A while ago at a permaculture teachers guild meeting, David Holmgren mentioned in a discussion about Retrosuburbia that the foundation of community starts at the household and then extends to the neighbours and then beyond. He referred to fenceless communities of neighbours, as he does in his book too.
I have sometimes mentioned Gaë (pronounced “guy”) and Pauline as the previous owners of Dreamland, who together with their son Adrien, graciously allowed us to break down, build, excavate, dig, sow, put in irrigation, raise chooks and ducks and do who knows what else all around them, while they rented the house back from us. Even though we tried to be sensitive, at times we must surely have invaded their privacy. Bang-bang-bang putting in fence posts, beep-beep-beep of the excavator, whizz-bang-whizz drilling in the coup near the house, not to mention my radio persistently playing when I’m out working. But there’s so much more to them than just being gracious ex-owners and recently model tenants.
Gaë at 75 regularly runs marathons, and he is knowledgeable on such a wide array of topics! He has run an aquaponics tomato farm in his day, and still has a number of aquaponics systems going – he lectures on aquaponics at the University of the Third Age too. He knows about so many other subjects too. In fact, a while ago he gifted me with one of Bill Mollison’s original permaculture books – a collection piece from 1991 – so he must have read all about it some while ago. And he’s not shy to share, be it materials, knowledge or time.
Originally from Mauritius, Gaë is fluent in French, a skill I should have made a lot more use of to keep in practice. If you don’t actively use a foreign language, you forget it so quickly, because it hasn’t been engraved that deeply yet.
I still fondly remember when he and Adrien hosted us and the kids for an olive press demonstration, and on another occasion they had us over for a pizza oven evening – he actually built the olive press and pizza oven himself.
Gaë is quite a hoarder (OK, that’s an understatement, I just tried to be tactful), and that has come in handy quite a number of times during projects on that side of the fence! Corrugated iron sheets for the compost bins, bricks for the fire pit, bricks for the coops, bricks for various paths, wire for the nets, more wire for more nets, posts, pegs, a chook feeder, a hedge trimmer and the list goes on. Did I mention bricks?
Pauline is just a wonderful lady too. If she isn’t protesting against the proposed goat feedlot with us (thankfully it didn’t go ahead), she is putting seams in the kids or our clothing (it seems neither of us was born with a needle in the hand) and sharing fruit and vegetables and recipes with Patricia. She, like us, is such an animal lover – she was as enthusiastic as the kids about the chicks hatching and growing. I’m sure when the ducklings were hatching she was using her granddaughter as an excuse to come and see them regularly. But I don’t blame her – they are gorgeous.
Adrien is no slouch either – for example, one day a truck loaded with massive rocks for the pond got stuck in the muddy clay in the access way and had to dump its load right there and then – a good 50m from the pond. Within 10 seconds, Adrien had his gloves and boots on and was helping hauling rocks to the pond through the mud in the drizzling rain. In the end he even gave me a pair of new walking boots, which were too small for him, because my work shoes were shot and covered in clay inside and out. I didn’t have the heart to use them as work boots, but they saw me well through two months of walking across Europe and on a few local walks since!
In a more recent endeavour, Adrien took in on himself to trim the cedar trees between Dreamland and the neighbours. I was blessed with a massive heap of branches to mulch. (In the process the mulcher went totally blunt and my other neighbour Graham had to show me how to sharpen the blades without takin them off – but more about him in a subsequent post.) It’s always great to have something other than Eucalyptus branches for mulch. I’m still not sure whether the allopathic oils in the Eucalyptus affect other plants when it is used for mulch. That may have been the reason for slow growth of some of our trees, or it may just be that our soil improvement process is working slowly.
So we haven’t knocked the fences down between us and Dreamland yet – well, we don’t really want “their” wild rabbits running amok in our vegetable patch now do we? But we have put in two (rabbit proof) garden gates between us and Dreamland. They get used daily.
This post is just a short acknowledgement of the impacts these neighbours have had on us over the past few years. David has it spot on about community. Words cannot really express what Gaë, Pauline and Adrien have meant to us over the years. We are surely blessed. I say “are” and not “were”, because luckily they are not moving far off. So it’s only “au revoir” until we see each other again.