Month: June 2016

Progress Update

June 15st 2016

Hasn’t been long since the last update, but it seems a lot has changed. Mostly because I’ve nearly run out of renovations to start. The result: psychological overdrive.

As planned, the solar rig is now complete. It seems to be working well, although only in direct sunlight, so it is indeed limited in its usefulness. The wind turbine is underway, but I’m waiting on a few tin cans to be emptied to use as its fins. No point in rushing that, so it will be done once I’ve used the contents of a few cans.

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Permanent solar rig up and running

Fair weather is also forecast for a little while and the tarp seems pretty sturdy at the moment too. So although I have the washing line ready to go, I might just hold off for a bit on the reinforcement of that.

The reason being that I’ve given myself a little time to take stock again. With so many ideas and things going on, I often lose sight of my goals. They have definitely been overshadowed recently. That’s not to say that recent efforts have been wasted. All this time working on the living situation and setup is valuable stuff. As is the time I’ve had to work on other skills, like reducing consumption. Dumpsters have been visited several times with excellent results and my wild food harvest skills are coming a long way since having received a little guidance (see Digging in for Winter). I’m confident I can find and identify several different edible mushrooms and have become a big fan of Sea Lettuce. Sorrel and Oxalis are becoming a more regular ingredient in my diet and I’m enjoying the new perspective on our abundant environment.

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Some of my wild harvest this week: Pine Bolete, Puffballs, Basket Fungus, Harore, Fungus Icicles and Sea Lettuce. Bellissimo!

It’s really wonderful when places which used to seem just like scenery, but now appear to be a more integral part of life. Actually, the two things (electricity generation and food hunting) have mingled together in the front of my consciousness to give me a new appreciation of the concept of conservation of energy. That energy is conserved in a closed system. That I cannot be created or destroyed. Only transformed from one form to another. It’s not a new concept nor is it new to me. What is new is my experiential awareness of it. So much time spent concentrating on shifting energy from the sun and wind to batteries. Monitoring the consumption of those precious volts and amps. Taking the time to notice where the components of food come from naturally. Doing my best to not consume more than I REALLY need. All these things are intimately tied to the idea of energy.

Other questions have come up too. In the previous blog, I touched on ‘where to next?’. That’s been a big one and a couple of answers have resurfaced from the past. The possibility of sticking around for a bit and giving a food truck a go with the goal of building a business and selling it on is buzzing around in the air and given all my entrepreneurial readings recently, I’m going to definitely investigate the viability. It’s fun watching an idea which was developed a bit a couple of years ago developing further with new inspiration and knowledge. Not going to delve into that one too much just now but perhaps later, if it looks to be an option.

More likely are the possibilities of running some canine education programs in schools and an unexpected spin-off idea that popped up in the process of searching for local schools’ contact details. While not exactly a shocking coincidence, I came across a rather interesting teacher training program which doesn’t require the fall back into full-time study. Instead, Teach First NZ is a work-while-you-train program focussing on improving teacher availability in areas where teachers are scarce. Luckily, Whangarei and the Northland area (which is where I was always aiming at) are included in these.

The other is the resurgence of an idea which kinda got lost in the renovation and search for a place to settle. The idea of a fundraising walk was briefly discussed waaayyy back in January. The time is right now to look at that option a little more seriously. I’ve got a few of the materials for the rickshaw and while I don’t see it happening for a good few months, it’s time to start planning.

I guess the purpose of this blog is not so much to diarise what has been going on in my head and life, but to explore the idea that perhaps it’s ok and maybe even important to wander off course. After all, many, if not all the best inventions have been accidental rather than defined objectives. The other point being how many options there are and that they can often be interwoven.

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Hillbilly Home-Making 101

June 1th-13th 2016

These last couple of weeks, there have been many additions to the basic living setup. These include renovation of a few of the key infrastructure points as well as rethinking ‘where to next?’, which was mentioned in passing in a recent post.

First priority was to set up a dry space/caravan weather protection/my own water collection. This is currently a large tarpaulin, strung up with washing line wire. It’s pretty sturdy, although deliberately also very temporary, as it’s important to me to be able to pack up and leave if need be. Right now, that doesn’t seem like it will be soon, but you never know.

