Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hauling Firewood All Day In The Foothills Of The Southern Alps

My favorite pair of socks share twin holes in the heel. I hadn't realized until a hostel friend pointed at my upturned feet and said, "You haff holes in your socks." A man's life is in his feet. Soldiers are told to always keep their feet warm and dry, to take breaks every two hours for boot removal and soul massage. My feet were no longer pristine and shipshape, but on the verge of unravel. The ever-simple solution to buy new socks now takes on greater purpose and priority. I am growing up.

I caught a bus out of Chritchurch heading for Timaru, a coastal town two hours south. The Canterbury Plain holds some of the flattest land in New Zealand, green fields oulined by the formidable Southern Alps. (35 adventurers have died on Mt. Cook this season). With the help of a woman that looked more like John Cleese than any man has, a second bus brought me to the house of Deb and Chris, the distant family of close friends. They showed me the town, the cliffs, the beaches. They told me customs and history. New Zealand soil lacks many important nutrients, so it seems eating your homegrown vegetables is not enough. Kiwis love to compost. Some favorite additives to a well ventilated compost are seaweed and turkey manure. We went on a scavenging trip to the beach, poking through thick rubbery dumps of seaweed filled with thousands of tiny winged insects. We threw buzzing handfuls into a bag, dreaming of fortified Caesar Salad. After a few days in Timaru, I stayed on a farm for two weeks, trading labor for the comforts of a home. The owner of the farm is called Ginny (spelled Jenny). She rents the farmhouse to a farming family, along with enough land for their 500 cattle and 3000 sheep. Jenny prefers the four room cottage complete with kitchen, outdoor toilet and a bathroom in the unusable stages of renovation. Sometimes life can be surprisingly perfect. The cottage is on top of a hill, sharing space with a sizable herb and vegetable garden. Down the hill two cows were kept in a spotted paddock, the grass growing thicker and greener where warm fertilizer had been unintentionally dropped. One cow was licking her new calf, the other still heavy and expecting. "What do you do with the calfs?" I wondered. "Freezer in the Fall." Oh. We went inside for lamb steaks. My days were filled. I moved firewood from the bottom of the hill to the wood shed at the top, I watered the garden with water and liquid manure, we built a lamb pen, we fed the lambs in the pen three times a day every day. I helped the One-Armed Farmess with the Hee-Hee chuckle cover her horses in the rain, we checked cows, I watched the mountains change with the sky. For a couple days the plumber and great-bearded carpenter came to work on Jenny's bathroom. During frequent tea breaks I listened to stories of mountain adventure. Rock hopping, man-moving winds, stories of single trees with enough wood to build twelve houses, of close calls taking hairpin turns on a motorcycle, the road suddenly blocked by a stopped tour bus, its inhabitants out and packed to the edge, enamored with the glacial beauty. Stories of Hell With It, and taking the edge. Jenny's pre-ten year old granddaughter, Jessica, stayed a few days with us. She took me for walks and introduced all the animals, talking and taking pictures. We were met by Papa Goat at the gate of a paddock. Hopping the fence, Mama Goat joined us shortly. She led us behind the abandoned horse carriage to the deflated body of what once was Baby Goat. Jessica cried, hugging and petting Mama Goat, who also cried, licking the kid. It had been her first pregnancy and she had sat on all three of her babies. One night, on our pre-bedtime cow check, we found the second wet, big-eyed baby. We had missed the birthing by minutes. On another day, the farmer told us that one of the cows had mastitis, the infection and clogging of a teat. She needed a shot, but cows are a bit difficult to catch. Five of us cornered her and when she rushed through, one farm man grabbed her tail, swinging around. Another farm man grabbed her by the horns and held her. The One-Armed Farmess stabbed the needle and plunged the plunger. On my final day at the farm Jenny took me to a nearby river to go fly fishing. I walked on the rocks, lay in the rocks, fished from the rocks. It was a fruitful, though fishless, day. I am now back at Chris and Deb's, preparing myself and my bicycle for a couple weeks of touring before working on another Timaru-local farm specializing in bird breeding. Thanks for reading,

May your fly land true, your line hold taut, and your fish be heavier than your heart.


  1. Those pics are unbelievable. glad you post them as high-resolution. also, you should consider becoming a little more frequent with he updates. good luck on the bike tour. keep the rubber side down.


  2. wowowowowow i'm so jealous of this. so much. i just want to be there with you listening to man of the woods talk about moutain adventures.
    and not see sad dead goats but wrangle cows and sheep and other good things.
    love you
    kari olk

  3. My, my. Beautiful.

    Feel the love and admiration.



    This reads like a wonderful Kiwi fairytale. You continue to astound me in all things.


  5. Jesus, man, that is beautiful. And the people! They sound amazing! New Zealand sounds amazing! Cyril I am filled with a very friendly envy. And you are working with animals! This is all so cool! Enjoy the touring you say you are getting ready for! ride on.

  6. You are amazing!
    I had no idea you were such a talented writer. I'm soooo happy you are able to experience all these wonderful sights, people, and adventures!
    Uhhh and the mountains and cows are gorgeous!
    I'm breathless.
    Keep having fun,
    Miss you,


  7. You are an awesome wonderful your story telling and the beauty of your walk. Thank you Cyril~

  8. Oh, Cyril. Thank you for the gorgeous photos and lovely words.