The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 22nd of August 2009.
Sunday the 23rd

Stephan and I drove out to the middle of the farm in the ute - something we could never have done in previous winters, before the application of the gravel to the tracks last summer!

Taurikura Irene 698

I walked quietly out to the cows and spent some time observing them. This is Irene, with a belly which looks very much like it has a live occupant, then confirmed by some kicking within, as I held my hand against her side. I am delighted, after last year's disappointment after her calf died in early pregnancy.

367's neck

367's neck is now completely healed.

While I stood beside her, I could see the movement of some part of her calf along her right side. A lump travelled several inches along the curve of her belly.

The right side of a cow is where calf movement can often be seen or felt. In a thin-skinned, no-fat cow like this one, I regularly see and feel bits of calf in the last weeks of pregnancy.

Monday the 24th

Jill came up to stay with us for a few days, today. Stephan spent all day tramping around in a block of bush over at Honeymoon Valley, on the one major Kiwi Foundation trapping run which has had its funding restored.

Tuesday the 25th

I decided it would be prudent to return to my doctor to have my ear checked. It's still crackling and I can't hear much on that side. He has referred me to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist in Whangārei, whom I can't see for another two weeks. I'm now on a second course of antibiotics. Horrible, marvellous medicine. It's the killing of all the useful bacteria I dislike the most, and the reason I stay away from antibiotics as much as possible. Stephan and I were talking about his father, Patrick's, recollections of the discovery of penicillin and the enormous change that brought to animal treatment in his day; suddenly all it took was an injection to restore health where infection had reigned. We ought not to forget how much we rely upon such medicines and their efficacy.

Wednesday the 26th

Today we travelled to Matauri Bay, to the Ngapuhi Marae, for the Tangi (funeral) of May, wife of my Uncle Peter. May was a vibrant and lovely woman, a few years older than I, who died after a number of years with breast cancer. May and Peter's children, Christine and Matthew have both spent time with us occasionally during the last few years.

Matauri Bay

On our arrival we waited in the covered gateway with Peter and Matthew, and May's sister Jenny, who all came out to stand with us, until we were formally called on to the Marae and then entered the Wharenui, where May lay, surrounded by her family. We were welcomed with enormous generosity, respect and honour. One of May's Aunties sat with us during our welcome and gently coached Stephan on what he needed to say in response (women do not speak during the formal proceedings on some Marae). Stephan is generally uncomfortable in such situations, but when necessity called, he responded well. On our hour and a half journey from home I'd taught Stephan and Jill a Waiata (song) I know, knowing that whomever spoke on our behalf would require a song to follow.

It is natural to be uncomfortable to some degree in unfamiliar territory and for many visitors to Marae, there is the barrier of language, but the intent of the hosts is always respectful and enormously generous. For some people the customs of welcome and response, respect to be paid to forebears, the place, the house, the elders and so on may seem ponderous, but I often think Pākehā ceremony lacks much in comparison.

Our hosts explained that while it was their custom not to use English on their Marae, they wanted to ensure that their Pākehā guests and their own younger city-based relatives, many of whom are not fluent in te reo, would feel comfortable and understand the proceedings, so there were several breaks into English as speakers translated some of what was being said.

May's burial in the Urupa in the grounds of the small church at the bottom of the hill, was the first I've been to during my adult life which felt right. Over the last few years I have attended a few (Pākehā) funerals of people who have been buried and in every case the funeral directors have sanitised the whole experience by the addition of fake green grass material, draping it even into the hole in the ground, so nobody could see any bare earth. But in my view there is something entirely wholesome in family members themselves doing the final acts of grave-digging and later lowering their kin into the ground, without backing off to a safe distance and delegating the tasks to some paid contractor. Presumably funeral directors have taken over many of those roles because people don't quite know how to go about what is necessary, and it has become customary not to be much involved; but I wish it were possible for more facilitation than direction, so that the bereaved had the clear opportunity, where they chose it, to take a more active part in those rituals which facilitate acceptance and help relieve some of the intensity of the grief which accompanies the deaths of those they love.

After the burial we all returned to the Marae and were called again into the Wharenui, where the Tangi was brought to a close. Then it was time for food, and we were treated to the most fantastic meal, including far more seafood than we could eat! I have never seen such enormous mussels and Stephan made sure he experienced those in full. I particularly enjoy the marinated raw fish which is customarily served, and on this occasion I didn't have to restrict my appetite for it at all.

Rest peacefully, May.

We were home in time for me to go for a walk and check on the heifers away out in the middle back paddock. Spring is so early this year that the Clematis is beginning to flower - I took a photo but it was nearly dark and it would only provide evidence, rather than add beauty to this page.

Thursday the 27th

I went to move the cows this afternoon from the Back Barn paddock. Irene was sitting near the gate and remained on the ground until all the others appeared, and when she got to her feet I was aware of her disinclination to move very far. She seems to have hurt her left front leg again - she had some sort of injury, presumably a joint strain, towards the end of the mating period in the summer, which made lying down really difficult, since she couldn't bend her leg, and getting up must have been a struggle, she being such a large, heavy cow. She's able to bend it at present, but she's limping noticeably.

I was shifting the cows to put them up into the rather steep Pines and PW, so I left Irene to walk along the lane at her own speed behind me, and at the gate pushed all the others into the paddock and left Irene, with Demelza for company, in the lane, where there's enough grass to eat and access to the stream in two places. They can graze on the flat for a couple of days and then I'll bring Irene onto the flats for the rest of her pregnancy.

On my way home the bike's front wheel went into a deep rut, my foot got caught in a partially dry hard muddy ridge to my side and I and the bike fell over. I wasn't moving forward very quickly by the time everything went wrong, so other than banging my elbow and getting wet and muddy and very cross, I was fine. There's cellphone coverage on that bit of the track, so I phoned Stephan to come and pick the bike up - I can do it if I have to, but not safely for my back and Stephan's much bigger and stronger than I.

When everything was restored to order and all the animals provisioned as necessary, we drove to Whangārei for the night to stay with Jill.

Friday the 28th

We did the things we needed to in Whangārei, and then we came home again. The trip takes exactly two hours - one hour to Ohaeawai from either direction. The last hour coming north is generally quite pleasant, because there's rarely much traffic.