Sunday, December 27, 2009

Shearing Day at Mangarara

It seems so silly that I've left such a gap between entries here, as this next event occurs the day after my hill walk in Otane! The night of the hill walk, I accompanied Sandy and her daughter Ava to the end of year celebration at Elsthorpe School, the three-room primary school that both Ava, and Greg and Rachel's oldest son, George, attended. When I ran into Greg there, he mentioned that the next day was shearing day at Mangarara! So early the next morning, I borrowed a car from Bob and Sandy and headed over to Mangarara (my first time driving on the left--I only went off the road once!) to help out in any way and do some general gawking at this yearly ceremony.

By the time I got there, Greg had already mustered about half the ewes into the paddock by the sheep yards. I got to stand strategically, make Big Scary Noises, and watch Ben and Kaya, the sheepdogs, do their job and get the sheep into the pens:

Watching sheep move like a school of fish really will never get old. (And actually, now that I look at that picture, it looks like Ben's doing all the work; the black spot within the concrete block at the very right of the picture is Kaya having a paddle in the cistern.)

Once we got the ewes in, Greg got to work getting the shearing stations ready and I got to work taking more pictures of sheep.
When the shearers arrived, they started setting up, and Greg and I went back up to the top of the driveway to collect the rams for shearing as well. Greg gave me a four-wheeler and the task of getting the rams back to the sheepyards, which I was more than happy to do. I missed tearing around on four-wheelers!
Look at 'em go! Except, as evidenced by the fact that I could take pictures and drive a four-wheeler at the same time, here's a shot of the spedometer:
Four kilometers an hour. Yeeee haw.
An eternity later, when I finally got the rams out to the sheepyards, the shearers were all set up and ready to go. There were four men and three women, most of them related, and it was amazing to watch them work. They had obviously been working together for a very long time, and seemed almost like a single machine rather than seven different people.
Three of the men were up on the platform, doing the actual shearing, and the three women stood on the floor below, skirting the fleece as it came off, sorting the belly wool, neck wool, and dags into three different piles before taking the remaining fleece to the wool baler, that contraption in the center of the photo there. The sheep on this farm are Romney, Finn, Texel, and Perendale, all varieties that have been bred for meat rather than wool (even though I think the wool is really lovely!). So, rather than selling each fleece individually, the wool gets packed into bales and sent to an auction or an agent who will buy it for carpet wool.
So when each shearer finished with a sheep, the woman on the floor would roll it up and heave it at the wool baler, aiming for either of those two wooden bins. The fourth guy there was in charge of the baler, and would take the fleeces the women threw him and pack them in those bins as tightly as possible. He started with his arms (I got to help with this bit, and my skin up to the elbows was buttery-soft from all the lanolin), but as the bins got more and more full, he just hopped in and stomped on it like he was making wine.
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At first, I thought he had made a mistake--there was only a sack in the right-hand bin, and how was he going to get a sack on the left bin? Surely he couldn't pack them in any tighter. Wrong!
Once he had packed in the bins as tightly as possible (probably about 40-50 fleeces in each bin), he put a square of wood and a very heavy metal lid on top of the left bin, then winched the left bin up until it could easily swing over the right bin. Once they were stacked on top of each other, he secured a rather elaborate pulley system to the metal lid, and with a big lever on the backside of the assembly, slowly compacted aaaaall the already-well-packed wool from the left bin into the just-as-already-well-packed bin on the right. I half-feared and half-anticipated what would happen if the pulleys malfunctioned: a wool volcano! Sadly, they never did.
Each bale of wool weighed about 150-200 kilos, and by the end of the day there were about seven of these bales, representing about 250 ewes and about 18 rams. And this was just day one!

