What do bush regeneration, creative writing and household decluttering have to do with each other?

“Weeding is not warfare,” wrote our Conservation and Land Management lecturer, Di Harwood, in big green letters on the whiteboard last term.  And this axiom captures the essence of her gentle approach to regenerating local bushland reserves. Again and again she has stressed there is nothing to gain from hating the weeds that threaten our native bush, nor from attacking them in ruthless blitzes that might look impressive initially, but are sure to have a disappointing impact in the long-term.  Razing weeds to the ground, leaving large disturbed patches of earth only opens the way for more weeds to move in.  Opportunistic by nature, they will overtake these patches faster than the natives, and we, the exhausted weeders, will watch with dismay as they grow more dominant than ever.

Instead, Di suggests, we begin with those areas of the local reserves where the bush is strongest, where the natives have the upper hand and gently seek out and remove any plants that do not belong.  Never fast and furious, but calm and considered: in a patch of Dolichos Pea, we trace each plant to its roots, removing them one by one, gently patting the surface material back over the disturbed earth, creating small spaces around young natives so they have enough light and nourishment to grow strong.

Photo by NJ le Breton

One of my fellow CLM students traces a Dolichos Pea to its roots.

Recently, I went out for dinner with my friend, Madeleine, who was encouraging me to organise and declutter my home.

“But it’s so overwhelming,” I said.  “I don’t know where to start.”

“Choose one small area at a time…don’t try and be logical about it.  Just choose the one that jumps out at you or the one that’s bothering you the most at the time, or even the one that looks easiest to tackle.  The important thing is to start, and to chip away at it bit by bit.”

I took her advice to heart and decided shortly after to tackle the children’s board games – with pieces distributed far and wide across our five bedroom house, and all mixed together in the wrong boxes, it was a mammoth task that took three of us a good half-day.

Family Games - Organised!

The before picture was too scary to upload!

“You’ll be amazed by what you find,” said Madeleine, “and by the new energy that comes with each ordering and letting go.”

She was right.  That first afternoon the boys and I rediscovered many old favourite games and even some new ones we hadn’t played together before – like Rummy-Oh.  We rebuilt several decks of cards, filled a jar with dice, sorted out the Monopoly, Life and other play money, which had all been stashed away in an old wallet by my youngest, Samuel, and even managed to offload a bunch of games we agreed weren’t that fun.  Since then we’ve enjoyed several family games nights and moved on in our decluttering project to tackle the boys’ bedrooms, my office and even the gutters around the house still clogged with last year’s autumn leaves.

Sitting down to write today, I discovered my creative mind is a lot like my house…full of many unfinished projects, neglected dreams and discarded ideas.  I’ve written three versions of a memoir, still not quite finished, begun a young adult fantasy that was shortlisted for a Varuna fellowship last year and made several attempts to blog.  A recent family crisis has taken me away from my writing projects and I return now to find this garden of words overgrown and chaotic.

In the mental space that is arising as I gradually order my home, I am finding time again to write.  Like an impatient bushland warrior, I want to tear out the weeds of all those strangled ideas and visions that never led anywhere to find the natives: the ideas and stories that are truly mine and that only I can tell.  But which is which?  I’m not sure.  And as I wrote this morning, following one strand after another, I realised the writing journey is a lot like the gentle arts of bushland regeneration and decluttering my home as taught to me by Di and Madeleine.

Before I can uncover stories that have the potential to grow strong and tall, I must sort through all those other thoughts and ideas that sit on the surface of my mind…each of them clamouring for attention, insisting on their own importance and potential.  And perhaps I will need to sit with some of them awhile and listen, to let them spill out their stories, however inconsequential.  These strands of thought are often linked, as plants link to each other, their root systems tangling, their branches overlapping or one plant wrapping its tendrils around another and reaching for the light.  By following what seems an trivial thread, I may find a bigger story waiting to be liberated from a tangle of aspirations, ambitions and insights.

In the meantime, all I need to do is keep showing up at the blank page or screen, allowing the writing to map its own journey through the undergrowth, to find its own shape, purpose and rhythm, beyond the reach of logical plans or imitative dreams.  And so I begin these Tangled Tales: Unravelling the Connections.