a writer’s day

IMG_6040

Life has become more highly ritualised now that production of my doctoral creative artefact – my permaculture travel memoir – has begun to ramp-up.

In the morning, it goes like this…

5am or 5:30am rise. Empty potty (it’s too far to walk outside to the composting loo during the night). Get dressed. Wash face. Boil kettle. Pick fresh sprigs of mint; dodge bees drinking from flowers; brew pot of mint tea. Simultaneously brew a fresh cafetiere of coffee… carry both into the writing studio, place them on the heat-proof ceramic tile on my desk. Back to the kitchen to fetch a mug.

How can I impress upon you the importance of choosing the right mug? Which one today? So much depends upon it – the success of the written word.

Shall I choose this one or that? The green, or the midnight blue Japanese mug… the mottled, sandy-coloured oldies that came with the house… or my favourite, the cream-coloured Korean mug with the picture of the purple and yellow plums on the side?

IMG_6038

Start work.

Three to four hours of generating ‘fresh’ words. I call this process ‘seeding’. It’s how I flesh out the narrative and get words down on paper.

Break. 

Usually about 1 hour, during which I undertake a combination of the following: wash dishes (whilst listening to Margaret Throsby’s midday interview); make bed; browse the garden; eat lunch; prepare the evening meal.

Afterwards I resume work for another 2-3 hours. Time to edit the ‘old’ work I produced last week during my ‘seeding’ sprees. I call this part ‘weeding’, though sometimes it’s more like turning over the compost, trying to make the various elements disperse and break down more evenly. Integrate. Obtain a fine tilth. A perfect growing medium.

The final hour is of gentler, less intensive work. Sometimes it’s note-taking from secondary texts I’m working with: travel memoirs; natural histories; permaculture handbooks; or ethnographies…  This is the most brain-dead part of the day, reserved for things like notetaking or backing-up. 

Eventually, it’s time to finish. How to break the intensity of the day? 

IMG_6041

I try to leave the studio neat and tidy for tomorrow. Coming into an orderly space helps. I neaten the piles of books, pages, pens, drafts and drafts of drafts. They’re piling up. Soon I’ll have to confront them and file them away. When the doctorate is over I’ll probably mulch the garden with the seeding pages. I’ll be eating my words!

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Doctoral Research, Food, Life Writing, Literature, Permaculture, Uncategorized, Writing

Brisbane Climate March

IMG_5719

During the last weekend in November 785,000 people in 175 countries took to the streets to march in support of Climate Justice. Did you hear about it? Did the politicians convening at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris hear about it?

I live – rather happily most of the time – without a TV. This means I saw relatively little of the news coverage.

However… I did one-up on watching. I made sure I was there – walking tall among the 5,000 or so individuals who marched in Brisbane, Australia on the 28th of November, calling for ‘Climate Justice’ and an end to our government’s dirty but lucrative addiction to coal.

IMG_5713

I’m glad I attended the march. It was heartening to be there. I realised there are plenty of us involved in the movement to realise a clean-energy revolution – people who desire a massive re-think of how we interact personally, locally, nationally and globally with Land. Environment. Earth. The future. Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Climate Change, Culture, Earth Care, Permaculture, Social Justice

Let There Be Flowers

Richie inspects the overgrown kitchen garden upon our return from England

Richie inspects the overgrown kitchen garden upon our return from England

It has come to my attention this spring how important it is to let annual vegetable plants flower and go to seed. It’s a common habit among kitchen gardeners to remove plants after produce has been harvested, that is, before the plants flower and set seed. The reason being that most of us have limited space in our kitchen gardens and would rather see the precious space devoted to new planting (which represents new yields), as opposed to ‘unproductive plants’ that are past their best.

I write this post with one of mine and Richie’s own kitchen garden beds in mind – the one closest the back door. Because Richie and I weren’t here to harvest the plants during peak productivity this particular bed of mixed lettuce, broccoli, bok choi, kale and rocket has gone to flower.

A  few mature cabbages are the only things that haven't gone to flower in this particular garden bed

A few mature cabbages are the only things that haven’t gone to flower in this particular garden bed

It has been three weeks now since we returned from England. Every day I wake thinking that today will be the day I remove the flowering plants, add them to the compost heap and sew some new vegetable seeds in their place: radish, lettuce, carrot, fennel and basil all do well at this time of year.

But when I step outside and lay eyes on the blossoming tumble-down brassica plants I invariably can’t bring myself to do it. Why? Because the plants are literally humming with bees. Hundreds of them! European honeybees (Apis mellifera) as well as Australian native bees (Tetragonula – previously called Trigona). It’s such a joy to see and hear them at work that so far I have stayed my hand, allowing the plants (and bees) to keep on doing what they’re doing. At various time throughout the day I pause in my work to watch the native bees queuing at the entrance to the yellow broccoli flowers, one waiting for another to exit before making its own way inside.

