there’s a drawer in my study

There’s a drawer in my study.

From the outside it looks like any ordinary drawer. It has a wood facia, and a simple aluminium handle. It’s like any other drawer in the cabinet.

But inside this one hides something that fascinates me every time I open it.

It’s full of superseded electronic equipment. Maybe you have one too.

There are about four different old model iPhones and an old-school iPod. There’s a very early Samsung phone or two and a stand-alone digital camera. A fairly original iPad whose battery died and rendered it dysfunctional. There’s a couple of cheap mp3 players and a small stack of USB memory sticks with enormous capacities (one holds all of 64mb!). There’s even a genuine 1980’s Sony Walkman, and it’s cousin – the ’90s era Discman (if you don’t know what those do don’t be ashamed, just ask your parents).

Just opening the drawer is a walk down memory lane. I remember when each of those devices arrived, heralding new possibilities, new technology, new connectivity, mult-functionality. Each seemed to promise a whole new world…and for a time each delivered.

Portability, storage, connection, communication. Even coolness (let’s be honest, I’m not now nor ever have been cool, and even an iPhone wouldn’t have changed that, but dreams are dreams). Each device tells a story to me, and I often find myself spending a few minutes reminiscing about an earlier stage of life in which that device played some part, or about an earlier, simpler time (that Walkman…and a 1982 mix-tape!).

They remind me of just how much more capable 2019 era devices are. My phone can perform every function that I find in my drawer, but faster, more effectively and more intuitively.

But they tell other stories too, stories that I’m finding myself much less comfortable sitting with.

Stories of waste.

Stories of consumption.

Stories of chasing fashion for its own sake.

Stories of designed obsolescence and rabid consumerism (my own, just to be clear).

Stories of the relentless pace of change.

The drawer is a reminder to me that I (and lets be honest, we) have been writing cheques that our planet just cannot continue to cash. We continue to pursue more and more and more, faster and faster, fancier and fancier. And the cost to our planet, our environment, and maybe even our selves seems to be getting higher and higher and higher.

What cost to produce this drawer full of now useless, superseded electronic items that are mostly less than 20 years old? Or the companion pile of outdated laptops that sit on a nearby bookshelf (maybe I’m a low-level hoarder)? What cost for all of this designed obsolescence and now superseded technology?

I don’t know the answers, I just now I sit less comfortably with the story of this drawer every time I open it.

in the beginning…

Over the last couple of years I’ve been entering into that most terrifying realm for all parents: teaching a child to drive.

My #1 child is all the things you’d hope for in a learner driver. She’s cautious, obedient, patient (mostly), understands road rules, knows enough about how the car works to understand what’s happening when she pushes that pedal or pulls that lever.

We’ve taken our time, working up from what we came to know as “industrial estate Sunday” (you know…where the industrial estates are all filled with learner drivers on Sunday afternoons) to quiet back roads, to suburban streets before finally graduating to freeways and busy arterial roads.

We’ve used professional instructors at a few critical times (I’d far rather pay someone to teach freeway merging than sit in the passenger seat myself for a couple hours of white-knuckle on and off-ramp experiences), built in some road trips to get bulk hours, and had her drive all the local kid-taxi shuttles for her siblings.

We’re now past the critical 100 hour mark which under the Queensland system enables #1 child to go and take the driving test. Our time as teacher/learner is coming to an end.

It’s been largely pain and tear free, and despite a few near misses (which I assume all learners suffer) and a few stalling-in-the-middle-of-an-intersection moments (ditto), everything has gone pretty well.

I’ve worked hard to be outwardly the least anxious person in the car, to not raise my voice, to not provoke nerves or (unhealthy) fear in my learner.

