Misty Mountain Hop

It had been a long time coming, like a tasty carrot dangling out of reach was this dream of mine to have a weekend out bush. A get away adventure offering balance to my synthetic existence of the weekly office routine. Life circumstances are never predictable, we think we have it figured out then a curve ball surprises us and we find ourselves in a places we didn’t plan for. After years of working for myself, driven by dreams of helping the world, I find myself back behind someone else’s desk. It’s not as bad as before but it’s just not natural no matter how awesome the job may be. I know there is life beyond the desk but I’m also a dad to four girls, which comes with responsibilities. The reality is, this is my reality. 

I have a routine, it’s the ‘Divorced Dad Routine’. Every second weekend is a family weekend, we do things around the garden, go to the Sunday market, maybe camping, have a backyard fire cook up, go family adventuring, you know, the Dad and kids stuff we can’t do on our school nights. The opposite weekend is the adults only one and although I miss the kids, it is a good opportunity to do adult things like ride motorbikes, drink beer and play pool at country pubs with my lady. 

We’re on the other side of a drawn out winter, and for a long time the ‘adult’ weekends have been confined to the house, the weather atrocious, colds and flu’s overstaying their welcome and the winter blues keeping us down. But we’ve scaled that mountain and we’re finally in Spring, and it’s literally a wonderful feeling. In my 20’s I didn’t really notice the change in seasons, but the older I get the more I’m fascinated with how they influence how we feel, mental health included. Winter really has been tough with depression for me this year, Spring has made such a difference. It’s a transition season that offers us hope and growth, as corny as it sounds. Literally, things in my veg garden have come alive, all of their own accord. Obviously, it’s nature, it does these things. For a change, this post is not just about growing food in a backyard garden, it’s about adventure. 

With the recent loss of a friend and the acceptance of a dream project that fell apart late last year, I made myself a promise. Earlier this year I made a concerted effort to embrace fun in life. I grew tired of fighting, of seeing things wrong with the world and wanting to change them. I needed to alter my approach of how I viewed my world. Was there hope? Was there fun to be had somewhere past the darkness and frustration? Yes. I was sure of it. 

I’ve been working on a dirty chopper project all winter. Earlier in the year I bought a relatively cheap old Honda V-twin 600 and I’ve been changing how it operates and how it looks over the cold winter months. There have been some very frustrating moments in the shed, grazed knuckles, scratching of head and maybe a tear or two of frustration. I reckon I’m almost there with the project. Now that I’ve said that, something horrible with fall apart on it! I’ve modified the twin carbs, the exhaust, the back end, lights and I rattle canned the tank. It’s slightly less ugly but still ugly, and it’s a great deal of fun and that is a big part of my MO. 

Little Ripper

 

All week I’d been checking on the weather forecast, praying that it wouldn’t play it’s normal hand and turn nasty just in time for the weekend. It was touch and go there for a little while, but finally the forecast on my phone app settled on a chance of animated showers with the sun coming out behind some cartoon clouds. Finally! I was able to activate P.R.O.J.E.C.T. A.D.V.E.N.T.U.R.E. 

To the annoyance of my co-workers, I’ve opted for a four day week of slightly longer work days to make up for hours, which means I don’t work Fridays. So Thursdays are my Fridays, Saturdays are my Sundays, Sundays are my Sundays, and Mondays still suck. It’s very confusing. Suffice to say, a bottle of something often gets opened on a Thursday night to celebrate this fantastic commitment to work/life balance. Life is too short to just work. I’ve discovered fun, and I want more of it. 

My lady had to head to the city to drop off some ratbag kids to their dad, and I’d ran mine into town to ‘mum’s house’ so all I had to do was pack the bike and head off to the hills, literally. I’d been AR with my packing plan. I'd even written a list of the essential camping items I’d need for this short trip to the bush. The list was minimal and practical. Something to sleep in, something to cook with, rain gear, bike tools and a camera. I figured I’d sort food out closer to the campsite. I packed everything into my trusty Filson bag and tied it to the sissy bar that my mate Dallas welded up for me in his mountain workshop. 

It had been seven months since I’d done a decent size bike camping adventure. Seven long months of winter weather and garage modifications. I felt some uneasiness before I headed off, butterflies in the tummy. I am just a 41 year old teenage boy after all, I still get those nervous vibes (not ashamed to admit it either). I was a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Would my bike make it? Would I encounter any accidents? Kangaroos or mountain deer on the road? Slippery conditions? Rain? Just get on the damn bike and stop over thinking! My first stop was the petrol station in my town. I filled that ugly fat tank all the way to the top and re-set the trip meter. As I put my gear back on, I smiled looking at the bike, loaded up ready for adventure. This has been so long in the making but finally I was here, riding alone, heading to the mountain country of my childhood where I once explored the bush tracks on my Honda XR100 with my brother riding with me on the CT125 or the CT110 PostieBike, now I was returning, on another Honda, but a much larger one with a good 30 odd years between rides. 

