Myrtle the Turtle

Last week my friend, Reyna, sent out an email asking if anyone could adopt their Eastern Long-necked turtle, as they are relocating to Geneva for two years and an Australian turtle wouldn’t really do well in a Swiss climate. Since we have a lovely garden pond, I said we would happily take Myrtle the Turtle.
On arrival at Reyna’s house she took me over to her pond to meet Myrtle.
“There she is,” she said, pointing to a clump of plants.
“Where?” I replied.
“There.” And she pointed closer to two tiny nostrils poking through the greenery. She reached a hand in and pulled out Myrtle, who was about the size of a bread and butter plate. She flailed her legs a bit, but didn’t seem too perturbed, reaching out towards Reyna with a neck that was easily as long as the rest of her body, hence the name. Reyna gently replaced her in the pond and she disappeared under the plants, reappearing when Reyna sprinkled some “turtle sticks” on the surface of the water.
“You don’t really need to feed her often,” she told me. “She can go for days. She eats what’s in the pond.”
Reyna’s pond had been purpose built for another resident who washed away after heavy summer rains. It has a timber frame, like a raised garden bed, and a large rock in the middle where Myrtle could sun herself. But the straight timber sides meant Myrtle couldn’t escape. My pond is different. It is set into the ground, surrounded by large stones, more like a natural pond, easy for a turtle to escape from.

Reyna carefully placed Myrtle in a bucket, a little worried that she would hurt her long neck, but since Myrtle did what turtles do and tucked it into her shell, there was no need to worry. Reyna also loaded me up with fish and plants as they would have to drain the pond for safety reasons, since the house would be rented while they were away.

When I arrived home, I carefully took Myrtle out of the bucket and released her into her new home. She immediately swam off and hid under the plants. I have a few fish in my pond and only one plant, so I hadn’t really paid it much attention for a long while, which is a shame, because it’s lovely to have a pond in the garden. Small children are drawn to it like a magnet and love trying to catch the yabbies that creep along, scouring the bottom. Small birds come and bath in it late in the day and dragonflies flit above it in the sunlight. Tiny spiders spin webs in the plants above the water and water-spiders skim across its surface. It’s quite mesmerising to sit and watch the fish gliding through the water. Now I would also have Myrtle to check on each day. Throughout the afternoon I went out to see where she was. She seemed to be luxuriating in her new, larger home, slowly moving about, occasionally poking her nose out of the water. The yabbies poked at her to see what she was and the new fish, her old friends, swam around her as though sharing the excitement of their new surrounds.

The next morning it was raining quite heavily. I couldn’t see Myrtle in the pond but reasoned she may be taking shelter amongst the plants or under the overhanging rocks. But, sadly, there has been no sighting of Myrtle for a week now. She was originally a wild turtle, picked up by Reyna’s family on the side of the road, so I guess that’s where she’s gone: back to the wild.

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How to catch a fox

How to catch a fox indeed!

Last week, looking for a solution, I went to the local rural produce store. This is where I buy my chook food and pig ears for my dog. I recognised the two attendants who looked up as I walked in.

“What can we do for you?” one of them said.
“I have a fox who has taken a liking to my chickens. Do you have any traps?”
They both smiled and gave a wry look.
“We do, but I don’t know that they’d be big enough and foxes are pretty clever.”
“I know,” I replied. It’s the only thing I do know about foxes, apart from the fact that they love chicken.
He reached over to the end of the counter and picked up a business card which he handed to me.
QLD Vermin Control and Wild Game Harvesting
Professional Shooter
“He might be able to help you. That’s all I can suggest unfortunately.”
I thanked him and took the card.

The next day I called the number.
“No worries,” said the professional shooter with a slight drawl. “I’ll come out and have a look.”
He came a couple of days later, late in the afternoon when foxes become active. He brought what he called “lure”: food that foxes like to eat. Sardines and dried liver treats. We walked down into the bush so he could check things out.
“You probably can’t see it, but there’s a track here that the fox has obviously been using,” and indeed once he pointed it out you could see a line through the dried leaves and small trees heading in the direction we’d seen the fox take.
There was a mound of dirt from where we’d planted a tree which had been partially dug out.
“He’s been diggin’ here. Probably a marsupial mouse or rat or somethin’ in there. I’ll put some lure here and see what happens.”
He poked some of the bait into the dirt and then laid two sticks down either side and angled towards each other so they formed a V. He told us that foxes and dogs won’t step over sticks laid like that, but will go around and be effectively funnelled towards the narrow end. If the lure was taken, he’d lay some the next night and the next, and then when the fox was feeling secure, he would lay a foot trap.