What harm will it do, I ask, to leave the bed another couple of weeks until the flowers have faded and the seed heads – which have already formed – go crisp, brown and mature? Normally I’d make some attempt to save the seeds, but Richie tells me brassicas cross-pollinate promiscuously, so I’m reluctant to save seeds that might not grow true to type. What bastard children might these inter-species brassica unions beget?

Rocket-broccoli: brocket?

Bok-choi-kale: kak-choi?

Which brings me back to the ethics of the matter. Is it best to replant the flowering brassica-bed ASAP? This would ensure a steady supply of garden produce and would mean we don’t have to succumb to buying produce off the supermarket shelf. Or, should I leave the bed in question alone until all the plants in it have flowered and are dead? Perhaps I could go part-way, removing, say, half of the flowering plants, thereby freeing-up half the space in the bed for new plantings?

Keeping a steady supply of fresh produce coming from the garden into the kitchen is one of the priorities of kitchen gardeners

Keeping a steady supply of fresh garden produce coming into the kitchen is one of the priorities of kitchen gardeners – here’s one of Richie’s famous multi-leaf and herb salads

When I find myself in one of my more compassionate moods I wonder if removing plants before they’ve reached the natural conclusion of their lives is ‘right’ under any circumstances? Is killing a plant mid-cycle in any way similar to slaughtering an underage animal – a yearling cow or a calf raised for veal? And just as importantly, don’t we have an obligation, as gardeners, as human-animals, to share our garden produce with other non-human animals once we’ve received our ‘fair share’ of the produce – with bees for instance?

I suppose what I am saying is that I don’t rightly know the answer to any of these pesky questions. But more than ever, I feel there should be a place in Richie’s and my garden for vegetables that are flowering and setting seed – for them to stay in the ground until they effectively ‘die’.

The more wrinkles I get and the more grey hairs appear on my head the more I think it’s artificial (dare I say ‘unnatural’) to see a garden full of plants in their prime – no ‘unsightly’ or ‘old’ plants in view. To me, it’s the garden-equivalent of going to a party or a club where  over-thirties aren’t permitted entry. What fun is that?

In the name of diversity, I reckon it’s nice to nurture garden beds where babies, adolescents and geriatrics are crammed in together: creating pleasing variations in texture, colour, size. Inclusive multi-generational gardens serve a spiritual as well as an ecological function – seeing plants growing old and dying reminds me in a gentle way that I too will gradually stiffen, grow old and die. My body, like the bodies of the elderly plants in my garden, will return eventually to the soil, replenishing the earth, providing fertility for something else to grow.

The beautiful and decorate casings of dried poppy seed heads peak through the fence in a Norfolk churchyard, England

The beautiful and decorate casings of dried poppy seed heads peeking through the fence in a Norfolk churchyard, England – isn’t it time to live in the presence of death and dying, both in our gardens and in our own minds?

Personally, I think it’s time to live in the presence of visual evidence of death and dying, and to celebrate the entire life-cycle of plants, human-animals and non-human animals from birth to death, start to finish, AND that we should grow food not only for ourselves but for other beings who have lives and minds and bodies of their own to sustain, for instance, bees. Which is why the flowering lettuce, rocket, broccoli and kale plants persist in our garden and are flowering right now as I write, and why the bees continue to be their favourite customers.

6 Comments

Filed under Doctoral Research, Earth Care, Food, Permaculture, Philosophy, Travel

Home & Away Part Two: A Guide to Absentee Gardening

IMG_2930

The third golden rule of absentee gardening: MULCH!

This post is the second in a series of three. Collectively, the posts weigh the pleasures of roaming (travel) against the pleasures of homing (epitomized by the practice of gardening), offering practical tips and solutions for gardeners – who like me – enjoy long periods away from the nest. In short, this series of posts is about ‘absentee gardening.’

In this particular post I outline the crucial six-steps I followed prior to departing on a four-week holiday. It goes without saying that gardens benefit from regular attention, and so four weeks without maintenance is a lot to ask of any annual vegetable garden!

Why I was leaving… the back story
A few hours after delivering my Confirmation Presentation (a doctoral milestone!) to a mingled audience of faculty, friends, family and office of research staff at the University of the Sunshine Coast I decided it was time to celebrate. I jumped online and did the unthinkable: booked a ticket to Thailand and Vietnam for one month. I hold the endorphins released during the presentation responsible for the rashness of my decision – or maybe it was simply the fact that I was missing Richie, who had been away in Thailand for four-weeks already.

Hold on honey, I’m a-coming!’ was the subject of the email I posted to Richie that night. Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Doctoral Research, Earth Care, Food, Permaculture, Travel

The birds

A Rufus fantail pip-pip-pips in the garden. I watch it skitter along the central rib of a palm frond, which in an act of biomimicry, is also fantail shaped. The bird doesn’t stay long in one place. It swoops between frond and treetrunk, pausing  to unfurl its flashy tail, dancing from side to side. The bird is as fleet of foot as it is of wing. Two bounces and he’s off, taking his provocative self-advertisement elsewhere.