I headed over the ranges up towards Kinglake. I’d been here a few times over the last few months, back and forth getting modifications done at Dallas’s workshop; ‘Ranch Cycles’. I did the hacking and chopping, Dallas did all the metal fab and engineering work making my ideas come to fruition. I hacked off the plastic rear fender and hideous wide stock seat and replaced it with a steel fender and spring seat. Pure dumb aesthetic motivation but I’m happy with the result. Anyway, up the hills I went. They turned into mountainous country filled with gigantic King ferns and enormous Mountain Ash reaching for the heavens. The roads became slower, each corner getting tighter and sketchier. At this time on a Friday afternoon in the mountains there was no one on the road, so I took my time and enjoyed the sound of the little V-twin working it’s way through the gears. Up and down the ranges I rode, around tight corners and back down into the valley country. I’d booked a night at the ancient Warburton Lodge, reminiscent of The Shining motel, dark and aged with plenty of dubious history. I arrived to find a note stuck to the reception glass door explaining that my room was #10, and that no one was staffing the place so the key was in the door. Classic motel vibes. 

Shinning

I untied the Filson off the bike and headed inside just as my lady pulled up the drive, her beautiful smiling face melting my heart as it always does. We did the obvious thing two adults would want to do free of parental responsibilities for a night, we headed to the pub for a few beers and crap Australian pub food. It’s always nice to be able to have a conversation without the interruptions of rats needing feeding or attention (jokes). With full bellies we headed home to do our traditional watching of crap TV before falling asleep at some ridiculously early hour a result of being over relaxed. In the middle of the night we were woken by the sounds of the bloke in the next room spewing his guts up on the other side of the paper thin walls. As gross as it was I was grateful that it wasn’t me, and we had to just laugh at the regularity of this kind of experience when we stay in our preferred type of country motels. It’s all part and parcel of the motel lifestyle.

I was first to wake in the crisp morning. I walked straight to the window and looked out to the high misty mountains outside the window. The sun was warming the forest that covered them, the tops of the mountains where covered with a thin cloud, a spectacular morning sight. My lady shuffled in bed so I offered her a complimentary motel instant coffee. She took one sip and expressed her dissatisfaction so we went out for breakfast and hoped for decent coffee. It still wasn’t amazing but good enough for the morning kick I needed to ride to our camp site. We left Warburton fairly early, the temperature through the forest valley was brisk to say the least, not that Kate noticed, she was in her warm luxury European vehicle, probably with the electric seat warmers on while I was screaming through the gears on the Little Ripper and loving every minute of it regardless of the chill in the air. We stopped at Poweltown, an old timber town in decline and then passed through the ferny and windy roads towards Noojee. This is my childhood adventure playground, where as a kid I’d camp and explore the bush, getting up to no good and finding my passion for trout fishing. For fun we stopped off at the local trout farm and caught some dinner. It’s fun remember, no fly rod here, just dinner. We made a whistle stop visit at the amazing wooden trestle train bridge, which I’ve been walking across religiously for 30 years. I don’t know why, but every time I’m in the area I drive to it, walk across it, then hop back in the car on drive off. Unexplainable human behaviour. 

With a quick refuel and a stock up of supplies we headed to our final stop, Torongo Falls, about 25 minutes out of Noojee. The road out of town pass’s through a picturesque valley that’s simply wonderful. Yes, I said wonderful. Pretty little homesteads lost in time, with weathered cladding and rusty tin roofs. The paddocks dotted with plump wooly sheep, a few frisky young lambs and beautiful mountain horses all grazing in the warm sunlight on the lush green pick of Spring. The cool clean water of the Latrobe gentle snakes it’s way through the landscape, under bridges and around once loved old farm houses. Like I said, wonderful. 

camp

We found a perfect little campsite on the river and I unpacked the gear off the bike and set up camp. In no time the tent was up so we eagerly explored a track that followed along the river. It’s such a cool little camp spot, and it’s open public access so we weren’t the only ones there, but you could really get a sense of those nature vibes, surrounded on all sides by amazing ferns and grand old eucalyptus. From our campsite we followed the track all the way to the beginning of the waterfall track which rambled it’s way through more tree ferns, Blackwood and magnificent Mountain Ash. This is the forest of my youth, cool temperate rainforest at the base of the high country of the Great Dividing Range, my favourite type of Australian bush.   

