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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Being Blown Away

I thought I’d moved to Canterbury, not Kansas, but last Tuesday’s windstorm did its best to convince me otherwise. With winds gusting up to 250km/hr, I met the famous Nor’Wester, alright. In fact, it came barging thorough our front door without even knocking, contributing considerably to my Southern education in the process.

The first lesson was that down here it is necessary to take weather warnings much more seriously than I’m used to. The phrase ‘four seasons in one day’ is the standing forecast for Auckland, where on even the finest of blue sky days it pays to carry a raincoat ‘just in case.’ In such conditions, one just hangs out the washing once the load is done and crosses one’s fingers that the sun will come to the party. That’s what I did on Tuesday morning, which led to my sheets embarking on a very intimate relationship with the rosebush some hours later.

The second lesson was that a bicycle is not an appropriate mode of transport in 100km/hr wind gusts. As serene as Drew Barrymore looked as she sailed past the moon on her bike, the E.T. look is sure to end badly when practiced outside a Hollywood studio. Having cycled to my friend’s house shortly before the storm hit I found myself stranded there, helping to lash down outdoor furniture whilst battling constant Marilyn-Monroe moments with my skirt. The construction site fences cartwheeling down the street outside confirmed our suspicions that things were serious. The bike was stored in the shed and a car was dispatched to come to my rescue.

Later that evening, having prised apart pillowcase and plants, we were just contemplating what movie to watch – classic, action or perhaps The Wizard of Oz – when the wind joined in the debate, plunging us into darkness and forcing the romantic angle with a dinner by candlelight. It also forced us to turn back time by posing a most pressing question: how do you make microwave chocolate brownie in the absence of electricity? Use the fire, of course. Coals to the back, tray in the front, cake tin wrapped in foil on top and smoke detectors on full alert, we were ready. In fact, our makeshift oven was far less disastrous than it should have been, given that it was operated by a bunch of twenty-somethings who have always enjoyed the benefit of ‘fan bake’ and are accustomed to sourcing the majority of our recipes direct from the internet. (Lesson three for one member of our posse was that modems actually require power to work).

So, last week I learnt a thing or two about the power of the wind. Come Wednesday, twisted irrigators, upended truck and trailer units and shelterbelts lying like dominoes attested to its physical strength, but the storm also forced us to come up with the kinds of creative solutions that would make Spielberg proud.

 Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian 

Heat

The day TV went digital
I sat and watched the fire,
Intrigued by the battles of the flames
That could rival any Kardashian divorce
And the stages of character
As wood turned to ash
Like sand through the hourglass.

The kindling provided its own commentary,
With a hiss and a crackle
And the convoluted demise of each chunk of wood
Was anything but cut and dried
Playing out an ancient storyline
Behind glass, beneath my eaves.