Bizzy, bizzy, bizzy

Firstly, a pic of the hills behind our place at one of our recent sunsets, and an update on Roadkill, whose official name is “Amaya”:

It’s hard to get a good picture of her, ’cause she’s always moving.

It’s a bit tragic, really: we’re her only friends. None of the other cats really seem to want to be friends. Slow Top is the closest, and the best that can be said there, really, is that he ignores her. Studiously. Even when she’s bouncing in circles around him practically shouting, “Hey! Hey! He-ey! Look at ME!! Hello-oo!” The conclusion that we can’t help but draw is that she just doesn’t speak cat. She still jumps and scurries under the bed when Stephen bangs pots on the other side of the house, but appears entirely oblivious to the direct, personal threat posed by a growling, hissing Azami. This annoys Azami no end, as you can imagine. TV One showed an old Warner Brothers cartoon recently when they had some space to fill — it was the one with “Claude Cat”, whose owners bring home a new puppy that is constantly surprising Claude up onto the ceiling. We wonder sometimes if Amaya was raised by dogs.

Still, if the cats aren’t great fans, she has no lack of human admirers. Heck, in the same day, she had a complete stranger (to her) from Australia knit her a new toy, and got to lick chicken crumbs out of Geoff’s beard. That was Saturday, which started off with a Gypsy Fair on the Petone foreshore. I’ve tried describing the House Truck phenomenon before, as you run into them at various fairs and shows around the country (or sometimes just camped on the beach — we run into James the Blacksmith everywhere, it seems). But Stephen got some good pictures this time, so you can see what we mean:

There were maybe twenty or so trucks and buses there: some craftspeople of various sorts, some selling imported stuff from India or Indonesia, some doing fortune-telling, and some just hanging out. We hooked up there with Stephen and Jennifer and Donyale, an Aussie SCAdian who’d stayed on with them a bit after Canterbury Faire. They waited ever-so-patiently chatting while I shopped (I got a nice little scarf/wrap-skirt, a koru for Keri back in Boston, and a little bag of pretty cats-eye shells to play with. The score of the day, though, was one of the best little carved skulls I’ve ever seen:

Not sure what I’m going to do with it, but it’s terrific workmanship, done in antler, and vastly underpriced.

From the Fair, we walked to the Petone Italian food market and got lunchables — bread, cheese, tomatoes, olives, beef pastrami, and a little pot of fresh basil (no heads buried in it, not even the little antler skull) — which we took back up to Elmwood and ate in the living room (it was actually a little too sunny in the yard). Yummmmm.

Yolande comes from horse people, so after lunch we introduced her to the horses as well as the camelids, and then showed her the site in Gallop where there are plans to build the “castle”. We’d been told previously that if we built a castle, an assortment of re-creationists would cheerfully come lay seige to it. The trick will be letting it double as a stock shelter so it’s tax deductible. BONUS: With no planning or urging at all, the little tour turned into a five-person ragwort patrol, which nearly cleared the gallop paddock in hardly any time at all. Yay ! Later on, Richard, Beth and Geoff came over, and we watched some more Hellsing.

Anime was on Saturday this week, because Friday night the Wellington folk music club was starting up a jam night at the Roundabout Pub right here in Tawa, so we grabbed Kerry and went. *That* was interesting. It started out with mostly folkies in their 40s or so, playing an assortment of instruments around a couple pushed-together tables. We sort of hung around at the fringes, waiting to see if they’d play something we actually knew. I could see them trying to figure out where we fit in, since we didn’t have any instruments. They finally did “Wild Mountain Thyme”, but we really earned our street cred (as it were) when we were two of only four or five there who knew “Flower of Scotland”. Eyes widened. Eventually, one of the tenors came over to swap contact details and chat about reforestry projects (he has three acres just north of here). Kerry and I plan to bring songbooks next time we go.

So that was Friday and Saturday. Sunday, following our jaunt up the Otaki Gorge last week, we made good on our plans to return and do a bit of “tramping” in the Tararuas. The Tararuas have a reputation for chewing up people who aren’t prepared — people are regularly rescued out of there after being clobbered by surprise gales, fogs, snow and the like — so we packed extra clothes, rain gear, a sleeping bag, lots of water and snack bars and stuff for our little day hike. The Tararuas, for those who don’t have a geographical representation of the North Island in their heads, is the mountain range that runs down the southwest of the island. If you follow our little chain of hills north from Wellington, you get to the Akatarawa Range, which in turn melds into the Tararuas. We hiked for about 3 and a half hours up the track called the Southern Crossing. It starts in Otaki, which is about an hour’s drive up the coast from Tawa, and takes about two days to cross the range to Kaitoke, north of Upper Hutt.

