Sampling the Simple Life

9 Jun

Try as I might I can’t get all the dirt out from under my very short fingernails. Brushing with copious quantities of soap leaves a thin black line of grime around the nail bed. I began by wearing gardening gloves but the reduction in performance was too great so I reverted to bare hands. Every night I scrub to little avail. 

Those of you who know I typically run a mile from anything gardening-related would be astonished to see the enthusiam I now bring to pulling clumps of weeds out of lawns, around fruit trees and from fence lines, crumbling dark clods of soil into newly dug garden beds and rehoming dismal, pot-bound succulents. Even removing two grass ticks from my skin has not deterred me.

A massively overgrown vine strangling two young Paw Paw trees standing by the main entrance has been relocated and trellised and we replanted tomato seedlings we stumbled upon in odd places. Lemongrass ran rampant in the vegie patch, enough to supply all the Thai restaurants in northern New South Wales. A thin, black snake had made a nest amongst it. A healthy clump is now safely potted in a large tub and the black snake has vanished. 

   

 

I now better understand the deep satisfaction my mum gets from hours labouring in her lush garden. From where I’m sitting on the sundeck of the farmhouse I gaze contentedly upon a well mown lawn, tidy fruit and olive trees, neat pot plants, a garden bed ready to plant winter vegies and a smartly re-painted chook shed and fire pit cover. It matters not a bit that it belongs to someone else. 

 

My peripatetic friend Laurel, whose 175 acre northern New South Wales cattle farm this is, said in her parting comments as she set off for further world travels, ‘I’m not at all terratorial, you can do what you like’. We took her at her word and have been working through a long (self-made) list of odd jobs. Everything from eradicating spiders, cockroaches and mud wasp nests to resealing cracked tiling in the bathroom that had caused mould to grow, and hanging a hammock in the perfect afternoon sun spot on the verandah. I doze in it most afternoons. Stuart prefers his siesta on the wicker lounge chair. 

   

We’re in residence from mid-May until we go overseas again at the end of July so there’s plenty of time to get stuff done and still enjoy walks on Pottsville beach just ten minutes drive away. Three sets of visitors have already helped gather and chop firewood and hike part of the boundary line. We look forward to many more overnighters, including my Melbourne nieces for a week of the winter school holidays. 

 

Marion and Brian helped spot marauding cattle from a neighbouring property.

Laurel’s farmhouse is only inhabited by family and friends for a few days at a time throughout the year so opportunistic critters had moved in, including a young carpet snake I surprised coiled up in an earthenware amphora on the verandah potting table. He was comfortably hibernating but to avoid upsetting nervous visitors I shifted the pot to the pump shed. I checked a couple of days later, he was gone. Solar snake deterrents are dotted around the perimeter of the lawn but they’re clearly only partially effective. Vigilance is the watchword. 

 

Now let me introduce you to our poultry brood. Two mature roosters, Speckle and Ricotta, had spawned Speckle Junior and Ricotta Junior. Then there are seven handsome hens of varying ages, colours and laying ability. This breed of Chinese chooks lays small eggs, about half the size of a store bought egg, but with a large yolk. They typically give between one and three eggs a day. Stuart enjoys these boiled and in omelettes.     

 

Laurel hadn’t been around for some months to let the birds range freely so at first they clustered nervously around the coop’s open door, ready to dart back inside at the merest noise. Ricotta had to be coaxed to come out at all. Three weeks later they’re strutting confidently about the garden and up to the gravel driveway. I have to keep half an eye on them or they’d be digging out the baby tomato plants. 

 

Yesterday, approaching dusk, Speckle Junior found himself on the wrong side of the chook/cattle fence. My attempt to herd him along the fence line and back towards the coop failed. He became more and more agitated and repeatedly tried to head butt the wire. Some dimly remembered wildlife TV program prompted me to grab a old sheet and throw it over him, whence I scooped him up and dropped him over the fence by the open door. In three seconds he was back inside the chook house and none the worse for his misadventure.

They are all individuals. Smartest and bravest is the small, brown hen. First out of the coop and last back in, no one messes with Little Brown Hen. I imagine to them I must look rather like a large chook. Dressed in a long, white dressing gown with grey spots I march down before breakfast to release them for their morning constitutional. They cluck excitedly at my approach and follow me about. 

