My feet will wander in distant lands, my heart drink its fill at strange fountains, until I forget all desires but the longing for home.
Keep in touch.
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2004-10-02 12:43 PM
Kaitaia and the Winterless North
I'm in "Hackers," a youth-saturated internet cafe in Kaitaia, a small town just off the main highway in Northland. It's called the Winterless North because frost is rare; from what I've seen of the spring weather, it's about as blustery, sometimes sunny, and occasionally frosty as Oregon's Willamette Valley farm country.
What they have got that's different is beaches, one on each side, less than half an hour each way. We went surf-fishing (or, rather, we drove out with some friends who were going to surf-fish, and played in the sand while they tried) two days ago, and had a lovely barbecue of sausages after the fish refused to bite.
Also, the vegetation includes karnuka and manuka, also known as tea tree (resinous; related to the Australian tree from which the pharmaceutical oil comes, but a different variety); plantable things include avocados, bananas, cherimoyas, and a variety of other tropical fruits and veggies. Sweet potatos are called kumara; they come in several colors, including the orange variety we call "yams" at home. True yams look a bit like smooth, bulgy ginger-root with thin red skin; they're clearly something more like a rhizome than a tuber.
I'm learning all this and more, staying with a young family. Their organic farm -- or exercise in self-sufficiency; it's more like a homestead, not a market farm -- is in the "bush," about half an hour from this town. My arrangement is to work at least several hours each day, in exchange for room and board.
Things are a bit chaotic there; they're raising three small children, aged 5, 2 1/2, and 1 year old. The older two are energetic, willful, and prone to spats; they are generally also happy to help with gardening or cheer up the baby if encouraged. The baby is still a cherub, remarkably good-tempered about teething.
One of my default tasks, for my peace of mind as much as anyones, is to entertain the kids either singly or together, so that they produce happy sounds or quiet instead of squabbling. Keeping them out of trouble seems better for everyone. I can't help feeling sorry for the kids once they get in trouble, even if it's richly deserved. Perhaps it's ordinary childishness; or perhaps it's these kids' particular personalities, but they do tend to hit and snatch and throw things and "wind each other up" (we might call it trying to "get a rise out of" someone) at any unobserved opportunity. They're articulate and frank as well. A two-year old who says "no" is not unusual; it's nice to meet one who says "yes" when she means it, and can state what she wants to a fair degree of accuracy.
But enough there ... one of the benefits of working with such small children, is to remind me that I don't need to be in any hurry to have my own. I like the idea of letting one get to be four or five years old before having the next. Closer kids may play together more, but they also fight more. I suppose there may be disadvantages to the longer spacing, too; I think I'll keep an eye out for examples.
Other things I have noticed:
Older travelers, and locals, still seem more interesting to talk to than younger ones.
I wondered in passing, as my accent softens toward the local dialect, how America decided to say its "R"s differently than most of the rest of the world. Speaking with an Irish girl at the hostel game me an idea. Maybe all England used to say its R's at the time America was settled; but maybe we picked up the round R from our Irish.
The kids behind me (in the Internet cafe) are playing some sort of game, which involves positively thunderous gunfire. And occasional laughter.
After a week in Auckland, it was time to leave the city; I got a Northern Exposure pass from Magic Bus, and left. On the bus I made friends with Mary, form Christchurch; she was delightedly seeing the scenery after attending a conference about a rare brittle-bone condition which affects some of her family.
We saw marvelous huge kaori trees including Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest, is about 2500 years old with a 19 meter trunk (diameter or circumference? I forget), and more of the towering giant ferns and various wildlife.
The countryside has been stripped of over 90% of this native forest, and converted to grazing; we crossed an enormous muddy river that the locals claim is "upside-down," with the clear water underneath; the driver pointedly remarked it was more likely that the locals' land-use results in tremendous erosion with every spate of rain.
I've been told that the original kaori forests went to Britain for ship-masts, and to build San Fransisco during the gold rush. Like other old-growth timber, it is marvelously high-quality wood; kaori also tends to lose its lower branches and develop massive straight trunks, making it even more attractive as straight, knotless lumber.
I like trees, especially old ones; maybe it's worth looking into work that involves them. Art's an option; collecting seed or orchard-work's another; forestry and conservation work apparently tends to involve killing off pests more than anything else.
Back to the Magic bus: (It had little stuffed toys hanging from the roof on springs and bungy cords; a baby would have been quite happy to lie on the floor and watch them bounce all the way up the road.)
We bussed on into Paihia, and I spent the afternoon wandering aimlessly in the rain, not inclined to pay for a boat into the famous Bay of Islands in such inclement weather. I hope to take a trip after I'm done with these farms, in better weather. After visiting an empty church and churchyard, and being diverted by a fan-tailed bird, I checked on my bus for the next day, bought some fried oysters from a seafood shop, and then stuck up a conversation with a local shopkeeper. We ended up having dinner together; he had the same sort of feel as the people I was meeting in the hostels, and turned out to be just back from about ten years of travels.
The next day, I was on the Northern Exposure trip, up to Cape Reina at the northern tip of the country. The day was wonderfully sunny, so we could enjoy the beach and seabirds, and not mind the wind. We body-boarded down some sand dues and drove at highway speeds along Ninety Mile Beach, wich for the curious is apparently 64.5 miles long, or roughly ninety kilometers. The driver kindly let me off at the Ancient Kaori Kingdom, to meet my hosts from Kaitaia. After a quick stop at the grocery store, we headed off into the countryside to their farm. It's been nonstop "family time" ever since.
I like having people to talk to about a wide range of subjects -- people for whom collecting skills and information is enjoyable. My hosts have this trait, when we have time to talk we don't tend to run out of conversation.
I must remember to make my other phone calls while I'm in town and have reception. Folks who normally exchange email or phone messages should be aware I'll be out of touch for the next week while I'm staying with them, and maybe for another week after that. (There's another host in the same town who might be good to visit).
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