christmas in the paddocks with a sheep dog
it sounded so nice. a house on a hill overlooking the ocean on sunny south bruny island, south of the tassie (tasmanian) capital, hobart. a great year-end family getaway for the kids who are escaping from a bout of foul wintry weather in the northern hemisphere. you can’t get more southern than bruny, and at the height of summer to boot. pack yer shorts!
well, pack yer handkerchiefs and antihistamines.
don’t misunderstand. pernille has booked us just about the best place imaginable. a lovely, modern house on a hill overlooking the ocean. lots of sun. outdoor space. miles from the nearest neighbors. (we make a lot of noise with our incessant birdwatching.) it’s not far from the beaches (nothing is on bruny island), and there’s plenty of room for billabong, our border collie, to roam. only catch is, it’s surrounded by acres of alfalfa fields, and one of us — me — is deathly allergic to alfalfa (hay). yep, hay fever.
it follows, of course, that alfalfa fields are feeding grounds for farm animals, and our arrival must have been cause for great excitement in the neighborhood. minutes after we pulled into the driveway, a greeting committee trotted up to the fence in the form of a dozen big, black bulls, prompting an impromptu standoff between our self-styled herding dog billabong, who tips the scales at a mighty 22kg (almost 50 pounds), and probably about 30 tonnes of belligerent bovines.
a showdown was avoided thanks to a wire fence separating the driveway from the paddock. it was a close call, though. the fence runs just a few meters from our back porch, and billabong fancies himself a minder of grazing animals, never mind their own opinions on the subject.
to add insult to injury, while we were unpacking, a tractor pulled up at the hay field and our neighborhood farmer cut the mature hay down. we then learned about the phenomenon of the “roaring forties,” the winds that are a blot on tassie’s otherwise spotless reputation, as gusts of hayseed buzzed around the house all that evening and into the next several days, sending my allergies into orbit.
conspiracy, anyone, or just a coincidence?
anyway, enough of my whingeing.
from L: family friend nathan stambaugh, laura (lopp), karl (moose) and pernille.
christmas dinner. a juicy ten pound turkey that, believe it or not, provided leftovers and turkey sandwiches for five people for days afterward. a “loaves and fishes” phenomenon that lasted until the final morsels of wing meat were dipped into a sea of sriracha mayo between two slabs of supermarket white bread and sandwichized on new year’s eve. NEW YEAR’S EVE! fer chrissakes! and it was dee-licious to the last bite of our final meal of the year. though to be truthful, the last bites were mostly sriracha mayo between the bread slices, with a hint of generic bird meat. miraculous.
(full disclosure: this wasn’t actually the ultimate meal of 2022. pernille prepared a champagne and lobster feast as the clock wound down toward the midnight hour. we never made it. (the lure of the pillow was just too powerful.)
for the rest of the family, it was almost two weeks of bliss; hiking the mountains around our house, exploring bruny island’s rocky coast, running, kayaking, oyster feasting, stargazing at the aurora australis (the southern hemisphere equivalent of the aurora borealis), chasing bulls (for one of us); in short, enjoying the moderate summer days and brisk island nights. for me, on the other hand, it was itchy eyes and soaked hankies until i was finally able to get medical attention after christmas in the nearby town of alonnah, which has a surprisingly well-equipped hospital for a population of probably no more than a couple thousand hardcore islanders.
2023 has dawned, and with it all the vagaries of aging as everyone gets — as the old tennessee ernie ford classic (“sixteen tons”) goes, — “another day older and deeper in debt.” the year 2022 saw a historic increase in mortality from all causes in australia and many other countries. my fervent wish is that all you reading this today are still around to check out the “end of 23” blog a year from now. we’re already planning another big tassie holiday bash, and i’ll do my best to be here to blog it.