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Stage one: get under cover

Next was to have something to funnel into. Planning backwards from the materials available, a design came together for a water catchment tank that feeds a solar camping shower. Happened upon a full shower cubicle shell at the local recycling centre, so that made the shower construction a lot simpler and provides a solid toilet cubicle space too. Framing for the shower to stand freely came from a building site skip (with the permission of the building crew). The loo is nothing fancy, consisting of a bucket topped with a plastic seat. Its partner being a bin of wood chips which I decided to make a cover for, to keep the chips (as well as the bin and toilet paper sitting on top) dry. Again, not a permanent setup. But it’s a practical option for the medium term. The shower curtain, is just a cheap, sheet of black plastic.

With the essentials arranged, plans turned to upgrading the electrics in the caravan. The last few days have been trial and error to put in everything on my wish list. The USB port I was kindly donated by fellow travellers (during my East Cape travels) went in a while back. That’s most of my charging needs covered. However, the fun started when I decided to hook in an old inverter. Lesson #1- check all components thoroughly before inserting them into existing electrics. I didn’t do this and basically blew the whole system. Still not entirely sure how, but I know I had to test each component and rebuild the whole wiring system. The silver lining is that it is much tidier now and everything but the inverter (which was stuffed from the outset apparently) works swimmingly.

Next was to work on the electricity generation. Managed to hunt out a decent solar panel controller at the recycling centre too. Wiring that in with a couple of permanent solar panels was meant to make things easier. Thus far, it has not been so. The panels are generating a voltage, but the controller doesn’t seem to be feeding it to the battery. The controller itself also draws enough current that it may be necessary to add that second cell I’ve been planning for ages.

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The solar controller all hooked in

The other half is installing a permanent rig for the panels, which is still under construction (should be done tomorrow) and a little wind turbine to work in tandem with solar generation. This should offset the lack of sun on ‘bad’ weather days… at least some of the time. That’s based on a design I made quick mention of in An Ode to Rural NZ and is halfway there too. If anyone has any tips on any of this, I’d be keen to hear them.

There have been a few other side tasks, like installing the caravan’s spare wheel instead of having it sitting in the car boot. Also got a replacement jockey wheel tyre. But it’s pretty much set up how I’d like now. So thoughts are moving to the bush craft/wild living side of things. Really, all this is about becoming more attuned to nature. To be honest, if it was just me, I would probably have just gone bush from the beginning. But it’s not just me and the dogs (and dog laws) make things a little more tricky. The recycling centre came through again. This time, with a kayak. I’m hoping to train the dogs to work with me on this and go bush with some marine infiltration, but it may fail. Regardless, I’ve been wanting to get a kayak for a while to explore out on the water.

This seems a good time to put in a little shout out to the second-hand stores and recycling centres around the place. It’s a shame there still seems to be a bit of a stigma about these places and strange, since sites like TradeMe, Gumtree, eBay and local Buy, Sell, Swap pages on Facebook are so popular. It’s as if using others’ discarded items is dirty somehow, but it’s ok as long as it has had an electronic middle man (?). Granted, not everyone sees it that way. But there really are so many good things there to be sought out.

Often, the tools and other items are better than what you could buy from most mainstream retailers. I say this because many of them are from a time when things were built to last instead of built to be disposable/replaceable. Much of it is also NOT from times gone by, but instead just surplus to someone’s need and on sale for a bargain price. The recycling centre in Motueka is MASSIVE. Seriously, it’s huge. Several acres, including a building that houses indoor items as well as a large outdoor stockpile of everything from building materials to machinery and from toys to antiques. There is sporting equipment, electrical components, fully working appliances, mechanical parts, clothes, furniture… It’s out by the transfer station on Robinson Road. Check it out if you are in the area. Others, like the one in Turangi (to be fair, quite a small town) are much smaller scale. But they are worth a look if you have something in mind.

