23 febbraio 2009

The constant sound

The constant sound of trickling water has been today’s acoustic effect as the snow finally melts away, sloooowly. Not only is it still light(ish) at 6.00pm but it’s also still above freezing, both facts that perk me up considerably. Especially if I pretend I haven’t seen the weather forecast for the rest of the week.

It was so nice and almost-balmy (well, ok, I was still wearing three pairs of socks and my attractive woolly hat) today that I let the ducks out for the first time since the fox catastrophe. The injured female is still bent over and hunched but she’s eating and definitely on the mend; the male is fine. But they’re both still incredibly nervous. They tiptoed out of the pen and wandered about looking somewhat dazed for a few minutes, then seemed to remember what a duck’s life is all about, and went off grubbing in the mud, the female hanging close to the male and making little chirrupping noises which sounded very much like duck joy. When I looked for them ten minutes later, out of the kitchen window, they’d voyaged down to the pond and were splashing about in it like crazy, having a brilliant time. The female spent ages washing and preening – ever since the attack she has been dirty and muddy and rather motheaten-looking because she hasn’t been able to keep herself properly clean. I could see that in the pond today she was just in duck heaven.

When I went to fetch them to put them away she was a different creature – clean and sparkly and white – and she stretched her wings out wide and flapped them (one still trailing somewhat) and then fluffed up all her feathers and shook them. Who can say if a duck’s happy or not, really, but this is an amazing recovery.

15 febbraio 2009

Gorgeous sunny crispy day

Gorgeous sunny crispy day yesterday, though with 10cm snow on the ground and –8º overnight. I took Cass out on the long rein into the big field to frolic and she frisked about like crazy, kicking up her heels and jumping about. Alessio went down on his hands and knees and started crawling along in the snow and Cass thought that was totally bizarre, stared at him with her eyes out on stalks and her nostrils flared, and then turned round and shot away, trampling on my foot in the process. I kept hold of her and got her calmed down, but I can see my spook-busting programme needs a teeny bit more work.

Latest disaster is our boiler has broken down, which we’re especially pleased about as not only is it a weekend, but it’s one of the coldest weekends of the winter so far. The Archimedes screw that delivers the fuel from the hopper to the firebed has broken in some way, so it’s a major problem. (Our boiler is a huge industrial-looking beast that lives in an external room, and runs on sansa, which is the dry, granular residue left over from crushing olives for oil – a waste-product eco-fuel.) John is trying to take apart the inner workings but it’s very heavy work and even once it’s all opened up I can’t imagine he’ll be able to fix it himself. It’ll need a fabbro (metalworker), I guess, and some bespoke steelwork with a hefty price-tag.

So we have no hot water or central heating and it’s very cold today (it’s 0º outside right now, midday). Luckily we planned for all eventualities when furnishing this house, so we have our fantastic woodburning stove now going full pelt. The living room, at least, is warm and toasty, and we have pans of water on it so that we have hot water whenever we need it for washing and so on. Later we’re going to try starting the boiler itself, as it’s meant to be able to run on wood, with a manual rather than automatic feed. We’ve never tried this but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work, and that would give us hot water for showers and radiators for as long as we could be bothered to keep the fire in the boiler stoked.

Life in the wilds sometimes feels harder than it should be.

9 febbraio 2009

Cass shows off this season’s

Cass shows off this season’s must-have accessory, a stylish coat of dried mud.

Yesterday I spent half an hour of very hard work brushing it off her, took her out for a walk and as soon as she hit the grass – down she went. She rolled five times during an hour’s wander, and by the end of it looked as muddy as she had before I brushed her. Only wetter. She frisked about like crazy on the grass too – you could see she hadn’t been out for such a long time. I took her out again today but didn’t bother brushing her first (I’m not stupid), and she was a lot calmer, I even got her trotting circles in the yard. Yay!

Duck is still sad, with her head down, though she's drinking and maybe eating and seems a lot stronger – she walks about (well, staggers really) and stretches her poor damaged wings. But we think she might never be able to lift her head properly, so this will pose a dilemma – she wouldn’t be able to preen and it can’t be very comfortable either – and I don't know if it would be right to keep her like that. She doesn’t seem to be in active pain any more so we’ll continue to see how she goes over the next few days. Maybe as she gets stronger she’ll lift her head. Maybe not.

6 febbraio 2009

Lovely dawn sky

Lovely dawn sky this morning, though by the time I’d run inside for my camera the most intense colours had faded. Almost makes it worth getting up before first light. (Almost.)

