Hay, Hay, Hay – it’s a drought!

“Without water, life would just be rock.” 
Anthony T. Hincks

 

It’s been a strange winter. I can count the number of really cold days on my fingers. Mostly it has been as warm as spring, and sometimes warm as summer. No-one jokes about global warming anymore. It’s here, and the evidence is all around us.

In 2015, in response to rising baseline temperatures at our farm we pulled out an entire heritage citrus orchard that could no longer tolerate the increased UV radiation and heat that has become the new normal in Byron Shire. We’ve slowly replanted with native food trees and tropical varieties of traditional fruit trees. But it’s all a glorious experiment.

The plants on our farm this winter don’t seem to know what to do – some are flowering, some dropped a few leaves, some have leaves dropping and new leaves growing and flowers trying to bud all at once. Birds have nested early or haven’t started yet. Some of our trees have produced two fruiting cycles instead of one, and both of them out of season. Nature can’t seem to settle into any kind of normal rhythm.

The deep frosts that were once a normal part of our winter have become occasional, and not enough to kill the weeds, ticks and other pests that would normally be decimated and controlled by a period of intense cold. Lyme and other tick-borne diseases are rampant, affecting humans and animals alike. It’s worrying. Meanwhile the rising ocean temperatures mean that sea creatures like the Irukandji jellyfish with its deadly sting – once known only in tropical waters – are slowly drifting south and may end up here within a few years too.

Our farm a few months ago, when there was abundant rain and feed.

Around us the neighbours’ farms are already flogged. Winter is our hardest season – dry and cold enough that the grass grows slowly if at all. Feed for livestock always runs low in our district by winter’s end.

Here at our organic farm we have paddocks locked off and we cell graze, rotating our herd through each paddock one by one to give the pasture time to rest and for the grasses to set seed and rejuvenate and the native wildlife to have their habitat too. Looking after our soil and the grasses, plants and animals that create biodiversity and habit is important to us. We still have feed, and we maintain a smaller herd than we could carry for the size of the land, but we don’t want to use the paddocks that are closed off for rejuvenation. When you graze everything down to nothing it can take years to regain that natural biodiversity of species. We’re fortunate to still have that luxury of pasture management. Many farmers have not a blade of grass left and have been feeding out for months or even years.

Looking after our herd is important. They will be used by other farmers to restock their own land and to breed from. These are good bloodlines that we carefully nurtured over years and preserved at great effort during that last big drought.

We’re worried about the summer ahead. Already we have a bushfire plan, and we’re thinking about what we can do to keep our farm green, well watered and fire hazards to a minimum. We’re thinking about how we can help the trees, the bees and native wildlife. We’re planning for hardship if our district ends up going back into drought as much of the rest of Australia already has.

Yesterday we bought a truckload of hay from a farmer we know an hour south of us. They’ll be delivered later this week but we hauled one bale home with us straight away to feed out to our girls – big round bales of dried bluegrass that can nourish the cows and spring calves if rain doesn’t come soon. Our plan is to still try and keep some of our pasture locked off until summer to protect that seedbank and nurture the revegetation we’ve worked so hard to create.

The hay might end up being mulch for our orchard and vegetable gardens too. Everything suffers in a drought. Having endured eight straight years of severe drought back on our old farm we are keen to be prepared, and if necessary to rethink everything. We can’t do another stint like that again.

We’re doing our best to strategise, to think ahead, to plant and grow food that works with the prevailing conditions. Here’s hoping we get at least some of these adaptations right. We also bought hay yesterday to gift to struggling farmers and do our bit to help keep them on their farms. We’ve been in their shoes, and we know how soul-crushing it can be and how isolated and desperate you can come to feel.

Meanwhile here’s a little happy news – our latest addition, a baby male calf that a friend’s son has named Li’l Onion (Eli’s four and thinks of impossibly crazy names for things!).

Sending much love your way, Nicole ❤ xx

PS – Australian farmers are doing it tough right now. Whether they are growing crops, managing dairy herds or raising livestock many of them are struggling from prolonged drought and extreme weather events – and their struggle is relentless. If you’d like to help here are some ways that you can:

Drought Angels

Aussie Helpers

Lions Need for Feed

Salvation Army

 

 

 

 

Was it all a dream?

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“Yesterday is but today’s memory, and tomorrow is today’s dream.”~ Khalil Gibran

It’s 5am. I woke this morning in my own bed. The cool dawn air from the windows flung wide is fragranced with lemon blossom, jasmine, green grass and rich earth. It’s a lush smell. A rich smell. So dense I can almost hold it in my hands.

