Polly Greeks’ Blog: A barefoot summer


The sensual joys of bucolic living include hardened soles and far better olfactory resilience.

In the romanticised vision of off-grid living to which I subscribe, James, the children and I get about the land shoeless, looking uprightly wholesome as our feet walk the earth and soak up its health-inducing ions. “No jandals this year,” I informed six-year-old Vita when she asked for a pair. “We’re going to be having a barefooted summer.”
To prove the point, I skipped across the lawn and promptly entered a hitherto unknown patch of Onehunga prickles that stabbed like a hundred hot needles. Attempting a jovial air, I hobbled to the safety of sandals, joking through gritted teeth about the benefits of unexpected acupuncture.
The children’s shoes remained off. Initially each summer day ended with a game of ‘hospitals’ that saw me poking about in their thistle-pocked soles with a pin, but my surgery diminished as they learnt to watch where they trod.

Polly Greek's blog barefoot summer
Admiring their sure-footed liberation, I tried again, adopting the mind-over-matter approach. If hot coals could be mastered, surely the sharp, spiky land could be too?
Going barefoot cultivates a certain connectivity that falls dormant when a rubber layer comes between you and the Earth. Climbing through forest, the hill’s aliveness was felt through each conscious footstep as if I was scaling a massive beast’s densely covered flank. Strata of soil became part of my countrified soles.

Our nostrils have also slowly been toughening as our rural endeavours continue. At first, death’s odour was barely perceptible – just the faintest whiff of decay on the easterly breeze. But, like a gathering storm cloud, its presence grew, causing me to scan the land for exhumations. Pax, the family hound, runs a possum bank on the hillside depositing fresh kills into secret vaults until maggoty interest accrues. When a carcass is sufficiently heaving, he withdraws it to munch near the house. But while the stench stiffened, no cadaver
was found.

Friends announced a visit. Readying the caravan to accommodate them, I flung open its windows and recoiled in gasping horror as the fetid smell walloped my airwaves. Like a sniffer dog on the scent, I circled the caravan’s exterior, nearly hyperventilating in my search for the source.

As he watched me panting past, James gave a self-conscious cough. “It might be the compost tea,” he confessed. In a large nearby barrel, I brew innocuous concoctions of comfrey leaves, seaweed and chicken poo for the vegetable garden. Unbeknownst to me, James had hijacked my mixture by dropping in the remains of a large wild pig he’d butchered. “To ‘potentise’ it,” he explained. Neither of us was brave enough to open the drum.

Because biohazard suits aren’t accessories in the bucolic dream, we sealed it with duct tape instead, crossing our fingers it wouldn’t explode as it ripened. Then a new pong erased my right to indignation. With regular fishing trips occurring over summer, I took to soaking the leftover fish guts, tails and heads in buckets by the trampoline for a fresh batch of garden teas. Who knew rotting fish could materialise such thick swarms of flies from the bush? We found the children grimly bouncing through a black, humming haze, hands clamped to noses and mouths tightly shut to avoid inadvertently inhaling a bug.

But flies aren’t the only things buzzing our skies and clouding the countryside. Summer’s end always sees a police helicopter hovering noisily overhead as it hunts for marijuana plantations. The search over our valley is so long and invasively thorough, even the children tire after half an hour of excited waving. I know the circling pilot’s just doing his job, but I do wish he’d bugger off. If I’ve resorted to
an angry gesticulation some years, it’s only because our garden is where we pee and I’ve felt inhibited doing so with an audience lingering above.

I’d feel more sympathetic if I knew archaeologists were on board. Since learning our land was settled in pre-colonial times, I’ve been fossicking hopefully for evidence of habitation. An aerial perspective would be immensely helpful in hunting for the kumara storage pits we’ve been told almost certainly exist in the valley.

After numerous offshore adventures, Polly Greeks and her husband James have chosen to put down roots in a stand of isolated Northland forest where they are slowly building a mortgage-free, off-grid home and discovering an entirely new way of life.

Read more from Polly in her blog Off-the-Grid and Online every second Wednesday on thisnzlife.co.nz

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