DIY Lumberjacks

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I recently arrived back in Methven to crisp autumn days, chilly nights and the first roaring hearth of the season. With kindling stocks running low, I was also just in time for the annual wood chopping chore. Usually that means getting outside with the axe and settling in for the long haul, devoting many hours to the solitary company of the rhythmic swing. Not this year, though: Inspired by the lumberjack events at the A&P show we decided to make an event of straightening out our own pile. Up went the marquee, in came the log splitter, on went the checked shirts and gumboots and we were ready to rumble.

First up was the safety demonstration. Lesson number one: Under no circumstances is it a good idea to reach under the blade of the log splitter to turn the machine on or off. Lesson number two: As long as you keep lesson number one in mind, you should be sweet as.

From there on in, we were like a team of worker bees: lifting, cutting, stacking, and repeat. The wheelbarrow was a welcome addition to our arsenal of arm power, but only short lived: once a certain member of our party realised how comfortable it was to sit in, it was repurposed into an artistic piece of garden furniture, right beside the brazier. The brazier was, of course, kept burning the entire day, with the logs that were prematurely sacrificed acting as the equivalent of the batter that doesn’t quite make it into the cake tin.

Of course, traditional kiwi snacks were a must – cue the green onion flavour chips and Louise Cake. Buttered scones were an oversight, but the spirit of Monty Python was kept alive by playing the lumber jack song at full volume whilst replenishing our strength.

The wood got cut alright, but the events of the day have made an impression that is sure to last longer than our neatly stacked rows of pine: it made me really appreciate the friendships we have formed since living in Mid Canterbury. Their generous help meant the task was done in a fraction of the time we expected, and the banter throughout made for an event that rivalled any A&P exhibit in the fun stakes. While our Auckland mates might laugh at the idea of a wood chopping party with a gumboots dress code, it’s an experience I wouldn’t swap for a dozen inner city heat pumps.

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian

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Boarding Call (2009)

My Wörterbuch, my kiwi flag,
Socks and sandals, just like Dad,
My summer dress, my lightweight cardi,
Photos from my leaving party,
Names and addresses of distant rellies,
Marmite to treat homesick bellies,
My bulging backpack, my hiking socks,
Pineapple lumps, combination locks,
Camera, notebook, sunscreen, togs,
Glenn Colquhoun’s book ‘Playing God’,
My tiki T-shirt, student ID,
Presents for all my friends-to-be,
Toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss,
Metro Mag for all the goss,
My passport and my boarding passes,
My crayola felt tip washable markers,
St Christopher necklace from my mates,
Instructions to the boarding gates,
My optimism, my trepidation,
My welling pride in my home nation.

Sheep of the Globe

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I never thought I would find myself face to face with a sheep in the centre of a barn, taking notes on a shearing demonstration. Then I visited Patagonia, and everything changed. On an outing to a local farm, or ‘Estancia’, we were treated to a rural experience, Chilean style. If you discount the wild llama we passed during the bus ride out there, suddenly home didn’t seem so far away at all.

First up we were treated to a sheep dog demonstration. The huaso, or cowboy, sat perched atop his dappled steed while his shaggy canine companion tore about the paddock, herding his flock.  While it was not a patch on the International Sheep Dog Trials at last year’s Ashburton A&P Show, it was an admirable effort nonetheless, made all the more interesting by the appearance of a wild fox in the middle of the course halfway through the demonstration. It looked remarkably similar to a tall cat, and the dog treated it as such, hounding it out of the arena before the sheep could even bleat. The A&P judges may not have been too impressed with such behaviour, but hound and herder got full marks for entertainment.

Next up was the shearing demonstration. This was no Friday night entertainment in the local pub, but a serious educational experience, complemented by tiered seating and a running commentary from our local guide. While the majority of our contingent was intrigued by the equation ‘sheep plus shears equals fleece’, for me it was an eye opener that so many people were unaware of where wool actually comes from, despite their own knitted base layer clothing.

There have been ample opportunities to talk about sheep during my Antarctic trip as well, with tabular icebergs providing the perfect entry into a conversation about Shrek the sheep. As we cruised around the towering walls of ice, discussing the colouring and texture, I told my captive audience that back where I come from we use these kinds of bergs as shearing platforms. When a particularly large chunk drifted our way in 2006, we flew Shrek out there for a haircut. Many a discussion was subsequently held on the merits of merino wool and how to manufacture crampons to keep iceberg-faring sheep from going for a skate. While the practical applications of such an invention may be rather limited, my spiel appeared to spark renewed interest in the animal crampon industry, providing an opening for any budding entrepreneurs back home who are looking for an exportable niche…

Back on the Estancia, the sheep remained on solid ground and eventually on a solid roasting rack. A Chilean rodeo demonstration topped off the rural show before a meal of lamb on a spit was devoured. For a stepping-stone between the ice of the south and a Methven autumn, this Chilean farm was just the trick. What with sheep, farm dogs, and barbecue, it was just like being back home – the odd wild (and unshorn) llama aside.

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian