Birdacious Birthday

It started with the installation of a bird feeder made of up-cycled materials…

This ingenious piece of engineering by my brother-in-law and nephew, consists of a cast iron industrial lamp (we think) inverted on a cut-down pole. It has been rust-proofed and varnished. Concreted in, it is here to stay and looks magnificent against the autumn colours of the wisteria. In the early morning when the sun hits it, water vapour rises from the dew-wet metal. We thought it might take a week or two for the birds to get used to it, but they have taken no time to discover the crusts of bread while the chooks, unconcerned, remain grounded below.

It continued with bird-themed gifts:

I’m feeling very spoiled and continue to be entertained by the birds visiting the feeder and by these amazing books about chicken-obsessed people. This Chicken Life is Australian and there are some horrendous accounts of fox attacks. Thank goodness we don’t have foxes in New Zealand to add to our introduced pest woes. “Like coconut on a lamington, they’re all over Australia…introduced between the 1840s and the 1870s by a conga line of utter muppets…keen to indulge in the ‘noble sport of fox-hunting’.” I worry when the chooks get into the front garden that an illegally off-the-lead dog will get them – which happened to friends’ chickens in Dunedin. The Australian patois of the book is very funny and also hits the spot about the worries of chook ownership. After a fox attack, and a period of grieving, you are advised: “…when you miss the gentle susurration of chickens bok-bok-bokking in the garden, you pull up your big farmer undies and go to the poultry auction and buy more chickens”.

I enjoyed a Genesis Energy power shout (free electricity for 8 hours) on my birthday; turned up the heat pump, auto-cleaned the oven and made spicy buns.

Me in my puffin pinny putting the buns in the sun to rise.

In the evening there was spicy chocolate birthday cake, a family favourite recipe, with coffee icing and walnut sprinkles, expertly baked and decorated by my sister.

So, here I am, an old age pensioner at last and feeling quite mature! GoldCard, new driver’s licence, flu shot. All set.

Autumn Glow

When, on drawing the curtains in the morning, I see the tree next door glowing as if it is on fire, I know it’s going to be a lovely day. I lie in bed and look at it and feel inspired. Today it seems to be an especially good omen for the first day of Alert Level 3.

Then it is no hardship to get up and plan the day. A little bit of “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” is evident on my study window, with late roses a memory of summer.

On the kitchen window sill are the casualties of the last couple of days’ gusty winds glowing in the sunlight.

At either end of the vegetable plot, chrysanthemums are beginning to do their thing.

First job is to check the chooks, clean out their house, and pick up after them as they amble about the garden. I’ve found myself humming Abba’s Super Trouper song as I do this, but with different words:

Today the super pooper chooks are gonna find me

Shining like the sun (super pooper)

Scratching, having fun (super pooper)

Making lots of number twos

Super pooper smells are gonna hit me

But I won’t feel blue

‘Cause it’s what they do

On the deck and in the garden too.

It’s ambiguous who is doing the shining, scratching and making – but you know it’s the chooks, right?

The ups of lockdown

Learning Stuff is an “up”:

Do you have an internal or external locus? A psychology article in the last (sob) Listener says: “An internal locus means you tend to see events as controllable, whereas an external locus means you see yourself awash in a sea directed by fate and outside factors.” While the writer, Marc Wilson, concedes that most of us fall somewhere between these two, it is food for thought in terms of being in lockdown. My nesting instinct means I’m quite happy to be at home. In fact, I’ve realised that having choices taken from me is liberating – now isn’t that paradoxical? I’ve learned to be patient with myself if I don’t feel motivated. Before long, the motivation returns. I’ve learnt to choose not to read or view material which will put me off balance, so I’m not likely to subscribe to Netflix or re-join Facebook any time soon. Gardening is my therapy of choice – and gardening shows on tv are fascinating viewing choices for me from which I can learn.

Judging by articles and columns in the newspaper, lots of people are learning about themselves while confined to home and in close quarters with others. Rosemary McLeod and Verity Johnson had some entertaining insights in their columns today. I like to learn from our remaining media outlets, stuff.co.nz and rnz.co.nz, especially about the nature of good leadership (and its opposite) in times of pandemic.

Today I discovered that the tree outside my study window is not a kānuka, as I had thought, but a lophomyrtus obcordata or New Zealand myrtle. The Māori name is rōhutu. It took some detective work and I’m pleased to have solved the mystery after noticing that the leaves for kānuka in Which Native Tree? by Andrew Crowe didn’t look like the leaves on my tree.

