Saturday Stories–The Summer Job, part 3

DSC_0182 smContinued from last week

“You gotta see this,” slurred Grabloc, showing Matt a photo on his phone—Grabloc standing side by side with a grinning man.

“Is that really…”

“Yep! It’s him! Fame didn’t go to his head. He always had time for us orcs, though he can’t hold his liquor.”

Thigspit laughed, snorting orc-whisky out his nose. This naturally set Grabloc and Matt laughing. When they finally stopped, Thigspit explained.

“He got the hiccups every time he drank, And then he’d get really crazy! Take a look at this!”

Grabloc pulled up an other picture, slightly out of focus and taken at an odd angle.

“What’s he doing? Dancing naked on the table?”

Grabloc nodded, laughing.

“I had no idea he was so…”

“Well-hung?” The three burst out laughing.

More whisky and more stories followed. Outside, the storm blew itself out, and calm descended, but none of the inhabitants of the bivvy noticed. By the end of the second bottle, the three were singing songs together and getting teary-eyed reminiscing over the death of Theoden.


Matt woke around noon with a screaming headache. He almost wished one of the orcs had buried an axe in his head—it might have felt better. He opened his eyes to find himself alone in the bivvy. All the orcs’ gear was gone. He stumbled to his feet and out the door, grimacing at the bright sunshine as he made his way to the loo. By the time he returned, his eyes had adjusted, but his head still throbbed. He sat down on a rock and looked around. There was no sign of the orcs. Two trampers were making their way up the ridge toward him. Still far away, though.

Matt went back into the bivvy and packed up the rest of his gear. As he opened his pack to shove in his sleeping bag, a piece of paper fluttered out. Crude writing was scrawled across it.

Safe travels, Matt! We enjoyed meeting you yesterday. Thanks for the chocolate and the sword! Give your boss our regards, and tell him to fuck off.

Matt rummaged around in his pack. The sword was gone. The Tim-Tams were still there.

Ten minutes later, he was on top of a nearby ridge, cell phone and Tim-Tams in hand. He hurled the package of Tim-Tams into the steep valley below, then sent a text to his boss.

Encountered orcs yesterday. Pls include single-malt scotch in next food drop.

Then he dropped down off the ridge, following the unmistakable tracks of a pair of gumboots beside a pair of Merrells. He hoped he’d be able to catch up.


An Unusual Moth

2016-04-22 15.36.36One day last week I was folding the laundry, which had been hanging out on the line all day. As I shook a t-shirt to fold it, up flew a tiny moth. When it landed again, I noticed that it looked odd. It sat with wings wrapped around it, a bit like a grass moth. But it held its spiky back legs high in the air, unlike any moth I’d seen. I took a couple of photos, none of which came out great—the iPhone just wasn’t made for macrophotography.

Still, even with a grainy photo, I was able to identify the moth to the genus Stathmopoda.

That’s where it started to get weird.

Everyone knows that butterflies and moths start off their lives as caterpillars, and that caterpillars eat plants, right?

Not so, in the genus Stathmopoda. Instead of munching leaves, the caterpillars of Stathmopoda eat other insects.

Yes, they’re carnivorous caterpillars.

They prey primarily on scale insects, so some species are actually used as biological control agents to help control these pests.

They are not the only carnivorous caterpillars. Though carnivory is rare among butterflies and moths, it has evolved separately several times in at least eight different lineages. Most carnivorous caterpillars eat small, slow-moving or sedentary insects, as you might expect from an animal that is neither speedy nor particularly formidable itself. As far as we know, there is only one moth that is carnivorous as an adult—the ‘vampire moth,’ Calyptra eustrigata, which feeds on the blood of ungulates.

I’m quite happy that this little Stathmopoda is carnivorous. Our currants suffered a bad case of scale insects this summer, so I hope there are lots more Stathmopoda out there. Here’s wishing it great reproductive success in the garden!

Throwback Thursday: At the Centre of the Universe

d1scans001 copy“This bit needs to be yellow. It’s part of the United States.”

“No it’s not. It can’t be! There is the United States. This bit, way over here can’t be part of it.”