And yet…

Every time I’m in the passenger seat, I’m all eyes on stalks, and hand hovering over the handbrake lever kind of nervous. I’m sure I’ve left dents in the passenger footwell from the number of times I’ve tried hard to apply the brake pedal from my side of the car. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve repeated my mantras (“the secrets of good driving are smooth, deliberate use of the controls”, “remember to look ahead and anticipate” and so on) desperately hoping she’ll finally listen. As we approach the finish line (at least for this first one, #2 is lining up in in just a few weeks for his learner’s permit), it frustrates me that I can’t fully relax despite the evidence that she’ll (probably, maybe, possibly) be fine.

The truth is that despite the everyday nature of driving, every time we get in a car we put our life on the line – trusting in our own abilities and attention span, and that of every other driver around us. It’s almost the very definition of a dangerous activity, even though we rarely think of it in those terms. And those dangers, the immediacy of them, never become quite so stark as when you put your precious 17 year old behind the wheel, conscious of their limited skills, non-existent experience, and the multi-tasking nature of driving a car as a beginner.

Life is like that isn’t it? The things we take for granted everyday were once new, and fresh and risky. The things we can do without thinking once took every ounce of concentration we could muster. Maybe teaching #1 to drive has just reminded me that we were all beginners somewhere along the line, and that learning (particularly a skill where there is danger) is a difficult and challenging road (pun 100% intended).

And maybe it’s a reminder to me that it’s been a while since I was genuinely a beginner at some new skill.

A few years back I started riding mountain bikes with mates. We would head out into the bush, desperate to recover our lost youth, struggle up hills and bomb down the other side over roots and rock and (in my case very small) jumps. I now ride a few times a week and these days rarely think about the dangers or difficulties of this pastime. But I do recall that it wasn’t always like that. It used to be that near misses, and actual crashes were part of every single ride. I recall the months I went with gravel-rashed knees and elbows that for some reason take much longer to heal now than they did when I was 13. I recall every descent was a cause for nervousness and anxiety. Most of that is gone…unless I take a wrong turn and head down a trail that’s beyond my capability.

Deep down of course, I know that when riding my mountain bike I’m always just one mistake away from a busted collarbone, or a battered, bruised 48 year old body. A bit like driving a car. And just like driving the car, I rarely think about that reality.

Maybe teaching Miss 17 to drive is reminding me of all these things: being a beginner, the challenges of learning new skills, my own fragilities, the ease with which I dismiss danger, the task of trusting my child to grow into her adult self.

Maybe it’s me who’s learning after all.

in plain sight

I ride bikes a bit, walk a bit, run a bit. And because I’m essentially a creature of habit, those attempts to fight off the middle-aged spread often see me following the same path week-in and week-out.

One of the mountain bike trails I ride I have now been down 242 times. On another the count is 172. That’s a lot of trips over the same bit of ground, past the same scenery. I almost feel like I know every tree, every branch, every rock.

For all that I reckon I know those trails inside out (what’s the phrase…I know them so well i could ride them blindfolded? I don’t think I’ll give that a whirl!) I also think that same familiarity means that I’ve stopped noticing. There’s the possibility that when I ride the same path often enough, I stop seeing my surrounds.

It might be the same where you walk, or along the roads you drive every single day. We can become immune to our surroundings, disconnected from them, oblivious to them.

Naturally if something big changes, we notice. If you sneak in and add a new jump to my favourite trail, I’ll notice it (right before I crash!), and if a new house goes up overnight on my afternoon walking route, I’ll likely notice that too. Yesterday I found a new roundabout on a road I’ve driven hundreds of times before…but not travelled for a while. I noticed it.

But that’s not usually how change happens is it. Change often happens slowly. Incrementally. Millimetre by millimetre. The trail slowly widens to make a corner easier, the dirt wears away revealing a little more rock each time to make it a little rougher, the soft-fall in the playground is scattered one bark-chip at a time until it’s not quite as safe anymore.

These things happen in plain sight. And unless we’re specifically looking for them, they’re not easy to spot. Unless we occasionally ride the trail intent on noticing what’s new…maybe we’ll never be aware.

