Thursday, September 30, 2010

Birds and Bees

I woke up this morning in the soft blackness of the pre-dawn and have been listening to the magic sounds of the birds. There have been at least six different choruses since then. In the blurry state between dreaming and consciousness I thought I was listening to someone whistling a country music song. The back up music was a persistent and tuneless squeak.

Then a crow settled in with his desultory quwark and the music stopped. Not long after that, he was replaced by the more familiar chirping and tweeting of some smaller birds backed up by the lovely notes of a lone magpie.

I love it. It makes me think of forests and fields and all things natural. It also makes me think of the birds that used to wake me up in New Zealand.

Because we had six sons we lived on a one and a half acre hill top block in urban New Zealand. Over the years we had chickens, bees, several goats and an assortment of dogs and cats.

At one time we had several roosters. I thought they had a lovely country sound but obviously not everyone agreed. One day we came home to a note in the letterbox and a few less roosters in the chicken pen. Our three roosters had been confiscated by the city council after a neighbour complained. I couldn't understand it.

A few years later we had a feisty bantam rooster that used to locate himself under our bedroom window to crow, ……… at three in the morning. Suddenly I wasn't so keen on th sound of crowing any more and we decided he needed to become dinner.

My husband at the time had grown up in Samoa where killing a chicken for food was a weekly occurrence. In the years since he had softened somewhat and I had never aspired to be an animal murderer so we had a problem. Eventually I decided this was something I needed to do as a strong independent woman, so I caught the chicken and grabbed an axe. I set him up nicely on a strong board, raised the axe, closed my eyes and chopped down hard.

Opening my eyes I caught him running away in the opposite direction and the next morning he was back under the bedroom window crowing his heart out. We had to get my brother in law in to do the deed.

I made a very nice soup from him but none of our family enjoyed it.

I had fun with bees too. I thought it would be nice to have a productive beehive and read everything I could about it.

I was very proud of the few jars of honey I manhandled out of the combs and being able to give away a few jars of the beautiful golden liquid made up for the sticky mess it made of my kitchen for weeks.

Then one day I came home to men in white up on the roof of the garage playing inside my beehive. It seems the council needed to inspect all hives yearly in case any of them contracted a disease that wiped out the New Zealand honey industry. The pressure was immense. Since I was such a bee keeping amateur, I became concerned that I might be the reason NZ farmers lost millions in income and New Zealand kids could no longer have honey on their toast.

To add insult to injury, (or more correctly injury to insult,) the men checking the hive stirred up the bees and made them angry. As an innocent bystander, and the only one not wearing a protective suit, the bees made a beeline for me and I did a very unattractive and ineffective bee walloping dance until one of the men turned the hose on me. I ended up with ten stings on my head and a complete loss of dignity.

A few weeks later I sold my hives to a farmer with land out in the country.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Magpies, Dogs and Pushbike Road Trips.

I miss my motorbike. 

I am still riding a pushbike and it is hard work around here. The shops are 4.5km over the hills and naturally I want to do more than just visit the local shops. I have been exploring. 

I love the exercise and I am getting fitter, but I am also taking risks.
The other day I was attacked by magpies. I was riding my pushbike when I heard them swoop and make threatening sounds. Luckily they didn’t connect. I assume my helmet would have protected me but I think the shock of an unexpected bonk on the head might have sent me into the oncoming traffic. Then the dogs got all excited.

I had decided to take a ride into the Wivenhoe dam area. It is scenic and picturesque and apparently the lake is bigger than the Sydney harbour. I was lucky to make it to the bottom corner to see the edge of the dam.

From Fernvale I had to ride on the narrow highway as there was no bike path. I tried riding on the grass for a bit but it has been raining and in places the bike got bogged and my shoes started to get wet. The road got even narrower in one place as it went through a small cutting but I found a detour through a rest area. Then there was road works at the bridge and traffic was stopped. There was still 5 kms to go and I was already tired from the long ride into town but I decided I could go a bit further. After one final uphill walk, I arrived at the beginning of the dam and turned off into one of the lovely parks that Australia does so well. 

It had shaded picnic seats, gas powered barbecues and playgrounds for the kids. With the recent rains, the grass was green and there were trees in the lake and it was looking gorgeous. There are at least eight to ten separate areas all spread out around the park and down to the edge of the lake, and facilities enough for a small town to have a picnic there. Today there were three men doing some kind of fight training on a mat, and a child on one of the slides. It must get busier on weekends. It is a fantastic resource.

It didn’t take quite as long to get back but by the time I got home I was happily exhausted and pleased that I had been brave enough to get back on the bike again.

On Saturday I took a ride to the neighbouring town of Lowood as it looked to be about 12kms. There wasn’t much open in Lowood on a Saturday afternoon, but I did get two geocaches, both on top of steep hills. 
The road in was more of the steep roller coaster road I have been used to since coming here, so I decided to go home another way … and it was worse. I could have got a nose bleed up there. 

The 12kms turned into about 15kms with twists turns and steep inclines. What was worse was when I climbed up the last particularly steep hill, I realised that I couldn’t even enjoy the ride down because it was too steep. With my dodgy noisy brakes I would either hit the bottom at 100kms an hour or hit the brakes and deafen the locals.  

All the long way down I kept telling myself I was lucky to have a bike, even if I had to walk it as often as ride it. Lucky too, that the two dogs who obviously wanted to attack me were behind fences, … and lucky that the magpies didn’t connect. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Giant Rabbits, Spiders and Shark Attacks

Last week while staying in the country, I saw an enormous rabbit on the front lawn. I thought it was some kind of deformed wallaby at first. It had the hind quarters of a small kangaroo and was bigger than some dogs. It was probably a hare but I am just impressed to see bunny ears on something that big.
I rushed straight for my camera, but sadly all I got through the window was a few blurry shots and one good shot of those enormous back legs. There was no way it was going to hang around while I went outside and set up a better angle.

