Sunday, 31 July 2016

Observations from the Bay at the End of the Road

I'm at the bay at the end of the road.

A young superb fairy wren, still wearing its juvenile fluff, hops out from under an archway of bracken fern. It bounces about on its tiny legs, seeking small insects from the ground cover of moss, herbs, wattle seedlings, gum nuts and curled pieces of bark. Red sap, translucent, globular and brittle bleeds from the fibrous trunk of a stringybark. Hanging eucalypt leaves and upright tea tree branches intermingle, sharing the light on the forest's edge.
There is a cool breeze, and small droplets of rain fall from dark clouds onto my paper, interspersed by bright sunshine that warms my back. From the picnic table next to me, there is rising steam and the clatter of a camp stove as two grey nomads boil up cups of bushels tea with longlife milk.
The dark tea-coloured water of Cockle Creek spills languidly out from the forest into the sea, sculpting ripples and runnels in the sand. A pied oyster catcher patrols the foam-splattered shoreline, probing for sandhoppers amongst discarded piles of seaweed. The bay is rimmed first by tough green coastal wattles, then a line of hills swathed in wet eucalypt forest, and then the jagged, snow-capped mountain peaks of south-west Tasmania. Clouds billow and swirl across the sky. A pacific gull cruises by.
Tourists pull up in the car park, emerging laced up in their boots and buttoned up in their coats. They peer at the dated interpretive signs and take photos with the 'end of the road' sign. They don't appear to know what else to do and don't stay long. I suppose they drive back to the warmth of the coffee shop in Dover.
My friends have gone for a day walk on the south coast track, but as I have glandular fever, I have stayed behind and am sipping spiced tea from my thermos, writing my thoughts and learning how to be slow.
Just before midday, my fairy-wrens observations are interrupted by noisy motorparade of two utes and two motorbikes. I hear them revving their engines from far away on the long potholed road that curves around the bay. One rider has a girl on the back, but the other is unburdened, so pulls an impressive wheelie through the car park. They parade loudly to the end of the road, then turn around and proceed just as loudly back to their camp. They use the rest of the daylight hours to repeat this performance at regular intervals.
Last night my friends cooked tofu, lentil and pumpkin curry in the parks and wildlife shack. We are public servants, teachers, engineers, climate scientists and conservation workers. Healthy, robust, outdoors people, with goretex raincoats, hiking boots and Tv-less houses. We drove here in quiet, fuel-efficient cars. We drink home-brewed beer, fair-trade coffee, and mint tea, picked from shady spots in our south hobart gardens. Last night we sang daggy tunes with ukuleles around the fire.
During the night, the motorbike kids did a drive by and threw eggs at our cars and shack.
I suppose they would have been hassled hard in the past, by police and parks rangers, for their free-range dogs, rubbish-strewn camp sites and habits of driving their cars over threatened shorebird habitat on the beach.
We wondered what they would eat for breakfast instead, and if they would throw us some bacon as well. In the morning we scrubbed the egg off our boots and the porch with a toilet brush.
The next morning, before the bikers were up, I walked very slowly out to the sculpture of the whale calf on the point, where I read the about the history of French scientific explorers, and of whaling and forestry in the bay. On the way back, I pick up a few beer cans from the beach to put in the rubbish, and a some small shells to give to my disabled house-bound friend in Hobart. Half way, I stop to sit under a coastal wattle bush, and look out at the sea, to gather enough energy to make it back to the shack.
And after the long weekend, we all depart. University-educated greenies and bogans alike, leaving Cockle Creek to itself, the battles of the blue-tailed fairy-wrens and the occasional cold and baffled-looking tourist, at the end of the road.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Non fighting

I live inside a bubble. Sometimes it changes in size. It got small last year for a week or so. I shuffled around the house and lay in the sunshine. But every day I wondered over the edge of the bubble and gave it a prod. I was pleased to find it expanded with relative ease each day. In only 4 months time it had expanded so I could walk up and down the steep road I live on, then cycle to school in Glenorchy and back, then travel to northern Australia for 21 days of bushwalking, finish my next teaching prac and work as a track ranger again.
The bubble contracted again this March.
Outside the bubble is the memory of summer mountain peaks, the undone permaculture projects in my backyard and sea-kayaking in the winter sun.
I can see them, but I can't get there.
This year, when I venture to the edges of my bubble, they are not so malleable. It is a precarious place to be. When I got past the edge, it feels like hot slivers of glass burn into my lymph glands. It feels like shaky ground. I could fall from there.
This week has been the week of accepting that my fatigue illness this year has a different character to last year. The energy expansion is not easy and linear. It has taken bites out of my people energy this time, not just my physical energy. Its edges are painful, and they aren't yet clearly visible. I can stray beyond them and not know until later that I've been there.
So now it is time for discipline. To stay sitting in the centre of the bubble, even if I could go further. To celebrate resting. To forcefully stop myself straying close to the temptations at the edge. To take time to find out how to sense where my edge is before I stray beyond it. To save up for it, if I need to expend energy. To limit my activity in a strict and mathematical way.
Its time to switch into serious glandj-fighting/non-fighting. Feel free to cheer me on when I stay in bed instead of go out and do fun and productive things : )