I was working with a group of students in Membrillo, Panama. We were painting a map of the world on the wall of the school, and we were arguing about Alaska.

We argued about more than one country placement, including Panama.

It wasn’t really a surprise that these children, most of whom had never gone further from home than they could walk in a few hours, didn’t know where on the planet they lived.

But talking to them, I realised they didn’t even know where in Panama they lived. Many of them had parents working in Panama City, and most of them would one day work there themselves, but they had no idea where the city was in relation to their own village.

So when we finished the world map, I spent a week enlarging a map of Panama to transfer to the other blank wall at the school. Before these kids were going to make sense of Panama’s place in the world, they needed to be able to see their place in Panama. We outlined the provinces, and labelled the cities and towns. When we finished, Membrillo was the largest name on the map—the centre of the universe, with their nation and their world arrayed around them.

Orange Pore Fungus—a storybook mushroom

IMG_5266As my husband and I were hiking on Sunday, we came across a beautiful little fungus along the trail. Pebbly orange caps with a honeycomb underside. I was enchanted—they were storybook mushrooms that would have nestled neatly into any fairy tale.

But when my husband posted the sighting to NatureWatch NZ, the dirty truth came out.

These storybook fungi are Favolaschia calocera, the orange pore fungus, an invasive weed, and our sighting was the first in Hinewai Reserve.

The orange pore fungus is a curious organism. It appears to be native to Madagascar, though there is some speculation that it might also be native in parts of Asia.

It was first recorded in New Zealand in 1969, and has since spread throughout the North Island and much of the South Island. It has also recently been found in Australia, Thailand, China, Kenya, Reunion Island, and Norfolk Island. Its success probably shouldn’t be surprising—it’s a generalist, invading just about any dead wood available, unlike many other species that have specific tastes. It is also able to produce spores without mating, so it’s very quick to reproduce. It is so successful in New Zealand that mycologists are concerned that it could be displacing native fungi.

But it hasn’t stopped in New Zealand. In 1999, the orange pore fungus was first noted in Italy near the busy port of Genoa. Genetic studies of the Italian fungus indicate that it probably came from New Zealand on imported timber.

This storybook fungus is straight out of a fairy tale, all right—but the tale was written by the brothers Grimm.

Still life with nails

still life with nails smWhen the work is done
The tools

They do not worry
About the quality of the job,
Or whether there is enough paint
To finish it.

They are not concerned
About tomorrow’s to-do list.

They do not ache the next day
From having used muscles
Heretofore unknown.


They repose
With the relaxation of babes,
The languor of ladies
Who lunch.

Saturday Stories–The Summer Job, Part 2

DSC_0145 smSorry this is a little late. Not Saturday, but here’s the Saturday Story…continued from last week.

“Hey, uh…what’s-yer-name,” called Thigspit.

“Matt. My name’s Matt.”

“Sorry, we’ve forgotten to introduce ourselves. I’m Thigspit, and the ugly one here is…”

“Grabloc. Yeah, I’d figured that out.”

“Look! He is a smart one! Told ya! Anyway, I was gonna tell ya to pull out the bread and butter—d’ya mind buttering a few slices for us so they’re ready for the sausages?”

“No worries.” Matt found a partly squashed loaf of white bread and a greasy chunk of butter in the chilly bin. “Tomato sauce, too?” he asked as he noticed the bottle.

“Oh, yeah! Thanks!”

As Matt buttered bread, the orcs argued over how long to cook the sausages. At least, that’s what they appeared to be arguing about—they’d slipped back into Orcish while they bickered. Matt didn’t blame them—it seemed to him that the language was specially designed for arguments.

Matt let his eyes wander over the orcs’ gear as he worked. Axes, bows, knives—their packs bristled with weaponry. One of the bags was a scuffed, dun-colored military pack from the 1960s, but the other…Matt was impressed. The other was a snazzy new Exped Expedition pack—eighty liter capacity, fully waterproof—a great pack if you could afford it. Matt had looked at that pack himself, until he knew the price. He ended up settling on a used MacPac Cascade he bought on Trade Me.

