Illness

Illness is never welcome, but sometimes it can be a blessing.
Yesterday I was struck down with a vomiting bug. Every time I moved my stomach began to cramp and a fresh wave of nausea would grip me. This morning the worst of it is over, but I have no energy and no appetite. So I sit on the verandah with a book, but I keep being distracted by the sounds around me. The heat is gradually building as it did yesterday. The bees are loudly swarming in a tree with small, white flowers and in the few frangipanis. Constant birdcall fills the air, particularly from the bell-birds. These never used to be heard from our house, but if you walked up the road a bit you could hear them calling from the forested gully. Now they seem to be everywhere. They have been a problem in other parts of the country, pushing out other birds and taking over. I hope that isn’t happening here.
As a child I used to love hearing bell-birds and when we drove through areas where they lived, I would wind the car window down so I could hear their clear notes. Now I live with them.

The butcher bird’s penetrating song still rises above all else now and then: the same few notes. They compose a different one each spring.

There are frequent, albeit brief, windows when I can hear only natural sounds–nothing man-made. Strange how the man-made sounds–cars, trucks, planes, earth-movers–suggest destruction.

We were out to dinner on Saturday night. One of our dishes was some red-claw yabbies. As I ate them I thought about where they had come from and imagined them quietly swimming along in whatever body of water they had lived, scouring the bottom for food. I looked around me and wondered if anyone else gave a thought to where the food they were enjoying had come from. All the plants and animals they were eating had once lived in the quiet, slow environment of the natural world. Even if farmed, they moved and grew at their own pace, oblivious of their fate.

Most of us are so disconnected from the natural world that we can’t know the harm we are doing to it, even as the number of hot days increase, the glaciers and polar icecaps melt, bushfires rage and floods devastate. But our disconnection is, I believe, also doing harm to our mental and physical health. Life is too fast for us. We were never designed to run from one thing to the next like we do. Even those who appear to cope fine with the fast pace of life, even thrive on it; doesn’t it catch up with them eventually?

Our dam is almost dry and our tank is getting low. If we had to grow our own food, we would be in serious trouble. But we don’t. We can go to the shop. That’s where our food comes from. We can pretend we don’t rely on the natural world.

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No oranges this year

I am in a lather of sweat, the cicadas in the gum trees are building to an industrial level of noise and many plants that have been valiantly hanging on to life are finally succumbing, their leaves draining of colour, turning crisp and shrivelled. It’s hot. An orange tree that has been growing itself by the main road, providing oranges to whomever can get there with a ladder first is, for the first time, showing signs of stress. It hasn’t rained here properly since a weekend of three violent storms dumped heavy rain in early December. Our tank is barely a quarter full and our dam is but a muddy puddle.

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Last weekend we holed up inside in the airconditioning–something we only use in extreme heat–while the temperature outside climbed into the high 30s. I had to let the chooks out of their pen so they could find cooler places. They quickly made their way up the hill, wings held out from their bodies, beaks open and panting, and made for the cool of the dirt under the house. I filled a dish of water and set it down for them. They just stood and stared at me. I had never seen them so stressed.

The television showed footage of bushfires in Tasmania and New South Wales. Another fire wiped out a resort near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, where the temperature hasn’t fallen under 40 yet this year. Last week a heavy pall of smoke from fires on nearby Bribie Island drifted over us, obscuring the mountains; we could barely see out the front gate from the house.

Afternoon smoke haze

Normally at this time of year our tank is overflowing; we watch the overflow tank overflow and wish we could catch all that excess water. I hang wet clothes under the house and when I check them the next day they’re still damp and starting to smell. I refuse to buy a clothes dryer because they use so much power and the clothes dry eventually. And I don’t want to contribute any more to this overtaxed planet, suffocating under an excess of carbon dioxide and starting to sweat under it’s ever thickening blanket of gases.

When I was in high school, back in the 80s, our science teacher, Mr. Hawkin, used to talk passionately and urgently about “the greenhouse effect”. He told us that the buildup of emissions from the burning of fossil fuels would cause the planet to heat up, that we would see extreme weather events, that it would become increasingly hard to grow our food as periods of drought increased in length and frequency. Occasionally, in the media, you would see the greenhouse effect referred to, but it was treated like something mad, radical scientists were scaremongering about and anyway, it was way off in the future like flying cars. Hawkin used to make me feel shit-scared, but then the bell would go and I’d forget about it.

Mr. Hawkin is probably retired now. He’d be in his 60s. I imagine he kept telling his students about this mythical “greenhouse effect”. I wonder if anyone ever acted on anything he said. I think, certainly in recent years, I have always striven to conserve electricity and not waste things, but then my mother was of the depression and war years, so it was probably her careful ways that instilled this. But I wonder if anyone has actually taken action based on what he told us, studying science at university, buying a hybrid car, not using plastic bags at the checkout, striving for self-sufficiency. Not enough people listened to him or any of the other scientists who tried and are still trying to warn us. I think the time for warnings is well and truly over. Now we have to work out how we’re going to survive. There may be no oranges from that tree by the road this year, and that will just be the beginning.

Drastic Measures

On the weekend I went to a meeting about food security. The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance are holding kitchen table meetings around the country to gather peoples opinions and concerns about how we want our food to be produced and supplied. Basicly, if we rely on imports and agribusiness to feed us, how can we guarantee quality and security of our food supply?

Boring! But unfortunately, an issue we need to think about and act on if we want to keep eating. For example, the guru from the ASFA told us that in the event of some catastrophic event we would only have 50 days of grain supply left. I’m not sure this means for the world or just Australia; I was too focused on whether I should eat one of our hosts scones with strawberry jam or a raw bean, and on how sweet that bird is that keeps bathing in the small bird bath.

This puts me under considerable pressure to get growing if I’m to take up the slack if and when said catastrophe occurs. The fact that it now hasn’t rained forever is making things a little difficult. Our dam is but a muddy puddle and we’ve already bought one load of water for our tank at a cost of $125 for 10,000 litres (a quarter of a tank).

We did discuss people growing more of their own food and bartering their excess. I’ve been coveting my friend’s vege garden for some time now. She grows everything! Even her own lentils. She even bought a cow recently, and has been endeavouring to squeeze milk out of the beast with mixed success. Since cows can’t eat gum trees, I can’t have a cow, goat, whale or any other lactating beast. If I hadn’t speyed the dog to stop my vet surgeon Dad nagging me, I could have got her pregnant and milked her. Then she would at least be of some use.

Would you drink milk from this dog?

Once I’ve got a useful amount of anything coming out of my garden I plan to  enter into a bartering system with my neighbour and any others that might be interested.

I asked the guru at our meeting whether it would be feasible to grow your own wheat or other grain. It’s all very well to grow beans and carrots, but most of what we eat is grain (unless you’re one of these city-dwelling, no-carbs freaks). He said an acre of land would yield about 5 tons of wheat. I’m pretty sure we don’t need that much. Our budget doesn’t run to a combine harvester and storage could become a problem. Extrapolating (unnecessarily long word) from this, I reckon I can grow our own wheat supply in the back yard. Apparently, it’s even possible to grow what is called dry land rice. I can feel my back aching already. And I’ll have to buy one of those pointy, Vietnamese hats.