Thursday, April 30, 2009

On the death of family pets:

Farm kids are brought up with death from a very early age. They see sheep die out in the paddock from fly strike. They see casualties at lambing and cancerous ewes that need to be put down. On one occasion, as we checked the lambing paddock, our children watched as an eagle suddenly swooped down out of the sky and carried off a weakened lamb from right under its mother’s nose. The ewes cries of protest were pitiful to hear and we could do nothing but watch. We couldn’t do a thing.

Then there’s off the farm death in the form of roadside carnage passed on the weekly trip into town.

We had two types of ‘dead’ as our kids were growing up. There was ‘Dead’…..and there was ‘Flat Dead’, depending on how many times a vehicle had run over the carcass on the road. The kids didn’t express much of an interest or emotion in the dead animal at all. It was just a fact of life. They were very complacent about the whole thing, and usually very together when it came to the death of family pets.

I particularly remember a phone call we made to the children while we were away sailing in Ireland one summer. They were being looked after on the farm while we were away, and we rang every couple of days for a catch up on their news. This particular morning we managed to get hold of eight year old Will first.

“G’day Will. It’s Mum. How are things on the farm?”

“Yeah, good thanks, Mum. But I think the rabbit’s dead.”

“What do you mean you think the rabbit’s dead?”

“Well we found the head in the carport.”

He was quite matter of fact about it, but this is hardly surprising. We’re talking about a child who, having buried his pet guinea pig a few years earlier kept discovering the carcass as the family dog exhumed it on a daily basis. It became a bit of a game for the family. Each morning after breakfast it would be a case of ‘find the carcass’. A good nose was essential of course. It would turn up under hydrangeas, on the verandah or in the vegie patch. After six days it resembled a very small toupee, but mercifully as the decaying smell diminished, so did the dog’s urge to exhume it. Eventually Brownie did get to rest in peace….or was that ‘pieces’……?

We had a pet kangaroo for a few months. We had found her on the roadside still in her mother’s pouch after the poor thing, dazzled by the car’s headlight’s, had leapt straight in front of our oncoming vehicle. She was doing so well and we loved her dearly, but one day she was inadvertently run over by a reversing vehicle. The mortified driver didn’t realise that Missy was directly behind him. We decided to bury her with the other pets in the orchard. It was in the middle of harvest so we were pushed for time, an undertaker and a decent service. The husband rushed in for lunch and a swift burial, and we all clustered around as he speedily (“got-to-get-back-on-the-header”) dug a hole. The only problem was that in his haste he didn’t realise he was digging over the burial site of one of the guinea pigs. There was a strangled “Oh…” as the digging ceased. “I seem to have dug up someone else” he said. He moved three feet to the right and the burial resumed. The children didn’t miss a beat and just shifted all their flowers to the new site.

I don’t mean to be flippant, but death is such a part of life here, though not every pet death has a black humour story to accompany it. Three years ago we lost our beautiful black pony, Zipper Mouse. It was a cloudless, clear blue skied December morning after a storm the night before. One of many that cross our farm during the summer months. We were about to leave for Tiffany’s Year 12 graduation dinner in Perth. Zipper was Tiffany’s beloved first and only pony. We received a call on the two-way as we were about to pull out of the farm.

“You’d better get back here and over to the goose paddock,” said our workman, Kris, “and you’d better bring a gun, Tom.”

I knew it was one of the horses immediately. I wondered which one of the three it might be, the relatively new chestnut mare, the old buckskin mare or the much loved high spirited black pony, Zipper Mouse. The last pony my mother had broken in before she died. The first pony the children had ever sat on.

To my horror it was Zipper, fatally struck down in the paddock by lightning the night before. A freak accident. She lay so still that I knew she was, mercifully, passed the gun. She was quite stiff and cold. A small trickle of blood oozed from her nose. The only sign of the lightning strike was a section of her mane that was frizzled as if caught on a gas burner. Death would have been instantaneous.

