Ghost Voices

A few days ago, rugged up in a woollen jacket, beanie and alpaca scarf, with Dame Plum and Ollie in tow, he headed out on a walk. Up the wet road in the dusky twilight. It was cold and the wind was blowing the trees around. The winter rain hadn’t let up for most of the week and we were all keen to spend some time outdoors. Even at a good distance from the house, you could hear the generator chugging away. The fossilised sunlight energy in the petrol made up for the lack of sunlight.

It’s not usually windy in this protected part of the mountain range, however the wind was blowing in from the south west that day. And the strong gusty winds shook the trees around and back and forth. Ollie asked me if the wind was likely to drop a tree onto the power line which was hanging like a string above the road. A fair concern. Swoosh the leaves sang, accompanied by the occasional clacking and groaning sound. The three of us ploughed on.

Further up the road we were passed by a beaten up looking green sedan. The three of us had stood to the side of the road and let the car sail past. Lost was my first thought. There are only two houses on this dirt road, and the car sure wasn’t owned or driven by the neighbours. A year or two ago a TV program did some big competitive house build reality show in the area, and it amused me to hear the complaints of a lack of Uber eats. The car clearly wasn’t on an urgent food delivery mission.

Curious to see what the person in the vehicle was up to, Ollie and Dame Plum were forced to pick up their pace. The walk had been interrupted, and so back home we headed. What? Why was the beaten up green sedan turning into my drive way? Speeding our pace a bit more, brought us closer to the house, but still up on the road. “Hey!” I yelled in a voice of command. The dude had gotten out of the car and was walking around the front of the house. Clearly he’d failed to notice the ‘Keep Out’ sign.

Hearing the command, he visibly jumped and began walking up the driveway towards the road to greet me. Walking towards each other, he received the advice: “Don’t get too close to the dogs.” Ollie did his best menacing face number two, whilst Dame Plum, just did her best Dame Plum, which can be a bit scary for the uninitiated. Conversation was held at a discreet distance.

“It’s cold. Your house looks like it could use some weather stripping.”

Had we really cut our dog walk short for this rubbish? “Nah man. The house doesn’t need the stuff, it’s fairly new.” Then quick as a flash, with sales reluctance firmly at the forefront of his mind, the guy asks: “How do you heat your house, gas or electricity? We could do a deal for you.” Unsolicited sales offers annoy me, and so a ‘get lost’ reply was in order: “We heat with firewood. You’re not likely to be cheaper than that.” Defeated we said our goodbyes, and the beaten-up green sedan left the property.

Except it was a big lie. Firewood is not cheaper than gas or electricity. If you have access to the trees and can blithely ignore the cost of the machines, consumables, storage and fuel, a person can pretend it’s cheaper, but it isn’t. Turns out, the whole question as to why would we even bother producing our own firewood, is much deeper than it first seems.

Since we’ve had the YouTube channel, it must be some sort of weird setting with that software, but on my dashboard there are now promoted videos with the titles of: ‘why I live rurally and/or alone’. For research purposes for the blog, I sat through a few of them. The production was amazing, and the videos usually were of very appealing looking young ladies, staring off into the rural distance, walking their dog through an idyllic setting, enjoying a cup of herbal tea, riding a bike through roads lined with wild flowers, and sometimes the young ladies even stop to take the time to sniff the flowers. Why am I now getting these suggested videos? These stories are just so not me.

All the same, it did get the old brain into gear thinking about the issue. The other morning, three hours (and two cups of coffee) were spent in the kitchen producing things. One task was done. Onto the next. Then the next. It was quite a fluid experience, and all the while the brain cogitated on the story: why do this stuff?

The world is full of stories, and the question of why, is also a story. Back in 2008, I’d climbed the corporate ladder for twenty years, and eventually held a senior position with a lot of staff reporting to me. I was a responsible person. So responsible in fact that my hair was receding and my sleep was disturbed. Thoughts of work matters spilled over into my out of office hours, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning. I was deeply miserable.

One morning before work, sitting in the bath with my head held in my hands, Sandra asked me the hard question: “What are you doing?” Women know things, and so we had a long discussion. That’s how we ended up living here. That however doesn’t answer the question as to why we’d be producing our own firewood. Turns out, we both enjoy being productive, even when it’s hard work. And it sure beats the shit out of having to turn up to do a super responsible job.

