A number of readers have suggested that the Shedders manuscript needs a postscript, something that gives a taste of how it’s turning out for us so far. Fair enough. So, back by popular demand, an epilogue to the Shedders narrative:
As I sit down at my desk, over three years after our celebratory moving-in-day dinner, I am watching several of Eve’s yoga students standing on the road near their vehicles, their voices drifting across our lawns. There were nine of us in the class today, part of a community of increasingly enthusiastic students who are learning the delights of Eve’s informed and gentle style. Eve is standing in the doorway of what we now call The Yoga Shed, talking to someone who is a well-known author and illustrator of children’s books, and his wife, a graphic artist. I see the owner of the best restaurant in Taree chatting with a young woman who teaches yoga in one of the local beachside towns. A woman who used to be a facilitator for an international training organisation is having a yarn with old Sydney friends who became bewitched by the Manning Valley and decided to start a B&B in the area.
Nobody is in a rush to leave. They’re enjoying the sunshine, the gardens, the views and the serenity that comes after an especially good yoga class. Each of these visitors brings something of their passion to my life and our home. I’m feeling connected to them, to my post-yoga body and to this fabulous property of ours. Sometimes I can’t get the smile off my face.
The six of us have also come to know many of our Island neighbours. We have good mates who run a garlic farm nearby and friends in Manning Point retired from school-teaching. On the property backing onto us lives a friend who lost her husband a year ago. Next door to her are a couple of musicians with whom we make lively harmonies on occasion. Two houses up the road are friends who are winding down the financial advisory business they own in Sydney. Other close friends from Sydney have bought an acreage on the river not far from here and now spend many of their weekends on Mitchells Island – a routine I remember well from our early days owning this property.
The acquaintances from early times on Mitchells Island, people you met earlier in these pages, still wander in and out of my life. I sometimes catch up with Trevor across the road as he works on one of the many old vehicles that decorate his property. The triplets next door are making their way through teenage-hood, so far without too much ruckus. On occasion I’ll bump into Dallas or Matt or others who worked on our house. Our film maker friends Rod and Lesley come (without the big camera) to visit and admire the project’s evolution. Our designer, John Basden, drops in to enjoy his handiwork and a cup of tea while he chats about his latest projects and what’s new in the industry.
Wherever there was a hole left by people or activities we missed from our city days, we found something locally. Daniel joined a men’s group, which he says feels as good as his old one in Sydney, and Rick waded in to it as well over a year ago. I still enjoy the wisdom and comfort of the women in the Old Bar Garden and Gourmet Club. A couple of years ago, a new friend and I formed a book club, which has since been joined by Rick, Eve, Daniel and another half dozen other energetic and highly opinionated readers. Several of us belong to the Wingham community choir and participate in a soul-satisfying songfest every Thursday night. A number of us formed a boat club and the consortium bought itself a speedboat to explore the hundreds of kilometres of river in the Manning Valley. I relish my time with the Taree writers’ group.
We visit Sydney every now and then to catch up with old friends – when they’re not taking the time to escape the city and visit us here. We stay connected by email, phone and Facebook.
Rick and I travel to Canada every year to see our children, my mother, and the rest of our families.
I have all the community I could want. If I ever had a concern about losing my network of treasured friends when we left the city, it has faded away long ago. Fellow travellers are rampant.
* * *
The main issue I’ve had to deal with as I settled into my new life here is what I’ll do with my time. When I lived in the city, life came at me point blank and it seemed as if there were few opportunities to say, What shall I do now?
Now, to my great delight, there are many such opportunities, which is not to say that life is not full. But I have time to smell the roses – and roses (or at least angel trumpets) to smell.
Rick and I went through the transition to life in the country almost five years ago; I watched Eve and Daniel go through it three years ago; and now it’s Michael and Judy’s turn. They’ve finally arrived full-time from The Big Smoke and over the last few months have been winding down Sydney commitments while gearing up for a Mitchells Island lifestyle.
The transition didn’t necessarily come easily for all of us. I found myself restless without a vocation until I began writing (first short stories, then bigger projects like this one). I’ve taken to gardening with a vengeance: perhaps the farm girl has just been waiting all these years to shuck off the pantyhose and get into the wide-brimmed hat. I go for an ocean swim many a summer day: the stick-girl I drew in my notebook back in our early days together in Manyana, if you remember, has her waves to ride, and still loves them.
At the moment, Rick sits at his desk across the room from me, smiling as he listens to something from YouTube through his head-phones. He fell into retirement as if he were born to it and hasn’t looked a database in the eye since. He mows the lawns, battles the lantana, gardens, researches, reads, cooks and occasionally blogs. There is no doubt about his delight in this lifestyle.
When Eve first arrived, she languished without her yoga community until she created a new one. She offers classes each week and is still in demand on the national yoga circuit. She writes a respected daily blog which keeps her connected to lifelong friends and yoga students, as well as to colleagues around the world. Last year she launched an internet business selling yoga practice cards. That project would keep her working 24/7 if she wanted, but gardening, lazy lunches and walking on the beach are necessities as well.
Daniel fidgeted for a few months before coming roaring to life as he built new communities and took on programming projects. He is across the hall in his office, working up a patch to his client’s software. He attended the just-finished yoga class with me, and like me, scuttled back to the house afterwards to get to work. He’s in the enviable position of having a programming career he can pursue over the internet, earning city rates while spending at country levels. He’s become an internet activist, a compulsion that will likely replace programming as he veers toward more fully expressing his deeper interests.
