The Backflip Butterfly

The Backflip Butterfly


I haven’t done a back flip for two years. Not the elected official variety, no, the callisthenic trampoline kind. I remember telling my self after I left school that I’ll always do back flips.

“Just kick up at me with both your feet.” The senior boy told me this simple, and in hindsight way too simple advice on how to do a back flip. A group of boys where standing at ground level around the edge of the trampoline pit waiting for their turn.

Mostly, their turn would consist of performing the tricks of previous boys, adding their own at the end. The games winner was the ‘last man standing’, doing all the tricks without fault. There was a handicap system, the tricks could be done contact or non-contact. The easer version was contact, landing on the tramp mat with the correct ‘contact’. These were one of the following; face (flat out, face down, arms extended), knees, by themselves or hands as well, flatback (opposite of face), roundback (self explanatory), seat (sitting down) and feet (only after a non feet contact). Non-contact was the above but included the trick in the air as well. They could be; forward or back summersaults, tucks, pikes (legs straight), twists or a combination of these. In the event of a tie the non-contact player won.

Sometime, between the games, we attempted tricks just for fun. This is what I doing, using the senior boys’ advice to attempt my first back flip. The simple advice worked. They were pleased when I accomplished my backflip. I was pleased, it was easy. Not the easy that swings that heavy weight off your ego, warping you to words and feats of excess. No, it was an easy easy. No weight, no expectation. There was just that general, warming feeling of accomplishment that came and went like a butterfly.

Later I learnt that this is how the self is sustained. Not by heroic acts but by being. Allowing the self to be. Self efficacy, I had explained to me, as having the bar of life at the right height. Too low and achieving involves no sense of achievement. And too high involves no accomplishment. Back flips are always the right height, and therefore challenge, for me.

As an added bonus, it turned out that each back flip was new. Each one involving the same trepidation it did that first time and still does. Interestingly, not the trepidation that comes forward to judge new things that I do in my life now.  Waited with middle aged caution and the ‘wisdom’ of years. No, that youthful pause, not even long enough to draw a full breath yet alone contain one beat of the heart, but nevertheless weighty. The scales that toll this weight rarely get used and when they do my ego is always involved and the outcomes not good.

Several years later I was racing my friends, me on a borrowed pushbike, back to school from Telopea Park. I was on the foot path, they were on the road, both facing a red light at Manuka. I rode across the southbound lane, for they were stopped as well. I look up at the northbound lane as I neared the centre of the road, and seeing nothing in that youthful pause, continued, head down and racing.


In that eternity that was contained in the next few seconds this is what happened. I heard brakes, in the back of my mind I thought this isn’t good. The screeching increasing rapidly in volume, even after I was thrown from my bike. The first time I saw what was screeching was when I landed, 10 odd meters down the road, facing the car. It turned out that blind spots do exist.

Several things then happened at once. I thought, well, that explained the noise and bad feeling but more importantly I was preparing to spring out of the way of the oncoming vehicle like a surprised feline. The motion I noted as I landed was the jolt as the cars momentum was finally checked by the squealing tyres. I relaxed a little, deflating like an appeased cat, and allowed the rest of the world to catch up. This mainly consisted of the pain where my right calf had scrapped the bike pedal as I was ejected from my ride. Queuing for attention was the rest of my body telling me that although flying was fun, landing on bitumen was not.

At the time I couldn’t tell what state I was in, self or ego, when trepidation caused that youthful pause.  In the latter case, it was when riding in the ambulance or some similar unusual, unreal moment, that I tried to string together how I’d got there. At the time most of this energy was used in excusing my actions. Only now am I more interested in the cause.

It’s in the unscripted moments, when the self displaces the ego, that I am most alive. For me, back flips are one of these occasions. That wondrous butterfly, that uses youthful pauses to enter your life, shine, and fade. So quick that your ego is left baffled, as it should be, for these moments are not to be honoured, just enjoyed.

