It’s two months since I wrote a blog about the drought called Summer days and thirsty hedgehogs, and since that time we have had no rain.
The country is split between those who live in towns- and so many NZ towns and cities are on the coast – and those who live in the country. The townies, as country dwellers call them, are loving every moment of the long hot summer, revelling in long days at the beach, splashing in swimming pools, lolling around in their gardens, and sitting outside at cafes and restaurants enjoying leisurely meals in the soft twilit evenings.
Families take off at weekends with their tents and boats and kayaks for old fashioned summer camping days by the sea, in the certain knowledge that there will be no rain. At the same time country folk are measuring how many inches of water are left in their water-tanks, or joining the two or three week long queues to have water delivered. I see trees and hedges dying, and my heart aches.
Farmers are selling their stock since they can’t afford to feed them, for there is no growth in the dry brown paddocks: drying off their milking herds, and worrying about hay for the winter. Gardeners like me, are carting buckets of water from their baths to moisten around trees, watering roses and hydrangeas and salvias all struggling to stay alive in the baking heat, and trying to coax dahlias and Japanese anenomes, usually the splendour of the garden at this time of year, to open their stunted blossoms.
I fill the bowls of water around the garden regularly throughout the day, and anyone foolish enough to knock on my door with census papers, Jehovah’s Witness leaflets, or to fix the faulty electric plug for me, all get their ears bashed to put out water for birds and thirsty creatures. I’ve rung the local rag, and got my daughter to Twitter, and hope the SPCA will remember my message about ringing radio stations to remind their listeners.
But one person cannot defeat climate change! This is our third drought in four years, and in the worst one four years ago, we lost so many birds and creatures. The native pigeon population was decimated, as young birds had no water, and people talked of seeing pigeons drop from the sky, dead from de-hydration. The kiwis who dig their long sharp beaks into the ground for bugs and worms starved because the ground was so hard they couldn’t break into it, and when they did, the worms and other food had retreated deep down to damper layers of soil.
This year, another native bird, the kokako, is not breeding at all – for fascinating reasons – the females can see that there are none of the berries on the rimu trees which they normally eat, and are therefore refusing to mate, knowing there’s no sustenance for their offspring. And hedgehogs are dying of thirst.
I’m thinking I’m going to have to start feeding the birds again. I used to feed the handful of sparrows and a chaffinch couple who lived around here – under a tree a little way from the house, and where I could see from the sitting room window.I also fed the dozen or so mynahs, a little way down from the tree so they wouldn’t frighten off the smaller birds. Moist wholemeal bread for the mynahs, wheat and birdseed, and when I ran out, porridge flakes for the others. They loved it all. They told their friends. Within a couple of weeks I had at least a hundred sparrows, four or five doves, some itinerant blackbirds, chaffinches and an occasional thrush.
They had also worked out from whence this largesse came . They waited in the plum tree outside the kitchen window and watched me until I came out with their breakfast. And for a couple of hours they sat and barracked me from the plum tree and the garage roof in the afternoon, until I sallied forth with afternoon tea – theirs.
A great whoosh of wings accompanied me to the tree. Then I had to make sure that the neighbour’s ancient lonely dog was not hovering in hope of a dog biscuit. If she was, I had to return with the bird food, and dig out a biscuit and walk her down the road with it, away from the bird food which she would have gobbled up. Dog distracted, back to the birds.
If I was out, they would be waiting for me at the bottom of the road. They recognised my white car, and swooped from telegraph pole to telegraph pole all the way down the road with the car. They’d then hover round the garage yelling “she’s back, she’s back” till I came out. If I went for a walk, they’d fly down the road with me, and wait on the corner.
Finally the worm turned. There were so many birds I couldn’t keep up with them, and was buying a large sack of wheat from the farmers shop each week, as well as extra bread for the big greedy mynahs – money I could ill-afford. The garden was becoming white with droppings, and I was back to the chaos of when I’d had a bird table. The sparrows could probably have made a pot of tea themselves, they’d watched me so intently through the kitchen window for so long.
A short holiday in Melbourne solved the problem. They gave up waiting. I felt guilty but relieved. They didn’t need the food out here in the country. It was just my hobby which had got out of hand. But now, with a hearty respect for the intelligence of bird brains, I think I’m going to have to soften my heart and help them out in this emergency.
That heart sinks at the thought of being bullied by them all again. I’ve done a lot of inner work over the years about letting go of being victim, and preserving myself from being bullied any more, but I’m not sure I can handle being bullied by the birds. It may be a step too far for my fragile self esteem, and feeding the birds may be my last big challenge!
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
We had some lovely summer pears from a neighbour which cried out to be transformed into pear and almond tart. I used the wonderful recipe for pastry which doesn’t involve rubbing the flour into the butter. Instead I melt and cool the butter and just stir it into the other ingredients. The resulting dough doesn’t need rolling, but is just pressed gently into a shallow greased tart dish. It doesn’t need pricking or weighting. Just pre-cook for ten minutes in a moderate oven. You then add the frangipane and the sliced pears and cook for three quarters of an hour or more until the frangipane is just firm.
The pastry takes 125 gm butter, melted and cooled, a generous 100 gms of sugar, pinch of salt, half a teasp each of almond essence, and vanilla essence, two generous tablesp of ground almonds and 180 gms of flour. I love frangipane, and will give the recipe in the next post. It’s the perfect base for pears, plums, apricots, peaches, and I love the sound of the word… it sounds…fragrant!
Food for Thought
An old pond - a frog tumbles in - the splash of water
One of the most famous haiku by the most famous haiku master, Matsuo Basha 1644 -1694 He spent much of his life wandering through Japan, like the medieval troubadours and minnesingers of Europe, three hundred years earlier.