Yesterday evening I realized that the duck’s beak seemed to be pasted closed by gunk and dried blood, and I wondered if she was even able to drink, let alone eat. So we dipped it in warm salt water and cleaned it up, and that did seem to make a difference. When I gave her back the fresh water she took some sips, and then I put some food in front of her and she truffled into that in quite a starving manner. So that’s a good sign. Her head is still bowed right down though, in a really unnatural and disconcerting way. The male ate and drank yesterday and stretched his wings and tried to flap them, so you can see that although he’s still stiff and achey, he’s on the mend.

I went to the cinema last night (Revolutionary Road: a disappointment), and driving home late, I turned the radio on and caught a just-so-Italian discussion on how to make the perfect pesto.

You assemble your ingredients. Fresh basil. Two cheeses: Parmesan and seasoned pecorino, adjusting the relative quantities depending on how piccante you want your pesto to be. Garlic, which you mash slightly with the back of a spoon. Pine nuts. Oil (extra-virgin olive). Coarse sea salt. And a spoonful or two of the pasta cooking water, for starch.

Your mortar is of course made of marble, and your pestle of olive wood. And you simply mix everything together, crushing and mashing and pounding as required, until you have your pesto.

The two presenters spent a good ten minutes on this, talking with not only real enthusiasm but also deep-seated knowledge (where the best pine nuts come from, what kind of salt), even though I don’t think they were professional foodies. I couldn’t imagine such a discussion taking place on the radio in England, not without some degree of pretension.

Made me want to go and sow my basil seeds.

4 febbraio 2009

It’s 5.30 and I’ve just come in

It’s 5.30 and I’ve just come in from feeding the animals – and it's still light outside. What a great feeling that is. The day has been warm with lots of heavy rain showers and the ground is waterlogged, with all the trees dripping, but this evening the sky is somewhat clearer and maybe it’ll be nice tomorrow. The poor horse is soaking wet and covered in mud but she seems happy enough, apart from being bored because I haven’t taken her out for days.

The two remaining ducks are still hanging in there. The male will be fine, I think – he spent yesterday outside (in the run) and today going in and out of the duckhouse, and he’s been drinking and preening and trying to stretch his wings, all of which must be good signs, though he hasn’t eaten anything. The female is still alive but is just sitting in the duckhouse in not very good shape. Her neck droops over so that her beak is pointing downwards and almost touches the ground; I think the fox must have damaged some muscles or tendons in the neck, or maybe she’s just too tired to hold her head up. I think she’s drunk a little water. I’d have thought that if she were going to die, she’d have died by now; yesterday, I saw her keel over on to her side and just lie there, which is really bizarre for a duck and I was certain she was dying, but she didn’t and next time I checked on her she was upright again. So we just keep on waiting.

2 febbraio 2009

I wandered down

I wandered down the slope at 7.30 this morning to feed the animals, plate of food-scraps in hand, with the vague sensation that something was wrong but unable to pin it down. As I rounded the corner of the house all became clear. The ducks were silent – normally in the morning they hear me coming and start quacking and burbling excitedly – silence is sinister, and that’s what had stirred the feeling of unease in me.

It was a sight that made my blood run cold and I just stood there for several seconds taking it in. Something had got at the ducks. The roof of the pen had been knocked off and inwards. One of the white ducks, covered in a slick of mud, stood against the fence, her head looking upwards but her eyes blank. The male duck was huddled in a corner. The dark-feathered female was hunched in the middle of the run. They were all still, totally still, with an absolute lack of movement that was frightening. I thought they must all be dead – but the white one was standing up, so how could it be dead? As I moved slowly closer they started to move, the male scrambled in slow motion into the duckhouse, and the white one, too, managed to turn and stagger after him. The dark one was bowed over and I couldn’t see her head, but then she slowly lifted it out from beneath her, and then just as effortfully let it droop back onto the ground between her legs. The other white duck was missing; there was blood in patches on the ground and a few scattered white feathers.

I fetched John and he carried the injured duck away to put it out of its misery. We inspected the remaining two, and the white one had clearly been gripped in the fox’s jaws from behind, her shoulders were bitten and bloody and when we moved her blood dripped out of her beak. But we can’t tell how bad her internal injuries are and it’s possible she’ll survive. The male looks traumatized but physically ok. We’ve left them in the duckhouse to see whether the female gets better or worse during the day, and later we’ll decide whether we need to put her out of her suffering too. We moved the pen and I hosed down the mud and blood. The smell was sickening and is still in my nostrils.

I know they’re just ducks. And this was just a fox getting some ducks. How much more classic a country-life event can you have? But something about the aftermath of that unmalicious violence – the weird stillness of the ducks, the clarity of their trauma, the way the injured one bowed her head and shivered in fits – was really shocking. I’m not a sentimental person but this is horrible.