If Andrew and I had ever wondered before whether we’d enjoy real mountain living, our stay with our latest WWOOFing host, Chris, has erased all doubt. In the middle of beautiful nowhere at the top of the Southern Alps, New Zealand, Chris is living totally off the grid with a couple solar panels, a spring-filled water tank, and a lovely wood burning fire to heats the house. A couple decades ago, when he bought his land, his goal was to build a house on it and let the trees grow, and he’s done just that.
Chris has spent much of his life as a horticulturalist, and offered heaps of information to us so we may also “let the trees grow” on our own land one day. Because he is in the later stages of multiple sclerosis limiting his mobility, Chris has WWOOFers to help wherever needed around the house- gathering firewood, cooking, cleaning- and for the company, as remote areas like his don’t often get any variety of visitors.
Upon our arrival, though, we met his neighbor, who lives and works a nearby piece of land several weeks at a time every couple of months. Over the course of the two weeks we spent with Chris, we got to know his neighbor almost equally as well, but have been sworn to internet anonymity in his regard. He eventually agreed to the pseudonym “Swan Ronson” having been provided only a brief (but startling) descriptive comparison of his Parks & Recreation TV twin.
Anyway, Swan came over to Chris’s every morning for tea, and we often sat together on the front porch eating delicious homemade bread and birdwatching.
Most afternoons were spent reading, playing music, drawing, chopping firewood, or cooking while Swan went back to his place to prune his chestnut, hazelnut, and walnut trees. One afternoon, we had the privilege to visit Swan’s place, which- oh by the way- happens to be a storage container that he (without a single power tool) has lined with beautiful hand hewn wood and turned into a gorgeous one-man dwelling. He took us out back and showed us how to set possum traps (to keep the critters from eating native wildlife), and casually identified a Tui overhead by the sound of its wings.
For several days, our stream-powered water supply had frozen over so we were without showers and rationing cooking water. All said, though, we were so proud to learn how to live abundantly without so many of the amenities we’re used to like a refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, water heater… and loads more. Chris taught us how to make his delicious bread and gave us so many ideas for building our home and growing our own garden one day. We were thrilled to venture down the road to pick some spectacular watercress for our evening meals as well!
I’ve been doing all kinds of little sketches for the past couple months, but I haven’t devoted the effort to my sketchbook that I used to. I was itching to work on a real piece of art, and Chris was kind enough to concede to let me do a portrait of him. It’s certainly not perfect, but it felt so good to finish something that required real effort for once.
About an hour away, the nearest town is known for its gold mining industry. During one visit to Reefton, we visited with Chris’s friends at the Bearded Mining Company, and were given some great advice on panning for gold ourselves at Chris’s place.
We did finally make it out to the river to pan for gold, and while the high water level did keep us from finding any of that, we did find a few lovely little garnets that I was quite excited about. They’re my birthstones!
Just a few days left at Chris’s place and one more visit to Reefton before we move on. Read more soon!