First tractor I saw dragging
fire was in Sefton, half hour north of Christchurch. If you go by car that is and stick to the main roads. There are plenty other ways to go, you find. Just happened to pick this one.
Burning the stubble they call it. The leftovers. The chaff that didn’t make it into reapers or bales or I know not what because I ain’t from round here mate. Though where I’m from ain’t where I started or where I been.
We drove out of Christchurch toward Ashburton because there’s a spinning wheel factory and I’ve never seen a spinning wheel factory, least of which such a well respected one.
On the way down we stopped at the Riccarton Sunday market, supposed to be the biggest around and it damned sure is big alright, but it wasn’t until the Oxford market, just outside Sefton, that I’d commerce with a local.
Anyway Ashburton. Figured we’d ask about a factory tour so we found the reception desk and opened our mouths and Oh you’re not from round here. No, California. Wow California! Is it amazing? I’d love to live in California. What got you here?
A job in Auckland.
Oh. Well nobody is here to give you a tour thank you.
To the rest of New Zealand, JAFA doesn’t mean “Just Another Fabulous Aucklander.” I reckon Ashburton, like most, prefers colonisers and immigrants to Aucklanders, but this is how you learn such facts. You stumble into them and try not to stumble again. Of course, I hadn’t learned by Oxford.
The open market in Oxford is small. Maybe a dozen vendors, but not a spot of junk in sight. My wife found some hand spun yarn — an obsession hobby and hence Ashburton — and around the paddock — or that’s what it seemed to me to be — we toured until a purveyor of cordials caught us with his chatter.
Howzit young fulla? Could have been me or the boy or both. A quick nip of this’ll fix what isn’t even broke, that I’ll guarantee. Label says “Balcairn Elderflower Cordial Original. Made from Elderflowers picked on a sunny day when the floral notes of muscat are at their highest, combined with lemons lovingly grown at Balcairn and encased in pure Canterbury artesian water, at a ratio of 1:6, sit, relax, and sip.” Got the lemon chilli as well, two for twenty, bring the bottles back for discounted refills.
Lemon chilli, oooh I might mix that with a spot of whiskey — BLASPH! What sir? Mightn’t it work as a mix?
No right man would dare adulterate a right whiskey.
(You find truths tucked in strange corners sometimes.)
I don’t suppose I need to tell you he worked out we were down from Auckland. So I bought the two bottles and made a promise to heal.
We drove across the countryside without a tuft of native bush, all farms and pasture as far as we could see. This is old land. Sheep and trees and loose packed roads. This is New Zealand, one wants to say, whether it’s so or not, because you’re in its midst and you can tell it’s neither stopping for you nor picking up.
Long straight shot. Stick to the speed no matter. They’ll pass if they feel.
Tooling along. More sheep. More farms. Smoke. Hey wait, is that smoke? Yeah it’s smoke. Must be fire.
Tooling along. Slow down!
On the left a tractor. Behind the tractor a stream of liquid fire igniting tufts of dried weeds and the unharvested. A line of brown tire dust mixed with a steamy black and white smoke emanating from the black scorched Earth. The tractor escaping the fire? Or dragging the fire? A wedge of fire built behind the yellow machine, tallest the furthest back narrowing to a point, a singularity, an integrated series of bursts into flames placed mathematically precisely to instantiate this unholy desolate conflagration.
Drop a switch and extinguish the ignition point and the tractor chuffs along the unburnt tracks back to the barn, an unattended wall of hot and carbon searing nutrients into the Earth, deep as fire reaches, and as a phoenix this farm will rise in spring, a fecundity unseen in the years since it lay fallow, the village of Sefton on the horizon.
This is a reprint from the abandoned “Root Beer in New Zealand,”
which was “A story of tradition, culture shock, and soda pop.”
I will revive the topic here, from time to time.