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I’ve been reflecting on habits recently – on how hard it is to let go of the ‘bad’ ones and how equally hard it is to introduce new and desirable ones (like writing regularly – or maintaining this blog!).

It’s a bit like digging the bamboo out of our new garden – a job that demands perseverance, hard work and a clear vision for many months (if not years) to come….but will be so worth it for all the space and light it will open up in which we can plant natives and edible foods.

 

Bamboozled by Bamboo

 

A few weeks ago I was talking to someone who’d ‘given up’ on the bamboo in her garden and allowed it to take over wherever it wanted.  I felt quite disheartened when I heard this and was tempted to give up myself (yes, before I’d even begun to tackle it!).  But this week I spoke to another friend who’d successfully got rid of his with a mattock, lots of sweat and several months of regular digging and chopping – being vigilant to remove all the root-fragments.  So far none of it has reappeared.

This story inspired me and made me realise how important it is to bolster our fragile visions and good intentions by reading and listening to others who’ve changed their lives in similar ways.

Like some of my writing students, I struggled to produce writing twice per month during my year-long FreefallWriting mentorship with Barbara Turner-Vesselago, and a couple of times had to postpone or extend agreed deadlines, but about half or two-thirds of the way through the year, something shifted in me – I found a voice and a flow in my life-writing that gave me new confidence and faith in my writing journey…that it was taking me somewhere I needed to go (even if I couldn’t see the end-point of the journey).

Making the transition into writing fiction has been another long trudge into the unknown…many times I was tempted to give up and head home to the old familiar lands of life writing…but again I’ve found a voice and style that’s easy to slip into when I make the time to sit down and write.

So have faith in your writing journey, in the wisdom within you that signed you up for this camel-trek.  And it is a bit like trekking across the desert, with only occasional oases of inspiration, but no great green land on the visible horizon.  I can only tell you it’s there….perhaps just beyond your line of sight….and you will find it.  If you persevere, believe in yourself and surround yourself with others who believe in you.

Follow this link to leave your comments and tips on changing old habits and developing new ones.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Some inspiring links:

An inspiring little book on the gentle art of regenerating the bush with minimum disturbance.

One of my teachers, Diane Harwood, has kindly given me permission to share the notes she’s developed on bushland regeneration.  These are based on an inspiring little book by Joanna Bradley plus Diane’s many years out in the Denmark bush, weeding and caring for local reserves, finding out what works and what doesn’t by trial and error.  I have copied these notes below and included an image of the book jacket, in case you want to source a copy for yourself.  We’re reading it as part of our course and it’s a delightful story of two sisters in New South Wales in the sixties who were dismayed by the widespread infestation of weeds along their local walking tracks and decided to take matters into their own hands.  Over the years, they proved  that “systematic hand weeding, carefully done, was a spectacular success.”  Both women were in their fifties and claim they did not work hard, but were persistent, selective and particular about their methods.  Joanne Bradley says, “Bringing back the bush is a gentle art, demanding a strong will and patience.”

I’ve used this gentle approach to bushland regeneration as a metaphor for the personal journey towards sustainable living and creative expression in other posts.  It’s given me new hope that I and others can make a difference to the future of this planet by gently plugging away in our own areas of interest and skill.

I’ve copied Diane’s notes below for your inspiration and education.

ON BUSH REGENERATION

Notes by Diane Harwood

Inspired by
Bringing Back the Bush: The Bradley Method of Bush Regeneration by Joanna Bradley

The “Bradley” Principles of Bush Regeneration

  • Work from good (ie weed-free) areas towards bad
    (ie weedy) areas
  • Make minimum disturbance
  • Allow the regeneration of native plants to dictate the rate of weed removal

Words of Warning

Don’t start on a large weed infestation unless you are sure you will get back to do the follow-up work. Removing the parent plants may create light and space for hundreds of new weed seedlings.

Don’t remove anything you are not sure of. Many weeds have a native look-a-like, and some of the weediest-looking plants are important members of the local plant community.

Aim for control, not eradication, and tipping the balance in favour of the local native plants.


Applying the Bradley Principles

  • Assess extent of area to be weeded, taking into account surrounding land-use, and considering potential sources of weeds. (When assessing, be careful not to brush against seed-bearing weeds.)
  • Note which weeds are present, their growth habits and life cycles, and the density of the infestation. (Remember some plants have dormancy periods.)
  • Plan to prevent the least weed-infested bush from becoming degraded.  Aim for control, not eradication, and to tip the balance in favour of the local native plants.
  • First step is to remove any seed-bearing trees, plants or parts of plants without spreading the seeds.  Catch on tarp or place into bags.
  • You may need to make a traffic plan, especially when working with a group.  This is important to avoid trampling and damaging native plants and spreading weed seeds through clean bush.
  • Next, dig out or cut any isolated weeds or ones that are directly inhibiting native plants.
  • Use a fork or crow-bar to loosen the soil, then pull weed out, allowing all soil to remain in place. Replace leaf litter. This helps to deter further weed outbreaks.  Leave fallen logs, twigs, bark etc from native species to provide shelter and nutrients.
  • In some cases the uprooted plant can be left as mulch, but generally it is best to remove all weed material from the site.
  • Do not allow piles of weeds to get too big to handle; always consider the next step – removal from the site and disposal.
  • Disposal can be a problem: if possible put the material through a mulcher, then compost it if necessary to kill seeds.  Alternatively, place in pit and cover, or burn.
  • Whichever method is used, take care not to infect new areas!