There was no shortage of day trippers making the pilgrimage up the muddy track to look at the spectacular falls, all sorts of people from all backgrounds and ethnicity appreciating the Australian bush. I respect that. We did the usual “oh” and “arrgh’s”. We admired the waterfalls, instagramed them to make sure it actually happened, then made our way down the wet track back towards camp.

It was still mid afternoon when we made camp on foot so we hit the old pub for yellow whips and a few rounds of pool, maybe even a dirty bowl of hot chips. The simple pleasures completely distracted me and I lost every game, but had fun losing. After plenty of laughs and a few drinks under our belts we headed back to camp to set a fire up as dusk had cooled the air. 

Back at camp the valley was already covered in a high layer of campfire smoke which arrived with the cool air of evening. Most of the other camp sites were set up with roaring fires, we were soon to join them. I didn’t pack a large axe on the bike (obviously) but needed to split some wood I’d acquired from the local store, so I walked over to the nearest camp and asked for a lend of theirs. The men were Bosnian campers enjoying cigars, cigarettes, beers and grappa around their fire. I split some logs back at camp and returned the axe. Meeting these guys is what I love about camping, you meet all sorts, you experience. They wouldn’t let me leave without a shot of plum grappa which went down smooth like butter. I noticed a large old copper pot hanging near the fire which was exuding some magnificent aromatics. I enquired about the pot's contents and they proudly told me it was full of a beef goulash, which simmered away as the fella’s drank their way through bottles of “50 degree grappa”. We talked a while about their traditional recipes which got my hungry for some cooking back at camp.   

 

With our fire now roaring, the beer cold and the company just perfect it was time to cook dinner. We wrapped two of the trout in foil with an olive rub, and for my trout I literally stuck it on a stick and placed it near the hot smoke and heat from the fire. We wrapped up spuds in tin foil and popped them in the hot coals for a perfect amount of cooking time where they finished up being super fluffy and would have been perfect with a knob of butter, which we didn’t have so we used olive oil and Tabasco. The trout cooked both ways was perfect, although I preferred my more delicately cooked trout on a stick, the meat was melty soft and slightly smokey. 

We caught up with conversations we didn’t have during the week and laughed like lovers do. Dorky style. Nothing but us in the darkness, the sound of the river and the crackle of the fire, well except for one of the Bosnian blokes who walked over to our camp in the dark and said with a deep, heavy accent; “the goulash is ready, you come try”. Kate was buggered tired by this stage and headed to bed to sleep off a big day, I however spent some time with the Bosnians, hoping for a bowl of goulash. I noticed a few out of season chill on their table which one must never complain about when being treated to fine food by proud guests, so I simply pulled my knife out and started to slice up a little addition to the dish of goulash they had served me. “No no no, very hot, be careful, too much” “Haha you obviously don’t follow me on Instagram” my inner monologue dickhead voice exclaimed. “I eat chill for breakfast” Well, it is true. After my exclamations of the enjoyment of their proudly shared goulash, they put another bowl of slow cooked beef tripe under my nose, which I was mega excited about. I could smell vinegar from the bowl and tucked in straight away. Totally delicious as expected. I admire how so many cultures use and love offal, I wish our culture embraced it more, I certainly have, and don’t seem to have any adverse side effects effects adverse adverse side effects. After a few sneaky grappa’s I headed back to my uncomfortable bed waiting for me by the river. My lady was snuggled in and I joined her, happy as punch, full of grappa. I looked up through the moon roof of my hip Polar tent, up into the ceiling of stars and drifted off to sleep to the meditative sound of the river lulling me to slumber town. 

The morning was one of those perfect starts. The cloud in the canopy, a little mist drifting above the cold morning water flowing downstream. I cooked some bacon and eggs and we packed up camp and headed to the nearest source of coffee, which heralded the beginning of the end of a perfect weekend. It’s always a bit sad leaving a camping spot you’ve fallen in love with, even if you just stayed for the night. I feel like some sort of connection is made with the landscape, the vegetation and the general feel of the place. I will return to this spot, hopefully with a better quality mattress. You couldn’t ask for a better weekend, well I can’t. Riding the bike, exploring nature, hanging with your best mate/lover, making new friends and sharing delicious simple food. Pretty well much covers all the things that need covering in life. 

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Don't believe in luck

It appears we’re are living in a world of chaos. Heatwaves, droughts, floods, ferocious bush fires, hurricanes, earthquakes and that’s only the natural disasters. On top of that we have the terrorists, civil wars, genocide, religious persecution, the constant threat of nuclear war, the popular return of bigotry, racism, homophobia and nazi ideology. And Trump, we can’t forget the Trump. But it’s not all bad. 

