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The Dashing Life and Exuberant Times of Brian Harrison....And Other Rare Anecdotes

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Inspiring Footage of Tunnel Beach

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Life in the Orchard

Here are the details of my life as a humble and tiresome fruitpicker in New Zealand.

During the day, we ride out to these vast orchards; miniature trees entwined together with wooden posts and arches giving stability and structure to these weedy little trees. It is much like a vineyard. Many of the rows rolling up and down the hilly countryside. Very picturesque. The orchards are a little over 6 feet high in the majority of spaces, and in some hang, disastrously lower. I write "disastrously" for a person anywhere 6 foot or over,like myself, has a lot of stooping to do. Not the most comfortable profession to be in if you are a bit tall. But height does have its advantages for I can reach fruit that somehow grow out of the reach of the shorter, more comfortable fruitpickers.

Then long aisles run off into the distance. Stepping inside these orchards, underneath the canopy of lush greenery, you have the solemn sense that you are in some ancient sylvan temple, what seems to be vines joining their leafs in holy prayer, forming a sort of immaculate ceiling for this low-hanging cathedral of green hues and wood. -Nature's cathedral. Here and there shafts of sunlight piercing through the leafy roof and illuminating in the sacred shade of the orchard. And there before your eyes hangs, like a grace hung upon a sunbeam, the kiwi fruit in abundance. Maybe there are as parishioners of the cathedral or as droplets of paint that if glanced from far away form some sort of masterpiece like the Sistine Chapel. But to us, they are there for the taking. Like Vikings pouring into the monasteries of Europe, sacking what we can, throwing down what we can't.

We throw on this bags, large baskets almost, that hand down in the front of the torso. And then it's one kiwi, two kiwi, three, four, etc. The basket gets full and heavy. These tractors drive into these columns hauling these large wooden bins. When our bags get full, its a stammering walk over to the bins and we release the kiwi fruit with these two cords that drop the fruit like a magicians magic hatch into the bins. And then its back to the picking again, arms flinging wildly as the fruit collects inside. Over and over again, all day long this process. Til you get quite used to it.

Kiwi fruit is divided up into two categories. There are the common green Kiwis with fur on the peel which are exported all over the world. (Up into this very moment I thought these were the only types of kiwifruit in the world.) And then there is the gold kiwi fruit. With a smooth peel and a lush, gold middle that makes the taste all the more sweeter.

And because there are two different types of kiwis, there are two different methods of picking. Both of which I've gotten used to. When I first arrived here, we were all picking gold kiwi fruit. These fruit are especially sensitive so there is much care taken into picking them. Bruises form very easily so a slow, attentive method is used. On gold kiwis we were mostly paid an hourly wage. So bulk and speed were of no concern. So picking gold was very idyllic and pastoral. It's probably the good side of what you'd expect picking fruit in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Imagine strolling serenely through an orchard, the sunlight beaming upon the leaves and the fruit and then rolling off into the hills, all the while you can take the time to enjoy yourself being outside. Maybe you will talk to the person next to you, or maybe you will, as I tended to do, let a song roll out your mouth into the orchard rows yonder on. And every now and then finding a ripe fruit that you can stop to sink your mouth into, the sweet juices quenching any thirst. Such is the simple life of a gold kiwi fruit picker. Ideal and picturesque, like a postcard of the 5 senses.

But then there's the green kiwi fruit. And with these bad boys, you can be a bit more brutal with them. You are paid by contract, that is, the amount that you can collect, the number of bins that you and everyone else in your group can fill. So rush, hurry, and speed are the catchwords. No stopping to taste anything, no singing any songs unless its a fast upbeat song, only the rapid grappling and breaking off of stalks from the branches and the "sift, sift" of the kiwis falling into your bag. Your bag gets weightier in seconds. Back and forth you carve pathways between you and the tractor with the bins.

Sometimes we divide up into teams and a fierce competition takes place. Everyone trying to go at the highest rate of speed possible. And woe unto the slow person, for this person will be the target of all types of sneers and anger, for one person going slow effects the pay of the entire group. So one's arms goes sore from the constant reaching up into the branches and one's back goes sore from the weight of the bag strapped on loaded full with all the kiwis and one's feet goes sore from standing up all day long.

