I love you beautiful funny girl, especially your adorably funny little song of happiness when you’re excited. Be happy always! I’ll always think of you with happiness and love. I love you dearly Jessy.
People say you’ll go to heaven when you die. Who says you’ve got to wait that long? Here’s the news: there is life before death.
It is 7.47pm on Sunday evening, the first of January. At about 6pm I was driving in my small car from Carisbrook, where I and the dogs had taken shelter from the distracting hot weather for the afternoon down in the park by Deep Creek, along McCallums Creek Road to go see the horses down at Michelle’s place. As I was about 3 kilometres out of Carisbrook, travelling at my usual speed of about 60 kilometres per hour, a late model red sedan coming in the other direction passed me; at exactly the moment before this, a small flock of galahs wheeled seemingly in between the two vehicles, and a galah alighted on the road directly in front of my car, and I looked at his or her bright perky outline and eye turned to me, breast feathers in the fullest blush of pink, crest raised, in one shocked micro-moment of recognition, and in the same micro-moment I thought of all the times I hit the brakes in such circumstances before so that the galah or magpie could wheel away untouched (when there was more than half a second to spare, allowing time for my foot to move in response to the thought), and also in the same micro-moment the galah spread its wings to fly. Then my car hit the galah. The thud in front and rumble underneath. The red car vanished past me. I cried out, “Oh God, oh God, oh God” and my eyes flicked to the rear view mirror: a whirling flurry of feathers, and the small body tumbling over and over along the side of the road. I cried and sobbed and pulled over. Sure it was dead. Got out, looked at the front of the car, got back in crying, drove back, turned around, slowly drove along scanning the side of the road. Poor thing, poor thing, poor little thing. Nothing, then a small flurrying flock of galahs, one sitting up, crest raised, erect but not moving, just bobbing its head up and down. Oh God, it is alive, or not dead.
Pulled over and parked at an erratic angle, but off the road. Approached slowly, the unhurt birds wheeling away up into the trees. Poor thing, why did this happen to you, so suddenly, so unfair and random. Why didn’t I leave the park half a minute later than I did. The galah sat up, its beak open, tongue thrusting in and out. Gleaming light brown eyes shining with life or fate. I retrieved my mobile phone, searched through the listings for ‘Vet – Maryborough’, called, got the emergency locum number, called, got a message with the locum’s mobile, called that. He was in Talbot. I explained. The vet’s voice was patient but definite. In these circumstances, what we do is, you catch the the bird and put it into a box, keep it in the dark and quiet, and I will examine him for you at the surgery in the morning, 11 o’clock. Vaguely I said, Oh, I was wondering if you could come and euthanise the bird for me He reiterated what is done in these circumstances. Very sensible, and I understood. I thanked him and rang off. The damage is done and the bird will either live or die based on that damange, no intervention will help.
While on the phone, a small old fashioned white ute, one of those driven by the farmers, passed, slowed, turned around, parked. The middle-aged man sat waiting for my call to finish. I rang off from the vet and crouched down looking at the galah. As I approached it screeched, briefly flapping and moving away from me a foot or two at a time, skittering across the road to the verge on the other side, its wings fluttering a puff of hope into me, but then, it could not fly, or otherwise, it would fly off, not sit on the leaf and stick littered dry ground in front of me. I spoke to the farmer. What would you do? He said, maybe leave it, it’s moving, maybe it’ll come good. I said, thank you, yes, that’s what i’ll do. I’ll move it further away from the road. Thank you. He said, are you ok? I said, yes, and as he nodded and began to drive away, called, thank you for stopping. He waved.
I crouched by the bird, and it gazed back at me as if with something urgent on its mind, its tongue thrusting in and out faster. A few minutes ago it was living carefree and full of life, now all this pulsating life was present and shining here but in a doomed body, I feared. I looked closely. It could stand on both legs, and it could stretch both wings fully and flap a short distance. But what was the damage inside. The bird sat up, limbs seemingly unbroken, but it swayed slightly to the left and I thought it was almost about to fall over. An enterprising large ant was already climbing up onto its feathers. It was not right. I was not going to catch the poor bird and condemn it to die in fear in a box. Instead, I would leave it here and come back to check on it later, and if it was alive in the morning I’d catch it then and take it to the vet. I went to the car and found a small plastic two-sided container and a bottle of water kept there for the dogs. I took these back to the bird and, crouching down and stretching from as far away as possible, not to stress it further, filled both sides of the clear plastic container to the top with water and placed it in front of the galah, which screeched and raised its crest and gazed at me. I watched it for a moment longer and left it there then, looking back as I walked to the car to see it regarding the plastic container of water, almost touching it with its beak. I noticed that the accident scene was next to a marker, 18, on a bendy white plastic pole by the road.
