94 | The Good Life
In the early autumn evening of the anniversary of our first year as country people, I went for a meander in the nuttery with the chickens. The chickens are always up for a stroll – there is always the possibility of a snack, a fig, a nut, a cherry tomato – and I am endlessly amused by the very idea of going for a stroll with chickens. We chat away. You can do that in the country without anyone assuming that you are a nutter who talks to birds. Although I do occasionally hear a disembodied chuckle float over the poplar shelter belts from the sheep paddocks beyond. That will be Miles, the sheep farmer, or Carolyn, the shepherdess, who have become firm friends.
I am always pleased when they are in the paddocks and not just because it means that Red the sheepdog will be with them. A major change brought about by a year in the country is that I have gone from being a lifelong hater of dogs to wanting a Red puppy. Greg is not so keen so we are not (yet) getting one. This is perhaps just as well, because Red went through a phantom pregnancy, involving an obsessive attachment to a chair and a pink rubber ball and two boyfriends and has failed to produce a single puppy. There is always next spring.
It is hard to believe that we have been here a year; that we are no longer Aucklanders; that we live on a small sheep farm and get about in gumboots at home and RM Williams boots for town. Actually, Auckland seems like some distant, other country, visited once in a dream. But the country also still feels like some other country, like a dream – but a dream come true.
We have had lots of visitors from Auckland.
I’m not sure why. Nothing much happens in our country life, but that is perhaps the reason they like to come. My friend Cath, who has one of the mad hens named after her, said, “You’re living the life you were meant to lead; you just didn’t know it.”
That was a nice thing to say and I think it is probably just right. It fits, snugly, like a Red Band gumboot over thick mohair autumn socks.
Autumn is lovely here in Masterton. I say nothing much ever happens, but autumn is bounty time. I have always said I longed to be a hausfrau and I have been flat out hausfrauing. There are quinces to turn to jelly and paste. I have made tomato and red pepper relish, bottles of plum sauce and plum relish and an experimental plum hoisin. There is a preserving pan of pear peel and sugar sitting in the garage turning, one hopes, into pear cider and not into something explosive.
In our tractor bay, neighbour
Tony has his own mad experiment going on. His pear-cider vinegar trial has turned into a quince-cider vinegar endeavour and there are huge vats weighed down with rocks and wrapped in old blankets. I hope we are not raided by the coppers on suspicion of running a P lab.
The Artist and the Gardener turn up with yet more bottles and jars: Crab apple jellies and chutneys and pickles. If the end of the world ever comes, we will be kept going with preserves.
The house is full of glorious dahlias and zany zinnias and the delphiniums continue flowering. We’re still digging agria potatoes and picking beans and tomatoes, even as the sweet peas, let to go to seed, are already appearing in the lettuce patch.
I have broccoli and coriander and winter lettuce to get in. There is a box of black tulip bulbs on the path waiting to be planted, which I had better do before the chickens peck at them some more before spitting them out in disgust. This does not deter them from trying again the next day. Chickens are the very definition of the eternal optimists.
As are we, these days. We have morphed from grumpy Aucklanders into happy country dwellers, and if anyone had told me that would happen, I would have said they were off their rockers. It was, a year ago, as unimaginable as the thought that I would ever want to get a dog.
My friend Cath said, “You’re living the life you were meant to lead; you just didn’t know it.”
Fruits of the writer’s labour brighten the table.