At the beginning of January (and a new decade) it felt as though summer might actually be starting. Temperatures climbed high enough that even I contemplated swimming – and it has to be pretty warm for me to think about going near the water. But before I put the thought into action, the temperature dropped. The tennis in Auckland made us realise how cold it was – after many years of talking about going, a friend organised evening session tickets for us. The night before going we watched a game on television and realised how many of the crowd were wearing warm jackets and beanies – and the ones that weren't rugged up looked chilly. So, we packed appropriately and were glad we had. One of our friends, expecting summer weather, was shivering in his T-shirt and we even had enough spare clothes to lend him a jacket.
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• Rural Ramblings: Fieldays a feast for the eyes
Summer returned with a vengeance the next day. All the rain we gratefully received in December has now dried up and the hills are looking brown. The dogs take any chance to leap gleefully into the nearest trough for a cooling dip. Even for some of the cows, troughs double as drinking vessels and paddling pools, with the odd one managing to haul themselves in and cool off while contentedly chewing their cud. Trees are in high demand too. Sometimes you wouldn't know a herd of cows was in a paddock – once they've finished grazing, they disappear, crowding together under whatever trees are in the vicinity. Another popular spot is the top of a hill where they can catch the breeze. They take turns flicking flies away, constantly circling from the outside where they swish their tails vigorously, pushing inwards to the centre where they enjoy a respite from the insects before they are churned back out to take their turn on the defence line.
Flies aren't the only pests causing grief on the farm. Something is eating our chickens' eggs – it could possibly be the chickens themselves as they sometimes develop cannibalistic tendencies, or it could be the weasel that scuttled along our deck, disappearing in to the flax bushes, popping out at different spots as it made its way to a better hiding place, too fast for me to do anything more than wave a broom ineffectually in its general direction. We've set traps but the little blighter has so far evaded capture and continues to wreak havoc on our egg production. Possums are at plague-like levels – our youngest son, taking the dogs for walks around the farm during the school holidays, has ferreted out dozens, many of them not even bothering to climb trees but snuggled into hollows on the ground. It's incredible that someone thought it was a great idea to import them from across the Tasman – in their homeland they're kept under control by dingoes, less tasty foliage and of course, bush fires. They're cute, but through no fault of their own are in the wrong place. And in their homeland where they are protected, their numbers have taken a battering in the past couple of months – if Australia now has a possum shortage, we would be happy to supply them.
Speaking of bush fires, I kept an eye on them for several weeks as they sparked up and crept across the country. My sister and her family live in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales and back in early November I (obsessively checking the "fires near me" app) noticed they were in the middle of a fire sandwich, with huge fires burning to the north and south of their town. The fires grew by the day, merging and creating giant burnt areas, hundreds of thousands of hectares in size. Fortunately, thanks to wind changes and the valiant efforts of firefighters, the fires didn't take hold in their neighbourhood and now it looks as though the worst has passed.
I knew from what she told me how bad the smoke was, though and for the past month or so over here we have had the odd sunrise or hazy day that was obviously due to smoke. But the day that really brought the bushfires home to many Northlanders was January 5, when our skies turned orange. I walked out on the farm and marvelled at how blue the headlights of the cars looked coming along the highway. The cows seemed unfazed by the early darkness and orange light as we walked amongst them. They munched grass peacefully as the skies glowed and the apocalypse felt imminent. All we could do was marvel at the spectacle and take photos, but it was quite a relief to wake to clear skies the next morning.