I reckon life can be a little like that too. The way I treat my family members can change little by little, almost imperceptible, until I’ve done damage to the relationship. My work ethic can slip a fraction here, and a fraction there, until I’m not quite delivering. My spiritual life might slide – I skip some prayer time here and there and all of a sudden it’s a week, or a month, or a year since I prayed.

There’s a few things that I think have maybe happened this way in my own life. Maybe I need to take a ride down the trail intentionally looking to see where change has (unintentionally) occurred.

What about you?

the telling of stories

Photo by Antenna on Unsplash

Recently I was in a team building day.  It happens that the (work) team I’m part of has undergone some significant changes recently, so we decided to spend a day together as the ‘new’ team to mark this new beginning.

Part of the day involved the invitation to take 7 minutes to tell a little of our life story in answering the question “how did you get to be here?”.

Even as I write, it sounds like a simple task, that would have been no big deal; just tell the stories and move on to the important parts of they day. Right?

That (of course) isn’t how it worked out. It turns out that the opportunity to listen carefully to a bunch of colleagues tell something of their life story (even if only for 7 minutes each) is a rich and rewarding one, revealing all sorts of connections with one another, finding out what really matters, or why the other is a certain way.  The opportunity to tell your own story too, to an intently listening group is a rare privilege – providing the opportunity to think about the core of who you are, and to organise your thoughts around your own life’s adventures.

We discovered all sorts of things about each other over those 63 minutes (do the maths and you’ll work out how many are in my team).  We laughed so hard the actual laughter was funny in itself. And we were on the very edge of tears at other time as genuinely moving or profound stories were shared. It was, for me, the highlight of our day together.

I walked away so much the richer for the time shared, and so glad for the opportunity to listen, and to speak.

And also a little nonplussed.

Maybe it’s just in my world (genuinely I mean that), but it seems opportunities like this – to listen to another speak of their deep story – are a bit too rare in our modern world. Social media is not the place where deep stories are shared.  Increasingly busy schedules means the time to stop and listen (really listen…when was the last time I did that? you?) seems harder to find. Minds filled with a thousand and one things are less able to slow down, focus, pay attention to the other.

It seems we (by which I mean I) might be missing out on something important here.

Later that week I dropped into the mechanic to pick up my car – usually a 2 minute interaction involving me transferring horrendous sums of money to his account, and a few inane pleasantries.  This day, for reasons I couldn’t articulate at the time, I went a little beyond the usual and asked a couple of more open questions – and we got into quite a valuable conversation.  It only lasted maybe 5 minutes, and for all I know he might have been thinking “c’mon mate, take your car and leave, I have work to do” – but it didn’t seem like that.  He seemed to be enjoying the conversation, and the storytelling as much as I was.  This encounter reminded me that it doesn’t need to be team building meetings, or campfires or counselling sessions where we share our stories…it’s possible even in the moments of our every day…provided we’re willing not to be rushed.

Now it’s quite possible that this is not news to you, and I’m just late to the realisation (or to be charitable, the reminder) about the value of listening to the story of another – but it felt like quite a big couple of moments for me in that week as I encountered the importance of telling and listening to stories from one another’s lives.

Of course we can hear the story of another through their actions too, as the famous quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us: “Who you are thunders so loudly I can’t hear a single word you say.”  But while that is without question true and valuable, it seems to me there’s also something precious about inviting someone to tell their own story using words – and listening carefully and interestedly (a new word I just invented) while they do so.

It’s a personal challenge for me, a life-long introvert fairly well down one end of the I-E scale of your average Myers-Briggs personality test – but it is a challenge I find myself interested in taking up.

So…hit me up for a chocolate milkshake…I’m ready to listen to your story. 😉

it’s just a trail

Recently I had the extraordinary opportunity to travel to Tasmania with a bunch of guys to ride mountain bikes for a week or so. Yes, indeed, I do realise how privileged I am to be able to do so. It was an amazing week.