It was about 6.30. I went to see the horses, fifteen minutes’ drive away. They were fine. I drove back and arrived at marker 18 about forty-five minutes after I’d left the galah with the water. Driving slowly I parked at a short distance, and walked quietly forwards. The land was still glowing with heat, but it had settled slightly. The tree shadows were long and tangled. I saw the container, and the motionless body of the galah now lying facing the other direction, about two feet away from the container. It looked like a grey soft toy with a round coral-pink fuzzy ball as the head. It lay as if it had settled down forwards, head turned slightly to one side, and I stayed four or five metres away, crouching down. I could see ants climbing onto the side of the galah’s head.
I stayed for a few moments and watched the body of the dead galah, paying vigil to what I had done by accident. I walked back to my car and drove on, thinking about how it was only the first day of the year but already something sad had happened. Also that no birds are killed when you drive in a horse-drawn wagon. Not much further on, at the outskirts of Carisbrook, I saw another road-killed galah lying off on the verge, like the galah I had met so sadly. I drove on to come here to McDonalds, to drink iced cold coffee and sit in the cold indoors air and tie the dogs up in the shade outside and give them water, and write and upload the story of the beautiful galah, straight away.
At times I have enjoyed an incredible, luxurious amount of uninterrupted solitude, as at present, and idly fretted about making something of it, although making nothing of it seemed to come more naturally and perhaps be a more apt outcome of the emptiness of solitude, anyway. Certainly, the time I’ve spent doing nothing was far better spent than the even longer amount of time I spent pursuing activities that were driven by fear and pretense. I was being much more true sitting by the sea for two years listening to and watching the waves strike the little rocky cliff, and sitting here watching the sky change from morning to night over the low hills and paddocks. So I can be grateful to be here now instead of running to a false agenda. All that effort, I see everywhere, when people work hard on trivial things. I’d rather do nothing than work on something trivial. Because doing nothing is not really doing nothing; it means looking, noticing or observing what is around. One kind of art may be doing nothing with a pencil in your hand or a keyboard to type on.
The simple lives of animals, with their dedicated practice of behaviours that make survival most likely, and so are most comfortable and natural to them, capture my attention. The total contentment of my dogs when they are sleeping together on their couch at the end of the day (as they are at this moment), or or the horses when they are eating their supplementary ration, or grazing together, rings a bell in me and reminds me of my own addiction to comfort and the easiest way, all the things that make a primate feel safe. In paticular no bond seems so close in the world as that between my head and my pillow, and this profound simple fulfilment binds my current self in a moment to my childhood self and baby self. The feel of the pillow and the bed in which I’m enfolded. The look of the sheets and covers from my oblique, close-up vantage point, and beyond it, the look of the light filtering from behind the blind or through the sarong-draped window in the late afternoon. The feeling of my body. All i really want in life is what i have – food, drink, shelter, warmth, bed, fresh air and light during the day. Comfort is everything to me. The beginning, middle and end of everything is what it feels to be a living body. I think mind, spirit and consciousness are by-products of the body and this is the most comforting thought I could have.
I want to keep living here, and keep some goats as well as the dogs. Goats can teach a great deal about the beauty and spritual sufficiency of the satisfied physical life.
It’s 7 pm daylight saving time and i’m writing this on my verandah – the driving seat of my wagon, which was repaired by my Dad before my recent trip, as the old boards of the seat were rotten. Looking out to the north and east across green and golden rolling hills fringed and topped with great trees and interspersed with remnant and regrown spreads of golden wattle, cassinia and sweeping native grasses, I see the blue hump of Mt Alexander, and when I stand up and look to the glowing west, I can see the Pyrennees on the horizon – normally intense blue, now golden grey in the early evening. New Holland honeyeaters are fluttering and peering from the thick row of flowering exotics in the neighbours’ yard, which shelter and protects the wagon to the immediate west. To the south, behind me and the wagon, across a dirt road and a narrow sloping paddock stands a forest of box and yellow gums on the hills.