The sheep themselves, although sometimes nicked and slightly dazed, seemed little the worse for wear. However, their heads now seemed waaaay too big for their bodies:
The rams, meanwhile, just looked like football players with very short haircuts:
(Not sure what's going on with the shaggy guy in the front there--he may just have been too ornery to sit still for the shearing.)
Ben the sheepdog and I herded the shorn ewes out into one of the far paddocks for the night (or rather, herded them twice, as I got them all in the right spot before realizing that I hadn't opened the gate. Awesome.), and, after stealing a judiciously large handful of wool, I made my dirty, sweaty, and sheep-greasy way back to Bob and Sandy's. All in all, I couldn't have asked for a better shearing day!

Next up: big city living after two months of complete rural immersion. Do I still remember what traffic lights look like?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hill-Climbing in Otane

Oh, not to be cut off,
not through the slightest partition
shut out from the law of the stars.
The inner--what is it?
if not intensified sky,
hurled through with birds and deep
with the winds of homecoming.

--Rainer Maria Rilke

I'm writing in from Wellington, where I'm already enjoying myself immensely on my Christmas holidays! I have a few things to catch up on, though, and the first of them is my time at Bob and Sandy's in Otane.
Sandy was kind enough to take me on after I finished at Mangarara, and while there wasn't a whole lot of outdoor work to do, I still managed to have a great time. Their property includes a beautiful range of hills, and after getting dared many times by the teenage boys of the household to go for it, I finally managed to go for a walk up the hill a couple days before leaving.
First, to get to the track, you get to clamber down another hill from the house, along a creek, and through a bull paddock. The bulls didn't seem too impressed with my chances of getting down the hill in the first place:

but once I had gamely scrambled my way down, gone the wrong way for a bit, and avoided the bulls, I set off along the track.


Things were your pretty much typical farm track for about forty-five minutes, up until I rounded the curve and started making it up into the foothills. One of the beautiful things about New Zealand (and also pretty horrible, environmentally) is that the hills are all worn away into terraces from the sheep and cattle grazing on them for 150 years. In most places, it looks like overgrown Mayan ruins with high, steep steps. In this case, though, the topsoil was shallow enough that the erosion has brought out the rock formations underneath, so it looks like a massive cairn for a long-dead giant.


The weather broke at this point, and I felt pretty spectacular walking up to the cleft in the hills, the apex of the walk:


To find yet another reason to love this country:



The path started snaking down the backside of the hills, but I was having none of that. Up I went over the tamped-down sheep paths, to find the tops of the hills!


The sheep were still using the sheep paths.


And, just to scare my dad, this is basically looking straight down:



When I got to the top of the hill, among the long grass, thistles, and sheep, I popped my headphones in and had a good, old-fashioned, joyous boogie-down. It doesn't get much better than this.

And finally, back at the bottom of the hill, exhilarated, sun-warm, I managed one of my favorite self-portraits ever (thanks, self-timer):


So there's your moment of New Zealand bliss for the day. Hopefully it'll help melt some of the snow back home!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mangarara Station

I have been sitting here for about ten minutes, trying to figure out how to start this blog post! It's been a month and a bit since I first made it to Hawke's Bay, and a week since I've moved off of Mangarara Station to a nearby farm. I know it's a bit early in the game for me to have found a favorite place in this country, but I might just be a tiny bit besotted with this area. Staying at Mangarara Station has definitely helped form that opinion in my mind!

I was trying to figure out how to introduce you to Mangarara, and thought the best way would be to take a little tour. So just imagine these shots from the back of a four-wheeler as Greg, the wonderful, incredibly knowledgeable, and really fun owner, blazes down the dirt road and across the paddocks with you, clinging madly to the scant framework and hoping you don't bounce off!
We start out at the little cabin where I stayed for most of my time at Mangarara. (Okay, so you don't need the four-wheeler for this bit.)

Every morning I would wake up to the birds flitting in and out of their nests in the vents. They liked to wake up much earlier than I did, but I don't think I could have chosen a better way to wake up! So I would stumble out of bed, bleary-eyed, and stand out on the porch to wake up fully.

