28 dicembre 2008

After the rain

After the rain we had some days of beautiful, crisp, clear, bright, cold weather, which could almost make me like winter, or at least make it tolerable. The horse and I went out for some nice wanders and did some dreaming in the sun.

Sadly we lost another duck, right in the middle of the day, to a mystery predator – but we’re not ruling out Maxim. We have four ducks now, of which one is a male, and the other three are all laying, though not all on the same day. Generally we’re getting two or three eggs a day, sometimes only one. We have an egg glut.

On Boxing Day it started to snow and has been snowing intermittently ever since – not very hard, so we’re not snowed in, but it’s not very pleasant out there. The vicious northeast wind that howled round the house for the first day has stopped, at least, but it’s still very cold. The ducks don’t seem to mind it and they hang out round the pond near the veg patch – grubbing around in the mud on the edge but for some reason failing to actually get in the water. It’s unbelievably frustrating to watch them. Give them a plastic washing-up bowl full of water and they leap in and sit there; give them a pond and it freaks them out. What is the matter with ducks?

12 dicembre 2008

For two whole days

For two whole days it has been raining solidly, and the world is wet. The valley is a lake. Actual streams are flowing across the field below the veg patch where the sheep were grazing a few weeks ago. The pond has overflowed and the outflow from it has formed another stream running down the gully at the edge of the field. Narrow, fast-flowing torrents are everywhere. Water is everywhere. Within a few minutes of being outside I’m soaked, water runs down my supposedly waterproof trousers into my boots and water drips off my hood and into my eyes and down my neck inside my scarf. The air has turned to water, you breathe in water. The sound of water is everywhere too, the hiss of the rain coming down, the gurgle of the streams that have sprung up, the squelch and splash of my footsteps.

The horse is standing miserably in her field, getting wet. She’s been standing miserably in her field getting wet for 36 hours and she’s very cold now. At lunchtime when I took her hay down she was shivering, which made me worry. Now I take her hay right down and put it in her shelter, which she never goes in because it’s scary; but now this seems ridiculous. She’s freezing to death. I slog back up from the shelter (why did we build it halfway down the field?) and get the piece of rope that’s draped by the gate. Cassie sidles away from me warily but I get the rope round her neck and, surprisingly, she allows herself to be led down the field towards the shelter. We slip and slide together (steep slope) and I hold on to her mane and her neck to stop myself falling over – if she decided to take off now I’d be face down in the mud. But she’s ok and I lead her straight into the shelter, where she promptly wheels around and starts to get agitated. I point out the pile of hay. Mmm, hay, she goes, and starts to munch it, jumping only occasionally when something in the woods startles her. This is really good, actually, as normally she hates her shelter and won’t stand in it at all without getting all neurotic. Now she lets me rub her down with some handfuls of old straw and she does seem calmer.

I go up through the Somme-like field to deal with the rest of the animals. The ducks are in duck heaven and don’t want to go into their pen; I leave them rootling around ecstatically in the puddles. The cats are very unhappy indeed. The dogs come out from their hideaway and start bouncing all over the place. I feed them, then go back to the field to take Cass her feed and a whole load more hay. She’s still standing in her shelter, out of the rain. Who knows if she’ll be brave enough to stay there all night?

3 dicembre 2008

Last night down in the field

Last night down in the field just after sunset I saw the current conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, together with the new moon, in the west. Not sure it really comes out well in the photo but it was very beautiful (you can just see Jupiter above Venus to the right, if you squint; well, trust me, it's there!). If we get a clear night I’ll take the telescope out and try to see Jupiter’s moons – the four Galilean moons should be visible. I’ve never seen them and Jupiter is currently so easy to find that it seems silly not to try, even though the telescope still hasn’t been properly aligned. Andromeda is right overhead at the moment so Alessio and I are going to look for the Andromeda Galaxy with binoculars – saw it last summer but the winter skies are better, less hazy. So here’s hoping the cloud clears.

So, weeks have gone by since I last posted and winter is here now. There’s snow on the mountains; down here in the foothills we’ve had a lot of rain, and the horse’s field is a swamp of mud. She loves rolling in it and is back to her winter Mudpuppy incarnation.

The hornets’ nest has been struck by tragedy: recent high winds have damaged it, I think beyond repair. The beautiful sculpted-paper outside was blown off in bits and now the internal cells (like honeycomb) are exposed and gradually being blown away. The hornets themselves seem to have disappeared. This solves our hornet problem, of course, but it’s hard not to feel sad for them. All that work and effort. Life is tough in the jungle!

The veg patch is doing okay but not loving the sub-zero temperatures we had last week (minus 4.5 one night) nor the gales – the cime di rapa (turnip tops) are all bent over and soggy. We sowed broad beans, onions and garlic at the beginning of November (traditionally round here they sow broad beans around the Day of the Dead and All Saints, Oct 31st and Nov 1st) so hopefully those will all just happily while away the winter doing whatever it is they do under the earth and then burst through next spring. The savoy cabbages are thriving, which is good I suppose, though I can’t help viewing all twenty of them with some trepidation. It’s a lot of cabbage.