Matt didn’t want to think about where the orcs had gotten that pack. He tried to remember if any trampers had recently gone missing nearby.

“Ya got that bread ready, Matt?” asked Grabloc. “Bring it on over.”

Matt carried a stack of buttered slices to where the orcs crouched over the stove. He handed the bread a slice at a time to Grabloc who laid a sausage in the middle of each. Thigspit squeezed an artistic squiggly line of tomato sauce on each sausage and stacked them on a plate.

“Ah! That looks good enough to eat!” growled Grabloc.

The three sat down on the floor with the plate between them. Grabloc poured a generous measure of scotch into their mugs. Thigspit raised his drink for a toast.

“To the great outdoors!”

“To single malt!” added Grabloc.

Matt smiled and raised his mug, clinking it ceremoniously with Thigspit’s Sierra cup and Grabloc’s insulated travel mug.

They ate in silence for a minute, Matt trying hard not to watch the orcs eat, lest he lose his appetite.

“So,” began Grabloc through a mouthful of sausage. “What brings you to our lovely corner of paradise? And don’t tell me yer one of them DOC rangers. Pesky things! Seem ta think we’re not allowed here!” Grabloc’s voice took on a threatening tone.

Matt’s sausage stuck in his throat, and he was incredibly thankful his DOC-issued polar fleece was currently wadded up in his pack.

“Ah, no…I…um…I’m just tramping, you know…on vacation.” Matt smiled and laughed weakly. “And what about you?”

“You might say we’re on vacation, too,” said Thigspit with a laugh. In answer to Matt’s questioning look, he added, “We just quit our job last week.”

“Another movie?” asked Matt.

Grabloc grunted. “I wish. Nah, we was workin’ for the old man.”

“Old man?”

“Saruman—or Sorry-man as we like to call him ’cause he’s such a sorry excuse for a man.”

“Wait. You were working for Saruman? Where?”

“Over in Long Sound. He’s building himself another Orthanc. Thinks he’s gonna breed himself up a new batch of Uruk-hai and take over New Zealand.”


“That’s what I say—who’d want New Zealand? ‘Course, I know for a fact Saruman’s very fond of sheep, if you know what I mean.” At this Grabloc burst out laughing, spraying bits of sausage all over Matt.

“But, isn’t he an actor?”

“Yeah, he was,” said Thigspit. “But he vanished right after the filming of that scene where the ents destroy Isengard. Collected his paycheck and just disappeared.”

“Is that why they never showed the scene where he sweet-talks Theoden and Gandalf and everyone from the tower, and Gandalf breaks his staff? That was such a great scene in the book, I thought it a shame they left it out of the movie.”

“Exactly! So Saruman just up and vanished, and then showed up in the middle of the night at filming sites, promising us orcs jobs, fame, fortune, women…everything, if we’d come with him. We figured, what the hell!”

“But he never paid us shit. And there were no women, and precious little else to eat. So we slaved away in the rain and sandflies for bloody nothing, while old Saruman lived in a sweet flat in Auckland and issued orders by cell phone.”

“But cell phone reception in Fiordland is terrible!”

“Yep. Three times a day we had to run to the top of Cone Peak to report in and get instructions. When we complained, the bastard said that we’d have fine reception in the tower as soon as we finished it. We told him he could build his own fucking tower, then shove it up his ass.”

“So, did all the orcs quit?” asked Matt.

“Nah, couple of dozen quit last week with us. The others? I dunno. Either they’re stupid or they think the old bastard is gonna come through on his promises. Ha! Yeah, right.”

“So, what are you going to do now?”

“Dunno,” said Thigspit. “Grabloc here wants to go home.” He rolled his eyes.

“Bloody wasteland here. Not a bar within miles, and no one to fight, except this sorry bastard, who’s only interested in nature,” complained Grabloc.

“So, where exactly is home?”


“Philadelphia? You mean Philadelphia, Pennsylvania?”

“That’s the place. You been there?”

“No, but I’ve heard stories…Isn’t it, like, murder capital of America?”

Grabloc laughed. “Yeah, that’s home!”

