Hot, dry tinder days that you pray no-one starts a fire. Days where it’s nice just to sit in the shade and watch.
Stormy overcast days that bring big splotchy raindrops from the thunderstorms to cool the singed earth and revitalise. Rain, glorious rain – even when I was drenched wet to the core, I was smiling.
Happy mail days.
Cuteness wrapped up in a kitten’s fluffy joy.
Tastes of summer picked fresh from the vines with family.
Cheese. cheese and more cheese. Relief from the heat and harshness of summer is found in strange places; like the peace and repetition of making hand made cheese.
It summer, there’s no doubt.
I came across this gem last week, suitably relevant for me and what I’ve been incubating for a while now. Particularly, as this week marked two years since I arrived at The Goat Farm.
I came for a week, and stayed living and working as an “intern” on the farm for nearly a year.
Then I left the farm and headed back to my “career” in a conventional job (as a physio), only to get sick and reconsider the direction my life was heading b-i-g time.
Six months after I finished as an intern, I was back – this time in a paid position on the farm, for which I am still unsure of my exact job title! Farmer, milker, vet nurse. midwife, lactation consultant, cheesemaker, dreamer, land custodian….they all seem relevant! Nevertheless, this chop-n-change style over recent years has taught me some pretty major things when it comes to health, happiness, priorities in life and the big question I’ve been asking since I was two: why.
Without fail, every month I get asked questions along the same vein – why did I leave my chosen career as a physio? And why did I choose farming? With goats? And why, oh why as a cheesemaker?
Despite growing up on a farm, I hadn’t entertained the idea of farming as a kid, and until two years ago I hadn’t milked a goat or even made cheese. So, why would something so far removed from my training and career, be calling my name…?
It’s not an easy question to answer, because most people expect a romantic story about how farming is all about sitting on the verandah watching sunsets or lying in paddocks of long grass listening to birds or cuddling newborn fluffy kids all day. Yes, there are moments of that…interspersed with sweeping up poo, scrubbing buckets, and dark pre-dawn 6am starts. With long days, endless dishes and hard decisions to make – such as saying goodbye to the 6-month old boys you’ve helped hand-raise, as they are taken off to the abattoir. Then there’s the reality of working in a business that has to operate 365 days a yr – there are no sleepins, or days off – and everything you do is totally dictated by Mother Nature – we (and the animals) are at the mercy of weather patterns that are becoming more extreme and impossibly unpredictable. Summers are dust and heat and living in constant anxiety about the risk of fires. Winters are harsh and cold, frozen and dark affairs.
I ask myself again, why would anyone want this life?
It’s taken me two years to be sure, but in reality it was the second day I was working on the farm that broke open my heart and showed me why.
October 13, 2013. Sunday
A hot, dry spring day. The grass is drying off, crunchy under foot and there’s the sharp shrill of cicadas as they begin to ramp up their song for summer.
Milking time comes around at 3pm as it does every day, but off under a shady, quiet tree sits Aretha – one of our beautiful 7 yr-old Saanen does.
Sure enough when we approach, she is busy and focussed on the task at hand: making a soft “bed” of dirt as she prepares to kid, for the third (and final time) in her life. Her hormones and instincts strong, she rides every contraction with such calmness it is enchanting.
I have the privilege of sitting and watching the birth – she doesn’t seem too upset by the company, if anything reassured.
(I’ve since learnt goats have a very cleaver knack of making sure you’re are there to help when needed!).
Quickly with the next contraction one set of feet and a nose emerge – a fluffy white girl is born. Then another girl follows. Aretha is diligent and loving as she gently, tenderly cleans them both. Nudging and encouraging them both to take their first, wobbly steps on firm ground. They drink precious colostrum in short bursts, nuzzling at her udder (and sometimes her neck, the wrong end!).
But time ticks by, with continued intense contractions.
Slowly but surely more feet emerge. But this time, it is clear to me they’re are back feet. Uh-oh. A breech!