As you can sort of see there, both the bedroom and the bath have full glass doors looking out into the lake paddock, the view I showed you last time. A couple days before I left, Greg moved a flock of sheep into the paddock, so my morning ablutions were often accompanied by a couple ewes and lambs looking quizzically over the fence.

(The sheep, having grown bored with my toothbrushing antics, head off to try out the kayaks.)
Once I'd woken up and had breakfast with Rachel, Greg's amazing, capable, and friendly wife, George, who had his sixth birthday while I was there, and Bill and Emma, the four-year-old twins, I would wander out to the backyard paddock to bottle-feed Cookies'n'Cream the lamb.

Lambs, like kid goats, wiggle far too much to take good pictures of! There were about six pet lambs in that paddock, including little Cookies here, whose mothers had either died or had abandoned them after birth, and so had needed to be hand-fed. The problem with this is, when you train sheep to be comfortable around humans, you lose any sort of ability to scare them into going where you want them. I was given the job of shifting them across the road to the lake paddock with the rest of that flock at one point, and so I set off with a smile and a borrowed pair of Wellies. How hard could it be? Three-quarters of an hour later, with no smile and lots of blisters from stumping around in those Wellies, I had gotten those lambs no farther than a continual brisk trot up and down the driveway. Finally Rachel got them to go through the gate by walking through it and making mommy-sheep noises. You win some, you lose some.

So once you've fed Cookies'n'Cream and she's wandered off to look pitiful as you cruise by on the four-wheeler:

The lake is on the right as you head down the road, and the pine forest rises on the left, home to the three opinionated chooks (chickens). On either side of the road are lovely, worn, sheep-bent wire fences, often with little clumps of stray wool still clinging to them:

(You better believe I stole some of that stuff.)
Once you make it back up to the Mangarara sign, you take a sharp left and head down the long, tree-lined way to the cattle yards. Here's where you're going to need to squint a bit, as the poplars are pollinating, and their seeds are swirling around like soft, delicate, and always-gets-in-your-eyes-while-you're-trying-to-drive-the-damn-four-wheeler snow. Greg told me that they call it "miff muff moof" after The Lorax, and that makes me very happy.

You'll take a right at the cattle yards, and as Greg shifts the four-wheeler into fifth gear, you'll whizz past the first mob of Wagyu beef cattle.

(I was literally whizzing past on the back of a four-wheeler while taking that photo; see how far I'll go for the sake of realism in this blog?)
Now, I am pretty ambivalent on cows; to be honest, I think they're too big for me to comfortably feel in charge of, so I haven't worked too hard to get to know them. But these guys are unnervingly smart, gorgeously svelte, and way too inquisitive for their own good. They like pulling down the electric fence, and so while Greg was sorting that out at one point, it was my job to keep them contained within one side of the paddock. Usually, cows will just back off, and stay away from you, especially if you're a stranger. But these guys were constantly nudging closer and closer to me to check me out, and even when I made Big Scary Noises (patented) they didn't stay off for long. Likewise, Greg drove me up to the top of one of the rises once, and I stayed with the four-wheeler while he took out some thistles. The entire mob of cattle came up the hill and surrounded me and the four-wheeler, nibbling on the seat and whuffling through the exhaust pipe. Part of me is daunted by their brazenness, and another part is impressed. Plus, I've heard they taste really good. So there you go.