Our hike was a good one, starting at a swing bridge in the river bottom and climbing through different climate zones and ecosystems up to one of the camping huts and beyond it to a boggy alpine meadow called Table Top. [Here, Stephen takes over the narrative] The 3 hours it took to reach the hut matched the listed time to climb — which made us feel less slug-like. On the way we passed and were passed-by (as we each took breaks) John and Barry. They were heading to the hut to spend the night, and we chatted for some time. They are both farmers in the Palmerston North area who have been tramping for fun the last few years. They were both really fun and friendly, and we would have chatted longer, but we needed to push on to Table Top, with enough time to get off the mountain before the sun set. Coming back down after table top we said goodbye, traded some email addresses, and were offered a shot of whisky from the small bottle that had appeared in our absence. Truely, experienced trampers. The rushed descent from the hut took only 2 hours and 15 minutes, but boy were our knees and legs sore by the time we got the bottom!

On the way back home we stopped at the Paraparaumu Pizza Hut for dinner. The food was adequate, but it was nice to eat there without an associated trauma. Two of the more memorable times we have eaten there were after nasty events left us unwilling to cook (septic water in basement in December 2003, Chris’ death in August 2004). At least this time we were simply exhausted.

We want to do the hike again, possibly staying the night in the Field Hut then pushing further into the ranges. I wonder if we can find anyone that is keen enough to head out with us for such an adventure? Nobody super-fit, mind you, as we have no desire to be hiked into the ground!


The Weekend Report

If we don’t report on Friday, it’s because it’s usually anime. We finished Captain Tylor and moved on, in a near-complete change of pace, to Hellsing.

Saturday we shooped up to the Manakau Medieval Market, where I fulfilled my karmic assignment of showing Sybille which stall had the painted paper parasols. That and saying hi to various merchants, musicians, and travelling folk we’ve come to know was pretty much the total of the experience. Oh, and we had hot dogs (normal American-style ones, not sausages or brats), and ice cream, and marvelled at the Ubiquity of Morris Dancers. On the way home, we on a lark decided to try and get into the foothills of the Tararuas and ended up discovering Otaki Gorge. We’ve got tentative plans to go back there next weekend and do a bit of hiking, weather permitting (the Tararuas regularly have the Unwary rescued out of them, mostly on account of the changeable Weather.)

Sunday was The Big Day at last — shearing day. Here is Dianne, our shearer, and the table. Dianne is one of those Energizer Bunny types — she also runs an alpaca shop in a local tourist center (Just Alpacas in the Lindale Centre, for Mom, Joel, and anyone else who’s been there), plus her own alpaca farm, plus a boutique B&B, “Huntaway Lodge”.

Here are a couple “before” shots:

A “during” shot — we’d have gotten more of these, but it really is a three-person job: Dianne running the shears, one person holding the head on the unfortunate victim, and one person running around like a crazy person trying to catch the fleece and stuff it into the correct of three sorting bags (neck, belly, and blanket, with the blanket being the best) before a gust of wind sent it halfway across the farm. It really does look like she’s shoving poor Oak’s foot through a hand-held chipper-shredder, doesn’t it ? Wait ’til you see how Jim turned out — you’ll be convinced you’re right.

And now, the after photos. Please, please, if you happen to know any of Jim’s former owners, or indeed anyone who owns llamas at all, don’t show them this photo. Poor, poor Jim. So dignified. He was too big for the table, so we had to do him standing up, with me holding his halter. We’d got him about half done when Dianne made the mistake of observing how good he was being — then he decided he’d had enough & tried to make a break for it. Several breaks for it, in fact, knocking me on my ass at least once. It took all three of us pinning him against the table to get under his chest. Unfortunately, the halter meant she couldn’t get all the way up his neck, so he has this dorky ruff, and he kept cow-kicking whenever she tried for his back legs, so he’s got poodle-panniers. He now looks like Jim’s head stuck on some kind of alien muppet body. Oh, the shame.

Oak and Pointer are the funniest pair — while one of them was getting done, the other one would stand concerned vigil, then as soon as the procedure was complete it was back to their usual wrestling and gargling. The two of them forming Jim’s “posse” is a hoot, too.

The latter half of Sunday was more Chinese New Year festivities — this time a Kite Festival in Johnsonville, just down the road from us. It was unfortunately too windy for the big spectacular kites, but a bunch of us plebes who were determined to fly anyway turned out — I’d guess there were maybe 20 or 30 kites in the air at any one time, not counting the dozens of sweet little swallows and beetles and jellyfish that few only a couple meters up. There was a guy there with a stack of five stunt kites that roared across the sky in that wow-that-would-really-put-someone’s-eye-out-if-it-hit-them kind of way. Do ya’ll remember how my kite roars in a high wind, right before it goes into a death-spin and rams into the ground at high speed ? His was like that, only without the death-spin and the ramming. He was a good flyer. It was really too much wind, but I was determined to fly my kite a bit anyway, so with Stephen’s help, I did. I kept it on short lines and only crashed it twice ! Go me !

