We don’t know our flowers from our weeds…

11 11 2009

Probably one of the biggest criticisms that Sunny received as a principal was that he couldn’t tell his flowers from his weeds. Some teachers felt he spent way too much time on the hopeless weeds, instead of focusing attention on the already-blooming flowers. That’s also probably one of the reasons I fell in love with him.

The same might be said about our farming. To begin with, we don’t know a thing about plants. Our first boss discovered this on day one, but remained quiet. On day three, when he ordered me to put compost around the potatoes, I nodded, asking, “And the potato plants are….?”

“Oh, right,” he muttered to himself, “You two don’t know anything!”

We’ve also been given the job of weeding several times, and I must say, we both hesitate to pull out most of the plants, as some have lovely purple flowers, others look remarkably like garlic shoots, and none seem anxious to come out of the ground.  I’ve been weeding cautiously, with frequent dashes back to one of our farmstay bosses, asking for permission to pull out yet another weed.

They patiently walk out to the garden with me, and without fail, they say, “Yank it. It’s a weed, and a bad one at that.”

We chose our second farmstay along the West Coast, which is known for rugged terrain and the “real” NZ lifestyle. The couple advertised themselves as living off the land, including hunting all their meat, growing their produce, and drinking, we found out, rainwater.

We arrived on a sunny afternoon.  There were rhododendrons, stretching seven feet high, and the most enormous Japanese maple I have ever seen. We first met Kim and her two lovely children, one just a newborn. She toured us around the beautiful land, and we felt ready to dig in and learn the lifestyle.

Denny arrived several hours later. He called a cheerful greeting from outside the door and I stuck out my hand to introduce myself. As soon as I saw him, I recoiled. In each of his hands was a dead goat. His face shined with joy, and he walked into the house, holding up the goats as trophies. Quite an introduction.

Without much of a greeting, he began what turned out to be a running narration of all his actions. He proceeded to skin each goat on the wood counter that we had just used to cook dinner (and would later cook breakfast), talking us through the entire process, much like he might on the Food Network. He was amazing at skinning and cleaning the goats, and taught at least Sunny where the different glands and organs live (after about ten minutes, I tried to stay away, play with the kids and not become a vegetarian).

Five hours of goat hanging from the ceiling and three large bowls of mincemeat later, he was finished and goat curry was on the menu for dinner.

As we spent the next day together, Denny continued his daily narration with a bit of lecture thrown in for good measure. He started to teach me why he lives the way he does, which is mainly because he does not want to be controlled by anyone or anything, including the corporations that apparently control Obama. I did find Denny’s anger at industry curious, especially due to the fact that his two year old daughter already has a toy cell phone, T.V., and camera to play with.

Denny then continued his lecture by telling me about the various countries and groups who, according to him, own all the banks and Hollywood (take a wild guess who he blamed for that one), and the general U.S. conspiracies that dictate, among other things, pesticides in New Zealand. 

For a grand finale, Denny then lectured the two of us on the complete pointlessness of school. Perhaps thinking he had a captive audience, he lectured us on why school should not be offered to children in society, because after all, no other animal sends their child to school.

I kept trying to remind him that we were actually educators, and so believed in school that we had made a career of it, but that point didn’t seem to stick with him.

Likewise, when Africa came up, and his friend said, “Who in their right mind would ever live in South Africa?” and I quipped, “We are going to live in South Africa,” he brushed it off as if I had made a mistake.

Despite all of our differences, we managed to find some common ground with Denny. In all honesty,  he was a exuberant chap, and taught us many of our favorite NZ phrases, including “Good on you,” usually used to mean “Job well done.”

Indeed, we learned a lot from our time with Denny, and as we drove away from three days of living without water, heat or what we considered safe food to eat, Sunny decreed that our children should be encouraged to do these farm-stays in New Zealand as part of a full and robust educational experience.

At the very least, they’ll be able to tell the flowers from the weeds.

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