Three weeks after arriving we finally get our broadband connection sorted out and our connectivity to the rest of the world restored. Poor Hapless has been trying to work via dial-up through a wi-fi hotspot on my phone and at the mercy of the caprices of rural 3G coverage, and is thoroughly jaded by the experience.
Part of the delightful sense of isolation has been a temporary insulation from the digital world, but the distance between us and Auckland has just suddenly shrunk: once again we’re just an email or Skype call away.
I work through several weeks’ worth of neglected emails and online chores, including turning down offers of work. I do 15 minutes of gratis work for an acquaintance. I update my LinkedIn status to ‘on sabbatical’ and make a note to do the same on my own website.
I still have no desk – another visit to the tip shop is overdue – so I spend my mornings in a beanbag in the sun in Number Two Son’s bedroom, writing and dreaming and gazing out the window at the pine trees and tussock. The latest long fine spell was briefly broken by a morning of heavy rain, but today the air is warm and still, promising another clear afternoon in the high 20s.
I’ve come to understand why Mainlanders talk so much about the weather: the weather dominates because the landscape dominates. It’s all there is, or rather, all that seems significant, all other human concerns dwarfed by the inevitability of the sky, the sun, the lake, the wind.
I notice that I hardly sweat, even on the hottest days, and that my throat gets dry even on the coolest. On northerly days, days of high cloud and a scouring wind, the clothes are still tossed dry on the clothesline within a couple of hours. The toothpaste in the neck of the tube dries to a solid plug between morning and evening brushes. All three males in our household note with satisfaction the hardness of their boogers.
We’ve got a lot of climate left to experience, though. We begin to be initiated into the mysteries of firewood, a recurring topic of conversation down here year-round. We’re going to need around 12 cubic metres, we’re told, and we need to start laying it in now – but don’t trust those cowboys who’ll tell you it’s dry when it’s not really.
Rain moisture is different from sap moisture, I discover, which resolves my bafflement as to why everyone goes on about making sure your wood’s dry but then stacks it uncovered outside. It needs to have been off the tree for at least a year; old man pine burns longest, poplar burns quicker but hotter; make sure you buy the right length for your wood burner: pearls of local wisdom.
Hapless takes the trailer and one of those locals and goes off foraging in the hills for fallen branches. One afternoon after a storm, he backs the 4WD down onto the lake shore and fills it up with satisfying chunks of driftwood. The kids collect sacks of pinecones in the woods but we run out of places to store it all.
Even in high summer we’ve had overnight lows in the low single figures – delivering a fresh dusting of snow on the nearby ranges – so we already understand all this isn’t just academic. People wince when we confess our house is only single glazed but nod approvingly at the heat transfer system, which will ‘take the edge off’ in the bedrooms.
I discover that Ugg boots and shorts are a winning combination, the sheepskin warming my freezing extremities in the early morning but easily kicked off once the sun gets high enough to start baking. (It does help not having a full-length mirror anywhere in the house. I’ve decided this is my top tip for anyone trying to cut down on clothes expenditure: just ditch the mirror, and suddenly everything in your wardrobe, in any combination, is a perfectly viable option.)
Question: if a woman wears Ugg boots and shorts and no one but her husband, the firewood delivery guy and a wild rabbit sees her, has a fashion crime actually been committed?