But it's a strangely neat feeling during lunch break when we picnic or at the end of the day. You feel like you've done something wholly productive and almost righteous. And from your strain and your toil you know that you take part in that brilliant ceremony of kiwi-eating that takes place ever so often in various places around the world. Actually, I don't think about it too much. I only go is fast as I can. Occassionally talking with the person next to me and occassionally indulging in a little song. Country, Old Church Hymnals, Rock, I sing it all. And I've only been reprimanded once for it. Our supervisor was in a foul mood and I was belting out a little Roy Orbison a bit too loud for him. "Can you keep it to yourself", he says and then walks away.

So that is the the whole of my job basically. But it is soon to end for the harvest season here in New Zealand is almost over. I will leave this Bay of Plenty and head to who knows where.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Thumbing for Fried Chicken and the Events that Unfold

On the 2nd day of rain, in the 2nd stretch of relentless rainclouds, I was hitching a ride to Katikati. Our residence is out in the country about a 7 minute drive from this town, and the rain had slacked off. If it has rained at all during the day, then our entire workday of fruitpicking is cancelled. Not the best situation as far as money goes, but allows alot of free time, especially when you've been thrown the rainclouds like we have. The rain had stopped, though everything was still swamped in the sloppy wet. I stood on the side of the road, my thumb cutting images in the late morning sky.

Actually this day, I was only contemplating hitching a ride into the small town of Katikati, (there really isn't much to do there). I was hiking through some orchard, exploring the area, when I decided that yeah, I could hitch a ride or maybe not. "I'll stand on the side of the road for no longer than 10 minutes. If someone comes that's great. If no one comes, than i'll walk back to the house and eat a sandwich. But I really feel like fried chicken and there's some in town."

About the time that I was about to give up and go back to the house, this pickup truck rolls up. An older man with rubber boots sits in the driver's seat. He has this young lady next to him. She's a french exchange student. And he's a Kiwi farmer. We talk about work and then he tells me about how there is a vast shortage of dairy farmers in the South Island. That this winter or spring I could easily get a job that pays salary to milk cows in the early morning mountain air. He gives me his name and number. He has a bunch of dairy farmer friends down there that he could point me towards. I thank him for the tip and for the ride. I hit the small town of Katikati.

After gulping down some fried chicken and chips (fries)...I head into the town information city. And it was there that this bewildered lady walks in. Her anxious thoughts seeming to bounce from her expressions as she fumbled her way towards the front desk. I had this hunch that this would be interesting, so I paused my retreat and began that artful gift of mine....the art of eavesdropping. I didn't have to listen too attentively for she was loud and exclaiming her problems. Something about a car dying on her and then borrowing her son's car and how she had just dropped the key and lost it somewhere on the streets of this little town. And then she began to sob wildly as she placed her head on the desk. The lady in the front desk strove to comfort her. And I knew that I must in some way aid this lady in distress. So I said that I would help look for this key and for not to give to despair so easily.

Her mood lifted and we retraced her steps from her car to the flower stand. But there was no use. The key was gone. But interestingly enough, when we got to the flower stand where she had last seen the keys her attention was stolen by the autumn flowers sitting prettily in the racks. She said she had friends nearby that could give her a lift. Her spirits were revived and I left.

I stood on the corner of this street with my thumb out again to catch a ride back to the farm. I'm starting to feel like some character from a Kerouac novel. Across the street was this 2nd story backpacker's hostel. It wasn't long until this figure stuck his head out the window and yelled over at me to come up and join him for a Bourbon. Well, given the situation and the fact that I was in no rush...why not?
So I rushed over to the Wanderlust Backpacker's and met this guy midway up the stairs. He was all dressed in black and had an upside down crucifix around his neck and pentagram as well. In his eyes he had this contacts that dilated his pupils to make him look like a vampire. I can't remember the fellows name but he was a Kiwi from not far away. And pretty young. Still into shocking people into thinking that he understood darkness. He gave me a bourbon and coke. His first question to me was, "you like heavy metal?" I told him I liked Led Zeppelin. A good way around the question. He placed some Led Zeppelin on his stereo and began telling me this long, long story about the disgusting habits of one of his roommates. Eventually these two very young girls show up. They were local and they make negative comments about his dilated, crocodile pupils. After some time I get exceedingly bored with their conversation and tell them that I have to catch a ride back to the house. They understand and go out onto the street again.

