One day and one night into WWOOFing at Greg and Rachel Hart’s farm in sunny Hawkes Bay, and I’m ecstatic.
I wrote in my journal earlier today that if Greg and Rachel were Reformed Christians, this place would be the absolute jackpot.
Let me count the ways:
1) My cottage (and the name well represents the reality) is clean, quaint, well-heated, electrically sound, has a fantastic view (see below) and (!) a desk. (I can’t emphasize how crucial that last detail is to my contentment.)
2) Greg and Rachel are wonderfully warm, hospitable, and damn good conversationalists. They have a huge library—including a documentary DVD collection—around organic agriculture, “green” cultural criticism, and so forth. To top it off, their kids (George, 5; Bill and Emma, 4) are hilarious and almost always naked.
3) The farm is huge—I saw about twenty different paddocks today, and I know that wasn’t all—and beautiful. On a clear day, from higher points on the property, one can snatch rather phenomenal views of the Ruahini mountain range in the distance, swelling up beyond the gorgeous farmland in the foreground.
4) The surrounding area promises to be pretty interesting. I stopped by Napier on the way through, and Chris, you should be jealous. It’s maybe the most interesting city I’ve been to in NZ. For one, it was destroyed in an earthquake earlier this last century and rebuilt at the heyday of Chicago School architectural modernism. We’re talking Art-Deco, to the nines. It’s like if Gothan City (the DC Comics version—duh) and Miami Vice had a lovechild. Secondly, it’s incredibly walkable. Thirdly, it’s like the folk art Mecca of NZ. Know what that means? Artsy people. Which means artsy cafés, bookstores, and cinemas. Jackpot.
Let me describe to you my day.
I went around with Doug, a local farmhand who works for Greg two days a week, driving an ATV around (Jamie, now it’s your turn: get jealous), shifting stock and mending fences.
Poetic and pastoral, yes, but not as exciting as shifting stock. See, New Zealanders make extensive use of professional breeding and training for sheepdogs. But this doesn’t mean Lassie. Think more mangy mutt (Amores Perros, quizas?) than border collie.
These pups are trained to tactically coordinate (i.e., “round up”) whole flocks of sheep and direct them into whichever paddock their owner desires.
Sounds odd, but believe me—it’s masterful. Orchestral, really. How they work together, obey their owner’s directives, bark at—but not bite: they’re incredible restrained—the sheep. It’s a sight to see.
There was one distinct moment I wished I had my camera with me. I’d frame the shot to include the ATV, Doug’s head cocked toward the dogs, shouting “Leave it, Jack!” or “Wolligog, Bess!” (far as I can decipher, this means, “Come back”), one dog (Ned) beside me, getting a ride on the ATV because he was so worn out from chasing sheep, and then the verdant pasture, unfolding with a bullet of cream-colored wool funneling through a paddock gate—the dogs at their heels.