Appreciating stuff is an “up”:

I spend a lot of time looking out of the window, and it is a great view as I am surrounded by trees, many of them native. This panorama shot, complete with clothesline, gives an idea:

The akeake with red leaves is fascinating to look at because of the texture and varied shades of red to green of the pointy leaves. The pseudopanax next to it provides a contrast as does the cabbage tree, ti kouka, beside that. These are all self-sown, and I like to think there could be native forest regenerating in my own backyard. I have a mini-forest of kōwhai coming up in the front garden and pittosporums and hebes seem to pop up of their own accord too. They are welcome! We need trees.

All these trees mean lots of birds. At the moment, a few waxeye, tauhou, have arrived and are twittering and hanging upside down as they find insects in the roses, rōhutu, kōwhai and hebe outside my window. Fantails, pīwakwaka, are also frequent visitors.

I appreciate sitting out under the trees reading a book in the sun while the chooks scratch around in the garden. They are very companionable, add structure to my day and contribute chicken poo – lots – to the compost! Picking up said poo also tells me my sense of smell is working just fine.

Getting out for exercise is a bit of a stuff -“up”:

My brother and sister-in-law walk kilometres every day. I don’t go for a walk often, being busy running after the chooks and gardening (or so I tell myself – and isn’t my five minutes of yoga in the morning enough?) but it is nice to go down to the park to see how things are progressing. The new sign at the entrance reminds me I don’t have a dog any more.

Or children to keep away from the fenced-off playground:

It is good to see that there are hundreds of monarch butterflies clustered in the trees and lazily drifting on the warm autumn air currents. The roses are fewer now and autumn leaves are beginning to fall.

Mum often feels the need for a walk, and would love to visit the Abberley Park rose garden, but lockdown rules say to stay at home if you are over seventy. Instead, she has found good exercise sweeping the drive and paths.

Cooking and enjoying the harvest is an “up”:

Mum is the pudding maker, and here is her latest: apple and rhubarb (from the garden) pie, and the thirteenth bowl of raspberries I have picked this autumn. Harvesting your own ingredients is very satisfying.

This reminds me of a TV series Keep Cooking and Carry On which Jamie Oliver has created especially for all of us in lockdown. My brother recommended it and I caught up with it on TVNZ OnDemand last night. I enjoyed the bread making. What a joy it was yesterday to find yeast in the supermarket at last! Going to the supermarket is stressful – but at least I can walk there – and there’s no way I can keep two metres away from anyone in those narrow aisles. But there are lighter moments, such as finding the yeast, and this little chap parked outside. I saw a black and tan St Bernard or Newfoundland dog in a cargo bike on Monday. This little dog had a large flowery cushion and a harness to keep him comfortable and safe in his own section at the front while the space at the back is for groceries, I guess. The reflection in the supermarket windows shows a street empty of traffic, making it even safer for him and for us – another “up”.

I was going to call this post The ups and downs of lockdown, but it looks as if it’s all “ups” for me, at least, even the supermarket sometimes, even while I’m acutely aware of the hardship for many, and despite the sad loss of our cherished NZ Listener.

Home sweet home

It has felt quite good to be retired (note the qualification). Being at home has always been something to look forward to, such as at the end of each working day and during holidays. Now that we have to stay home, home remains a sanctuary for me.

There was a southerly blast last night and I’m pleased I photographed the roses before they were blown about. There’s a nice autumn second – or third – blooming happening.

The abundance of Japanese anemones or wind flowers brightens the whole garden (once you’ve got ’em, you’ve got ’em). At night, the flowers close up forming lovely nodding heads.

Loads of cranberries, framed by Japanese anemones – and parsley, chives, swan plants, Cecile Brunner, pittosporum, kowhai, and lilac which is turning to autumn colours.

There are white anemones too, with one of three rhubarb plants behind.

Herbs, fruit and vegetables are doing pretty well despite, in some cases, the ravages of chooks and caterpillars.

It’s rather nice to have hens to keep me company when I’m out in the garden. Yesterday, I picked the seventh bowl of raspberries, and a few blueberries. The chooks don’t like raspberries, but love to jump up and pick low-hanging grapes. Mostly, they prefer to scratch about for bugs.

I felt sorry for the hens when it rained the other day. They didn’t go into their little house for shelter. Instead they huddled under trees or scratched about in the rain getting quite wet and bedraggled. So I found an old umbrella and tied it up over their perch. There it sits quite fetchingly under the banksia rose and behind the abutilon and fairy rose. Even Popcorn, the white hen, matches the colour scheme as she turns pink under the umbrella!

Making a “home sweet home” for the hens is calming somehow in these days of uncertainty and anxiety. My WEA course on Sustainable Living has been cancelled (with two sessions to go) but now I can practise what I have learned at home.

