Thursday, February 17, 2011

Weeds, Tunnels, and Vanillin from Lignin ("Cocaine's a hell of a drug!")

Today's garden task: weeding. Endless weeding. I've discovered a weed I hate more than dandelions: broad-leaved dock, which also has an annoyingly long tap root and the even more annoying habit of snapping instead of coming out of the ground, but also comes with prickling leaves and stems to make pulling them out without gloves a pain. It also grows far bigger than dandelions, to the point where I had to use a spade to dig the plants out.

Nevertheless, the garden is indeed starting to resemble a garden, and not just a collection of plants piled higgeldy-piggeldy into plots of dirt; tomorrow's project is going to be compost creation, I believe, but perhaps the day after that I will devote to clearing the pathways of weeds and sweeping the bricks.

This afternoon after lunch Penelope, Ilya, and I went to Lyttelton, which involved going through the Lyttelton Road Tunnel. At 1945m, it is the longest road tunnel in New Zealand (I didn't know the length before we entered; it's a good thing I didn't pull my usual stunt and try to hold my breath!) It was opened in 1964; before that, all traffic had to pass up and over the hill on Bridle Path. In fact, cyclists still have to do so, because they are forbidden to ride through the tunnel (although most opt to hop on the bus, as the busses are all equipped with bike racks).

In Lyttelton Ilya dropped off a shipment of his ginger-beer to a café; he has his own fledgeling business where he brews and sells ginger beer under the brand name "Smoky Thunder". He then headed off to the library in Christchurch via the bus, and Penelope and I went into an organic store, Lyttel Piko (for those of you who remember Rita Szabo from Frances Kelsey, she would have been right at home in there) and bought flour, brown rice, vegetables, oat milk, and at my request, some popping corn.

The port of Lyttelton is the main shipping port for Christchurch (which is situated inland), and is inaccessible to the public. However, as we drove back toward the tunnel, I couldn't help but gaze at the huge tanker ships docked in the bay, and the pristine turquoise colour of the water surrounding them. The ocean is never that colour back home!

After a brief stop at home to unload the groceries, Penelope and I headed out again, this time to Sumner Beach, where Penelope went for a swim (brave woman! The waves were rolling in and the wind was blowing) and I collected seaweed into two large shopping bags to take back and put on the compost. This is the third WWOOFee I've collected or dealt with seaweed for; I must say, I don't really enjoy the process.

While at Sumner Beach I went over and had a look at Cave Rock, which is essentially exactly what its name implies; a giant rock on the beachfront with a cave underneath it, similar to the structures at the Punakaiki pancake rocks. I climbed up the makeshift stairs at the back of the rock to have a look at the view from the top; underneath, teenagers were hanging out in the many nooks and crannies of the cave-like structures, enjoying the afternoon sun after a day at school.

Back at Penelope's once more, I opted to go for a walk down the road to see the railroad tunnel, which also passes through the mountain to Lyttelton. Unlike the road tunnel, however, this one was completed much earlier: almost one hundred years earlier, in fact, in 1867! It was the first tunnel in the world be driven through the flank of an extinct volcano, and when it was opened it was the longest tunnel in New Zealand, at 2.7km. From Penelope's house I can hear the coal trains lumbering through the tunnel at 25km/hr, and when I was down at the tracks this afternoon I was lucky enough to see one go by (there are six a day). I don't think the engineer was too pleased to see me standing there, though (I was well off to the side, nearly seven metres from the tracks, but I imagine the area is somewhat restricted).

Located right beside the rail line is a derelict barley maltworks factory, which (to the best of my knowledge) was built around the 1880s and operated up until the 1990s. The collection of buildings is now completely abandoned (I would even hazard to say condemned), and filled with pigeons, pigeon poop, and endlessly tagged with graffiti. I wandered into the old office building; it was like entering a bombed-out city block in Sarajevo. Broken glass and mortar crunched underneath my feet, smashed and ripped furniture littered the floor, and walls and doors were full of holes and cracks. One of the other buildings of the maltworks has completely collapsed on one side, leaving a façade with exposed rebar protruding from its front, little pieces of concrete still hanging on like pollen attached to the top of a pistil.

Wandering around the factory, I could see giant kilns, storage silos, and delivery hoppers, but still the process of how the factory actually worked was lost to me; with almost all of the original equipment removed, it was like trying to understand how a car works by walking around the bodyshell. Still, old buildings hold a mystique for me; I like imagining how things must have looked on that very spot twenty, forty, even a hundred years ago... how many people worked here, what their jobs were, the comraderies and feuds between workers that inevitably took place.

Back at Penelope's, I scavenged myself up some dinner (leftover lentils with tomato sauce and cheese), and then Ilya and I made popcorn. I popped up a large batch, which we then divided into two bowls, one to be savoury (i.e., salted), and the other sweet. For the sweet batch Ilya sprinkled the popped corn with vanillin, and then poured heated honey over the top, which I then stirred up into delicious mini popcorn balls. We were joking as he sprinkled the vanillin onto the popcorn that it was actually cocaine, much to the amusement of Penelope. Personally, I find it interesting that a lot of vanillin is now derived from lignin, a byproduct of the pulp and paper industry; I remember talking about lignin removal when I worked at the Crofton Mill.

Now it is midnight, and time for bed... I haven't really accomplished much this evening, save for swapping video files with Ilya (I gave him Big Bang Theory episodes; he gave me a show on computer hackers). Sometimes it is nice just to laze about. :-) Goodnight!


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