Peter Nelson’s travels – New Zealand – Rees Valley Sheep Station

by Peter Nelson 

Okay.  A few words about the logistics of the situation.  Something I rarely seem to get around to.  For three weeks I lived in town working on a bridge construction crew.  Making scads of money but I bloody hated the job.  Working with sharp metal and clanging noise and ugly machines and rigid schedules.  So I split and am now living and working on a sheep station.  Making all of $35 a week.  And loving it.  Doing a bit of everything, but mostly feeding the little woolies, hauling firewood, and checking on the herds.  On foot, or on the tractor on the lowlands.  Use the Land Rover when I have to go up into the mountains.

All sorts of perks with this job.  My new bosses, Graham and Iris, are lively and intelligent, which is more than could be said for the bridge crew, who just drank themselves into oblivion every evening.  Iris is also a Dylan freak, has most of his albums.  Their only shortcoming is that being young and youngly married, they have no little kinderlings for me to play with.  At least the bridge boss had Kim and Wendy and Tinker Bell and we had a ball together after supper.  All Graham and Iris have is Claude, a very plump, very self-satisfied cat, and Egbert, black and white and six days old, a calf just finding his legs as he wobbles through the apple orchard.

1105 - Paradise New Zealand
The town a bit further up the valley from Glenorchy really is called “Paradise”

A good life I guess.  The other day I spread their hay out in a circle with a large Y in the middle of it, so when I drove to the top of the hill overlooking the pasture, the sheep were contentedly feeding in a perfect peace symbol pattern.  Would have made a great photograph.

Oh man this place, this holy place, communion wine flowing through the water-races the animals being fed, and us being fed and it all fits so well. the paddocks meshed together and nestled betwixt the sheltering mountains.  Saturday nights Graham and Iris uncork their homemade plum wine and we raise our hollow-stemmed goblets and smile together at the richness of life, how the life-sounds come together into music, sounds without orchestration, sounds

“And the time will be our time

And the grass won’t pay no mind.”

Rees Valley Station.  Iris’s mare had a colt.
Rees Valley Station. Iris’s mare had a colt.

If you please, do not write to me after the 18th.  Not here and not to Wellington Poste Restante yet either.  Who knows where the wind might blow.

Found a good flat piney slab to use as a writing desk.  It’s in the fireplace at the moment.  Heat-curing.  Small bubbles of hot sap oozing down the plank.  Should improve my penmanship considerabobble.  Hey man also thanks for the paper and stuff.  At first I thought wow I can never squeeze my child-like scrawl between such narrow lines but I find I can and also can get many more words on each page.  Helps save our forests.  Save them from my verbal onslaughts.  There’s a lot of sap in that slab.  Hurry up will you.  I want to try it out.  Wouldn’t matter about the sap except of course for the whiteness of my trousers.

Badminton in the village hall is for the young.  Of course most of the teenagers come down from the hills with their minds on games of a different nature altogether.  But they start out in the church hall.  Gamely leaping after that pesky shuttlecock.  Poor bird.  After each slam one envisions it lying there agasp on the floor, white plastic feathers flapping feebly struggling to catch its breath.  Only to be roughly seized and sent off again with yet another stinging slap.

And I’ve become the terror of the court.  Bounding into my partner’s half of the field, hogging every shot I can reach.  Swashbuckling lunging Errol-Flynn-on-the-foredeck forehand one-knee diving saves.  Wearing out the knees of my Levis.  Spontaneous applause as I crash into the wall down on both knees swinging wildly over my shoulder making the volley backwards over my head.  Followed by an equally loud chorus of boos as my next shot zings skyward to lodge the bird in the upper rafters.  Fickle fleeting fame has flown.  Game over.

OK, someone else’s turn.  Sit down.  Next to the girls.  Needless to say.  Like Tom Sawyer.  No one else will.  Except Euen but he’s from Invercargill and therefore a foreigner like me.  Boys and girls.  But not together.  When do they ever talk to each other.  ‘Hello April.  Nice shot.  Ah so it was off the wood was it.  Well never mind.’  Yet somehow eventually they come down off the hills engaged.  And then married.  Where is their dance of courtship held.  On some quiet country roadside perchance.  Beneath the haloed moon.  Imagine going back in time some fifteen summers.  Escort one of these young ladies home and give her a clumsy goodnight kiss on the front porch.  Wow.  How freaky.  Strong healthy young animals these country lasses.  Apple freshness on their cheeks.  Blink in surprise if I arched a suggestive eyebrow.  Wouldn’t you April.  And O that grade-A fresh pastoral grin.  Woo woo.  A studious frown as she awaits the next volley.  Takes this game seriously.

The contented lowland flock.  More sheep were up in those mountains.
The contented lowland flock. More sheep were up in those mountains.

Next morning lurching along standing in the hayrack behind my momentarily driverless tractor as it finds its own path across these smooth paddocks, me slicing open pungent bales of sweet dried alfalfa, tossing thick wedges of hay to the shaggy flock trotting eagerly behind.  Peaceful really golden valley.  The tractor loping along, rolling gently side to side like a drowsy horse.

And the cool morning settles over you like sleep.