One thing people don’t seem to realise though, is the cost of dumping. When rubbish items are left with them, the landfill fees rack up quickly. Even if they can salvage a few parts from a thing, the dump fees often outweigh the (financial) benefit. They also have a big problem with theft. It’s still shoplifting even if the goods were originally donated. If it’s council-run… alright, I can see the appeal of letting the moral compass wander. After all, who really gets hurt in the process? But some (like the Motueka one) are privately run and op shops are usually run by charities (some of whom are more ‘charitable’ than others). The acquisition cost of the item is obviously low, but the running costs need to be covered by something. So, let’s support these places. That’s to say nothing of the obvious benefit of reducing landfill by reusing and recycling goods. Buy stuff there. Volunteer. Do what you can to help one person’s trash become another’s treasure.

Moving forward in time, but backwards in the blog: Remember the mention of the tarp roof? … well, if you ever plan on doing it, best to really rig it well. Last night, on a night when the battery was buggered (thus no lights) and I was already in for a late dinner (cooked in the dark), the flippin’ wind picked up to a howling gale right at dusk. So much so, it managed to rip an eyelet in the tarp right out and set the whole roof rig flapping about in a storm.

It was clear that this had to take priority, as the thing was whipping around all over the show, tearing further and a real danger of damaging something else. So, it was up the ladder with the freezing cold wind and rain buffeting both ladder and climber, holding a massive sheet of plastic akin to a sail. Needless to say, a little extra care was needed and it was no easy task pulling the rig taught against high wind gusts. Still, it needed to be done and I plan to strengthen the anchors and borders tomorrow with some more washing line. Fun night, last night.

Lessons learned: (in fairness, I knew these things prior, but thought I’d get away with what I’d rigged. >> WRONG)

1) the eyelets hold much better if the line is threaded through several points of contact as opposed to a one-point connection
2) if you find you do need to make a one-point contact, you’re best off not using the eyelet at all and instead looping your anchor line over a small rock twisted into the tarp
3) there needs to be extra strength (in some form) along the edges
4) if you want it to funnel water effectively, add some well thought-out rib lines to tighten and direct flex of the tarp more accurately, or it will just pool. Either way, it’s also going to have to be tight. Tighter than it will easily go. Work at it.
5) might like to consider a couple of ribs above the tarp to prevent it billowing upward too far in high winds. That sudden flex generates a lot of momentum that your anchors may not handle, so it is probably a good idea to limit the range.

This has been Hillbilly Home-Making 101 from the past couple of weeks. Really looking forward to the next chapter of dropping out of civilisation periodically. I miss that a lot.

An Ode to Rural NZ

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DISCLAIMER: this was actually in Aussie, but you get the idea

‘Twas the first night of winter
and all through the south,
not one person had feeling
in ears, toes or mouth.

With shrivelled appendage
a shag was unlikely,
but the chill in the air
makes Aunt Gaye less unsightly.

Eleven toes all bundled
up in my onesie,
I pluck on my banjo
‘til sleep makes me clumsy.

Then with a yawn,
I settle for bed
with nought but sweet silence
to clutter my head.

Although not exclusively the domain of New Zealand, one of the great things about this place is the small towns. Even though it’s fun to mess with people who know no better, Aotearoa is not all grass skirts, inbreeding, sheep and gumboots. There are a few notable cities too, but “meh” is the first word that springs to mind when I think of them. On the world stage, they’re nothing to write home (or blog) about. This blog is all about small-town New Zealand.

The best thing is the diversity you get among those who choose to make these places home. Whether it be for seasonal work or for the whole of their lives, people tend live less to a formula at the margins. Here in Motueka for example, you have people living in shanty towns put together purely to house fruit pickers at harvest season living right down the road from the multi-millionaire owners of one of the country’s largest produce and seafood companies.

Furthermore, there are people choosing alternative option for housing just like I am. I ran into one guy living in a landlocked boat. His trimaran may have its floats detached, but it is perfectly seaworthy and set to be returned to its natural habitat once he’s done a few touch-ups. Until then, he enjoys the quiet of farm life in a simple and compact housing alternative.

There are also several house trucks, a couple of converted buses, and the odd permanent caravan or shipping container home. Many of whom are living in intentional communities like Riverside (mentioned in my previous blog), the Hari Krshna community or their own sustainable living alternatives.