I struggled to get out of bed on a day off work recently. I had no parental responsibilities, no work, just a day off. I fell into a pit of sorrow after a massive week of work, world events on my mind and the never ending winter. When my lady asked me if I was going to get up I literally said “what’s the point”. It was still horrible weather outside, the world was still falling apart and my recent money woes were lingering like a bad smell. Bed offered a temporary safety net, and I was being a complete sook. I did eventually get up, I went for a jog and did stuff like a normal person (although begrudgingly). 

That day we received some fairly horrible news involving cancer and a family member, I won’t go into details but it’s not good. It put everything into perspective to say the least. We had a weekend getaway booked and paid for which all had to be cancelled of course, which sucked, but not as much as getting a life altering cancer diagnosis I’m sure. I felt guilty for being an absolutely privileged, selfish human. 

The day after the bad news, and on a whim, we decided a walk in hill country would do us a world of good. This place is special, I’ve done lots of thinking out there, getting happily lost amongst the bush and unique beauty of the landscape. It’s also the place where a particular wild mushroom appears for a few short weeks in Spring, the elusive morel. I love this species but never really have much luck due to it’s short window of availability. 

bushwalking

With a cool breeze welcoming us, we left the 4x4 and began the ascent. We followed my reliable mushrooming nose, trained from years of dedicated picking. If you pick wild mushrooms you’ll know about the internal GPS of a wild mushroom picker. we never forget the exact location to return to each year to pick whatever fungal treasure we’re hunting, and it is a hunt, there’s no doubt about it. There’s something I feel, a sense of excitement, a determination to search out and gather food that nature provides. I get the same feeling when I’m fishing or hunting. My senses go into overdrive, my eyes feverishly scan the ground for a hint of black, any suggestion of mushroom is investigated. The morel is a real bastard of a mushroom to find, it looks like kangaroo poo which is everywhere out there and it’s unlike other mushrooms I pick, in that it’s sporadic in its distribution and you’ll often find one lonesome specimen no where near any others, which makes filling a basket a lengthy procedure. In fact, I’ve never fully filled a basket, it’s always been a few hear and there, one meal and that’s it. I guess that’s why they fetch big coin down at the city markets. 

We hadn’t walked for more than 15 minutes when I spotted the first morel, then another, then another. It was like a spinning revolver, firing round after round in close succession. It was so exciting I got goosebumps, which could also have been the cool spring breeze. All I had in the car was some plastic shopping bags (yeah, so sue me) and the one I had in my pocket started to get heavy with morels. When I say heavy, I mean more than I’ve ever picked before, close to a kilogram. It was such a nice experience, being in the bush with my love, doing something that I love and actually having success, which might I add, I’ve not been feeling of late. Most things that have been happening in my life have kind of sucked recently. But here we where, walking in the bush, picking an amazing rare mushroom and enjoying being alive. 

morel mushrooms

There’s a quick recipe that I lean on for these mushrooms, it’s a celebration of wild spring, morel and wild rabbit. It’s super easy and I love it so much that I shared it in my second book. Rabbit backstops are the quick cooking cut, easily pan fried. I tenderise them with a rolling pin, they only need a little tap or two. Then I drizzle over olive oil and season with sea salt and cracked wild pepper berry. I heat olive oil in the heavy cast iron pan my grandfather gave mum. I heat the oil until it’s fairly hot, then add the rabbit, sliced mushrooms (halved up the guts, slugs removed - optional) and a generous handful of fresh sage leaves. The rabbit back-strap doesn’t need much time in the pan but needs to be well cooked, so I go a few minutes on each side. As the rabbit cooks, the mushrooms release all their juices and a dreamy mushroom sauce forms, which eventually reduces and the pan gets a bit dry, that’s when I splash over some dry sherry and add a knob of butter covering everything with supreme awesomeness. Out onto a plate with a garnish of small sage leaves, a drizzle of fine olive oil and some rad cheese, this time I used a beautiful earthy hard cows milk cheese from Bruny Island cheese. My lady and I shared the plate and savoured every mouthful with occasional moans of joy.

Rabbit and morels

I couldn’t help but think of how fortunate we are even when we think things are a bit ‘rough’ in our lives. Here I was a day earlier struggling get out of bed with a little bout of winter depression, a day later I was having a beautiful natural experience. If you think about it, picking wild food to eat is probably one of only a handful of truely natural activities. It’s when we can truely be mammals, real animals, not just humans, but natural animals picking naturally provided food. It’s very ancient, and it’s a beautiful thing that I am 'lucky' to be able to experience. I have my health, my legs work, I have the required knowledge, I have functioning senses and I am fit enough to walk where ever I want and could walk all day if I chose to. There are all things I should be thankful for. 

