Joanna Davies

For all of my childhood, teenage and boomerang adult years I lived next to Berwick Forest. The land has the idyllic look the greenies and the Government are going for, dark green forest in the background, rolling hills, a beautiful meandering swimmable river below, lush clover-filled paddocks, happy sheep and pretty horses.

There was also pollen, dust, trucks, fires and a few scary moments.

The first inkling of the pollen season starting was the change in the taste of the drinking water, mild at first, able to be disguised. Soon it became an onslaught and clouds of yellow drifted by. The taste made the water undrinkable except by the truly hardened or very polite.

Everything left outside would have a thick dusting of yellow and children could write their name in the pollen. Sleeping farm dogs would wake looking like golden retrievers. For guests who suffered from hay fever their visits were short, and they would leave with puffy, red eyes and runny yellow snot, declaring it was lovely to see you.

Opening windows inevitably led to a layer of yellow throughout home, which was filtered surprisingly evenly throughout the house. Pollen was only really from sometime in August until about May.

Dust, mud and logging trucks were constant.

Planting trees is one thing but harvesting means a lot of heavy machinery constantly passing by. The dust from trucks on gravel roads hangs, making it virtually impossible to see or be seen. The first sign on our road said ‘Lights On’, the next said ‘Logging Trucks’, followed by a third, ‘Lights On!’

When driving to our house you could see the trucks a long way back in the forestry, so you could gauge if you could make it home before meeting a truck or if you had to wait and watch a truck driver negotiate their way down a steep hill without pushing their brakes to breaking point. Sometimes things went wrong and trucks and logs parted company. It was remarked upon how incredibly fast our sheep could run when getting out of the way of a rolling log.

On several occasions hunters, perhaps without permission to be in the forest, carrying their rifles, would come to our door asking for help to get their vehicle out. We did help, very few came back to say thank you. Dogs also turned up, often covered in blood and mud from chasing a pig. Usually, easily caught and the owners turned up eventually.

Then there were the ‘mud-bugs’, the four-wheel-drivers who loved playing in the forest not caring what they destroyed and the marijuana plots which were very healthy and you would see or hear the growers drive by at the same time each week.

The day Berwick Forest went on fire is unforgettable. It was started by arcing power lines. Helicopters and big bulldozers were brought in to get it under control but they struggled. Only an incredible amount of luck stopped the fire from being catastrophic. It was during a mid-January drought, when suddenly the wind changed direction and it started raining – saved the forest, our farm and our neighbours.

  • Joanna Davies farms in South Otago with her husband Simon.