Tomorrow is Stella's eighth birthday and this year she decided she'd like to have it here. Jude arrived with her three children plus three of Stella's friends and later in the day the father of some of them arrived with two more.
They were Stella, Matariki and Michael, Stella's two little brothers Jasper and Louie, Georgia and Mahina, Tihema (older brother of Mahina and Matariki) and their dad, Michael. Michael (the senior one) brought a tent in which he and Tihema slept outside, and the others all camped down on the floor in the spare room.
While the children all went to watch Stephan milking Imagen, my life of cow-watching carried on as usual.
Yearling heifer 606 came on heat (I inseminated her three weeks ago) and so I went and got the bull, who was standing around near a gate sniffing the breeze, and was quite willing to come down the lane and more closely inspect the source of that enticing smell. I put him in a convenient paddock and then got the heifer to join him and they spent some hours turning circles around each other, and presumably were at some time more closely engaged.
The Birthday was spent in differing ways by us all. For the children there was much swimming, some present giving, and then more swimming. Jude spent some of her time decorating the cake. Stephan and I snuck off up the paddock, trying to look as if we were going to do some serious farming, then ducked into the trees with a bag of Treasure Hunt bits and pieces, which we stashed in the places we'd planned for them.
When everything was ready, we went back and suggested to the children that if we were going to see the glow-worms in the dark that evening, we'd better go now, during the daylight, to make sure we knew the pathway to see them. As they walked into the trees down by the river, Jasper spotted the corner of a small gold treasure chest buried in the mossy ground...
Inside were bags I'd made for everyone to collect things along the way, a treasure map with the obligatory frayed and singed edges, a small key, instructions about everyone needing to stay together for fear of being eaten by large scary things with teeth, and their first clue. And so began the Great Treasure Hunt!
We sent them to a stack of fence posts (giant toothpicks), the best blackberries, a trough (in which there were submerged cold drinks for everyone) and then they had to follow a trail of pebbles, to the edge of the Big Dark Forest.
They had to draw protective swirls on their cheeks with tattoo pens (and we could see who'd properly smeared themselves with sunscreen so the pen wouldn't work and they had to draw on their tummies instead) so that monsters, huge and violent, wouldn't eat them as they travelled through the forest.
They made their way through the trees, looking for sparkling, tinkling bells, until they discovered a clue about a shipwreck, which led them to the old boat.
It took them ages to find the small cat figurine perched in a tree, a survivor from the wreck, the owl having flown away...
After finding the next clue under a trap cover (we'd considered the excitement of leaving the trap set, but decided against it) they went looking for a tiny bit of silver, attached to the end of a rope (which they spotted first) which held a locked box high up in the trees, which had to be carefully lowered, so as not to hit anyone on the head!
Folded inside every clue were a few red squares with letters written on them and stickers to collect when there weren't enough letters for all. Marbles and dice were in a bird nest, and there were sweets in the tree-high locked box, most of which went into their bags with the sparkly bells and the pebbles.
They eventually made their way out of the forest, to find two more clues before going back to the table in the house to lay out all the letters and work out the words they would make.
So they discovered that there was A TEA PARTY ON THE ISLAND! and off they went, most of them across the water because they hadn't realised we'd put the bridge plank down on the other side for the catering staff.
They all had a ball and we were delighted that it all went so well!
The last clue had included small notebooks and pencils for all seven of the young children, to use in the planned Limerick Competition. Part of the late afternoon was then spent learning about the construction of Limericks and then trying to find words and rhythms to work. Some of them got the hang of it quite quickly and came up with some very funny rhymes.
After dinner, the Birthday cake, looking just a little bit like an opossum, until we found Abigail's unused number 8 eartag, which instantly marked the creature as a cow.
When it was dark enough, we all set out to go and see the glow-worms. It's always fun taking city children out into the real dark. Matariki naturally knew where Matariki (Pleiades, the Seven Sisters) was in our sky and they could all spot Orion, and the Southern Cross was just visible above the hills as we walked.
The glow-worms were a hit, making their own extraordinary constellations along the banks of the river and then the road, when we walked around to see them there.
Earlier in the evening I noticed that 602's large wart, which has been shrinking in size since being knocked last week, had fallen off her head.
All the children got up early and came over to the yards to watch me inseminate Stella's favourite, Curly 562. Then I had to explain a few things, which got tricky when I obviously overstepped the limit of their prior knowledge! Poor traumatised children.
How many children can you fit in a bath?
The girls wouldn't take off their togs until Michael got out and then it was almost dark anyway.
These kids were so much fun.
Today's adventure was a walk up into the bush in the hills beyond the back of the farm. Everyone climbed onto the back of the ute to ride out to the Back Barn Paddock. (The driver assures me he was not intending what looks like a rude hand gesture!)
Our destination was the waterfall, where all the children had a dip in the pool. Afterwards, they all sat around on the big boulders and ate the snacks Jude had thoughtfully carried in her bag.
I took a plastic bag with me in my pocket, intending to collect some cuttings from a Tree Fuchsia I found a couple of years ago, having recently given away my one successfully grown cutting from the tree in the Mangamuka Gorge.
I was very disappointed to find the tree had died - I'm reasonably sure I was in the right place and that it was the same tree.
When making their way out of the pool, one of the girls grabbed hold of some low-growing leaves and snapped the small branch out of her way and when I was standing there taking the photo of the children sitting on the rocks, I looked up into the leaves and discovered, to my great delight, that the tree was another Fuchsia! And not only one, but the tree growing over the pool from the other side was another of them.
Then back into the bush again...
