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School Holidays
On The Land
Written and Illustrated by Zela Charlton - 15/02/02

Zela
Zela
For the best part of December and January on our patch, we can look forward to visits from Townie children.

Each year I anticipate this happily, and make plans ahead of time. Sometimes I will put off some tractor work - mowing - so that I can share this with a child. Or I try to arrange for the shearer to come when I have visitors. Then there will be the various fruit crops ripening... I will enjoy having help picking the peaches, plums and feijoas while some of the more active young people will enjoy climbing up the big avocado trees to pick the alligator pears.

There will be eager eyes to spot the errant hen's nests and collect the eggs as well as help with the usual chores. Then perhaps early on we can burn up that pile of hedge cuttings and lopped-off branches before the fire bans come in...

Reality, of course, is not the same thing, even though each year I expect things to be different.

The sad truth is that my grand-children and young friends who come from towns have lost touch with rural things.

Driving the tractor

Tractor
They are interested in the tractor - at first. They want to ride on it and to drive it. It does not matter what age, they all (even the adults) want to have a go. Here I had better explain that "the Tractor" is actually a very small Isiki orchard tractor, low horse power and looking very battered after twenty plus years. It works well, though, and since we bought a rotary slasher to replace the original flail mower it does the job of topping the paddocks and light mulching very well.

It is very noisy, so ear muffs are compulsory, and it is very basic and safe to drive on our flat paddocks, so I do let older children - and some adults - try it out. However, as soon as I point them into a paddock of long grass and weeds and explain that they have to drive up and down in more or less straight lines, covering the whole area in very low gear, very slowly, they soon lose interest. It is not like a race track and they soon get bored and find an excuse to leave the tractor for us to put back in the shed!

Then there are the sheep.
They are very friendly and come up to us for a hopeful nuzzle most times of the year. When I had to get the vet in to see to one with very bad feet the others were very concerned and the vet was disconcerted to be surrounded, when she was kneeling to deal with the problem, by the rest of the flock who were very interested ,sniffing and pushing her so as to see better. The vet seemed to find this unusual, as does the shearer when the same thing happens.

However, like many animals, the sheep are not keen on children. Probably because most children move too quickly, make a noise and want to touch the animals. Country ways are more given to slow movements, observation of body language and an awareness of the correct distance that our fellow beings prefer to maintain between themselves and us.

I understand different nationalities have different body space areas with which they are comfortable - the British prefer to be quite a distance apart for comfortable conversation apparently, as do Kiwis - so it is with animals. And children do not know this unless they have been brought up with farm animals. Dogs and cats have forfeited this personal space to a large extent, and even appear to like being held in close contact.

Shearing
The shearing is an attraction for the first few minutes - after the excitement of rounding up the animals (not much fun really as they know what is happening and at the call "Come on Boys and Girls!" simply walk into the pen ) - There is some comment on the daggy bits and the fact the wool is dirty and then interest in the first one as the pinky skin appears as the fleece is peeled back. Some children will help to roll up the fleece - but many are appalled at the slight smell and the dirty ends that are pulled off and the grease in the wool ... Interest soon wanes.

Then there is the task of fruit picking.
It has been a very wet year this time, and we were quite surprised to find that there was still quite a good crop of peaches. But the brown rot soon set in and the usual battle began, to pick the fruit at exactly the right time, before the rot and the birds got the fruit. Again, children seem to enjoy the idea - until they find a fruit with earwigs coming out from inside the fruit, or another with a nasty patch of rot. They are so used to the perfection of the supermarket produce that they are put off by a bit of real life. Mind you, I was put off peas at an early age myself, when I came face to face with a white grub popping its head out of a pea as I was podding some freshly picked peas....

Picking fruit
Plums are a better bet - if there is no pear slug infestation. But again the restrictions on climbing the rather fragile trees or jumping up to hang and swing on the branches discourage this activity too.

The avocado trees are the best - sturdy and good branches to hold onto. But the fruit is out at the end of the branches and have to be picked with the help of a long snipper - again the thrill of standing waiting to catch what the adults are cutting off soon palls.

Then feijoas. They are best when picked up as soon as they fall, and hard to see when on the bushes. But picking them off the ground does again mean coming in contact with dirt and insects....

And all this is on dry days. When it rains there is mud. And townies do not seem to know how to deal with mud.

But here we are - the paddocks have been mown, the sheep shorn, most of the peaches and plums picked and we are waiting for the feijoas to ripen. And the children have been off to the beaches or to see Harry Potter....

We have not burnt the huge pile of foliage and dead branches - in fact some of the bits have started growing. It was too wet early on and now there is the expected fire ban....

Soon the children will have all gone back to town. Whether they will have learnt much about country life is uncertain. They seem to prefer to get their countryside knowledge from the TV - there is no mud, or unexpected insect there.

To read more about Zela's life on a Northland lifestyle block go to her views on lifestyle living, winter on a lifestyle block, coping with the growth of grass, and the birds and the bees.




 
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