Love in a time of Corvid

There is a window which has a view out across the valley and then way out over to the now extinct volcanoes in the west. The land is old and has many folds and ridges. Rivers and creeks drain the lower lying land. A patchwork of forest and fields, but mostly forest extends clear to the horizon. And from this height, the horizon is a far distance indeed. The forest nearest to the window is an orderly place full of tall and well spaced trees. When the sun shines with force, the scent of eucalyptus oil is carried by the air. When the tall trees flower, honey is all that you will smell.

It’s officially winter and the air is cool and moist. There is little land between here and Antarctica. And sometimes the frozen continent sends a taste of the cold, and then the winds will blow. However, being inland the winds rarely blow all that hard. A few days ago after a day of work around the farm, I sat in a toasty hot bath and looked through the window only to see the Antarctic winds blowing the tall trees around.

High up in one of the tallest trees, a pair of magpies watched the setting sun. As the sun set, a storm was advancing from the south and I wondered what those birds were thinking. The family of magpies were five birds not all that long ago, and now there are two. As the sun set, they flew off to their roost and the mystery travelled with them.

Life can be a bit of a mystery. As of today, there are no cases of the health subject which dare not be named in this rural area, and yet we still face restrictions. The city folks are faced with even harsher restrictions. This is our fourth lock down now with no end in sight, and I read somewhere that this has now encompassed over 160 days. This is probably longer than anywhere else on the planet. It’s extraordinary, so I thought that I’d continue to provide a glimpse into my week of continued captivity:

Day Four

Long term readers will recall that I have some sort of inexplicable shoulder injury (edit: not so inexplicable – remember the big rock and almost face plant from 2 months ago). With nothing better to do, and travel for health reasons being permissible, I made an appointment to see the doctor. The doctor then sent me off to visit the radiologist so as to get some x-rays. For readers living outside of Australia, down here everyone chips in 2% of their income towards the communities medical costs, and so the visits left me out of pocket about $200. A quick peek at the x-rays was interesting, but I was unable to return to the doctor that day and so had to wait a few days to learn of the prognosis.

The sun was shining strongly that day, and the editor and I made the best use of the available electricity by doing lots of cooking, and also some soap making. We make all of our own soap using olive oil, and it is good stuff. Making your own soap is something that you can do in the smallest of homes, and the end product is vastly superior to purchased products.

Freshly made soap curing in silicone trays
Tyrannosaurus soap

The silicone trays are usually used for muffins and cakes. Those trays just work really well for soap making, especially after the soap has hardened but not yet cured and you can peel the tray away from the soap without damaging it.

Once the soap has hardened, you place the cakes on a rack so that they can cure. It usually takes a few months for the soap to cure and so you have to produce a lot of soap all at once, or regularly produce batches a few months ahead of actually needing the soap.

Soap bars curing on this tiered cake tray

Despite it being winter, we’ve begun getting the garden vegetable beds and terraces ready for the next growing season. Paths are being added in the terraces and so more rocks are always needed. I spent about an hour scavenging rocks, and Peak Rocks is real, so that meant going ever further from the terraces to obtain the necessary rocks.

As part of getting the vegetable beds and terraces ready for future planting, the soil in those beds gets fed an enormous quantity of materials. Whilst I was on my way to the doctor, I stopped off at the local garden supplies to pick up the various materials required – having one foot in agriculture made this stop off possible. It was a bit weird as I had to park outside the business and phone in my order, provide my identification and then pay for the order. I had an interesting chat about the effect of the lock downs on small business and we concluded that things were pretty tough right now. After the call ended I was allowed into the parking lot, and a lady brought out various huge very heavy bags of fertilisers on a cart. Seeing how the wind blew, I offered to load them into the car. Crazy days.

Day Five

For various reasons which I won’t go into, one of my clients is allowed to operate during the lock down, and I have a permit to assist them with their work. So I travelled into the city. Memories of having to travel through road blocks manned by the police and military are still fresh in my mind, and the thought of having to provide my identification and the permit papers still gives me the creeps, and did not engender warm feelings towards the authorities. The freeway road blocks were idiotic, because people were simply travelling down the back roads out of the city, simply bypassing the road blocks. There would have been better, easier and cheaper ways to keep city folks out of the countryside, but nobody asked for my opinion.

The city was fairly quiet, and it reminded me of a scene from a zombie film. I was sort of hoping that there actually were no zombies around! Last years longest lock down went on for four months with a strict curfew, and on my visit the folks in the city appeared to be suffering from a pervasive feeling of uncertainty and fear.

Day Six

I’d run low on milk, and milk is an important component of coffee. And coffee is important to daily life, so I headed out to pick up some groceries (and in particular milk) and also check the mail. This is a permissible reason to leave home. For some weird reason, the postal service does not deliver mail to my area. Nobody can explain the situation, and I’m reluctant to commit my energies in a long battle with a Kafkaesque government authority. So my mail is sent to the local General Store and Post Office instead. Fortunately they also sell supplies of fresh milk and so I could continue to enjoy my coffee. The area was like a ghost town.

Once home again I worked on paid work. Since the health subject which dare not be named reared its ugly head, none of my clients have been able to provide me with a full days work. It wasn’t always that way, and I’ve adapted by taking on new work to fill in the gaps. Unfortunately nowadays I rarely know in advance what will be required of me in relation to the work. Will it be an hours work, or six hours work? I can no longer say for sure, and there are days where I’m doing work for up to four different clients, and I just don’t know how long any of it will take. Sometimes the work stretches late into the evening. Unfortunately, my gut feeling suggests to me that we won’t be returning to how things were any time soon.