Once you pass that first mob of cattle, the road will twist and wind among the paddocks and hills until you reach the sheep yards. I got to hang out and "help" during lamb drafting and weighing (don't know how much help I actually was, but I was enthusiastic!). The day I was helping, they were taking off the male lambs weighing over 30kg. However, they had a flock encompassing the length and breadth of sheep-kind: big, little, lamb, ewe, male, female. This is where the process of drafting comes in: the sheep get herded from the paddock into a series of ever-shrinking pens, until they are sent through a race that is only wide enough for one at a time:

At the head of that race are, in this case, three different doors to three different pens. As the sheep come up the race (my job was to make sure they kept moving, either by making Big Scary Noises again or by flipping the sheep around who was blocking the way), the person holding the doors will open the appropriate one--all male lambs this way, ewes and female lambs that way. From there, it felt a bit like an ever-more-specific series of Venn diagrams--male lambs definitely over 30kg that way, potentially over 30 that way, and definitely not over 30 that way. Then, after weighing the over 30s and the maybes (another series of pens and a race wide enough for one at a time, culminating in a scale with doors on either side), and tagging those over 30kg (the red paint in the picture above), the process begins again, drafting the tagged ones off from the rest. From there, those who needed to be crutched (shearing the dirty wool from around the bum) were drafted off from the clean ones. Finally, after crutching, all of them were let back into the paddock with their moms, that red tag indicating who would get drafted off when the process happened all over again the next morning when the lambs went off on their way to the works. It is exhausting, dusty, and very, very hot; I now have very silly tan lines on my brow from squinting in the sun all day. But it is also really fun. Once you get a flow going, where everyone from the herding dogs to the hapless WWOOFer to the experienced farmer on the drafting gates is focused, and the sheep are being only a bit recalcitrant, it turns into this lovely dance of dust, hooves, slamming gates, and warm, worn wood under your hands.

Once you've finished your day at the sheep yards, you have a choice of accommodation. You can head back up to the house and the cabin, where the kids will regale you with tales of Legos and Thomas the Tank Engine, you can take a nice soak in the bathtub with that magnificent view and a good book for company, or you can crack open a beer and sit on the porch with Atticus the cat. Or you can climb back on the four-wheeler, take a right out of the sheepyards, head out through two more paddocks, through a couple gates, and down along a ravine to the bush cabin. It's a small bunkroom with outdoor plumbing and no electricity built into one of the preserved sections of native bush at Mangarara:

The bullfrogs are pretty clear that the pond belongs to them, but they're relatively good about sharing. I spent a night out here during my second weekend on the farm, which was one of the busiest I've ever been involved in!

One of the things that Greg and Rachel have done so well on this farm is form partnerships that are mutually beneficial to both parties involved. The second weekend I was there was the fruit of one of those partnerships, this one with Air New Zealand. It apparently started when Greg called up and asked if he couldn't buy some trees with his air miles rather than plane tickets, and ended with Air New Zealand giving them a sizable grant to plant native trees at Mangarara as carbon offset for the airline. They've also been working with the Air New Zealand Green Team to set up "working holiday" corporate retreats for Air New Zealand employees, and this weekend was the very first. Fifty Air NZ employees from Auckland rocked up to the farm on Saturday morning, and they spent the weekend weeding around the sapling trees, grubbing thistles, eating unbelievable amounts of food (I'm now staying on the farm of Sandy, the lovely woman who catered the weekend and sent everyone home at least two kilos heavier), kayaking in the lake, and generally having the time of their lives.

My job for the weekend was General Helper to everyone involved, and I don't think I stopped running for most of the weekend! They had wine tastings, campfire sing-alongs and marshmallow roastings, a wonderful and hilarious storyteller's show (with lots of audience participation and alcohol), and, the culmination of the weekend, an Agri-sports event on Sunday. The events ranged from archery, to putting in a fence-post, to setting up an electric fence, to sheep drafting, to quizzes on native flora and strange farm equipment, to my event, sheep weighing. Now, each team of five was originally supposed to guess a group of five sheep's weight, then put them through the race to the scale to find out the real weight. However, these sheep were straight off the grass, very frisky, and were having none of that. Greg decided it would be best just to have the teams guess the weight, but I thought there needed to be a little more to it than that. So I decided that each team had to herd one of their members through the race and onto the scale! Extra points for acting properly sheep-like. The easy part was getting them through the race and onto the scale; the hard part was getting them out again! I deeply, deeply regret the absence of my camera.