I don’t know what the future holds. None of us do. I don’t really believe in luck, I don’t believe that thinking positively means that positive things will happen around you, but I do believe in fighting the fight that life presents us with and appreciating what we have, even the smallest of life’s joys. Although the circumstances for the catalyst were not the greatest, I’m glad to have a reminder of what is important in life. 

 

 

An exercise in patience

You know those times when the aeroplane station is super busy and your plane does a few laps until the runway is clear? It’s called a holding pattern, I often feel like I’m stuck in one but it's ok. 

We all have dreams and life goals, those things we want to achieve, the things we work hard for, dream about, goals we beg, borrow and steal to reach. Like most people I’ve had to scrap quite a few life dreams and goals, there’s only a certain amount of head banging on brick walls we can accomodate. As old goals and dreams fall to the cutting room floor, new priorities arise, we rebirth ourselves with fresh ideas and aspirations. 

Life has a funny way of cutting us down a peg or two, throwing us curveballs and challenges. It can be hard, upsetting and frustrating, but when you step back for reflection, taking in the big picture of the span of an entire life, there’s nothing you can do but smile, it’s just life. So many things are out of our hands, and even the things we can influence, well let’s just say we sometimes make poor choices. And that’s ok, it’s also part of being human. 

Every now and then I have a spell of feeling like a bit of a loser, I’m sure it’s a universal feeling. I convince myself that many of the life choices I’ve made have ended me here, just surviving financially, moving from one rental to another, never getting enough ahead to reach that goal, as a result I’m always starting from scratch. It also doesn’t help that many of my mates have ‘made it’. Along the way they’ve bought houses when houses were affordable, built castles and heart warming permanent homes for their families. I know, I’m clearly a bit jealous, I constantly tell myself to accept what is, and that our time will come. It’s all about changing our approach of which we have in recent times, and the future looks bright. I hope. 

I drove my youngest daughter to school this morning and we lamented the continuation of winter weather, how depressing this winter has felt. We started talking about how rad summer will be with visits to the pool, swimming in the lake and eating outside in the warmth of the long days not to mention the variety and array of summer crops in the backyard. I happened to quickly look over at her and amazed at her youthful pretty face, that cute smile and rosy round cheeks just like her dad. I didn’t say anything but had one of those momentary realisations that longing for something like wanting time to pass for us to get to summer was not such a good thing. By summer she will have finished grade 3 and she’ll be that little bit older. That innocence or hers will disappear a little more along with that beautiful world view she has. I changed my mind, I no longer wish for winter weather to hurry up and disappear, I don’t wish for anything but to be in this moment for as long as possible. To appreciate what I have right now even though I can’t stop time itself. 

We’re really lucky in our world, our bubble where even though we think we’re going without, we can in fact be living very beautiful lives. Sure we have to wait for things to happen, but learning to be patient is a good thing. You’d think I’d have it sorted by now, but I’m still working on being more patient and appreciative of what I have. 

This time of year is always one for reflection for me. Coming out of the winter hibernation, feeling like I’m just hanging on, a little depressed, a little dissatisfied, but really I have lots of things to celebrate. My family, love, and possibilities. So many things that frustrate me in life are actually up to me to change. I have immense influence over many facets of my life. I can’t blame anyone else for things that I have the power to change. And this time of the year is when I assess those things and swing into action, spurred on by the positive re-birth vibes of spring. 

A few years ago I established the most amazing vegetable garden in a backyard I was renting, and every house since I’ve been trying to replicate that on some level. Our new home doesn’t have scope for something on that scale so I’m working on some future project at a mates spare block of land. I’m also having some fun volunteering at the skate park community garden in the town I live in. I’ve been weeding and prepping small beds for crops, and my first direct seeding crop has germinated, metaphorically giving me hope for a bright garden future. I don’t own it, but I can make change on a really small level that I’m sure will have some sort of positive impact somehow. In any case, I just love to grow food, that doesn’t cost me much other then a sweaty tee shirt and dirty fingernails. And I appreciate that for now. My other big dreams will have to wait a little bit longer.

Germinated

Don't need much

It's like a long day at work, one of those Friday afternoons that tend to drag out, when time appears to  slow down just to annoy you. It's late winter, it's dragging out and I'm starting to get grumpy. We all are.