My own long narrow L-shaped plot of land now has only low-cropped grass and herbs, but in my mind, as a result of my residence and gradual vague dreaming over the last few weeks, it has thick fringes of wattle on the south, west and north boundaries, a small stand of yellow gums on the top corner and a flowing patchwork of native grasses all over it, interspersed with many small sculptures, all made the same, that collect and hold water in clean, cool hidden containers of glass, earthernware or porcelain, which I use for myself when camping here in the wagon, and for the small round, stone-fringed vegetable garden which is already here (I built it in an hour or so the day before yesterday, using the abundant stones on the block, a round deep pit of ashes where the property caretaker has burnt, over the past 15 years, any stick of foliage larger than a grass stalk he’s found growing here, and the large amounts of spoiled hay and manure left behind by my horses during their brief residence on the block.)
I found a photo of my block as it was in 1995. Abundantly grassed with a nice, open natural planting of wattle, and a tiny dam with reeds at the bottom, which was a feature I loved when I first saw it. (And the little cairn with my street number on it which Dad built for me from bluestones I’d bought and which he carted from Melbourne to Majorca in his trailer .. do you see a continuing theme in my life .. the loving and generous help I’ve been given?) It wasn’t fenced; my later agreement with my neighbour, that he could have exclusive use of the block in return for looking after it, resulted in the building of good quality and useful fence all around, and a trouble free extended absence for me with no need to worry about slashing the grass, but also in the destruction of the dam (seen as a nuisance, an open drain) and the annihilitation of all vegetation other than grass.
That’s OK because i wasn’t the one here, putting in the work to take care of things. I appreciate and value the work put in to look aftern the block while I was away. Now I’m around, and slowly, things will change again.
The horses are now grazing on a beautiful 4 acre block around the corner, where I just took them a light evening feed (which is almost excess to requirement, just enough to top them up, as they’re quickly fattening on the good grass there). I tied the dogs to a sapling in the row of trees outside the fence, and horses up to the fence inside as they ate their food. I walked around the paddock for a while trailing an old chaff bag to collect dried manure, to keep the paddock clean and pile up near the shed for the people there to use on their garden. Walking back to the paddock gate I could see the horses and the dogs all thinly outlined in gold from the westerly sun, under all the wonderful trees, and consciously felt what i’m immersed in all the time here – this incredibly beautiful life. All times of day are spectacular here, like now with the colour shifting, saturated sky and land glowing with colours, and earlier today with the cloudless powder blue above and all around.
Today I felt like my brain may be just beginning to start working properly again, after the intervening period of a few months of simple, unoccupied daily living away from the routine of meaningless paid work, and in the dreamy, space-and-time apart world of the wagon. It’s only just beginning, but enough to give me faith that this way of life is not a waste of time, but the opposite: a release and rediscovery of my self from underneath all the parts I’ve played forever and a day, to fit in, meet expectations and receive measured rewards. I seem to be beginning to be able to think and to imagine. Because living in the wagon, alone in a quiet, simple place away from people and the internet and entertainment and the demands to perform roles that fit me into social stuctures (except in modest, deliberate doses – sessions in the library; favorite programs on Radio National; brief, pleasant and undemanding social interactions; regular, simple, deeply sweet and sustaining times together with my parents) make it impossible for me to continue avoiding being present in moment to moment life, not always being distracted; and after awhile you begin to like it, accept it and work within it, without thinking about it. I like the simple routines of life especially those associated with looking after animals (and, hopefully soon, gardens); while hands and body are busy digging, feeding, measuring, cleaning, the mind is relaxed and unselfconsciously open to what is within and without. The results come in dreams and sudden quiet ideas. It’s only just beginning but I want to continue to live this way.
(A story submitted to the Australian Carriage Driving Journal at the suggestion of trainer Wayne Armstrong.)
