I like winter. Snow, a barn full of newborn livestock, sledding, frigid temperatures that encourage staying inside and reading a book, drinking tea by the fire, gathering with the family at Christmas.
In July, it is winter in New Zealand, but the picture I usually associate with the season is not here. There is some snow in the southern part of the South Island, and I can see snow-capped mountains, but there is none where I am. To be fair, it has been a mild winter here.
I’m taking advantage of a lengthy break to write. Things are quiet on the farm for me, as calving season just began. I take care of the calves: giving them colostrum, feeding them, making sure they are clean, making sure we have plenty of pens and milk for them, and other duties as assigned. Once I’m done in the morning, I head back to my rental house until I need to feed in the afternoon.
I took the train from Auckland to Wellington on July 7, then spent a few days on a Shropshire and Ryeland sheep (both of which are considered rare breeds in New Zealand), Red Poll cattle and Clydesdale draft horse operation outside the city. I returned to Wellington and enjoyed the company of 15 other 20-somethings during a dinner at the flat where I was staying. It’s been nice finding those places and people where I feel at home.
“I didn’t want to be here….Now we need to sing….Sing because you’re upset. Sing because you’re angry. Sing because you’re here and worshiping God. Sing because you’re happy. Sing because you’re here. Sing.”
The exhortations given by the man about to guide us through our singing at the church in Auckland started unexpectedly, continued in empathy for others who felt the same, then ended with encouragement to sing anyway. It was an inspiring way to begin the first church service I attended in New Zealand. I was keen to observe the similarities and differences between here and the States.
To celebrate the Fourth of July, I met up with a fellow American and traveled to Waiheke Island, which is north of Auckland and reachable by a 40-minute ferry ride. It’s a beautiful place, peaceful. We didn’t really have a plan, I just knew I was ready to get away from skyscrapers and busy streets.
My fellow American’s name also is Elise, and she is from Maryland, so she knew about Pennsylvania things like soft pretzels.
Here is a view from the beach by Oneroa. What I thought were rocks were actually piles of seashells.
I’m trying something new: rather than put all the photos I wanted to share within one blog post, I put them in a video and narrated the stories behind the photos. The week included beautiful scenery, a lot of rain and wind, volcanic craters and a fantastic photo bomb.
My Airbnb host came out to greet me and started showing me around right away. I took her up on her offer to take me to the local supermarket (grocery store), something I’d been looking forward to for some time. It was called Countdown and had a nice clean layout with a lot of good food. She showed me around and explained the different brands and foods I didn’t recognize. When we went to the deli, the lady behind the counter ended up chatting with me about my trip and what I was doing. As we talked, I was trying to make grams to pounds conversions in my head so I could buy the right amount of ham, but I just ended up with 200 g of ham, which is a bit less than half a pound. I don’t know how the price comparisons are.
But I found I need to become used to the friendly chatter and genuine interest in how I’m doing. I first heard of this in a video about the New Zealand accent. An American voice coach was explaining how we just say hello and then place our order in a store, but in New Zealand, people behind the counter carry on a full conversation with you. This happened at customs, too, when the officer read on my declarations card that I worked in agriculture and asked me for details, partly because it was his job and partly because he was taking a genuine interest in my occupation, as shown by asking where I taught.
It’s rainy, and looks to be that all day, so I’m spending the time organizing pictures and my living space. I will eventually need to go out in the rain (it’s good I brought my umbrella), but for now, I’m just cozy in my Auckland hobbit hole.
At the Indianapolis International Airport, my suitcase weighed in at 42.5 pounds, and my backpack weighed somewhere around 15 pounds. These two pieces of luggage are my life for this year.
Last year, thoughts on the 86th Indiana FFA State Convention ricocheted violently through my head for two days before I forced myself to sit down at 10:30 at night, write reflections on the convention and press “Publish.” I was sharing too much of myself, being too vulnerable. I didn’t want to put it all out there.
But I did.
This year, I started forming this post in my head during convention and knew there was no choice: I had to write it when I returned home. No longer did the vulnerability of revealing so much of myself make me tremble. As an agriculture teacher, I had become used to being vulnerable. I had learned early on I needed to let my guard down, needed to let people in, if this teaching thing was going to be any success at all.
But, when I first began, I did not want to. I did not want them to know me. Not the me who squealed in excitement over ice cream flavors, not the me who tripped and fell over pebbles, not the me who jumped when snuck up on, not the me who loved hobbits and X-wing fighters and The TARDIS. I was going to be calm and confident, always knowing the answers to my students’ questions, always replying to arguments with wit and good humor, never letting my flaws show and most of all, never letting them see that the last four years had been rough and that my confidence was shot because of it. I didn’t know how to smile anymore. Letting anyone in, especially 90 complete strangers, was the last thing I wanted to do.
But it was the first thing I needed to do.
So for the first month and a half of school, Miss Brown was a character far away from who Elise was. It stressed me out, and I would come home absolutely drained.
Last night, I helped Dad sort cows and calves. Some were going to the other farm to be turned out with one bull for the breeding season, the others were staying at this farm to be bred to our second bull.
We loaded the group destined for the other farm on the trailer, and when we arrived, closed gates so the creatures could step out into the barn lot and then meander into the pasture south of the barn. They generally knew the routine, and all went well.