We rode in two places, Blue Derby (which I’ve ridden before and know and love) and Maydena Bike Park. If you like riding bicycles on dirt trails among rocks and trees, you should put both these incredible places on your list.

Now before the rest of this will make sense (if indeed it has any chance of that) you should know that when it comes to mountain biking, I’m relatively average. I ride regularly at local trails around my city and suburb, I have a nice bike, and I enjoy it – but I’m not particularly special. I’m not the kind of guy you’ll see on those YouTube videos hurtling down some vertical descent, or starring in World Cup or Enduro World Championship races all over the globe. I also don’t really do jumps…I like it when my tyres are in contact with the ground. Really I’m just a guy who goes riding with his mates and has a good time. If I don’t crash, I’m generally happy. I even made my own hashtag to describe my level of competence: #veryaveragetrailrider

So when preparing for Tasmania, it was with a certain degree of trepidation. This is “proper” mountain biking country.

Continue reading

to be happy…and yet…

It’s time I started writing again after quite a long break. I’ll probably be rusty. Bear with me (or just let this and the next couple pass by). Cheers!


Photo by Diogo Nunes on Unsplash

It was an excellent moment. Delightful even. And it made me happy.

I’d spent a few months filling in some parts of a senior role within the organisation I work for. One of those tasks was to join the senior execs for their weekly meeting. It was the kind of meeting that deals with HR and risk and budgets and complaints and legal issues and strategy questions and staffing concerns and and and and. All the kinds of things that I’m neither good at, nor all that interested in.

And this moment marked the end of that period of filling in. The moment my last meeting as part of the group wrapped up.

I was so happy to have finished, to get those few hours each week back into my diary. I’d been counting down the weeks, and the blessed moment had finally arrived. I could (and maybe did) have done a little dance.

And yet…I also walked away a little sad.

I’d come to really value the people I was meeting with. To understand that in exercising their own gifts and skills they want the best for the organisation at least as much as I do.

I’d come to realise that I was learning a huge amount from each of them individually, and from participating in the meetings with them collectively.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to re-invent myself as an accountant or HR manager or risk specialist on the basis of this series of meetings…but nonetheless I’d learned a huge amount and valued the opportunity. As much as I was happy…I felt sad too.

It was a thoroughly confusing moment, to realise that as much as I was happy (and I most definitely was), there was also a little gloominess in the mix (and it was real).

It is, I guess, a strange, but very human thing that we can have these seemingly contradictory feelings in the same moment.

Maybe it’s similar to those contradictory feelings of grief and relief when an elderly relative passes after long and painful health battle.

Or the mix of disappointment and joy when a much-anticipated event is cancelled, but frees up enough time for some long overdue family time (or an afternoon nap 😉 ).

Maybe living with contradiction, with seemingly contrary emotions is entirely human. Is holding in tension two things that seem impossible to have happily co-exist a vital daily reality?

For me at least, realising my capacity to be both happy and sad in the same moment was a helpful reminder. A reminder that the world I inhabit is rarely either/or. Rarely black or white. It’s more often both/and. More often shades of grey.

In so many ways we’re inhabiting a complex world, building for ourselves a a complex and confusing culture. I wonder if, for me at least, learning this capacity to hold opposites in tension, to notice the contrasts in myself, and in the world around me, might just help me make sense of it.

Being happy and sad at the same moment might just be a pointer to a bigger reality.

Still, the next time the appointed hour for that meeting rolls around and I notice a big yawning space in my diary so I can pursue other work? I think happiness might just win out. 🙂

overland with the fam

Tasmania is without doubt one of the best places in Australia for family adventures. And on an island full of great places to explore, and great adventures to experience, the Overland Track stands out.

The six day walk from Mt Barney in the central highlands south to Lake St Clair is justly one of Australia’s best known and most walked routes.  From the heights of Mt Barney to deep temperate rainforest, from spectacular waterfall views to glorious highland tarns, the Overland Track has something for everyone.