 

Farm manager, D, lives by the road access to the property and multitasks as gatekeeper, stock woman and handy woman. She also minds the chooks when the farmhouse is unoccupied. D has been very helpful, especially when we’ve needed urgent assistence (suffice to say we’ve had some continuing issues related to Stuart’s coronary angiogram and the procedure to plug the hole in his heart, don’t worry, as you can see he’s ok). 

 

Our only interactions with the 17 Devon and Black Angus steers fattening for the dinner plate on Laurel’s lush pastures is when they amble along the dirt track as we drive in and out, or occasionally stare mutely at us over the fence as we lounge on the deck. I caught one watching me take an open air hot shower the other morning. I wonder what goes through their minds? 

   

With just a landline for emergency calls out and minimal mobile coverage we head to a Pottsville cafe every couple of days for excellent coffee and wifi (Stuart is still running his business after all!). No TV or radio signals reach the farm so no broadcast evening distractions. We do however have a DVD player and a pile of old DVDs I borrowed from a Gold Coast library (being homeless my residential address is my parents’). This week we’re working through series four of Alf Wight, AKA James Herriot’s, ‘All Creatures Great and Small’. We’d never seen this series as we were living in Malaysia at the time. Seems appropriate to catch up with it now.

You may be wondering what happened to our plans for the Brokenhead property. Once we took the pressure off ourselves to build the ‘big house’ on the ridge and reverted to an eco-cottage further down the slope towards the existing driveway, we’ve both been sleeping better at night. More here: Latest blog post

 This land isn’t going anywhere!

Coincidentally I just finished reading the memoir ‘Bird Cloud’ by a favourite author, Annie Proulx. Hearing about the three tortuous years she spent building the home of her dreams on a 640 acre ranch in Wyoming reinforced the sanity of our decision to scale back the Brokenhead build. Proulx sold Bird Cloud Ranch for USD 2.6 million and now lives in Seattle. I hope sales of the book recouped her losses as the purchase and build must have been well over 2.6 million.

Some day the ‘big house’ will be built (by us or others), but for the next three or four years whilst we criss cross seas to spend time with family and indulge our passions we need an Australian home just a few months a year. The revised plan is to contract a young couple with an architectural practice in Byron Bay to design and oversee the build for us.

In the meantime we’re getting to know the characterful small towns and villages in the Tweed Valley and along the coast. Each weekend brings a different farmers’ market or we buy produce from roadside honesty stalls. Pumpkins, passionfruit, bush lemons and grapefruit are home grown. Our morning coffee is raised and roasted in Byron Bay and Stuart bakes some of our wholemeal bread, just as he did during our five years in Japan. Catch of the day seafood is purchased from Brunswick Heads Cooperative. Stuart and guests have feasted on snapper and scallops grilled over the pit fire. 

         Uki Market

  

   

Last Saturday night we sampled the free live, open-air music at Brunswick Heads Hotel, a thirty minute drive south. Two sixtyish blokes worked their way through a trad&contemp blues and rock repertoire taking turns to sing and play lead guitar. A creditable performance. The kitchen serves ample and tasty meals to suit all palates and service is slick. Yes indeedy, beach-country life suits us very well.   

               

5 Responses to “Sampling the Simple Life”

  1. higonrg@cs.com June 9, 2015 at 4:34 pm #

    hola Sharon,

    your “gap year” certainly runs the gamut! enjoy your posts as ever.

    Mind the ticks!!!

    best from SF

    cheers, -ig

  2. neilson1 June 9, 2015 at 6:52 pm #

    I think you have made a great decision, I went back and re read the 360 degree post and I think keep life simple. The most important things are family, Love, health and nature. Love Cx
    ,

    • Sharon Tickle June 9, 2015 at 10:30 pm #

      And flamenco ;-)) You are totally on the mark Cassie. Sxx

  3. Michelle June 10, 2015 at 7:30 pm #

    Hi Sharon and Stu. The hard part is over…all that worrying about what to do, where and how to do it….once the decision is made don’t you feel a whole lot lighter in the head?! So sorry that Stu’s health continues to be a concern (and seems Cameron has his issues too)…run free for a while and your farmhouse adventure seems the right place to start. Fresh eggs from the hens…how lovely. Victoria Sponge cakes are fab with them! Our love and best wishes from the (soggy) mountains. M&B.xxxx

    • Sharon Tickle June 10, 2015 at 10:02 pm #

      Thanks Michelle. Good tip about Vic sponges, I’ll get Stu straight onto it. Soggy day here too and we have some land surveying happenjng! Sxx

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