Australia, Random Rambles, USA
Comments 23

The Goat that Rarely Wrote

A few weeks ago I got up early one morning, turned on my GPS, stuck it in my pocket, and went about my business.

When I slumped back indoors sometime after dusk, barely able to stand upright, I had done exactly seven miles of business — all of them in the yard here.

It’s a big yard:

View from the maple in the front yard as it came into leaf.

View from the maple in the front yard as it came into leaf.



..for the silence, considerable even by my standards, but I’ve just been too busy, and too damned tired, to post.

Every day for weeks I’ve felt a nagging urge to down tools, head indoors and do my duty as a blogger. But the truth is, I’ve been having far too much fun. I love being outside, even with the labour…

Appearing in a beefcake calendar near you.

Appearing in a beefcake calendar near you.

..the apparent monotony of my routine, the strained muscles, tendonitis in both wrists (I have a wrist band I alternate between limbs), etc.

And I tell myself I’ll do it in the evening after dinner, but it’s far more fun to collapse into a chair next to Kate, watch something on the laptop and relax with a bottle of $5 wine than face the tyranny of the blog and the endless picture editing. We make a fine pair, dozing off in our chairs, Kate nursing a cat in her lap, me cradling a glass of red.

We’re saving for a pair of rocking chairs and a fireplace.


So anyway, the “here” in the second sentence is here with Kate in Upstate New York:

Lilly's fairytale life!

Lilly’s fairytale life!

I’ve been back a month and a bit, I think — time is vague and kinda wispy. Every day is the same, but in a good way.

The flights here from Brisbane were tolerable, and when I left Australia I had around 500 pictures from Moreton Island to sift through, discard, or keep and edit. In LAX, the Worst Place on Earth, I plugged in and killed a couple of hours with the pictures. Did an hour’s worth on the next leg, and some more in Atlanta.

On the final leg I started again but the two seats next to me were vacant, which is as good as flying gets for me. I surrendered to the temptation of the semi-recline and woke up as we were descending to Albany.

Kate was very relieved to see me: the half-drowned passport, the worries about surly Customs folk and all my recent coming and going. But I’m in, again…

Back with my loved ones.

Back with my loved ones.

..another couple of grand poorer, and yes — the Moreton pictures, reduced to 300 or so, are done.

Ah, Moreton:

View of the ocean side of Moreton from Cape Moreton.

View of the ocean side of Moreton from Cape Moreton.

It’s probably…


..and if the bugging blog, blogging bug bites tenaciously enough, I’ll soon be rewarding you and amazing myself by sharing a few thoughts and images.

I had the luxury of almost four days and three nights, so I could take any detour, and any pictures, I liked — hence that ridiculous tally. I logged the walk on the GPS and confirmed that my estimate of 100km/60 miles for a full circuit of the isle via beaches was spot on.

The days were grand and my spirits never sunk despite three…


..due to, alternately, a thunderstorm, ferocious ocean winds, and cold.

In all I slept only four or five hours on the whole trip, those minor inconveniences rendered intolerable by makeshift gear — all my good stuff (tarp, bag, fleece etc) being inconveniently America-bound in cardboard boxes (it’s due to be delivered this Friday).

I didn’t care, just spent most of each night longing for the streak of pre-dawn on the horizon. But in my whole life, I’ve had a lot more crappy sleeps than good ones; insomnia comes easy-ish for me, though it does make me dread night sometimes.

What’s weird is that all the hard work I’ve done since getting back to Saratoga has made no difference whatsoever. I have had perhaps two nights in over a month when I made it to 5:00 or so without waking, getting up, eating first breakfast at 3:30 or downing a medicinal goblet of Crane Lake pinot noir to dull the nerve endings a tad.

I hate the night.

I believe the problem now is mental over-stimulation. All my life I’ve had a project or two…

Crazy paving & perennial beds under construction near the porch.

Crazy paving & perennial beds under construction near the porch.

..keeping me going to avoid toppling into the abyss, and it’s always been very hard to turn off the relevant parts of my over-engaged brain when the lights go out.

Even if I’m physically wrecked. As I always am.