Being the outdoorsy type I stubbornly refuse to let winter beat me, I get out in the poor weather all winter. Whether it's a spell in the garden, a walk in the bush or a meander around the lake, anything to get away from the cocoon of a heated house, the endless drone of the gas heater burning fossil fuels in our old energy draining weatherboard house (can't wait for a straw-bale house). It was freezing the other day so I said to my lady "I'm heading off to the garden to warm up" and sure enough, after a half hour of digging I was sweating under my many layers. Winter veg gardening hasn't been the best this year, again we've had to move house and my backyard patch is still it's infancy to say the least. Thankfully we're lucky to have a local market gardener that absolutely nails winter crops. It's not much of a selection but there's a lot that can be done with a few basic ingredients. Most Sundays I make sure I have a few hours spare to walk up the hill to the quaint market and fill a bag with fresh produce to get us through the week. Cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, onions, carrot, beetroot, kale, chard, shallot, leek and potato. It's funny, I used to think winter was a dead season for ingredients, but really, if you know your stuff, it's totally alive. 

IMG_2974.JPG

I'm a big believer in valuing cooking techniques instead of just knowing recipes. Many of us have a few recipes up our sleeves that we've cooked a million times and never measure a thing in the process, we just do. But for people that don't know how to cook, a recipe with measurements and such can be daunting and stressful. Teach a person how to make a pesto, a soup, a roast, the technique not the recipe, and they can go away and experiment with different ingredients, starting on a very real cooking journey for life. This is what I do all year round, winter is no exception. I have only a handful of ingredients to play with, I marry whatever ingredients are in season with my known cooking techniques and I have a world of options available. And of course, I have those my most favoured recipes for each ingredient that I can't help but rely on, because they're heart warmers. One that's been getting favouritism of late is baked brussel sprouts, cut in half, drizzled with olive oil seasoned with salt and pepper and covered with a few rashes of smokey bacon. A wedge of lemon and cloves of garlic if I've got them, baked on high to medium for 30 mins and viola! A beaut dinner served with feta and crusty bread. Nothing to complain about this winter food!

Over winter I've been working on a chopper project. An early 90's Honda v-twin 600. It's my first bike in 20 years and it's great to be back on two wheels. It's not a fast bike, it's not big, it's not my dream touring Evo Harley chopper, it will never win any awards other than dirtiest bogan chopper, but it's fun and I like having fun. A few months ago I started the modifications by rebuilding/jetting the duel carbs and fitting straight pipes. I then cut the back end off and had a mate weld on a custom rear fender and sissy bar. It's almost ready for many summer adventures on the road.

A few days ago a ray of sunshine temped me and I jumped at the opportunity for a ride. One of the things that I love about living in the Central Highlands is the roads. They're not amazing in condition some are downright horrible and pothole filled, but the scenery is pretty good if you love the Australian bush and rural vibes. It only takes a few minutes and I'm out of our small hill town and out in the rolling fields of sheep and green crops. The Honda chopper loves the tight corners and equally the open stretches, the throaty growl of the v-twin is magic, it really is a sense of freedom. I often find myself smiling, literally noticing that I'm happily smiling away as I ride. On the bike I'm far away from many things in life that irritate me. Out there it's just the bike, the sounds, the feels, and the bugs in my mouth. 

Honda Chopper

I pushed the Little Ripper up the hills and over to the other side of the range to our old home of Yandoit (Dja Dja Warrung for Brown Snake or Still Waters). A mate has a free range chook and sheep station there, which for a few years I've been eying off a massive patch of stinging nettle. For some reason I never got around to picking the nettle when we lived there, but right now my garden is non existent and I'm also a bit broke, so a harvest of free food is pretty attractive. I must have looked funny riding a loud chopper across the paddock, then proceeding to bend down on all fours picking weeds in a paddock and storing them in my bag. Probably not what you'd expect but I was in my element. After ten minutes my bag was over flowing with nettles and possibility. With the job done I had more time for riding, so back on the bike I went and fired the Honda up. I rode some quiet country roads to a mates place for lunch, then reluctantly rode home. Smiles for miles.

At home I cracked open a stout, put on some music and spent a good part of the evening picking nettle leaves off the stems, then blanching the sting out of them in hot water. With little money to spend on ingredients I used what I had in the kitchen, a bucket load of spuds, onions, a leek, frozen stock, a handful of walnut and the last of many ends of different cheeses. I made a delicious pesto which I served over gnocchi I made from the spuds and the second meal was an onion, spud and nettle soup which turned out to be a real winner, probably because I put in a bunch of half eaten cheese ends I found in a fridge clean out. Two really tasty and healthy-ish meals born out of lack of money and lack of garden. 

Stinging nettle

It's lovely, really lovely that living within ones means, means really making the most of simple things, simple ingredients, simple experiences. A chopper ride, some nice food. It's not extravagant in any way, but sure puts a smile on my face. The more I live with less, the more I realise that I don't need much to really enjoy life. Love Ro. 

