20 settembre 2011

I found a tortoise

I found a tortoise whilst out riding the other day. The tortoise was just wandering across the field, headed for the woods. I took it home and phoned the vet to ask about tortoise-keeping, who reacted as if it was a normal occurrence to find a tortoise in the fields, and told me tortoise-keeping was easy, just don't feed it too much lettuce. We left it overnight in the duck house and spent half the next, very hot, day constructing it a state-of-the-art compound with a low wall built of rocks. Apparently tortoises can dig, so we had to bury the base of the rocks so that it couldn't dig its way out. This was hard labour, and I have to admit it was principally carried out by John. I personally made the tortoise a stylish shelter out of an upturned plastic fruit crate though. When we put the tortoise in its new home, it crawled under the shelter and started digging. Feeling smug — no way out there, matey! — I left it some lettuce and various other tempting morsels, and turned to that day's other main project...

... the chickens. The hen house is finally ready and we now have three gorgeous black, ginger-speckled hens. They seem remarkably well adjusted compared to the rest of our animals and, after spending their first day inside the hen house (perhaps just because it's so nice), they now come out and peck around in the run in a satisfyingly chicken-like way. The run is actually the duck run, and we weren't sure how the ducks would react, but in fact they all managed to co-exist quite happily together the first night, so I was confident that all would be well. My main worry remained the tortoise, who didn't want to eat anything but lettuce and alternated between digging in the far corner of its shelter and then sitting there half-buried and catatonic for hours, or roaming round its walled compound like a caged tiger, only slower. But then...

... the ducks failed to come home the second night, and nor did they show up the following morning. We decided that either a fox had got them or they had run away, believing we were replacing them with updated fowl. I felt very sad and guilty, though who'd have thought ducks were capable of such sensitivity? Anyway, yesterday morning the ducks turned up again — on the pond, hidden among the bulrushes. The male came up from the pond to get his feed and basically started behaving normally — and living with the hens — while the female remained in the middle of the pond and refused to come off, even when we brandished a broom at her. That was yesterday. She's still there today. The male calls to her and she replies: but she's not coming off that pond. Isn't she hungry? She's been floating there for at least 24 hours and maybe a lot more. At least she's safe from the fox. Meanwhile...

... the tortoise has escaped. Who knew tortoises were so good at rock-climbing? Inscrutable though it was, it didn't seem happy in captivity and I only hope that this time it makes it all the way to the far side of the field and into the woods, where it can hibernate in peace.


14 settembre 2011

The Canadair flew over

The Canadair flew over four times yesterday afternoon, four times the day before, carrying the huge tanks of water that it would empty out above Fiuminata, in the hills to the west of us, to try to quench the wildfire started by an arsonist. The helicopter was getting the water from the lake at Fiastra, where on Sunday we whiled away the afternoon in the hottest of hot sun; fire and panic far from our minds. On each run it flew low over our house, so low that you looked up and wanted to wave to the pilot, before realizing how stupid an impulse that was, and, squinting against the sun, watched it clatter into the distance leaving behind the renewed silence of the day and a feeling of unfocused agitation. 

I haven't written my blog for ages, so a summary (summery?) will have to do to bring us up to date. The summer was up and down until July, downright cold with rain for ten days or so then, and since has been hot. Heatwave hot. Two months with temperatures in the 30s and no rain have left the countryside crisped-up and gasping. We managed to keep the veg patch watered with a drip-feed system, and some of the harvest has been good – tomatoes, beans of various types, cucumbers; but the courgettes and autumn squashes were destroyed right at the beginning of the summer by marauding porcupines, and what remained was severely damaged by an enormous hailstorm in July. So this has been our first summer without being courgetted to death, which is actually a bit sad. Two big butternut squashes sit down there now, ripening, and will be ready to pick in just a few days...terrifying to think what destruction a porcupine or a baby wild boar can wreak in just one hour overnight...I don't know how long I can hold out in the battle of nerves and may end up picking them tomorrow. 

The indian summer has been gorgeous despite the parching. Extra days at the beach and the lake are like a gift. And at this time of year the nights are cool and you can sleep. The mornings are cool to cold and going out at 7am to feed the critters I shiver a little, but I'm still only in a t-shirt and that's pretty amazing for the middle of September. On Monday the forecast is for the weather to break definitively and drop 10 degrees, which will be the start of autumn and, however correct for the time of year, will send me into an immediate slough of despond. All of the winter stretches ahead, and the fact that autumn precedes it, with its mists and mellow fruitfulness, is no consolation.