“The South Island is calling me back.” I’d been saying it for 15 years. Late at night in my Auckland apartment, I’d go online and Google: Properties in Golden Bay. I wanted about half an acre and three bedrooms so friends could come and stay. I wasn’t sure I could make it work.
Sometimes life gets impatient with my dithering. I think it signed contracts on my behalf because I find myself in Golden Bay in a three-bedroom home on 10 acres of pasture and native bush. Oh well, close enough.
There are sheep in the paddock that apparently belong to me, including the first of a generation born on my watch. Romeo the rooster is crowing over the Mothers, Julia and Juliet, and the Aunties, Cinnamon and Honey. Back in February, Julia sat on her eggs for three weeks; sometimes Juliet squeezed in with her, as though her maternal juices were flowing too. Julia taught the chicks how to peck for food; in storms, she fluffed them warm and safe beneath her wings.
I didn’t name the chicks because there was a chance I might eat them. At six weeks old, the Big One could fly up to a metre on his just-fledged wings. The Little One, a hen, followed me around the coop and nestled gently in my hands. One afternoon between one and four o’clock, she disappeared.
Two days later, when I first saw the hawk in the coop, I was excited to see him so close, sleek and wild, with a beak that could bugle the Star Spangled Banner. He fired his burners, lifted like a Harrier jet and took off.
I found the hens shuddering behind the water tank. Even Romeo with his sharp spurs was unwilling to take on the hawk. I found the Big One’s tiny carcass, picked clean. That afternoon I put netting over the chicken coop; I hadn’t known hawks make house calls.
Chooks talk to each other constantly. They peck their way around the garden like ladies with baskets wandering around a market comparing the prices of bugs, the sheen of seeds. After the Great Tragedy, Julia and Juliet didn’t talk for two days.
After that the chooks were squatters rather than tenants; they got to six months behind in rent. Tim, who has taken me under his farming wing, suggested I buy some artificial eggs. Cinnamon, bless her, sat on the eggs so long even I expected she would hatch plastic chicks. But even Cinnamon has given up.
I haven’t named the lamb either because he may end up in the freezer. I’m just referring to him as That One Over There – or Toot for short.
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