Public Noises

Well Sylvia has one week to go before her eggs hatch and I have a choral performance tonight. Our conductor is a big fleshy man who will one day have a heart attack at the podium out of frustration with the orchestra, or in raptures over the music. At one point in our Bottesini Requiem he looks like he will simply rise up to heaven and disappear. He loves his work.

But before participating in this sublime musical experience, I have to do the grocery shopping. What a curse of modern living this is. I much prefer the image of myself arrayed in a long skirt and head scarf, bent double in the vege patch pulling up carrots or digging up potatoes, singing as I swing a basket full of eggs and veg and bringing it in to place on the kitchen table next to my rising dough. Instead, I push a steel trolley up and down aisles under harsh strip lighting, listening to Muzak instead of birdsong.

I have recently begun shopping at Aldi, mainly because it’s quiet. No Muzak, just the occasional mother-toddler negotiation, or elderly couples discussing whether they already have toilet paper, and do you think the grandkids will like these biscuits. But last time I found it so quiet that I began whistling the Bottesini Requiem–alto part–and then tap-dancing (I can’t) before realising I had unwittingly drawn attention to myself and so resumed the look of quiet desperation that most people wear in supermarkets. A toddler sitting up in his trolley seat was growling and bearing his teeth at no one in particular. I beared my teeth at him in response, which he appreciated, but I stopped short of actually growling. He can growl like a lion and that’s fine, but if I do it, I’m suspected of being insane. At what point in our development does this happen? I often feel like growling and bearing my teeth in public. *sigh* Modern life is so constraining.

If I were, as I plan to in the future, pulling up carrots in my vege patch, I would be free to growl as much as I wanted. And I could do it naked, although I probably wouldn’t. I was growing a lettuce and would by now be picking it’s fresh leaves and growling as I placed them in my basket, but Esme, my oldest chicken at 7 and 1/4 years, keeps eating it. As soon as it went in the ground she was pacing up and down the fence eyeing it off. I told her not to eat it, but as soon as I turned my back she was over the fence and in there. I put wire and netting over the garden, but she just went through the gaps. I spotted her as she flew up onto the fence ready to drop down the other side and growled at her. She quickly jumped back down again looking sulky, but next time I looked, the lettuce was eaten to the ground. Over the next couple of days new leaves began to grow, but before they could rise more than a couple of centremetres they were gone again.

And that’s enough to make you scream.

Leaps of Faith

It’s school holidays and I’m home alone! One son is on a ski trip, the other two are with their grandparents at the beach. This is the perfect chance to do some of those things that I’ve been putting off. So far I’ve cleaned out the chook shed, which had droppings and the grain the chooks choose not to eat, piling up and starting to stink. I put fresh sugarcane mulch in the nesting box and also lifted Sylvia, who is broody, off her nest to add more mulch under her six eggs. They’ll hatch in about a week. Sylvia is the worst mother in the world, but the one who goes broody the most often. She’s hatched more chicks than any of the others, even letting another chook sit on a nest for two weeks, only to squeeze herself onto the same nest for the last week, either ousting the other chook, or co-parenting the hatchlings. But she tires of parenthood quickly, leaving them to run after her when she takes off free-ranging. She even left one batch altogether when the rooster came enticing her back into the flock. None of her chicks has ever survived. One was taken at night by a snake and she spent all of the next morning wandering around calling for it, while the snake sat smugly on the rafters under the house digesting her baby. It’s the only time I’ve seen her show any motherly feeling. But she soon forgot, and after a couple of days, the snake did an enormous, stinking shit down the wall and disappeared.

We’ve hatched many chicks over the years but only one hen has survived to adulthood and a few roosters who were given away to be eaten–one of them by a fox. Most are taken by snakes, goannas or hawks. This time I’ve separated Sylvia from the others and mean to do my best to keep the predators out. Hopefully they won’t all be roosters and hopefully she’ll parent responsibly for a change. I’m prepared to give her another chance.Image

I find it very satisfying doing this work. We have our own fresh eggs–much fresher than anything bought in a shop. I’m not sure it works out cheaper, given that we still have to buy grain for them over the winter months when we get no eggs. But it drastically reduces the amount of rubbish that goes in our bin. All of our food scraps, bar any meat, goes to the chooks and is turned into eggs and manure for the garden.They also work at keeping pests down. Last time we had lawn grubs in our tiny patch of lawn I let the chooks loose on it and we’ve never had lawn grubs since. No pesticides needed.

I also potted two chilli plants I bought at the markets last week. I now have rosemary, thyme, parsley, basil, sage, chives, oregano, mint, bay leaves, kaffir lime leaves, two tomato plants, lavender, garlic, two pumpkin plants and some tiny kale seedlings. I also have a passionfruit plant waiting to be planted somewhere it can climb. The lemon tree finally gave us several lemons this year after seven years of care and we had one orange off the orange tree. The grapefruit tree had a sulk this year and we got no fruit, likewise the lychee. But I have plans to apply biodynamic tree paste which is supposed to work miracles–kind of like a mud pack for fruit trees.

A week ago I didn’t have to pick anyone up one afternoon and didn’t have to cook dinner, so I took the chance to apply the biodynamic 500 preparation to the garden. This requires a certain leap of faith and would make any scientifically-minded person think I was completely stupid for bothering. They might be right.