This learner driver recently completed a two week journey of 200 kilometres with a wagon, two horses and two dogs from the Barwon River to the goldfields. But why?
Usually I have little idea why I do what often seem apparently paradoxical things. A good example is my compulsive lifelong fascination with horses. I’m actually afraid of them, not being one of those people who feel naturally comfortable around large primitive hairy beasts. Fortunately, over years of lessons with a particularly soothing and patient riding instructor my handling skills and confidence have improved, but I’m still a nervous rider. Indeed, for me horses are a case of “can’t live with them, never seem to let myself live a peacefully easy life without them despite ample opportunity to do so”.
My fears got so bad that having spent 100 pounds for a week’s “working holiday” at an excellent trail riding establishment in Scotland in 2009, I spent the seven days mucking out stables and having cups of tea in the kitchen instead of spending four hours a day out in amazing scenery on wonderful, well-trained, wise old Highland ponies.
I began to wonder if harness might be the way to break through my entrenched and increasing fears. An innocent and yes, amusing assumption – but as it has worked out, in the end not too far from the truth. This is how it happened.
In 2008 I had bought a small modern-built horse-drawn wagon, originally used for a tourism business in which Clydesdales pulled holidaymakers along forest tracks in the Otways. I’d always wanted one and had admired that particular vehicle for years, so didn’t hesitate when it came up for sale. The logic of owning the wagon meant that, on return to Australia in 2010 after working overseas, I had to work towards using it.
The same logic led, step by inexorable step, to sketchily renovating the wagon over the 2010 summer holidays, buying one retired Standardbred (then another when I was fortunately advised, in my ignorance, that this was necessary to pull a vehicle of such weight), having a new centre pole made to replace the original shafts, ordering a new set of pairs harness, having lessons in how to put the harness on and drive; and finally, after a few fits and false starts, to stocking up the vehicle, taking much of the stuff out again to get the weight down, getting into it with my innocent dogs and harnessing my unsuspecting horses on 2 September 2011 and, over two weeks, driving it about 200 kilometres from its location in Winchelsea to my plot of land near Maryborough (the legacy of another fateful purchase made earlier in life). My job in Melbourne having finished, I’d decided this was the right thing to do – take the wagon and animals to Maryborough and set up shop there.
This is how things happen it seems. You do something because it feels right at the time, and then “seeing it through”, as one feels compelled to, leads to unintended experiences.
I did not intend to trot three kilometres in a panic (me, not the horses – they trotted, I panicked) along the Eddington Road on the last day of our jaunt, being passed at top speed in both directions by a ceaseless stream of bogans in cars and trucks (who were unlike the great majority of considerate and careful drivers we met on the journey). Nor did I plan to lose the reins when ground driving the “boys” the morning after our first night’s camp, and so enjoy the impressive sight of them trotting “at liberty” in perfect tandem down the fortunately deserted Cressy Road, trailing the lovely blue reins behind them. I did not envisage proudly harnessing up and driving off with a flourish from our heavenly, restful two days’ camp at Brewster Community Hall, only to discover at the end of the day, south of Learmonth with no yards nor a stick of useful fencing in sight, that I’d left the electric fence charger and neatly wound spool of tape back by the old tennis courts.
I did not anticipate any of the mistakes and amusing situations I got into (and out of, thanks to guidance, good advice and generous practical help from others) on the journey – although I did know for sure that silly things of one kind or another would happen, as they always do. This was the joy of it.
The biggest surprise? I did not expect that I could face difficulties and potential dangers that would usually overwhelm me, and simply find myself dealing with them – not necessarily with complete mental equanimity – but dealing with them nonetheless. Even doing so effectively, more or less! How could this be? One big help was a sentence I read during the second night’s camp, from a book by Stephen and Ondrea Levine, ‘Embracing the Beloved’. Paraphrased, it says: Fear is a reminder to be present, not to run away. These words spoke straight to my soul and for the rest of the journey I was repeating out loud, “Don’t be afraid, be present”. Those words were uttered many times – as we neared bridges with deep culverts on either side, as speeding vehicles approached from behind or in front, as we prepared to cross busy highways, as toey horses looked around first thing in the morning for something to spook at, and as I spotted three fascinated donkeys in the paddock we were passing and knew that the “boys” were just about to see them too (the reaction when they did surpassed even my expectations).
