Monthly Archives: March 2020

A little more about viruses and an opportunity to think about something else

A few more thoughts on viruses. Skip to final paragraph if you’ve had enough of that today!

Audrey, one of the resident hens.

The precautionary principle is a good guide to action. If in doubt (for example, because a new virus has shown up), the precautionary principle suggests we take the option that involves protecting others and protecting yourself most reliably. Is it over the top to take the advice of my best informed and most rigorous friend and not leave home at all? Here’s the thing–I can take that advice until I am clear that there is an option that protects the health system, other folks and myself equally well.

Blackie–the imaginatively named other member of our very small flock

Each person is only as safe as the worst decision of their relevant contacts. I return to the HIV epidemic, prior to the availability of treatments and fully accurate information about transmission, when testing took a lot longer than it does now and was less accurate… It became clear to me that each person I might have a relationship with would bear the consequences of all my prior decisions, the decisions of my previous partners and my preparedness to be honest about them. I would in turn bear the consequences of their decisions. And in each case, we could be only as safe as the worst decision either of us had made. If I was unable to negotiate safer sex, or if I made it hard for the other person to tell me all that I might wish to know—then I would not be affecting only myself, and might be acting in ignorance.

We need to think about this when we consider shaming others about what we believe they are doing right now, instead of listening to them. We need to bear it in mind when we are tempted into magical thinking–for example, that believing something is safe, is the same thing as it being safe. Viruses don’t care about your feeling of moral superiority or your feelings for special people in your life. They only care what we do–and even then they are only interested in whether it lets them replicate and travel, or prevents that happening.

Some serious propagating!

Lives can depend on our ability to hold difficult conversations in this context. This is where we find out whether we can hold difficult conversations. And if not, it is tough to build those skills as fast as a virus can move. It is good to face the fact that this is part of the difficulty: while our government prevaricates and sends out mixed messages… members of my family are reaching different decisions about what it is OK to do. Most of them cannot be told that their ideas are not in alignment with current science. If more people could hear this message, we would not be in such a pickle about the climate crisis, eh?

So I am working to honour those who have taken the time to have difficult conversations with me. I want to be a person who can hear when I am told I am doing the wrong thing and seriously consider this. I have lived a life of swimming against the stream in many ways, including by being a queer person–but this is not a reason for me to hold a rigid position of never listening to others’ concerns about my actions.

Sky through branches

There are places in life where others know better: after leaving an abusive relationship long ago, I decided that any time friends raised a red flag about my relationship/s, I should take that seriously. In our own lives we become accustomed to bad treatment that corrodes self confidence and the level of judgment needed for self-protection. Those who ask us to reconsider our conduct and to take more protective action are taking a social risk. They are placing trust in us, and they do it from their love and concern for us. Best not to skate right by such moments. Some of them have changed my life.

Daylily with raindrops

Are you ready to think about something else? I have been listening to the podcast Dolly Parton’s America from WNYC hosted by Jad Abumrad. No, I am not really a Dolly Parton fan of any note, though I did have a youthful love affair with ‘Jolene’ as covered by Olivia Newton John. *Cough*. And I do have a soft spot for Nine to Five, both the film and the song. This is first class storytelling that not only digs into Dolly Parton as a phenomenon, a songwriter, a storyteller and a phenomenally successful public figure and musician–but does so much more. The team working on this show take the story in such unexpected directions, it is quite wonderful and very disarming. I am loving listening to Dolly Parton’s laugh! But there is also such interesting social history, musical lore, and even musicology.

Vegetable seedlings

In the course of listening to the podcast, I came across this wonderful album by Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi. One standout track is Brown Baby (with Oud). Oh my goodness. So good.


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Sock kits

Sometimes it seems there is some kind of barrier to commencing a project. I got myself over a hump of not knitting slippers while quite a few people wished I would recently–and I did it by making all the decisions on one day, and starting the next. I gathered wool leftovers in about the right quantities, bagged them up, located needles and pattern, found stitch marker and darning needle… and while I was there, made 4 kits, each in its own bag. This decisively tipped the balance away from other activities and toward slipper knitting in the evening, and slippers are still piling up as a result.

Yesterday my covid 19-best informed and most rigorous friend essentially made the case for my shutting the gate and not going out at all from here on for some time. This is a contribution we can make, she said. We do not need to go out, and we can make sure we are not cases clogging up very much needed health care resources, and nor are we vectors for the virus to spread. Protecting the health care system (and need I say, health care workers, some of whom I am glad to have as friends) is a crucial goal at this time. And I won’t share all else that she said, bracing as it was.

