One of the things that Kiri and I have in common is a love of animals. While the choices I've made have led me to suburban Wellington and (at the moment) no animals of my own, her life has led to a small farm in the beyond of northwest Waikato/South Auckland.
Kiri's a hunter. Ever since I've known her she's loved getting into the outdoors and killing things - fishing, shooting, whatever. She got into pig hunting just after I staged my disappearing act, and it was through that that she met her husband. They are like peas in a pod and between them they've taken a small piece of more or less bare land with a house and a couple of sheds, and turned it into their version of paradise. There's a vegie garden that's inundating them with tomatoes and courgettes right now:
It's so very typical of Kiri that when the broccoli bolted she couldn't bring herself to pull them out because the bees like them. She also showed me the wee wasps she was encouraging into the garden, ones that like to hunt caterpillars. And her experiment with giant pumpkin growing..
.. which seems to be coming along nicely. That pumpkin, and the rock melons and jerusalem artichokes behind, are planted in a pile of elephant poo, artfully liberated from a small zoo in the area.
Oh yeah, speaking of bees, they've recently started beekeeping, and have four hives set up a prudent distance from the house:
It was too hot to don the beesuits and have a look inside, but there was a rack of beeswax candles in the kitchen and apparently they'd just run out of last year's honey. You'll note that heavily laden apple tree hanging over the right hand hive. It's part of an orchard that includes apples, limes, feijoas, and peaches - and probably a few other things I didn't notice. The thing about this orchard, and a lot of the garden, is that it's grown from seeds that Kiri saved out of fruit she liked.
At this point you might be starting to get an idea of the sort of person Kiri is. She just doesn't see hard work or inexperience as a barrier, and she's interested in everything. I joked, when she disappeared for a while, that she was probably distracted by an interesting worm she'd found, and was inspecting it to see if she could bring it home and keep it as a pet.
The result of this interest combined with willingness to try and do the hard yards is really obvious when you look around the farm. The following picture shows the scale of this orchard produced from saved seeds. This was bare land when they moved here in 2005:
Now the orchard covers a couple of acres and is surrounded by bamboo shelter belts (also hand grown), the laden trees already having a local market for their fruit thanks to a bit of friendly networking.
Behind the trees in that pic you can see a shed. It's a cowshed which was already there, but they've added to it so now it has a yard, an area for killing, and a converted shipping container which serves as a chiller. It's beautifully set up with a workbench inside, racks for hanging meat, and storage for the bins of pies and baked goods she collects from a local trader to feed the pigs.
Pigs? Yes, lots of them. Here are some of the little ones:
And their Mum trying to get her head into their food too. There were four breeding sows in a series of paddocks, free-ranging with a single boar. And their litters formed a gang of about twelve piglets that were hooning around creating mischief wherever they felt like going. When it's time to wean them, Kiri starts to feed them in this little corner, so it becomes very easy to open the chicken netting you see on the right and pop them into another, more piglet-proof pen.
Once they're in there they start to receive the pies and baked goods and house scraps and produce, and after 6 months they are either sold ready-to-kill, or the odd one is done for the freezer at home. There were two hanging in the chiller when we got there, and I spent Friday afternoon in there with Kiri, processing them. Into a bin of brine went some fore and hindquarter chunks to be made into ham. I drove the bandsaw and made All The Chops (pigs are looooooong), and then we boned out the rest for pickled pork.
After we'd done that, Kiri's stepdaughter, who's in her last year of apprenticeship as a butcher, turned up with three dead sheep on the back of her truck. She does homekill in her spare time, and had been asked to do these for dog tucker. Her two friends bailed on her after the first, claiming "Ew gross!" so I went to see if she needed a hand to lift them onto the hooks for dressing. She was kind enough to let me get in there with a knife, so I ended up skinning and dressing one.
It was nice to discover that after so much time in town, I can still skin and dress a sheep in less than 10 minutes. And Carly and I traded techniques - I showed her a better way of skinning briskets and she showed me a better way of tying off the oesophagus. It was a very happy Tats who peeled off her bloodstained jeans that evening.
Yes I'm weird, so what?
OK, where was I? Right, pigs. Also, cows:
These cows are either milked and the milk used to rear calves, or mothered with an extra calf, and the calves sold as weaners. They are all very friendly and will come up for a pat. The two dairy ones in the background are ex-calf club calves made good. ;-) Kiri also makes cheese, although this fell by the wayside last year when she was doing chemo.
She talks about this very matter-of-factly, the way she does everything. It was just part of her life, it was awful, it's over, it's left her with some chronic health problems that she doesn't let get on top of her. Her husband showed me pics of her out on the farm last year with her bald head shining in the sun, feeding calves and doing whatever she could regardless of what was going on healthwise. She's that kind of lady. I could see the frustration with some things, but only the ones that limit her ability to do whatever she wants. And her version of limited is most people's version of extended. So, you know, it's all relative.
Anyway, the menagerie also includes sheep:
Chickens (eggs in an honesty box on the roadside, $5 a dozen)
More chickens for meat and a bunch of ducks for eggs and the freezer (although their escape artist tendencies were making the freezer their likeliest option):
Cats (Henry is the hairy one too lazy to lift his head for me, Titi is the pretty bright-eyed young one):
That's Chopper, commonly known as Fluffy. He's an American Bulldog and he totally looks the part of mean-as junkyard dog. But he really really isn't. He is the friendliest dog ever. I told him to look intelligent for this pic, and as you can see, he managed friendly instead. There are four other dogs, all pig dogs, all bitches. They are a line they've been working on for 10 years or so, a sort of white/red-speckled bully/heeler type. While Kiri was sick they didn't hunt a lot so consequently the dogs are a bit fat, but like everything on this farm, they are the picture of health and very very friendly.