In other words, the daily challenge of breaking camp, harnessing up and going reminded me that I could, should and must concentrate, only and absolutely, on the exact thing I was doing at any particular moment, and that this was all I could ever do. In particular, I did not, and never would have, control over any of the hundreds of things that were liable to worry me, such as an inattentive horse doing a giraffe impression as we passed a field of alpacas, a particularly monstrous and exotic species of farming machinery lumbering inexorably towards us along a narrow country road, or a relentlessly opinionated Pekingese backseat driver loudly commenting on dogs, people and the world in general as we passed by.
I realised that life brings you the experiences required to learn what needs to be learned and heal what needs to be healed. Hence the paradoxical happenings.
This growing awareness helped a lot, but Zen still ever eluded me. Each morning as I fiddled with buckles, dressed up horses and hauled gear around, I felt a bit sick and also frankly foolish to be using this antiquated and fiendishly demanding travel technology when the perfectly easy internal combustion engine was freely available to me. Every yell at my barking dog was one yell too many, and I harangued the horses with too many voice commands and slaps of the reins when the situation got stressful. I did the best I could at the time. I was learning my lessons, but the lessons were taking a while to work their way through my nerves to my fingers, toes and vocal cords. It was very much a case of “progress, not perfection”. And we made it!
It was also an opportunity to take responsibility for my choices. Somehow (but not somehow – by choice after choice!) I’d ended up with a wagon, two horses and a sizeable collection of harness and camping gear, out on the road. I could always call up Carmody’s, give them my credit card number and ask them to take us all home. Or I could just harness up and get going!
Time and again it was the wise and thoughtful preparations and contributions of others that saved me. On the morning of the last day, Jack, being a bit too smart and bored with being tied up to the fence as I dismantled the boys’ temporary motel, decided to stick his foot through the inevitable sheep netting. I looked up and observed the exact moment at which he neatly wedged the thick wire hard up between his hoof and its shoe, and so attach himself to the fence, permanently it seemed. What saved me (apart from his Standy common sense when, after a brief panic and a few calming calls from me, he decided to stand still on three legs and wait for assistance)? It was the foresight of my Dad, who told me what tools to take, including the wire snips. Believe me, I am the kind of person who really needs that kind of fundamental good advice. After getting through my own brief panic and futile attempts to release the hoof with my bare hands, I remembered the snips, fetched them, and the problem was solved within a few moments. Thank you, Dad!
What else did I learn on the trip? The true value of all the wise things my trainer Wayne had told me, such as (especially) keeping a firm hand on the reins at all times. How to win a 40-minute battle with a horse who, having realised on the second day of the trip that playtime is over and real work is on the agenda, has decided he will avoid this by a firm policy of always standing at right angles to the centre pole (hint: it’s not by force). How to be amazed, astounded and mystified at the wonder and hidden stories of the country, the sky, the birds and the animals; how to enjoy the company and kindness of the beautiful people met along the way; and how to be endlessly amused by the horses and dogs. I had a lot of laughs on the trip, at my animal companions and at myself.
So it is that “can’t live with them, can’t live without them” is not so true any more, when it comes to the horses. As I write this – in my dear little, imperfectly and partially repainted, scrappy-looking, incomplete, work-in-progress wagon, on my plot of land under the wondrous black star-speckled sky – I can hear the regular munching sounds just out there in the dark, as the horses peacefully snack their way through the night. Indeed, I am living with my horses. They know me and I know them, better then I could have if we didn’t take this little journey together. Maybe I also know myself slightly better. But really, I probably just know a little bit more about all the things I don’t know.
- L-plate driver: Lesley, 42, 10 years’ riding experience, lacking in confidence
- Fantastic trainer: Wayne Armstrong
- Extraordinary mentor: Gwyn Wise
- Friendly club: Bellarine Harness for Pleasure
- Loving and supportive parents: Jo and Brian Sutherland
- Vehicle: Timber and fibreglass wagon on steel chassis with car wheels, newly renovated hydraulic disc brakes (important) and caravan-style interior fittings, built in the 1970s or 1980s, scrappily and incompletely redecorated.