And this is an excellent project: turning…


I was a gardener before I was a hiker. My first garden project was in a Brisbane rented house in 1993, after returning from a few months living in a car in America, my first trip there/here (what is this, number 8 or 9?). I just started and couldn’t stop.

The Roma tomatoes were abundant and the corn was roof-high. I was cursed with immediate success and I continued after moving back to Sydney — always in rented houses, always without the landlord’s permission. Sometime around 1995 I got a permaculture design certificate. I breathed plants and gardens, I dreamed them at night — or thought about them, since I usually wasn’t sleeping.

A few years in Tokyo, the world’s biggest human monoculture, ended that phase — but that was where I discovered mountains and walking and disappearing by myself in beautiful places. Now I realise that walking, gardening — and even photography — are all linked and complement each other perfectly.

I’ve mentioned Kate’s excellently sized yard before — but save for my brief visit in the Summer of 2013 (when I was made aware of its numerous shortcomings) I’d known it mostly as a snow-blanketed wasteland:

A robin & one of our four maples -- Winter.

A robin & one of our four maples — Winter.

Right before I left for Brisbane last time, after all that snow and cold, and all those blog posts about walking dreary roadsides in snow and cold (from Feb 25 till April 15, I logged 264.25 miles, or an average of 5.285 miles per day, most of it on weekday road walks), or snowshoeing up cold, snow-covered mountains, we were struck by an earth-shattering…


..and suddenly the urge surged through me again, the one I thought was buried deeper than the bulbs and paving stones and bramble bushes I didn’t even know we had.

We got started on garden building…

You wouldn't believe how different it looks now.

You wouldn’t believe how different it looks now.

..and then it snowed again, right before I left, which was discouraging:

Lawn bags ready for collection -- and early-Spring snow.

Lawn bags ready for collection — and early-Spring snow.

A couple of weeks later I was back, with a vague plan. Tools and plants…

Moe inspects our new trees.

Moe inspects our new trees.

..and a few materials were purchased — though most of the latter have been unearthed on site.

The plans have evolved and Kate’s been witness to numerous moments of scary epiphany: whoa, more work. My problem is gardens for me are as much artwork as food factory. Hence the endless fun…

The whole neighbourhood has a nicer vibe of late:

Kate & the kids on a neighbourhood walk.

Kate & the kids on a neighbourhood walk.

It’s usually quiet, except for the birdsong, the kids playing in the street — and the lawnmowers. Walkers and cyclists pass, glancing in at the evolving project. In Winter I felt like the resident oddball, wandering the streets alone while the pick-ups and SUVs roared past. Now, ironically, with the glorious weather and all the exercising going on, I’m too busy to walk anywhere.

I’ll talk about the garden in more detail, perhaps a lot more detail, later, but here are a few shots to give you an idea:

This was where yard trimmings & waste by the ton got dumped for years. I cleared it all out & it's now a pumpkin patch & cornfield with fire pit & blueberries on the edges.

This was where yard trimmings & waste by the ton got dumped for years. I cleared it all out & it’s now a pumpkin patch & cornfield with fire pit & blueberries on the edges.

Cabbage seeds ready for planting.

Cabbage seeds ready for planting.

A gnarled crabapple tree we didn't even know we had -- growing from a maple stump, once buried by weedy vines.

A gnarled crabapple tree we didn’t even know we had — growing from a maple stump, once buried by weedy vines.

Some of the vegie seeds we have planted.

Some of the vegie seeds we have planted.

Moe inspects his turf. Sadly, his varmint-hunting days are passing -- though we did find a dead chipmunk in the kitchen today.

Moe inspects his turf. Sadly, his varmint-hunting days are passing — though we did find a dead chipmunk in the kitchen today.

Peony emerging several weeks back. Looks like flowering this year for the 1st time.

Peony emerging several weeks back. Looks like flowering this year for the 1st time.

My favourite part so far -- maybe: a peaceful glade under the old oak tree, loosely Japanese-or Korea-inspired.

My favourite part so far — maybe: a peaceful glade under the old oak tree, loosely Japanese-or Korea-inspired.

The peony. Many of these plants are completely new for me as a gardener. We found another in the front we didn't know we had, and divided it into three or four.

The peony. Many of these plants are completely new for me as a gardener. We found another in the front we didn’t know we had, and divided it into three or four.

