One Sleep ’til the Windows Arrive: The joys of owner building

August 2, 2009 – 9:52 pm
The Guest Bedroom, August 2009

We’ve been living in our shed for three and a half years. House under construction for two and a half”¦


And on Friday the windows arrived for the guest bedroom in our house-under-construction project. It has walls, doors, a roof, a floor and almost windows.


Tomorrow morning at 9 am Ken is coming to help Karl install them.


I’ve been reflecting about how much this means to me. It’s so marvellous here these sparking winter days.


It’s absolutely freezing at night as we huddle around a fire on the deck in our Mexican chiminea. Then it’s up to 30 during the day.


Many blessings


I’m blessed to be living in a rural paradise, awakened by the raucous laughter of a dozen kookaburras in a nearby tree.


Spending late winter afternoons watching a family of five wallabies relaxing and eating the new grass shoots on the lawn.


I WANT TO SHARE THIS. But it’s not much of an offering to urban people who have baths and toilets and kitchens when I say I can offer a tent or a rat-infested shed. A wash under the hose.


A lovely prospect


But the prospect of putting a bouquet of fresh flowers in a vase in the guest bedroom, hanging ironed curtains on the new screened louvered windows, setting out a few good books on the bedside table, a candle, incense”¦ that is such a delightful imagining.


It brings a great yearning to my heart. Many dear friends have visited us in our chaotic circumstances.


We’ve trudged them around the muddy building site, stumbling over piles of timber and peering into unfinished rooms, gesturing where rooms could be, how the roof could go”¦


“I couldn’t live like this.”


One, appalled, could only say, “I couldn’t live like this.” Others have hugged us and offered all means of encouragement. Very great encouragement. Everyone marvels at the beauty of the place.


Tonight I was sharing my enthusiasm for the guest bedroom by phone with Leonie, twelve thousand miles away.


Maybe she’ll come to visit after Christmas. We might have the box gutter sorted out by then. I reassured her that her room is rat- and python-proof, fully mossie-proof.


It has a great view of the escarpment.


Great ventilation.


A private verandah. It’s very quiet. We even plan to have key locks on the guest bedroom doors so that guests can leave valuables and not be worried by our relaxed rural attitude to security.


So, one more sleep to an almost-ready guest bedroom. One more step toward the hospitality I dream of.


Feels like Christmas Eve.


Sad postscript the next day: The windows were too big for the spaces. It was the Builders Picinc Day in NSW (a holiday I had not heard of!) so could not sort it out.


Much disappointment. (Watch this space”¦)


A day later: Ordered new windows. We’d apparently violated some window-measuring protocol. Supposed to call it “make size” to include the window reveals (whatever that means”¦)


Our fault.


But they fit in the living room. Still, it’s not the same.


Ken did a great job of brushcutting instead”¦


Sept. 7th, 2009: The windows are in. At last! It’s gorgeous. It’s ready for guests. Cosy and homey. Not exactly “finished” but filled with love.


March 2010: The exterior walls are insulated and clad, two new windows added above the original ones, an internal screen door to allow for more cross-ventilation and we’ve had our first proper guest.


Now that we can offer the convenience of a beautiful composting toilet next door, it’s even more inviting.


Come to visit!

The Guest Bedroom March 2010



Why is community engagement central to achieving sustainability?

15 June 2009 at 2:38 pm



Sustainability Fatigue


I’m getting the feeling that our communities are being engulfed in a wave of “sustainability fatigue”.
“Don’t talk to me any more about climate change,” a friend says over coffee in the Village. She cradles her coffee and mumbles, “I’ve had a gutful of all that pessimistic talk!”


Two small Aboriginal children are playing in the courtyard of the Rainbow Cafe. I look past them to the mountains, the landscape, our home”¦



Deep breath. I turn back to my friend.


“I mean it, Wendy,” she groans. “A gutful!”


Breathe again and think”¦ I’m worried that her response will translate into wider community overwhelm, frustration, even apathy.


We cannot afford to have that happen!


So why is community engagement central to achieving sustainabilty – and the other way around? We write about this quite a bit in Chapter 3 of KTS. Here’s a short summary:


First good reason


First are ethical and practical reasons: in a democratic society, those whose livelihoods, environments and lives are at stake should be engaged and involved in decisions that directly affectthem. Community-initiated projects and processes empower people to take action in local community development. Canadian planning academic and practitioner, Peter Boothroyd, recently reminded Nancy, his student, `To participate is to be human’.


