Tom and I live in 23 square metres, indoors. Outdoors, the space is more generous: 14 hectares of forest, paddocks and buildings that make up Makahuri. This fact is an enormous consolation right now.
This is the end of week 2 of lockdown. New Zealanders have to stay at home apart from essential trips such as to the supermarket or pharmacy. We have to stay with those in our “bubble”.
Tom, the other component in my bubble, is working from home, spared his usual long commute and doing all his tasks by way of internet.
I’m based at home, as always, staying busy. Most days, like today, I work on blog tasks and chores, and achieving my lockdown goals: learning how to edit video, and brushing up my German. Tom sits nearby, gazing at his own screen and signing in to a lot of work meetings online.
“Two Kiwi guys, two little dogs, one tiny home.” That was the little marketing identifier, the three-part high-concept description, that I added to this blog title when I started it two and a half years ago.
Since October, the two little dogs are no more. Phoebe and Connor died, a day apart.
My nine-word identifier for this blog has lost its middle third, and sometimes it really has felt as though the middle third of my recent life, the bit that had charm, beauty and fun, has suddenly vanished.
This is hard to write about, again — I wrote about it on Facebook for followers of my pets blog, and on the blog itself. The thought of doing it again on The Mustard Yellow House daunted me, hence the extra-long gap between my last post and this one.
But the story of Phoebe and Connor is part of the story of the Mustard Yellow House. I’ll tell it briefly here; I went into more detail here.
In late September Phoebe fell ill, with what we thought was a return of previous back trouble. It turned out her kidneys had failed.
We had a day to get used to the implications. Phoebe was euthanised with Tom and me holding her, and Connor sitting on the vet’s bench next to her. In moments when I’d thought ahead to how our dogs would die, I envisaged this kind of ending for both of them — with pain minimised and with care and reverence.
I had also envisaged that one of our dogs would die before the other, and that one would be left alone, perhaps for many years. How would the surviving dog feel, I’d wondered. How would we handle that?
We would never find out.
The next day, 26 hours after Phoebe breathed her last, Connor had a massive heart attack at home. Again, here is a fuller telling.
We were in shock. The dogs had been sewn into our lives for ten years, including the whole time we’d lived in the Mustard Yellow House. Now the house seemed to resonate with memories of Phoebe and Connor, and all we felt we could do was flee the noise for a while.
Tom and I spent the next few days away, some of it with family, to nurse ourselves and be nursed.
We came back.
We dismantled the modular fences that contained the dogs to the front and back of the house. The dog-flap is locked against the wind.
Most of the dog-smelly blankets and paraphernalia, including the steps that gave the dogs access to the couch, went to the SPCA. Tom sold the Doggy Ride that hooked on the back of his bike.
But we still have the dogs’ collars and leashes, and the crates they loved so much. One doesn’t want to get rid of all the dog-owner infrastructure, because one never knows what might happen in a fresh new year.
What else has been going on?
Peabody is a rarer sight these days, perhaps because he has bred successfully this season. Hoping to see him again soon. Peacocks drop their tail feathers in January-February so I’ll be undertaking feather-gathering walks to add to my collection. Not so much “walks” as “hobbles”…
The cartilage of my right knee is in shreds, limiting my ability to walk and perhaps ending my cycling days. Surgery is possible. In the meantime, I’m building fitness with sessions of straight-leg aqua-jogging — imagine a cross-country skier’s action, under water. A good start to a new-year fitness effort.
I’ve been granted a tiny but welcome bit of funding to do an oral history of Marycrest/Makahuri. A new project for 2020.
Cheese making continues. The Makahuri cow, George, is still producing as much as 9 litres of superb milk a day, so I’m doing a couple of cheeses a week. Recent successes include colby and sage derby; currently experimenting with epoisses, port salut and taleggio.
I’m trying to figure out how to turn The Mustard Yellow House blog into an eBook. Stay tuned!
Happy 2020 to everyone who follows or discovers this blog!
Today at 1.32pm I sat on a folding chair on our sunny “porch” of shipping pallets and shared the national two minutes of silence for the 50 fellow Kiwis murdered exactly a week earlier in two Christchurch mosques.
Halfway through those two minutes, Phoebe trotted up to me so I picked her up and cuddled her in the early-autumn sun.
This week, Australia has kindly expelled a continent-size puff of its preposterously hot summer air and sent it floating across the Tasman Sea to settle on New Zealand.
I write to you from inside the sultriness — it’s now 31 deg C (88F), a throwback to last January, which was the hottest month in New Zealand’s history.
Right now, the fan is recharging, all windows and doors are open, Phoebe is hidden in the shady notch between couch and coffee table, and Connor is stretched out on the bathroom floor.
I’ve been putting ice cubes in the dogs’ water bowl and trying wet-towel wipes to help cool them.
Meanwhile, there’s plenty of breeze to cool a man’s singleted torso.
Apart from the heat wave, this summer has been pretty typical in its rhythms.
Grass growth in Paddock World stopped about two weeks ago — which means less mowing but also less mulch for the garden. I’ve taken to gathering cowpats and horse poo from the paddock to make a nutty poo tea to feed my plantings.
Rabbits are every-damn-where. Including, sadly, my Golden Garden, which I made to sit near the Rainbow Garden and colour-coordinate with the Mustard Yellow House. Cute bunnies have striated the flower bed and gnawed almost everything down to a nub. Undaunted, I’ll rethink and replant.
The pea fowl are near the end of their breeding season. There’s much less hooting at all hours of the night, apart from squawks from the remaining unmated desperates. The males lose all their eye-spotted trail feathers and become infertile till spring. Peabody, the semi-tame fellow whose territory includes Paddock World and nearby copses, lost his feathers in a matter of days, and now looks tiny.
Makahuri’s village garden is starting to burst with vegetables, including a ripening ton of tomatoes.
The Mustard Yellow House is in dire need of a spruce-up. Dust, sea salt and spider webs are dimming our beautiful house’s glow — so I’m determined to get out and give the place a scrub.
Frost, frozen pipes, muddy boots, drums at solstice, new life, new growth, new knowledge. Such has been our first winter at Makahuri in the Mustard Yellow House.
The coldest day of the year so far was June 22 — the first morning after the southern hemisphere winter solstice. The supposed “middle of winter” in fact comes early in the season, with two-thirds of it — and probably the coldest part of it — yet to come.
That morning, our paddock showed a new colour. Summer had brought dry brown, autumn bloomed greenly, but last Friday the grass and our outdoor possessions all gained the white of frost for the first time in our nine-and-a-half-months here.
Alexa, Tom asked, what’s the temperature? Minus two, she replied.