March 05

Fourteen chapters of The Truffle Book were emailed to my editor, the very excellent NZ literary heavyweight Mike Bradstock, this afternoon. He will no doubt dissect it and tell me that large chunks are tripe and need to be re-written, and I will meekly do as he says. Well, perhaps not meekly.

For a few weeks I shall cease to be a writer. My magical transformation into designer, scanner operator and production manager is about to begin - but a little later than I had envisaged. My scanner of choice, the Nikon LS 5000, is out of stock in NZ, and I won't get one until the end of April. Irritating, but unavoidable, and not disastrous, given that two weeks in April are being given up to holidays: the Cook Islands. In the meantime there's the NZ Truffle Association conference to get organised, and a book to design.

A deep sigh of relief has been heaved. Now what shall I write next?

It's been raining for two days - not heavily, but enough to get things nice and wet. I doubt we'll be irrigating any more this season. But Monday - Easter Monday - was an absolute cracker of a day. We had a couple of people staying in the farm cottage, and we took them up to Kaikoura to go swimming with the dolphins. While they did that, we walked round the point and admired the seals.

Rather begs for a caption, doesn't it? [EOS 300D with 90-300mm zoom on full extension, roughly equivalent to 480mm on 35mm]

The word count for The Truffle Book has been ratcheting up steadily over the last five weeks, and I'm well within sight of my 40,000 word target. Today, however, I took a step backwards. I cut a huge chunk out of one chapter because I'm in severe danger of overshooting that target. I cut 2,500 words, but then wrote 1,000 so the net loss wasn't too dramatic. It was mainly undigested notes pasted in, so not a great loss.

My style is hardly terse, in fact it's rather discursive (but not flowery, heaven forbid), so my editor will be able to trim some fat, but if I go too far over the top the page count of the book will go up, costs will rise, and that'll either put pressure on my margins or the finished price of the paper book. Not a problem for the pdf version, except perhaps for bandwidth issues. Quality words only from here on in.

I'm two weeks over my original schedule for finishing the text, so hitting my early May target for publication is now unlikely, but I don't care (much). It's such a relief to be making significant progress, and I have a feeling that some of the stuff is not too bad. Makes me smile, anyway.

I'm beginning to think about pictures and illustrations. I'm planning to buy a 35mm slide scanner to handle all my slides (there are quite a few from all over Europe and NZ, and buying a scanner is near enough the same price as having the scans done professionally), but I still need to source others. Another bridge to cross (in due course).

A river runs through our farm: in fact it is half of our boundary line. In some places, our boundary is in the middle of the river, in others there's some Crown (government) land, and in still others it's not entirely clear who owns what. The Waipara River defines our property. We look down on it from our clifftop, swim in its deep pools, fish in the holes (brown trout up to 2.5kg - old, wily fish that challenge the fly fisherman), walk up the river bed through the gorge enjoying the geological time machine it reveals, and watch the birds that make it their home.

Unless a convoy of four wheel drive vehicles gets there first. The problem is that "our" stretch of river is a popular four wheel drive excursion, with a page to itself on the net, described in the South Island 4WD guide book as ideal for novices. On a summer weekend, convoys of cars splash up along the river, following a track so well-defined it could pass for a country road. As they criss-cross the main stream of the river they stir up clouds of mud, spoiling the swimming and fishing for hours. Any wildlife disappears. Little rainbow sheens of oil shimmer on the river surface. It might be two cars, it might be 20. But whatever, they've ruined it for the rest of the us.

Splashdown. Big fun for big boys with big cars.

I have a 4WD vehicle, an SUV with a big engine and lots of "grunt". It even goes off-road occasionally, towing trailers on farm paddocks, or up the vertiginous and rough roads to the ski-fields of the South Island. I can understand some of the attraction of using your car to take you into the great outdoors. But I don't understand why the rights of the 4WD community have to take precedence over the walkers, swimmers and fishermen who love the river and its gorge. It's a place of spectacular scenic value. But it gets used as a proving ground for 4WD drivers. They love "testing" their vehicles in the water. On the first site linked above, the author boasts about having got his car through the narrowest part of the gorge, where the mud is deep and swallows hang their mud nests under the carved limestone. My neighbours are regularly asked to get their tractor out to rescue people bogged in shingle or mud. They treat the river bed as an obstacle course, leaving tyre tracks and skidmarks everywhere. And don't get me started on the trail bikes, whose little two stroke engines make the most incredible, ear-shattering noise, ruining the peace of the entire valley. Worse, in high summer when the river banks are tinder dry, one spark or a carelessly tossed cigarette stub could start a fire and burn me out of house and home.

