Tom and I live in 23 square metres, indoors. Outdoors, the space is more generous: 14 hectares of forest, paddocks and buildings that make up Makahuri. This fact is an enormous consolation right now.
This is the end of week 2 of lockdown. New Zealanders have to stay at home apart from essential trips such as to the supermarket or pharmacy. We have to stay with those in our “bubble”.
Tom, the other component in my bubble, is working from home, spared his usual long commute and doing all his tasks by way of internet.
I’m based at home, as always, staying busy. Most days, like today, I work on blog tasks and chores, and achieving my lockdown goals: learning how to edit video, and brushing up my German. Tom sits nearby, gazing at his own screen and signing in to a lot of work meetings online.
On cheese-making days, I’m in the Makahuri chapel, home to cheese-making paraphernalia and an array of fridges as well as tables and chairs.
(By the way, I and the other villagers follow the rules in this shared space. In the hall, visitors who encounter each other can stay at shouting distance as they would if they met on the street, but the kitchen is a one-person-at-a-time space.
My cheese-making routine of pre-sterilising everything in boiling water has grown to include antibacterial wiping of everything I use to wash the gear as well as multiple hand-washings and final cleansings.)
In the chapel I set up a PC on a table so in the breaks when I’m waiting for curds to set or drain, I can work while listening to saved podcasts.
I have some company in this otherwise empty hall: fantails flit around dispatching bugs and flies while chirping delightedly; chickens wander in, especially a little brindle one who seems to like human company for its routine of making smooching noises and quietly shitting.
This is a good place to be at a bad time in history.
Makahuri is host to six bubbles: the permanent residents, plus a few family members and two former wwoofers who’ve chosen to bubble here. On some days of the lockdown I’ve not laid eyes on anyone, but on others I’ve encountered many — just as you might while walking down your local street (which is permitted under lockdown rules).
Whenever we Makahurians meet, we practise strenuous social distancing but can hold friendly, raised-volume conversations as if across a back fence.
The villagers are a sociable lot, so this enforced distance has been a wrench. Still, the Makahuri Book Club was able to hold its latest meeting virtually, thanks to Zoom. Games nights on Zoom may lie ahead.
(My Toastmasters club is also using Zoom. There’s not much scope for dramatic body language as we deliver our speeches, but we do get to learn the skills of speaking “to camera”.)
In the evenings, Tom and I often take a walk around the village, which is still full of non-human life.
The first couple of cold days brought mice indoors. Three were caught in our neighbour’s apartment, and one appeared in our own house, giving Tom a fright as it dashed from a cupboard. A well placed trap loaded with a rather good caraway cheddar ended the mouse’s intrusion on our bubble.
Perhaps encouraged by the stirring of mice, there are cats about. Several presumed ferals have been spotted, and the other night Tom saw a tabby kitten nip around a corner. The next morning, the kitten was caught in a vermin trap – unhurt but terrified.
Kitty stayed long enough for a photo, but then found a weakness in the cage and escaped.
The rescue horses are still here; the three Makahuri bovines follow their routines; the peacocks strut around in groups that Google tells me are called leks, while the shy peahens keep a low profile; a family of California quail are often seen (they started off with five chicks but after attrition the number seems to have settled at three).
Did I say already that this is a good place to be? It certainly feels peaceful and sane.
Things are more peaceful due to the halt in major roadworks right outside the Makahuri gate. A new expressway plus local road are being built there, but everything is suspended now.
Another big project being held up is the building of a solar-power system for the village. Trenches have been dug and cables laid, but the installing of scores of roof-mounted panels will have to wait a while.
These panels will feed batteries to serve homes built into the old school buildings; the Mustard Yellow House will continue to power itself.
The lockdown has affected me and Tom in personal ways. I used to visit my mum every week or so, but now she’s inaccessible in her retirement village. I missed out on taking her to lunch on her birthday, because it unluckily fell on the first day of lockdown. Still, I phone her every day and shop for her when I can.
The local swimming pool has closed for whatever the “duration” is. This stalls my new (since November) swimming habit. Well, not exactly swimming, but a sort of aquajogging with straight legs to prevent stirring up of my shredded knee cartilage. If anyone were watching me underwater, which thank goodness they are not, they’d think I was cross-country skiing while suspended in water.
It’s uncool, perhaps unsightly, but it’s been revolutionary for my fitness. With better aerobic health and stronger muscles from the pool workouts, combined with a diet that has trimmed me by 30 pounds, I face the virus with a body healthier than at any time in the past decade.
The other cost of the lockdown is a trip to Europe that Tom and I had planned. We were due to visit the towns of Southern Germany where my ancestors lived, then motor around the alpine scenery before heading to Austria.
On the day I write this we would have been in Vienna, catching a bus to Berlin. I had booked seats on the top deck, right at the front. In Berlin I was to attend a concert of the Berlin Philharmonic playing Beethoven symphonies, conducted by Daniel Barenboim. The next day, we were to fly to Greece.
It’s taken weeks to unwind the air, accommodation, car and bus bookings — the final cancellation acknowledgment arrived two days ago.
Oh well. We’re alive. And we’re determined to do it later — perhaps in six months’ time.
Best wishes to you, whichever state of lockdown or limitation you’re in. Use your space well.