Finally, a couple scenes from just this evening. A Fierce Puma, helping me out with my Ragwort Patrol, a summer pastoral scene at Elmwood, and our lovely Galadriel, after an Altercation with Concetta (hard to say who won — they were both drooling green slime by the time I got out there).

I shovel, well.

This week took an unexpected turn. Back at the end of January our neighbor John took a 10-ton digger and knocked down the kennels. He said he would come back to take away the debris once he finished another job. Tuesday afternoon he turned up to drop off his 2.5-ton digger, as starting Wednesday the debris was going away! He also mentioned that he would be able to finally finish the work on our septic system. Way back last year (two days after Christmas 2003, no less) we had a sewerage problem. With John’s help we got a temporary fix in place. Now, finally, we would have a permenant solution. I just needed to finish digging the 25 meter long trench which would hold the new soakage field. Commence frantic shoveling all of Wednesday.

Thursday morning he was back to haul away more loads of rubble (he got 8 loads on Wedneday, another 6 went out Thursday), but first he used his digger to clear away the side of the septic tank and reveal the outflow pipe. Horrible discovery, our assumption of the level of the outflow pipe was wrong, by nearly 2 feet. The trench I had dug was too high up the hill-slope, and useless. So Thursday I spent 11 fun-filled hours digging a NEW 25-meter long trench. Friday morning I only had to put in another 3 or so hours of digging to finish the trench off, though by then I was a bit sore and exhausted.

We discovered that the old soakage field had been completely buried under 2 meters of fill when they leveled out the hill for the catery and kennels. This was about 15 years ago! It didn’t help that the old field was the old 1970’s-style field-tile piping. That stuffed-the field, and killed the system circa 1990. We also discovered the joy of a tank that had been backed-up and uncleaned for 15 years. Thankfully Mr Dawson came by and pumped it out that day. Yay! I had fun standing there chatting with him while a mighty suction hose did it’s work. Then he had to head down to Lower Hut to clean up lots of Gorilla poo… I mean clear the porta-loos on the movie set.

So, for the first time in more than a decade this property has a functional and legal sewerage system. That is a wonderful thing.

In total 56 cubic meters of rubble went away to the clean-fill tip. Expensive, but the site is wonderful, flat and clear. Now we can put a proper shed in its place! Plus, I have gained valuable digging experience. When the alien invasion comes, I will be able to dig my hole faster than most. What I would use that hole for is another matter.

A week behind

Work has been sucking up too much of my non-work time lately….

But I have to say I am ejoying the heck out of HAVING A SUMMER. FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 2002. Ahhhh… With this summer coming so late, I was seriously thinking I might never wear short sleeves again. But never fear — we’ve now had several weeks of stunning weather in a row, the grass is all brown and dry, and I have the dorky patchy sunburn/tan patterns that one gets when one isn’t really paying attention.

Last Saturday was the start of the Chinese New Year celebrations. Wellington’s sister city in China is, of course, Beijing, and Beijing knows how to throw a party.

Got some more shots around the waterfront while we were there, including some of the Global Challenge yachts, and one of the thousands of jellyfish that had moved into the harbor in recent weeks. I and the little cabal of folks I walk to work with had been watching the progress of the fuss around the yachts in increments each morning, from the building of the new docks outside Shed 5 to the appearance, in groups of threes and fours over several successive mornings of the boats themselves, then the general bustle of them getting cleaned up and patched and painted and ready for the next leg of the race (they’re going around the word backwards — against the prevailing winds).

We hooked up with Stephanie at the parade and then trooped back to Frank Kitts to watch some of the performances. Many of these were school kids, but some were professional Chinese acrobats, sponsored by Beijing. They were worth cramming ourselves into the three square feet we found of unoccupied shade, but eventually, our legs and butts cramped up and we drove out to Newtown for some yummy yummy Italian pizza at the Mediterranean Food Warehouse Cafe. One of Stephanie’s friends’ flats on Mt. Vic had an uninterrupted view of Beijing’s *other* present, which was three bargeloads of serious-ass fireworks. Oh yeah. A Chinese New Year fireworks display by the people who *invented* fireworks. All I can say is, “Wow.”