Thigspit rolled his eyes again. “He just doesn’t see the possibilities here. We’re free of all that city shit! We got a whole country to explore! Awesome mountains, fabulous beaches…I want to learn to surf…and the gear! I mean, look at this!” He tugged at his shirt. “Wool! Merino! I’ve never worn wool this light or soft! It doesn’t itch, it’s warm when wet, dries almost instantly…sure as hell beats that armor shit they made us wear in Lord of the Rings!” Grabloc grunted his agreement, and Thigspit continued. “And these boots!” Matt noted he sported a pair of Merrells. “Completely waterproof! Light and cool—feet don’t sweat in them.” He frowned. “Course, I never know whether it’s better to go with the synthetic or leather, you know, environmentally speaking.”

Now it was Grabloc’s turn to roll his eyes. “Don’t let him get started on all that environmental shit! You’ll never hear the end of it!”

“Just because you have the environmental sensitivity of George Bush doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t care how our actions affect the planet,” retorted Thigspit. “Look at you, in your cotton t-shirt. Do you know how many chemicals go into growing cotton? And it’s not even warm when wet!”

“I’m an orc, not a fucking pansy,” growled Grabloc. “I don’t give a shit what I wear! I don’t get cold.”

It was clear he spoke the truth. Grabloc was wearing a black singlet, shorts, and gumboots. If you could overlook the warty skin and distinctly non-human body shape, he looked just like a Kiwi farmer.

“Well, I enjoy being comfortable, and this modern gear is brilliant!” Thigspit pulled out his cell phone. “Look at this!” he said eagerly, pulling up a web page on the screen. “This is what I want—tramping tent, weighs less than a kilo. Shelter anywhere I want it! I could hike anywhere with this!” Then his face fell. “But the price…I’ll probably never be able to afford it.”

“Maybe you could do product testing for MacPac or someone. They supply the gear, you use it, then write a review of it. It’d be great advertising—tested by orcs in tough New Zealand conditions!” suggested Matt.

“Do they do that?” Thigspit’s eyes lit up.

“Well, they used to. It’d be worth ringing them to ask. Especially with you being so well-known from the movies.” Matt wasn’t sure this was entirely accurate, but Thigspit was identifiable, and it couldn’t hurt.

Grabloc spit on the floor. “Don’t encourage him. He’s insufferable as it is. Anybody gonna eat that?” He pointed to the last sausage. Thigspit and Matt didn’t want it. They passed the bottle around again.

Matt felt mildly guilty, sitting around eating the orcs’ food and drinking their scotch. He was near the end of a two-week cycle though, and his food stores were low.

“I’ll get dessert,” he said, rising a little unsteadily. How much scotch had he had? He staggered to his pack and opened it.

There was his last package of poisoned Tim-Tams.

It would be so easy–they might not even notice if he didn’t eat any.

His hand rested for a moment on the package.

Then he shoved it aside and reached further in to grab his emergency chocolate bar.

“Ooo! Cadbury Fruit and Nut! That’s good stuff! You know, they use Fair Trade chocolate?”

Matt didn’t know. He hadn’t actually ever paid any attention to that. He sat back down and opened the bar, offering a piece to each of the orcs and taking one for himself. It didn’t really go well with the scotch, but the orcs didn’t seem to care.

Thigspit sighed as he bit into the chocolate. “Now, aren’t you glad we came to the bivvy instead of squatting under a bush in the rain, Grabloc?”

Grabloc grunted. “Woulda been fine in the rain. We don’t melt.”

“Oh, stop being such a grump! Here, have some more scotch.” Thigspit refilled everyone’s cup, then looked sadly at the bottle. “Almost empty.”

“That’s okay. I brought backup,” said Grabloc, reaching over to his pack and pulling out another bottle. “Might be a bit rougher than the last.” He chuckled and set the bottle down heavily beside the rest of the chocolate bar. “That’s proper orc-whisky. It’ll curl your toes!”

“So, what was it like filming Lord of the Rings.” The filming had caused such a buzz in New Zealand, especially once the first film made millions. And the movie industry was big—everyone wanted to use New Zealand’s beautiful landscape as their backdrop. Matt was curious.

