Jumping up ladders, chopping down weeds,
lopping off dead branches on the mandarin trees,
mixing compost and soil, digging into the ground,
so the new vegetation will grow strong and sound.
I can’t believe how happy these simple tasks make me feel. Can’t quite believe my good fortune. I’ve waited 40 years for this.
And now, with a little help from my friends… Neal’s pruning old fruit trees, cutting out the deadwood. Lizzie’s collecting fruit and nuts in buckets and bags. Slim’s pushing the mower through knee-high grass.
Sergio is digging holes for Lily to plug with little rainforest seedlings, while Nick dumps compost off the back of his ute around young fruit trees ten weeks in the ground, peach, nectarine, mango, avocado and fig.
I’m Johnny-on-the-spot, flitting from one to the next, setting up jobs with a few words of direction, trouble shooting the unexpected, playing briefly with the kids.
Between setting new trees out, and overseeing the team I am getting to meet a steady stream of new neighbours who drop by to say hello and donate some gossip. How blessed am I? A lucky man.
I’m having the time of my life, wandering around with dirt on my hands.
If I could have dreamed it, this is exactly how I imagined it would be. Feet on the ground hands in a tree, working with friends setting things up, making decisions and plans about growing things on my own little bit of land. Finally moving beyond a suburban back yard.
Doing these jobs on my own land makes me so happy.
I dreamed this dream so long ago. Even made my sustainable plans happen in a community on prime riverfront land in the remote backblocks of 1970s hippiedom, rows of beans and carrots, caulies and kale. Such a garden I had, a vision come true…
But dream soon turned to nightmare, a hippy hell as New Age community imploded into communal warfare around its narcissistic guru. Perhaps only those who have escaped the psychological lobsterpot of a cult really understand the horror I am talking about.
Then to top it off, the brief intense flowering of true love cut down in its tracks by the death of a child. Things fell apart.
I was left reeling, staggering through meaningless days.
A decade to recover, to be able to love once again. And when I did it was to a city girl, without country in her heart, no dirt under her nails. When I spoke of these, my dreams, of a place in the country, I got short shift.
But love was my priority. So I put aside my dreams of that farm by the forest, and made a happy home instead. I put aside my dreams for love. And yet, I do love growing things. I consoled myself with gardens – my house garden, a community garden, a school garden, friends gardens, and the old tip site where we are growing a rainforest.
So we made our home together. But the dreams didn’t go away, just changed their face. Became this longing, the quiet ache I did not speak of.
Twenty years passed, happily for the most part despite city life. I had my consolation gardens, but still longed for that farm at the edge of the forest.
Then, less than a year ago, everything changed.
The funny thing is neither of us can recall how it started. Maybe friends speaking of their own plans to make the move. Maybe it was getting fed up with the vandalisation and political opposition to my various consolation gardens. Maybe it was turning 60 and realising it’s now or never. Whatever.
Reluctantly she decided she’d had her fun. It’s his turn now. She came to me saying even though she felt sick at the very thought of it, she was willing to contemplate a life in the country.
She felt pretty safe with my track record for inertia, prevarication and unerring resistance to change. ‘You have to drive it,’ with just the faintest hint of smug lifting the corners of those beautiful lips.
‘I’ll try’, I replied, flavouring my response with the wishy-washiest, most non-committal inflexion I could muster. Didn’t want to freak her out with enthusiasm at such a delicate moment. Inside I was jumping for joy.
Seven months later we are proud owners of 5 acres of some of the best red, volcanic dirt in the country. I am wandering around wondering how much will be orchard, how much will be ornamental garden, how much will be organic market garden, and how much will revert to subtropical rainforest. Ah, decisions, decisions! Such happy decisions.
And now it’s less than a year till we pull up tent pegs and split the crazy city scene. I can’t tell you how happy I am about that…. like I can finally breathe in after holding my breath for twenty years. And my wife who felt sick at thought of moving to the country six months ago, worried she’d be isolated and what the hell would she do? Well in the process of finding our place in the sun we have made so many friends on top of the few we already knew, and now all these neighbours inundating the place today. These country folk are a friendly lot, with offers of help and suggesting we join these community groups, that are all over the place. Sure, not everyone is going to be our new best friend, but there is a vibrant, interesting community here. And we feel welcome.
And where I, like the Roman emperor Justinian might be retiring to grow vegetables,
she is already taking steps to grow her professional practice on this fertile ground. Now she is more impatient to be here permanently than me. How wonderful is that?
I am a fortunate man. Finally, I have found my place on Earth to dig in.