Earlier in the week, some of the strongest winds in the past couple of years hit the state. The winds weren’t too bad here, but even so there was quite a lot of tree damage which will have to be cleaned up. It would be fatal to be hit by some of the branches which fell on those couple of windy days.

Lots of branches fell from this particularly tall tree

Most trees eventually fall over, the question usually is: when will they do so? In the surrounding forest there’s plenty of loggers mess left to clean up, but the trees in the forest do also naturally topple over. Here’s one on the forest edge which fell many years ago because the root system had weakened and split.

This tree fell over years ago when the root system weakened and split

It’s easy to tell what is the loggers mess, mostly because it looks out of place. The root systems may be up in the air, or there are no holes in the ground where the trees root system only once was. It just doesn’t look natural. Here’s a good example of an old felled loggers tree which we are harvesting firewood from.

We’re slowly processing this old left over loggers tree into firewood

Usually the loggers trees have cores which are damaged. Presumably the trees were used as saw logs, and the rotten cores would wipe out their value.

70% of this discarded loggers tree is rotten

It’s hard on the chainsaw cutting up trees with rotten cores, because the chain blunts quickly upon encountering the rot. But I’m not fussed about sharpening the chains. It is what it is. And eventually once the rotten core dries out, it’s still good firewood. We produced a lot of discs which will be split into firewood chunks a couple of weeks time. At the moment, the paddocks are too wet to move the split firewood. There’s a big probability that we’ll rip up the paddocks, so they need to dry out a bit before that splitting and hauling work gets done.

Discs waiting to be split once the paddocks dry up

The loggers mess is sometimes intriguing, and most of it bears the scars of the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires. There are a lot of dead tree stumps dotted about. They absolutely refuse to decay into soil.

A couple of tree stumps left over from the century of logging

Every now and then I become enthused with energy to clean up that mess. The stump grinder gets dragged down into the forest edge, and for a couple of hours the machine hammers away at the hardwood tree stumps. It’s not a quick job, it’s about the smallest stump grinder you can buy, but all the same, the job gets done. At the end of the work, the sawdust is mixed in with the soil. In a year or two there will lush plant growth.

Once there was a large old tree stump

On Sunday, after almost a week of thick clouds, winds and rain, the sun shone. It was really nice to feel the warmth of the winter sun on your skin.

The forest edge is looking super clean

The kitchen is a bit of a power house when it comes to production. Earlier this week we mixed up a batch of home made olive oil soap. It’s good stuff, and puts the commercial products to shame.

After several days, the soap mixture is ready to pour into the moulds

We use a few trays of silicon based moulds for the soap.

Silicon baking moulds are perfect for soap making

We’ve also begun a sake (Japanese rice wine) experiment. A few years ago, the yeast balls (an Asian dessert) used to inoculate the boiled rice and begin the sake fermentation process, bizarrely failed. We’d been using them for years to make sake, and somehow, I’m guessing the formula changed, and thereafter each batch failed. Every single one of them. What’s worse was that the wine had received glowing reviews from people who know about such things.

However, being the crafty, resourceful and productive people we are, we decided to try our hand again at making sake, but this time go back one step and eliminate the mysterious yeast balls. We are making a video about the process and there are still a few weeks to go, but the indications at this early stage is that we maybe back baby!

A sake (Japanese rice wine) experiment is under way

One of the three processes uses the mysterious yeast balls, and the observant reader may guess which it is!

I’ve failed to prune the raspberry canes, and today noticed that one of them seems to be in the process of producing a blossom. That is remarkably early.

A very early raspberry blossom

When we first moved here it was common knowledge that citrus trees would not grow in this mountain range. Perhaps the common knowledge was wrong, didn’t apply to this particular location, or the climate has since shifted. Another mystery! The mandarin which was stripped of fruit by the European wasps (Yellow jackets) earlier in the year, is now again full of fruit.

This mandarin tree is laden with fruit

The pomello (a grapefruit variety) is another hardy citrus tree which, whilst not quite yet ripe, has had a couple of heavy fruit fall from it’s branches. We’ll test them out because they’re probably quite tasty.

This pomello (a grapefruit) is close to ripe

Here’s our video for this week showing what we’re eating from the garden.

Winter garden – what we can eat

Onto the flowers:

This Salvia is valiantly struggling on in winter
Succulents don’t seem to care about winter weather!

The temperature outside now at about 11am is 10’C (50’F). So far for last year there has been 573.8mm (22.6 inches) which is up from last weeks total of 512.4mm (20.2 inches)