Thigspit and Grabloc were eager to tell their story. And there was plenty to tell. Matt was beginning to think that orcs weren’t far removed from university freshmen—heavy drinking, lots of selfies.

To be continued…

A Rough Day at Work

We dropped the kids off for a week of YMCA camp this morning.

The best thing about taking the kids to camp is finding ourselves on the Banks Peninsula with no children and the whole day stretching before us.

Today, there was work to do—scoping out a field trip site for a workshop my husband is hosting in Akaroa next month. It was rough work. We were forced to drive out to Hinewai Reserve and hike through regenerating native bush to the beach.

I hate that sort of work.

Hinewai_LongBayIt’s especially bad when you are forced to have lunch on the beach, endure views like this, and see a 100 year-old nīkau palm tree at the limit of its ecological range.
And it’s even worse when after you’re done, you have to stop by Akaroa for a beer and chips outdoors along the waterfront.


Good thing every work day isn’t like that. 😉

Crazy Corner Farm

2016-04-17 11.13.55 sm“So, what do you grow here at Crazy Corner Farm, eh?” asked the man who delivered 500 bricks earlier this week.

I laughed.

“Well, it’s basically a subsistence farm. A little milk and cheese. A lot of vegetables.”

It was a good enough answer, and appropriate to the situation. But other things came to mind.

What do we grow here at Crazy Corner Farm?

A lifestyle. A lifestyle of hard work rewarded by the fruits and vegetables of our labour.

Kids. Kids who know where their food comes from. Kids who understand the work that goes into a simple block of cheese. Kids who can tell a bee from a syrphid fly, use a machete and an axe safely, and design and plant a garden.

Creativity. Creativity in food, garden, crafts, DIY problem-solving, circus arts…everything. By providing the space, materials, and encouragement to let it flourish.

Stories. Or, as my husband said it, “Organic hand-picked words available in convenient poem, economic story, and family-size novel packs.”

So, we grow a lot here on our tiny farm. More than you might guess at first glance.

Managing Water

2016-04-22 15.51.16 smMake hay while the sun shines, they say.

They could also say fix your roof while the sun shines.

The sun shone so much over the summer (and now well into autumn), that it would have been easy to forget the leaky roof and broken gutters. And we did manage to ignore them both all summer, but one of these days (hopefully very soon) it’s going to start raining again. It was time to get the work done.

I enjoy being on the roof. But roof work is never fun—wrestling sheets of corrugated iron roofing around in the wind, pulling rusty lead-topped nails, dealing with rotting roof beams, and doing it all on an angle four metres above the ground.

Still, it is good to have roof and gutters repaired. And after we prepared for rain, I weeded the artichokes.

2016-04-22 15.50.14 HDR smIt was a lesson in dry—the ground was dust, and the poor water-loving artichokes were suffering. So I turned the sprinkler on them, dealing with an extreme lack of water after preparing for an overabundance of it.

Some day I do hope it begins raining again. It would be good to know if the roof and gutters are properly fixed, and it would be nice if we didn’t have to water the garden all winter. Either way, we’ll be managing water—either too much or too little of it.

When it rains, it pours, as they say.

Pumpkin Ricotta Lasagne

2016-04-20 18.18.45 smYesterday I made a large batch of ricotta, and then wanted to use some of it in dinner. I also had in the fridge some leftover pumpkin galette filling from dinner a few days ago. And over the weekend, I had made some pepper oil to use with pasta.

What came out of it all was a pumpkin ricotta lasagne that was an absolute hit.

I can’t even begin to give you a recipe. It would start with, “Make too much pumpkin galette filling on Saturday, pepper oil on Sunday, and a vat of goat milk ricotta on Wednesday…”

But the final assembly followed this recipe, and yielded a beautiful white and orange striped dish that kept its form well when cut. It would have been perfect for a dinner party, served with a leafy green salad. Perfect, because we didn’t even eat half of it—it’s much denser than a normal lasagne, and would have easily fed five more people.