Opinion: After helping out the flood-stricken Patoka community, Manawatū farmer Pete Fitz-Herbert reflects on how change comes to us all.
The C word - it sneaks up on us.
One moment everything is going to plan and then out of nowhere, something life-altering.
Change, gosh I hope you didn’t think I meant the other C words - Cancer, Cyclone - or the really bad four-letter word that my predictive text always changes to “cute” when talking about politicians or dirty old Covid which well may have also led to a little change.
But change for some people is almost as difficult as cancer, as restrictive as Covid, and as welcome as a politician - or a cyclone.
We face much change in the world around us, but how each of us deals with it is remarkably different.
It appears the older we get the more resistant we are, but it is not all bad or scary.
How could I have imagined a world that has so many uses for cable ties and duct tape?
Fifteen years ago, I thought they only belonged in the boot of someone about to abduct a hitchhiker, not my toolbox.
Now, if it can’t be fixed by those two things, it isn’t worth fixing.
Also very handy for securing small children when the threat of “I’ll send you to sit in the car” needs to be enacted.
Another change is that I can now buy livestock from a cellphone while streaming two sales in different parts of the country at once.
I’ve also learned that a stud dispersal Livestream is seemingly now more popular than the long-term weather forecast or Country Calendar re-runs at lunchtime.
But there is big change out there - especially for farming - but we have been coping with it and will continue to.
It astounds many that all young shepherds now seem to carry a water bottle and lip balm and there is a growing number of middle-aged cockies with a personal locator beacon, to accompany the notebook and knife on their belts.
These are small but positive changes.
There is that big change in the climate that seems to be front and centre of the zeitgeist and a political football in an election year.
I think that good ol’ Cyclone Gabby will probably be exploited in the months to come.
There is no doubt that if Noah had built an ark, on a lifestyle block with remarkable fertile silt-based soils in Hawke’s Bay, in close proximity to a river; it too would be staked up on a bridge next to the forestry slash and apples.
But I think to call it an unprecedented biblical event, caused solely by climate change and the invention of the plastic bag might be a bridge too far.
However, I’m sure some will be spouting it as gospel on the campaign trail for Auckland and Wellington Central.
But back to the issue of change, it was with this in mind that I recently went on holiday (or maybe a study tour) to Patoka - my longest off-farm field trip in a decade.
I went to a farming community that had rain gauges overflow multiple times during Gabs, to see if I could help and to see what I could learn.
Considering on the other side of the ranges we’d only had a couple of wet days in a difficult season for making hay.
Sometimes change is gradual and sometimes like a flood.
So to find myself trying to predict how I would cope was interesting.
It’s easy to give the advice “This isn’t going to be cleaned up before winter, so don’t wreck yourself trying, and cable ties/duct tape aren’t going to do it”.
Would I have received that well?
Would I have struggled, like I genuinely witnessed in others that have seen their pride and joy munted?
I saw a massive clean-up ahead, with winter on its way, and too many destroyed fences, to feel like I even helped in the days that I was there.
I put in a couple of posts.
But I felt the most important thing I did was listen over a cuppa, a couple of times.
I took many lessons away, more than I bargained on.
How a simple jerry can is probably worth having in the shed. The importance of a generator, a barbecue with a full gas bottle and neighbours who are willing to share the burden and the joy in life.
I thought as soon as the cyclone hit that its effects would last longer than a news cycle.
I thought it would be more like when you have a child, everyone turns up all at once, but it’s when they’ve gone that you have to get on with the real work in the weeks, months and years ahead.
Much like those unopened baby gifts, some in Patoka will still have those last cans of kindly-donated Pacific Corned Beef, from when the community was cut off, in their pantry for years to come.
I went to look at change and I came back a little changed.
Hopefully, I’m better positioned for when nature gives us the short straw.
People appreciated a hand but I got the impression it was more important that they felt that others cared and understood what they experienced.
So, we are a small country, and everyone knows someone who knows someone.
There will be plenty to do for years to come, so if you have the time and a little bit of skill, reach out.
Because change is coming for all of us, and one day the shoe might be on the other foot.