Two of the farm troughs have tadpoles in them and Kiri goes round and feeds them to encourage them. Frogs are a sign of a healthy ecosystem, so it makes sense to try and make your place a haven for them. These were just starting to emerge, and it was sunny enough to get a pic of their little legs as they tried to work out what they were for.
And finally, a parrot. Greenie is super friendly, can sort-of talk but mostly chooses to make "Uh-huh" and "MmmmmMMMmm" noises while you talk. He spends a fair bit of time out of his cage, and one day he came for a ride into town with us on the back of the driver's seat. Yesterday he realised his clipped feathers had grown out enough so he could glide, and the consequent rescue mission from the trees at the bottom of the pig paddocks gave me the opportunity to get a photo of the farm:
If you look carefully you can see a truck just to the left of those three trees with a ladder on the back, and a frustrated escapee inside - who immediately got a wing clip for his trouble:
Sulky parrot is sulky:
This is the parrot equivalent of standing in the corner and thinking about what you've done. Kiri says it's like raising a child with ADD. Speaking of corners, here's the dead animal trophy corner.
Taxidermy is another thing she's interested in, so mounted pig heads abound. She's proud of some of them, others she reckons look like rodents. I'm just impressed. We had a chat about it and it seems taxidermy isn't all that different from making monster heads, in that you're shaping a substrate and then covering it with a skin. She even uses lots of the same materials. Hmm..
On Saturday there was fishing. We went over the Port Waikato bar (which like lots of bars is notorious for being dangerous), which was on its best behaviour for us. First we dropped into a rocky bay down the coast and kept an eye on a couple of crayfish diver friends, and were rewarded with three crays for our trouble. Then we headed out west into the choppy sea, chasing albacore tuna and hoping for a marlin. Kiri's husband has a little reel that he wants to catch a marlin on, so there's always a lure on this out the back. If it goes off it's his fish. Everything else is fair game.
Trolling for gamefish involves towing lures at a slow speed behind the boat. You have to keep an eye on them to make sure they don't tangle and that they're swimming right. We had 6 out:
This is a pretty relaxing kind of fishing. You chug along, eating sandwiches and having refreshments of whatever tickles your fancy, and wait for something to happen. Thus:
Normally you get less maniacal grinning, but I was in the middle of suggesting how cool a photo it'd be if something big came up in the lures while this pic was being taken, and you got a pic of someone flailing around going "HOOKUP!" *ahem*
Mostly out here, you catch albacore tuna and skipjack tuna, and that's what we did. For them, you just stop the boat and reel it in, trying to avoid making macrame with the other lures. For a bigger fish, there's a process. The deckie gets the rest of the gear in, take the lures off, stashes the rods out of the way. Meanwhile, someone manoeuvres the boat to keep the fish on one side and to help gain ground on it. When it gets to the boat you either tag it or gaff it depending on whether you're releasing or keeping it, so preparing the gaff or tagpole is part of the routine.
Four skippies and two albies later, something big did come up in the lures, and with a huge splash of dorsal and tailfins, took off with Dave's marlin lure. We were all convinced it was a marlin, but after a very short fight (yes, this reel would totally slay one), we sighted the fish as Kiri traced it and I held ready with the flying gaff. It cruised past the boat about four metres down, and it was a mako shark that went on.. and on.. and on..
It's hard to estimate the weight of fish based on sighting them through water, but we got it pretty close to the surface before cutting the trace to let it go, and I'd say it was about 9 feet long. This would put it somewhere around the 170-200kg mark. Exciting!
And then, on the way home, we passed a workup of gannets divebombing head first into the water, which turned out to be marking a huge school of hunting kahawai. For those not in NZ, kahawai are ubiquitous here, a pelagic fish between about 30 and 60cm long that are common around the entire coast of the country. They're aggressive hunters that feed in packs and will take any bait when feeding. I've never seen one take a marlin lure though:
Seriously, that lure's nearly as big as the fish. We actually had to pull the gear in to avoid catching them, so after this we decided we had enough food and trundled off home feeling pretty damn pleased with ourselves. Kiri and Dave's wedding vows included her promising to clean the fish and him promising to clean the boat, so we spent an hour or so filleting that evening (and nommed sashimi for dinner that night), and next morning cranked up the smoker.
5 hours later, we'd vacuum packed about 7kg of smoked tuna. I brought about 2.5kg of it home with me on the plane. OM NOM NOM NOM
And randomly, at Auckland airport I ran into my ex husband's brother - the only member of that family that I feel ok talking to these days. He put me in touch with another blast from the past, a girl I used to ride with a lot. It seems to be happening to me this year.
I think it's a good thing. I loved my weekend with Kiri, I can't express how happy I am to have got back in touch with her. She's doing all the things we dreamed of doing all those years ago, they've got a beautiful little setup there, and spending time with them was invigorating and fun.
I love how this year, the good parts of my past seem to all be popping up. Almost as if it's the right time, or something.