Monday, March 7, 2011

Animals Amok!

Not long ago, we made the annual trek to Totaranui. The best way to summarize Totaranui is: New Zealand has marvelous parklands. It has epic, underpopulated beaches. And family camping is the national recreation (unless you count watching rugby as a recreation, but that's another story). Totaranui is the place where all three are at a peak: at least a half mile of gently curved, golden-sand beach with that wonderful jade water (and an estuary that drains with a very rideable current when the tide goes out), and a rough but convivial campground, all several miles of gravel road into the Abel Tasman National Park. Plus, no cell phone coverage! Plus plus, ...or Internet!!
Our gang typically go for a week or more around the end of January, us for four nights this year. The venue is a particularly lovely enclave, a bush-enclosed "bay" on a cul-de-sac. One rolls up, pitches the tent, and gets right to work eating, drinking, reading, basking, strolling, swimming and yakking, with the occasional feint toward something resembling exercise, like an hour's hike or a bike ride up the hill in. Yes, it's every bit as idyllic as you imagine.
But this year we have animals: a cat, two pigs, four chooks (chickens) and seven head of cattle of various ages. They don't need a lot of attention, but they do need to be fed once or twice a day, except for the cattle, who are content to browse and drink from the creek. One of our neighbours volunteered to look in on the others for the three days we'd be entirely absent. We showed her the drill, said See you on Wednesday, and buggered off to paradise.
Well, it was a holiday weekend with Monday off, and three repetitions of "We'll be away for four nights" wasn't enough to convince her that we weren't coming back on Tuesday. So when we rolled up to the house, the animals were 48 hours away from the last human intervention, which was instantly made plain when the pigs strolled up to greet us as we got out of the car. This was a lesson in how big our pigs are and how strong their snouts/necks are, since they had punched a hole right through the chicken-wire fence that I erected back when Miss Piggy was not much larger than the cat.
Of course their first target was the chicken enclosure, since it has the only standing water around. They made short work of the fabric bird netting there, and so the chickens were also casually wandering about, scratching, uprooting and generally bringing their birdie brand of low-key chaos all over the place. But the pigs had burrowed themselves some nice cool holes against the heat, snagged all the grapes they could reach, and generally made themselves at home. They seemed quite proud of themselves as they ran up to us as if to say "Hey Mom, Hey Dad, look what we did!"
As for the cat, you'd think he'd be fine with or without us, since he's perfectly content to eat birds and mice and drink their blood. But he was nowhere to be found. I don't know whether he decided to flee the porcine chaos or went off hunting for a more dependable home, but we didn't see him again until well into the next day.
Oh yeah: where the hell are the cattle? Normally, they're happy down by the creek, but not now. So as the sun set on our paradisaical retreat and memories faded like the pit crew in the rear mirror of a dragster, Krys and I patched up the chook enclosure, herded the pigs back into confinement and wired the fence back together, and I set off in a hunt for the cattle. Indeed they were where they couldn't be seen from the house or the drive, among the wee young trees on the back part of the property. They were amenable to being herded (all except Psycho, of course), and with only the usual inconvenience of setting up a tapeline to funnel them into a gate, everything was battened down by bedtime--though not before dark had descended far enough that Krys thought I had fallen into some gully or gotten trampled by some panicked steer.
However, there was long-term blowback from this debacle. It turns out that animals can acquire a taste for freedom. Now that the cattle know how to get out of confinement, they periodically stop their browsing, lift their doey eyes to the hills and the trees and the places they're not supposed to go, and tramp over the fences in their quest for adventure. (Of course, "adventure" mostly means eating grass on the other side of the fence/property, but there's no accounting for taste.)
...and the pigs now, when they get out, there's no way to get them back but with the prospect of food. So they now have the irresistible double call of the wild linked to their piggy bellies. The day after our return was Movie Night. We had three groups of people show up, and each group got the same reception we did: two not-small pigs trotting up to them with the silent and in all ways unremarked but still unmistakable message "What'cha got for me?" All three times we tossed some food into a pot, lured them back into the pen and did a patch job on yet another breech. We finally had to lug the cage from a trailer into position on the outside and use it to weigh down the fence wire. I don't know if it was really effective or the pigs just got too full to bother, but it held them for, oh, 24 hours.

1 comment:

  1. Steve, I am a friend of Dale's in Florida (known him nearly 30 years now). He sent me a link to your blog. I enjoyed it thoroughly! Your writing is clever and entertaining. I will check back again to see your updates. Many thanks. George.