Biodynamic 500 is made by burying cow horns packed with manure and leaving them for several months before digging them up again. All this is done with manure from specific cows, at a specific time of year and at a particular point in the lunar cycle. It’s all pretty ‘eye-of-newt’, but people who use this stuff regularly swear by it’s magical properties. And one does not just stick it on the vege patch and dig. One must put it, a mere handful, into a metal (not plastic) bucket, fill with water and begin to stir vigorously one way, creating a vortex, and then the other, creating chaos and then another vortex. One must stir in this way for exactly one hour, late in the afternoon, outside, and then sprinkle it about.

So that’s what I did, while listening to a podcast on my computer to while away the time. The blurb on the packet says not to expect miracles straight away, but that it requires regular seasonal applications before one notices any benefit. I feel like I’m doing something good. I may just get RSI, or I may see a miracle.

The Grass is Always Greener…or is it?

I’ve been trying to find some paid work. For most of last year and this year I have been preparing for a piano exam–my Amus, or Associate Diploma in Music (Piano). I was supposed to sit it 28 years ago, but finished school first and stopped playing altogether for a long time. I decided to do my Amus mostly because it was unfinished business, but my teacher said ‘they’ were crying out for piano teachers in schools and there was also a shortage of accompanists. This gave me a more concrete reason to put myself through this exam, which only has a 20% pass rate and costs $258 just to sit.

Well I passed, but the work that was supposed to come with it hasn’t yet materialised. I’ve contacted a few schools and sent my resume out, but so far I haven’t heard anything. I’ve also applied for a job as a laboratory assistant, hoping my previous experience as a nurse would help. No word yet. Next month I’m doing a short course in venepuncture in the hope of getting a job with one of the pathology companies taking blood. This course costs $530. I have a bad feeling I’ll end up spending money and never earning any.

The irony is that every night my husband comes home from his job, one that sees him gone from the house for twelve hours a day Monday to Friday and which he mostly hates. He is not a corporate animal. He likes to roam the countryside. His dream is to just set off one day and keep walking with no particular destination in mind. He comes in each night, kisses me and asks me how I am. “Still unemployed,” I reply. “Let’s swap,” he says wistfully. How stupid that we both want what we don’t have.

I don’t feel any real need to ‘get out if the house’. I’m very content here, tending my garden and my chooks. I’m aiming to grow as much of our fresh produce as I can and at the same time reduce our consumption as far as possible with three teenage boys. I’m a bit Amish in that way. But for some reason if it doesn’t earn money it is not valued. And I’m sure there are thousands of people at work right now looking out the window at the sunshine and wishing they were anywhere else. I know I used to when I was locked in the climate controlled atmosphere of a modern hospital. When people ask me if I work and I say “no” they sometimes give me an odd look and I know some of them go away thinking “What does she do all day?” Others hear I have three boys and say, “Goodness, that must keep you busy”, and exclaim over what an achievement it was to pass my Amus when I have a family to look after.

It’s actually somewhere in the middle. Yes, raising a family is a lot of work, but nowadays if you’re not doing a paid job as well people are surprised. And yet if your job was as a paid housekeeper for a family, no one would expect you to take a second job, or wonder what you do all day.

Priceless Gifts

Last night it rained for the first time in many weeks. We are in the middle of the bushfire season–the worst in 30 years so the rural fire brigade says. The last time big fires swept through here was in 1971. The local town was threatened and many pineapple farms were lost.

If we had any sense we wouldn’t live here at all. Our house is made of timber and is surrounded on all sides by bush. This means I can look out my kitchen window straight at a grevillea tree and watch the rainbow lorikeets and pale-headed rosellas feeding on the yellow flowers, squabbling noisily. It also means when fire comes the house and everything in it will go. We won’t stay and fight because to do so would be too dangerous. There is only one road out of here; if you decide to go you have to go early and hope there’s something to come back to.

I often wonder what it would be like if we lost everything. Obviously it would be devastating, but I also wonder whether it would be curiously freeing. A family that lost everything in a fire a few years ago decided to move to Uganda and work with the poor there–a decision they say they wouldn’t  otherwise have made. Friends of ours whose house burnt down after a candle caught the curtains in the baby’s room, remain very unattached to material possessions and very much focussed on the importance of each other.

But even if one could take a very Zen approach to it and look on it as a chance for a new start, there would always be pain when you remembered that irreplaceable thing you lost. The thing my mind always goes to is one of those things that are of no value to anyone but me, to whom it is priceless. When I was eight I had to have my tonsils out; this was another attempt to “cure” my asthma, about which little was known compared with now. I woke  up soon after the operation to see two of the nuns from the convent standing by my bed. I don’t remember how I felt about this at the time but I do remember being completely unable to make a sound.

One of them, Sr Brigid, an old retired nun, gave me a small yellow envelope, the kind used to pay people before electronic transfers. I know I would have been unsurprised but not the slightest bit impressed with the contents. Inside it were a holy medal made from a cheap, light metal and a holy picture like a cloth postage stamp. On the outside of the envelope was written, “God bless my darling Rose”, in beautiful flowing handwriting.

I still have this envelope in the drawer next to my bed and it still contains the medal and holy picture. Sr Brigid would be long dead. Only now do I appreciate the time she and the other nun took to come to the hospital and visit me, but also this simple gift she put together and the words on the outside to a child who was one of many at the school and not particularly special.

If our home were about to engulfed by flames I think I would run past my mother’s pearls and engagement ring, fling open the drawer and snatch up that yellow envelope before I ran out the door.

Wherever Sr Brigid is now, I hope she knows how much her gift still means to me.