The pond reclamation project that I wrote about in September has continued on and off over the ensuing weeks. The ongoing drought and digging efforts of coypu and rabbits has seen its banks crumble further, and at least six trees have fallen into the water.
Some of the larger trees were already dead but hid this fact under garlands of ivy and epiphytes which made them increasingly top-heavy. When the soil around their base dried enough to lose the little adhesion they had to the ground, they invariably fell in the direction of least resistance, taking small saplings with them. One morning I found a cats-cradle of interlocking fallen trees which would require several hours’ labour to clean-up. Several birds’ nests have lost their perches and tumbled into the water – their builders will have a lot of extra work to do for winter housing.
On inspection I found that a third agent had been at work: insects had turned the insides of some trees into porous chalky matter like the fake honeycomb in a Violet Crumble. It seemed that the only thing holding up several of them was the thick ivy stems around their bases. Once I chopped those stems, Gustav and I were able to haul each tree out of the pond without any mechanical assistance.
Clad in wellington boots and partly dried muck-caked clothes I drop down into the water. With rake and shovel I begin scooping the decomposing leaf litter and grey mud onto the coypu-ravaged banks.
Gustav’s been concentrating on a section of bank at the end of the pond that’s sitting higher and drier than the centre. We’ve using some building rubble from the side of the road to backfill the steeper banks, and then cover it all wattle-and-daub style with layers of acacia and willow branches and leafy-mud.
Once you’re in the water, it’s not long before the effort of shovelling gunk onto the bank has made you sink waist-deep in mud. To move even one step I have to support myself with shovel and rake in each hand and then slowly twist my feet out. After a couple of rounds of this I’ve begun dropping long planks of wood along the pond bottom to help distribute my weight like a large snow-shoe. Still, trying to balance on these while shovelling mud up and throwing it above my shoulder height is not easy, but it has more virtue than trying to simulate upright yoga positions on a Wii balance board. When I want a break from shovelling, I either use the rake to scoop leaf matter and strands of willow twigs, or simply use my bare hands to dig up balls of mud and engage in some target practice, filling in small holes along the bank.
Twisting and digging through all this mud, mud, glorious mud is fun! It may be the best exercise program I’ve devised during my time on the farm, even better than wrestling vine-posts out of the ground. I generally work 3-4 hours without a break, stopping only because I’ve run out of time or light. I then have a small problem in how to get out of the water without destroying the section of bank I’ve so laboriously rebuilt.
Once on dry land, the first priority is to get the boots off. If I have too much water in them a seal is formed around the middle of my foot and I can’t get it out without a lot of cursing. So now I lie on my back and thrust my feet in the air to allow the bulk of the water to drain out.
|It still takes few minutes of cursing and cramping to get them off and then I strip off the outer clothes to wash myself off under a hose. The clothes are left hanging out over the tomato plants until next time. There’s no point in washing them when they’re going to get filthy as soon as I re-enter the pond. |
The pond already looks fuller as the centre stretch of 20m or so is now back to its former width, no longer choked by fallen tree branches. I think I’ve shifted a couple of ton of mud and so the shallow water from the ends of the pond has drained back towards the now deeper sections.
I seemed to have timed the work well as a few days of rain have followed and the outdoor temperatures have dropped to more October-like levels.
Monday, October 31, 2011
Thursday, October 20, 2011
|October continues to be unseasonably warm, my vegetable casks continue to pump out tomatoes, and the kittens grow larger and bolder as they sup on the smaller rodents around the farm. I still find it a little disconcerting to be followed down the driveway or out into the paddocks by a line of cats, almost like an image from Wanda Gág’s classic children’s book Millions of Cats. |
They come to visit us at the villa more often, and even rub themselves against Munson’s legs. The collision between dog and cat body language is fascinating to watch as ever; Munson I think has just decided that these foreign puppies are a bit strange, but they still smell interesting.