- Harness: Auscoat
- Horses: Jack (“By the Sword”), 11 yo pacer, and Riley (“More Money Honey”), 10 yo trotter, purchased from ‘Raising the Standards’ in Clonbinane, which retrains and rehomes off the track Standardbreds (www.raisingthestandards.com.au)
- Dogs: Jake and Blondi
- Route: Winchelsea to Majorca via Ombersley, Mt Hesse, Barpinba, Werneth, Wilgul, Willowvale, Pittong, Mortchup, Chepstowe, Brewster, Ercildoune, Weatherboard, Learmonth, Clunes and Mt Cameron
- Campsites: Sides of the road, Crown land allotment, public hall grounds
- Journey dates: Fourteen days, 2-15 September 2011, with two rest days (days 5 and 10)
- Average day’s travel: 3 to 4 hours, 15-20 km
- Essential for success?: High tolerance for freezing cold and abundant clothing and blankets
- Website: storywagon.wordpress.com
It’s Friday 16 September and I’m writing this on my laptop via the wifi service at Maryborough Library. Myself, the horses and the dogs completed our journey from Winchelsea to Majorca yesterday afternoon, a bit after 3pm, taking two weeks, of which we travelled on 12 days (days 5 and 10 were rest days).
My overwhelming emotion is gratitude – gratitude to life, to which I prayed each day to protect and help us, and to those along the way who did what they could to help us – ranging from the faithful phone calls (looked forward to so much) each evening from Mum and Dad, to people like Gwyn, Dulcie, Bill and John, Jane and Athol who made positive interventions to rescue me from difficulties, and (very much) to the kindly and thoughtful motorists who heeded my humble request that they “Please Slow”, and in doing so helped spare my nerves and make our passage that much safer (this last thanks does not apply to most motorists on the Eddington Road, 9 of 10 of whom blithely passed at 100 kph – bogans!).
Yet truly, the overwhelming lesson I learned on the journey was to take things as they come, to focus on only the exact thing I was doing and the exact situation I was in at any particular moment, and to “not be afraid, be present”.
Stories about the journey, the great people I met and the stories I heard will follow in due course, when I get the change to use the internet in coming days. Today I have only a short time available, so I’ll just add some photos to the site today and leave the storytelling for another day.
My love and gratitude to all!
It’s 9.30pm on Wednesday and I must arise from my warm cosy bed at my loving parents’ home in Melbourne at 5.30am to travel by train to Winchelsea, so my eight hours of sleep will be reduced by the exact time it takes to write this entry, plus whatever time I take to pack my bag ready for the morning, brush my teeth and so on.
It must suffice to say that the last two and half weeks have been brimful with tasks, errands, tanks of fuel, packing, unpacking, mucking around with horses, learning how to put up and take down electric fences, and so on into comical details of dealing with camping toilets, camping washing machines, camping showers, camping stoves and sub zero degree mornings, such that you should be glad I don’t have time to write about it.
It’s been a lot of tiring and glorious work – made into a joy by the friendly and generous helpfulness and kindness of those around me (about whom in due course I’ll write here on the Stories page, and on the Love page). Most of all by far, my Mum and Dad. I won’t write more for fear of embarrassing them, but they know how much they’ve done for me, though maybe not quite how much it means to me. It means a lot – everything!
I plan to depart Winchelsea early Friday morning, so I’m off to bed this Wednesday night, full of gratitude for everything. My safety so far, the health of my animals, the help and humour of those around me, the beauty and story of the country around about, the people encountered and the privilege of living in a time, place, country, society, family, body, that lets me do something fun and challenging like this with a holiday.
I’m about to go offline for several days to a week, so am rushing this little site “out” so those kind people who’ve expressed an interest, have something to look at!
There isn’t much content yet, but it’s a start. I’ve got lots more ready to go – especially for the Love and Travellers pages – but it will have to wait until a time when each day isn’t completely full of absorbing activities (not that I would wish for such a day, and it would be contradictory to the spirit of this whole strange step by step adventure!).
It’s a record of an unfolding project with an uncertain destination, sporadically updated with notes from the road when net access allows.