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My favourite house truck so far. She’s a work in progress, but she’s a thing of beauty

The openness to alternative living exists alongside alternative options for dying too. Living Legacies (Check out http://livinglegacies.co.nz/ for more info. You’re bound to die after all.) was New Zealand’s first eco-funeral service and is based right here in Motueka. I didn’t realise they existed. Yet, apparently they do. This is something I am especially rapt about, as it has long been my wish to have very specific burial arrangements, which I previously thought to be illegal. Picture this:

      Burial under an apple tree with several varieties of apples grafted to it, in order to provide fruit         year-round. My remains to be buried in a biodegradable container, allowing them to nourish           the growing tree. Finally, a sculpted zombie hand sticking out from beneath the ground holding       a sign saying “See, I told you I was sick”.

On further consultation with Living Legacies, these particular arrangements technically still ARE illegal, but only because one can currently only be buried under native trees in a natural burial park. And apparently zombie hands are not considered natural… yet… so that may also not be allowed. Still, it’s encouraging that we’re halfway there. Perhaps it’ll all be sorted by the time I croak.

Along with alternative and/or rural living comes an openness about technology. It could be called an experimental mind set, resourcefulness, creative solutions or the “number eight wire” mentality.

One such engineering genius, is to be found at the local farmer’s market every Sunday. His claim to fame is guitars made from hubcaps along with random, assorted knickknacks.

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This guy plays a mean hubcap slide guitar, man!

He is only one of the many colourful characters who make up this wonderfully community-centred event. Others include all the fundraisers for the new local pool and the vibrant local amateur theatre scene. It would be easy to see the market as a mere place of sales, but it’s really a meeting place about the preservation of local trade and community spirit, which is so often lost in larger centres. It is also a place to find wonderful things like this book: Wizardology

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Best book ever. ‘Nuff said

Perhaps the allure of such a beautifully unique oddity escapes those who are more ‘grown-up’ than I. But for me, this thing is awesome. With all its flaps and feathers; gemstones and slides; moving part and even miniature books, I can’t wait to show it to my nieces and nephews. It’s everything an outstanding kid’s book/wizard manual should be.

In closing “All hail small town goodness”. Now I’m off to catch my wife, stick her back legs in me gumboots, grab her by the wool and make sweet love. Night all.

Digging in for the Winter

May 31st 2016

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Click the pic for an almost completely unrelated video of dogs doing cute stuff in snow 😉 Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fY_c3qWKFS4 (youtube.com)

Setting up (semi)long-term. That was today’s mission. Upon returning from a short trip back to city life, I’ve been blessed with new appreciation for simplicity. So it was with a sense of lightness that I undertook today’s work. And it is with new hope that I review the last few weeks and sit down to write this blog for you.

So, while it has been a while since my last blog, it’s been far from idle time. It’s been more like a reorganisation or re-evaluation as life takes me in its currents. Rather than seeking white waters, it’s been a time to careen through the wider sections of the river: to consciously be and consider.

Coming up to the beginning of June, I’ve become acutely aware that this unusual journey into my wants and needs has been going on for about five months. The first month was mostly a time of reflection and destressing from a life that I knew to be wrong for me. With a vague idea of what onward looked like, I charged ahead trying to build the skills I’d need and edge myself closer. Next came cost of living reductions with the goal of maintaining a level of comfort. The renovation was the start of trying to re-invent what a lifestyle could be. I made plans (“When man plans, God laughs”) that didn’t really work out and after a short period of disappointment, moved on to explore more a hotbed of alternative living. The plan (again with the divine laughter…) was to pass through and just kind of have a nosey but two months on, it’s looking to be turning into something quite different.

Winter has reared its chilly head. In fact, the chill was such that one of my caravan windows cracked this morning as the morning light thawed the frost. The rain has also come after weeks and weeks of beautiful Tasman sun kisses. My newly tanned skin is no better insulated for the cold though. Luckily the recent experiments with bubble wrap and a rug plus an extra duvet are paying dividends.