I call one of the owners, who comes fast and every so gently, the last of triplets – a big, boofy boy – is helped to be born.
In that moment, I was hooked. Witnessing new life being born has to be one of the most powerful experiences in the world (second only to having a child of your own, I would imagine), but on this day I suddenly understood why anyone would be a farmer. The connection with each animal cannot be undone…they are part of your world as much as you theirs. The immersion into the natural world is intoxicating.
No piece of the latest technology or TV show or new designer clothes can swell the heart like watching a new kid flourish from wobbly newborn to strong, bold doe pregnant with her own young.
Witnessing the tenderness and love each goat show their kids makes me understand the responsibility and trust we humans must bear. I am humbled by this life-force that is far bigger than anything humans could imagine or build on our own…we hold the power in our hands, yet are mere players in the endless cycle of life and death on our planet. Each day I am reminded that I work (and live) in the clutches of momentum we can’t control…the ebbs and flow of the seasons bring tangible reminders to me that there is a time and a place for everything.
CONNECTION. Once we are aware of this web of life there’s no going back, no shrinking of the mind or shirking of responsibility.
I farm to see the power of nature flourish, to work with people who have similar ideas. By doing so, I have begun to heal and flourish in my own right.
Let me return back to reality – I have never been so dirty or dusty or tired in my life. Not to mention overwhelmed at times, stretched and challenged (both physically and emotionally) in my life. But never have I felt so alive and free. It must be true – nothing worth doing is ever easy. Each night, when I climb into bed there is a very firm sense of achievement, satisfaction that I’ve rarely felt in any other job I’ve had. When I look out in the paddock and see the young kids dancing and running care-free it makes me happy. Being sure of my place in this big world doesn’t come easy, but knowing that I have played my part in fostering new life, that is enough.
The extraordinary artisan cheese we make as a result of this circle of life, is really just an added tasty bonus.
I love the seasons, the way nature cycles through each mood every year. More than any other time in recent memory I have felt the undeniable influence of the seasons this year – is this perhaps because I live and work out in nature now? Or maybe it goes deeper than that…to a cellular level, after all we are mostly made up of water so we can’t deny the effect of the earth’s spinning axis. I think it has a fair bit to do with my fragility too – this past year has weakened my defences and wore down my armour, in effect leaving me exposed to the “elements”. Indeed I have titled the most recent winter “the winter that broke me”…in a good way I now realise (breakdown or breakthrough…? more on that later).
Ironically I’m writing this post about spring on the last weekend of winter, but once again Mother Nature has proven she doesn’t keep track of the calendar! It’s been a slow but steady descent into spring, or should that be ascent out of winter perhaps? Some years spring seem to arrive unannounced at the front door, demanding not to be ignored. This year though, she has seeped gently into my days as the days have warmed and lengthened, she has whispered into my heart with the delightful tune of the grey thrush each morning.
I feel it in every cell of my body. New energy abounds.
The promise, the potential about to be unleashed as another cycle begins in the world.
While winter was cold, long, harsh and dark it has left me more grateful for the dawn of a new [spring] day.
She smells of wattle and jonquils, of early morning baking sessions and freshly clipped grass.
Spring is crisp mornings with bluebird days and warmth on my back in the afternoon. It is lying in bed on days off listening to the birds sing their lungs out, heralding a new day.
It is hiking through new bush trails on weekends with birdsong for company.
Spring is bursts of colour on an otherwise monotone landscape – the vibrant yellows and pinks and purples. It is sweet floral arrangements dotting the house and infusing the rooms with their aroma.
The new season means harvesting more fresh greens from the garden and farmers’ market, quick meals with plenty of flavour and crunch are the order of the day.
It is the white-cotton tails of rabbits, bobbing everywhere!
Watching while the herb patch gets demolished by possums and/or sheep, but admiring the forgotten winter greens tenacity…to go to seed!
Spring is walking barefoot in the backyard once again, stepping carefully to avoid the stinging nettles….