Plus, the dislay itself was enhanced by some wacky meteorological effects, namely, the fact that it was almost completely still. Wellington itself had just had three days of some serious fog, which seemed to burn off almost everywhere except where the lightest of Southerlies pushed it up into the harbor channel and — rather inconveniently for the people trying to get into town for the rugby Sevens — the airport. (Thursday morning was especially thick, and we were treated to the crew teams ghosting in and out of the gold and silver wall of fog on a harbor flat as a pool.) There was no fog for the fireworks, but the air was so still that the smoke they generated just hung there, almost obscuring the show from some angles, and from others adding the extra dimension of the explosions lighting up the cloud from within.

Afterwards, Stephanie came out to our place for a sort of mini farmstay (I hope she wasn’t expecting a slumber party, ’cause we all fell right into bed). The next day was hot and sunny and hot (how hot ? I think it was maybe 28/83), so we first moved the alpacas down the the stream paddock in the front, where they tucked greedily into the clover and rolled around in the rushes. Jim, whose flared-nostrilled panting had prompted us to take them down there in the first place, splashed right into the stream. I wasn’t long behind him. Yum.

Leftover cold pizza for lunch, then the fun bit. We’d read that alpacas like playing in sprinkler hoses when they’re hot, and we have a photo of Jim cushed up with camelid dignity in an inflatable kiddie pool, but Id’d always assumed that they had to sort of work themselves up to it first. That they’d initially be frightened of the hose and the strange sensation, and have to get used to it. Nope. When we took them back up from the stream paddock, we paused in the little yard by the house and turned the hose on. They “got it” immediately, jostling for position in front of the hose as I sprayed their legs and bellies. Galadriel, the little black girl, positively blissed out, her head and eyelids at half-mast as the water plastered her short, fine fluff to her legs. Must try to get pcs before the summer is out.

Some stuff we've been up to lately



The first pic is of this year’s “Pirate Camp” at the second soon-to-be-annual Folklore Festival/Medieval Faire/Whatever They Decide to Call It. Like last year, the Faire was not exactly like you’d imagine if you’re used to US-style Renne Fests, because 99.99% of the people involved have never been to one of those, have no idea what they’re like, and are sort of bemusedly playing along with the three or four of us who *have* been to one. Instead, it was a sort of hybrid creature of which about 40% was an assortment of the local Medieval (or Roman (!)) reenactors/re-creationists sort of camped out and taking turns doing demos in the arena, about 30% merchants of arguably not-Modern goods & services (think driftwood sculptures, head shops, face-painting, massage, etc.), and another 30% “other”, that “other” being composed of on-stage entertainment (belly dancers, the local oud/violin/doumbek trio (that being one of the incarnations of Tangerine: Liz, Tim, and Bruce), a couple of singers…), the costume hire place, the Fairies, the Pirates, and a smattering of the People Who Get It dressed up in character and randomly accosting each other and the anyone they could convince to play along with Plot.

No horses in the arena this year, as we were in a smaller park, but they had them around for pony and wagon rides. We had a better setup this year, as we had the boat for the whole weekend and could thus integrate it better into our area. They stuck us right at the front gate, too, so we could accost people coming and going — we’ll never know how many people saw Stephen (AKA Scurvy the Cook) haranguing passersby and turned right around and went back the way they came. Stephen grew a week’s worth of stubble for the occasion, so he was nice and scruffy-looking.

Saturday we actually had to bail halfway through the day, as we’d gotten a call the night before that the stock truck was on its way with our two remaining alpacas, finally coming down from Auckland. The black one (the only one of our girls visibly pregnant so far) is Galadriel, and the fawn one is Concetta. It may be hard to tell from the photos, but they are *quite* a bit smaller than any of our other alpacas (we’ll know how much smaller when the boys are finally shorn), especially Concetta. She’s our expensive, high-end “quality” girl — petite, feminine, cute, and ever ready to spit or kick at anything that comes too close to her butt. Watching her spit off Jim, three times her size, was High-larious. She’s also The Invisible Alpaca, as she’s just about the exact color of the dried-off long grass.

Sunday was back to Pirating, in the scorching, breezeless 77F degree heat. Hah ! I can’t tell if I’m getting acclimated to the point where 80 degrees actually feels “hot”, or if the intensity of the sun just makes it feel like it’s ten degrees hotter than it actually is. I suspect it’s the latter, since it’s always lovely in the shade. Anyway, the sun brought out the crowds (I suspect the fact the the Global Challenge yachts were having an Open Day 100 yards away didn’t hurt, either), and if they all had as much fun as it looked like they were having, we should have no trouble getting the Faire funded again next year. And in the meantime, the crew of the Privateer Amanita Virosa got several offers of hire for various other events, starting with an upcoming Irish parade, of all things.

The last photo is just another bit of summer for you folks oppressed by the Northern Winter. There are many Pohutakawas in Wellington, but this one is ours.