Weight loss & the carbon that fuels a footprint

We are expected to eat sustainably. The lemonade stand that dispenses eating guides has a plethora of contradictory menus to choose from. Raw, fermented, paleo to no fat, no carbs, (no idea?). Adding to this are glittery chefs flogging sparkerly food that, I imagine, is chucked in the bin, after a taste, to make room for the next dish.

We have ended up with a food culture built on surplus , predicated on the notion that we can always burn off those excess kilojoules. I eat food to do work. Yes, I am one of the many that eat more than I burn. The question is should I burn more or eat less? I choose to complicate this question by attempting to account for the carbon used and ‘consumed’.

Soil is where food, (and I would argue all life) comes from. If life didn’t come from the soil then at least it is sustained by it. “… annual soil loss is commonly greater than one tonne per hectare across most of Australia. This is approximately twice the rate … at which soil is replaced by organic decomposition.” :

Pro. John Crawford, (University of Sydney) said two years ago, we have a bigger problem looming with “peak soil” than “peak oil.” As we loose soil we loose organic matter (OM% = organic carbon% X 1.72) so therefor carbon. There are ways to grow soil carbon as well as food but averaged across Australia food production cost carbon.

Some maintain a ‘healthy’ weight (ask at the lemonade stand above for clarification) without exercise. Some do this without trying while some have physical jobs that burn what they eat. Excluding those with eating disorders the rest of us contain an overweight person trying to get out. We have three choices. 1) eat less. 2) exercise more. 3)let than inner person out:).

3 may well be the happiest, and I’m sure would have been when voluptuousness was a true indication of surplus. Now our society judges this person as faulty. I feel this is harsh for although they consume more they don’t blot there carbon book further with excesses.

According to the Australian Institute of Sport the moderate exerciser can use 30% more kilojoules than the sedent while elite athletes can consume twice as much. Leaving the elite aside, let’s look at 2 above, the moderate exerciser.

2’s carbon book is blotted from the start, although food is not all carbon he is consuming excess. This he then burns. Cars, busses, power generation, all these have become more efficient. The fuel inefficient V8 ford falcon family car that dad drove have had there day. There is no efficiency in excess.

2 then uses manufactured products to aid him in his arson. From his sports clothes, few of which are natural, to his carbon fibre bikes and running machines he is using ‘matches’ as quick as they are made. Burning carbon to loose the weight that he has acquired through consuming excess.

We now question energy input for return, particularly in carbon accounting. How has 2 managed to hang onto his immunity for so long?


Social Memory and the Self

In a black mood I opened the door on one of my minds black rooms. Not expecting anything, for my mood held no joy. I was surprised that the process was cathartic. I left the room wallpapered with the words below. Thank you to Jan for holding the torch.


Social memory and the self.


I separate memory into two main parts, mechanical, (where the body is) and social, (where the self is). Their is a third, intermediate state, (the ego?) where the social is informed by mechanical memory, not the self.


Bill Murray, in the movie Groundhog Day, has one day to work things out. It’s true that he relives that day building on what he has learnt, building on memory, but he’s forced. Forced to use memory as a positive, against his will. In his first, original day, when his will is free, memory plays almost no part.


Bill used his mechanical memory in learning to play the piano and sculpture ice but this was only loosely tied to the plot. The plot hinged on the building of his social memory and its this I would like to explore.


In his ‘free will’ day Bill is switched off AND running. He is in that amalgam memory state, where social memory is on automatic. Where the social niceties have nothing to do with either being nice or being social. ‘Hello’ & ‘how are you’, if uttered are rhetorical, for rarely is the response acknowledged.


When my father was asked the latter his reply was, “Bloody Awful!”. This often had the curious affect of changing this empty, banal salutation into an exchange where both parties were present. The asker, immediately drawing on social memory, informed by the self, to form a response. And Dad, shinning eyes alert, waiting to see what happened next, like a Jack Russell in a hay shed full of hiding mice.