That took some processing, but made complete sense, which is more than can be said for some of our government’s actions. Yesterday was a day on which 1000 people died in Italy alone, in a single day. Also the day I first heard that this virus has reached the Gaza strip. And on which news of lockdown in India reached me. Others face much larger challenges than I do. So I’m sitting with that decision, that has already been made by, or enforced on, so many others already. And I finished a sock.

And I thought, maybe I should make sock kits as well as slipper kits–because I do not own even one single ball of sock yarn anymore, and hours of spinning will be required to create one. I’m sure it will happen. But for now–sock kits that will mean I have simple knitting for all those Zoom meetings and calls. Knitting for long phone calls, maybe, sometimes. And for whatever other situation calls for sock knitting as a reassuring, soothing, fidget-managing, pleasurable activity.

Tough realities lie ahead. And if having a sock ready to go helps me manage them better–that would be a good thing. Anything that helps with rising above, is to be welcomed at a time of global crisis.

I feel sure there are many such stories out there. If you wish to share yours, please do!

For those interested in using up scraps, I have found the series #yearofthescrap at The Craft Sessions blog enchanting. I can only aspire to creating such beautifully designed gloriousness from scraps. I can’t bring myself to care enough to thoughtfully design, rip and design again. And regular readers know, I’m more likely to just charge in and make stuff. For me that works out! But for those who feel differently, or perhaps aspire to better designed scrap projects, or simply seek inspiration for their stash busting hopes–please do wander over.

Loquat blossom

And–I am thinking it might be good to share resources for when you want to think about something else. When you can’t turn the radio on and hear more about the pandemic. When you can hear your own anxiety about climate change keening alongside the anxiety about the virus. And so forth. Last night I watched Inhabit. It is now available for free–though of course, donate if you are able. It is an exquisitely beautiful film offering a permaculture perspective on preparing for the future. It showcases particular North American practitioners and projects, and it is rather wonderful viewing.


Filed under Natural dyeing

So. About viruses.

Greetings, dear readers. Let me be clear right from the get-go, that there are very reliable sources of medical information about the current covid 19 virus, and I am not one of them. Also, that the situations people are facing right now vary widely depending on who you are, where you are, what resources you have… and so much more. Your mileage may vary, and all that.

But… I keep thinking, in this current situation, about what it was like to be a young non-heterosexual as the HIV virus spread around the world, and the things I learned then, that inform me now. So just in case this turns out to be helpful for others, here are some key things I learned in the period before HIV was called HIV. When we did not understand how it spread, we did not know how to dependably protect ourselves, there was no treatment–and people we knew, people like us, began to die.

  1. viruses don’t care who you are or how you feel. Viruses travel just as happily between friends or lovers as between enemies. That sweet belief my parents express that I represent no risk to them because I share their DNA? Not a thing. The idea that this is a Chinese virus? Viruses have no nationality, they stalk the earth self-replicating, and that’s it. The appalling racism of white Australians like myself to people of Asian appearance, or folk who run Chinese (Japanese, Korean… who’s paying close attention?) restaurants for a living? Just as rubbish, just as cruel, as racism in any other time or setting. Nothing logical going on there anytime.
  2. viruses only care what you do. You either do things that make it easier for them to travel or you don’t. It isn’t a moral judgment, it’s a blunt fact. You can be sharing a virus without knowing you have it. You will pass it on unless you act appropriately–by which I mean, you act as if you have it already, and ask yourself if you would act this way if you knew for sure you had it.
  3. prejudice gets in the way of better outcomes for everyone. While HIV was seen as “a gay disease” (in the more developed world), there were plenty of places that treated everyone thought to be “gay” badly, whether they had HIV or not. But treating gay people (and sex workers, and injecting drug users) as expendable, where that happened, just meant the virus got to travel further, faster. People who needed to be tested were too scared to get tested because they had to face this prejudice. When it reached Africa and Asia, this misinformation and prejudice took new forms but continued to create similar problems for humans and opportunities for the virus to replicate and spread.
  4. being scared won’t protect you. Being informed and deciding how to act, plus sticking to it all the time–those things protect you. Being too scared to think just gets in your way and puts you at risk of irrational behaviour that places you and others at risk. Accepting someone else’s preparedness to do risky things because you’re not prepared to stand up and say what you think makes sense, places you both at risk.
  5. new skills can help you. I came from a conservative family. HIV meant that I had to acquire new skills. How to talk about sex, in some detail, in advance, more openly and frankly. How to negotiate about risk and protection. The people I learned from were people who had better skills about that than I did, including sex workers and BDSM practitioners. I was just a timid teenager, but the generosity of people who did all they could to help us keep one another safe helped me decide to learn. This time round I’m helping people problem solve their way into teleconferencing!!
  6. Context is important, and so is gratitude. I remember listening to a woman with HIV talk about how much easier she thought it was for someone more or less like me to deal with negotiating HIV protection, than it had been for her to tell her regular partner that she’d cheated, and now there were sexually transmitted infections to deal with. Fair call. In general, the suffering of this earth is very unequally distributed. Those who already are vulnerable, are likely to suffer so much more than lucky folk like me with a home, savings and food, living in a country with relatively affordable health care. Right now people in India are dealing with this as floods destroy homes and livelihoods. Right now the risk to First Nations people in my country is so much bigger than to white folk like me. Right now I have friends who have lost their incomes and others who may well die if infected because they are already so unwell. Right now people are dying in Africa with nothing like the health care of Europe or Australia. So the ethical thing for me to do is appreciate that this isn’t all about me and the risks I face. It’s about the risks other people face and how I can be part of lessening the risk to them.
  7. we need one another. We need support from one another. We need to pull together. We need practical mutual aid. The [other] challenges we face, including the climate crisis, have not gone away. To address the covid crisis we need to build stronger relationships, even if at physical distance. And for the future of all life on earth, we will need those relationships and more. So let’s not allow this whole physical distancing in order to protect one another and make sure health systems are available for those who really need them, get in the way of building relationships.