The Munsoneers left a cardboard wine carton out on the lawn which the cats often as a warm but shady snoozing spot. I’d borrowed some binoculars and tripod from Brent to do some star-gazing but the apparatus has ended up at our kitchen window, trained on the box. Gustav stalks the kittens remotely to see which one or pair has taken up residence from hour to hour.
When I take Munson out for a walk he likes to check out the box as well – it’s only big enough for his head, so if there’s a kitten in there already they don’t always appreciate Munson’s re-enactment of some Jurassic Park scene where a T-Rex head bursts through a bedroom window.
I’m no longer concerned about Munson being off-leash around the kittens, not least because they happily seek him out on his own turf. They’re quite used to the other dogs Tosca and Legend giving them a bit of a nibble, and deal with any over-enthusiastic play with a warning hiss. On one occasion I even saw Munson remonstrate with Legend for being too rough with them – he’s clearly carrying on his Sydney Park tradition of shepherding pups through difficult times.
|In the photos above Munson has a leash because we’ve got free-range chickens about, and in this case they’re a hopeless distraction when I’m trying to get a nice portrait of him with Griff – but can I get the two of them to look in the same direction at the same time ….? Hopeless!|
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
|Now that Gustav is here, Munson is no longer the principal beneficiary of my bachelor cooking. I’m dusting off my antique culinary skills which have not had a good work out since my first residency in Marrickville in the mid 90s. I haven’t done a roast in over fifteen years – despite kitchen successes in other cuisine, the last lamb that came out of my oven had all the texture of a clay pot and about as much moisture. |
Lamb is quite expensive in France, so I took the chance on a sale platter of cuts sourced from Ireland. Under it all was a lamb shoulder which prompted me to to use my oven for the first time in a year by re-attempting a roast.
I’m not going to boast of any special family recipe – most of the roasts I had as a kid were as dry as the obligatory Yorkshire pudding that accompanied them for Christmas lunch. I simply looked up lamb shoulder online for some clue of what to do with it, and tried the first recipe I found, which was Jamie Oliver’s incredible roasted shoulder of lamb. I didn’t use his “smashed veg” accompaniment, preferring to line the pan with an assortment of cut up root vegetables.
|After four hours of the scent of rosemary permeating the entire hour, I extracted a fantastically moist and tender feast from the oven. The ultimate judgement comes from Munson’s “measuring stick”; I think malactite is the correct name for these. |
Monday, October 17, 2011
My first month in the UK was spent with my friend Stuart and his parents Bert and Shirley. They were very kind to me and Bondi as we explored the north of England while trying to get sorted out with the merry-go-round of car and insurance paperwork. The last time I saw Bert was when we stopped by Shevington in October 2007, heading south from Scotland in the last weeks of our travel odyssey. I remember Bondi waiting patiently for leftovers from Bert’s breakfast, a little ritual played out between them in the kitchen over many visits.
Saturday, October 15, 2011
Occasionally I collect the Munsoneers when the school-bus drops them off at the distant end of the drive way. Otto always insists on sitting in the back with Munson for a tête-a-tête, leaving me to have grown-up talk with his sisters.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Saturday, October 08, 2011
Thirteen day-old chicks were found in the back of the barn, hidden away by Broody the hen. Jean brought them over to meet the neighbours before assigning them to new quarters in Coopacabana. More news over on the Hentertainment Weekly site.
Thursday, October 06, 2011
Last Sunday I reached into my kitchen sink to withdraw a frying pan, and was stung by this wasp as my hand closed over it. The pain was immediate and head-rattling. I don’t think any part of the stinger was left in my palm but it was an extraordinarily effective attack, even if a pyrrhic one.
Wednesday, October 05, 2011
I’ve just finished twenty, yes 20, or for older readers: XX, posts on the two weeks we spent on the Offa’s Dyke trail. Those are all below in the entries for the month of August.
But there’s more to come! We got up to a lot of different stuff in England and France before the month had ended. Then there’s September and we’re still doing things in October; I’m catching up quickly. See you on the comments pages!