As the Christmas and New Year holidays draw to a close, temperatures rise through the roof and anyone with any sense goes and sits on a beach. It goes without saying that I don’t have an excess of sense and despite a couple of hours yesterday, I don’t go to the beach as often as I should. There are a number of reasons for that I suppose and one among them is a dislike of crowds. Ozzie beaches are generally lovely and not as crowded as many in Europe when you can’t get to the water without running the gauntlet of towels designating temporary ‘ownership’ of a million grains of sand, tripping over inflatable toys and sweaty sunburned tourists in way too brief swimsuits.
I have already mentioned that we have a number of pets (3 dogs, a cat and numerous chickens) and of course, they are all grateful for food and water through this period of seasonal trial. Because of that, we generally don’t go away for anymore than an overnight stay at Christmas. Our friends know this and we happily volunteer to look after their animals, knowing that ‘what goes around, comes around’ and when we do go away, they will repay the favour. This Christmas and New Year period has been busier than usual for our unofficial pet nanny role with dogs, cats, a pig, a horse, a sheep, numerous ducks and a huge flock of chickens adding to our daily duties.
Across the road, our friend and neighbour has three large Alaskan Malamute’s who quietly sit and swelter throughout most of the day except when you approach their pen. They have a sixth sense regarding food and exercise and they know that when someone approached them, they are generally going to get one or the other. They standup on their hind legs and howl excitedly and given that Canuk, the male stands about 1.6 metres tall on his back legs, he’s pretty imposing and because of his very shaggy fur, he looks as stocky as your average teenage grizzly bear. I always approach them first and give them an opportunity to sniff, lick and get a scratch behind the ear. In the evenings, when they are fed, I always walk around the free ranging domestic flock of fowl to make sure that they are safely in their enclosure before returning to the dogs and letting them out for a run in the paddock. They race around like mad things, teasing the retired racehorse, who lives there and burning up the energy that they have saved during the heat of the day. I prepare their mountainous daily feed and strategically place it around their pen, before letting them back in. They immediately gallop over to their own bowls to see if there’s anything different before returning to me to sit and wait for a pat and for me to make a fuss over them.
Other friends, who live on a nearby ridge, have a lovely sustainable plot where they grow vegetables, raise ducks, keep bees and have a sheep, who was supposed to be Sunday dinner, but who instead seems to have become an additional family member. They recently passed our house with the sheep (Toby) on a lead, trotting happily behind the kids on their evening constitutional. The ducks (all three of them) lord it up over the sheep and like him are happy to be fed by hand and occasionally stroked when it suits them. They refuse to be put away in their fox proof house until its dark and I have had many an hour trying to persuade them to ‘get inside you little bastards‘ before they are ready, just because there’s something I want to watch on tv… They saunter nonchalantly up the ramp into the little house when they are ready and not before.
I have to admit, the pig was a new one on me. On the other side of the village, other long terms friends have a small holding (there’s just no other way of describing it) and they run a couple of cattle for meat and two pigs. One of them is already in the freezer and the other is loving the space of her pen and very aromatic wallow without an inkling of what her future holds. If you know country people and in particularly country Australians, you’ll know that they are both remarkably sensitive and caring over the wellbeing of their animals and yet strangely unsentimental when it becomes time for them to become a more integral part of the family, if you know what I mean. The pig had been named Claire after their daughter and everyone, including the two legged Claire had been happy with that until a school friend (clearly a ‘townie’) asked if wasn’t it perhaps a bit sick to be eating their daughters namesake? They decided, with an air of bemused grace to rename her Rosemary instead. Rosemary is a pig who both likes her food and mud, but also a scratch on the head. Having seen silence of the lambs, I had no wish to be her dinner and so I leaned over the fence and poured her food into the trough very carefully.
Life is much better with animals in it. I have no problem with raising them with love and care, enjoying their company, their eggs and honey but by the same token, tucking into a large bacon butty, knowing that a couple of days before, I’d been contributing to that very tasty belly.
At home, my bees take very little looking after, but I have had the chance to rebuild a couple of hives and adapt them to the new ‘flow’ system. More about that anon.
Happy New Year.