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He’d explained to me on the phone that these aren’t the ones with jagged metal jaws, but have rubber edges and are RSPCA approved. When he arrived he opened his car boot and showed them to be. They’ll clamp down hard, but won’t do any damage unless they’re left too long. He also showed me a box of small bullets.
“Once they’re caught,” he explained, “by law I have to shoot them because they’re a grade 2 pest.”
After he lay the lure, he spent a few minutes trying to call the fox out with what he called a fox whistle. It was like an accordion and made a sound like those annoying whistles kids buy at markets and shows, the ones that go right inside their mouths and make everyone start to hate them.
The fox took the lure the first night but not the second.
“That’s ok. We’ll just keep putting it out. Foxes are clever.”
The next time he lay the lures he added a vile-smelling substance made from dogs’ anal glands. Possibly the worst smell in the world, but irresistible to dogs and foxes alike. Maggie lifted up her head and kept sniffing the air, even though she was far from it, up the hill on the verandah. I closed the gates, but when she knew I wasn’t looking she found a way out. She reappeared reeking of that pungent stuff. Boy was she in trouble! I’m sorry to say I hit her and then chained her up: something I never do, but I was so angry and am so desperate to get this fox. Until we do, my chickens cannot be allowed to free-range.
My next door neighbour said he’d seen two foxes together one morning a couple of weeks ago.
“No worries,” said the shooter, “we’ll get both of ’em.”

The Wretched Mr. Fox

What am I going to do? I now have only two hens and Bryan the rooster left. That wretched fox having taken one hen, decided last Thursday that it was time to try his luck again. I had quickly become complacent about it. Why? He was hardly going to stop at one chook, but I can’t keep my chickens locked up all the time. They must be allowed to free-range some of the time, otherwise what’s the point? They’ll be unhealthy if stuck in their pen, with only dirt to peck around in. They need to eat grass and grubs and insects, and lie in the sun, flicking dust through their feathers to get rid of lice and keep themselves clean. Watching the chickens pecking about in the garden and on the lawn is strangely hypnotic and relaxing. If they’re down the hill locked in their pen I can’t see them or hear them.

I had left to drive my youngest son to soccer training and asked my middle son to lock the chooks up before it got dark. As we were driving I got a text message and asked my youngest son to read it:
A fox got one of the chickens
“Which one?” I asked. “Quick text him back.”
“He says he doesn’t know.”
“Well call him and put it on speaker.”
He said he’d gone down to lock them up, but that they weren’t in the coop yet, so he came back up to the house to have a shower. As he was getting out of the shower he heard a comotion. The chickens were squawking and Maggie was barking. He got dressed and ran down to see the fox carrying off a flapping hen with Maggie close on his heels. The other chooks had scattered and he was trying to find them.
He hung up and I drove my youngest to soccer. On the way back, my phone rang again. It was my other son again, breathless, obviously on the move still trying to sort out what was happening. Having taken one chook, the fox returned, but the other chickens had disappeared. He said the fox stood there and just stared at him for a good 30 seconds before Maggie spotted it again and it took off. He then saw it again carrying the original chicken with Maggie chasing it. It headed up onto the road where it dropped the now headless chicken and disappeared. Dan was trying to find the other chickens and when he looked at the road again the headless chicken was gone. He would keep looking for the other chickens. He hung up.
When I got home the first thing I saw was the rooster and Sylvia, my oldest beautiful silver Wyandotte, now 8 and a half years old, blind in one eye, a survivor of that the attack that had blinded her and also a lung infection which I had diligently treated, feeling slightly foolish for giving so much medical attention to a chicken. Her feathers were askew; both looked shaken.
So those two were still alive.
I went inside and turned on the verandah light then walked outside again. There under the light, squashing one of my pot plants on the small glass table was my gold Wyandotte, Gladys Emmanuel. She was terrified and when I picked her up she tried to peck me. I tucked her gently under my arm and spoke softly to her, saying how it must have been terrifying, but it was ok now. She began to coo back at me, like a little child, as though saying, “Yes, it was very scary.”
So it was Doris who was taken, my gold Wyandotte, with blue/grey edges on her feathers. A couple of years ago she was almost killed trying to protect her chick from a hawk and I found her standing in a corner with her chick, dripping large dark drops of blood, with no strength left to fight me when I picked her up. Meghan the vet stitched her up and the staff had fallen in love with her and her chick which stayed with her, and used to jump up onto her back. Doris was patched up, but the chick was killed two days later by a tiny carpet snake, the only thing that could get into the guinea pig hutch I had put them in. We got the snake out but it was too late. Doris tried to keep feeding her dead chick, dropping bits of food next to it and cooing to it, until I finally removed it and put it out in the bush.