I’ve seen the Lewin’s honeyeater already this morning. I assume it’s the same bird I saw yesterday but it might not be. There are loads of them about. The Lewin’s has a liking, I’ve noticed, for the creamy two-inch trumpet-shaped flowers hanging in clusters from the drooping green stems of the male papaya tree. The birds have a knack for reaching their beaks right up inside the flowers, probing for nectar. The plundered flowers fall to the ground where they lie concentrated in piles beneath the Lewin’s favourite perches. The pattern they make on the soil a reflection of the Lewin’s desire.

I watch out the window of my studio as another creamy trumpet flower floats to the ground. The soil it lands upon is dark, rich and wet. It’s not like Richie and I to leave soil exposed: big permaculture no-no! But it’s something we’re trialling. What we’re doing is waiting for the rows of miniature broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, kailarn and kale that we sewed directly late last month to get a wriggle on: once their heads are a few inches above the soil we’ll lay on thick mulch, tucking them in to enjoy a slow season of growth and productivity. We’d never try it in summer. Too hot.

Looking again at the soil I imagine it smells sweetly of hummus, microbes and mycelium.

Like Richie and the papaya tree, the soil isn’t native to this place. It’s a ring-in. It landed here on the end of mine and Richie’s spades, gathered in wheelbarrows from the mountain of shit towering in the back of the ute: rotted cow manure from a dairy ten clicks down the road. Good Obi Obi cow shit. Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Books, Doctoral Research, Earth Care, Food, Life Writing, Permaculture, Travel, Writing

Home & Away Part 1

Is it me, or are the desire to travel and the desire to garden at odds?

The reason I ask is that I find myself faced with the quandary of wanting to travel and wanting to settle (literally cultivate a home and garden).

Inside me, the hunter/gather and farmer/settler archetypes coexist in uneasy, sometimes antagonistic relation.

Me: the muddy boots of a permie (permaculture gardener) and the worn backpack of a bona-fide traveller. Eeck. A walking contradiction?

Me: the muddy boots of a permie (permaculture gardener) and the worn backpack of a bona-fide traveller. Eeck. A walking contradiction?

Not an ideal scenario, right?

Over the past few years I’ve attempted (with varying degrees of success) to harmonise my desire to travel with my desire to garden: I’ve gardened whilst dreaming of travel, and have even gardened whilst travelling, albeit in other peoples’ gardens (if the latter appeals to you I suggest you look into becoming a WWOOFer – a Willing Worker on Organic Farms).

Me WWOOFing in Central Italy - labors spent in service of anthers' garden

Me WWOOFing in Central Italy – labours spent in service of anothers’ garden

Although my heady months of WWOOFing during my overland odyssey from England to Australia in 2012-2013 were extraordinary and deeply rewarding, there was something that dissatisfied me, generally, about my experience:

I never stuck ’round long enough to reap what I had sewn.

The nature and manner of the type of travel in which I was engaged (long-term, multiple-country, terrestrial, low budget, low carbon) was such that no sooner had I settled down and begun to develop feelings for a place, than it was time to move on.

And on…

And on…

And on.

By threading one WWOOF to the next I finally made my way overland from England to Australia, via twenty-one countries. The entire journey took seventeen months to complete and is remembered as a series of falling in love with places, and then having to leave – learning gradually, and with distance, to let them go.

The good news, I discovered, is that as a species we’re admirably well-adapted to love broadly and widely, deeply and long. The understanding that I have cultivated over the course of my hybrid travel-gardening adventures is that humans are polyamorous in terms of their relationship to place: that they can belong to many places (and cultures) at once.

Mine and Richie’s beloved first-ever kitchen garden at The Patch, England

As I write, it occurs to me that one of the reasons I regard travelling and gardening as incongruous (and I admit, I haven’t decided outright that this is truly the case) is that gardening is something you do at home. Traveling, on the other hand is a practice you practice ‘away’ from home. Insofar as practices go, gardening and travelling share the characteristic of being place-specific. It just so happens that the places in which they occur are thoroughly incompatible, even opposite: home & away respectively. Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under Culture, Doctoral Research, Earth Care, Food, Literature, Permaculture, Philosophy, Travel, Writing

Successful Confirmation

IMG_4141

45 days after giving my Confirmation Presentation

I can say with certainty that I am officially…

CONFIRMED!

I received the confirmation outcome advice from the Office of Research two days ago.

Here’s what the email said:


Dear Nina

I am pleased to advise that the Chair of the Research Degrees Committee has approved the faculty’s recommendation to approve your progression to confirmed candidature in the Doctor of Creative Arts program at the University of the Sunshine Coast. Your revised Research Plan has also been approved and your thesis title updated as indicated:

Seed: cultivating permaculture-travel memoir through applied permaculture design      


Attached to the email was a copy of the examiner’s report.  Continue reading

11 Comments

Filed under Doctoral Research, Permaculture, Travel, Writing