94 | The Good Life

Michele He­wit­son

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - MICHELE HE­WIT­SON

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.

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