I have only ever seen one hare and I didn’t know they grew that big. I get all excited when I see something I have never seen before. I have so many wonderful photos of Australian wildlife and I love it when they come right up close like that. When I came to Australia, I thought I would see many more koalas, snakes and kangaroos than I have. Those I have seen have mostly been in wildlife parks, except for the spiders. I saw some beauties in Maleny; big black furry looking things that could really move, especially with a broom chasing them.

But Australia also has some other animals I am glad I haven’t been close to.

Two weeks ago a family found a nest of pythons in their roof. One of them was 5 metres long and as I watched the men take it out of the roof it seemed very powerful. Pythons kill by constriction and I wondered how long the snakes would have waited before going into the house. There can’t be much food for a python in the roof space of a house and at some stage they would have gone looking for food. Perhaps a head peeking out of the covers would look small enough to attack.

On the same day, a surfer was killed by a shark attack. It seems there were seals in the area and the shark most likely thought his leg was a seal. Shark attacks are rare and I have heard that more people die from eating sharks than from shark attacks, but I am still nervous of sharks.

Guess who wants to go swimming with the sharks?

Phil has been planning a shark dive for months and things keep getting in the way. First it was cancelled by bad weather and then he was unavailable. But he will be diving with them one day. And you know what? I don’t really mind. He will be diving with nurse sharks and they are a different creature from the man eating kind. If I can get the scuba diving thing sorted then I will be doing it myself. I just love to see wildlife up close. And it doesn’t get much closer than that.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Artistic and Elegant and Deposits on the Stairs

It is my first morning house sitting in the beautiful old and leafy suburb of Sherwood in Brisbane. It is quite a change from the farm house I was just in. This home belongs to a New Zealand family that have gone to Europe and England. It is a modern boxlike building that takes up most of the small narrow block. There is just enough room at the front for a double garage and a small pool, and at the back for an outside dining room and a small garden that is artfully landscaped. Inside their home is beautiful; all modern angles, tasteful art and classic furniture.

All I have to do to deserve this luxury is to look after two adorable Siamese cats and water the garden. Unless of course it rains for days and I have to turn a few switches on the pool system or fill up the container of pool acid. I know, I know, I am very spoilt.

I just love house sitting. You get all the advantages of living in a home without the responsibility of mortgages, rates or even power, phone and electricity bills. It’s a wonderful way to live.

Inside the house I have a choice of 23 comfortable places to sit and work this morning, and that is just downstairs. Upstairs there is a whole other living room, three bedrooms, two bathrooms and the office. I might sit outside later. There are only four seats out there but the lady of the house told me before she left that she has plans to get two more for just outside the back doors. If I add them all up that makes 37 seats and I usually start work sitting up in bed. Hah… I didn’t dare stay there this morning.

The Siamese cats are very elegant and adorable. I got up this morning to feed them and opened up a can of tuna and whitebait that would have looked quite at home in a restaurant, it just needed a bed of salad.

I put on some classic French café music and settled into my elegant surroundings. Then the elegant stylish cats sat on the elegant stylish stairs and puked up their breakfast.

I have every sympathy for them. I have never been able to eat whitebait either.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bursting Backpacks, Big Boy Bikes and Small Thrills.

One of the things I like about being my age is that I am much less concerned with what people think of me. I used to be so self conscious and now I hardly worry at all.

I haven’t had a haircut in six months and my hair is long, blond and shapeless except for near to my head where there is a 2 inch undyed strip that is mousy brown and grey. I am wearing the clothes I wore yesterday to save washing and my only shoes are worn and now grey with tears in the fabric. There are scratches on my arms from hunting in the bushes at the cemetery and I have itchy red eyes that are not responding to their usual eye drops.

I am back at the information centre to use the Internet but the staff continue talking to each other and I got the impression they are hoping I will walk straight back out again.

I wonder if they saw me coming and decided a red eyed, limp haired, less than fresh woman who is remembered for getting emotional over not getting a little peace, is worth avoiding. I am not surprised when they keep their distance. I think the staff assume I am still fragile and don’t want to upset me again. It’s a bonus because I get so much more done than I did on my last visit.

On my way home, I am proud of myself. I have to use the lowest of low gears that most people reserve for an iron man event, but I stay on the bike longer and cycle up some of the shorter inclines. I lurch along, bent under the weight of a backpack full to bursting with a few essential groceries, and a shopping bag slung beneath the cross bar of my too big boys bike. It keeps getting in the way as I pedal giving me a bandy look, with my knees out wide.

There are no footpaths here on the country road and the edge of the road is a slippery scary place. I stick as close as I can to the edge and cars tend to give me a wide berth.

I do my best to look competent and in control as I walk up the hills so people won’t stop and ask if I want a lift and I love the downhill runs. I pick up a bit of speed and the wind in my hair reminds me ever so slightly of being on my motorbike. It is a small thrill, especially as there is an element of risk. I have the world’s noisiest bike brakes and they sound quite similar to truck engine breaks. I am reluctant to use them in a built up area. If I have to stop in a hurry, I might just have to jump ship and let the bike go.

I get home just as the sun fades into its usual beautiful golden orange glow along the horizon.

Taking off the backpack is like removing an anvil from my shoulders. I feel so light as I spend the last of the daylight feeding the dog and the pony and, as it hasn’t rained since I arrived, giving the garden a really good soaking.

That night it rains … and rains … all night, and all the next day. Isn’t that what always happens when you water the garden?