RURAL RAMBLINGS

This week we lost our old farm dog Jess. Although nearly 16 years old, the vet had pronounced her fit and healthy at her last check-up.

But we suspected she had a touch of canine dementia, although I'm not sure there's an actual test for this. She refused to be tied up, preferring to camp on the couch at one of the farmhouses, and this proved to be her undoing.

We've had road works going on along the farm frontage, and whether the bright lights drew her like a moth to flame, or whether it was the leftover sandwiches dropped in the roadside ditch that called to her, she went exploring in the dark.

The speed limit along the road was 30-50km/h – though plenty of drivers seem to disregard that and zip past the roading trucks at a much snappier pace, spraying stones at cars and road workers in their wake.

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Five hot dogs cool off in a trough. Photo / Bruce Paton
Five hot dogs cool off in a trough. Photo / Bruce Paton

Perhaps it was one of these speedsters that caught poor wandering Jess, because the next morning a friend texted at 6am to let us know there was a dead dog out the front of our place.

Bruce headed down in the ute and the road workers kindly stopped the traffic so he could pick her up and bring her up for burial in our pet cemetery. We tried to get our other dogs to say goodbye but even her daughter Bex wasn't even slightly interested.

Bex is now 10 and still hasn't forgiven Bruce for the last time he took her to the vet for a stomach pumping after getting into a container of rat bait. If he pats her gently and talks to her, she grovels on the ground and wets herself.

Pip thinks hard about what she'll ask Santa for this year.
Pip thinks hard about what she'll ask Santa for this year.

The other dogs wagged their tails enthusiastically but seemed unfazed by the death of a pack member. So much for fond farewells, they left the sentimental stuff up to us.

Spring is meant to be a time of rebirth and growth, but there are always a few casualties along the way. We are into early summer now but there are still baby birds popping up everywhere.

Our youngest son built a bird box at school this year and we left it in the shed, intending to put it up on a post outside by spring. We weren't fast enough, the birds found it first and before we knew it there was a nest of peepers in the shed – so we leave a door open so the parents can get in and feed them.

Why are you doing this to me? asks farm dog Bex.
Why are you doing this to me? asks farm dog Bex.

In one of the many thunderstorms this meant rain blew into the shed and Bruce discovered his cricket gear sopping wet the next Saturday morning.

Those baby birds weren't popular. With the door rolled open, another bird couple spotted a piece of likely real estate for their home and made a nest inside the tunnel created by the rolled-up door.

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This hasn't been entirely successful as every now and then we find a baby bird that has dropped over the edge and splattered on to the concrete below. There's usually a dog around to clean up, the cycle of life whirring efficiently.

The other day the youngest child came in with a featherless bird in his hands – the strong westerly had blown it out of its cabbage tree nest. It survived the fall, one of its nest mates was less fortunate. Neither of us could reach the nest – we tried balancing a stool on top of a rock but decided that risked adding to the death toll.

So I drove to the workshop, loaded the big ladder into the car and we popped the screeching nestling into the first nest we could reach. Unfortunately, the next time we took the car out we discovered a cable has snapped in the seat I lowered for the ladder.

The seats are now frozen in place and, given the time of year, it won't get fixed until the car repair people are back from holiday in January. I hope that baby bird survives, because it owes me.

The last quarter of the year has been so busy that Christmas startled us with its sudden appearance on the horizon. We are trying hard to get into the Christmas spirit – once again Bruce filched a roadside pine tree. This time, amazingly, he carted home one that was only slightly too large and required only two people to carry rather than the gigantic monster five-person trees of the past two years.

While decorating it we also decorated the dogs, which they accepted with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Finally, Bruce was most chuffed to reprise the role of Santa, this time for Marsden Playcentre, giving him the chance to fully embrace the joys of the festive season.

He feels that having a real beard gives the children a more authentic Santa experience. The logic seems to be that if he has a real beard, he must be the real deal. I'm not sure how I feel about being Mrs Claus.