After about 10 minutes another car stops. And from the savvy, delicate look of the male driver, I guessed he was gay. Though, I could be wrong. "This should be interesting", I thought as I stepped in his car and told him the street to let me out on. This guy was Auckland heading back there. And it turned out he was getting back from some sort of retreat on his way back to Auckland. I asked him what type of conference it was. He said some sort of bizarre name and seemed to stubble around for words. And then told me that it was a conference about hearing the voice of God.
I was suprised and got excited. And when began to talk in the short drive about faith. Before I got out of the car I asked him to pray for me. He nodded and said why not now? So he prayed over me. I left the car heading back to my current place of livelihood feeling really good about the turn of events for the day.

The Leap Revisited

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Swimming with Dolphins

A few weeks ago, the camper van, which was something of my home for a short while, winded itself down to one of the southern-most tip of New Zealand (except for Stewart Island). I had heard about the immaculate union found between swimming with dolphins. So Tyler and I, hoped to join in this marine dance at Porpoise Bay; a place where no one charges you for an encounter with these fantastic creatures. Most places charge you about $100 or more. They motor you out on a boat into a merry throng of porpoises and you get in the water and swim participating in some solemn ritual of nature and all its wonder and glory.

All we spent was $10. For the rental of the wetsuits, which as we found out was a necessity. We were as close to Antartica that is almost possible on this side of the globe. Also, down here the season is acclerating towards winter, not summer. The style is just to walk out into the cold, cold water, admist many shrieks and hollers. And then about neck high, make many high-pitched calls...which the dolphins can detect from a long, long distance. Next when they swim forwards, float flat on your back and the dolphins will swim around you.

I was ready to venture into the waters as soon as possible. But Tyler wanted to warm up before the frigid plunge, so he said he would be doing gassers (running back and forth on the beach). I thought that it was cold enough outside, so why not just get into the water now. So I wade out into the ocean. Making these high pitched calls into the water. The wetsuit is sleeveless in both the arms and the legs. Freezing, with goosebumps rippling through my body. and wondering why Tyler is not joining me. (Misery is always better when shared.) Eventually, Tyler enters the sea.

We stay out there for maybe 15 or 20 minutes. Ignoring the pain until everything goes numb. No dolphins. Finally, we see the small, sleek dorsal fin go jut out of the water, all of them in sync. And fall back into the waves. The dolphins...they were coming. There was about 6 or 7 of these guys. Hector Dolphins is what they are called. They're a bit smaller than your ordinary dolphin and have this darker color to them. They are only indigenous to New Zealand waters. The dolphins swim by us and around us briefly and then disappear as they shoot across the ocean. Everytime that we think about leaving, they approach nearby in shallow waters. I think they liked swimming with humans more in shallow water. And again the light play would ensue followed by their darting out again. Finally, the left for a while and the both of us were freezing so we headed back to shore. Only to find out that that dry towel I was dreaming about was gone for the girls had driven the entire camper van to some other point. So I had to drip dry in the cold air, and then put on my clothes. For the next few hours, I couldn't ever get my feet warm.

While waiting on the girls to return, I talked with the man who ran the store where we rented the wetsuits from. He said that he swims with the dolphins out there every Friday. Come rain or shine. The height of summer of the dead of winter. The cold is said was just a thing to block out when particpating in such wonderful rituals.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Diary of a Kiwi Fruit Picker

My first day was thick with new surroundings. I arrived Friday night after a New Zealand Parliament Member picked me up on my hitchhiking excursion and dropped me off in the center of this little town called Katikati.(see my last note)

My new boss was this little German fellow by the name of Ralph or perhaps Rolf who picked me up from the center of town, taking me to the fruitpickers' quarters, talking my ears off about this and that. He has this almost Austrian sound to his accent. As though Arnold Schwartzneggar was talking to me; though everytime I turn my head, I see a little man instead of the big bad movie star and governor.