A tangle of Dolichos Pea, Bridal Creeper and other weeds in the Morgan Street bush reserve close to Denmark town

Last year a group of friends and I worked through Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way over a period of about six months.  We decided at the outset that none of us were in a hurry to get anywhere and we weren’t going to have any hard and fast rules for our little group.  And so we met fortnightly instead of weekly, we turned up regardless of whether we’d done our “homework” from the previous meeting and we each set our own pace towards what Cameron calls “artistic recovery.”  No one was excluded or made to feel bad for missing meetings or leaving some tasks undone.  In short, we dispensed with idealism and approached our journey with gentleness.  It was remarkable what we each achieved in that short time.

What if we could form groups like this supporting each other to live more sustainable lives?  Not a twelve-step recovery program based on the disease model of addiction; but instead a spiral path woven organically, uniquely for and by each individual.  No set goals.  No experts on pedestals or prescribed utopia.  No success or failure.

One person’s spiral might travel in wide circular sweeps, tightly layered one above another – little progress apparent from the outside, but from the inside a steady slow strengthening of resolve and deepening of self-understanding across many areas.  With each turn of the spiral we have an opportunity to revisit past issues and insights, taking the lessons deeper into our souls.

Another person’s spiral might move upwards very quickly, impressive from the outside, a gleaming tower of silver coils.  It’s easy to gain height quickly when we narrow our focus.  Such individuals blaze a pathway for the rest of us as we travel more slowly, attempting to gather in all the strands of our complex lives: to parent consciously, to eat healthily, to recycle, to grow our own food, to find meaningful work, to express ourselves creatively, to contribute to our community, to find inner peace etc…

Who can do and be all of these things?  And yet how harshly we judge ourselves when our weakness in one area is shown up against another’s passion and commitment:  the mother of three who rides with her children to and from school by bike every day; the young man who grows most of his food in the backyard and tells us we should all be doing the same; the musician who spends her days and nights writing and recording music to inspire hope and change.

Diane Harwood, lecturer in Conservation and Land Management specialising in Bushland Regeneration.

I think again of our lecturer at the Great Southern Institute of Technology, Diane Harwood, who through decades of commitment to caring for local bush reserves has developed the philosophy of a peaceful eco-warrior.  (I will share some of the guiding principles she has developed over the years for bushland regeneration in another post.)

“If you go out to work with hate in your heart, it’s not good for anybody,” she tells us about weeding the bush.  “Cleaning up and making it all nice is not what it’s all about” (i.e. making it look good for the public.)  She tells us the story of the Bradley sisters working in Sydney in the seventies, who developed an approach to weeding the bush that focussed on working with the good areas or supporting the natives.  “We’re encouraging the bush, not the weeds.”  And that’s very different from setting out to eradicate what we don’t want.

If I apply this approach to my life, I can look at my strengths and ask how I can use those talents, interests or capabilities to create a more sustainable world for myself, my family and my community.  My strengths are equivalent to the native plants that belong in the bush and that thrive when uninhibited by disease, pests, weeds or a harsh climate.

I’m not a gardener (I’m famous in my family for not noticing we had a back lawn until we’d been in our current rental home a couple of years); so growing food looks almost impossible from where I stand now.  I live in a big house with lots of stuff I don’t need (see my first post), with a family who devour boxed cereal, packaged snacks and sugar.  We have two cars and an ecological footprint I dread to measure.  I could go on about all the ways in which my family and I fail to live sustainable lives.  (And sometimes I do ‘go on’ to myself.)

The question is does this help me to change?

Perhaps the most passionate environmental activists are their own worst enemies – setting the bar so high we listen to them and feel defeated before we’ve begun.  Driving home with my twelve-year-old son in the car the other day, he announced out of the blue “I think we should all kill ourselves.”

“Who?”

“The human race.”

“Why?”

“Because we’ve messed up the planet.”

Is that the message we want to give our children – one of fear and despair?  And even if the situation is hopeless and civilization is on the verge of collapse (as some predict), does this mean we shouldn’t try to make a difference in whatever small way we can?

I draw comfort and inspiration from Di’s philosophy.  Bringing it home, I see I have strengths in writing and communication, and this is one place I can make a difference.  In other areas, like understanding the bush or growing food organically, I’m a child taking baby-steps and I know I’m not getting anywhere fast.

I have decided to step slowly and patiently, to seek out and be guided by teachers who are wiser and more experienced than I (more about them in future posts).  Mostly they aren’t people you’ve heard of — unless you live in the small town of Denmark, Western Australia.  They haven’t written any books or won any national awards.  They are ordinary people living quietly extraordinary lives, following their passions, building on their strengths, changing the world for the better and gently inspiring others to follow their lead.

And so I say: Let us be gentle on ourselves — set small achievable goals.  Nurture and build upon those strengths and interests that come naturally.  Anything that undermines or strangles these native talents is a weed requiring attention.  These are the habits most important to replace with self-nurturing behaviours.

One of my bad habits is skipping my morning exercise routine and starting the day feeling fuzzy-headed and unmotivated.  Learning qigong has given me something I can do for ten or fifteen minutes to lift my spirits and energize my body quickly on days I’m in a hurry.  This simple life-style change has helped me find the time and energy to recommit to my writing projects.

Focus on one step at a time.  Set realistic targets and be prepared to let them go, change them or revisit them until they are second nature.  Above all, don’t compare yourself with anyone else.  No one is quite like you: no one has your unique combination of strengths and insights, and no one has lived through the challenges you have met.

Sustainability isn’t just about living in harmony with the Earth.  First and foremost it’s about living in harmony with our selves and each other; setting aside the judgements that arise from idealism or comparison and recognising each of us has access to an innate wisdom that will guide and strengthen us, if only we let it.

Di with some of our merry band of Conservation and Land Management students. We come from all walks of life, each of us passionate about understanding our local bushland and making a difference.

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.

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