We set out with a bunch of friends to walk the Overland Track. In our group were kids aged from 10 years old and up, with a wide variety of walking experience together with their respective parents with a similar variety of outdoors experience. Our own kids are 13 and 15 and proved the ideal age for the walk.  The 9 year old in our family opted for a solo holiday at Grandma’s…she didn’t feel quite ready for the walk and we didn’t want to push her into something like this too soon.

There’s a bit of logistical work to do on a walk like the Overland Track – with gear to be organised and transport at either end to be sorted. We won’t bore you with those details – head over to the official website to find lots of great information on preparing for the walk.  You’ll also need to think about time of year. The peak season is the late summer – January and February – with less rain and snow falling at that time of year (less, but not none!). In winter it’s a truly difficult walk and you’d want a lot of winter (snow) walking experience before tackling it. We hit the trail early January in the summer school holidays.

There are a couple of ways to do the walk: self-organised or with a guided group. If you’re not an experienced walker, the guided groups offer a fantastic way to complete the walk – with all the challenges of gear, logistics, cooking and navigation taken care of for you, and experienced guides to show you all the highlights along the way. Even with guides it’s still a long walk though, so don’t be too complacent if you take this option.

Long distance walks in Tasmania are based around the choice of using simple bush huts, or camping in tents – and the Overland Track is no different. There are huts and camping areas at each night’s camp, and you can use either (but you must carry camping gear in case the huts are full). Staying in huts can be crowded and noisy, but it can also be a great way to meet people who have come from all over the world to walk the Overland Track. They also enable respite from weather that can turn pretty nasty at short notice!

In our group there were enough people with bushwalking experience (and having walked the Overland Track before) that we could safely opt to be self-organised rather than take the guided option.  Both Sheri and I had walked the track together a few years ago and were excited to share it with our kids before they get too much older.

Our kids were pretty committed to preparing for the Overland Track – and it’s not a preparation to take lightly. We did lots of day walks around south-east Queensland, an overnight test walk into Mt Barney Creek, and the kids made their own decision in the weeks leading up to the trip to walk to and from school regularly rather than the bus or bike options they’d usually choose (a distance of around 5km each way).  By the time our walk rolled around, they were fit and ready to go…and excited!

I won’t go into too much gear detail except to say we carried two small tents, cooked using a Trangia fuel stove, and that the kids definitely carried their fair share of gear. The 15 year old daughter carried all her own gear, plus a share of family equipment, while the 13 year old carried his own equipment plus our family’s daily lunch supplies. Sheri and I carried a little more gear than the kids, but they definitely kicked in their share.

We kept a good lookout for value-for-money equipment in preparing to go, and apart from borrowing from generous friends chose to pick up some bits and pieces from Aldi, and an on-line discount supplier. I wouldn’t recommend Aldi gear if you’re going to be doing regular long distance walks, but for a one-off summer walk we found their down sleeping bags, boots, hiking socks and two-main tent fit for their purpose.  A 55l pack for the 13 year old, gaiters (a definite for the Overland track!) and waterproof pants all came from on-line discounters. We didn’t skimp on rain jackets though, conscious they’d probably get a workout (and they did!) so opting for good quality rain gear.

We planned our menu together, and put together a tasty selection of recipes including home-made Bircher muesli we mixed up each night for the following morning, wraps and crackers with a variety of fillings for lunch, and a mix of stir fry meals for dinner. Other friends in our group used commercially available dehydrated meals for dinner and definitely had a quicker and easier meal prep time than we did, but there’s generally no rush.  We let the kids go crazy on making up some trail mix (nuts, chocolate, lollies, dried fruit etc) to their own specification – you’re going to burn lots of calories on a walk like this so regular snacking is important, and we also carried as much fresh fruit as we thought we could.