There’s more to write about the activities and experiences to this point, but not now … it’s 2.30am on the night before I leave Melbourne!
All my love and thanks to those who care about my little holiday and have shared such kind and supportive thoughts, words and actions with me. Lesley
It was my last day at work today, and it was a big and happy day. Over the last several days I have received such warm kindness and encouragement from the people at work and today was the same. I received a little brooch and a card from one colleague, a note and a box of chocolates from another, positive uplifting emails and chats from many, warms hugs and kisses from several, was taken out to lunch by the three colleagues in my area, and finally (which was a surprise), all gathered around in a big circle while our boss gave a speech and presented me with flowers and a card signed by all, and I spoke to them all briefly saying how grateful I was for the time there, what it meant to me in terms of making things in life possible, and thanking them all.
In one of its current programs, the site has hosted a an article by a professional storyteller, who explains that “good stories are food for the soul“.
Last night I went out with three friends from work. Over wine and antipasti each of us answered the question, what would you do if you weren’t doing your current job? I said something about being a storyteller and going on a trip with the wagon, horses and dogs to tell stories and hear stories. Celine was excited and said, it can be a two-way thing, it can be about collecting and hearing the stories of people you meet along the way. She was exactly right. I want to do a story gathering and story telling journey. Maybe stories can be audio or video recorded, lodged in a public collection or shared on a website; or maybe just enjoyed in the old fashioned way, between those who’re there at the time, over a cup of tea or around the fire.
You can’t do a project like this, or take a journey like that, without the help of many other people; without relying on people and being open to people. I’ve already had so much help from people: Nicole, Neil, Colin #1, Kevin, Tim, Wayne, Gwyn, Colin #2, and as always my loving parents Brian and Jo, and many others who’ve played smaller but vital roles at the right time – being willing to bring a round bale of hay just when it was needed, hunting out some old rugs from their shed to put on my horses until my newly-bought ones arrived in the mail, or put me in touch with another person who could help with a question or necessity.
On today’s exquisite early autumn day, the stories were told over wheel jacks, drill, angle grinder and paint brush. Colin came to fit and paint the drawbar he’d made to Wayne’s design – it has a beautiful gradual arc to it, made with six welds – and refit the axles (the rear one shortened) and wheels on the wagon, together with new springs on the front axles. My dad Brian came and worked alongside, ripping off rotten boards from the driving seat and one from the deck, measuring up what to buy to replace them with, grinding off rusted-in-place screws and helping Colin with his work.
Next step is calling a brake repairer on Monday. Tomorrow, as long as it stays fine, I’ll work on cleaning and waterproofing the roof, sanding and filling the canopy ends, and giving the right side of the wagon a second coat of paint.
The story of my wagon began ten or fifteen years ago, when I saw it advertised as part of a tourism business. You could hire the wagon and a Clydesdale, and have a driving holiday in the forest for a few days or a week. I knew I wanted to have one just like it one day.
Three years ago I saw the very same wagon advertised for sale. I contacted the sellers – the couple who had run the tourism business – and bought it.
I was living overseas then, and the wagon stayed on the sellers’ property for more than two years. Finally, about six months after I returned to Australia, it was transported to my rented property, where it sits beside the driveway, chained to the verandah post.
Over the summer holidays I began painting and fixing up the wagon, and acquiring the things I need to start using it. These include two horses and all the many things they need (including training), a set of harness which is currently being made, and driving lessons.
These activities are still underway. There’s a lot of work to do before I can take a trip in the wagon, but some progress happens each day. Two new rugs for the horses were delivered today, the harness is likely to arrive next week, and a metal craftsman, Colin, is building the drawbar and swingle trees and has shortened one of the axles. The next step is to get the brakes repaired, and then to continue renovating, painting and fitting out the cabin, including insulating and lining the interior, and cleaning, waterproofing and painting the roof.
Once the wagon is moved out to Gwyn’s property where my horses live – which is far from here, but only 10 or so kilometres from the property it was brought from – the theoretical will become real when I get up behind 1,000 kg of horse on 1,000 kg of vehicle and try (with the expert guidance of the always-smiling trainer, Wayne) to make it all work.
It is happening one bit at a time, like everything. I’ll write the same way.