My little farmhouse looks exactly the same – homey and inviting. Outside the koalas are grunting in the stand of gumtrees near our bedroom window. Birds are tinkling and tweeting their sweet dawn songs. The possum who lives in our ceiling has just thumped home across the roof. He’s so noisy I swear he might have a wooden leg.

Jasminum-polyanthum

I have done some yoga stretches on my bright pink mat. I have meditated on a cushion at the feet of Ganesha on the side veranda, looking out over the dark, still paddocks. I’d forgotten how many trees we have.

Now, while I am waiting for Ben and the dogs to wake I will move the hose around the fruit trees and water my strawberries as streaky fingers of light begin to fill the sky.

The mulberry tree is groaning with fruit, and some of it is ripe. I am joyfully shuffling recipes in my head, wondering how best to use the first berries. Already I have crammed some of the luscious fruit into my mouth. I am a pirate looting her own bounty!

mulberries

There is a softness to the air. There’s moisture, and a hint of rain. Clouds are beginning to thicken in the sky. Mist is curling up from the river.

Misty morning

Soon I will find my swimmers. We’ll leave Bert at home to sleep ( he is exhausted from the adventure of staying with friends and playing with their young children) and Harry, Ben and I will go for an early dip in the ocean. I’ll wash off this Outback dust and reclaim the salty heart of my own country. Then Harry can play Cafe Dog while we eat a good breakfast, drink freshly made juice and savour a coffee.

Today is a day for settling back in. Collecting the mail. Buying food. Replenishing my lyme meds. Making kefir. Getting bloods done. Washing mountains of dirty clothes. I expect there will be naps. I’m so very tired. If I’m honest, I pushed myself on this trip. Sometimes I gritted my teeth, painted on a smile and reassured everyone I was fine when I was less than that. Or worse. And I knew before we even left that I would. But I’m not regretful. It was worth it.

The Outback seems so far away this morning.

But all night my dreams were filled with endless expanses of golden grass, wide blue skies, drovers, dust and history…

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In Search of Greener Pastures…

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“I think we are bound to, and by, nature. We may want to deny this connection and try to believe we control the external world, but every time there’s a snowstorm or drought, we know our fate is tied to the world around us.”~ Alice Hoffman

There’s not a lick of moisture in the air out here. Every day huge road trains filled with decks of cattle roar past, raising clouds of dust in their wake. Out west, up north, they’re all talking drought. While the cattle still have some condition they’re being trucked out for sale in southern markets or adjisted to anywhere that has enough feed. Just in case it doesn’t rain. Just in case things get worse. Stay worse…

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There’s movement in the long paddock too. That’s what they call the traditional stock routes throughout inland Australia, that have been used to walk cattle and sheep between waterholes and stations for generations.

I’ve been watching a big mob of cattle moving between Barcaldine and Longreach. The drovers, their horses and dogs, their support crews – easing these huge numbers of stock along the droving routes.

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How can I not be reminded of my grandfather, himself the son of a drover? My grandfather and his dad would have walked and ridden this same land, slept under these same wide skies as they pushed sheep and cattle from one place to another.

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As I sat in the main street of Longreach the other morning, sipping a latte outside the Lazy Sheep Cafe and thinking of Ceddie (Cedric Nurcombe, my adored maternal grandfather) and how much he had loved horses – a stage coach thundered down the main street. It was utterly surprising. The sort of moment where you suck your breath in and hold it. The coach went all the way to the end of Eagle Street, turned around and came back, before disappearing from view. You could smell the sweat of the horses, hear the thudding clip-clop of the massive draft-horse shoes and the rattle of the wheels on the road, the pretty jingle of the harnesses. It was as if we’d stepped back a hundred years.

I was unexpectedly moved to tears. It felt as if Ceddie was sitting right beside me, reminding me of what his life had looked like. Reminding me that I am on the right track with my own life, as I turn away from what’s not working, and look for alternatives to help me thrive.

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So here I am. Feeling the measure of my family’s history. Achy-hearted and missing my grandfather’s wisdoms and gentle humour. Wishing I’d thought to ask more questions while he was still alive.

My skin’s red from the sun, and dry from the parched air. I’m weathering like leather in this harsh landscape.

And if I’m honest, as much as I’m loving my time in the bush I’m more than a little homesick now for the verdant paddocks of Possum Creek, the deep pooled rivers, the sweet creeks and the broad sweep of ocean which encircles the coast I call home. I’m missing my local farmers’ markets and our abundance of fruits and vegetables, our opulent selection of fresh produce.

This coming drought reminds me of all the times I battled on too long, held out when I should have put my hand up for help or looked sooner for alternatives. Makes me reflect on the current changes I’m making in my life. Finally I’m learning to plan better, think more strategically, be bolder in my decisions. I’m actively seeking a life with less struggle and more flow.

