TALES FROM A FAR-NORTH FOR­EST

LEFT IN SOLE CHARGE OF THE CHIL­DREN AND THE LAND, POLLY CON­NECTS WITH THE WILD­NESS WITHIN

NZ Life & Leisure - - On The Cover - WORDS POLL Y GREEK S

Polly and the chil­dren get an out­door ed­u­ca­tion

AFTER SEVEN YEARS of off-grid liv­ing, I’m not the Earth woman I’d hoped to be­come. Dur­ing the sea­sons when James has been gar­dener-in-chief, the kitchen has over­flowed with home­grown pro­duce and we’ve al­most wept at the sight of an­other 30 cour­gettes grow­ing stout in the sun. This year though, it’s my turn at the raisedbed helm and the great horn of cor­nu­copia has up­turned, tip­ping out a hand­ful of beans, the odd tomato, bolt­ing let­tuce and an oc­ca­sional wiz­ened beet­root.

James, who ini­tially ad­mired my plan to let the gar­dens self-seed, has left the ex­ten­sive weed­ing to me. Ac­tu­ally he has left al­to­gether – away for some months on a con­tract. Mostly, I’m man­ag­ing fine. I’ve long-since learnt how to empty the com­post toi­let without dryretch­ing; I can re­pair the pull-cord on the gen­er­a­tor if it snaps and split kin­dling as thin as match­sticks, but I’ll need to step up if the wa­ter sys­tem gets knocked out in a storm. Tra­di­tion­ally it’s James who fixes the prob­lem. He’s also the one to chain­saw up trees when they fall on the road and he’s kept our house sur­rounded in a deadly ring of hair-trig­gered traps to hold bush rats at bay.

“You’ll have to take on that job,” he warned upon de­part­ing. “This is when they start com­ing in.”

We take our rat trap­ping se­ri­ously, en­gag­ing DOC 200 preda­tor traps that are so strong they can cut a hefty rat clean in half when they snap. For that rea­son, it’s not a good idea to hold the spring-jaws open with one’s feet, but I was try­ing to re­move my first fa­tal­ity at the time, and re­quired both hands, clad in plas­tic bags, to pick up the pieces. When the rat’s tail fell off, dis­tract­ing me some­what, the trap slammed shut on my toes. My op­er­atic note brought the chil­dren run­ning.

“That’s not how Dad does it,” Vita pointed out as I checked for bro­ken bones.

It’s prob­a­bly not how Earth women do it ei­ther but I’m re­al­iz­ing I may not be the ar­che­typal earthen mama: that strong and ca­pa­ble fig­ure who not only raises happy, healthy chil­dren but also tends crops of buck­wheat, hemp and quinoa, fells fire­wood trees, milks goats and bot­tles up a year’s worth of pre­serves from her food for­est be­fore spin­ning wool to knit socks.

Luck­ily, you don’t have to be skil­ful on the land to en­joy it, and it’s with great plea­sure that I’m mix­ing ‘wild school­ing’ into the chil­dren’s home school­ing. The gar­den and sur­round­ing for­est has be­come as much a class­room as our kitchen ta­ble. Out­doors we read clouds and sea­sons and an­i­mal trails. Arith­metic is the count­ing of fruit di­vided by fungi and beak-bur­row­ing birds. We write on pages of mud and sand. It’s a realm gov­erned by the un­ex­pected. The wind takes over the class for an hour; the silent moon opens up con­ver­sa­tions; a cache of black­ber­ries beck­ons us off our path.

But wild school­ing is about more than dis­cov­er­ies in na­ture. Wild­ness is a qual­ity we’re born with, a feral na­ture within that con­nects us to un­do­mes­ti­cated na­ture without. Cities have mag­netism and en­ergy, their own puls­ing beat and in­spi­ra­tion. And we’re pack an­i­mals, us hu­mans; our cul­ture, so­ci­ety and sur­vival hinges upon this fact. That’s an ed­u­ca­tion too, but in bal­ance. Wild­ness gets di­min­ished by the im­po­si­tion of timeta­bles and so­cial con­trols, and I’d like to keep the chil­dren’s wild spir­its large so they’re part of the for­est they run through.

Wild school­ing is stok­ing their souls with camp­fire and starlight. It’s open­ing their eyes to the beauty in a spider, stir­ring their hearts to the pull of an empty hori­zon.

In the wilder­ness there is silent still­ness, even as the river runs. The scur­ry­ing rush to get places falls away like eggshell and we emerge, per­fectly whole again, freshly hatched into re­mem­ber­ing that we are this: the pat­terns of light shift­ing over the ocean; the song of the wind through the trees. Wild school­ing says this is your home. You know the lan­guage. You be­long.

After nu­mer­ous off­shore ad­ven­tures, Polly Greeks and her hus­band James have cho­sen to put down roots in a stand of iso­lated North­land for­est where they are slowly build­ing a mort­gage- free, of­f­grid home and dis­cov­er­ing an en­tirely new way of life. Read...

In the next is­sue, Polly pon­ders the pros and cons of home school­ing.

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