She had been a fiery pony in life, difficult to break in, but an amazing jumper and performer when you had won her confidence and trust. Her bond with Tiffany was very strong. High-couraged and sometimes unpredictable, she had lightning speed in life, and had certainly made her exit from this world with a bang. That was the nearest we could get to any humour to alleviate the sadness of losing this furry friend. It took us until last weekend to go through her rugs and ribbons and pony gear that had been stored for the last three years in the tack room. We made a pile of her things to sell or give away. They sit on the verandah as I write.

Some family pets leave a foot print indelibly etched on your heart. Zipper was one of those. We miss her so much.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Bird in the Bush on ‘The Pending Pandemic’

Monday 27th April 2009

Well, our family has been waiting since the last SARS outbreak for the next bout of fatal respiratory influenza. A good friend informed us last year that it wouldn’t be a case of ‘if’, but ‘when’ another viral ‘flu, be it bird or otherwise, mutated and gave the world a shake up. “Were we prepared?” she asked.

Discussions ensued on how we would cope if we had to batten down the hatches to avoid any contamination from those people in the nearby environs who may have contracted the disease. There would be no trips to town. We would go into lock down mode. We would have to be self sufficient. My husband, The King, came up with the idea of a commune, for a select few, at Hill Plains. It became ‘the’ conversation at every district dinner party. We have been sounding out possible recruits from friends and family ever since.

It’s quite simple. If you have a skill to share you’re in. If you don’t……er…..sorry, you’re out. But me no buts. That’s the rule. I swiftly grabbed the position of Entertainment Officer, for fear of ending up with Washer Woman, Cow Milker or Chief Cook and Bottle Washer. (I have to leave some positions for the less skilled….. mercifully.) The King is so useful he can fill a myriad of positions, all of which are extremely useful and manly, so he’s definitely in. Plus he’s the only truly useful person in the family when it comes to hunting and gathering, so we can’t argue with him anyway. Dictator is a word that springs readily to mind when I glance at him across the kitchen table. He wasn’t totally convinced that we really needed an Entertainment Officer, but as I have a few physical attributes that he finds highly entertaining, and which I threatened to withdraw his access to if I couldn't take on my job of choice, the position was reinstated very swiftly.

The phones and emails have run hot today with the first few city friends booking their places. So far we have had offers for the positions of nurse, communications and intelligence officer, wheat grister, cider/beer maker, a lady with a recipe for making yeast, as well as an email from a couple in Leederville:

Subject: Crisis

Requesting permission to seek refuge at Hill Plains for the near wipe-out of mankind. We will require abluting facilities and power and in return will be the vegie garden growers.
Yours …..etc

Tomorrow I will be joining ABC Radio’s Ted Bull on his program, to discuss just how the commune plans are progressing. I have a sneaky suspicion he might be angling for a berth in the commune, and that he will put himself up as T-Ball Coach, for which I fear I shall have to tell him, there is no position. Knowing him he will then ask if it is OK if he brings a bottle of wine instead. I shall reply, “If it’s a bottle of Grange, Ted, you’re in. Actually, make it a case.” That’s reasonable. We can’t be giving away beds here.

One good thing to have come out of this pending crisis is that the children have all of a sudden become uncharacteristically helpful about the place, displaying hereto unknown cooking skills, pouring over an old cook book favourite ‘101 ways with mutton’ and displaying physical attributes such as swinging on axes. It’s been a long time coming.

Yesterday I retrieved from the bowels of the pantry cupboard the large esky filled last year, in a moment of panic, with emergency survival rations in case we were isolated from the shops for a few weeks. It is supposed to contain vast quantities of pasta, rice, tinned foods, dried fruits and vegies, matches, batteries and most important of all…….chocolate. The only problem is that I keep flogging bits and pieces out of it when I run out of things and then totally forget to replace them. Also, some stuff has already passed its use by date. Well, I guess that’s not actually news in this household. The kids found something in the back of the fridge last week that had Use by: Mar 2001. I hadn’t the heart to tell them I cook with that sort of stuff all the time….

Maybe our immune systems will be able to fight off the disease after all…..