The tracks are quite hard to find and in some places the hillside falls away very steeply to the stream below, so we were careful to ensure no children fell to their deaths, the possibility of which many of them were quite convinced.
We learnt about Hook Grass seeds which grabbed a ride with many leg hairs, and Bush Lawyer, from which some small people had to be carefully extracted when they'd got caught. We looked at and identified all sorts of trees and had an altogether marvellous time.
Back at home it was naturally time for another swim. I told them all to go and find shirts to keep their backs and shoulders protected from the sun, since the day was so very hot and clear.
Yesterday Stephan found a long board which he and I had weighted down at one end for them, so today they organised themselves to use it again, taking turns to jump or dive off the end, while the others all provided the necessary counterweight.
A bit later on, as I came back from checking the cows, I found them all practicing group jumps like this.
There's a very purposeful look to a heifer on heat.
I kept Virago Ida 75 AB, because she was Ida 18's last daughter. When I tested for AM, she turned out to be a carrier of the defective gene. She's not doing a lot to convince me that keeping her is worthwhile, being unwilling to let me near her. I decided it was far too hot and bothersome to inseminate her today, since she'd likely be a jumpy horrible animal to do, so I put her around into the Frog Paddock and this is her heading off to find the bull.
I have a nice big computer screen and I've been looking at the pictures I post here and thinking that perhaps they could be allowed to get a bit bigger, since most people probably have faster internet connections than I.
The rest of the page therefore has larger pictures as an experiment. If you like it, or not, please let me know - perhaps you might like to tell me if you're on broadband or dial-up and what size monitor you have on your computer, as well.
Time for some dam building. We went back into the bush where the Treasure Hunt was set, and found a bit of the stream which looked suitable for damming and everyone set to work gathering sticks and rocks and placing them to restrict the water flow.
Playing with flowing water is fantastic fun. The children were delighted to see how the levels on each side of their dam were changing as they worked.
When there was a short period of rather large rain drops falling, some of us took shelter under any likely foliage. Matariki and Georgia stayed where they were for some time, with their Limerick notebooks, sketching some of the surrounding trees.
The dam was eventually completed and most of the builders lined up for a photograph: Mahina, Tihema, Stella, Jasper, Matariki, and Michael.
Nearly time to go home, so all the children came out to have a last look at the cows, including giving Demelza a pat.
Yesterday, as part of the walk into the bush to build the dam in the stream, Matariki and Jasper were the first to find a spare tinkly bell in the trees and thus won the right to hide and have the others find them. So today, as part of a walk to show Jude the dam just before they left for home, I took Matariki and Jasper into the bush before the others, and they found a fabulous hiding place amongst some fallen foliage. A rabbit had similar ideas, it appeared, and Jasper said it jumped out just in front of where he was crouched, possibly giving the game away!
After everyone left, I made a phone call to find out what had happened about the examination of Isla's brain, having not heard anything for several weeks. I rang the lab to which it had eventually, after a delay of three weeks, been sent and they said they'd returned the results two days after they'd received and examined it, two weeks ago! I was not very happy.
I then received the results by email, which said nothing had been found. That's quite disappointing, since I thought that after so much evidence of disorder, there'd be something to see in Isla's brain.
More Isla information today, after I asked all the further questions I've been pondering for months: the spicules (the spiky bits in the cranial cavity) are apparently quite normal in older bovines; the problem is quite likely caused by a small lesion, too small to be easily found and they routinely examine only sections of the brain in thin slivers, and thus might not see anything at all unless they happen to be looking in exactly the right place; and probably most importantly the problem is unlikely to be genetic, as the sort of inherited disorders which cause such symptoms generally show up much earlier in an animal's life.
So that answers some of my more urgent questions, the ones I've continued to ponder as I've pulled expensive semen from the bank to inseminate Isla's daughters, and grand-daughters over the last few weeks, wondering if I was wasting a lot of money and time if they were all likely to be afflicted by something as life-threatening as Isla's seizures.
I'm really quite angry about the level of service my vet has (not) provided and will be taking the matter up with him.
A large helicopter was hovering suspiciously around above the valley this afternoon. It eventually landed somewhere next door for a while and then left again.
A couple of hours later, just after Stephan and Mike had returned from the day out on a trapping run, I had a phone call from a neighbour to say that another elderly neighbour had gone missing on his property and could we please come and help?
I called Stephan and Mike out of the pond, where they'd exhaustedly thrown themselves to cool down, and we all went next door, where a Search and Rescue operation was being organised - the helicopter had dropped the advance team of police and search officers in to begin the process.
The police team leader took our names and we were organised into a preliminary search line through part of the bush. We reached the top of the first block quite quickly, and then received instruction to go back down to the house. (The call to return to the house had, I believe, been made because the official Search and Rescue team had by then arrived, and we were presumably to be reorganised into a wider grid searching pattern of the property.)
Mike, Stephan and I were at the extreme end of the line, so were last back to the gate at the top of the hill, at which point I looked back down a track to my left and spotted someone walking up it. It took me a moment to register what I was seeing: we'd been worried we were looking for a collapsed body, so seeing the missing man walking quietly up the track was a very pleasant surprise. I think he was just as surprised to see me walking toward him, as he was making his way quietly home!
The family had made a sensible call, the man having gone out in the morning and not returned as expected for lunch, his extended absence leading to concerns for his safety. We began searching at 5.30pm and he was home by 6.30pm.
I hope that by the time I'm in my late 80s I'm still out hunting ragwort too, and I also hope that man's rambling activities on the land where he's lived for most of his life, aren't suddenly curtailed, but it is not I who sits at home wondering if he's alright when he's out.