Notes from a Summer Land Caretaker by Paul Woodward

You have arrived.
Yes I have, but how will I leave?
Not an immediate question at the time of my arrival but it’s one that is always there.

Coming to the Wangapeka Study and Retreat Centre was at an interesting time for the world with Covid19 always evident in our presence even though Kiwi’s had been spared it’s ravages for a number of reasons.

I’m coming for the stand-in position of Land Caretaker until a suitable person or persons have applied and been accepted. My first time here was about 10 years ago on a solo retreat for 4 days in one of the huts. The place then felt pretty deserted, and without much guidance I had difficulty but tried to engage in it as best I could. More recently I was here for a weekend retreat last year and a couple of weekends helping Patrick with firewood and trees.

My initial time here started with Fred and Ramon, both volunteers, who had already been here for a few weeks. At least they knew some of the running of the place and where many things could be found. Unfortunately they both had been away during a Covid Level 2 back in place in the community and having come back had to keep their distance from the rest of the group who were here for a retreat. Luckily I did not have to because I was already here before it was put in place so could join the retreat for meals and other things. So maybe not a summer of refuge!

I was residing in the lovely Bellbird residence which is mainly used for caretakers and occasional people who stay and are not on retreat. The 2 permanent residents of Rastus and Norman welcomed me with no abandon and both having settled in with the Sangha and community life for some time. Rastus, being the older Burmese cat mix and Norman a younger and agile tabby who is quite happy to follow you down to the main gate as you walk down for a swim, or often up to the Whare.

The rains did come in those first few weeks which at the centre can bring many difficulties, washing out gravel from the roads, stirring up water collection areas which then proceed to block valves and feeds to and from tanks, roof leaks etc. Luckily the hail wasn’t the deluge they got in other parts such as Motueka where in some places lost 80% of their crops. It did cover the ground in white here for a short period but that was all.

A big task for the land caretaker is looking after the lawns paths/tracks and driveway which can be managed in a number of ways with many helping, and mowing, weed eating. Thankfully when I first arrived these had been done and well looked after. The main veggie garden too is important and needs daily attention. Being covered in netting has many advantages such as keeping away quails and wekas as well as white butterflies. It does get covered in eucalyptus and other leaves, small branches, and flotsam and this was the case now, so a good job for Dana to the Land tasks for a few people to clear it.

The garden also has a healthy amount of oxalis throughout so this needs controlling every time the soil is turned for harvesting and planting, self sown potatoes also fit in to this requirement.

Many vegetables come with the ordering for the retreat as the cooks have to be confident that they will have the supplies for it, but a big supply of greens could be provided by the garden as they grow well there and an item that can be picked and provided just a couple of hours before the meal. Herbs are also a wonderful thing to have easily available, not only for the cook but also for retreat-ants to enjoy the smells and flavours and insect life they support, especially around the main building.

I was blessed to a number of interesting and varying retreats while I was there: Young Adults Retreat, Garden of Mindfulness, Beginning Now, A Glimpse through the Keyhole retreat with Bonni, and Wisdom Compassion and Non-clinging Awareness with Tarchin. A range of ages and energies, special Metta to Jenny who helped with the children on GOM, it wasn’t always easy.

Coming to the Wangapeka community could be a described a bit like being thrown into a polishing machine for stones.

You go in and you are somewhat polished and changed by what you experience.

A refuge from our troubled world of Corona and many other turmoils: climate, recession, world figures and our environment in peril.

Not always so, as these remain in one’s presence but thankfully without the daily bombardment one can be still and find the truth for oneself and the greater all.

The magnificent Wangapeka valley leading off to summits and forests. The small number of times I enjoyed the cycling to the start the Wangapeka track and Courthouse flat with swims along the way in cool clear waters.

The Wangapeka has been polished lovingly for many years, just going back through old photos, 30-40 years plus, revels what it once was, bare, treeless! What vision and belief and determination those early Sangha had and to see it today beautiful paths, retreat huts, and a place encompassing peace and love.

Blessings on Hadleigh and Malu who take on the role of new Caretakers.

Paul Woodward