It means drying the washing in one day (rather than three). It is packing away the extra blanket, and the sleeping bag from my bed. I fully accept that I’ll probably be pulling them back out of the cupboard in a week’s time, but thankfully there’s less pressure on the dwindling woodpile and less mud on the boots. It is opening the doors during the afternoon, letting the sunlight in and de-cluttering my house.
It is swapping hot chocolates for smoothies. It is shifting the reading from the couch to the verandah in the sun.
Spring brings promise of more – the kids born last month on those frosty nights now bound endlessly out in the paddocks, hungry to explore and seemingly growing up in the blink of an eye. The rest of the goats naturally feel the cycles of nature too, and with the longer days are grazing the paddocks with new vigour which always means more milk (more cheese!).
So far spring has been about tying up loose ends, finishing winter projects – my hot water bottle cover, knitting a scarf, a shawl and those numerous books I’ve started.
September is also finals season for Aussie football, so I’ll be cheering the Sydney Swans deep into the month. It is also birthday season, so surely there will be catch-ups and celebrations and cake.
What does spring mean to you??
Winter is hard for me.
Yes, I love the beanies and gloves and woollen layers. I love the excuse to cook hearty, warming curries and eat slow cooked soups. And any excuse to sit cozily by the fire with a book or some crafty project is fine by me.
But come mid-July every year, it seems that winter dazzle starts to fade. Battered by winds and rain and mud, surrounded by dying and decay it all seems to seep in and leave my mood melancholy and dark.
Still, winter is eerily beautiful. For in all the darkness and death there is space to be found. A certain peace we don’t get a chance to see or feel in any other season.
There is a silence and awe that can only be felt on a still, frosty winter morning. When the ground crunches underfoot, the birds no longer sing and the air hangs heavy with the misty dew.
She is urging us to still ourselves, to settle, sit and reflect. To look inward, digest and then let go.Are you feeling it?
There has been a motto in my head this past week or two that has kept me moving forward, one (bright red) gumboot at a time…
this too shall pass
For on the other side of the darkness is spring.
A season for new growth, germination and Phoenix-ing. Where the promise of fertile lands sown with hopes and dreams, can comes true.
Lately, there’s been so much going on in my brain it hurts…ideas and emotions and plans all rolling around in there, it can feel all a little overwhelming at times. But good busy.
One day, I’ll get all of the important ideas onto a page, I’ll record the brainwaves and document those fleeting moments of up and down. Until then here’s a snap shot thanks to Kate at Fox’s Lane and Pip shares.
Making : a crochet blanket for a friend’s first baby, whilst sitting next to fire watching The Hunger Games movies.
Cooking : anything slow cooked, chocolate filled or mushroomy (not altogether!!).
Osso bucco, spicy pumpkin soup, chocolate brownies (x3), roasted field mushrooms with goat’s cheese, homemade yoghurt. Then late today, into the slow cooker went mushroom and white bean soup.
Drinking : Hot lemon water with Apple Cider Vinegar each morning. And lots of smoothies – now with banana and coconut milk, not water for the weather has gone chilly. Plus lots of green stuff hidden inside too.
Wanting: more sunny autumn days but knowing we need the rain more. So please, keep the rain coming but maybe just at nighttime, OK??
Looking: out in the paddock for field mushrooms. And scanning up in the pine forests for more edible delights; blessed to live in a place with such plentiful fresh produce just a short walk away.
Playing: Asgeir “In The Silence”, on repeat every day. The haunting melodies and lyrics still move me to tears and then uplift my heart all at the same time.
Wasting: plenty of time on Instagram these days.
Sewing: nothing; I don’t sow…not even hem my pants; I use sports tape and safety pins instead.
Wishing: my family lived closer nearby
Enjoying: pretty autumn sunny days filled with lots of colourful trees and reading books in the sun and cups of tea
Waiting: for a sign, to pluck up the courage and take the plunge: to plan the next adventure and travel some more. Patience, little one.
