 minutes.’ I’d seen the sign before but never given it a thought. Our usual cohort of body healers are not currently available, and I don’t see Kris for a massage in exchange for gardening, until Friday.

We continue onto the market and I buy a banana passionfruit vine from Florian, one of the organic growers there. Banana passionfruit are the only fruit ripe at this time of year and I’m determined to keep this one frost protected until it grows hardy.

I chat with Florian and later with Edward, another grower who grows without chemicals. Meg and Blackwood wander around the market, yarning with people, looking for old tools and useful things like containers filled with an assortment of nails and screws.

On the way home riding in convoy I notice the massage sign again, and feeling the pain rising in my back I call out to Meg and Blackwood, ‘See you at home, I’ll see if I can get a treatment.’

I cross the road and roll my bike down a little lane and walk into the reception area. The lady says she is available and takes my card and charges me $49. I feel as though I missed something in the exchange. English isn’t her first language and Mandarin isn’t mine. She shows me into the room, and leaves me there to undress. She returns as I’m laying on my stomach with a towel across my body. She asks whether I want my legs and buttocks done. ‘My back is what’s really hurting me,’ I reply.

Before I know it she has removed my underpants. Well, that’s pretty weird. I have the feeling again as though I have missed something. She uses her hands, elbows and forearms to work my tight back muscles. I begin to relax and breathe deeply in and out through my nose.

After about twenty minutes she asks me to turn over and places the towel back over my body. She speaks again, something about a ‘special’ and taps me on my groin. Oh, I realise, it’s this kind of massage parlour. ‘No thanks,’ I say, ‘but thanks for asking.’

She works my legs and arms and I lay there thinking about how unattached and pragmatic she is. My thought drifts to all the lonely men in the district starved of intimacy, starved of touch, where this service would at least be some kind of connection. I feel pangs of grief for all people who don’t have intimacy in their lives, which leads on to a wave of gratitude for the diversity of love and touch I receive each day.

After 30 minutes she thanks me and leaves the room. I put my farming clothes back on my farming body. No one is in the reception. There’s a ghostly feeling as I leave. It’s not exactly what I went in for, but there’s a little relief in my back.

I gently ride home and share my adventure with Meg. ‘Wow,’ she says. ‘I didn’t know such a thing existed in Daylesford.’ We laugh at how naive we are. Blackwood is in the workshop cleaning up rusted steel blades from old hedge trimmers he bought at the market.

‘Were you tempted?’ Meg asks me, grinning.

~

Artist as Family’s Book of Neopeasantry (first excerpt)

For the past year we’ve been journalling every day with the intention of collecting stories for a book focussed on the relationships and processes of how we live, make culture and practice economy. Today we share with you a first excerpt as we slowly transform our two journals into one manuscript, which we’re calling Artist as Family’s Book of Neopeasantry.

This is not a how to or guide book on neopeasantry but rather, like our first collaborative effort The Art of Free Travel, it’s a memoir. In Artist as Family’s Book of Neopeasantry both we adults share our days, sometimes with overlapping stories and themes, sometimes not.

We hope you enjoy this forthcoming series of excerpts. We’d love to hear from you in the comments about how you are building the parallel society in your neck of the woods, step-by-step composting your household’s reliance on neoliberal corporatism while strengthening your local forms of economy. If you’re moved to and have the capacity, please consider supporting our work in one of four ways and help keep the gifts flowing.

Now, without further ado, a first insight into Artist as Family’s Book of Neopeasantry.

October 16
Patrick

Nikki is a dear friend and elder of ours. She is one of those rare spirits who works to make the world sing. She with others in the community started the local Repair Café where people volunteer their time to fix things for others.

Fixers include those good with electrical devices, repairing bicycles, darning socks, mending jumpers, and sharpening knives. Blackwood takes his repair kit to fix loose soles on peoples shoes. Meg takes along her hand-fashioned sign, which announces she is MENDING BROKEN HEARTS, offering a listening and reflecting table for matters of the heart. For this month’s gathering, Nikki has asked me to run a chainsaw sharpening workshop. I also bring equipment to teach secateur maintenance.

A small cohort of people has gathered around my table at the club room at Victoria Park. I begin with demonstrating the filing of the teeth of a chain. How to maintain the correct angle and tension as you push the file through each tooth. I demonstrate the cleaning and sharpening of secateurs, first by disassembling all parts, then ragging away any remnant grease, sanding the crud or dried sap from the blades with wet and dry sandpaper, then reapplying a film of new grease and reassembling.

The grease I use is tallow from Bruce the bull. Veronika has often gifted us tallow and meat cuts from her family’s farm. We mostly cook with tallow, or ghee that Meg makes. Veronika used to come to Meg’s monthly free-to-learn fermentation workshops and she continues to shower us with gifts from her family’s subsistence productions.

All around us the gifts flow. We send them out into the world and others flow back. This is why we call our main economic form a flow of gifts economy. It grows with trust and love. It is not clunky like barter, and it’s not ruthless like money. As at the Repair Café, gifts aggregate and true eldership leads the way to start them flowing, leading by love and gentle encouragement.

