Although the snow has fallen and the wind has howled, we seem to be past the season when the day is only a wee gift from the night, and I have missed the six o'clock news all week because I haven't been driven inside by darkness.   Mother Nature is giving signs as to where we are in the order of things.   The acacia is in full bloom, daffodils are nodding open everywhere and, today, handfuls of hair came off the cows.   According to the calendar on the wall it is too early for the hair to be coming off the cows but according to Mother Nature's calendar all around us, it's not!   I have got the message.   The topsoil on the new garden has been turned and some of the lovely muck from the cowshed feeding pad has been spread over it in readiness for the man with the rotary hoe.

Mrs Pig loves her greens and I couldn't resist throwing a couple of shovels full of turf into the pigpen for her to play with.   She gets cut grass on a regular basis and silver beet when it's too wet or too cold for collecting grass, but a sod of earth was something rather special and she gave it the attention it was due.   On the way to being demolished, the clump was tossed, scrummaged, smeared and squashed around the fence, the gate, the pig-house and the plum tree but mostly it was around her face.   A large sow with greenish looking mud oozing out of her mouth looks evil!!

The silver beet I planted copiously before winter is becoming a great indicator of the little microclimates within the boundaries of Middelmost.   Some plants have not moved, some are having leaves picked from them each day, some are yellowish and some are richly green.   The silver beet has provided me with a geographical map on which I can make future pastoral decisions for growing crops.   I had already decided where the tomatoes were going to go but the silver beet has shown me a better spot that I wouldn't have considered.   Just to be safe, though, I think I'll put two lots in.   Tomatoes are such an easy crop to freeze if you have an abundance.

My five black babies are fun.   Apart from one needing a 30ml dose of Scourban two days after arrival, they have been nothing but bright eyed and bushy tailed.   At the beginning of this week I introduced them to Sweetfeed.   As soon as they had polished off the milk in the calfateria my fingers, coated in Sweetfeed, were offered.   This gave them a little taste and in the second session they were sucking the grainy bits off and mumbling them.   By the fourth session they were demanding great big mouthfuls and now I just dump half a bucketful into a plastic feed bin on the ground and watch them as they make sure the sparrows don't get any.   Their bold yellow ear tags give them a classy touch as they roar around the trees in the forest after each meal.   The forest fences are made of wooden rails and I put their straw on the ground rather than in a haynet so none of them, so far, have had an ear caught in anything.   The tags look so big in their tiny ears but the local dairy farmer had advised me to put them in when I picked them up and I'm pleased I did.   It was so much easier than tagging at twelve weeks, as I did with the last lot of calves I raised.

I was thinking the other day...people like us have many labels.    There are the kind ones, such as "small farmers", "subsistence farmers", "lifestylers", and the not-so-kind ones, which we shan't mention.   Whatever label you choose to fit the type of existence your road through life has led you to, there is no denying the fact that to just survive, let alone be successful, we must wear many hats.   Our lives are varied and each day dawns with it's own inevitable unpredictability.   We make decisions on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis which may have consequences for those all around us for a long time to come.   We take calculated risks, we gamble, we seek and follow sound (and sometimes not-so-sound) advice, we are inventive, creative, cautious, courageous, ... and, with our complex, and quite often dramatic, lifestyles it is sometimes too hard to share what is happening to us with other people to whom our sort of life is foreign.   They either won't believe us; will think we are nuts and move to another table, or will consider us so stupid we are crossed off their Xmas Card list!

At the moment it is very late in the afternoon, quite cold and is drizzling softly.   I am in the orchard sitting on a stool, sheltering under the flax bushes and the lemonwood tree keeping an eye on Poppy while she is having a big feed of grass amongst the new fruit trees.   She came in on Friday morning with a very sore foot.   I hadn't noticed her limping on Thursday, but then it could have been because I was rushing out to help a friend who has had an accident.   Poppy has been in the stable since, keeping her foot clean and dry while I treat it, firstly with iodine and then with my cure-all mix mentioned in previous letters.   She thinks she is Queen Bee and is loving our little walks up the hard tar seal road, to help push any infected matter out, and our frequent trips into the orchard for munchies-times.

Now, it would take a special person to come and sit with me, or to even understand the importance of sitting on a stool in the orchard writing letters as the rain comes down.   And, while there are three tui keeping me company, and while the pleasure of seeing Poppy gleefully fill her face, more than makes up for the fact that others may think I am slightly demented, it is merely a reminder of how chameleonic our lives are.   In the morning our hands are shoved up unspeakable places, in the evening we clap them vigorously at the theatre or ballet.   Frantically, before sun has woken, we are shining a torch up calves' bottoms checking for scours while they are plugged into the calfateria, and four hours later we are at work serving coffee and cake at a board meeting.   We shoot a foal with a broken leg and go to school to deliver a dynamic programme to a class of teenagers.   Each of our days can have the range of emotions and trauma that most people only meet in a lifetime.   We deal with death, with birth, with sickness, with sorrow, with failure and success on a very personal level and the hardest part is not being able to share the drama with most of our colleagues - we leave our little patch, change hue and blend.   I consider anyone who is prepared to listen to my excited accounts of things dear and passionate to me as a rare and precious breed.

In the meantime, Poppy has eaten enough - she is starting to eye up the cherry tree - and it's time to take her back to the stable and to tuck her up for the night.   She should be right with another couple of days keeping out of the mud.   Speaking of which...in the true spirit of Aroha, I have plenty. Would anybody like some?

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