Someone recently pointed out that readers might believe our family to consist simply of myself, Little One and my Favourite Wife; just we three nestled in comfortably in Paradise. But, there are numerous characters in the story (beside Bugger) whom I have not yet introduced. The other permanent resident in Paradise is Flikka, the most charming Labrador ever to set paw on the Great Southland. Much could be written about Flikka, and it’s a puzzle that she has eluded the narrative so far.
But it doesn’t end there – far from it! – and this particular Sunday with the youngest of our three grandchildren visiting seems an opportune moment for an introduction.
Family life came suddenly to us, which is a gift of life that I treasure. We were an ‘instant family’ of five, and for a long time afterwards our 4 year old would point from the car window at “our wedding church where we got married”. Her words were apt, as we had all stood in front of the congregation, and we were all five of us married as a family. That wondrous day was more than 20 years ago, and we now number fifteen. One son, five daughters, one daughter in law, three sons in law, two grandsons and one granddaughter: the smiling bundle of joy at the other end of the house tonight.
So far. Doubtless there are yet more in the wings!
Shortly after Five became One we were offered the management of a poultry farm by friends in our church who had a very large number of birds. 50,000 excess laying hens were to be housed on a farm that would be leased for a couple of years, and we were given the job of making it work. The leased farm was very old; and our adventures were very many. The farm was on a steep hillside, which is a startling way to manage poultry. In fact, it is probably a mistake. The cottage was in a small house paddock at the bottom of the hill, beside a creek in which we swam and swam and swam. For many weeks our three children who had never ventured beyond the burbs could barely be coaxed through the first gate! Then for months they wore whistles around their necks, and when they were occasionally shrilly blown in terror at the sight of a giant spider, or perhaps a snake, I don’t know who was more afraid: them or us.
My first mistake as farm-boss was to systematically eradicate every last member of a dozen strong clan of cats. I accomplished this in about a month of hunting, mostly late at night, armed with a .22, a torch and a 12 gauge for good measure. To the untrained eye, (which mine was: a carpenter running a farm) the plague of mice surging thousands-strong along the feed troughs in the beam of my hunting-torch was a worrying sight. Something to be dealt with once I could rid the farm of these darned cats. It wasn’t until great long brown snakes started appearing in the chook sheds, shiny and fat on a diet of mice and egg yolk, that the first faint thoughts about the food chain began nagging at the edges of my working mind.
And what a mistake that was! The snake crusades consumed a great deal more lead than the cat wars had. We soon had numerous egg-packers working for us, and we appointed one as master-at-arms on the basis that she was a prize-winning large-bore marksman at the local rifle club. This, also, was a mistake. She froze when faced with a target closer than her preferred range of 500 yards! Especially a slithering, red-belly black target advancing rapidly between the rows of birds. It was very nearly a catastrophic mistake.
Our old fibro cottage by the river appealed enormously to my (dwindling) bachelor instincts, but must have come as a sobering shock to the other four-fifths of the tribe. Favourite Bride’s bedside glass of water would quite literally freeze across at night when the mercury dropped to minus 8. When the wind blew all the curtains in the house would billow, not seeming to notice that the windows were tightly shut. There was a hump in the floor, making the walk from the kitchen (the only heated room in the house) to the mid-point of the lounge room an up-hill march, with a down-hill run to the children’s bedrooms beyond. When I eventually drove my Favourite home from hospital with our first born I felt an irrational pang of conscience, and pulled off the dirt road for a moment to explain that there had actually been a snake in the kitchen earlier that day, only a little one though; and also confess that it had evaded extinction with its current whereabouts unknown.
This, also, was a serious mistake.
Our first winter was long, cold and absurdly wet. Every machine was forever bogged in a deadly mess of mud and wet, slimy chook poo; and the sheds seemed likely to slide straight of the hill and into the creek below. The tough conditions knocked out 12,000 laying birds – which is not good. I spent more time burying birds than feeding them; and that too is a mistake. Nothing was easy on that farm, but nothing could have been better for our fledgling family than this nest in the bush. No neighbours within cooee, acres to explore, tractors to drive, (and a bobcat! and a front end loader! and a grader!), wood to chop, chores to share, a cow to milk, a horse to ride, and a creek beside which to eat our Sunday bake.
We’ve lived in paradise from the get-go.