There’s dust in my veins, and a part of me anchored here. A  compass point that keeps calling me back to red dirt, golden grass and blue skies. But in times of scarcity all of us who wish to thrive turn our hearts to more abundant pastures. We look to move hardship to ease. We’re forever seeking green…

Celebrating Nana’s Birthday

Image from mrwallpaper

Image from mrwallpaper

“What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance.  They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life.  And, most importantly, cookies.”  ~ Rudolph Giuliani

My beloved Nana and I were always the ‘September Girls’, her birthday being the 2nd and mine the sixth. It was a special club the two of us belonged to, and since she passed away last year it’s the first September I’ll spend without her.

Yesterday I thought of Nana often as my husband and I travelled through the hot, dry Outback. It would have been her 98th birthday – so close to that magical 100 where we’d joked she would have tea with the Queen.

It was fitting that I started my day with one of her favourite meals – a perfectly toasted sandwich and a cuppa chino (as Joycey used to call her cappuccino). We found a funky little cafe aptly called The Queens Beans in Roma – decked out with gnomes, fairies, astro-turf and all manner of funky retro chic. Nana would have adored it.

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After an early start we drove and drove. Endless miles of dry and barren country, road trains, red dirt, paddocks covered in the silver stubble of long dead grasses, relentless blue sky, flocks of hungry emus and lonely herds of sheep and cattle. Drought is biting hard out here. All the memories of our own struggles on the farm came back (you can read about them here and here), and more than once we commented on how grateful we are to now call coastal New South Wales our home – where it rains often, and beaches and good coffee are just around the corner.

We punctuated the day’s road trip with visits to tiny towns for lemonade iceblocks, cold drinks and toilet stops. There’s been next to no phone coverage, and little on the radio. But that’s okay. I love that after all this time my husband and I still have so much to talk about, to laugh about. Road trips are great for that!

Finally we arrived at our next overnight stop late yesterday afternoon. We dined on a bush veranda at twilight, looking out over a magical sunset, grazing kangaroos and twinkling stars. As beautiful as it was, the skies hold no promise of rain.

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Today we’re meeting a friend at the Barcaldine Bakery to drink tea and eat cake in Nana’s honour. And then on to Longreach, for family research, writing and a little work.

I’m missing Nana more and more, rather than less. It’s only now I’m beginning to appreciate how much she shaped me as a person, and how she continues to. Surely I’ve been blessed in the Grandparent department.

In tribute to Nan, I’ve included links to some of her recipes and wisdoms below. I hope you enjoy them.

Much love to you, Nicole xx

Nana’s Recipes:

Nana’s Curried Sausages

Nana’s Passionfruit Slice Recipe

Nana’s Pikelet Recipe

Nana’s Gingernut Log Recipe

Nana’s Traditional ANZAC Biscuit Recipe

Nana’s Wisdoms on Love and Life:

Flowers, Friendship and Gardens

Listen With Your Eyes

Advice for Life’s Bumpy Bits

And to conclude – a song my Nana used to sing me all the time when I was little. (Hey, it was the 1970’s!)

Hasta Manana, beautiful Nana…

Rain is better than drought…

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I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.

~ From ‘My Country by Dorothea Mackellar

We endured eight hard years of drought at our old farm –  a cattle property in the Lockyer Valley. Slowly the grass turned brittle as straw and the dams dried up as we looked to the empty skies for rain. The cattle ate the grass down to nubs and we trucked in feed, and sold down stock.

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Water was rationed so carefully. A bucket of water for a shower, a quarter of a mug to clean your teeth. The grass powdered away to dust, and then the trees began to die.  The wildlife disappeared, and there were no insects left to bite us, no birds to wake us with their morning call.  Everything was drab, barren, baked brown and devoid of life.

All we talked about was the possibility or lack of rain, the cost of feed and who might still have some, and our great worry for neighbours and friends we knew who were doing it tough – financially or emotionally.  Anxiety, depression, suicide – they became regular visitors in our part of the world. Families broke apart, or walked off land held by generations before them.

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Big kangaroos moved in towards the coast from out west and ended up at our place, competing for what little food was left, and feral pigs rooted up our paddocks looking for roots and moisture.

It was miserable, and it nearly broke us.

dam

So we moved to Possum Creek in the Byron Bay hinterland; a farm tiny by comparison, but so much more fertile.

The locals call it a drought here if we go a month without rain. Right now, rain seems to be all we have.  We’ve been flooded in three times in the past few months, lost power, lost fences and one cow, and had multiple trees and branches down.  Many of my vegetables have rotted in the ground. We’ll be lucky to get a crop from the organic citrus orchard this year.

Luckily our old farm house was built nestled into the side of a hill, so the buildings won’t flood – we just have to put up with a little damp and mold.

