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Soil, Soul and Society

At a recent talk at Pearces Creek Talks I was asked to share my experience living on land. Here is the gist of what I shared with the audience that night.

Brene Brown defines belonging as ~

"The innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because it is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes to belonging but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance."

In 2010 just four days before Christmas we moved into our overgrown Pecan farm in Pearces Creek. We had found the farm by absolute fluke by spotting a for sale sign on our way back from a friend’s house. After a series of small miracles, we eventually bought “Mitta Vale” from Alan Campbell who had been a progressive farmer but at eighty-two had found it far too much to manage. Although we had always wanted to have some land, but we hadn’t bargained on thirty-two acres full of privet, lantana, barna grass and camphors. And whilst neither of us had been to agriculture college I had certainly read plenty of Country Style magazines and watched many episodes of the Gourmet Farmer so as far as I was concerned we totally had this gig in the bag!

Our first major project was to clear some of the Camphors at the front of our property, that revealed a collapsed settler’s cottage, a huge German combine harvester, several cars and two massive palm trees. It took several months but it made a big difference. Suddenly we had all this stunning north facing hinterland view and were able to see our huge Moreton Fig and pit sawn barn from the house. It breathed new life into our farm.

According to my research (Country Style and The Gourmet Farmer) we needed to find some animals to start helping clear and maintain the rest of the property. We already had chickens and we heard that Nimbin Dairy gave away its male kids and so we arranged to pick up five, one week old goats to hand raise. They were a lot of work but they say if you can keep goats fenced in you can keep anything in, as a result we became great fencers! The best part of owning our own goats was that the children got to name a few of the goats from characters of their favourite period drama Pride and Prejudice. I can’t tell you how many times the vet nurses giggled when I booked in Mr Bingley, Mr Darcy or Mr Knightley for an appointment.

Because our soil was rock hard and depleted, the pecans on the trees were not great quality. We decided to buy a few cows to fertilise the soil and then invested in a couple of pigs (Melton and Mowbray) for ploughing, pecan picking up and pork. Of course, with every new set of animals we had to put in fencing, build shelters, and add plumbing for all the water troughs. There were still parts of the farm we hadn’t seen so we invested in second hand a tractor and slasher from Richmond River School and Simon began accessing our boundary fences. At the end of our second year things were looking pretty good and I commissioned a photographer to take stylised photos of us on the farm for a calendar for my parents. We had the perfect white goats, three smiling children and lush green grass. It looked great on the outside, but on the inside I was feeling exhausted and isolated.

Social Psychologist Dr Thomas Curran found that while those with perfectionistic tendencies are more motivated and engaged, perfectionists have strong links to higher levels of burnout, stress, workaholism, anxiety and depression.

No surprise then that six months later my midlife unravelling began. It was initiated by a tick bite and I was diagnosed with Rickettsia, my doctor caught it quickly, but it took several months to recover. For the next two years I continued to press on, but something was definitely not right. We renovated the old wood shed next to the house so we could host woofers and family/friends and although that meant we continued to get things done the downside was that they all needed feeding.

Then Mum got cancer, and my father’s health declined. My Symptoms of rickettsia and now menopause were lurking in the background, I flew back to Scotland but After 6 weeks I was so depleted and exhausted that I had to return home ten days before my mum died. I was so sick that I couldn’t fly back for her funeral. Ten months later when dad died, I couldn’t fly back for his either. It was a MESS!!

I tried everything to get better and nothing seemed to work. It was a bit like throwing fertiliser on depleted soil. I worked with Integrative Drs, acupuncturists, a bio resonance therapist, psychologists you name it I tried it. One morning I was I rushed into Lismore Base Hospital ED struggling to breathe, all my vitals were normal, the doctor discharged me. I actually thought I was going to die.

There was something quite liberating about seeing death so close. You stop being scared of it. In that moment I took my power back and made the decision to stop all treatments. I was so fatigued all I could do was lie in bed all day and listen to what my body needed. without all the usual noise and busyness, I was also forced to sit with all the feelings of grief, pain, and anger I had pushed down over the years. To keep my brain from atrophying I enrolled in a course with Brene Brown and worked through my shame stories by building greater self - compassion. From there I was recommended DNRS a brain retraining course for chronic health issues. It was my turning point and within days of starting I began to get better. It turned out that I had a limbic injury, my amygdala was stuck in fight and flight, my nervous system was dysregulated and as a result I wasn’t accessing my healing and relaxing state, I basically had PTSD or what I like to call Patriarchal Depletion.

As a highly sensitive, intuitive and empathic woman I had been ridiculed and denied my experience in a Patriarchal system that demanded productivity and consumerism to the detriment of my emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Not only had that happened to me but it had happened to all the women who came before me. What I was clearing was intergenerational trauma.

Circling back to the land on our farm. When studying with the Aboriginal people I was taught that if the land is sick, we will become sick. I can see how much this Patriarchal system had stripped the land of its nutrients instead of honouring its cyclical nature, how it created mono-cultures instead of nurturing diversity. About this time Simon began his own studies into regenerative agriculture I noticed how things began to change as he patiently listened and watched our land. He didn’t make anything wrong, the weeds were there for a reason, it was just a case of figuring out what nutrients our soil needed. I saw that when he slashed our front paddock, he left long grasses for our birds to nest and other wild life to shelter. I watched him take endless buckets of different seeds out into the paddocks and sow them to create more diversity in our paddocks. The land and I were becoming healthier together.

Fast forward to the present and I am 90% better. I wrote a cookbook about the diet I used to heal and three years ago we managed to fly back to Scotland to scatter my parents’ ashes.

I can still get overwhelmed from January – April when everything grows rapidly, and we seem to lose control of the grass ,weeds and veggie garden. And then almost overnight the humidity and piercing heat calms and the pecans start dropping and everything feels manageable again. It gets easier when I notice the cycles and the seasons and I love the peacefulness of living on land, how close I am to nature, all the insects, birds and wildlife we live in communion with. How recently finding a trough full of native tadpoles has filled me with such joy.

One major takeaway from this journey was that My illness/unravelling/menopause has made me more aware of my own needs. Every day I try to take time to intentionally nap, read, potter in my veggie garden, paint or just sit still. All of these are my quiet rebellion against a system that has distracted me from finding intimacy with myself, other people and my land. Celtic academic Alistair McIntosh calls these the triune basis of human ecology, "Soil, Soul, and Society." I know I am happier and more joyful when I make time for them.

I now work with other women who are depleted and in trauma recovery to educate them to understand the importance of boundaries so they can create more balance and harmony in their lives.

As My father, always told me “There are no mistakes in life Jen there are only experiences.”

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