Two weeks ago the weather turned northerly, bringing in a storm from the tropics. A cyclone, actually. I was excited for the rain – we needed it so badly after one of the driest Decembers on record. But had I known what was actually in store, I wouldn’t have wished for any of it.
A low white cloud of hot humidity descended on the island along with the rain. For a week everything was damp, including the sheets on our bed and the clothes in our drawers. Our laundry wouldn’t dry, and the items we hadn’t washed grew mildew. Every wooden peg on my washing line sprouted mould and needed to be thrown away. The humidity caused flies to besiege the island, swarming our house and garden.
I grew increasingly agitated as the humid fog continued through a whole week. One day I spent five hours down at the local laundromat waiting to use the dryer so we could have some fresh clothes, while outside a warm spitting rain continued to soak the world around us. Our kids developed rashes from sweat that simply wouldn't evaporate. None of us slept well. In the low-light humidity, the plants in the garden began to rot, and our huge fig tree grew fungus. When the winds finally picked up and threatened to blow the roof off our house, the fig tree gave up all its leaves.
When the sun finally came out again I marvelled at the shadows slanting across the wood floor in the morning. We opened all the windows and hung everything in the breeze. I tenderly deadheaded the plants that had survived and ripped out the ones that hadn’t. But a fog continued inside me.
I haven’t wanted to write for a while. I’ve been in a bit of a funk since my last post. It seems ironic that I wrote a few weeks ago about all the progress we had made on the house, because lately I have felt like it’s a failure. We’re moving so slowly that we might never finish it. I am a serial underestimator, and often abandon projects because they end up being way more work that I imagined. This is no exception.
To top it off, our kids have been driving me insane – the youngest is a full-on toddler now, equipped with tantrums and demands for attention when he’s not getting it. Our oldest has come into his own as a three-year-old, with all the opinions and desires for power that come with the age. Isaac and I optimistically tried to bring both kids up to the worksite the other day to nail down a few sheets of plywood on our floor – a modest goal. The kids whined and fought the entire time, and when our youngest walked out onto an unsecured piece of insulation and fell through the floor onto the ground four feet below, we called it a failure and packed up.
To this day we only have four of the twelve sheets of plywood down on the floor, despite working on it for two weeks. We keep running out of screws and have to stop while we wait for more to be shipped over. “Wouldn’t it be amazing to be doing this project with a Home Depot just down the road?” I said to Isaac yesterday. Oh, the things we took for granted back when we lived on the grid.
I went on bike rides to try and clear my head. I sipped tea and read my book while the kids napped. I got good nights of sleep. When none of that worked to snap me out of the depression I saw looming, I remembered that physical labor always sets me right. When we first moved here, clearing the land was the best medicine for my homesick sadness. So without much to build due to a shortage of materials, I set my sights on the landscape around our house.
We’d been so desperate for building materials that Isaac ripped apart the garden beds I had put together in order to use the timber for bearers. A sad U-shaped pile of dirt sat drying out on the terrace where I’d planned our garden. The silver lining of it all was that we had used tanalised (treated) timber for the garden beds, which is allowed in New Zealand but banned elsewhere due to the heavy metals in the wood. Now I had a chance to re-think the garden completely.
I drew from concepts in a book I got for my birthday a few weeks ago called The Edible Backyard, about using permaculture principles to grow your own food, no matter the size of your land. The culture in New Zealand, and especially on the island, is all about using what you have to make do. It makes the country slow to adopt newer technologies (online shopping systems are years behind the US here), but it leads to quite a lot of creativity. With that mindset, I decided to use cardboard and logs to build the garden. We had tons of both, and they’d feed the harsh clay soil as they rotted down.
I quickly broke a sweat pulling logs off the huge pile at the edge of our property and laid them down the centre of the soil mounds to create a path. By the time I’d filled the path and began to lay cardboard on top, which I’d cover with mulch, the fog inside me was burning off. The work felt right for the garden and the soil in it that would grow our future food. It felt right for my soul.
While making our coffee and tea this morning in the kitchen, Isaac wrapped his arm around my shoulder and said, “You know, I had a thought.” We’d spent the previous evening discussing how difficult the kids are right now, how stressed we both feel about the house project moving so slowly, and how different this is than the reality we imagined. “In the future, we’ll probably look back at this time the same way we look back at life before kids, and wonder why we worried so much about everything,” he said. “We have healthy kids, bodies that work, and a project that might take forever but is really fun when we’re doing it.” I smiled and agreed, while our youngest came in for a nuzzle and our oldest sat quietly over his breakfast.
It’s really not so bad.