I have, from time to time, tried to suggest to a 4WD driver crossing a bit of the river within my boundary that they might like to turn round and go back. I have been shouted and sworn at. They insist that they have an absolute right to drive their vehicles up this "public property", just as they insist that they have a right to drive along the beaches of Pegasus Bay, ruining sand dunes and scaring beach users. Their rights are more important than our rights to enjoy peace, quiet and an unspoiled environment.

I was prompted to write this piece by an item on tonight's news. A high country farmer blocked access to a new Department of Conservation park in the Southern Alps, preventing its official opening as a protest because DOC had locked a gate in the reserve, preventing 4WD access to the best bits. DOC wanted the high valley kept pristine for fishermen, walkers and the wildlife. Apparently 4WD rights take precedence there as well.

The South Island of New Zealand is a big and beautiful place. Everyone has to accept some restrictions if it is to remain beautiful and unspoilt, and if the enjoyment of the majority is not to be ruined by the pleasures of the few. If Canterbury's 4WD enthusiasts want to test their vehicles, let them be given defined areas where they can have fun and will harm no-one. There are plenty of suitable places. But if they want to see the Waipara River and its gorge at its best, let them park their cars and walk, or ride a mountain bike or horse. I might even offer them light refreshments after encouraging them to swim in "our" swimming hole.

[June 2007: Note for visitors from Offroad Express. I see you're as happy to ignore the copyright laws (by reposting this piece without permission) as you are to rip up the riverbed.]

Sometimes I can sit down after dinner, open my book and then glance out of the window and see something amazing...

That's what I saw from our veranda last night, rapidly snapped with my Canon EOS 300D and then crudely stitched together in Photoshop. I'd have needed a w-i-d-e angle lens to get the whole thing in one shot, and they cost several small fortunes that I don't have or can't justify spending.

So what was happening? There was a moderate Nor'wester blowing, setting up a big wave cloud overhead. Out of that wave was falling some light rain, and the sun was setting behind me. Cue perfect double arch rainbow from horizon (or hill) to horizon.

No pot at the end of the rainbow, just the Deans...

You can see the end of the rainbow, and the wave cloud - the famous Nor'west arch - with rain falling out of it. Textbook stuff.

Summer is tailing off into autumn, the nights are drawing in, and thoughts are turning to the winter truffle season. Last weekend, the amazingly charming Peg had her first refresher course of the year - just a quick sniff to see if she remembered what she was supposed to be doing.

I have four 35mm film canisters with pierced lids in the freezer. Each contains a chunk of last year's truffle. All I did was bury them a couple of inches down in the soil around four trees, and leave them there for an hour or two to develop some scent. Then I ran through Peg's pre-hunt routine: on with the collar and lead, a couple of strips of Schmakos as treats stuffed into a pocket (she spots that unerringly), grab a trowel fromthe garage, and then we walk down to the truffière. We get to the trees, I tell her to start sniffing, and off she goes. She finds all four in about three minutes - too easy. Next time I'll have to make her work harder, perhaps by scattering the baits over a larger area. But it was good to see that she remembered what her job is. All I need now is some reassurance that the real things are forming in the brulées round the trees. My appendages are crossed.

One of the nice things about using Statcounter to log all site activity is that it can tell me how people find On The Farm. The referring link is most often a web search, and what you're searching for is often interesting, sometimes bizarre. I get a few hits for the techy stuff - the wireless network or broadband modem model numbers seem to be surprisingly effective at finding me - but some search results are definitely strange.

One recent visitor had searched Google NZ for "sex with my wife". Somehow that got him here. Given that my wife is currently in London, and has been overseas for a month, that topic is not something that I'm likely to be addressing here - even if I was so inclined. Which I'm not. And what on earth was he searching for? Aah, the dimly understood perversions that pass for social intercourse... and that little sentence will no doubt get me lots more strange referrals.