We eventually carried the remaining chooks back down to the pen and they’ve been locked in ever since. I can’t let them out now until this fox is dealt with, but how to catch a fox?

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Dead Installations

A few weeks ago, I went along to an exhibition at the GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art) in Brisbane. It was called “Falling Back to Earth”, by Cai Guo-Qiang and consisted of three installations. The first was a large blue pool, surrounded by many different animals, a hundred or more, very life-like, but not real. The water was completely still except that every thirty seconds or so a small drop would fall from the ceiling. That was it. The friend I was with remarked that it gave her an awful feeling, as though in the future, the only way you would see such things was in a museum. I found the thing totally incomprehensible. For me it was what it was: a whole lot of models of animals, very cleverly wrought, around a fake pool. I just didn’t get the point.

But the next installation was downright depressing and just plain stupid. It was a dead tree. That’s it. A dead tree, on its side, roots and all. It had been ripped out of somewhere to make way for something, so the artist had had it dragged into the gallery and put on display as…well, a dead tree, representing…dead trees?

The reason I found this particularly irritating, is that only a few days before, I had seen several trees, exactly like this, whilst paddling down the river. They’d been pulled up in the floods three years ago. They were dead trees, that had been pulled up and displaced by a flood. But now I had paid $15 to come into a gallery and see exactly the same thing with someone trying to convince me that it was somehow more significant than what it was. If there was ever a case of the “emperor’s new clothes”, this had to be it.

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Turns out I have a whole property of installations.
And I thought they were trees.

Illness

Illness is never welcome, but sometimes it can be a blessing.
Yesterday I was struck down with a vomiting bug. Every time I moved my stomach began to cramp and a fresh wave of nausea would grip me. This morning the worst of it is over, but I have no energy and no appetite. So I sit on the verandah with a book, but I keep being distracted by the sounds around me. The heat is gradually building as it did yesterday. The bees are loudly swarming in a tree with small, white flowers and in the few frangipanis. Constant birdcall fills the air, particularly from the bell-birds. These never used to be heard from our house, but if you walked up the road a bit you could hear them calling from the forested gully. Now they seem to be everywhere. They have been a problem in other parts of the country, pushing out other birds and taking over. I hope that isn’t happening here.
As a child I used to love hearing bell-birds and when we drove through areas where they lived, I would wind the car window down so I could hear their clear notes. Now I live with them.

The butcher bird’s penetrating song still rises above all else now and then: the same few notes. They compose a different one each spring.

There are frequent, albeit brief, windows when I can hear only natural sounds–nothing man-made. Strange how the man-made sounds–cars, trucks, planes, earth-movers–suggest destruction.

We were out to dinner on Saturday night. One of our dishes was some red-claw yabbies. As I ate them I thought about where they had come from and imagined them quietly swimming along in whatever body of water they had lived, scouring the bottom for food. I looked around me and wondered if anyone else gave a thought to where the food they were enjoying had come from. All the plants and animals they were eating had once lived in the quiet, slow environment of the natural world. Even if farmed, they moved and grew at their own pace, oblivious of their fate.

Most of us are so disconnected from the natural world that we can’t know the harm we are doing to it, even as the number of hot days increase, the glaciers and polar icecaps melt, bushfires rage and floods devastate. But our disconnection is, I believe, also doing harm to our mental and physical health. Life is too fast for us. We were never designed to run from one thing to the next like we do. Even those who appear to cope fine with the fast pace of life, even thrive on it; doesn’t it catch up with them eventually?

Our dam is almost dry and our tank is getting low. If we had to grow our own food, we would be in serious trouble. But we don’t. We can go to the shop. That’s where our food comes from. We can pretend we don’t rely on the natural world.