Meg

I ride up to the Sunday market just with Zero as Blackwood is mowing our neighbour’s lawns and Patrick is working on a long blog post about the Free Julian Assange rally. 

Jono from Brooklands gifts me a bag of bones for Zero, then Ruby from Two Fold gifts me a loaf of bread, and I pedal home to find Dallas dropping off an unwanted rooster at our door. Another gift. The apple and quince blossoms are out in full glory, and the garden is humming with life and activity, and I am feeling inside the rich current of the generosity of the season.

We put the rooster in the cellar then pedal up to the Repair Café at Victoria Park. Patrick is running a chainsaw and tool sharpening workshop, Blackwood has taken his shoe repair kit, and I sit at my regular table and listen to people’s heart breaking stories. Mending is not fixing, it’s just listening and sometimes reflecting. It is a big and bustling afternoon and everyone is in good spirits because the sun is shining after so many days of rain.

The last person to sit at my table is John, who’s been sharpening knives at the table next to mine all afternoon. He is there to chat, not have his heart mended, he tells me. When it’s nearly time to pack up, I tell him I am heading home to kill and cook for dinner the rooster Dallas has dropped over and he tells me about the time many years ago he was on a tram in Melbourne. A woman gets on and the conductor tells her she isn’t allowed on the tram with a live duck tucked under her arm. They have a brief conversation then the woman casually wrings the duck’s neck, then puts it back under her arm and sits down.

~

Into the glean and scene of 2017

We ended 2016 with a community garden working bee with mates,

cleaning off graffiti from around the town (that one of us thought was a good idea to do at the time),

building a new squat compost loo with SWAP, Isobel,

going for a little ride,

to spend the summer solstice at Melliodora with neo-peasant and permie mates,

advertising for our first SWAP-intern suitable to work with the whole family, particularly Zeph,

and carried on with forest work and play,

until the year was done and we gathered with various friends and other community groups to celebrate the new year.

 Our little ensemble of community gardeners won best ‘float’, despite our on-foot-ness.

The next day, with our Milkwood mates, we were very floaty when we heard the news of our win ($500 to the community gardens to grow more free food).
This year we’ve been welcoming Connor into our family. Connor was chosen to be our first SWAP-intern. Within days it was like this remarkable young man has been with us for years.
And we’ve been blessed with more wonderful SWAPs coming to live and learn with us. Hello Anna!

And hello Marta!

We went out of town with our mate Pete to collect some locally grown and milled timber. We’re going to build a number of things in the next few months.

With friends Mara, Kirsten and Kat we made a banner,

which will be used each year to mark January 26, terra nullius day at the Daylesford Town Hall.

We’ve been doing little fermenting experiments and loving the results.

Actually, Connor doesn’t need elderflower cider to fool around in the gloaming.

Connor and Marta have been hanging out working together, riding the tandem and generally keeping the home fires burning.

Because it’s a time of storing,

food forestry and many people staying,

pumpkins, citrus and kiwi fruiting,

honey making,

poultry growing,

appling,

learning,

keeping the mice numbers down,

and more storing.

Collecting materials from building sites, the tip, and having friends who gift large doors and windows (thanks Nicko and Elle), has enabled the planning of the north-facing greenhouse.

Our home is a busy mess of multiple projects, ferments and general productivity. We’re using the excessive affluence of industrial civilisation to transition to low-money, low-carbon lifeways before inevitable decline or collapse.

Prepare now or struggle later is our motto, and what we’ve found in the meantime is a more joyous, meaningful form of life making.

Preparing the ground for more flowering

It’s been a busy month since birthing The Cumquat and Land Cultures. There has been much late winter, early spring labouring under an occasional sun.

With another family we planted out chestnuts and walnuts on common land for the next generations.

Each of us contributing in our own way.

We planted trees, and we grafted medlar scions onto hawthorns.

We attempted this several years ago in the little forest near home with no success.

With a little more understanding we are trying again, and are willing the sap to flow into these fruiting branches to make more fruit possible.

With food forest work the natural order of things to follow is bee work. The boys have been making new housing for native bees.

Now we’re awaiting the warmer weather for the occupation.

Community gardening has been an ongoing priority for several years now. This winter we hosted two pruning workshops with Ian Clarke, a knowledgeable tree elder.

The pruned cuttings were cycled home and sat in the snow,

before being made into biochar, to feed back the flowering earth.

Each day the boys are involved in what Gertrude Stein once called the processes of circularity.

It has been a great relief for Zeph to be outside the strictures and inflexibilities of institutional life. Removing fences at a community garden working bee is not just a metaphor.

He has begun work on a critical-creative research project of his choice — The history of street art. For two hours every day he reads, writes and explores this world. And we’ve been on excursions to help better understand this world.

For country kids the city offers colour and excitement, as well as an understanding of the context for how urbanisation makes ill the world’s worlds. Such illness, such an interruption to life, is the very medium for graffiti writers and street artists who are not well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.