Once the Air NZ people left, things calmed down into a lovely schedule at Mangarara. In addition to working out with the stock, I spent lots of time hanging out with the kids. I've never had a whole lot to do with kids that young, and it was a quick learning process, let me tell you! But we had a great time together, and I taught them to make fairy houses, so there's a little bit of Maine hanging out in that pine wood behind the house. And I know you're not supposed to have favorites, but every time Bill said, very seriously, "oh, crumbs!" with his little Kiwi accent and lisp ("oh, cwumbth!"), my heart melted and I made plans to stash him in my suitcase. I also had a wonderful, wonderful time just chatting with Rachel, as well, whose sense of humor and joie d'vivre was a hell of a lot of fun when we got caught out in a downpour while shifting cattle and repairing an electric fence. Greg continually amazed me with his energy and big plans--not only did he have big plans, but he goes on five hours of sleep to make sure he accomplishes them! He also gave me a fantastic crash course on climate change and world development through the films, The Age of Stupid and Food Inc., and the book, Blessed Unrest, all of which I would recommend highly. Just not all at once, unless you have Ben & Jerry's or alcohol to make you feel less depressed at the end! Both from these sources and from the way they market themselves on this farm, I'm looking at the world through very different eyes after being at Mangarara. And I am liking the view.

So that's a brief glimpse into my time at Mangarara, but nothing can impress just how wonderful and breathtakingly gorgeous it was. I truly am besotted with Hawke's Bay, this region of the country, and was glad of Sandy's offer to take me on for a few weeks. Even better, she also has a beach house about half an hour away at Kairakau Beach, one of the most heart-rendingly beautiful places I've ever been. I promise scads of pictures next time I post! Perhaps if I camp out on the beach, they won't make me ever leave. . .

I will leave you with pictures of a storm coming over the lake during the golden hour before twilight at Mangarara. 'Til next time!

Friday, November 13, 2009

On the Pursuit of Llama Perfection

(Note: this is going to be a very fibery and yarny blog post. My apologies to those not so inclined.)

Greetings from a moderately warm, deliciously sunny Mangarara Station in Hawkes Bay on the North Island! It's been a week since I left Nelson for the beautiful wiles of the Southeastern coast of the North Island, and I'm slowly settling in to life here at Mangarara. I'll talk more about this place when I leave, but suffice it to say that there are sheep everywhere, the farm is amazing, and my bathtub looks out onto this view:

But we'll get back to that in a couple weeks. I want to tell you about my llama fiber adventure in Nelson! The basic gist of my work while at Betty's house was de-hairing llama fiber. Now, when I heard about this for the first time, I was a little skeptical. Most llama fiber I had come in contact with was pretty short, coarse, and interspersed with tons of wiry and irremovable guard hairs. So I couldn't exactly imagine why Betty wanted to take the trouble, until I saw:
Guh. 'Scuse me while I wipe the drool off the keyboard.
Betty has about seven or eight llamas and a couple alpacas, the fleece of which she primarily uses for felted garments and accessories. The first grade of this fleece, however, she saves, has blended with the highest quality silk and wool, then gives it to an 85-year-old spinner named Beth (who I want to be when I grow up), who spins it and passes it along to a couple really amazing knitters named Helen and Linda, who knit unbelievably beautiful sweaters out of it. These garments sell for about $400 NZ, which seems like a lot until you think about the time involved in just cleaning the fiber! Let me demonstrate:

