After visiting the farm the previous weekend for the pre-settlement inspection we left feeling overwhelmed by the gravity of what we had committed ourselves to. The place was massive and in the middle of nowhere, we knew next to nothing about farming, and we felt self-conscious – was it glaringly obvious that we were townies?
There had been five old blokes there during the inspection (the previous owner and his friend, the farmer we’d be leasing the land to graze, a neighbour, and the real estate agent), all of whom were seasoned country folk who’d grown from the deep roots their ancestors laid there a hundred years ago. It was suddenly very apparent to us just how inexperienced we were. The self-doubt on the drive back to the city tormented us both in silence.
It wasn’t until we returned to the farm a week later for our first weekend as its new owners that all (or most) of that apprehension dissolved.
It just so happened that the day our offer was accepted was also our anniversary of seven years. It also just so happened that the first weekend we could spend at our new farm after settlement coincided with my birthday. I love serendipitous crap like that.
We arrived on the Thursday afternoon just before dusk, two-door coup packed to the brim with tools, cleaning products, and bedding. When the car engine was shut off we were agape at the abrupt stillness. Save for the songs of tui and magpie and the flitter of fantails the air was filled with a silence that caused us to mutually exhale with relief, as if we’d been holding our breath for seven years. Our tensions and mounting dread melted away in an instant. For the first time it truly felt like ours.
We spent the remaining hours of light in a kind of trance, absorbing our new world at a pace befitting the setting. We lay in the lush grass in a paddock listening to birdsong and taking in our surroundings, and for the first time in a long time there was no doing… only being. We were home.
The house felt unfamiliar to sleep in the first night, but after a good clean the next day, getting intimate with its nooks and crannies, it quickly started to feel like our new home. It’ll feel even better once we get some damn furniture in it. It’s a pretty old cottage, but in time we’ll spruce it up. Definitely keeping those characteristic chocolate brown matai floorboards intact – they’re a keeper. The pink particle board kitchen and linoleum… not so much.
Thank you previous owner for leaving a winter’s supply of pre-cut firewood! The farm is quite a bit farther south than Auckland and is also comparatively elevated, with an altitude of almost half a kilometre above sea level. We’ve been warned the winters can be quite frigid, with about a dozen heavy frosts each season. Did I mention the house is completely devoid of insulation? Yep. Brrr. The little wood burner does a top job, though, and fortunately the cottage is small enough to heat fairly fast. Got to keep that fire stocked!
On Friday we received some warm welcomes from a few neighbours that popped by, which was really nice. They each invited us to the barbeque that was being held across the road in the local hall that night. Apparently they hold one each month as a way for the rural community to stay in touch. Our nearest neighbour is almost a kilometre away, but about fifty locals come from far and wide to catch up at the hall. Our land having once been the proposed centre of a township that never was, it makes sense that the hall is where it is.
When we turned up the hall was packed. It was surprising to see such a bustle out there in the sticks. At first we were a little perturbed that we’d tried to escape the overpopulated city only to find ourselves forced to assimilate into a community far bigger than anything we’d had to integrate into before. When we made introductions, however, we quickly fell at ease. There’s something about the warmth and humility of country folk which seems absent in city-dwellers. It’s the community cohesion, isn’t it? Everyone knows everyone. Everyone’s accountable. Everyone’s connected. As it damn well should be. We’re both quite introverted persons, but after meeting the locals we’re optimistic about having the opportunity to poke our heads out of our shells a bit and take advantage of the unspoken quid pro quo policy that is the glue of rural communities. Also, it’s probably about time we made some more friends…
Saturday was my birthday, and I got to play with my fancy new archery set (as if an entire farm wasn’t enough of a birthday present). Having lived with only a tiny front yard for the past few years, large enough for only a couple of cramped garden beds, it’s so liberating having the space to do something like archery. I shot and shot until I lost two arrows in the long grass. Good one.
We spent the remainder of Saturday and Sunday cleaning up the bits and bobs left by the previous owner. We made a start on clearing out the shed, which coughed up a number of old relics from who-knows-when. There are a lot of solid iron pulleys and machine parts which we’re holding on to. If for nothing else they’ll at least make some good art. We found some mighty pry bars, a grain husker, and some new bailing twine worth a couple hundred bucks. There are some good reels of wire about the place, too, and even an old kitchen sink. In the barn we were delighted to find that the previous owner had also left us a decent amount of milled wood, and there’s a load of neglected macrocarpa sleepers in one of the paddocks as well. You just know they’re dying to be turned into garden beds.
When it came time to leave to head back to the city (which we can no longer call home), we naturally didn’t want to. We’d become attached to the farm almost overnight and it felt wrong to be abandoning it – even if it were only until next weekend. Admittedly, we were a little eager to get back to modern luxuries like the internet, a decent bed, and a place to sit, but those creature comforts pale in comparison to the feeling of contentment and peace that was bestowed on us as soon as we set foot on our (not so) little slice of heaven. We’re in love with it; it’s a canvas just waiting for us to get creative. There’s a lot of work to be done to upgrade it from bare pastures into a landscape bustling with life, and we’re excited about that. If it were perfect already we wouldn’t have anything to do now, would we!
We’ve had a taste of the dream and we’re already addicted. Can’t wait until next weekend, when we go back to the land!