“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
~ Benjamin Franklin
Not long now, lovelies, and I’ll be on a plane.
Usually, post-Retreat is a blur for me. I’m always the kind of exhausted that makes moving impossible, let alone thinking or talking. My normal post-Retreat plan is three days of solid sleep. But this time Ben and I only have two days to finish any tasks before flying out to Hong Kong to start a vacation we planned on the 2nd of January this year, and where we could not conceive the kind of reality we are currently experiencing. I can sleep later. For now, there is work to be done.
Normally, if we go away at Christmas, it’s an easy farm-sit that any of our friends can do. The grass will get a little too long, there will be an overload of zucchini and cherry tomatoes in the garden, and the most important task, besides feeding the dogs, is getting the leaves out of the pool skimmer box and remembering to pump water to the header tank every couple of days. When we travel we offset our energy with purchase of rainforest or land that is critical habitat, or we have trees planted – always 10% of whatever our holiday spend is. So we’ve always felt okay about taking a break, and we’ve always worked hard to get to that vacation space, and then gifted ourselves that reconnection and downtime.
As we drive out the gates, our Byron Bay property lush and green and relaxing, we usually have a pang of regret as we leave because home is as good a place to spend a holiday as anywhere else.
But we haven’t had green like that for a while.
Here’s our backyard, taken yesterday. There’s no filter on any of these shots – if it’s green, it’s how it looked two years ago. If it’s eerie and brown and smoky, well, that’s just how it looks right now.
This year we have a friend from the bush looking after our farm for us. We’re in catastrophic drought (in a rainforest area!) and under constant threat of wildfire (in a rainforest area!). So we needed someone who can operate a tractor, use a chainsaw, and prime the firefighter’s pump. Someone with a cool head if there is a crisis. Someone who can feed out a 600kg silage bale to our hungry herd or fix a fence, or evacuate our dogs and open the gates down to the river for the cattle if a fire comes.
I walked around the farm yesterday morning to say my last goodbyes. There were koalas and birds in the trees, but the trees are dying. Everything is dying.
The air was softly blurred with smoke and dust, and the world was crunchy and brown underneath my boots.
Behind the house are 18 huge plastic-covered bales of hay – emergency drought feed for the cows. Ben and Jo have rigged up the irrigator, and run pipes from the swimming pool and the water tank. Jo is under instructions that if a fire is coming she is to rig up the pump, turn it on, leave with the dogs, go somewhere safe, and hope for the best.
Usually, my favourite place to sit in summer is on my front veranda. It looks over a tropical rainforest garden filled with birdsong, and it is gentle to the eye and uplifting for the soul.
Now it’s a dusty barren tangle of bare branches, gnarled trunks and fallen leaves on parched ground.
On a tree that is usually laden with fat green leaves the size of Ben’s large hand there was one single leaf left on the entire tree, and I fear it will be dead by the time we return home in January.
One single leaf.
I cried when I saw that single leaf.
As I sat on my veranda for one last cup of tea before we left, I thought about Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, a Pentacostalist who believes in the Rapture, and who has been looking decidedly chirpy as drought, fire and hardship has smite the rural population. Who told us that the cricket season (that’s sport, not insects) would give country people and firefighters something to cheer for as fire ravaged our land and decimated already threatened species. Did you know that in those places koalas are now functionally extinct? I guess he’s chirpy because this is evidence of the end times and that God will take him up to Heaven soon, and leave the rest of us here to our doom as punishment for being non-believers.
I thought of the two farmers on drought ravaged and debt -burdened properties who have committed suicide this week, husbands and fathers to some of my country friends, and of another friend’s husband in hospital on suicide watch, while she stays home with small children, stretched past capacity and still needing to feed out to the remains of their breeding stock, and to try and keep everyone’s hope alive.
I thought of my friend Carol, alone on her farm near Coraki, while her husband is out carting hay. He’s run ragged, and is grey with fatigue. She’s at the end of her rope too, but what can they do? She has two fire-fighter pumps set up, to save their home and the outbuildings. Which one will she use if a fire comes? She is only one small woman. What will happen to her animals, to her family home, to her?
Everyone out here is unravelling. It’s so much stress. Unmitigated stress. No-one has ever seen anything like this. No water, no rain, no feed, no money. Country towns are dying. People are living lives of quiet, endless desperation with no end in site. No-one in the government will talk climate change. Everyone on the land is talking climate change.
And we’re leaving on a holiday…
It will all still be here when we get back. Or maybe it won’t, and in the end, we need the break after a hard two years, and so we’re packing to get on that plane, but our hearts are back on the farm and our hearts are breaking, and like everyone else on the land we’ll keep doing our best, helping each other, meeting over cups of tea and beers and working out ways that we can act, when no-one else will.
A good sleep, and a few weeks away and we’ll be ready to come back and face whatever comes next.
The best news of all?
Jo called us a few minutes ago to let us know that we had 10.5ml of rain last night, and there’s a little more forecast for the next few days.
That’s a start. It makes us feel a little less guilty to be going.
Sending so much love to you all. And if you see our dogs out with Jo at the beach or a cafe please give them an extra hug from us! Much love, Nicole xx
(That’s Rufous below, looking at me with his sad eyes as I walked out to the car to leave for our trip! 😥❤🙏)