Somehow, numbed by all the straight 12-hour days of rock-rolling, planting, weeding, digging, fence-making and crude paving I’ve been doing while Kate and the girls are at school, I hardly noticed the entrance stage left of…


..bringing a few 30+ C days and, tonight, a very nice thunderstorm (saves me some watering, and the thunder scares the squirrels).

12:57am and the thunder’s still cracking — and the ceiling fan still spinning.

Meanwhile, I’ve found time to get interested in the…


..which are endlessly fascinating, with all the new species and calls and habits to learn.

We have a couple of birdhouses now…

One birdhouse, now with a nest within -- and our magnificent oak.

One birdhouse, now with a nest within — and our magnificent oak. inhabited, and a few feeders — if the local squirrel doesn’t make off with them (I caught the bastard lugging one across the lawn in the direction of its oak tree this morning — this after subjecting it to a brutal garden-hosing the other day).

There’s also a resident bunny I’m watching with dread as the salad greens grow.

Kate is a lifelong bird-phobic, so it’s been a journey for her as well. Luckily she loves hummingbirds (“They’re more like insects”) so we’ll be trying to attract lots of them. Offhand the regulars I’m able to identify have included chickadees, house wrens, robins, catbirds, cardinals, woodpeckers — and Canada geese that go honking and yelping overhead a few times each day, usually in pairs, painting the sky with a vivid streak of northern drama and wildness.

Bees? They’re largely of the bumble variety so far…

Centaurea flowers in one of our new perennial beds.

Centaurea flowers in one of our new perennial beds.

..and we can’t wait to see the whole insect community move in as the flowers take off.

Speaking of bumblebees, there were plenty hard at work when we recently went…

BACK TO THE LAND visit our friends Chris and Aaren at Wing Road Farm for breakfast and haircuts (Kate is in high demand as a cutter of late; it’s all practice).

As always, their place was immaculate and lovely..

Dandelion pasture, Wing Road Farm

Dandelion pasture, Wing Road Farm

Nobody leaves un-salad-ed.

Nobody leaves un-salad-ed.

..and it’s an exciting time for them with the imminent arrival of their first child, a boy and possibly even a Cancerian, which are two admirable qualities that have served yours truly well.

Meanwhile, our mutual friends & relatives The Dude (Kate’s brother) & Trouble — at whose wedding I met Kate — are…


..this time on the Continental Divide Trail, shadowing the Rockies between the Mexican and Canadian borders.

Here they are the last time we saw them, right before they split for New Mexico:

The Dude & Trouble in chillier times.

The Dude & Trouble in chillier times.

They’re over 400 miles in, having a blast — and dealing with desert heat and an unfair quota of foot trouble. I don’t think Kate M (Trouble — there are a lot of Kates in this part of the world) will mind me mentioning that she’s been having a rough time lately following her mother’s passing, so it’s very much a journey of healing as well as blister formation and the drinking of green water with cow dung floating in it from some very nasty water sources…

Which brings me to…


..of which we’ve done none since I got back!

I still have several walks from Winter un-blogged…

Chimney Mountain, not long before I left for Australia.

Chimney Mountain, not long before I left for Australia. who knows?

Meanwhile, as I mentioned, most of my walking has been taking place here in this enormous outer-suburban yard, usually while carrying a boulder or a mattock or a log.

Our weekends have been spent right here in the yard, working together…

We consider it a point of pride to have as many dandelions in the lawn as possible.

We consider it a point of pride to have as many dandelions in the lawn as possible.


Still haven't identified this tree.

Still haven’t identified this tree.

..eating outside…

The good life.

The good life.

..and generally having a great time amid some beautiful weather.

We’re content, and we’re also pretty damned poor. Right now we can’t afford the gas to drive to the danged mountains. They’ll keep.

As for…


..your guess is as good as mine.

Hopefully this (way over-long) post will get me re-inspired, and I’ll find a way to accommodate the recording of a very fulfilling life with the living-of-it part. I will definitely be doing a few Moreton posts, and Sandgate…

Dusk, Sandgate.

Dusk, Sandgate.

..where my father (with help from my brother) is building yet another boat in the backyard as his 80th birthday approaches…

Dad's built five sailing boats for the family over the years. This is his first motor boat.