Stinging Nettle pesto gnocchi
Nettle and Walnut Pesto

Seeding

I wish I could say that I always do things on a whim, that I act with little consideration for fear of consequences. I’d love to naturally be a free wheelin’ kind of guy, but I’m not really, I’m often calculated, considered, I do things with purpose, reason, logic. I’m the complete opposite to my partner. She is the essence of living dangerously. In many ways she is a caged bird, she is after all, my dreamy hot hippy lady friend that believes in things I don’t understand, burns incense, listens to rad music and would prefer to be on the road sleeping in dive motels and hoary not knowing where tomorrows adventure will lead. Sure sometimes I let myself go, it’s not like I’m totally robotic, but really letting myself go is a rarity, something that I am working on. Recently I decided to do something that isn’t fully considered. I’m just doing instead of over thinking and I’m totally ok with it. 


A few months ago we moved into a modest 3 bedroom weatherboard in our Daylesford town. We’ve been living on the outskirts of town for many years now, but with kids and school it seems smart to be in town. Daylesford is beautiful country town one which melts my heart with it’s beauty. I wish I possessed poetic language to romantically describe it, but don’t believe I do. Suffice to say it has pretty old buildings, a quaint main street and a vibrant community. In our little country town there are a handful of community gardens that have been set up as places where anyone can pitch in, grow food and harvest what they like. I believe the one lose rule is that if you take something you should put  something back. What an amazing concept of balance. Imagine that approach adopted on a broader scale of things for human existence. Philosophical pondering aside,  one of these gardens has been a little neglected for a while. For what ever reason it’s just not attracting much activity. I’m not sure how many years this particular garden has been in existence but for years I’ve driven past it wondering about it. I’ve never been drawn in enough to pull over and check it out, I’m always on the way to somewhere and I’ve always had a vegetable garden of my own. But it needs some help, and I’ve felt this urge to do something about it. 
I contacted the community garden guardian and they where happy enough for someone to get stuck into it. They said something along the lines of “that garden needs a champion” I figure that someone could be me. A few weeks went by and some serious life events happened, and now here I am, in a community garden doing things I didn’t expect I’d be doing, I’m bringing a community garden to life to share with whoever wants to share it. 

From a practical standpoint, there’s a bit of clean up work to get the patch up to scratch. Someone must have loved artichokes because the garden is full of them! But as much as they look amazing, they don’t provide enough food for the real estate they take up, so my first job has been to dig up quite a few to make way from more productive crops. 
The soil is rich, red volcanic, and full of promise. There are established fruit trees and berries, of which I have no idea the variety because it’s dead winter and there’s not a leaf to be seen just sad looking sticks pointing to the heavens. There’s a few woody herbs hanging on notably Rosemary, Mint, Thyme and Sage, and a pretty decent size rhubarb plant, oh and many strawberries, which I’m sure the kids will plunder over spring and summer. Whenever I start work in an unfamiliar garden it takes a full season or two to get used to it’s personality, all those things like soil, pests, position, wind all of these factors determine what a garden is willing to provide. It takes a while to figure out which plants work better than others. I have no idea what pests there are, I’m assuming the usual suspects of snails, slugs, possums, rats and humans. Being right in the guts of the community skate park I’m preparing for a bit of teenage destruction. Which I know will be heart breaking but maybe it might be an opportunity to be able to get through to some kids about food, maybe even their parents. That's not really my ultimate plan, to begin with I just want to grow. I want to turn this thing from a neglected garden into something absolutely thriving and amazing. At least this is something I know how to do, all I need is determination, dedication and elbow grease. All of which I have no problems with. I also have some time, not much, but enough to allocate some time to the skate park patch each week. 


I’m not sure where this project will take me. I have no expectations other than growing some veg, of which of course I will be harvesting and cooking lots of. I’d be mad not to. 


There is only one thing that I’m imagining as an outcome from this project. A moment, a warm afternoon in the garden cooking for people, (hopefully some complete strangers) with produce that I’ve grown right under their noses in the neighbourhood, a small charcoal fire with grilled eggplant, zucchini, caramelised cherry tomatoes, and buttery build spuds. That will be a beautiful moment. Anything else is a bonus. It’s a nice feeling just doing something, with little plans for an outcome other than sharing. 

