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The house near the end of Oio road was warm and inviting, just like its owner Rosemary. Rosemary was a woman with many interests and lots of knowledge. She lived alone with her two little dogs and seemed of the disposition to enjoy her time alone, but to also appreciate good conversation.

We arrived at her house in the late morning after a beautiful drive through a valley. It had rained, but the sun had broken through the clouds to illuminate the light, mist-coated pastures and forests. Rainbows abounded. I have been on many scenic drives in New Zealand, and this partially gravel back road has been one of my favorite drives. A gem tucked away from the public eye. It also isn’t a way to anywhere, so most people wouldn’t have cause to stumble upon it.

Rosemary welcomed us to her cozy home with a cup of tea and a few hours of good conversation. We talked over lunch and into the late afternoon. It had begun to rain and she didn’t work in the rain and she didn’t ask or except her WWOOFers to work in the rain. We continued our multi-subject discussions through the days to come.

Her and her partner of 20 plus years had decided four years ago to go their separate ways. Together they had owned acres of land used for an exotic plant and tree nursery where they specialized in exotic fruits. They had over 20 different variates of bananas alone! He had been abroad to talk about these plants and she had made jams and preserves to sell at local markets.

Once they decided to split up, they sold their land he moved somewhere and she moved south to Oio road near Owhango. Owhango is a small town southwest of Lake Taupo on the North Island. Nothing special. Rosemary’s home was off the grid and fully solar powered. Her brother and nephew live down the road where they own a few guest lodges and a lot of land used for trails and deer, sheep or cattle pastures.

Behind her home was a large garden full of giant carrots and delicious pumpkins and an orchard. That was where we would end up doing most of our work (which ended up being very little because it rained most days and she didn’t expect us to make up work in sunny afternoons). What work we did consisted of weeding around fruit trees, mowing the lawn, weeding the lawn, hand picking green vegetable bugs off of plants in her garden and baking delicious desserts. With the exception of desserts, the work was rather tedious and uninteresting.

Rosemary taught me how to bake a tasty and easy no-knead bread along with an amazingly tart, yet sweet self saucing lemon pudding, a self-saucing chocolate pudding, Aunt Freya’s Fruity Chew bars and an easy rhubarb crumble. My sweet tooth was well satisfied!

When we weren’t having discussions about New Zealand history, native trees, cooking, or a bit of science trivia one of us had read recently, all three of us would be found in the main room reading and relaxing. In the evenings Rosemary taught Eamonn and I how to play Bananagrams. I am absolutely terrible at Bananagrams, but it was still fun. The next night we spent playing scrabble, which Rosemary beat us at as well. I enjoyed scrabble more, because despite not winning, I felt like I did better and I was able to get a few really good words on the board.

The day before Eamonn and I were to leave, Rosemary wanted to take us down to the lodge for staff dinner. Her brother and nephews lodges are run by what are called Eco-warriors (basically WWOOFers). Since she clearly enjoys peoples company and conversation and keeping up with the news, staff dinner is a good weekly opportunity for that and she normally contributes to the meal. That nights dish was going to be a chicken casserole made from local, fresh chickens.

That morning, Rosemary’s sister in law drove up in a 4 wheel drive to drop off four dead roosters. The roosters needed to be defooted and beheaded. It was Eamonn’s job to wield the axe and mine to loosely hold the carcass in place. It was bloody work.

We then set up a table in the lawn and covered it with newspaper. Rosemary was going to show us how to skin a chicken. Yes, skin it. Not pluck it. But skin it. First of all, skinning a chicken is much harder than plucking it. Secondly, not as much meat can be had when done that way. I am still not sure why she chose to do it that way. But anyway, skin them we would.

It wasn’t a pleasant job, but it was really interesting and unique. We watched Rosemary for a bit before slicing into our roosters. I watched with a bit of apprehension, but also curiosity. Eamonn’s rooster let out a muffled crow as he put pressure on it to make the first incision. That was a bit sad and disconcerting. Luckily, mine made no such protest at the indignity of being stripped. While it wasn’t overly bloody work, the warmth still emanating from the rooster was unsettling.

I managed to skin my rooster and get most of the meat off the breast and thighs. I must admit while I don’t plan on skinning anything again, I am glad to have had the opportunity to do it. It was also an experience to then cook and eat something that, while I hadn’t killed it, I had helped prepare it for cooking. The casserole was a hit at staff dinner and we took an empty dish home.

Before leaving Eamonn and I discussed Rosemary’s overall lifestyle. We agreed that she had a good thing going, if not a bit lonely at times (probably why she has WWOOFers and doesn’t mind if they work a lot or not). She was so content, happy and relaxed about life. She was organically inclined, but wasn’t pushy about it. She was aware of the broader world and scope of things, while still being in tune with her local area and immediate surroundings. She was balanced in her views and opinions and knew how to listen as well as tell a good story and make a valid argument. She was overall a great woman to spend time with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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