Bill, in reliving the same day is, as I have said, forced to draw on and build his social memory. Before getting to the present he does what most do first. Dig to the very bottom of their mechanical memory, and the past and future manifestations of this, to find an out. ‘I deserve this’ and ‘it’s my turn’ common phrases that come from this memory.


The wider social impacts and shallowness of mechanical memory can be seen, often after world financial shocks, by populations allowing themselves to be swayed by over simplistic arguments. Populist leaders play from a poisonous deck, laced with race, ethnicity and religious cards, to a public already looking for someone to blame.


It’s telling that the growth of the self, portrayed in Groundhog Day, contains within it the dedicated mechanical memory of Bill learning the piano. Few of us feel moved to acclaimation when the search for self is illuminated and then embraced, but put a peer on stage pervaying honed mechanical, dare I say ‘ego’, memory then we feel euphoric. No doubt the film would have been unpalatable without this candy, and that, I’m afraid, is somewhat my point.


I’ll digress a bit to explain that I’m not siding with either mechanical memory or social memory. A mix is required to have a life. It’s said art is 99% mechanics and 1% inspiration (flowing social memory). It is very hard too impossible to have art with only one of these ingredients.


Notes played in the right order, the right volume and at the right time may well entertain but rarely move. Conversely, I have been carried along by an adept in social memory but not been ‘touched’.


It’s the spaces between from where art springs.


Mechanical (and ego) memory easily over power. Logic, science, reason, these are only tools. Though often blunted by missuse we should remember that these splendid things we have have all been created by individual, inspired people being human. The Human Be-ing.


Back to Bill. Bill lies, cheats, steals, belittles people and even kills himself to escape but wakes up each morning still facing his self. Slowly, because he cannot find an out any other way, Bill starts to look inwards. Only now does he start to behave like a human. His actions are uncaculated, with unsure outcomes. He begins, unknowingly, to embrace uncertainty. Life starts to permeate the layer upon layer of non-growth rings he has built up, year on year.


In a sense he is not to blame, for these rings ‘protect’ him from reality. But like all shields they have a weight that saps energy and gravity that distorts perception. All of us have made shields. For myself, I keep them close at hand so I don’t overdose on reality. How else do we cope with homelessness, poverty, violence, death, and all the other painfully true arrows that life’s quiver holds for us.


The lowering, or ideally, the absorption of our shields is at the core of being. We bloom only in full and, paradoxically, crushing light. Dappled, shielded light is not strong enough to enable growth.


Social memory is born, grows and flowers in the immediacy. It cannot be nurtured or contained as any attempt to do so will involve value judgements that give false direction, biased by traditional memory.


Social memory, and therefore self, is a butterfly, not seeking security or justification and is most content when just being.


