Sunday, July 10, 2005

Farm stories

Walking up the road this morning, on a bright clear warm winter's day, the trees bare lattice against a pale blue sky full of birds singing and flying around. In two hours, I saw five woodpigeons, four peacocks, three pheasants, innumerable smaller birds, cows and sheep; two children, three horses, four dogs, one car, one stock truck, and a helicopter.

I have been hearing the helicopter since early in the morning- and still late in the day as I write this. It is spraying neighbouring farms now that it is starting to dry out a little after our big rain. I don't know if it's my imagination, but I thought I could taste something chemical in the air, and eventually I turned back, away from where I could see the helicopter sweeping over the paddocks.

I'm enjoying reading the local farming memoir I've been loaned. For years I have looked at grassy paddocks and tried to imagine the land when it was dressed in diverse, ancient forest. Briscoe Moore tells a great yarn with lots of interesting detail about his work in the 1920s to clear the bush and plant the grass. Some relation of his actually cleared the farm I'm on, and he refers to this place with an anectode about rolling kauri logs down a hillside I have climbed.

I hadn't really understood before the symbiotic relationship between stock and grass, which Briscoe is giving me the history of, and conversations with my landlady are explaining some of the current issues. Healthy grass requires strategic grazing as much as healthy animals require good grass. In Briscoe's day grass seed was sown by hand onto the ashes of the burned bush, the workers scrambling over jagged stumps and charred branches. Today the same hills are swathes of smooth and lurid green maintained from the air.

I'm developing a real fondness for old Briscoe Moore. He is very readable and led an interesting life, not only farming but also as a cavalry officer during WWI in Palestine. In his old age he developed a real passion for planting trees which I find incredibly endearing especially in light of his vigour for removing them 40 years earlier.

No comments: