Stay warm with a winter 'welcome home' workout
Welcome to the shortest day of the year. In theory, we have reached the darkest day of winter and from here on, our thoughts turn to spring.
In reality, we know that the worst of winter tends to come in July - and that, given the relatively mild winter we have had so far, worse is sure to come.
I'm more convinced of that than usual because I missed three sodden weeks of late May and early June by being away on holiday.
Groggy, jetlagged and exhausted, I arrived home at 11pm after four flights and 37 hours in planes and airports.
I was greeted by a crisp Nelson night, and although I had revelled in three weeks of California warmth, the clear, cool air as I walked from the plane to the terminal felt good in my lungs. The sky above Los Angeles as I took off had been even smoggier than usual because of wildfires south of the city.
When I got home, I found my kitchen tap on and my water tank empty. Bugger, I said, like David Cunliffe discovering that he had once upon a time signed a letter on behalf of Donghua Liu. I collapsed into bed, vowing to deal with the water situation in the morning.
The next morning, fortified by strong coffee and fresh eggs from the henhouse, I tackled the water tank. A Catch-22 quirk of my rainwater system is that once the tank is drained, the pump has to be primed before it can draw water from the backup source, our creek. But priming the pump needs water in the tank.
And so on a cold but dry morning, I donned gumboots and took a bucket down to the creek. I hauled the filled bucket across the back yard and up a ladder to the top of the tank and dumped it in. Then I repeated the exercise 11 more times, working up a sweat until there was enough water in the tank to prime the pump, and I could switch the intake valve to "creek" and jam a hose into the tank to fill it.
That problem sorted, I moved on to unpacking, resulting in a large load of laundry. I filled the washing machine, confident that with my tank filling, I had the water to run it. Halfway through filling for the rinse cycle, the machine began to belch like Homer Simpson after too many Duffs.
In my jet-lagged fog, I had flicked the intake valve to "tank", meaning I had been filling my tank with its own water at the same time as draining it to fill the washing machine. It was empty again. This time I swore more colourfully, like David Cunliffe reading the latest polls.
The only solution was to repeat my hour-long workout of bucket filling and ladder climbing. This time it took 14 buckets before the pump sputtered into life, and although I was annoyed at myself for wasting a whole morning on 26 trips down to the creek and up a ladder, all I could do was laugh.
I had no-one to blame but myself - and there wasn't much in the way of "welcome home" chores I could accomplish without water. Motueka had just gone through three very rainy weeks and I didn't have a drop to drink.
A Motueka winter is full of contradictions like that. Before long, I was covering Kaiteriteri's Midwinter Swim on a glorious sunny day, with the water an almost balmy 16 degrees. Then I returned home to chop and stack firewood in anticipation of another clear and frosty night.
My commute along West Bank Rd will soon be punctuated by joyful gambolling lambs and daffodils emerging from the recently frozen soil. Further up the valley, young asparagus sprouts are plotting their delicious springtime emergence. These are things to look forward to from the solstice onwards.
Less appetising is the midwinter trough of torpor that grips the town like a John Key campaign handshake. Three weeks in the bustle of the San Francisco Bay Area - 7.5 million people jammed into an area less than half the size of Tasman district - makes midwinter Motueka feel mighty quiet.
"Rush hour" means the time of day when the farmer next door moves his herd of cows along West Bank Rd, briefly blocking our gate, and "bridge toll" means the mental cost of hearing out residents who think the NZ Transport Agency is never going to stump up to replace the Motueka River bridge.
The campervans have lumbered north, the backpackers have thumbed a ride out of town after picking the last apple, and the remaining residents all seem to be huddled up at home. Any time after about 6pm, I could probably stretch out and take a nap in the middle of High St in undisturbed safety.
I don't, of course. By that time, I'm at home chopping wood and stoking the fire in anticipation of an evening huddled up on the couch. See you in spring!
The Nelson Mail