Dad’s built five sailing boats for the family over the years. This is his first motor boat.

..deserves some column space as well.

But a blog is an organic thing, if it’s any good, and I confidently predict that future incarnations of this one will delve more than a little into our ongoing garden project. To my horror, I suspect I may also veer into bird-feeder blog territory as well!

Must be getting old — I’ll be 50 in a few weeks…

Meanwhile, we have a lot of stuff to work out, as always, red tape to negotiate and money-we-don’t-have to spend, but all is looking good.

It’s 3:04am, time I got to bed.

How’s it been going with you?

A thwarted attempt at rest.

A thwarted attempt at rest after ripping out shrubs and putting in hydrangeas.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


  1. Ever considered keeping bees? It’s a fascinating (and occasionally dangerous hobby, like hiking) and the rewards are sweet.

    • Yep, when I’m legally settled here I’d like to give it a shot. Not really permaculture without some animal involvement, and it’ll take Kate a while to warm to chickens! Only worry is the bleak Winters. Our friends lost all their livestock in the last one.

      • I believe that many apiarists out in your neck of the woods let hives die over winter as it costs too much to feed them. This shouldn’t be an issue for a hobbiest.
        I imagine you could keep your hives in some kind of shelter to stop them from being snowed under.

  2. Darius Russell says

    Ahhh, Goat!

    Touched by a bit of the insomnia myself tonight….

    And giving-in: I lie awake in the darkness with the bright glow of the so-called “Smart Phone” nudging me, guiding me across the waves of The Internet (Cowabunga!)–and all under the covers of the safe and warm confines of my bedroom! While out traversing The Open (cyber) Road (incidentally, I did get in a literal, if only brief, 5-mile hike on The A.T. yesterday afternoon while visiting south of Damascus, Virginia, (technically located in Northern Tennessee at Prof. Warren Doyle’s Appalachian Trail Folk School for the week) —And whom do I stumble upon while wandering out in the far reaches of Cyberspace in the middle of the night, but The ‘Ol Walker himself–the newly monikered “Grandpa Gatewood” (I had almost given you up, Goat, for a member of The Walking Dead–possibly sucked out into The Vortex of Enigma, somewhere traveling on a flight over Midwestern America with his tray table up, and his seat leaned back well before landing—Yes, we’re bombastic and arrogant here in The United States, and pompously refer to OUR land mass as being (all) of, or the ONLY America, when lost in the reference—never mind the North or South or Central Americas)…Alas, would The Goat ever be seen or heard from again?

    …So a welcome sight!

    Happy to stumble upon everyone’s favorite Walking Man (with a Trekkers resume that makes my feet cry with envy), The Goat, and pleased to hear he has been busy reaching down and grabbing some earth with his delightful companion, the ever-faithful and easy-on-the-eyes, Momma-in-triplicate, caretaker of a feline-friend named Moe, and our endearing partner-in-crime to the host of these global bio-ped musings we so enjoy: Miss Kate! (We should all be so lucky!!)

    Walk On, My Brother!


    • Your comments never fail to please both me and the missus-to-be, Darius!

      I love that part of the Trail near Damascus, and have good memories of Trail Days there in 2006. I am hoping to get in some real (non-garden-based) walking soon. Today we finished the final (for now?) garden bed and most of the heavy construction (backyard anyway) is now complete. The flowers are looking sensational and some of the vegetables are starting to resemble their edible selves. It was glorious weather and I am feeling very satisfied this evening. If I actually sleep more than five hours I’ll be even more satisfied!

  3. Blog when you feel like it. Live the rest of the time. No pressure man. We’ll all still be here. Just keep loving life. 🙂 .

  4. Great to hear from you, Mr. Mountain Goat, and to see what you and Kate and the girls have been up to.

    Walking, gardening, photography and, now, loved ones. It’s a full living experience. Yay!!!

    Sweet photo of Kate, Moe, you, and Vegemite.

    • Thanks, Am. Hoping to catch up on your recent activity soon.