Here's what the fleece looks like after it comes off the animal. This is from a llama named Pablo, and is the main fleece I worked on while at Betty's.
Typically, one of the reasons I don't like llama is the staple length, which is maybe around 2 or 2 1/2 inches. Betty counters this by shearing every two years, letting the staple length grow to about five or six inches with the highest grade locks. Here's what a lock looks like when separated from the rest of the blanket (with my very dirty and tan hand for scale):
See the trailing bits off to the right? Those are the tips of the guard hairs. The first step is to grab a hold of those and and haul them out:
You're left with the down fiber, and also all the guard hairs that didn't come out in the first pull:
The next step is to flick-card the butts and tips of the lock to get the VM and any dirt out, as well as second cuts, short fibers, and as many guard hairs as you can.
Looks miles different, right? Well, there are still probably about sixty guard hairs in that little clump. So all of that was just preamble to the next bit, where I slowly fan out all the fiber, and individually pluck out as many remaining guard hairs as I can. Depending on where the lock came from on the animal and therefore how many guard hairs it had in that spot, this bit can take anywhere from five minutes to twenty.
During the first day or two, you can imagine that this was absolute agony. The minutes ticked by so slowly I swore that the clock must be wrong, or going backwards, or was possessed by something hideous and evil that was sucking hours of my life away and not giving them back. (I found out about halfway through the week that the clock was wrong, which made me feel better.)
But after a couple days, I got obsessed. "Good enough" totally wasn't. I was going to make damn sure that there wasn't a single guard hair in there. I kept telling myself "one more lock, just one more, just one more". Thank god Betty got me obsessed with an Australian reality tv cooking show, so I had a reason I had to quit every evening! But the strictures Betty puts on her animals and her fiber processing really do create such an amazing product (seriously, comparable in softness and lightness to qiviut, but waaaay longer staple) that it was hard not to get emotionally invested.
The funniest bit was weighing the first grade of fiber at the end of my time there--I had been working about six hours a day for about eight days total, working mostly with the first grade fiber (although, to be fair, also adding to the second and the third grade piles occasionally too--shorter, coarser fiber, less nitpicky about guard hairs). Betty had said that she was able, usually, when she was being finicky, to get about 100 grams (less than 4 ounces) done in 3 hours. Now, we had been extra, extra, extra finicky with Pablo, since the final product was hopefully going in a country-wide exhibition in April. So we worked very hard to get a perfect fiber in the finest grade, and I was confident that we'd done at least 300 grams. After all, all those hours! The final weight?
81 grams.
A little more than 2 ounces.
Granted, yes, the shopping bag of fiber was completely stuffed full and llama fiber is very light and the other two grades weighed about 400 grams total, but it took a couple hours to come to grips. Betty was very happy, though, and we'd made it through most of the fleece, so that's what counts!
Plus, here's what my hands looked like at the end of the day (and I'd washed my hands three times already that day):
I'm headed back to stay with Betty in February, to do some more work with her fiber and also go hang out at a felting workshop mid-February. She's also taking me around to a couple great sheep places, where they think a lot about breeding and genetics to create the perfect fleece. I'm also looking forward to the opportunity to meet and goggle at one of her close fiber friend, Nola Fournier, who co-wrote In Sheep's Clothing, one of my favorite fiber books in the whole world. I might have squealed just a little when I found out she lived in the area!

One of my other actions while still in the Nelson area was knitting my remaining sock yarn in a trade for yet another painting!

The Colinette Jitterbug I brought got knitted up with helical stripes and my typical sock pattern into:
I dropped these off the day before I left to travel north. It was close!

So that's what I've been up to since the last post. My camera is being a bit of a diva, but hopefully I'll be able to take some more pictures of here at Mangarara Station (give it a quick Google; they've got a website that talks about their mission and some of the really neat partnerships they've got going). Right now, Atticus the cat has left me my third kind present of a half-eaten rabbit (he's so thoughtful), so I'd better go take care of that.
Thanks to everyone for their kind comments on my posts so far; I've not yet figured out how to reply to comments individually (anyone know how to do that on blogspot?), but it really means a lot to know that you're all out there and sharing this adventure with me!

Friday, October 30, 2009

(Written on Tuesday earlier this week!)

