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A Country Mile

December 22nd, 2010 by admin

After last Friday, a crabby, errand-packed weekend, and three hectic days at work, Will and Winona landed at his parent’s house for Christmas. In Eketahuna.

They still live in the same shabby small farmhouse Will grew up in. They never did get around to repainting its neglected weatherboards, but they’ve put up a big new shed. Faced with a 10-kilo bag of potatoes that need peeling and a living room where a 42-inch flat-panel television blares, Winona announces that she isn’t in the country every day and she’s going for a walk.

A walk in working country has its drawbacks. Avoiding the roads – cars barrel along at 100K, eager to get somewhere, anywhere – she trails along the property’s paddock fences, squelching gently in gumboots. Most of the grazing is let: out of the house, she lets herself be amazed at how badly Will’s parents have aged in three years. Seeing his mother, she feels bad that they haven’t come before. But hearing his father and brothers snap at him reminds her why they haven’t.

It’s late enough that any flies from the beef cattle have subsided. There’s a smear of sunset in the west, against the irregular, cloudy sky. “You? In the backblocks? Can’t see you going over a stile,” Wazzer had told her, last Friday. But she perches on a stile when she comes to it. It’s been frantic since she and Will came back to New Zealand in March, but here in the heart of New Zealand’s nowhere, there’s some time to think.

The hills roll, and she can see that “nowhere”  is not what it once was. Flat dust-brown brick houses dot the pastures. The neighboring farm, where they once ran two thousand beef cattle, has been split up for “lifestyle” blocks. These are for people who want to farm just a little bit. Some of the flat new houses are surrounded by white or brown dots, a few sheep or ponies or llamas, or by the green froth of a young orchard. Others have little squares of red and blue: “For Sale” signs.

Winona wonders how fed up she’d have to be for one of those blocks to be a good idea. Then she slaps a sandfly and heads back to the house.

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