Published: March 7th 2008March 8th 2008
In my last blog I said I was off to a place called Kerikeri en route to St Francis farm in a place I thought was called Warangeri. Well, I got to Kerikeri OK. A great place. Spent two idyllic days there camping, writing and mooching. Realised when I got there though that I should have been in Kawakawa - the place to get the bus to Whirinaki (not Warangeri) where the farm is. Also realised the wonder of maps at that point too. Hey ho.
Still, I got to the farm, albeit on a wing and a prayer. The bus that goes there, as I discovered, is a tour bus which goes infrequently and doesn't stop at Whirinaki anyway but goes straight through to the next town, Opononi (about 10k away). Managed to get on it only a day later than planned though and had a driver par excellence who drove me right up to the farm, way off the beaten track. It was pouring with rain at the time and in spite of my brave burblings about being dropped off on the main road and finding my own way there, he was insistent. So off we went, up
Some of the Land family
(starting from back left) Kate, Theresa, Joseph, Catherine, Gilbert
a sharp-bended steepish hill (with 2 tourists on board who'd supposedly booked on a tour of the West Coast) up to the farm. Just as well really cos I'm not sure I would have found it and if I had, I would have bowled along, probably an hour or so later, soaked to the skin with all my stuff. Thank God for maverick bus drivers, that's all I can say.
And so to St Francis farm....... Well, the description I had (from a friend of a friend) was of a self-sufficient set-up with no phone or electricity run by an elderly couple (Joseph and Catherine Land) whose children had long since flown the nest. Not much to go on but enough for it to sound intriguing and to warrant a visit. As it turned out, the first bit was right but when I arrived and stumbled into the kitchen out of the rain, the second bit was way off! The kitchen was packed with teenagers, young people and a wild looking couple who I soon discovered were Joseph and Catherine (both in their mid-late 40s). Most of them were off to a bun fight to say cheerio to a
Me and some of the Land family
Me, Gilbert, Catherine, Patrick, Kate, Theresa
couple of nuns leaving the area, so after some quick hellos and introductions, it was soon down to me, Catherine and 2 of her (7) children, Gilbert (19) and Theresa (14) to drink tea and make chutney for the rest of the day. Found out from them that some of those that had gone were cousins and that there are 4 more extended family households living around the farm.
So that was me for a few days. Living among the many Lands and learning about all things organic and eco-friendly. Thankfully they let me use one of the caravans on one of the days (the day when 2 more Land families came for a visit from Auckland) to write in and have my being. Loved meeting everyone but was glad of that brief interlude. Got to know James, a homeless guy who's staying there for a bit, and hung out with Gilbert a lot who taught me how to play "Fish"(a card game) and beat me every time. Learnt a bit of Mauri too which has since come in handy when trying to pronounce tricky place names, of which there are heaps.
After my farming foray, Joseph gave
me a lift down to Opononi and to the sister house, "Clarehouse" which is more of a community/arty place, still quite self-sufficient but with a phone and electricity. The plan was to stay there that night and catch the bus back to Auckland the next day. However, I ended up staying longer than intended, first cos the bus was fully booked the next day and then there wasn't one running the following day. And then on the day I was meant to travel I didn't feel well so ended up staying another 2 days. So, my day's stay stretched to almost a week.
Thankfully Bebe (the woman who runs the house) was fine with me staying and we got on great anyway. Had a laugh with the guys staying there too; one who's not long out of prison and the other an older guy who's studying and who, after a series of nightmare landlords, is staying until he can find his own place. So, as I found out, it's a place where people who need to can stay for however long as well as being a kind of drop-in place where people turn up randomly throughout the day for
a coffee and a chat or a meal or just to sit on the venrenda, have a smoke and look at the amazing view of the bay. On Wednesday mornings Bebe runs an art and craft group in conjunction with the local mental health team and there's a poetry group that meets there once a month too. Brilliant place. Full of people and creativity. Most of the walls are resplendent with some sort of mural or poem or design and there's flax woven things everywhere (mats, lampshades, sculptures, bags) - Bebe's speciality.
So whilst I was there I met quite a few people, learnt how to weave flax, drank loads of tea, had endless walks on the beach, swam in the sea, hitchhiked back from the shop with a guy called Ian and a huge tub of rapidly melting ice cream, sat on the verenda chewing the fat with whoever was around and ate some great organic food. Also wrote a couple of poems which I was chuffed about. The following one is now on one of the walls in colourful scrawl:
House on the hill, unhidden.
House de-Clare-ing LIFE.
House of harmony and melody
out the still alive notes
From tired and muted songs
House of the rise and fall
Of crashing chords and frustrations
Of highs and lows, the ebb and flow.
House of laughter and play
Weaving words and surprises
Where warped minds can rest in the weft.
House of teapot chatter
House of a million shapes and colours
Waiting to be found.
House stretching up on stilts
Heading for the clouds
House sinking low in the grateful earth
Rooting into the True Heart.
House held in open hands
Where wanderers find rest,
The frightened, friendship,
The lonely, courage.
House where it can all hang out
Where nothing really matters
But where everything counts.
House of healing, of refuge, of hope.
House on the hill, here and now.
House on the hill, heavenbound.
Felt really sad when I left. Just in that week I felt I'd made some great friends and the creative respite it gave me was much needed and appreciated. Came away inspired, challenged and with lots of ideas for the future. A great place.
There are more photos below