Winter delights

Wee Jock, in the best fire-side chair, visited for 4 days.

Our winters are not severe, although they are tough for many people and we all look forward to warmer days. Where most of us live here, we’re not knee-deep in snow or suffering through long dark days and months, as in Scandinavia where they suffer consequent mental health issues – perhaps why Sweden hesitated to impose an early lockdown when spring had just begun.

Today there is a frost but, as the pattern goes, it is followed by warm sun. There is something to appreciate, even on a dull day. Yesterday was cloudy and cold, so we lit the fire earlier than usual, ate kumara soup and read our books. Outside the weather went from cloudy to stormy to rain with a bit of ice in it, to clear and even a bit of watery sun in the late afternoon.

I appreciate the warmth of thick woollen clothing which I couldn’t bear the thought of wearing in summer. My wool duvet, wool pillows and wool mattress cover are fabulous in winter – and summer (with one less layer of duvet). I am able to wash and hang my woolly socks and merino tops outside on the line – especially on a day like today.

Thank goodness that we are able to socialise (let’s hope it lasts). Meals out, card games and walks are great to keep my spirits up and keep me connected with friends. And between-times there’s blogging, emails, texts and phone calls – and, maybe, delightful news. Speaking of news, there’s always something thought-provoking in the daily newspaper I collect from the gate each morning.

Our Christchurch City Libraries are perhaps the best thing about our city. They are a connection point for everyone and a warm place in winter. There’s something magical about coming home with a pile of books. Walking home from the library last week, I was delighted to see the Town Hall fountain working again. I sat and enjoyed it for a while.

The Ferrier Fountain lifts the winter blues.

Over the last couple of months I have found myself taking the odd photo of something cheering. Here are some creative delights I’m enjoying this winter.

The garden is a changing source of delight.

Winter delights show me that there’s always something cheering in the cold, dark and dreariness, particularly as I have the luxury of time to appreciate it.

In the late afternoon, there’s the possibility of a contemplative winter cocktail and The Panel on National Radio.

A ‘wobbly knee’ (whisky, green ginger wine and lemon) and RNZ National.

Fewer, but fine

It’s hard to say if the remaining two hens miss their mate. I was reading all sorts of reactions into their behaviour over the next couple of days, but who knows? They have continued to lay eggs as usual. Dora excelled herself with a whopper on Tuesday. I expected the hens to go off the lay in winter, but it doesn’t seem to be the case with these chooks.

They stick together a lot, as usual. When the sun is out, they find a dry spot for a dust bath by the wheelbarrow, where I keep pea straw.

I feel sorry for them in this cold weather and give them plenty to eat and treats such as sunflower seeds. They tolerate the blackbirds, sparrows and wax-eyes which fly down for left-overs from the feed trough and bowls. When I am in the garden, they like to inspect what I am doing, pulling apart raked up leaves to look for insects, and just being companionable. They like to perch on garden furniture to groom themselves or, in Dora’s case, to do her job as sentinel. Popcorn retains her position as head hen.

They can move mountains of earth, earning them the nicknames Fulton and Hogan, after the earth-moving and road construction company. The soil becomes so aerated that it has risen considerably above the level of the paving stones by the wood pile.

I’ve heard that some people turn their chickens out onto the vegetable garden before they plant. One of my chooks’ well-tilled spots looked so good that I was delighted when I found a small dome at The Warehouse. Popcorn and Dora were keen to help, of course. I distracted them with silver beet and kale leaves while I quickly planted some vegetables and secured the protective cover.

They say that people come to resemble their pets. I’m amused to see that my shorter hair cut has unleashed my natural wave into wings, giving me the look of a startled chicken!

Bye bye Betty Blue

Betty in tea-cosy pose

Betty passed away peacefully overnight. She spent all yesterday in her comfy house, standing with her head under her wing. It rained most of the day so I sympathised with her. This morning the sun was shining. I went to put her in a sunny spot and found her at rest on the hay in the corner of her house.

One of three rescued hens, she seemed to be older than the other two and stopped laying some months ago. Her comb and tail had become smaller and she liked to settle in the sun while the others were busy around the garden.

Here are some happy memories of Betty Blue (she had a blue tag on one leg and is the lighter colour of the two brown birds).

My niece (also mourning Betty’s loss) and friend found some hens running loose on the Port Hills last winter. They managed to catch two (Betty and Dora). Popcorn came from the SPCA to make a mini-flock of three. They named the hens Satay (now Dora) and Butter (Betty). The hens came to live with me in January. We have no idea how old they are. Dora and Popcorn are still laying regularly. My niece believes Betty was hit by a car at some stage which may account for her increasing frailty. She was the lowest in the pecking order, but still did well to get her share of food and treats. Now, there is just the head hen (Popcorn) and the sentinel or lookout (Dora).

Betty’s grave is under the lilac trees. I found a suitable rock – which, now that I look at it, resembles a chicken beak down, tail up. Around it I have planted fox gloves and an azalea from my beautiful sister. Winter sweet flowers add scent to the scene.

The Hens by Elizabeth Madox Roberts

The night was coming very fast;
It reached the gate as I ran past.

The pigeons had gone to the tower of the church
And all the hens were on their perch,

Up in the barn, and I thought I heard
A piece of a little purring word.

I stopped inside, waiting and staying,
To try to hear what the hens were saying.

They were asking something, that was plain,
Asking it over and over again.

One of them moved and turned around,
Her feathers made a ruffled sound,

A ruffled sound, like a bushful of birds,
And she said her little asking words.

She pushed her head close into her wing,
But nothing answered anything.