The eye is drawn to the butterfly, not where it was or where it is going…




Food for thought 2

One day on ABC radio I heard, “We pay half the price our parents did for food and a third our grandparents did”, this made me think why? and to what end.
Industrial agriculture has achieved an efficiency dividend of 2.5% per annum, those producers that have not been able to achieve this on farm have two choices, subsidise income off farm, in my area Government work in local schools or hospitals is a popular option, or the farm is adsorbed by those that have achieved the above goal.
In my experience most of these gains have come from reduced labour. The farm I was born on in the sixties employed three families, now it struggles to employ 1 person. As farming communities bleed workers into other towns, social and sporting clubs, schools and the local towns themselves loose members, students and customers reducing further the options for an off farm income locally.
So called ‘improved’ plant and animal genetics may well have increased yields but the nutritional density of these commodities has, and continues to fall. The food that was grow by many hands to feed the locals is now grown by few to fuel commodity markets. Something like 60% of the food we grow is exported yet if the trucks that feed our supermarkets stop we’ve got a week at best.
At this point ill bring in the soil. I am a grazier working in an intelligent landscape. The animals manage the landscape for me with short term grazing, followed by long term rest. Pulsing grazing, mimicking the landscape/ animal relationship that built the great prairies in America and the savannahs in Africa.
The diversity of the grasses present is a reflection of the grazing management, its effectiveness can be measured easily by an increase or reduction in landscape complexity, reflecting a positive or negative change in soil carbon.
What can be conceived by some as a simple system, grow grass – feed cows – harvest product, is as complex a community as I have witnessed. The primary purpose of grass is as a conduit for carbon into the soil. This carbon feeding soil biology which in turn provide services to the plant, mineral and water storage and movement being the main ones. The healthy grass the cow needs is only available at the end of this chain, the interest on invested money if you like, if you eat into your equality, your stuffed.
When I was at school the standard model was the biomass above ground equalled that below ground, the tree trunk, branches and leaves were mirrored underground. The livestock above ground, say a 500kg steer, was supported by a 500kg mass of soil biology below ground. Andre Leu, past president of the Organic Federation of Australia challenged this, “it’s more like an ice burg, one eight above ground, seven eights below ground.” More recently I had heard people say that only 5% of the biosphere is above ground, nineteen twentieths being below.
Whatever the true figure it is fact that we are losing soil carbon, losing complexity above and below ground, one result being reduced mineral density in the food we produce.
So why the soil lecture? I think it’s is analogist to our food system. The complex relationship between plant and soil is very easy to interrupt. If the plant is so run down that it cannot provide carbon to the soil, the soil starts to die. If some of the plants needs are provided directly, say via soluble fertiliser, the biology that would normally provide that service reduce and their payment, carbon from the plant, declines, reducing soil carbon.
In our haste to provide cheaper food we have disconnected not only the soil ecosystem functions but ourselves from our local food economy. I believe reconnecting ecosystem function, in communities above and below ground, and in particular human food communities has the potential to help rebuild farm, people and community.
How do we regain the ground we have lost, and I mean this physically as well as metaphorically? We need less with more. Less miles, less chemicals, less corporate greed. Less farm and rural suicide. More people growing soil and food. Starting to pay more for real food rather than less for packaged efficacy.
Ask more of your shop, your grower, your restaurant, where is this food from, how far has it travelled, when and by whom was it picked and did you see the soil:)



People get angrier the closer you get to the truth, why?

“So let me get this straight. I can’t tell a blind person she’s blind?”, I exasperate. “It’s better to ‘white lie’ or say nothing at all”. This marked the end of conversation I had in 1997 in a pub in Goulburn. I was pumped, not over this exchange but because I had just been in attendance at one of the best weeks of my life. A grazing course that I still draw on to string together the daisy chain of my working life so far, growing food.

Back to the exchange. “So a lady is bumping around, unsure of herself”, I had said earlier, “and you think the truth will impose your values on her situation?”

My unlikely premise wasn’t judge as faulty, rather truths mechanism. The counter was that the truth would become self evident. Our intervention could devalue or even somehow derail what time would see done.

Wind forward 19 years to the 2016 Australian federal election campaign, where does truth lie now. Paul Kelly, the political journalist not the singer, brought me up speed last week on the radio program “big ideas”.

“The treasurer can’t afford to tell us the true state of the economy, for the backlash will mean seats.”
These are not Paul’s exact words but definitely his intent. He made it clear that it didn’t matter what colour the tie, the treasurer was tied.

I’ve no doubt that this truth would make us angry, most truths do. Poverty, domestic violence, suicide, global warming … the list goes on. We are truth averse. Perhaps the ‘harmless’ platitudes that we consumed while young have entered our DNA and we can only handle truth watered down. We no longer have the guts to digest it.

Keeping In Touch groups, set up after my ’97 course, had fellow graziers come together to open farm days at members places. The unique thing was they were open book days as well, the functioning as well as financial side was open up for all to see. Constructive comment actively sought.

Truth and Reconciliation Commissions set up in post apartheid South Africa are another case like this, where truth and reality are allowed in the same nurturing room.

‘Truthfulness’ is still an important value but the value of truth’s seems to have slipped. It’s as though we judge ourselves unqualified and use this as an excuse to withhold comment, lest we ‘derail’ fate.

How can we expect truth when it’s so easy to hide behind our own.

How do we bell the truth cat.