Liking: after nearly 18 months living in Central Victoria I finally got to go to my “local” Farmer’s Market today; sell cheese and chat to the locals….my locals. For a gypsy like me, it’s a new feeling to find a place to settle comfortably.
Wondering: just how much firewood is enough, and exactly how many hours a week does it take to keep a 3 bdr Farmhouse clean. (answer to both: too much!)
Hoping: for my flannelette sheets to dry so I can snuggle between fresh, clean, cozy linen tonight.
Marvelling: just how magical the outdoors is during my favourite season, Autumn.
Needing: to chop some more wood. And collect dry kindling. Then start knitting the next scarf.
Smelling: nothing better than being woken by the sweet aroma of a new slow-cooked meal early in the morning
Wearing: my beanie inside these days…
Following: Mindful In May’s 31 day meditation program this month – taming my monkey mind and fundraising water for African villages. Go here to join in or donate or sponsor me.
Noticing: just how many new lambs are running around the paddock next to my Farmhouse with each day that passes by.
And already just 4 days into May that just ten minutes a day spent in meditation really does ground and calm me.
Knowing: once the mind is stretched into new territory, it can never retreat. Knowledge is power and freedom. That we never reach the end destination; the finish line keeps shifting, the goal posts move and what we once felt important in life will be constantly redefined by new moments. That the only constant in life is change, and we can only do what we can, with what we have right here and right now.
Thinking: To upgrade the phone, or not?? The USB connection is hap hazard, and the screen freezes in my nigh-on 2 yr old Samsung are becoming more frequent and more frustrating. But oh, the cost. And then Android or Apple?
I’ll probably just keep going with the one I’ve got…til I smash it up or drop it in water.
Feeling: inspired by all the possibilities that are ahead of me, but just a teensy bit scared of the next step. Which direction??
Bookmarking: at page 714 through my next read for #fiftytworeads: Inheritance, by Christopher Paolini. The last of the Eragon books – epic but captivating.
Opening: a block of French-made dark chocolate my boss’s bought back from Paris last month. Mmmm…dinner perhaps?
Giggling: with a fellow farmer chick this morning on our way to the local Farmer’s Market about terrible reality TV, Twilight movies of yester-year and just how much cheese is enough…!?
Feeling: Challenged. Proud. Grateful. Just happy to be alive, here and now.
How about you??
Most times the words come easily. My thoughts and musings fall out of my pen and sprawl onto the page. I’ve kept a journal for over ten years now, and time and time again I find such calmness from letting the ink run deep across the empty brown paper pages.
But sometimes the words don’t come. I write the day, the date, the year and nothing more follows.
Or I come with a good idea, and strong emotion or needing to vent but poof – the moment passes.
That’s when I let the pictures speak. The world around me is such a fascinating place, and with my trusty phone camera in my pocket I can easily capture the little moments of life.
Better than a thousand words someone once said.
And it’s so true.
I don’t alway photograph to share. Or keep every one that I take. At times it’s to capture a fleeting moment of precious light or colour or movement. (Yes, I admit it; I love a good sunrise). To marvel at nature bursting forth after rain, or capture the cute little goats running around. I often feel the need to catch memories of what I create with my own two hands – those brownies, the blanket, or knitted beanie.
Sometimes I click just to capture the ordinary moments – clean clothes stacked in sunshine, dirty dishes strewn across the kitchen after baking, my lunch on a plate before I shovel it in.
But the folders of shots sit here on my computer, ready for me to revisit as I need.
Instant inspiration, emotion, clarity and comfort.
There’s my happy place. Behind a lens. Eyes gazing out into a beautiful world.
An ordinary life, in moments.
Today was the beginning of a new day.
It started with my alarm going off at the usual 5.15am. But without the pressing need to get up for work (hello only working one job now!), I rolled over.
