Barry Crump, of New Zealand-scale fame, wrote a book entitled “Wild Pork & Watercress” in 1997. It was written in standard Crumpian style, a little rough around the edges like its author, and was about Ricky and his Uncle Hector taking to the Uruwera Ranges to escape child protection services who wanted to take Ricky into care. Ricky learned to navigate and survive under the tuition of his uncle, becoming independently capable and able to do things he had never dreamed of when he was a city boy. Crump’s tales were semi-autobiographical; he was a confirmed bush-man who worked as a deer culler for many years.
The story was brought to life more recently by New Zealand film director, producer and actor Taika Waititi as the movie “Hunt for the Wilderpeople“. Taika is a new New Zealand icon, producing clever films with messages that are acclaimed internationally. His most recent, “Jojo Rabbit“, is the story of a German family during WWII who are hiding a Jewish girl while the young son has chosen to believe fervently in the Fuhrer (an effeminate dream-version Adolf Hitler is played by Taika, who wrote and directed the movie). It is an unlikely, but surprisingly captivating, plot. I particularly liked Thor: Ragnarok, which I expected to be an action movie based on Marvel characters, but turned out to be a take off of such movies (I wondered whether American audiences took it at face value or saw the spoof, given the subtlety of some of its humour).
However, to return to watercress, we came to Northland to find our own bush-man and optimist, our friend Tony (who we wished for in our Gibbston bubble). What I omitted to mention about Tony in my earlier post, was that he has created a new definition of an optimist for me. There is a saying that if life serves you lemons, make lemonade. However Tony, as a true optimist, gets given lemons and makes limoncello! If Tony was lost in the northwest Nelson bush, he wouldn’t be sitting around waiting for someone to rescue him. He would be pulling out his map and compass and navigating home. While he was navigating he would take a bit of time out to shoot a deer for dinner and butcher it, catch some fish as an entree and cook them up, and collect watercress for a matching salad.
Last night we had tuatua fritters and salad for dinner with Tony and three other friends. We didn’t get to hunt the tuatua because Tony had already acquired a large bucket full at low tide. However we did get to hunt watercress; Tony was disappointed to find the watercress supply considerably diminished as the recent rains which restored water to Northland tanks also swept down his favourite watercress collecting catchment.
Having bemoaned the lack of capability of people to survive in the wilderness, it was also interesting to stay with our American friends Juliana and Justin who are on sabbatical in New Zealand with their children Tucker and Jesse. Tucker and Jesse are going to the Forest School, east of Auckland where they practice free range, nature-based learning. When a possum was run over by the school, the kids skinned it and preserved the pelt. The other day they caught woodlice and grasshoppers and cooked them up for lunch (similar to our experiences in Vietnam, Tucker related that the insects were crunchy and largely tasted of the added salt). The day we left they were going to slaughter one of the school’s duck progeny, dunk it in boiling water in order to pluck the feathers, then cook it up and eat the entrails one day, and the meat the next day.
Woodlice, also known as slaters and pill bugs, are crustacea i.e. in the same family as crayfish, shrimps and crabs. Woodlice are special in that they have evolved to be completely terrestrial. They still use gills to breathe, which must be covered by a thin film of water, so woodlice need to live in damp places.
During Alert Level 4 lockdown New Zealanders felt the need to become self-sufficient by planting vegetable gardens; children from the Forest School take that to the next level. Their activities are a salutary reminder about how far removed we have become from our food chains and how that distancing of end from the beginning of the food chain separates us from the natural world and the damage we are doing to it. So many people discovered or rediscovered a different balance of life in lockdown – Tony now misses the days of cycling everywhere to forage mushrooms, watercress and food from the sea as ‘normal’ life takes back over again.
As normal life returns in New Zealand, with the prospect of moving to Alert Level 1 next week, it becomes ever harder to remember that much of the rest of the world is nothing like normal. Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Australia all appear to have COVID-19 under control, but many countries are reducing physical distancing as their cases rise; Chile and the USA are notable examples. In New Zealand we are warned that our lack of new cases for 15 days doesn’t mean we should be complacent or slacken off on hand washing, sneezing into elbows and recording where we have been, but that is a pretty hard ask which is only going to become more challenging.
Right this minute, however, I’m not thinking about challenging. We need to go and trade spare tuatuas and watercress for bananas and rabbit terrine. While the economy decides if it will founder post-COVID, the bush men and women will survive on direct trading and a diet of surfing.