Second good reason


Second, community engagement provides opportunities for developing a holistic sense of sustainability, where people make decisions using local wisdom, values, information and knowledge.


Third good reason


Third, community engagement contributes to the efficiency of a project or program. Targeting local needs and preferences always saves time and money.


Fourth good reason


Fourth, by addressing local social and cultural needs, community engagement processes can help develop micro-scale policy approaches that fit the community and its particular resources, skill sets and preferred approaches.


Fifth good reason


And finally, community engagement helps to build local accountability. (1)


Perhaps these arguments will be helpful when you are encouraging communities to engage with sustainability.


And sustainability practitioners to engage with communities.


I am sure there are lots of other good reasons.


Please tell me your ideas. I welcome your comments.




Sarkissian, W., Cook, A. and Walsh, K. (1997) `Core Practices of Community Participation in Practice’, in Community Participation in Practice: A Practical Guide, Murdoch University, Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy, Perth, pp. 33-82.

Living with a Gypsy

July 5, 2009


Today the Gypsy and I were sorting hardware. Nails and screws.


It’s been a rough week in community engagement and I had to do something else than listen to bureaucrats and aggrieved residents.


I had to get my hands dirty. Get grounded.


Living on a building site generates a massive amount of mess. It’s hard to manage from day to day, particularly with few dry places to store things. Today we were sorting roofing screws from other screws from nails and clamps and tools of all descriptions. Rusted saws (it’s humid here), worn-out paint brushes. Dead paint tins. Odd unidentifiable objects.


Very therapeutic.


Gypsy’s work bench


I have attempted to clean up the Gypsy’s work bench a number of times in the last sixteen years with little success. He’s always tinkering. Genuinely of Romany blood (probably about one-third), he’s a tinker by nature and genetic disposition.


There is nothing he cannot fix.


We discovered that the solar garden lights you buy at the hardware store have a life of about three months and then they start to decline into fickleness, eccentricity, dementia and finally death…


But the Gypsy keeps at them. Resuscitating them. His table is littered with carcases of globes and pickets as he revivifies them one by one. He recharges their yellow batteries and cleans their connections with my nail file. The he gently sets them back to glow along the gravel path.


There are knives to be sharpened and electrical equipment to be repaired. And when the rain took out the phone, endless tinkering with a huge range of cords and adapters to make the phones work again.


Birkenstocks glued back together


I grew up in a household where everything was broken. So I love this quality in the Gypsy. He’s glued my favourite Birkenstock sandals back together so many times they were mostly glue. He’s taken to collapsing Ikea furniture with an artisan’s disdain and made it stand upright again.


He’s built, maintained and endlessly repaired our tarpaulin “hootchie” where we lived for the first few years.


The “hootchie” 2001


His garden is a marvel. His tomatoes to die for. And those chillies!



Old skills


HIs are the old skills. Resilient skills. Like mending and sewing. Knitting. Chopping firewood. Canning peaches. Putting up jams.


Skills we need for the Great Turning: persistence, repair, restoration and loving care.


From my office, I can hear the sounds of kindling being chopped. My chilled limbs predicting another fire in the chiminea.


I am blessed to be the beneficiary of these old skills.


Blessed to be with the Gypsy.

Fog in the Valley

19 June 2009 at 9:09 am




When there’s morning fog in our valley – as there is today – I go inside. I can no longer see the sacred mountains my activist neighbours saved from logging with fierce campaigns in the seventies and eighties.


My daily glimpse of a politicised landscape to remind me what’s important.


What we’re fighting to save.


My forest.


Even my tiny glimpse of the neighbours is blocked this morning. The fog even seems to silence our tiny ephemeral creek that, this year, is running in the so-called ‘dry’ season.


I go inside.


I stay by my window, inside my memories.


I sit at my desk looking into a wide, grey expanse. Breathe. Then it all comes back.


Vancouver fog in my home town.


I grew up on the boundary of a big city, right at the edge of a dark forest. Most mornings I awoke to the sound of fog and foghorns…





Hoooo hoo.



There were no trees in my suburb. The original forest had been shredded and pummelled flat in response to someone’s unrealistic expectation of building a landing field for small planes. I could not see single living tree growing by the new houses. Not one, not a single one.


