Polly and the children get positively broody, but news in the valley isn’t all good.
Words: Polly Greeks
Finally, the new chickens had laid. The first egg, anticipated for months, was welcomed by the children with as much awe as gold. “It’s like a pearl mum,” said nine-year-old Vita, holding up the pale shell to showcase its lustrous sheen.
Beaming with pride, she and her seven-year-old brother Zendo agreed it was unparalleled in ovum beauty. Vita’s andalusian hen, Angel, thought it was a pretty good effort too. Bragging noisily, she clucked her achievement to our barred rock chooks who shuffled about unproductively and, I hope, a little embarrassedly. Despite hoovering up enormous amounts of food and growing as round as feathered basketballs, they hadn’t yet laid a thing.
A few days later, however, one of their flock made her way into the laying boxes. “It’s Big Bobby Brunsey,” Zendo told me excitedly, conveniently forgetting this was a name he’d bestowed on a rooster. With shameless fluidity of affections, he declared she’d always been his special chicken. “I knew she’d be the next to lay an egg.”
Vita’s hen followed Big Bob into the coop and began making one heck of a racket. “Angel must be the chicken midwife. She’s telling Big Bob how to do it.” My son cocked an ear knowingly as Angel’s clucking intensified. “See? She’s telling her you have to push.”
He was bang on the money about Angel’s partiality for pushing, but the interpreted benevolence was pure anthropomorphism. Instead, we caught the indignant andalusian heaving Big Bob’s fresh egg out of the nest. As it hit the ground below, my fondness for andalusians shattered also.
Country loving is often conditional. I love our dog so long as he’s not vomiting fetid possum remains across the bathroom floor. I revere our valley’s kiwi population except when they’re blasting out 3am hoots beneath the bedroom window. I’ve even professed genuine admiration for the extraordinary array of insects bustling in and over our soil.
Still, when a giant centipede emerged from my pillowcase early one morning, any warmth for that species disappeared faster than offspring at dishwashing time. However beautiful these 20-centimetre specimens appear when discovered in their natural habitat, the writhing whirr of legs and nippers is decidedly nightmarish when making its way down your pyjama top. I suspect it will be years before my involuntary spasms at unexpected tickling cease.
Much like a time-tested marriage, for all my niggles about off-grid forest life, I remain utterly committed to my relationship with our land. It’s a privilege to be surrounded by pure streams, forest ranges and the deep, nourishing silence that’s present in the absence of humans. Visitors say they reconnect with themselves in the valley’s stillness, but I believe it’s more profound than that. It’s easy to remember life’s sacredness when you’re immersed in such wilderness and feel merged with a greater life force.
Under governmental schemes, we could’ve cleared the regenerating forest to make way for pine, cashing in on carbon credits and future timber, but we’re investing in a different kind of future. James particularly has trapped rats and possums and propagated, planted and nurtured native seedlings with the passion of kaitiaki intent on passing on land healthier, wilder and more vital than the condition in which it was found.
Therefore, it was shocking to receive a governmental pamphlet over winter announcing plans to manage our land because it was deemed a Significant Natural Area (SNA). The extraordinary arrogance of declaring unsolicited regulation of a privately owned valley was made worse by local and central governments’ abysmal conservation track records.
The backlash from a public more emotionally, physically and spiritually connected to their whenua than bureaucrats can ever be, has resulted in the shelving of SNAs while a new government policy is hatched. The plan is unknown at the time of writing, but I hope administrators acknowledge and honour the priceless resource that exists in the countless land stewards who love their land passionately and intimately and are doing a far better job of caring for it than any government could.
After numerous offshore adventures, Polly Greeks, her husband James and their children Vita and Zendo chose to put down roots in a stand of isolated Northland forest where they are slowly building a mortgage-free, off-grid home and discovering an entirely new way of life.