Labour Weekend is here – the time of year here in the south where every gardener traditionally sows their potatoes. In a tiny village like Papatowai, where almost every home is a weekend crib (that’s South Island-ese for ‘beach house’), even the holiday-makers sow potatoes in their holiday gardens so that, come Christmas, they have new potatoes for the dinner table.
It makes for a busy weekend – rotary hoes revving, lawn mowers vrooming, visitors to Blair’s Lost Gypsy Gallery just up the road, people pouring into Jac’s kayak-hire caravan, lining up at Pueng’s coffee cart outside the Gallery, booking into Catlins Wildlife Tracker’s echo cottages. The excitement is all a bit too much for me – too much of a change from our usual nothing-but-bird-noise and waves and wind-in-the-trees lifestyle. I’ll probably hide-out in my kitchen garden until it all blows over and we’re back to calm. But the weekend will bring loads of harvesters, like these Auzzie campervan-ers, to the roadside garden, and that’s nice.
Like a lot of visitors to the garden, these folk enjoyed taking photos of the ‘Free Vegetables’ sign which I put up last year. For several seasons I’d just scrawled a make-shift sign and tacked it to the fence. I’m not big on signs, I think they’re intrusive, but at the same time, you can’t have a garden without a ‘help yourself’ notice or people will think the vegetables aren’t for them. And if you’re going to have a sign, then it may as well be a beautiful one. My patient husband waited and waited until I came up with a design for the sign, and then he painted it for me.
The tools featured on the sign are painted gold – that’s because, although they’re usually brown and covered in mud, and made from only wood and forged iron, I think they are the most beautiful objects. I built a hanger for them a while back and sometimes I just stand there, admiring them – simple shapes but so well designed, so well-worn and useful. I love to feel the wood in my hands.
Between the tools is the ‘dove of peace’ – only our ‘dove’ is a kereru, a native pigeon.
Birds are so much a part of Papatowai, and the lives of all of us who live here – sea birds, bush birds, exotic birds in the garden. In many ways, they bring order and pattern to our lives: November is the time for the oyster catchers to lay their eggs on the beach, and all summer we watch the chicks change from balls of fluff to untidy adolescents, until finally they look just like their glossy black parents. August is the pigeon-display-diving time of the year, when the kereru fly high into the sky and then swoop straight down, almost collapsing into the air. October is when they sit, fat and berry-filled, in the trees, coo-ing. January is when they balance on branches in the heavy rain, one wing held straight up so the water trickles down, cleaning their feathers. Winter is for nectar-feeding the bush birds – the tui and bell birds and the tiny wax-eyes. Spring is worm-digging time for the thrush and blackbirds, and busy snatching-of-spiders-from-their-webs by tui who are looking for protein for their chicks. The kereru on the ‘Free Vegetable’ sign holds in its beak an olive branch – another sign of peace, but also a connection to Greece, my second home.
Written onto the frame that surrounds the sign are the words from Isaiah 2:1: ‘… and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.’ The following line is just as beautiful but there’s no room for it on the frame. It is: ‘Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more.’
Each morning, I listen to Radio New Zealand’s news before I get up. And when I do, I think of these words from Isaiah, rising above the chaos and despair of the world, and often, before anyone else in the village is awake, and before holiday makers are on the road, I go out into the garden and plant. Despite the horror and hate reported each morning on the radio, the gentle earth is still kind to us and brings forth good things for all those who till and care for it.