In the early days, in the forties, when the houses were brand new, the mountain lions … or were they cougars..? who could say? … still crept down from their forest lairs and along the river banks and wandered the dark winding streets.


Afraid of them and their wildness, prudent householders barred their doors against their shadow-presence. They dreamed of chasing them back to the river. Chasing them back to the remaining vestiges of forest high on the mountain.



After some research, I discovered why we had so much fog in Norgate Park in the early days.


The sawmill not far from our place was still operating and there were few controls on emissions in the forties and fifties.


When the sawmill closed down (they’d cut down all the forests), the fog stopped.


No more mournful foghorn tones in the morning.


But I was gone by then – to seek adventures elsewhere.


What do these musings have to do with fog in Nimbin in 2009?


I’m not exactly sure.


We saved our forests in the Northern Rivers.


Fog is natural in the Rainbow Region.


But this cold winter – colder at night than Vancouver – with frost in the valley- my neighbours – and even our small household – are burning timber in fires and stoves.


How ‘sustainable’ is that?


Knispering: Are Rats Smarter than Humans?

Jarlanbah Eco-village, Nimbin, NSW, 17 June 2009


Karl in the Shed


The Introduction to Kitchen Table Sustainability starts the book off on a bucolic, if pessimistic, note.


Three of the authors are sitting around the tables on the porch of our shed here in Nimbin and speculating about the future and the future of all generations – of all beings.


So far, so good.


All beings


All beings. Good Deep Ecology thinking for a woman with a PhD in environmental ethics.




May all beings be happy and free from suffering.


All beings. Hmmm.


Karl in the shed


For the past week or more, my husband Karl has been up a ladder in the shed with me acting as the trades assistant, that is, holding the ladder.


And what are we doing, two ageing humans with six university degrees between us? We’re trying to rat-proof our 6 metre by 6 metre shed.


So far the little suckers have eaten everything in sight. I mean everything: lids to glass jars, lids to boxes, boxes of files, toiletries, creams and lotions and vitamins and calcium tablets,aspirin, the plastic water filter cartridge AND the carbon pellet contents.


The only thing that dissuades them is a locked metal filing cabinet, which now holds cereal, nuts, and other treasures I’m trying to rescue from the chaos.


Messy eaters


They’re very messy eaters so the floor is littered with their droppings, washed with their urine and blanketed with a multicoloured carpet of half-chewed plastic, cardboard, paper, cellophane, food, vitamins…


The rats came in when the floods came and the winds blew the iron off the roof.


The python followed them, but it got too crowded in the roof space for everyone. So the python (we dreamed he’d evict them) departed after knocking everything off the tops of the bookcases.


He was a messy worker, too.


We’d had lots of rats and marsupial mice before.


But now, apparently sensing that Karl (with a stern countenance, rolls of vermin mesh, a drill and metal rods to attach the mesh to the walls) means business, they are redoubling their efforts to chew up and through everything not locked in a metal box.


Local remedies


All the local remedies are futile: scattering chilli powder where they go, various humane and not-so-humane traps, ratsack, traps camouflaged in potato crisp bags…


Nothing works.


Fortunately, we’re not sleeping in the shed any longer… because the night-time antics of one small mouse can drive an adult human berserk. And quickly.


Tearing out the door and baying at the moon seems a perfectly reasonable response when you have been wakened a dozen times by what German-speaking Karl calls “knispering”. “Knisper! Knasper! Knusper!”



Knisper away


Well, knisper they may. But not for long. We’re coming to the end of the job of securing the downstairs of the shed so that they will have to knisper only in the roof space and not in my cherished envelopes of chocolate pudding or my treasured antique fan.


They’re smart, these little creatures. They’re persistent and wily. They make plans for their future.


They take care of their family’s needs. So they should be worthy of consideration as part of our ethical community. (See chapter 3 of Kitchen Table Sustainability.)


They’ve outsmarted us for years. We may be bigger and have bigger brains, but, trust me, rats are not to be underestimated.


I definitely don’t think we humans are the pinnacle of creation or the top of the evolutionary pyramid when I’m standing holding the ladder for hours on end, ankle-deep in rat mess.


And I wonder: what will happen when Karl is too old to climb up the ladder and manage a drill and I am too frail to hold the ladder?


Will rats rule then?


All beings!