Serial Novel “The Sorrows” - March 2

Yes, I feel terrible.

Yes, I should have emailed you weeks ago.

Yes, I received your voicemail message. Which of course startled me because, really, who leaves voicemail messages these days?

I don’t mean to jest. I heard the concern in your voice. I’ve been annoyed and depressed and angry. I guess I wanted to spare you all the self-loathing. But as you so politely asked me whether anything could possibly be wrong, who am I to deny you an answer?

Let’s begin with my new country place. I finally drove out to inspect the building site expecting to see, well, I guess I was hoping to see a finished home and greenhouse. Gleaming and new, ready and waiting to move in.

I’d driven out to Nyora by myself because it was impossible to tie the architect down to a time. A site visit was scheduled then rescheduled then cancelled. I was going round in circles. So I thought why not drive the 100 kilometres from the city into the drifting hills of South Gippsland? The Monash Freeway leads you out of the city and the fraying outer suburbs. Peel off onto winding country roads and within minutes you’re rolling through the small township of Nyora.

A Post Office, a general store, a pharmacy. There isn’t even a hotel or bottle shop. Which is a travesty for an Australian country town. No matter how tiny the population.

My place is on the other side of Nyora, up on the hills off Forest Road. Four hectares, ten acres. I guess it must have all been a forest at some stage. Local historians say there was a time when the forest was so dense you could walk from one end of Gippsland to the other, from tree to tree without touching the ground.

But all those magnificent century-old trees were logged and the land cleared for cattle and dairy farming. Thousands of hectares of old-growth forests have been felled to meet a 30-year quota of woodchips for producing low-quality paper and cardboard. Removing the forests destroyed the biodiversity, the wildlife.

There are still a few native trees on my four hectares, a small clump of native vegetation along the rear boundary offering some privacy and protection. My house and greenhouse is being built further up the sloping land, just below the crest of the hill. Looking out over the wooded foothills that tumble down to the flatlands and wetlands and mangroves that reach out to Western Port Bay. You can see Phillip Island and French Island and the western shoreline of the Mornington Peninsula.

On a clear day it’s breathtaking. When the mist drapes in it brings a sense of awe and mercurial wonder, a glimpse of the majestic. It’s why Anna and I decided to purchase the land the moment we saw the endless, breathless view. Felt the vast, unbounded possibilities.

Awe is a remarkable sensation. I read that it’s critical to our well-being — just like joy, contentment‌ and love. It comes with tremendous health benefits that include calming our entire nervous system and triggering the release of oxytocin, the hormone that promotes trust and bonding.

Awe activates our vagal nerves, those clusters of neurons in the spinal cord that regulate various bodily functions. Slows our heart rate and deepens breathing. Alleviates stress and worry. Calms the seething, turbulent mind. Quietens the self-critical voice. Eliminates self-preoccupation.

Such transcendence simply from looking out at an endless view. After losing Anna, is it any wonder that this is where I wanted to settle? To build our dream home, our refuge against all the madness in the world. Our haven.

A home sited away from the road, nestled on the other side of the crest so it can’t be seen by any passerby. The plan is to plant it out with native trees, regenerate the forest and rebalance the ecology, bring back the wildlife. Disappear into nature.

I applied to have the sagging powerlines at the bottom of the property buried underground the day after the sale settled. A fairly straightforward procedure given the risk of bushfires. My architect said the government would pay for the replacement works.

Of course, I ended up paying. And of course, nothing’s been done because they have to wait for the home to be finished. Or rather the building site that looks like a bomb site.

You know those gleaming renders I showed you before I left, all those exteriors and interiors of the extended low-slung modernist farmhouse with an elongated greenhouse flowing from the kitchen and dining?

The corrugate roof gently pitched and layered with solar panels at just the right angle? The rooms that effortlessly flowed into each other as the day progressed? The library awash with soft light and wraparound shelves to house all my books? All seven thousand of them?

The verdant breezeway protected from the prevailing winds? The standalone self-powering guesthouses? The underground car parking and charging bays? The internal air filtration system.

The off-grid self-sustaining energy system? The giant rain tanks below ground? The wastewater treatment plant? The large-scale greenhouse that can grow organic food all year round?

Pixel dust. The site itself is a chaotic mess filled with stacks of bricks, piles of sand and crushed stone. The ground littered with scraps of wood, discarded tools and empty containers. Large precast concrete panels are scattered around, some still wrapped in heavy protective plastic, others cracked and broken. Shattered timber pallets everywhere.

In the center of the site, a partially constructed building rises from the ground like some modern ruin, its concrete skeleton exposed to the elements. Rebar sticks out from the freshly poured floors, waiting to be covered and strengthened. The foundation is a labyrinth of pipes, wires and concrete beams. The air smells of cement dust and diesel.

I wanted was to create a place with a sense of safety and retreat from the elements while still immersed in the dramatic landscape. The simple pitched roof references the utilitarian but beautiful farm structures and sheds that dot the local area. It gives the building a sense of lightness and connection externally, and texture and warmth internally.

Structurally its designed to protect itself in our fire-prone bush. Metal shutters at the bottom of windows keep out flying embers. Concrete resists radiant heat. Climate change is making bushfire threats worse.

Seems we’re going straight to hell. Europe’s ski slopes this season are bare without snow while record-breaking extreme weather hits New Hampshire’s Mount Washington. Arctic temperature of -42 degrees. Wind chill of -108 degrees. Wind gusts of 127 miles per hour. That’s colder and harsher than Mars.

Did you see mourners are still burning corpses on the streets of Chinese cities? With funeral homes and crematoriums overflowing from the latest wave of Covid deaths, there’s nowhere to put the dead bodies. No ceremony, no procession, no prayers. Just lost souls and angry ghosts.

Did you get the TikTok account for the UK?

Free short story every week. No spam, ever.