A string of interesting WWOOFers has been a source of plentiful entertaining conversation. One of whom taught me HEAPS and rekindled an interest which fell away just as it was born: wild food. You may recall from a previous post (Coasting) that I made an attempt at identifying edible plants. However, I really had no idea how to begin and quickly got overwhelmed by the whole thing. There are a lot of plants out there and armed only with a field manual, it’s difficult to know what to look for, where, or whether to choose a plant and hunt it or, to try to find a plant first and identify it after. Luckily, this wild food guru gave me some pointers. He was also an avid dumpster diver and reminded me the shameful amount of ‘waste’ that our modern societies produce and throw away despite it being perfectly sound food.

It’s inspiring to see someone who has mastered using naturally occurring resources, be they completely natural or occurring naturally as a result of habitual human processes. Another WWOOFer may just have introduced me to my illustrator which leads me to the next, quite unexpected dilemma.

Now, part one was expense reduction: recognising the current limit in my situation (the drain on my meagre earnings). That’s going pretty well at this stage, all things considered. Part two is addressing the limit of income without trading off time. This one obviously has some complications… at least for those of us without surplus cash to invest. It is NOT however impossible and these days, with the internet, is becoming more and more achievable. My planned path at this stage is to produce some books about my driving passion for improving animal (and their humans’) welfare. Again the Gods guffawed. There have been complications, but still I plug on. Faced with the removal of my last excuse for not moving forward (the rest were removed by an encounter in Waihi), I’m forced to confront the real issue.

Despite the logical and compelling arguments of several authors and even a personal friend who embody entrepreneurial success, I struggle to embrace it. As it boils down, it’s becoming clear that the idea of having others do work on my behalf is a psychological sticking point. Unfortunately, this is what the whole idea of delimiting wealth creation hinges on. It’s not the first time that I’ve delved deeply into the depths of my psyche in an attempt to create life change. On the contrary, it’s become kind of a compulsive behaviour. However, every now and then, if you choose to stretch your comfort zone or challenge your beliefs, you hit a wall. This is one. Pair it with fears of both failure AND success and you’ve got a real mess. Alas, I digress and that’s for me to work out, not for you to suffer through.

Luckily, I’ve happened upon a couple of ways to earn an income without wasting my time by spending my time doing things I love. They don’t pay that well, but if you refer back to action point one (i.e. expense reduction), things are shaping up nicely. While you’ve no doubt hear people paying lip service to the idea that “less is more”, it turns out there really is truth to it. Sitting here in my tiny, unheated (though surprisingly well-insulated) caravan, I feel content and peaceful. My wardrobe consists of the same handful of shabby clothes brought to New Zealand in one suitcase. A small store of basic food lies in plain containers. A few key possessions bought for their utility rather than their service to an ego surround me or fill drawers and storage nooks. Still, the clutter of useless “stuff” creeps in.

But a funny thing happens when you choose to reduce consumption: you appreciate the things you do have and the things you do use. The empty space created allows gratitude for what comes your way. It also allows space for compassion for those who have less still. Furthermore, it helps to highlight the lure of things like drugs of misuse (coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, weed, naturally occurring drugs like adrenaline, or indeed anything harder) and the search for external acceptance which drives so much of human social behaviour. Taking a step back from habit causes us to examine the ‘why?’ behind actions. The lure of those habits doesn’t go away, although it lessens. What does happen is that a space is created between the self and the action. Well I suppose I can’t speak for you… or for anyone else for that matter… but that’s been my experience.

One unavoidable truth of such downsizing is that one is forced to be more conscious of resource consumption… or face the exhaustion of them. So far, I’ve been lucky enough to be linked to practically unlimited water supply, but electricity currently comes only from what can be generated by the sun and stored in the caravan’s battery. Gas for cooking is limited to what is left in the propane canister. And with money tighter, purchases are less frivolous. I am eternally grateful that these have become so clear.

The other thing to be grateful for is time. Reduction has brought free time: time to slow down and to enjoy the moment. For now, that time is spent enjoying my family (my dogs and my cousins), making improvements on my home comforts, listening to the sounds around me, feeling the breeze, smelling the flowers (occasionally also horse shit) and lie-ins reading books. Once I’ve got my home space set up, there should be time to start going bush again. This time I hope to develop a habit of harvesting wild food. All the while, taking time to explore and appreciate the stunning natural beauty of this area I get to call home.