Start

It’s funny how life has these twists and turns we never plan for or expect. We start off as fresh youthful blank pages, our lives before us, unwritten. As the years go by we take different paths, we make millions of decisions, some big, many seemingly insignificant. Some decisions lead us to dark places, some bring success in different forms, some bring failure, while others bring heartache, joy, romance, passion and everything in between. If you’re a smart cookie you’ll learn from these decisions. Maybe you’ll make a mistake only the once, learn from it then make an effort never to repeat it. Some of us don’t take the opportunity to learn. Some chose a stagnant life, like black water in a still pond, never flowing anywhere, instead we become a magnet for decay. Some of us are gushing rivers, furiously bending and flowing over boulders and logs, the obstacles and wildness of life. Some of us are geysers exploding with immense force with no apparent pattern other than excitement and chaos. I’m sure I’m a little bit of everything.

Many years ago my eyes opened, and things began to appear phoney. Food, people, fashion, culture, societal expectations and normalities. The more I began to question things, the less the human world made sense. For a long time I felt like I was living in a very fragile civilisation that could collapse at any moment, especially if everyone else realised how ridiculous the whole system was. We value things that have no actual value to our continued existence. We normalise behaviour that’s destructive and ignorant of its impacts. We consume ‘food’ having no idea where it’s come from, who produced it, what’s been done to it and what it does to out bodies. We have the same approach to the clothes we consume, the technology we use, cosmetics, consumables, medication and all the bits in between. I’m no angel in these matters. 

I’ve been told that I’m arrogant because I’ve made statements like this before, because I’ve asked questions that I probably shouldn’t ask. That’s ok, I’m aware that it’s uncomfortable to question the basis of our culture, however my preference is to understand and face certain realities regardless of the awkwardness involved. It’s never been about right or wrong, I’m more interested in cause and effect, reality not opinion, in accepting the things we can’t change instead of creating more comfortable alternate realities. There is a peace in accepting the flawed. If this makes little or no sense then we’re in the same boat, because at 41, a great deal of human behaviour still makes little or no sense to me. I’m content with being a life long student, I also accept that we’re on a one way ticket of learning and experiences. What we do with our time is up to us.

For a few years I was trying to set up a significant social project to address a significant social issue, to fight fire with fire. As much as I persevered, the project couldn’t get off the ground. Maybe it was the wrong time, maybe I just have bad luck, maybe as a wider community we just don’t care enough. Whatever the case may be, it didn’t work, and I’ve dealt with that failure. I’m totally ok with it. It’s all part of the life experience. At least I'm able to say that I tried. In reflection, I’ve spent a great deal of time questioning my modus operandi. I tried to fix a social issue head on, it clearly wasn’t the right approach. In an attempt to put this into perspective I find value in a Mahatma Gandhi quote;  "We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do”. You can take what ever you like from that, I get heaps.

A few months ago a mate of mine died in a horrific motorbike/car accident. His name was Rod. He was a pioneer of change, a legend of sorts. In the 1970-80’s he helped introduce Australia to organic farming certification, he also had something to do with setting up Landcare and was involved in the Greens party in the early days. He was the Robert Plant of the green movement. Cool AF. He was a bit of a secret mentor of mine and I treasured moments with him over the five years we worked together. I value those moments where we had the opportunity to chew the fat over a cup of tea and a puff, talking politics, growing food or riding motorbikes. Not often do you get to meet people with a real passion that in some way parallels your own vision for a better world. There are a lot of curated, big noting, pretend ‘doers’ out there. This Rod bloke wasn’t one of them, he wasn’t fake, he was a quiet achiever, the real deal. A true inspiration, a true hero. This was evident at his memorial service which had a huge turnout that filled the town hall and had people parking their cars on the edge of our town centre as the main street was packed. As horrible as Rod’s passing was, it reminded and encouraged me to do something that I've been putting aside for a while. To live. To really live.

I know it sounds lame, but to me it makes a lot of sense. For years it feels like I’ve been feverishly working at things but not getting far, I haven’t been spending enough life energy on living, in the doing of things that are amazing. I’m not talking about scaling mountains or canoeing across vast oceans, I’m talking about those beautiful things in life that are often overlooked. A great meal cooked with love, sharing time with your lover, taking off on a weekend adventure and being present, searching for music never heard, smelling the early morning as the sun wakes a backyard garden. To me, these things don’t cost the earth but often bring great enjoyment. This is what my New Years resolution was; to focus on being alive.

So this is where I’m at in life. Trying to focus on living. The context has been explained as has some of my motivation.

I’ve written books in the past, and they do a great job capturing a moment in time, a period of an authors life, a snapshot. But as humans and writers we evolve, we think differently, we mature and we change. That’s what’s great about writing online, it does both. Captures moments, whilst allowing for change.

This is my new online record of being alive. All the bits and pieces that hold some importance to me. I could keep it all inside my head, but I see value in sharing. That’s what we do well as humans, it’s what has made us who we are. It’s one of the human traits I admire. I hope you find value in my sharing.