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Blind Faith

On the weekend we bought ore of these new-fangled things:

But since our grass looks like this:

…we won’t need to use it for a while.

Bushfires threaten today. It’s going to be very hot and the wind is predicted to get up. The place is tinder dry and we only need one dickhead to chuck a cigarette butt out their car window, or one of the local, bored kids to take it into their head to deliberately light a fire and we’ll have to get busy and decide whether to go or stay. I’d rather pretend it’ll never happen here and concentrate on growing more things.

So far this:

…has become this…

…and this…

…has become this…

…and other things are just growing themselves…

The chickens continue to supply us with eggs, all except Esme. Esme is now  beyond the age of laying, being a grand 7 years of age and grows more and more recalcitrant. She has always free-ranged whether locked up or not; she always finds a way out and wanders around the property dust-bathing herself on the driveway and hunkering down under the bushes in the garden in the heat of the day. But, like a rebellious teenager, she has started staying out all night! She did this once when my husband was away adventuring in the Himalayas. She must have felt particularly determined to challenge the boundaries with one parent away. On finding her missing from the line up on the roost that night, I despaired that she had finally been taken by an evil goanna. But she turned up in the coop next morning as thought nothing had happened. Phew!

But last night my husband went to lock them up and came up reporting that Esme was once again missing. After dinner I took my torch and Maggie and I went searching for her in the dark bush. There was no sign of her except for a few dark feathers at the entrance to the coop. Again, I thought her luck must have finally run out. She had been behaving strangely all day, hanging around and making weird noises at me. Maybe she was trying to tell me something?

But I went down this morning and there she was standing outside the coop preening herself! She looked at us as though, “What?” and kept on preening her feathers like a conceited teenager. She then walked to the gate as though insolently demanding I open it for her–which I did–and hurried in and into the shed for some breakfast. When I went down later with the scraps she was nowhere to be found again. I called her but she didn’t come. I went for a walk around the property but can’t find her anywhere. The weather is warming up and the reptiles will be on the move, but I just have to assume that Esme will continue to elude them. And if a bushfire comes, no doubt she’ll find somewhere safe.

Drastic Measures

On the weekend I went to a meeting about food security. The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance are holding kitchen table meetings around the country to gather peoples opinions and concerns about how we want our food to be produced and supplied. Basicly, if we rely on imports and agribusiness to feed us, how can we guarantee quality and security of our food supply?

Boring! But unfortunately, an issue we need to think about and act on if we want to keep eating. For example, the guru from the ASFA told us that in the event of some catastrophic event we would only have 50 days of grain supply left. I’m not sure this means for the world or just Australia; I was too focused on whether I should eat one of our hosts scones with strawberry jam or a raw bean, and on how sweet that bird is that keeps bathing in the small bird bath.

This puts me under considerable pressure to get growing if I’m to take up the slack if and when said catastrophe occurs. The fact that it now hasn’t rained forever is making things a little difficult. Our dam is but a muddy puddle and we’ve already bought one load of water for our tank at a cost of $125 for 10,000 litres (a quarter of a tank).

We did discuss people growing more of their own food and bartering their excess. I’ve been coveting my friend’s vege garden for some time now. She grows everything! Even her own lentils. She even bought a cow recently, and has been endeavouring to squeeze milk out of the beast with mixed success. Since cows can’t eat gum trees, I can’t have a cow, goat, whale or any other lactating beast. If I hadn’t speyed the dog to stop my vet surgeon Dad nagging me, I could have got her pregnant and milked her. Then she would at least be of some use.

Would you drink milk from this dog?

Once I’ve got a useful amount of anything coming out of my garden I plan to  enter into a bartering system with my neighbour and any others that might be interested.

I asked the guru at our meeting whether it would be feasible to grow your own wheat or other grain. It’s all very well to grow beans and carrots, but most of what we eat is grain (unless you’re one of these city-dwelling, no-carbs freaks). He said an acre of land would yield about 5 tons of wheat. I’m pretty sure we don’t need that much. Our budget doesn’t run to a combine harvester and storage could become a problem. Extrapolating (unnecessarily long word) from this, I reckon I can grow our own wheat supply in the back yard. Apparently, it’s even possible to grow what is called dry land rice. I can feel my back aching already. And I’ll have to buy one of those pointy, Vietnamese hats.