Michael and Judy are just embarking on the semi-retirement voyage, holding tight to the sides of the canoe as they come down off that frenetic city lifestyle. Judy achieved her goal of becoming a CEO, and spent much of the past three years immersed in board meetings and court cases. Yesterday I watched her just walking through the gardens holding a flower to her nose, a smile on her lips. She says she’s in the place where she belongs.
Michael has been immersed in the final papers for a post-graduate course in the neuro-science of leadership. He plans to focus on the coaching side of his business – another portable career, thanks to Skype and email. His passion for permaculture will no doubt soon impact our gardening endeavours, in the same way that his passion for contribution impacts our inner gardens.
All of us seem to be thriving on these choice-laden days.
Many of our new friends are ex-Sydneysiders like us. Some are retired; some just wanted a lifestyle change for their families. All of them say they amble where they used to race, smile where they used to frown, breathe deeply where they can’t remember breathing at all. That’s life in the country.
* * *
It rained earlier this morning, so clouds are obscuring the Great Dividing Range in the distance. But with or without those vistas, we are surrounded by beauty. I still appreciate the fine lines of our house every time I drive home. The sweeping skillions never fail to please my eye, and all that agony caused by the zinc alum cladding is a thing of the distant past: the blend of wood and zinc alum looks unfailingly terrific. We’ve added an elegant and inviting pathway up to the road.
And our grounds! A dear garden-designer friend suggested a tropical theme including such exotic flora as gingers, bromeliads, cannas, elephant ears and portulaca – and they’re thriving as if they belong here too. Every season we get a little more confident and the decorative gardens get a little more beautiful.
We’ve also discovered we have a certain aptitude at food gardening. We’ll be eating our own tomatoes all summer and – out of the freezer – all winter. We’ve grown enough cucumbers, zucchini, squash and pumpkins to feed the neighbourhood. We can do watermelon and rockmelon. We’ve got a reasonably successful herb garden. We’re starting to get the hang of lettuces, beans and sweet potatoes. There’s something to learn out there every day, and much satisfaction to be gained from cleaning out the weeds and watching a new addition slip into bloom.
* * *
Another fine thing about our project is that the economics are working for us. From the beginning, we were all interested in getting more for our retirement dollar. If any of us had retired in our early sixties, in the traditional way, we would not have been able to afford what we have now: a big new house on an acreage in a great location, annual overseas travel and the ability to buy pretty much anything we want. Many of our major expenses are shared three ways, and over the years that saves us all a lot of money.
We have a Shedders bank account, into which each family makes a monthly payment. This fund is used to buy things we will all use (garden supplies, lawn furniture, cleaning supplies) and for routine maintenance. As a cluster of city folk without much history of being “handy”, we’re learning our way around our new home and gardens – though we still hire out much of the carpentry, excavation, plumbing and tree-felling. We’re enjoying acquiring many new skills, but if we’re not up to a job, we get someone else to do it.
* * *
Three years in, I’m happy with our four major decisions: I like the country; I like semi-retirement; I like our home; I like living together.
Of those four interwoven decisions, it’s living together that is the most unusual for our demographic. But all six of us swear by the choice.
We experience all the challenges that you might predict. There are differences to sort out, irritations to manage, discussions to have, guests to include, possessions to integrate. Sometimes it’s hard work.
Logistical issues get handled, like everything else, by discussion and common sense. More and more, things happen organically as they might in a family, or a small village. It’s first-come-first-serve for the washing machine, but we often combine washes to make a full load. Occasionally socks get lost, but didn’t they always? We pitch in together with the housecleaning and get the job done fast and vigorously. We each have our own fridge space, and are respectful of each other’s food purchases. We dine together almost every evening, and take turns with the cooking. There’s no doubt we eat well and have more fun with food than we did as separate couples.
The ultimate benefit that I experience is the support we provide for each other’s passions and projects. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel the uplift that comes with having committed partners at hand. Michael has done “passion maps” – a way of tapping into one’s vision and purpose – with several of us, leaving us with a sharper sense of what we want to accomplish with our lives. But however we have arrived at our intentions, projects and desires, I find that our community helps keep us on that chosen path.
It’s an accepted piece of wisdom that in a team, people have the courage to do things they might not otherwise attempt. This applies to our cluster of housemates. As soon as someone says, “I’ve been thinking I might try…”, there is always someone close by to encourage the new undertaking. We are braver and stronger individuals because of the strength of our community.
We’ve become a family, in that way of unconditionally being there for one another.
* * *
So – harking back to where I began this story – do I love them?
Well, of course. The only thing that has ever stopped me from loving people is my unexpressed judgements, opinions and expectations. Have I stopped having judgements? – You might as well ask if I’ve stopped breathing.
Has the communication become easier? Yes, it has, because I get a lot of practice.
I sometimes wonder: would I have done so well on my own with Rick, or instead would I have lived within my comfort zone and been less satisfied? Who knows? What I do know is that I have stretched myself and in doing so created a life that gives me pride and pleasure.
Was it fun, exciting, with moments of euphoria and inspiration? Yes, it was.
Was it hard work, frustrating, sometimes agonising? Most definitely.
Would I do it again, knowing what I now know? – hand on heart: in a flash.