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Safflower dyes

When I found I could get safflower seed… it was just too good to resist. So I grew safflowers.

Does this look thistle-y to you? Yes! They are spiny and they are a form of thistle. On the upside, they were more than up for the conditions of a South Australian summer garden.

Downside… the entire harvest of petals, yes, petals! was 3 g. After quite a lot of petal pulling… However, upside… ravening brushtail possums patrol our vegetable garden these days and they were not at all interested in the safflowers. Three cheers!

I experienced some confusion in my attempts to find instructions on how to extract dye from this plant. It famously gives more than one colour when you treat it right, but one book referred to flower heads while others referred to petals (I tried flower heads and gave up). Others explained the principle behind dye extraction but, I have never done this before and wanted something a little more like a recipe. In the end, I followed the Maiwa instructions, for which I am grateful!

I stitched the petals into a bag made from a double layer of cotton voile (leftover from handkerchief making, no less!). There was so much yellow dye in stage 1!

Changes came about as I soaked and re-soaked my precious petals.

Finally, the dye bath! Some magic with Ph, and then… In goes my cotton thread, which immediately takes on a pink tinge.

Until eventually I have both yellow-dyed silk thread and pink dyed cotton thread.

And, of course, seeds and seed heads.

But for a sumptuous film about how this could be done by far more skilled hands and heads (and with fields of safflowers to begin with)… watch this!


Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

National Eucalypt Day

Well, who knew? But evidently it’s true. Today is national eucalypt day. My brother-out-law told me!

This is a E Camaldulensis (River Red Gum) that is growing in a nearby park. It may not be the best image of the tree but those rainbow lorikeets!

This is the same tree from further away for your delectation.

Here, the twin trunks of a E Cladocalyx (Sugar Gum) from Belair National Park.

Another E Camaldulensis from our neighbourhood. It has been housing rainbow lorikeets too.

This is also a River Red, one that has been growing since prior to colonisation. I can’t get its immensity into a single image because it now stands crowded in on every side. But what a glorious, beautiful, astonishing being it is.

This looks more like a E Maculata (spotted gum) to me, but I’m not claiming to know it all here, just sharing my awe with you, friends! I have tried hard to learn about eucalypts, but there is so much to know.

Corymbia Citriodora, I believe (lemon scented gum). There is a row of these beauties not far from home and they are fabulous in size, spread, scent and station.

And a glorious specimen of E Incognita (this is my way of saying I do not know its name!)

E Maculata, perhaps.

Well, my darlings. It doesn’t feel like national eucalypt day to me. It feels like a day of national covid 19 panic. Or maybe that’s just the PM on the television last night, a lot of the news coverage this morning, and talking down a member of my family in high stress this morning. If it feels like a day of unsettled or frightened or stressful or anxious or panicky to you today, I hope you can rest your mind on trees for a moment right here. I’m going to go into the garden for a while!


Filed under Natural dyeing

Climate action round up

What with bushfires in Australia, famine raising its terrifying face as locusts swarm across parts of Africa already in drought, floods in Indonesia and NZ, and a pandemic spreading across China and beyond, I have not decided to give up on pressing for action on climate and ecological crisis. I’m often doing some role at actions I attend but sometimes I get a photo in! So here’s a round up of a few from the last month or so through to early February.

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