On another day the boys take old tip-discarded timber and build a new bridge over one of the swales in the garden. Zeph taught his younger brother to use tools and calibrate his eyes and arms to the task of making the home garden more functional and productive.

Zeph has moved into the Cumquat. Imagine being 14 years old and living in the little home you co-built! Each morning between 7-9am he works on his street art research project and during the day he heads out to work with various skilled friends in our community. On organic and permaculture farms, at light earth building sites, stone retaining wall constructions, selling local produce at a market stall, and learning traditional restoration work on an old church have all been part of his experience over the past two weeks since he left school. 

And we’ve been sharing our skills too. Here Meg teaches the art of fermenting grains: sourdough bread and rejuvelac making.

And for the first time we have been eating our own oranges throughout the winter. Drying the peel to grind up and use to flavour fruit bread or using them as fire lighters to start our wood oven.

Most of the world’s worlds are flowering places, and these places that flower nurture and keep well the communities of the living. That this understanding is absent from the teaching that occurs in schools is why our culture is involved in permanent forms of destruction. To be involved in the sacred realm of buds and bees, seasons and cycles is what we want to pass on to our kids. And to further grow our understanding of what keeps life flowering, fruiting and making more life possible.

Mobility and food (our first week home)

Now we are back home we find not all that much has changed. Just as it was on the road, our home-life is also all about mobility and food; how we move around and how we sustain ourselves.

After such a long time on the back of their parents’ bikes, the boys were keen to get their own forms of mobility cranking. Zeph made roadworthy one of our old tip bikes and Woody gave his hand-me-down first bike a thorough going over. Thanks Carly!

We continued to bike and walk as our main forms of mobility. Woody now walks a few kms each day.

We pedalled up to the community garden working bee (blogged here), to contribute to the community gift economy going on there.

We painted up some new signs to be put up at two of the growing number of food gardens in our small town.

We helped Peter install the signs,

and we began to organise some music events that will take place in the Albert St garden to simply celebrate life there.

We biked up to our local food co-op to buy what we couldn’t freely obtain and to support a more environmentally aware monetised economy.

We walked, bussed, trained and caught a tram to visit Woody’s great grandfather (aged 96) in the metropolis.

 We pushed our wheelbarrow over to Maria’s, our neighbour, to collect cockatoo-spoiled apples,

to feed to our girls.

We worked in our annual produce area planting some more food. This row: cayenne peppers as food-medicine for the winter.

We welcomed back Yael and Matt, Akira, Essie and Dante, who so wonderfully tended the house and garden while we were away and planted food for us to come home to. Thank you beautiful family!

We got busy in the kitchen making sauerkraut with cabbages that Matt and Yael had planted with the kids,

we revitalised our five year old sourdough starter and have been making bread daily,

we have made music each night before bed too,

and we have made our version of vegemite: miso paste, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic. Delish!

It is lovely to be home, and so far we haven’t got itchy pedals. After so many months of uncertainty, the comforts of home and community life have been both regenerative and restorative. We thank you, Dear Reader, for accompanying us on our journey in settling back into domestic life, and hope you too have both regeneration and rest cycling around in your neck of the woods.

Good Wood

We found some wood, you see. A whole stack of old hardwood batons that were holding up the tiles of a roof that was being retiled in time for the winter rains. The tiler was thrilled when we asked if we could take it, saving him a trip to the tip to dispose of it.

Off we went.

‘But it’s my billy cart, Dad. If you’d like to use it, you have to pull me up the hills.’
‘Let’s stack the longer bits first and then the small bits.’
Toot toot go the cars as we wobble down the footpath towards home.
A few days later we decided to take the billy cart on another adventure: to our newly opened local community op-shop. In no time at all we had completed our autumn clean-out and had filled five big bags of goodies to recycle.

The Daylesford Community Op-Shop is based on a Swedish thrift store model: to provide local community members with what they need including electrical items, so they don’t have to shop outside of town or buy new items, and all profits are then put back into the community.

Local not-for-profit organisations can apply to receive the profits for a month. The month of May for example is for Hepburn Wildlife Shelter, which means that they promote that month as theirs. They can bring in their saved-up goods to be sold and their members volunteer at the op-shop.

Based on the size of our town the op-shop is forecast to inject $100,000 a year back into the community.

There’s also a community space where mothers can nurse their babies, a book nook, a seed bank and a chai lounge. Pretty amazing, huh?

A brief stop at one of our community food gardens to turn over the compost, and then on we go.

Back home and our day was not quite done. Inside our chicken coop, our birds have been flying over the low fence and have been digging up one of our vegie patches. We have been setting up more substantial fencing over the last few weeks. And after our recent score we finally had enough timber to make some gates.

We harvested the last of the potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes, dug the beds over, added compost and planted them out with heirloom vegies.

We planted broad beans, three varieties of carrots, kohlrabi, two varieties of beetroot, celeriac, leek and plenty of cabbage.
We are a bit obsessed with cabbage in our household. We love to eat it raw in salads but even more so, we love to lacto-ferment it into sauerkraut. Here is a jar of our latest batch.

And here is the final fruit of our labours: a stack of kindling wood ready for the winter.