Sunday, 21 April 2013

Playing with Nature

I participated in a Eco-Retreat at Prana Retreat in Opoutere a couple of weekends ago.  It was organised by our kindergarten organisation and several speakers shared different ways of living or teaching within an environmentally-aware state of being.  It was a real breath of fresh air to be in the Great Outdoors, spending time with others who feel motivated to be involved at this level.  Organisations can become too "corporate" in this day and age and it is most refreshing to be involved with one that still cares about the greater environment!  

Prana has that "ye olde Hippy Commune" feel about it, as you drive along the winding driveway, flanked with tall pine trees, catching glimpses of old buses, outhouses and caravans between the tree trunks.  There is the massive 6m diameter yellow tipi, the hand-painted native bird-festooned retro caravans used for accommodation.  At $30 per head per night, accommodation in the caravans is not cheap, but then one needs to pay for solitude and peace!  Hell, if it were cheaper, they would be overrun by humanity.  Of course, there is one composting toilet in keeping in harmony with nature!  Not too unpleasant, though it did bring back childhood memories of living with an outside long drop in Coffee Bay, Wild Coast, Transkei!  I remember as a kid, waiting until I was so busting, then a quick dash outside, a frantic search by torchlight for snakes or spiders, then sitting down and hoping that nothing would slide in under the door as you waited impatiently for business to proceed!  There was nowhere to exit, no place to go if attacked from the doorway!  Snakes loved the warmth of the composting toilet on cold days!  Eeek!  Glad I don't live in Africa no more!

Pine cone fire-starters
Back to Prana, I met Walter.  I immediately like Walter and we set up a conversation about India (him having lived there for some years and my husband having just returned from a stint at an ashram there) and about hope for the world and everything in between.  Walter is the 70-ish caretaker who has lived at Prana for about 20 years.  The kaitiaki (caretaker).  For some reason, his whole being resonated with  the spirit of my father who died about 4 years ago.  A free spirit, roaming through the world, observing others and gathering a quiet wisdom along the way.  My charismatic father, Mdesaleni, could draw a crowd of  cocky, sure-of-themselves young bucks and entertain them with his wisdom and knowledge of wine, women and the world!  He could flatter any lady, irrespective of age or colour, at the ripe old age of 70 and have them eating out of his hands (or sometimes, bed!).  Or he could command the attention of locals on Xhosa traditions, laws and tribal conundrums.   R.I.P Mdesaleni!

Ephemeral Beach Art
At Prana Retreat I shared a retro caravan with a colleague and a small baby mouse, much to her horror, in the morning, when we found it under her bed clothes, having cuddled up to her most of the night, as evident by all it's little mousey ablutions left as evidence.  We didn't sleep a wink on account of the rain beating a constant rhythmic cacophony on the tin roof, and sleeping in cocoon-like sleeping bags.  Reminds me why I don't really go for camping expeditions!  I love my home comforts, soft and cosy bed and pillow and access to a flushing loo on night-time calls of nature.  It's that dichotomy in me - a love of nature and a loathing to be cast into it!  Tramping through bush - mmmn, not for me!

However, I did thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to be part of a group working on some ephemeral art (something that does not last, is temporary and leaves not a trace of human litter and fall out).  We walked down to the deserted rain-squalling, wind-swept beach and without any fore-planned group discussions, set about collectively creating art-on-the-beach with foraged natural objects like seaweed, driftwood and spinifex seed balls.  The result was something of temporary beauty, something which would last only until the next high tide would wash it all back to the tide line again.

On a more somber note, on such a pristine, deserted beach, that at first glance seemed free of  negative human impact, I managed to collect a small handful of mermaid tears (small plastic beads) in a matter of 5 minutes in a 20cm area.  Unfortunately our negative impact is wide-reaching!  Say "NO!" to plastic!  These endemic little plastic critters now form part of beaches on every shore in every part of the planet and are choking our oceans, shores and sea life, all because of our obsession with PLASTIC!

Curious Seagull checks out the art

Come a little closer m'dear, take a look at this artwork!

Art on the Beach
Our Eco-Retreat was a real treat!  All food was catered for, and vegetarian, meaning no animals had to suffer or lose their lives for us humans to indulge in a Feast of Death!  Hooray!  A little like the Ephemeral Art - the earth did not have to suffer for our penchant to be entertained.  I gave a talk on Waste Management - sounds a little one-dimensional, but really it covers all aspects of our lives.  We seek not to leave a trail of waste for the earth to have to deal with, across the spectrum of our living practices, from food to medicine and healing!  Ever thought how much chemicals are thrown into landfill or flushed down toilets in the form of unwanted tablets, pills and medicines?? More poison for the earth!  Not to mention the waste of water-borne human excrement, filled with antibiotics, artificial hormones, steroids and other medication.
Having fun with shells and patterns

Simple Symmetry Mandala
Coming back home is always a treat for me.  It's our sanctuary, our safe-haven from the busy-ness of the world.  To quote Gandhi: "There is more to life than increasing it's speed."  I may not LOVE being thrown out of my comfort zone to live IN nature, but I sure LOVE being surrounded by nature and working with and in it!  I get up close and personal in my own backyard with the rolling tides and seasons of nature unfolding before my very eyes.  We are collecting so much Autumn bounty at the moment- apples, bananas, feijoas, guavas, raspberries and figs!
A veritable feast

Coddling Mothed apples

Cabala juice - a zestful zing to start the day!
It is this time of the year that becomes such a busy kitchen time!  Increased harvests mean increased preserving, bottling and a freezing frenzy!  A time when I feel what it is like to be a farmer's wife!  I have made several bottles of jam and chutney already, with many more to go.  I have bags of frozen queen peaches to make into jam, plums awaiting chutney reincarnation, figs for jam and guavas for jelly in the freezer.  The April holidays is a good time to wash out the glass bottles and set about massive kitchen marathons of jam and jelly and chutney making.  The weather is proving to be good indoors weather, so I look forward to filling the larder for winter.
Preparing to make courgette chutney

Guavas, bell-chillies and yard-long beans

Bananas ripening in the shed
I have been experimenting with making up a potting and seed raising mix which seems to be working well.  I mix equal amounts of river sand, pea-pebble scoria, garden soil and compost in the wheelbarrow.  A tiny amount of weeds come up in my seed trays but they are easily pulled free to allow the veg seeds to come up.  Saves money and makes sense (no chemical fertilisers added).  I am sure there is a more scientific approach to making the right potting mix but this works for me.  I hate anything too calculated or specific, spoils my fun!

Mixing our own potting mix

Hibiscus plantings, with soapnut berry on right
After a weekend of deluge rainfall, I look forward to some dry days ahead, so I can head out of the kitchen, into the backyard and do some clean up to make way for the garden's Big Sleep called Winter.

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