At 7am I was woken again to a delightful melody of birds in the darkness of pre-dawn. Singing at the top of their voices on my doorstep, I caught myself in the briefest moment of their raw emotion: the joy-filled promise, belief and celebration of a new day dawning. Maybe it was the unseasonal autumn warmth, the gentle pitter-patter of rain, or the recent new moon but I feel the shift. Big one.
(yeah, it may also have something to do with me recently downsizing on stress/moving house/changing jobs too!)
I climbed out of bed and up the nearest hill here at my little farmhouse, just in time to sit a moment on a rock whilst I witnessed nature’s blessing: sunrise.
With every metre I climbed up that hill I stepped out of the dark cloud I’ve existed in for the past week. And at the top the rewards was waiting for me – a stunning autumn sunrise complete with epic clouds rolling in.
That moment I realised one more big thing:
I am right where I need to be.
This was nature’s way of reinforcing to me something I had ignored for the past few months…
Rewind about four months when I was living what I thought was every girl’s dream: a carefree, inner-city life full of potential and opportunity, great friends and the job I had always wanted. Except, my health was failing. I was feeling badly alone: hormonal imbalances had left me fighting depression, anxiety, disrupted sleep and horrible mood swings. I was proceeding to feel less “alive” and even less motivated to explore Melbourne, the city that had captured my heart mere months before. I had pain and digestive issues that saw me eliminating more and more of the foods I loved and enjoyed. Where was the light at the end of this tunnel…?
But still, I felt trapped into putting on a brave face – I had everything I needed to be happy, didn’t I??
See, the thing my body was trying to teach me is that you can’t buy happiness living other people’s dreams….not a new dilemma for me, but one presented to me with a sense of urgency given my poor state of health.
There and then I made a decision to tackle these challenges, and their lessons I was destined for. When my mental and physical health miraculously improved during a three week holiday in late December, the path was clear: my whole lifestyle needed a reboot. With that, I worked on moving back to the country, to a job working outside in nature, and to a slower pace of living.
I became quickly attached to this change being a solution for all my angst. This would surely be the catalyst for my happiness to return: to eliminating stress, anxiety making way for joy and fear being replaced with courage, excitement. Of course, that is not the way this story goes. I found myself stuck between two worlds – not quite ready to jump off the safety step into the future unknown. Clinging to what I had lost, rather than focussing on the future potential I had made room for.
So I hid myself in a world that was busier, more chaotic and unsettled that I had previously known: we’re talking 50-60 hr work weeks, plus driving between two cities, bunking with friends and taking on way too much responsibility in my new job. Oh, did I include moving house, to live on my own for the first time in my life? (yeah, like a real grown-up!).
As expected I did my best “just-cope-and-get-through-the-chaos” performance…but I cracked.
Well, once again my body did. As has happened before – brave “game face” on as long as necessary then crash and burn.
Fast forward to last week when I completed my hospital work in Melbourne (i.e. free time and fresh country air) I did what anyone in denial does: flip out, ramp up into an anxiety driven ball of stress then curl up in bed with a block of chocolate and listen to my harsh inner-critic in overdrive…..why wasn’t I instantly “happy” now that I wan living the life I had wanted all those months ago? It culminated in yesterday finding myself working away on the farm exhausted, shaking and anxious (at 7am!) for no obvious reason. Looking over the edge into darkness again…
Today, though, is a different day. I woke up to find it was easier just accepting my world as it is. I’m OK with this ongoing battle with anxiety and managing my health. There will be no quick fix, no escape, no remedy that doesn’t include a lot of reflection and hard work. I’m pleased to say by the end of today, my list of “should do’s” is gone and replaced with my shortlist of things I do just for me, of things that bring me joy and make my head find peace. My stomach has unknotted. And my heart is filled with gratitude for my lesson taught by the glorious Mother Nature.
The last few months for me have been epic.
Two jobs, two different cities, a new house and plenty of competing demands to be “managed”.
Working 50-60 hrs a week…often no proper weekend, and my “to-do” list still as long as ever each night I crawl into bed.