He brought me to "the farm". Where many of the other foreign workers live in one large house. Kiwi orchards stretch all about the roads here. I think, I was tenant number 13, though seeing there is constant change. Some backpackers leaving and others arriving. The number is never exact.

The entire household is made of a vast representation of many different countries. At this point mostly 3 nations are comprised under this roof. Our party at this very moment is made up of 4 Argentinians, 3 Germans, and 3 Czechs...and then one wandering American...me. An older South African resides in this house as well. I think he's been living here for the past 3 years. His name is Stan. He must be in his mid-forties. A very proper, elusive fellow to the guys; a very thoughtful, friendly fellow to the females.

I was shown to my room where Damien, one of the Argentinians has his bed and things laid out. He was to be my roommate. Though, he is not too comfortable in his English, our conversation is little..though we get along.

Many of the others, I can talk at great lenghth with. In fact, English is the common language between everybody. For not many Czechs speak Spanish and not many Argentinians speak German, and not many South Africans nor Americans for that matter, were very well trained in Czech. So English is the house tongue. (It is only when each group talks among themselves in their own language that you may fear what they are talking about.) Of course, I'm bothered by this less than the others, I think.

There is one TV, one computer, one oven, one microwave, one washing machine, and one shower, so you can see that this is definitely a lesson not only in patience and respectablity, but also of international diplomacy. (I wonder if anyone is thinking right now about that bloody American typing his long messages on the ONE computer.)

Everyone is friendly and everyone has to look after themselves. We live out in the country, so supplying oneself with groceries is a must. There is also a limited supply of vehicles. So if I need to go into town, like yesterday for instance, I have to break down and ask someone for a ride.

Today marks the morning of my 4th day. And I've only worked one day in the orchards. Kiwi fruit picking begs for a dry, sunny day. Any rain and the day is called off. There is alot of waiting to do. This afternoon, I hope to hit the orchards with my large sack and work for maybe 4 hours.

The down time is spent, either reading, on the internet, (like now) or taking trips with people. The first rainy day I went with the Argentinians Agustina, Juana, and Damien to the town of Rotorua to kick around the time. We spent the day in cold, wet sightseeing and in cafes. Then we picked one of the girls' brothers in the city of Tauranga. So that makes them 4. I already feel close to the Argentinians.

Rainy day #2, yesterday, I spent it with the 3 Czech girls and the one German girl visiting a museum here in Katikati. It was perhaps the most fanciful little museum with our own guide, who liked to ask embarrassing questions. The old Kiwi woman had a field day with the German girl. And then we she found out I was American, she became singing some derivative of "Yankee Doodle Dandy."

So that's enough for today. I'm always paranoid that some one else wants to use this computer so I don't want too stay long.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Hitchhiking in New Zealand

Allow me to cut out a large chunk of my time here, about 3 weeks or so, and skip to what has happened just recently. For the past 3 weeks, I have been traveling around the South Island of New Zealand in a camper van with a bunch of Texans. I will definitely get back to our many adventures....but I feel inclined to reveal my amazing hitchhiking excursion of today.

I had to get to this job possibility in the town called Katikati. There I wanted to work for a few weeks picking fruit on a Kiwi Orchard. The van full of Texans dropped me off on the side of the highway 25. I said my goodbyes to everyone, Tyler included, who has been my travel companion up to this point and after scarfing down my fish and chips on the side of the road, I got to the serious business of waving my thumb up in the air. I also had this nifty sign, I made from cardboard and magic marker..."Going to Katikati". With the name of the town darkened to emphasize my destination.

Not more than 10 minutes maybe of standing. A car slows down and it is this lady. She's smiling very brightly. I get in and she tells me that she's only going 15 minutes in my direction and then I have to turn off. She's actually going to Auckland. We talk that short ways. She seemed really excited about picking up hitchhikers. And we talked about New Zealand and America. She was raised not far from that area. And was telling me all about it. She was now a masseuse or a body worker. Really nice. She must've been in her late 30's. She dropped me off at where my route turns off from hers, and gives me some cherry cocunut cake that she had with her. I thank her and she drives off.

