I posted something daft on Twitter a few weeks ago that seemed to resonate with a lot of my fellow Taswegians.
“We’ve reached that bit of the Tasmanian winter where I’ve given up any pretence of healthy eating or exercise. Basically, I’m just standing by the fire mainlining Nutella and Pinot Noir.”
It was true, at the time. One of the things I like most about living here is how connected I feel to the seasons.
In summer, the availability of beautiful fresh fruit and vegetables encourages me to eat well. The warm days mean that I drink a lot of water without making a conscious effort, and the lovely light evenings allow me to go out running.
In contrast, winter is the time for connecting with my inner bear – I want to load up with carbs, retreat to a warm cave, and sleep for several months. I don’t reckon there’s any point fighting that feeling – it makes sense to pay attention to the cycles of the year and adjust my behaviour accordingly.
But now it is August. We are more than halfway through the year and moving towards the end of winter. It is unseasonably mild – 17 degrees over the weekend – and there are buds and blossoms appearing everywhere we look. There have even been a few sleepy bees thudding around the garden, probably casting a judgmental eye on how little weeding we have done.
It’s almost time to come out of the cave.
It has been a year of big changes here, and perhaps that’s why it feels like time is going by too quickly for comfort.
DorkySon has made a good start at his new school. Grade Three has been a big step up in terms of independence – he seems to be setting his own pace for working and taking on projects that align with his interests (Formula One, maths, marine conservation and dalmatians, at present…). I was worried that he might spend every recess and lunchtime in the library, but he seems to be making a few new friends and finding a good balance between running around outside to burn off energy, playing imaginative games, and enjoying some library time on bad weather days.
We have walked to and from school every day so far this year and that has been a great change. It provides time to get in the right headspace at the start of the day, and to decompress at the end of the day. It’s also been another good tool for measuring the change of the seasons: we had to tread carefully when the paths were being repaired after May’s big storms, but since then it’s been a joy to watch the vegetation recover, and the morning birdsong always puts a smile on my face.
DorkyDad has made some big changes in his professional life – I am really proud of his taking such a big leap and setting up as a philanthropy consultant – and we now work from home together. People have been asking me how it is going, and my silly stock answer is that it’s great, because our home offices are on different floors of the house. There is an element of truth in that: we both like our own space, and DorkyDad often works with the radio or a baseball game streaming in the background, whereas I prefer silence.
But it conceals a deeper truth. This arrangement really is working well for us. Everything in our lives seems easier, smoother and happier. We each have more flexibility for organising meetings and calls, we can share school pick-ups and drop-offs, and the work of the household is more evenly divided than it was previously. We take an inordinate amount of pleasure in our new arrangement of meeting in the kitchen for sandwiches and a catch up at lunchtime.
Freelance life means that DorkyDad and I both work in bursts of high, intense energy, and then when everything is ticked off the to-do list we can relax and enjoy each other’s company. There will be uncertainties, of course. My sporadic income was always balanced by his regular wages – now we both have invoices outstanding in the same month that we have taxes due and scaffolding on the house for roof repairs – but the compensation of a happier and more relaxed family is more than worth it.
We have balanced the year’s big changes by filling our spare time with many of the things we know and love. It will be five years in September since we moved to Tasmania, and in that time, we’ve developed a long list of people, places and traditions that we know make us happy.
In June we did a few bits and pieces at DARK MOFO. Not the late-night, hedonistic DARK MOFO that mainlanders seem to come here for, but the family-friendly one. We went to the Winter Feast and to Dark Park, filled our bellies with good food and were home by 9pm with our sweaters smelling of woodsmoke.
In July it was the Midwinter Festival, and we headed down to The Apple Shed for our tin mugs of mulled cider and a weekend of wassailing, storytelling and music. DorkyDad played harmonica and spun yarns. DorkySon’s highlight was helping out for an hour on the Sea Shepherd stall – a gentle trial run for volunteering at Salamanca Market in future, I think.
After that, we spent three nights down on Bruny Island, perhaps the happiest of our happy places. Even with a few spanners thrown in the works – a bad chest cold for DorkyDad, kitchen renovations at the Hotel Bruny, and an Airbnb where the wind in the wires made it sound like there was a freight train in the garden each night – it was a worthwhile and much-needed trip.
Sometimes, a place provides permission to do nothing at all for a few days, and for us Bruny is that place. We had no wi-fi and no television, but we had a water view, two eskies full of food and a bundle of good books. Good holidays are about making do – choosing a DVD to watch from the dire selection of six; eating crackers and cheese for dinner; making coffee with a teapot and a sieve because there’s no plunger – and remembering how possible it is to get by with less. DorkySon was so relaxed that he took his first afternoon nap in about five years.
DorkyDad and I talked on Bruny about the fact that so many people we know are constantly striving and pushing for what comes next. We very much appreciate living in a place where there is the time and space to stop and look around, and to appreciate that actually there doesn’t need to be a ‘next’ for us. This is it. We have reached the place where we want to be.
Instead of doing what I usually do after a holiday, and immediately popping it in the memory bank, I have tried to keep the essence of this one going. It reminded me how much I value silence, so I’ve been spending less time with my headphones in, and have cut back on the white noise of social media. I haven’t had the car radio on in weeks.
When I make our coffee in the mornings just now (at home – no sieve necessary!) I can always hear a parrot – a green rosella – in the tree outside our window. I’ve heard it every morning for several months, and the novelty still hasn’t worn off because it embodies what I love about living in Tasmania. My regular, daily life here is full of things that I will always find slightly magical.
I love the comfort and security of our family’s routine – of knowing that every morning we’ll bump into Ginny the golden Labrador puppy on the walk to school, and that every evening we will carry wood in from the garage and light the fire. I know that on Saturday we will likely walk on the beach, that DorkySon will bring along his I Spy Dog Breeds book, and that we might have time to squeeze in a game of basketball.
We have a bedrock of routine here – of familiarity and safety – on which all other things can be built. We leave space in our lives for surprises and spontaneity, and it’s a space that Tasmania is always able to fill. This past weekend we went on a tour of the big red icebreaker and research vessel, the Aurora Australis. We admired the new $6 million AUV at IMAS, met a pack of huskies, and played in the augmented reality sandpit at the University Open Day. All three of us have come away with our brains buzzing.
One of the main reasons we moved to Tasmania was for DorkySon – we wanted him to have a proper childhood. Somewhere with a tight sense of community, where he would feel safe and nurtured, but also somewhere with enough going on for him to grow up feeling engaged and curious about the world.
We knew this place would be perfect for him. We knew it had the right balance.
What we hadn’t realised was how perfect it would be for us too.