Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Return to The Nut House

Henk and Cheryl were glad to see me again back at The Nut House. After all, I found out they really did like me as a helper after they left a reference on the help exchange website:

“Trevor stayed with us for two weeks, wish he could have stayed longer! Not often a helper comes that fits all the criteria you look for! Hard working, great sense of humour, easy to have around, interesting, and interested! Thanks for the hard work Trevor you are welcome back anytime!”

They checked out my flash new ride and I brought my things back into my familiar room. Strange to have something familiar down here... Over dinner I told them about my last place, some exploring I did, and my (gay) hosts. This prompted an exchange of a gay tale of their own. Back in their sailing days they were good friends with a couple of gay guys. Both boats followed each other around to different ports and had great times together. Their daughters would go and play on the gay boat until one day Henk found some pretty raunchy magazines laying around in the bathroom. The girls were no longer allowed to go over to that boat unsupervised. Henk continued on by telling me that those two became successful drug dealers in New York City until they were busted. One of them died of AIDS in prison and the other partner visited them once in New Zealand to tell them all of this before also dying of AIDS. While this particular one strayed from their days at sea, I always found their boat stories interesting.

The new routine was that I would perform a full day’s work, nine to five (with a lunch break), five days a week in exchange for NZ$250 a week. That sounded like a lot to me, but when I realized the time I was giving them, it was less than seven dollars an hour. Cheryl had said two weeks, and I liked the sound of that. Two weeks = half of my car. Much of the work was restoring a wetland area on their property by planting native grasses that Henk bought and that we “borrowed” from a nearby municipally-owned wetland. This felt good, as if we were doing something environmentally positive. I had this idea in my head that farming was about the creation of life, like you are playing God. Growing the nuts that feed the chickens that give you the eggs that start your day of growing nuts and so on.

I soon learned that it was not just about creation, but about destruction also. He who giveth, taketh away. I suppose that is God-like, if you believe He or She is out there making hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and the occasional roller coaster death. There was a thin line between life and death on the farm, and it was undeniable that we committed genocide on many fronts. If you are not wanted, you are eliminated. The wetland areas had to be sprayed to kill all the alien grasses (such as Argentinean pampas grass; I swear I thought Henk said, “Pompous ass”) before we put in the new blond-haired, blue-eyed grasses. As I drove the tractor with the giant tank of Round Up, Henk used the long hose to spray weeds in the orchard. Anything that was not a macadamia tree was destined to die. Speaking of trees, we chain-sawed down a few more and did something more dastardly to a few big unwanted pines. I drilled holes in their trunks as Henk followed behind me, pouring diesel down the newly formed holes.

Most egregious of all was the rat baiting. We walked around with buckets of little green bricks that contained some special medicine for the nut-hungry rats. The bait contains a blood thinner that is commonly used for humans, but at a higher dose. After the rats eat enough, they begin hemorrhaging internally, causing confusion and loss of muscle control, then slip into a coma before death. A few days after some of our baiting, I found a poor young lad hunched over and quivering. He was not able to run away and it was easy to see he was on the way out. “Henk, what do I do with this?”, I said holding up the barely alive rat. “Oh we got one. Toss him over the fence.” This was the usual procedure for things not wanted. I felt bad because he was suffering. Like Lenny with more conscience, I popped his little neck and tossed him over the fence. We found several more in the following week as we did chores around the nut farm, but they had already met their maker.

On the brighter side of playing God on the farm were my little guinea hens. I say “my” because on the last visit I found some guinea eggs that we scooped up for hatching. The incubation period of a guinea hen is similar to a chicken, about a month. So adding up the weeks since I found them, they should be ready before my next departure. These eggs were slipped under a favorite chook of Henk’s named Nini. While the egg timer ticked away, the days seemed to fly by as I was doing more than eight hours of work most of the time. In the evenings I would sit by the kitchen and drink some red wine with Cheryl as she prepared dinner and as I got my internet time. Again I was treated as one of the family and went to their daughter’s house for a big family meal. Another night I went with them to a tennis and dinner party (strange sounding combination, but it worked out well).
We had beautiful weather in the middle of the week, but when it came to the weekend (my days off) there were torrential downpours and it didn’t seem worth exploring anywhere or hiking. I didn’t even go to the local A&P show (agricultural and produce...something like 4H) which was supposed to be a big deal. So instead I stayed in on a rainy day and did some reading, writing, and arithmetic. Okay, not as much arithmetic, but I entertained myself. After dinner we would eat ice cream with honey coated macadamias and watch cricket, a Gordon Ramsay show (such as The F-Word or Hell’s Kitchen), American Idol, or whatever movie was on. And when I say whatever movie, I really mean whatever. For some reason Henk and Cheryl got excited by the idea of catching a movie at the beginning even if it was bad and made for TV. “Cheryyyl! A mooovie!” Henk would call from the living room. “What is it?” “I don’t know, but it’s just starting.” Then we proceeded to watch the entirety of some dreadful Scandinavian subtitled film about an objectionable church chorus leader who always wanted to be a composer, not because he wanted to be famous but because he loved the music, and who quarreled with the priest, who turned out to be a pervert, about the role of music in the church. Bed time.