      We had another fantastic day in the backyard today. It began with high drama with a groundhog loping around the garden when I went down to make the coffee. This was an alarming development as if it stays, my precious garden of Eden is in peril! After much online research I ended up scattering Moe’s used kitty litter around the shed beneath which the villain had retreated. Not a ritual I care to repeat often. Here’s hoping Moe can contribute something more than just his exceptional good looks…

  5. Wow, that was a long one! Don’t worry about how little or how much you blog — it’s supposed to be a pleasure not an obligation. I’ve been doing a lot of gardening myself lately, so was really interested in your backyard project. It’s looking good. Nice to see all your veggie packets. We’re growing potatoes, parsnips, runner beans, beetroot, spinach beet, leeks, tomatoes, blueberries, gooseberries, strawberries, all kinds of lettuce, lots of herbs. Lovely pictures, as always. I like the cairn. The only slight rankle I had was seeing Vegemite rather than that superior year extract, Marmite 😉

    • Ha, one day I might get around to blogging the Marmite Vs Vegemite blind taste test at Kate’s family dinner one Sunday. It was a close contest.

      You sound like you’ve been as busy as me — that’s a lot of vegetables. I’d forgotten how much fun vegetables are, the ongoing drama of their development, the threat of destruction from local fauna, etc! On the construction front, I’ve just about reached “Peak Rock” with the scavenging of raw materials on site. Fortunately this coincides with the end of most garden bed building, though the “courtyard” area is still a long way from completion…

  6. Great post, that. My dad used to build boats, too, in the garage next to the bungalow we lived in. First canoes, then dinghys. He and the guy next door had a thing going – one built a boat, then the other built a bigger boat, etc. The guy next door “won”, finally restoring an old iron narrow boat -all rivets and welding torches- and taking down the garden fence and loading it onto a “low-loader”to take it away when he finished it.

    Good to see life is treating you well – after all that language teaching!

    • Thanks, Dominic. The soundtrack to my childhood was the angle grinder, the perfume fibreglass resin. My father built, in order: a small wooden yacht, a bigger wooden trimaran, a bigger, faster fibreglass racing trimaran, an even bigger, faster trimaran, and finally a cruising catamaran which still performed very well on handicap. When it got to be too much work for my parents they reluctantly sold it — then got restless soon afterwards. This is his first time having to weld aluminium like this (he was a steel-boat builder as his profession) and apparently it’s very tricky.

      Life is great — just too expensive!

  7. Shirley Fraser says

    Just caught with all your news Ian. So nice to see earth and greenery in your burgeoning garden, after all that snow. You curse some of the critters but as they’re new to you as an Aussie boy, I’m sure that you’re secretly delighting in them. ( when they’re not chomping on your veggies, that is). Looks like you and Kate are doing a fine job. More power to you elbows. It’s officially winter here in Byron Bay and the outside temperature is 23 degrees! Cheers.

    • Love the wildlife, but I’d rather love the groundhog/woodchuck from over the fence! Interesting how the threats to one’s garden change according to your locale. Back home it’s possums, fruit bats and maybe wombats, among others. If I need to I will build a fence, but that’s a daunting prospect as we have so many different garden beds, plus the fruit trees etc, and I’ve already spent a fortune!

  8. Barb says

    Love the update, Ian. Keep it up when you have the inspiration!

    • Think it’s seeping back, Barb. Trouble is gardening is so fulfilling creatively as well as physically. Writing seems so drab after that…

      • Barb says

        Writing is not drab.. just different.. when the gardens are settled in they dont need so much attention.. we have the possums and turkeys no less . Bird netting everywhere doesnt look wonderful but is cheap and effective
        I have left mine to the neighbours as of last week and am now working on Kates garden here in LA. Racoons and squirrels here .
        Its wonderful how certainspecies survive against all odds..
        Keep enjoying your new life!

  9. Phil says

    Married life is obviously doing you good. Seems like yesterday you were a humourless miserable bastard and now you a veritable Bill Hicks of the manure pile.

  10. Yeah, the blogging can wait. Who can keep the blog mojo going, pumping out post after post? I think every blogger needs a break now and again, as it can be a bit tedious. You’ll come back to it at some point.

    As a bloke living in a small suburban wasteland, I love the look of the vast expanse of yard you have to yourself! It looks fantastic and I’m sure you can do a few cross-over posts in the future. Hiking meets weeding, that sort of thing!

    Keep wielding that mattock…

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