The Overland Track is an incredible walk. It starts at the base of the majestic Cradle Mountain, and within a matter of minutes the steep, tough climb to Marion’s Lookout begins. This first couple of hours is the hardest of the week, but our kids bounced up the climb like they were out for an afternoon neighbourhood jaunt. The view from the top on a fine day (which we had) is incredible. From there, day one continued around behind Cradle Mountain and an optional side trip to the summit. Sheri took the 13 year old to the top in what turned out to be a quite difficult and at times exposed climb to an incredible summit, while the 15 year old and I stayed on the main track toward the night’s first campsite at Waterfall Valley. We were off to a great start.

What followed was another five days of fantastic walking, lovely campsites, glorious views, and the kind of family experience you’d dream about.  Hours of walking with the kids, chatting about life, the universe and everything, were interspersed with periods where they were walking with other kids from our group so Sheri and I had plenty of time to walk and chat too.

It’s hard to pick highlights from a walk in which every day was unique and special, but there are a few that stand out:

  • A sunny afternoon enjoying the lovely grass campsites of Waterfall Valley and watching the sun set behind Barn Bluff
  • An optional side trip to the summit of Mt Ossa (Tasmania’s tallest) was rewarded with an astonishing summit area after a hard scrambling climb. I couldn’t make the walk (a little dodgy knee action), but Sheri and the kids joined some friends for the trip – and they haven’t stopped raving about it since.
  • We camped some nights, and stayed in the huts on others and enjoyed meeting walkers from around Australian and beyond – including a dad with his 7 and 9 year old kids who charged through the walk in remarkable style.
  • On our fifth day, from Kia Ora to Windy Ridge, the rain set in. We’d had great weather up until this point, but this day was bleak, cold and wet (even in summer time the weather on the Overland Track can turn nasty, with snow possible any time of year). Rather than bemoan the weather, we celebrated with the kids, telling them “embrace it, this is the real Tassie!” We buttoned up the waterproof gear, splashed our way along tracks that were more like creek beds than dry walking trails and explored a number of side trails to spectacular waterfalls along the Mersey River. It rained all day, the kids loved it, we coped well physically, and were rewarded with the big, modern, well equipped hut at Windy Ridge as a fine place to warm up, dry out and spend our last night on the track. While on other days we’d walked intermingled with our larger group of friends, on this day we spent most of the time just walking as a family unit…and that made it all the more special.
  • While it’s possible to walk right along the shoreline of Lake St Clair to the finishing point at its southern end, that day’s walk is rough, slow and not particularly scenic, so most people (us included) finish the walk at the northern end of the lake and organised a ferry across the lake to the official finishing position. That last day’s walk down to the lake edge is fast, flat, scenic and includes a spectacular swing bridge over the Narcissus River, before a (nearly compulsory) celebratory swim in the icy-cold waters of Lake St Clair….we were done!

The kids smashed this walk. We had zero complaining, zero whinging about no mobile phone or internet access. We had some blisters, sore shoulders, hips, feet as you would imagine, but the kids truly loved being immersed in this spectacular wilderness environment. We had one gear failure – my trusty boots gave up the ghost on day two and only survived by being taped together each morning with Elastoplast – but an otherwise trouble free walk. Our only regret was that the 9 year old wasn’t quite up to joining us (yours might be, but ours wasn’t)…the bonus to that being that we might have to make a repeat visit in a couple of years when she’s ready.

A walk like the Overland Track (either alone or with the family) isn’t easy. It takes preparation, training and a certain degree of skill and capability in the outdoors (particularly if the weather turns bad). That said, there are the guided options I mentioned earlier, or the option to walk with friends who do have the skills and experience necessary.

When all is said and done though, the memories of a trip like this will last a lifetime for kids, and set them on a path to pursue adventure, with the confidence that comes from having completed (and enjoyed) such a trip.

This story was originally written for a family adventures website, so it’s a little different to my normal writing. Its now published here to make sure I don’t lose it. Hope you enjoyed!