The work continued into the next week with a little creation here and a little genocide there. I felt like a boy again, digging holes and climbing trees. We built a fence that was for containing the sheep when they get moved between lots. I got my first New Zealand sheep experience when we herded them into the new enclosure...which turned out to be more difficult than planned. I walked in one direction through the macadamias to keep the sheep from running off as Henk flanked around on the tractor to drive them in. A few young ones split off and he followed on the tractor, calling with a high pitched sort of yodel that they liked. “Oodle oodle oodle ooo!” he called over the low rumble of the diesel engine. I kept walking to cut them off from the bridge over the creek when I heard the high whine of a tractor’s idle gear spinning up. I crouched to see under the trees just in time to catch a glimpse of the blue tractor careening down the hill out of control. It must have been going 50 km/h when it slammed through some trees at the bottom and went into the creek bed.

“Oh my God, Henk is dead,” I thought. I ran over to see Henk up the hill with his mouth open, speechless. He had hopped off to go after the young sheep, leaving the tractor on the hill. Since the parking brake didn’t work, he didn’t put it on. Usually that’s okay, but this time the tractor took off down the hill, all the way to the bottom where it was still running as it sat smashed between the trees on the bank of the creek bed. Luckily nobody got hurt. I’m just glad I didn’t do it! I wish I took a picture but this was serious business, no time for that. We cut the tractor out with a chain saw and reversed it up the bank, pulling with the Nissan 4x4. Amazingly there was little damage to the tractor itself since the back tray took most of the hit and got mangled. We were able to herd the sheep into the new enclosure where a local shearer make quick work of trimming off those wool coats. We treated a young sheep for fly strike, a condition when sheep are struck with flies, hence the name. The flies lay eggs in their wool, these eggs hatch, maggots crawl everywhere and eat wool. It’s pretty gross. We saw an advanced case and the more squeamish would definitely have lost their lunches. After the sheep were all sheared and we had given them de-worming medicine, I spent the rest of the afternoon giving the tractor some de-mangling medicine and it was as good as new. Well, at least as good as it had been that morning.

Another day when I took apart, cleaned, painted, and reassembled a nut de-husking machine, we had a pleasant surprise at lunch... “Come take a look at Nini,” Henk called. I came over to see her aiding a small chick out of the shell, the first one of the eggs I found. Within minutes of breaking out of the claustrophobic cell, the silver little thing was walking around cheeping. Henk said the silver ones were special and he had been waiting to get one of those. Later a brown one popped out but was kind of lame with a crippled looking foot. Over the next two days no more came out so we tossed the eggs (further elimination of those less superior). The brown one got lost as it was led around because it couldn’t keep up and so the little silver guy was the only survivor of the bunch. Before long this cute little thing would be a full grown ugly guinea hen. They grow up so fast these days.

It was a nice feeling of certainty knowing that I had a two week paid stay at Chateau de Nut, but in the background I was plotting my next move. On the help exchange site I had spotted a listing that was out on Great Barrier Island, a small place 60 miles off the east coast of Auckland. I thought it would be interesting to go visit, but it seemed like a waste to go all the way out and just camp for a couple days. Doing a help exchange was the perfect solution! I had a good place to stay, people who knew the island, and plenty of time to explore it. So after two weeks of learning some horticulture, killing things, eating macadamias, and a second rainy weekend, I left my entry in their helper guest book, which paled in comparison to some of the Asian girls who had stayed there (see picture). I was off to The Barrier.


moire oasis said...

This is when Mum first had the opportunity to begin to read your blog and of course I have gone back to the beginning. I have started to share your blog with others as you gave me the O.K. to do so on my birthday. Bravo!

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