Walking home tonight, maundering in the autumn drizzle that was oddly tepid, My favorite tree, gifted me with a twenty dollar bill, floating neath it in a puddle, of the tree Godfrey, in a naughty mood once wrote- “She is robed in tatty harvest gold, like stained shag carpeting torn from a 70’s trailer”. “Demurely, she sheds three leaves at a time, daring and teasing old, cold winter’s groping, trembling hands”…
The harbor water tonight is the same shale blue as Godfrey’s eyes were, Autumn, season for letting go. We used to lean here and play “What smells Is This?”. Waft of carriage horse “Tallsocks” passing by, wet winter coat, fish fat, Godfrey’s stock answer if he sensed I was winning- “Some kind of soup”.
White peaches, oft in the grocery store he sought the fruit out, never bought any, just buried his face in the piles, dreaming of them, sun warmed. Sadly, we have few photos of Godfrey, who claimed not to photograph, but once told a grocery clerk, he had his picture taken with the worlds largest squash. This ballad from his early years on the road pays homage to white peaches, squash, and autumns letting go…
Oh mudslide, lightning, pestiferous rain, on my pink bicycle from the coast road I came, back then still a rough track, I meandered round potholes, and slippery bits, walked when the going was slow, each view point a pleasure as my bike rattled down, out of cool forest for the dry heat of Central Otago.
I felt I had yet to find voice as a poet, but the sunset past dark lit pink Mt Aspiring, a sight that I found awesome and inspiring. And hoped my track would pass that of “The Shiner’, old rogue, the legends still tell, and I fancied moiling about for gold, in the diggings round Old Cromwell.
One day, in wander a note caught my eye, “Pickers Needed”, penciled in scrawl. White Peaches and Apricots, pinned on the launderette wall. I picked white peaches for “Old Pickled Paulsen” , paid by the un- bruised bin, he oft saw double and thought I was two chaps, depending how deep in the sherry “Old Pickled” was in…
Up in a peach tree picked a lass rode a push bike like me. An odd, thin scar marred one side of her face, and her accent was from somewhere Ma warned me of- “A Wild North Place”. She knew prairies and snow, and I met Cedar, picking white peaches, way down south in Otago.
“I wish to tramp high country few boots have trod on said she, want to see it and feel it, let the rain and wind soak me before its all gone”. Cedar told me of her scar, (though I did not Inquire), she was thrown from a pony into rusty barbed wire, when young. “You have fine strength of character”, said I as we picked white peaches till the knock off time call rung.
At evening we’d gather on “Old Pickled’s verandah, in cane chairs and sagging setee’, if he was not too deep in his flask we enjoyed song and story. How he bush-whacked from the coast with mate Jim, “The Shiner”, bitter winter of 33′, cleared off the land where we all labored, a dream of growing the lovely white peach tree.
Pickled, yes, a dreamer he was, more than he’d ever show, he bade us join him, secret in his veg patch, end of an overgrown row. No, it was not beets, we beheld a sight, nor was it pumpkin or marrow…or turnip, was a squash the size of a motor car, “Old Pickled” stood grinning beside it, flask forgotten on his lean hip.
“Behold, many years of labor and trial and manure from the finest Merino ewe, me thinks Ive’ the worlds biggest squash, still it’s growing so time will tell. “I grafted the vine to a half “G” of sherry, from the pub on the road to Old Cromwell. We stood speechless before the great squash, feeling then the first autumn’s chill, and oft I wonder what came of the squash, and possibly always will.
Oh tell me, Cedar, if you may, more of your “Wild North Home” far away, for soon I am bound for The Wairau’s wild reaches, away from Central Otago, when we are done with white peaches. We did not work on Sundays- Cedar talked as upward we climbed, seeking distant snow, there were sturdy sheep, and tumble down huts, high above the cannery. White peaches were stacked in wooden bins, waiting for tins, come Monday.
We picked white peaches till seasons end, and last night round the fire with my “Wild North” friend, her land was of midnight sun, and falling star shows, long summer days and cow paths to the creeks deep shadows.
Said Cedar, “Where ere I go, I shall remember you fondly and the hills of Otago, where we picked white peaches till summers end, our golden cliffs on The Clutha River bend, sun warm on my back from the old stone, tumble down hut, and eating warm white peaches, from deep in your bottomless knapsack”
“I never crossed paths with Cedar again, or met “The Shiner” of lore, even the orchard and Old Cromwell town are no more. But if you journey down there, may hear cheeky whistle, not “Pickled or “The Shiner”, just wind in the canyons fooling you…”Pickled and his mate “Jim” passed long ago, in The Old Man’s Home down Oamaru…