Still, I’ll take rain over drought any day. My water tanks are overflowing, and I can enjoy long hot soaks in the bath every day.

When I walk out my door there is an abundance of fresh blooms for my table. Everything seems to be flowering. Green is a colour that is lush and easy on the eye.  There is no hardship in looking out over emerald fields.

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The cattle might have wet feet, and they huddle under trees as the rain belts down, but their bellies are full, and there is water enough for them to drink out of seasonal streams as well as the dams, creeks and river.

ducks on the dam

Everywhere I look there is something to appreciate. Glossy leaves, flowers, new life.

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The local wildlife are soggy, but well fed. During breaks in the rain they pop out to forage, hoping for a small patch of sun to dry themselves out. Then they scoot back under cover as the rain pours down again.

pademelonThe waterways are washed clean, silt is deposited on the flats to renew the soil, and replenishment is everywhere.

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This morning I’m sitting with a mug of tea cradled in my hands, listening to torrential rain on the roof and the mad croak of frogs, and watching the blur of micro-bats gobbling up all the mosquitoes on the side veranda. I’m wondering if it’s nearly time to go.

Lyme and my meds are giving me a twitchy right eye and a stabby, burny left eye, headaches, joint pain and my big fat heart is twinging a little too much for my liking. Not a great look for getting trapped on the wrong side of a wall of water.  The weather radar shows rain, rain and more rain today, and predicts the same for the rest of the week. At sun up Ben will go check the causeway and sad as it will make me, it looks like we’ll be heading back to the city.

Maybe I’ll go buy some new gumboots while I’m there.  When Bert was a puppy his needle-like teeth put pinholes all through my left gumboot.  It would be nice to have two warm dry feet instead of one warm dry foot and one cold soggy one!

gumboots

This gorgeous gumboot image by Julia Wright

Drought, Poetry and Roses

Image by Nick Moir

Today’s post is inspired by a flower – a single rose blooming in my garden. Bless that rose, and all she means to me…

A few years ago we weathered eight years of the most horrendous drought. Our farm in the Lockyer Valley was baked brown, and it seemed surreal to be without water up there, and then to come back to Brisbane (an hour’s drive, door to door) where the pop-up sprinklers in the neighbours’ lawns spilled gallons of water into the gutters each night and everyone took twenty minute showers.

It took a few years before it affected Brisbane, but soon water restrictions became a way of life. As the drought took hold, the restrictions became harsher. At the farm, in town, gardens withered, trees died, wildlife dissapeared.

It was one of the hardest and most dispiriting times of our lives.  Friends walked off properties held by their families for generations, depression and suicides were rife in our farming community. There was no water to be had.  No feed to be had.  They were desperate times.

The moisture, the very life of the land, was sucked away, and all we were left with was dust.

This poem describes one hot, miserable summer morning at our farm:

DROUGHT BIRDS

Dawn breaks grave quiet

There is no chorus,

no cicada buzz or insect hum.

The sky is empty but for sun.

The dying here is silent,

swaddled in summer’s thick blanket

of heat and dust.

Drought birds perch in spindly-limbed trees

their white coats stained rust

chests puffed to give a futile impression

of longevity.

They gasp shallow rents

of earth-baked air,

song long forgotten in their misery.

Hard to gulp down,

this breath which desiccates the living

from the inside out.

Slowly bodies become hollow fragile things,

skin a ragged quilt of lice

and dirty feathers.

Drought birds.

They cling to the memory of wing.

If you reached out and touched one

it would crumble to nothing in your fingers

and blow away on the wind.

Drought birds litter empty waterholes

carcasses light as a dream.

Everything changes. Eventually the rains came. And with them, one small miracle.

Our Brisbane house was built in 1937. Down each side of the house they planted roses. Some of the original plants had survived all those years.  But the drought killed them off, one by one, these old darlings.

Or so I thought.  After a summer of soaking rain, one gnarled old stump shot up a single strong water shoot.  Within a fortnight it bloomed – one magnificent red rose.

Now, whenever this old rose blooms, I am back there in the hardest of times, and simultaeneously I am reminded of hope.  Everything changes, and life has a bitter-sweet beauty I would not trade for all the ease in the world.

Of course since then, we’ve had floods.  And once again the Lockyer Valley took a beating. I wrote about it here – Musings on Melancholy – my own little ‘Lost In Translation’ Moment. In the end we sold our farm and moved away. It was the right thing to do. I’m sure you’ll understand. Now we are nestled in gentle coastal country that is always green, always lush. It has rejuvenated us in a way that only nature can.

Seasons come and go, inspire poetry, life moves on, roses bloom, hope springs eternal. ♥