Start small. I’m a great believer in not expecting others to do what I can. So if I expect truth I must offer truth first, but in this case with strings attached.

Truth is courage acted.

Be brave enough to say it as you see it without the temptation to caste your perception into a shield, or worse, into a sword.

Honour truth by accepting it graciously from others. When honouring others with the truth, have courage that they won’t get too angry:)

Food for thought 1

I grow food to feed people, feeding some of this food to the people who help me grow the food. Some of these I also pay for their services and others only get money, no food.

Which is better off.

As I drive down brown mountain to get supermarket waste for my pigs three radio programs provide an insight into the above.

The first is a world business program. One of the many that have pushed aside the light hearted early morning reflections that provided dawn enrichment to be replaced by commentary on getting only the ‘rich’ bit.

Malawi, a southeastern African country is suffering food shortages that are sure to worsen as projections plot its population doubling by 2030. With modern farming techniques out of reach of its substance farmers who work small holdings of around a hectare.

Investment from the UN, matched by a philanthropic investor, has created a co-op of over 400 farmers growing sugar cane. Business and agronomic management are multinational with farm management, including the hand cutting of the cane being local.

The farmers still own their land and get dividends according to world sugar prices. The farmers can now afford to send their children to school, build better houses and some had started their own business.

The investors were being paid back early and another 800 odd farmers are interested in joining the co-op that is diversifying into maze and fish.

This is a good story so far, with land sovereignty and economic returns seemingly assured.

What concerns me is this, a story with the tag ‘addressing food shortages’ didn’t mention food, only world commodities. What was not stated but assumed was that they used the cane money to buy food, if so who from?

I caught the tail end of my second radio program, Sunday Extra, as I drove up the dirt road of Tantawangalo.

An academic and philosopher was pointing out that the earth needs healing time to recover. That a spiritual non religious space needs to be consciously created for this to happen in.

‘Can we get off the roundabout now’ being as good a phrase as any to express both CEO’s and the beggars exasperation at constantly being on the move.

Economic and emotional pressures impede on my ability to find space for myself and my farm.

The dry autumn means that right now I should reduce the stock on my land. This I try to balance with the economic concerns of supply of produce and income to service debt and family needs.

Whatever way I go, at least one will suffer in the short term, reducing the space needed by all.

The last radio program, a Background Briefing repeat, was meandering to a finish as I crossed the Coolumbooka bridge into Bombala. It’s topic was the CSIRO’s CEO, Larry Marshall.

Larry, like the rest of us is stuck between desire and possibility. But unlike most of us he is expected to produce a clearly defined map with the route restricted by the fuel in the tank. Does he go via the plateau of continued measurement or push into the unknown scrub of brown tech.

This process is guaranteed to produce losers, some may say this is what Larry is. While debate about the direction of climate change science rages I have two observations.

The first is a quote from Professor Stewart Hill that I think gives a little credence to one of Larry’s choices. Pro. Hill finds “that he can get any amount of money to monitor the extinction of the human race but nothing to fix it.” So what can we do NOW to fix climate change?

This brings up my second and major point. Over half the excess atmospheric carbon dioxide come from the worlds soils. Industrial agriculture halves the carbon content of the soil every 40 years.

This is understood by some but the soils potential to start sequestering atmospheric carbon NOW is not.

I have tried to stop the carbon loss from my soil. Changing from set stocking to rational grazing and using increases in species diversity as a barometer to ecosystem health. But the space my landscape needs is shared by my wallet.

Managed ecosystem are a relatively new invention and we are still struggling to evaluate what we want out of them.

The ecosystem managers are caught in the nexus between food and money with the ‘green or even multicoloured’ earth view on one side and the stark ‘black or red’ accountant view on the other.

This is why I engaged in the local food economy. Finding local solutions to international problems. Encouraging and promoting carbon farmers. Trying to get balance in the soil and in the bank.

Farmers have always been in the recycling business, producing nutrition from nutrients. Carbon has, and always will be, the major ingredient.