So my next blog post was going to be a proper photoshoot with the handspun socks so charmingly modeled under my Chaco's in the last post. But, as you do, I traded them to an artist for a painting. The artist is a former weaver and a friend of my WWOOF host, Susie, who recently put up an art exhibition around a "trading table". Susie had gone in to trade a weaving for a triptych, and I just couldn't handle leaving this painting behind! She had painted it during a period where she explored the idea of "shelter", but, to me, it's just the rocks on the coast of Maine. Which is my own form of comfort and shelter, I suppose. So I scuttled off home, collected my socks, and offered them up. Hence, now I have a painting, and no socks. Such is life.

Today is my last day here at the farm in Upper Moutere (which, I only learned about three days ago, is pronounces "Moo-tree". No wonder everyone looked at me funny when I told them where I was going). I have gone out with a bang, getting my first, rather spectacular, New Zealand sunburn while planting corn. I'm headed into Nelson for the llama sorting job tomorrow--things got complicated last week, so I just stuck around at the farm for another week. When we got home Saturday from the market, I found three little reasons to be glad I did:

Left to right: Giselle (the lighter tall doe), Naomi (the darker tall doe), and Spud (the little short, stubby boy) were born on Saturday morning.

Spud is obviously my favorite, as he's built like a tank and has a bleat like a squeaky toy getting stepped on. He also eats like it's going out of style, his tail wagging fiercely the entire time.

Giselle (or Gizzy, as she's better known at this point) is a little finicky about eating from the feeder, and so I get to bottle-feed her about four times a day. I try not to plotz from the cute every time!

Besides the baby goats, I've been having a wonderful time on this farm. There are some standards that happen every day, like mixing goat food (you add about a kilo of molasses and hot water, which leaves the most delicious smell throughout the house for the rest of the day), milking goats, and bottling the milk. Then some days I make the tramp down the hill, through the creek, to feed Bucky the buck and Chalky, his wether boyfriend:

(check out Bucky's fierce topknot.)

Other days we move the sheep from paddock to paddock, or chase down a cow, or separate off the yearlings and six-month calves for sale. There's always weeding, composting, and planting to do, and the everpresent bleat of baby goats (both the batch from Saturday and the older bunch I mentioned earlier) to remind you that you might have forgotten them and they haven't eaten for a whole fifteen minutes. Fridays are picking days for the Saturday market, so I spend the day cutting lettuce, picking arugula, parsley, and spinach, and washing the lot for sale the next day. I've come at the dead time of year, where all the root vegetables are done, and the spring stuff hasn't quite come up yet, but the salads--oh, the salads. I could happily live the rest of my life eating just these salads.

Both Susie and Kevin, my two hosts, are immensely knowledgeable about both the day-to-day life of farming, as well as the business statistics of making this farm both sustainable and profitable. I really enjoy the conversations over tea (oh, the endless, wonderful cups of tea!) about what the profit differential would be between an autumn calf and a spring calf--I guess you can take the girl out of nerd territory, but you can't take the nerd out of the girl!

Mostly, though, it's the little things that get me about this place: the cheesecloths air-drying out on the line, wafting in and out of prayer flags so old all the color has faded:

The sight of a storm coming up over the hills, fighting against the light of the golden hour before twilight; the sad, annoyed bleat of Panda, the Hokanui sheep who thinks she's a goat, as she gets left behind with those other sheep again; Kevin singing every variety of English folk song as he walks over the hills to the cows; playing cards and drinking wine during a power outage. It's been a truly wonderful starting point for my New Zealand adventure.

I'll be in Nelson until the 7th of November, and then I'll be heading back up to the North Island to work on a 2,000 head sheep farm in Hawkes Bay. After that, who knows? On with the adventure!

(I'm finally uploading this on Saturday, the 31st. I've been working in Nelson for the last couple days, de-hairing the most magnificent llama fiber by hand. The fiber is amazing, and I love the woman I'm working for, but there is definitely a reason they invented a de-hairing machine!)