It has pushed me, bent me, and at times crushed my resolve but showed me such great wisdom I can’t be anything but grateful.
My head and body hurt at the end of each day – from the physical challenges of working on a farm again, but also mental demand to keep each of my priorities in order. Naturally schedules have clashed, missed calls remain un-returned and various commitments I’ve made fall by the wayside in place of sleep, work and rest time.
I’ve never felt so out of control yet at the same time so grounded, present and content.
While I washed 3 days worth of dishes at dawn before running out the door to catch a train, it hit me – I laughed out loud – because I find myself strong, healthy and alive in an imperfect world!??
Home is a sight I am forever grateful to see. Driving up the drive, I curse out loud when the sheep have got in and eaten the “garden”. I notice the growing pile of leaves that need raking up from the back door, a reminder that summer has been and gone with autumn now in her place. Everyday I think “today’s the day I will clean the cobwebs from the shower”…then proceed to find something else to fill my time with (usually cooking or reading instead!). I’ve embraced the space, the silence, that I’m afforded now that I live in the country…padding up and down the long corridors, eating on the makeshift couch or reading by candlelight tucked up in bed.
“Waverley” is still revealing herself to me, piece by piece. No water for 2 days in the first week I moved in (the tank was empty!) then the power goes out for 3 days (luckily for me, whilst I was in Melbourne for work). There is still plenty of empty rooms and blank walls to decorate, when I find time. Add that to the list…
But with all her kinks and crooked floor boards, with water pipes that clang and doors that don’t quite close; with spider webs adorning the windows and possums fighting on the roof at dusk, my Farmhouse reminds me that the wrinkles and bruises and scars we carry are evidence of a meaningful, rewarding life.
That it is all a “work in progress”, to be refined and polished when we find ourselves growing stronger and more certain of what is true.
Here’s to sitting squarely in our own imperfection and chaos, to learning the true art of building ourselves a content, happy life.
For it might just come true! I mean this in the most awe-inspiring, miracles-do-happen and dreams-can-come-true kinda way.
But it nearly didn’t happen…I was almost too scared to take the leap and say “yes” for fear of what may (or may not) come. Oh so glad I did make the call late in 2013.
(more on this next time)
Because as it turns out, listening to that little voice inside me, saying yes and committing to the move has been the best decision I’ve made in a long time.
Fast forward to this week, and I’m moving house. And not just any old house…but into a 90-yr old farmhouse.
My dream farmhouse.
Yes, it’s currently covered in several layers on dust, mice droppings and flies, but this house is alive.
Oh, the stories she could tell!
I can’t quite begin to explain the feeling I get driving in the driveway, up to my house….and there she sits, a little withered by the harshness of summer but no less impressive in her old age.
I love the wonky floor in the kitchen, sloping away towards the sink. The pot-belly stove tucked away with a peak-a-boo window behind.
I love padding down the long hallway from the kitchen to my bedroom, noticing the squeaks and gaps in floor boards as they yield under foot after all these years.
I love the five – FIVE! – fireplaces, the antique door handles and screen doors that don’t quite close properly. The lounge room, large enough and grand enough to hold a gala ball.
Then there’s a study attached to my bedroom, with built-in book cases and just waiting for a desk to sit under the broad window. Complete with a view across the valley that will certainly prove a lovely distraction from any future work to be done.
There’s the bathroom….ah, maybe you’d call this look “rustic”?
I love it.
(minus the cobwebs)
I love the pantry. Did I mention the walk-in pantry? Complete with blackboard for list-making and drawing.
And the cellar down below, waiting to be swept out and filled with wine, cheese, preserves and root vegetables.
But the fun’s only just started. Now I must spend a few days sweeping and cleaning and polishing her up. There’s a few things to fix, a few to find, and some big ticket items to buy. There’s a garden to grow, a verandah to sit on and more dreams to realise.
Then I can begin to make this house in the country a home.