Postcards from Taumata Island: Summer, grass, and a growing menagerie

It has been a while since I last wrote to you dear reader. I make no excuse for the lengthy pause between posts, sometimes, as a writer, inspiration takes a holiday of its own accord, and you are left staring at a blank page. But enough of that, let me update you on the grand adventure.

 Let’s talk about Wairarapa grass, apparently legendary across New Zealand for its near-magical growth capability, I now know why. Over spring, it grows somewhere between six to ten centimetres, each week.

Worse, with horses that are not used to the local grass, there is a genuine risk of them getting ill from overeating the new growth. Figuratively, it is Mc Donald’s for horses. They become “grass effected,” which is easiest to compare to a child who’s eaten too much sugar.

This means that Karene must relentlessly top the paddocks to keep the grass under control, which means the horses are annoyed because she is taking away their special treat, as they see it at least. They stare dolefully into two large paddocks that are being grown out for hay, something that we will need over late summer months and winter as well.

The menagerie continues to grow.

A new horse has joined the herd, Fizz, and ex-thoroughbred he stands 17 hands high, making him a very large animal indeed. Despite his size, he’s incredibly cruisy, and he ambles along at a plodding pace.

A short-haired german pointer named Freya has joined the pack. She has a gentle nature with an incredible nose and a penchant for just not doing whatever it is that she does not want to do. Being a hunting dog, it is taking quite some time to train her not to catch and hold the chickens, which don’t appreciate the experience.

 Speaking of chickens, we’ve considerably increased the flock much to the disgust of the original older ladies who have been protesting the new arrivals. The originals now refuse to lay in the coop and have decided that the BBQ on the deck or top of the washing machine is the new location. For the first few days, they got revenge by angrily squawking outside the bedroom window at 5 am.

Across the farm, the fruit trees are filling rapidly, and everything is growing madly. The grand chilli experiment is underway, but so far, I am underwhelmed with the growth of them. It may be because we have had a couple of cold spells, however, so far, they have stubbornly resisted growing much more than about six inches.

While Wellington is now in the season that is otherwise known as “Sh!tsville”, with unending wind and grey days, the Wairarapa has been up to ten degrees warmer and sunny. The weather here is weird after living in Wellington. When the wind comes, it arrives with a bang, knocks everything over, and then generally disappears off a couple of hours later to wreak havoc somewhere else.

Everyone watches the weather. When the sun is just right, the wind is up; then the massive contracting gangs kick into action to make hay. Tractors clog the roads along with combine harvesters and trucks if it is turned to silage. Contractors will work through the night to catch the right conditions before the next rain.

The valley surprised itself recently by electing Kieran McNulty one the seat for Labour in that distant memory, the general election. After the anti-farm rhetoric and anti-Labour rhetoric in the run-up to the election, I had Labour as a loser here. Not so, he romped in.

Which is quite funny, because a lot of die-hard conservative voters flipped to Labour, so the grumbling in the pub is a lot quieter than usual.

My theory is that conservatives hate two things: uncertainty and the Greens. Given National’s rather shambolic run at the election, they were hardly seen as a certainty, whereas Labour is a known quantity. Then, they hate the Greens, so, that only leaves Labour.

Karene and I were sitting at the Gladstone Inn on Sunday afternoon recently, enjoying a beer and a long rambling chat with Ken, who is born and bred, farming stock, and a diesel mechanic, when the following contraption rolled into the carpark and no less than seven middle-aged men, who should know better, rolled drunkenly out of the van and into the pub.

I swear, sometimes living in this valley is like a leap back into the 1970s, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’d highly recommend the Gladstone Inn; it’s probably one of the last pubs in the area of that age that is in good condition still. Sunday afternoons are usually quieter with more locals, as most of the Wellingtonians lunch there, and then bravely drive back over the Remutakas into the windy grey.   

After three months of solely working on the farm, I have started a new contract based back in Wellington. Thankfully, the organisation encourages working from home, so I do not have to be in every day. One of the things that Wairarapa needs to sort out smartly is the trains in and out of the city.

Services are generally unreliable, replaced by buses, late, and appear to have gone downhill in quality since I last used them. So, I drive. Because, unlike trains, I need to be reliable. If I leave at about 530 am, then I am in the office by about 7 am, going again around mid-afternoon. It’s about an hour and fifteen minutes at those times of the day. If I leave it any later, it’s a two-hour journey.

Wairarapa seems in good heart heading toward Christmas. Shops are bustling, and the towns are packed over the weekends. Unlike Wellington, there are many events regularly and the locals support them well.

Now, I may have disappointed you, dear readers, because I have not talked about Wellington, nor Shelly Bay. Rest assured, it’s coming. It’s taken me a fortnight to calm down and think it through, so you’ll be seeing something shortly.