A cold hurricane

What a weekend.

It started Thursday evening. Ironically enough I was at a community resilience planning meeting, where we were working on what Tawa planned to do to help itself in the event of “the big one”. A large storm was predicted to hit Wellington that evening, and by the time we all started arriving at the local fire station it was already starting to blow.

By 7:15 we lost power. We continued on for another 10 minutes by emergency lighting. Then the fire fighters got called out, and the station started hopping as the volunteers came in. We decided to postpone.

I couldn’t get home owing to the giant tree blocking Takapu Road. Thankfully I’d taken all my kit with me that evening, and the moment I got out of the road and back into cell phone range I got a text that PERT had been activated.

Spent the next five hours driving around Porirua, doing reconnaissance of the storm damage, including trying to assess routes and rising streams around an IHC facility that was considering evacuation. I almost didn’t see the raging torrent in the dark, wind and rain. Ben called out in time to prevent me from plunging into the torrent. It was hard to distinguish the ankle-deep water I was sloshing through from the stream.

Couldn’t get home when the EOC closed at 12:30, still a tree in the road. So I crashed at Kerry’s place. We were up early, she had to be back at the EOC by 7. I got up the valley in time to watch our neighbor John demolish the giant tree in the road with his 12-ton digger. Impressive. There were down power lines all over the road, though at that point they’d been down for 12 hours, and everyone was presuming they were no longer live (not always a safe assumption, but thankfully they were dead).

I got home, had some food, then headed out to help with clearing the road. John had dealt with the giant tree down his way, but there were plenty more trees blocking the road and driveways. Thankfully we are well equipped, and roving mobs of chainsaw-wielding people roved the valley looking for people in need of help. A fine way to meet neighbors you hadn’t met before. Tiring work, though.

Then Saturday we had our annual “Darkest Day” party to celebrate the solstice. And it really was dark, seeing as we had no power (mostly), and all illumination was provided by hurricane lamps and LED candles (and some real candles after the little kids had gone home).

I say “mostly” no power because Friday evening Tam discovered the cat bed was still warm, to the surprised exclamation “God must love cats!” How can the power be out, mostly? Well, not all the cables to our house broke, we still have one phase and a neutral. So we have one circuit of power outlets that are live. So the fridge is plugged in, and extension cables criss-cross the house (which is how I have internet and this computer to post onto the blog).

Light is still provided by means of lanterns, heat comes from the wood burner (though we really notice how the lack of ceiling fan means the heat mostly lingers at the tops of the room).

We should have power by the end of the week. Hopefully.

It was a big storm. It came very close to the Waihine storm of ’68, so-named for the inter-island ferry Waihine that sank in the harbor mouth during that storm for the loss of 52 lives.

Thankfully no such disasters this time, though a moored ferry in the harbor (the Kaitake) slipped its moorings and needed its anchor and tugs to ride out the storm.

The sustained 10-minute average wind speed over this storm (~100 kph) was less than the Waihine storm (133 kph), but wave heights at the harbor mouth were higher (15 m as compared to 12-14 m in ’68), and the peak wind speeds were higher (200 kph).

So we basically got hit by a category 1 hurricane that lasted 2 days, but was cold. What fun!

In the end all the animals came through okay. Our back garden now gets more natual light as one tree fell apart, but otherwise the farm was undamaged. And now I have acess to plenty more firewood as I help neighbors with their cleanup. Yay!


Last Wednesday we had one of our two llamas, Opa, euthanized.

Opa was, as his nick-name suggests, an old man. 22 is a respectable age for a camelid. (Oldest one I know of lived to 29, most start dying of “old age” in the late teens or early 20’s.)

Opa arrived six years ago. We had purchased Hob after Jim died in 2007. Julie asked if we wanted a second free llama. Opa was 16, retired, and completely besotted with Hob. Julie wanted to let the friends stay together (plus it got another animal off her then-heavily-stocked farm).

The first few years Opa went out on some adventures, but as he aged his feet started having troubles (down in the pasterns) which precluded long walks. He’d always be so anxious for Hob’s return when we took the other llama out, running along the fence in excitement because HOB was back!

Opa was the boss of the boy herd, even as he aged, and as such he provided one great service, he taught the stud-alpaca Zeus how to be social. Zeus had spent a couple of years in the “paddock mating” situation, left in with a group of females. He’d become an uber-macho, a male that would attack and try to kill any other male. This made it tough on us, since we didn’t want to leave Seus in with the females, nor is it kind to leave them alone.

Zeus battled Opa for dominance. This battle would run an hour or more of knock-down, drag out camelid wrestling. Every single day for a year! Zeus was younger and full of testosterone, but 145 kg trumps 80 kg. At the end Zeus finally gave in, and then realized once he was no longer #1 that it was possible to live with other males as friends. Zeus and Hob became buddies.

I’m glad Zeus had moved on before age started to really catch up with Opa, as I’m not sure if he could have stood up to Zeus this last year.

We’d known for months that Opa was slowing down, to the point were last month when we were at the llama association AGM we were actively shopping for a new companion for Hob. Then in the weeks before he died he started to loose weight, and spend more time separated form the herd.

It was most likely liver failure, based on all the symptoms. The liver is often the organ that goes first in camelids.

There was also some grim comedy around his death. After Julia was done, and Opa was dead, we needed to get him to the graveyard and into the hole I’d dug.

Just then the phone rings. One of Yvonne’s horses had gotten spooked on the property next door, and bolted through a fence. Yvonne couldn’t get out of work, and Carol is 8 months pregnant.

And we had a dead llama in the middle of the driveway, and guests coming over in an hour.

So we can’t help with the escaped horse, We manage to get the body onto the back of the ute (not easy with a 140 kg corpse, I used ropes, a pulley, and a chain-ratchet).

But we’d had 25 mm of rain the previous night, and the track was too slick and muddy for my ute, even in 4WD.

Then the garage calls, Tam’s car (in for a WoF and service) is ready for pickup. So we have to throw a tarp over Opa, and drive into down. Yeesh, what an adventure.

Thankfully the next evening with the help of a couple of neighbours and a quad-bike we got Opa up to his grave.

Life on the farm, and all that. Now we have to pick a replacement llama (or two), so we can make sure Hob has some llama-buddies.