Then, I wait and wait. Many cars are passing by. I start to strategize my position. I figure out that more people can see me, my sign, and my thumb if I take all my luggage with me to the median just after their turn off. Eventually, after maybe 20 minutes, this old worker's truck ambles off the road. The driver peers through his window, I seasoned blue collar worker calls over to me. And grab my luggage and start trying to cram it into the back of his truck. But my progress is hindered by these logs, or almost half a small tree portruding up from his cab. I finally get my bags into the back, hoping that they are secure enough that they don't flying off the back. (The truck hardly had any sides to it.)

This fellow tells me that he can take me about half way there until our routes separate. He had this hook nose along with this large mustache. And with his long hair flowing out of his baseball cap, he looked like this old officer from the Indian Wars like Colonel Custard or something like that. His Kiwi accent was think. I could hardly understand half of what he said. He kept talking about this car show that was going on in that region of NZ. It was the Beach Hop. And hundreds of old vintage automobiles come from all around for it. Australia and America. All that day, I had been seeing these classic cars revving up and down the streets. None of them stopping for me though. I asked him, if he was into old cars and I remember him saying,and this is probably the quote of the day. "I like me cars, mate...But". And then he went on to say how if he was going to pump that much money into vehicles he would pump it into vehicles that could be used. A typically good ole boy. Here in New Zealand; back in Alabama, they're all the same. I recall him rolling his own cigarettes as he drove. We arrived in the town of Whangamata; where the Beach Hop was taking place and the traffic became abnormally thick. All these cars from the 50's and before were sparkling in the sunshine.
Colonel Custard was enjoying the cars and the girls that walked by, but not so much the traffic and him being a local, he drove on this back road and winded up near this little grocery store where he dropped me off.

He dropped me off on Achilles Ave. I stood there for maybe another 15 minutes until this lady drives up with this blue mustang. While placing my luggage in her car, I notice the name "Sandra Goudie" painted on either side of her car. I ask her if this was she. She said yes. She's Sandra Goudie, member of the Parliament. I mention to her that I had a friend that worked int the New Zealand Parliament. I gave her the name of the person that she worked for and she told me that she was the opposition to that party. For Sandra Goudie was of the Nationalist Party, not of the Labour Party. I asked her to give me a run down of the difference. She said that the Nationalist Party was about helping people, BUT only if they are willing to help themselves and not use the government as a crutch. To spend wisely. She said that the Labour Party has no concept of money. You see, the Labour Party is in power in New Zealand and the Nationalists are their fierce opponents. The Prime Minister is apart of the Labour Party. And Sandra Goudie, had alot of negative things to say about her. She said that she had married a gay guy for completely political reasons. Funny. I remember my short visit to the Beehive Parliament in Wellington, where I saw many of the members retorting to one another in sharp witticisms until the Speaker would call, "Order, Order". It was interesting to note that I could have very well heard Sandra down in the pit slamming the existing power of New Zealand in her chair. Sandra was the department head of internal affairs, like citizenship and passports,and a bunch of other random things that I can't really remember.

Sandra was on her way to a convention in Waihi. (About 15 minutes from my destination) Her district was the Coromandel region and she made the rounds going to every possible meeting in the area. Then after talking a bit she invites me to go with her to the convention. It's supposed to be some sort of Art meeting. She had an extra ticket. I couldn't turn down such a invitation, it would be like being invited by a member of our Congress someplace.
So we arrive in the town of Waihi and everywhere we go, she introduces herself and everyone recognizes her. We walk into an art display and I start talking at length with the artist. Later, she buys me a mince pie and some raspberry tea at a cafe. She orders a sandwhich and a milk shake and swallows it down in seconds. Everything she did was very rapid. On our drive she was riding the bumper of the car in front of her as we ranged the rolling hills. Talking about how inconsiderate the person was in front of us, not pulling over to let the faster car go. I was going to accompany her to the big performance that evening and then she would drive me to Katikati but we had lots of down time so she took me early to Katikati. She even checked out the boss that I was to work for...making sure he was a good employer. She gave me her contact info as well as 3 other guys to call if I have problems at work. I thanked her and that was the last I have seen of Parliament Member Sandra Goudie.