Day Seven

More paid work. One of the tasks was preparing a payroll, and I’ve heard governments suggesting that they’ll cut through red-tape and make things easier for business. Experience suggests that things are in fact otherwise. In Australia, every single payroll is now reported to the authorities. I spend an inordinate amount of work time administering the governments systems, and I still recall with horror the time when the ‘system’ disregarded the information sent and inserted its own unique and inexplicable information. Zombies are easier adversaries to confront than that particular nightmare.

The afternoon sun was shining gloriously and such a day should not be spent entirely indoors! Instead of working, I spent the afternoon mixing up the 200kg / 440 pounds of various fertilisers and minerals into half a cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of compost. A wheelbarrow, shovel and measuring cup were the only tools required for the job. The mixture was then spread in the second highest and also the highest garden terrace.

Mixing up the compost and fertiliser

Ollie assisted with the mixing job.

Ollie assists with the mixing and spreading of the compost for the vegetable beds

After a few minutes of Ollie’s unhelpful assistance, I replaced him with Ruby who seems far less interested in eating the compost mix.

Ruby is far less obsessive about eating the compost mixture

As part of the work on the terraced garden beds, we’re moving all of the roses from the downhill side of the terraces to the uphill side, and then replanting them at wider spacings. The roses will be better protected from the winter winds, but also the soil on the downhill side of the terraces is actually warmer over the summer months and this will benefit the vegetables that will eventually grow there.

Day Eight

The day of reckoning had arrived as I had to return to the doctor to obtain the details and prognosis of the arm. Turns out I’d bunged the shoulder up right and proper. A bit of ligament damage and plenty of muscle damage. And just for good measure there was a fracture on my upper forearm which had now mostly healed. But the kicker was that the x-ray revealed some age related wear and tear. This getting older business is not all that it’s cracked up to be I can tell you! I have to now see a physiotherapist so as to learn some rehabilitation stretches and strengthening exercises. Could be worse, I guess.

The good news was that with no cases of the health subject which dare not be named outside of the metropolitan area, some minor restrictions were lifted for rural areas, and some new were ones added. We now have to check in electronically everywhere we go on a state government smart phone application. I tell you, George Orwell warned us about this, but never for one second did I consider that the book ‘1984’ would be used as a how to manual – with the added spin that individuals and businesses have to pay for the surveillance. It’s genius really.

With some newfound freedom, ideas of work got ditched and the editor and I went in search of excellent bakery products. Gourmet meat pies and a truly outstanding Lamington appeared to be unaffected by the new surveillance state, and we went for a walk through a local botanical garden. The winter weather was a touch inclement, and we had the entire garden to ourselves, along with the geese of course.

With the reduced restrictions, the local pub was again able to open for business. Later that evening, we went to the pub for a pint and a feed. Masks still had to be worn inside, but once seated we could remove them. The staff looked grateful to be earning money working, and we were happy to support a local business with our patronage. The menu was very limited, but no matter, I was simply happy that they were open for business.

Day Nine

Early mornings are difficult, but occasionally one must bend with the winds. We make a point of cooking from scratch using mostly raw materials, and the same goes for the dogs food. It is not hard to make dog food and dog biscuits and at least you know what is in them. However, time is what it takes to do such things and so most of the morning was spent doing all the little things that needed doing so as to keep the household running smoothly.

Most of my friends live in the city, and they are still subject to serious restrictions. Fortunately we can catch up in the virtual realm, and a bunch of mates had arranged to have a internet chat with the prolific author John Michael Greer. It was such a lovely chat, and Mr Greer is an erudite and gracious person. Despite having conversed on friendly terms with him for over a decade, I was candidly a bit nervous at first. The nerves soon faded, and it was a truly enjoyable couple of hours.

The editors friends are likewise cooped up in the metropolitan area, and so the editor also enjoyed a virtual catch up with a friend later in the day.

Early mornings do me no good (even with coffee) and that evening I slept long and deeply.

Day Ten

For a winters day, the day was warm and very cloudy. We decided to work outside and spent many hours fossicking for rocks for use in the garden terrace paths.

Ollie is excited about the huge number of rocks recovered

With a huge amount of rocks to hand, we completed the rock walls for the path on the very highest garden terrace.

The rock walls for the path on the highest garden terrace are now complete
Looking back from the other end of the highest garden terrace

The left over small and mid sized rocks were placed into the steel rock gabion cage near to the garden terraces. The cage is now almost now full.

The higher steel rock gabion cage at the end of the garden terrace is now almost full

Despite now being officially in winter, a few hardy insects are still out and about.

This huge stick insect was on the ceiling under the veranda
If it is over 10’C / 50’F and not windy, the European honey bees will forage

Onto the flowers:

This climbing Rose is in a sheltered spot in one of the garden beds
Pineapple Sage continues to delight
This Succulent is in flower. There are plans to expand the succulent garden beds
The Canary Island Foxglove is a stunning plant

The temperature outside now at about 10.00am is 8’C (47’F). So far this year there has been 465.4mm (18.3 inches) which is up from last weeks total of 456.0mm (18.0 inches).