Friday, 1 July 2016


Glandular Fever – it's a pretty mild version of crap

There's this story about an old Chinese farmer who had only one horse. One day, his horse ran away. His neighbours said, “I'm so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “We'll see.” A few days later, his horse came back with twenty wild horses following. The man and his son corralled all 21 horses. His neighbours said, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!” The man just said, “We'll see.” One of the wild horses kicked the man's only son, breaking both his legs. His neighbours said, “I'm so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “We'll see.” The country went to war, and every able-bodied young man was drafted to fight. The war was terrible and killed every young man, but the farmer's son was spared, since his broken legs prevented him from being drafted. His neighbours said, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!” The man just said, “We'll see.”
And that story is often in the back of my mind as I travel through the ups and downs of life. It tempers the shitty things that happen. And it does also blunt the highs with a certain caution, or perhaps a fear that the joy will crumble. Equanimity is a new word I learnt yesterday. “Mental or emotional stability especially under tension or strain” says the internet. Acceptance of what is, and also its transience. It was the main insight I glimpsed the edge of, when i once decided to try sitting on my bum for 4 days at a silent meditation retreat. (That was hard).
Except its pretty difficult to apply equanimity to some things that are a really deep and shitty shade of shit. Like child abuse and chronic pain and all those words that end with 'cide'. Any good that comes out of that, is small and precious and as defiant as hell. But i reckon it probably is there.
And many many small things are really really fantastic and wonderful. Like existence on this incredible, diverse, verdant planet in the first place. The sun that rises every morning and lights up the clouds on the mountain, and having fresh eggs from our wild chooks for breakfast. Its just that a lot of us don't have time to notice these things in the rush of this busy culture we've some how found ourselves signed up to.
And that is the gift of glandular fever. The slow time. Extended naps in the sunshine. Slow walks and sits in the bush. Cloud and mountain gazing. (Especially when my house mate is off having adventures and I get to sleep in his super sunny room. Ps. You really should have more adventures Dan).
I often I feel a pang of something like: “Ahgr, another wasted 4 months. I could be going places and doing things. I'll forget all my degree by the time I get around to being able to use it, and I'll lose all my fitness and I'm missing out adventures and fun and mountain climbing and body surfing and also making money to afford solar panels and other things..... Like, you know, to do with being 33 and single and ticking clocks all that.” The uncertainty is hard. And the spectre of long term chronic fatigue. I can be caught in a cloud of grumpiness.
But none of those worries make recovery from glandular fever any faster. Probably all that really helps is time. And learning to let go of wanting to be productive and contribute to my house and the world and tick all things off my 'to do' list. Even pushing myself to use this opportunity to get through my 'to read' list, when actually I should be sleeping, not forcing my eyes over text.
Like letting go of cornflour and water so it runs through your hands instead of hardening when you squeeze it.
Somebody told me that when I first had glandj.
Other things that help are house mates who usually bring home the veggies, milk and eggs and cook food, even if I only had the energy to grunt at them last week (sorry guys). Being ahead on the dishes tally so I don't feel too guilty about not doing the dishes! (I might need to let go of that too I guess) Having enough cash from my summer job to not worry about employment and finances yet. Advice from generous naturopaths in the community like Thea. Having a safe, solid and often beautifully sunny house. Having an expansive empty paddock out the back with views of the mountain and the birds and clouds in the sky. The lack of symptoms other than fatigue. A basic meditation practice, and restorative yoga. Having bought a new bed just before I crashed. (Wow my old bed was crap, I never realised until I got a new one). Having an electric kettle and water from the tap and a hot water bottle to fill. Living in a time of e-readers, podcasts, and electric bikes, once I'm well enough to ride again. (A disabled parking permit and an electric wheelchair would probably help more at the moment – I wonder if I could get a kit to convert a tip shop wheelchair to electric?...But apparently you've gotta be disabled for 6 months before you can get a disabled parking permit! I shouldn't be down for that long).
Living in the time of facebook, freezers and friends who bring around home made stew. Having to turn down about 10 offers of stew because there isn't enough room in the freezer. Some from people I don't even know that well. Having parents who would be reliably the first to help if they weren't away interstate (well, just mum is away and dad said I probably wouldn't want to eat what he cooked but he would if I needed). Friends who actually applaud you for asking for help. (I knew you would love it Millie). Its not easy, because it is so easy to feel unworthy. Its not like living on weetbix was going to kill me, right. And there are so many more needy people than me. But home made stew actually kicks weetbixes arse by about 10 million points. If the weetbixes and the home made stews played footie you'd actually start barracking for the weetbixes coz youd feel so sorry for them. So thank you friends and stew makers : )
So glandular fever is kind of crap, but its a pretty mild version of crap, that has lots of flowers growing in it too. And one day I'll be better and ill walk up the mountain again and do lots of things and also I'll stubbornly try, against the current of this culture we live in, to hold onto the main lesson of not being too busy. Of the beauty of slow and of time given to watch the clouds on the mountain.

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