Polly Greeks’ Blog: The beauty of unpredictability

Polly muses over the lessons learnt when life doesn’t go to plan.

It was a fool-proof feeling, James said. Because the large eucalypt was growing over a bank, he had wrapped a rope around its trunk and rigged it to the Hilux towbar. All I had to do was shove my foot on the accelerator, drive fast around the corner, and gravity would take care of the rest. Next year’s firewood would fall neatly along the road.

“Just wait till I shout.” He gave me the thumbs-up before roaring the chainsaw into action. But the more I thought about the scheme, the less I liked it. As the chainsaw whined through the tree’s thick girth, I eyed its height through the car’s rear window and began to feel doubts. Pulling on a falling tree so it crashes downhill towards you is extremely counter-intuitive.

“Are we going to die?” Six-year-old Zendo asked matter-of-factly from the passenger seat. The chainsaw stopped buzzing. “Drive,” bellowed James. Dropping into the passenger footwell, Zen covered his head. “Drive!” I heard again.

Behind us, the tree started to creak. Gingerly, I accelerated forward. Did I really want to pull a massive tree down on top of us? There was a terrible splintering. I shut my eyes. A mighty thump shuddered the ground. The ute jerked as if an orca was caught on the line. When I opened my eyes, the tree was nowhere to be seen.

Up the hill, James was scratching his head. “Well, that wasn’t right,” I heard him mutter as we approached. “You did drive fast, didn’t you?” The tree had fallen down the bank. Luckily, a visiting friend needed exercise, so we set him to heaving firewood rounds up the steep slope.

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It’s funny the way plans go awry. Like an inescapable yoga teacher, country living demands flexibility and presence as nature constantly bends the course away from straight-forward aspirations; delivering deluges that submerge the road, sending pestilences of bugs into promising garden produce and generally muddying priorities as the unexpected hits like a thousand spanners in the works.

A slip buries the water pipe, mason bees clog the califont shower, an escaped horse roams the valley, and wild pigs uproot tender saplings. If we’ve entered into a dance with the natural world through our off-grid forest lifestyle, it’s an impromptu and creative piece of footwork that seems without end.

Proving humans aren’t removed from nature; we can be jolly unpredictable too. When a new gas fridge came home amid joyful fanfare and my enthusiasm was only tepid, James wasn’t the only one to feel surprised. To be honest, I thought I’d be more excited too. Once upon a time, I’d have cheered loudest at the acquisition, but after 10 years of refrigeration-free living, I’d grown used to going without. Lukewarm was what I knew.

A month-long juice cleanse inspired James to become vegetarian.

“But look what it can do!” Marveling at the icy breath emanating from within, James and the kids bustled about finding likely objects to chill. Then my husband had to go away. “You are using the fridge, aren’t you?” he asked suspiciously down the phone.

“Mmmm,” I replied non-committedly, suddenly guilty as I thought of its forsaken shelves. “It’s great for the cheese,” I added. The children loved the novelty of mould-free colby, but the truth was, as a mostly dairy-free family, we didn’t have a lot else to refrigerate.

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There was even less once James turned vegetarian. It was our 30-day fast that did it. Inspired by tales of rejuvenation and miraculous healings, we’d undertaken the cleanse, drinking nothing but vegetable juice and water for a month. Far from emerging emaciated and enfeebled, we felt magnificent, with the mental alacrity of whippets at race time. Suddenly James had no desire for chunks of dead flesh in his gut.

“Welcome to the light side,” I said from Camp Vegetarian. Our chickens, raised partly for eating, clucked in relief as yet another plan veered off course. Meanwhile, James, nimbly dancing to the new rhythm, repurposed the fridge for his sauerkraut.


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