Responsible leadership, please

A photo accompanying an article from The Times in this weekend’s Press holds a poignant message. In the photo, a victim of Russian destruction of the village of Maarat Misrin in Syria’s Idlib province, is carried on a stretcher. Behind the stretcher bearers, this detail shows a white hen following along.

Behind the hen, the man with the camera may be a journalist, one of the brave (like Marie Colvin) who go into war zones to bring us stories of the effects of political manoeuvring on the people who live there.

Meantime, Putin and Erdogan “hammered out a ceasefire…to bring respite to civilians…and defuse tension between Ankara and Moscow” (The Times).

Did they spare a thought for the many women and children killed when the poultry farm was struck in the early hours of the morning?

On International Women’s Day, we might consider whether or not women leaders would make the same old mistakes. Our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is determined to do things differently by being kind and dignified and not resorting to the distasteful discourse often employed in parliament.

Another parliamentarian who was calm, measured and dignified, was the former Green party co-leader, Jeanette Fitzsimons, who died this week. She was disillusioned by parliamentary processes to effect significant change and concluded that “real change comes from within” (The Press, March 7).

Leadership has been shown by young people and there are calls for the voting age to be lowered to 16. Dare we hope? Greta Thunberg, and other young people inspired by her, demand that politicians account for their inaction as the planet slides into a state unable to sustain human life.

We have learnt little and made insufficient progress in leadership, even after centuries of war, destruction and greed. Hence the casual disregard for the simple, peaceful lives most of us would like to live, raising our chickens.

Hen Party

Dora makes a bit of a racket first thing when the other two are still in the nesting box and I wonder if she gets a bit lonely. To entertain her, I put a mirror in the enclosure and she seemed quite taken with it.

I let her out of the enclosure early Monday morning and she kept me company while I finally tackled the weeds in the paving stones. She would peer into my face, and I wonder if she was looking at her reflection in my glasses. We did a darn good job. Now I can look out at the garden without seeing the work I need to do. I’ve left the little pansies which have self-seeded.

I heard a radio interview this week with a woman who keeps chooks. She said that the red or brown shavers are very sociable, will follow you around and can even be picked up for a cuddle. Apart from the cuddles, that sounds like Dora (aka Satay) and Betty (aka Butter). Popcorn, on the other hand, is a leghorn and they tend to be a bit stroppy and flighty. This sounds like her. At the moment she is broody, so I have to pick her up out of the nesting box to make sure she eats and drinks and runs around a bit. Today I resorted to blocking off the entrance so she couldn’t get back in – but she was persistent. Betty often gets in the nesting box with her and does her best to push her out – not aggressively, just gently. Perhaps she overheard my neighbour (who had brought them some garden greens and windfall apples) telling me that chooks can die of overheating and starvation if they nest too long.

Popcorn spent a lot of time, while in exile, perched on the garden seat.

Then, after a dust bath, she groomed herself on the outdoor chair beside me. She is plumper and more feathery than when she first arrived – they all are – and their feathers are quite amazing. Check out her shuttlecock tail feathers.

Her head seems almost to rotate as she preens. She has little fluffy ear tufts.

Meantime Betty, in tea-cosy pose, sat on the mat between us, drifting in and out of sleep.

She began to groom herself too, showing off the patterns and caramel tones of her feathers.

Dora took a look at my feet.

And I took a look at hers. Look at those toenails and how she balances on one alligator-skin foot while the other curves elegantly.

It was a very together time. Hence the title of this post.

What was Dora thinking as she inspected my feet? What would you put in a thought bubble above her head? E.g: “I can see the gin and tonic has gone straight to her feet” or, “This explains the qwerty keyboard”.

I’m the urban farmer, baby

As I clump about the place in my red band gumboots, smelling the farmyard smells chickens bring with them, I’m reminded of when I lived on a farm and a colleague commented that I was “playing at being a farmer”. I had numerous chooks and a goat and a large vegetable garden. A stray cat called by regularly. There were possums in the walnut tree at night. The furry beasts, with ghoulish red eyes, would screech and run along the verandah with hob-nail boots on, and I could hear rats behind the scrim walls of the old villa I rented.

Now, in my small city garden, as I toil in the service of the chooks, mixing up their mash at 6am, cleaning out the nesting box in the early afternoon, picking up their poop and burying it under the rhubarb or in the compost, fetching them greens and treats to vary their diet and marvelling at their quiet clucky chicken-ness, I feel a certain farmer-ish satisfaction.

Having solved their incursions into the garden by judicious use of the sprinkler, I am harvesting the fruits of my vegetable labours.

Home-grown tomatoes
Freshly-picked runner beans – no strings attached
Firm and squeaky courgettes. Just enough for a Carrot and Courgette Kugel.

And – drum roll, please – half a dozen eggs for a bacon and egg pie.

Bright yolks and firm shells