Thursday, June 21, 2007

Time To Take Out The Trash

I love riding along the canals. I enjoy the water birds, the fishermen, the trees along the edge. When you mention "canals" to most people here they talk about how dirty they are, about the trash in them, and wonder why people dump dead animals in them. The fact is that the not all the canals in the countryside are dirty...just the ones with a lot of people around them. Odd, that. I was reading the news online the other day and found quite a lot of coverage of the west Pacific Gyre. What is that? The west Pacific Gyre is an area in the western Pacific where the ocean currents move in a circle and there is little wind. In the days of sailing vessels, they called them the "doldrums" and the captains avoided these areas for fear of being becalmed. Not long ago a sailor on his way back to California to Hawaii decided to cut through the Gyre and discovered that the area had been collecting floating trash and plastic in its pool. He's gone back to check again and found that the area of the trash is now twice the size of Texas. If you do a Google news search you can read all about the Gyre...and the five others in the world's oceans. Pretty scary reading.

Trash is a problem everywhere. We make jokes that the plastic bag is Egypt's national bird because there are so many of them blowing across the desert. The Giza dump is just over the hill and when the wind is blowing the right way there are literally hundreds and thousands of inflated plastic bags blowing in battalions across the desert. What good does it do to collect them, dump them and let them blow across the landscape again? They hang up in trees, against fences and then blow into canals. The ones on the fences can be collected yet again and carted back to the dump or sold to the recycling plant to make garden chairs.

But one of the questions that needs asking is whether these plastic things ever really go away. The research being done in the Gyre suggests that plastic never goes away. They've found microscopic shreds of plastic floating in the sea where sea birds fish for plankton and krill. The baby albatross on Midway Island are having a very tough time on a diet that sometimes is more than half plastic and many of them are dying from starvation. The fish that feed on the plastic/plankton mix end up in our food chain, maybe in our restaurants or tuna sandwiches. Many of the components of plastic might leach chemicals into the fish and birds, mimicking hormones and causing chaos. Ugly stuff, plastic.

I used to be bothered by seeing dead animals in canals until I learned how it actually made some sense. The ground water in the Nile Valley is so high that there isn't room underground to bury a large animal without it just soaking in water. If it soaks in the water a meter or so underground, it releases so many nutrients that it can poison the plants all around. It is next to impossible for most farmers to be able to move a dead water buffalo or donkey or cow up into the desert to bury and there are legal problems as well. The antiquities authorities don't like people digging holes whether it is to look for something or to bury something. That more or less leaves the canals which are full of fish, crayfish, water birds and wild dogs. These creatures can strip a carcass to bone within 2 weeks. When you think about decomposition, think about what is decomposing and what it is decomposing to. Animals are made up of the same elements as the soil. They go back to their components. Plastics are made up of polymers created from oil products. If and when they break down or decompose are they ever going to be natural? I don't think so.

copyright 2007 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Importance of Remembering

Anniversaries are sneaky. They lie low in the bushes of our lives pretending to be asleep or not even there until we walk by, and then they smack us from behind. Sometimes we don't even recognise the smack as coming from where it did until a bit later. I learned a new lesson about the power of emotion over body during the past 10 days.

On June 10, I spent the day pottering around the farm. I noticed the date and thought with a certain amount of pride (watch out for that stuff...always caused the Greeks problems) that this year I was taking it pretty well. June 10 is the anniversary of my husband's death, an occasion that changed my life and my children's lives irrevocably and with the impact of having a building fall on us. So to just be doing some gardening, go out for a ride, things like that on June 10 felt good. Foolishly, I thought to myself that I was really "getting over it".

Losing your partner isn't the sort of thing that you get over. You do get used to it. As a friend of mine told me not long ago, it never hurts only hurts less often. I've gone through the anger, through the expectation of him walking in the door surprised that we weren't expecting him home from a trip unepectedly, through the sadness...well, some of the sadness. Now the loss is more like an old friend.

So how did I get smacked? About the 12th I noticed an itchy eye which on closer examination was a stye, an inflammation on my eyelid. A stye? I haven't had one of those in years. Styes are a sign that your immune system is on the blink and for the life of me I couldn't imagine why. Then all of a sudden I had a sore throat and fuzzy tongue. Thrush? Another immune system warning bell. Neither of these things have been life threatening, just unbelievably irritating, and easily treated. I found myself extremely tired as well, to the point of taking an unplanned 6 hour nap one day.

It was only around dawn today that I suddenly woke up and made the connection. Sure, consciously I'd slid by June 10, but that didn't mean that my unconscious didn't notice. For many years I used to get incredibly cranky and argumentative right after New Year's Day and each year I had to remember consciously that this was the anniversary of my father's death. My mother died slowly and there never really was a particular date associated with her passing, so I never noticed the phenomenon with her death. At any rate, having realised that not taking the time consciously to recognise the day ended up with me paying for a week or so, I've decided to pay more attention to these things from now on. This is probably the reason for many of the ceremonial anniversary observances. It keeps things out of the bushes.

copyright 2007 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Relaxing Country Life - Hah!

I think that I know what Old MacDonald died from. My strong suspicion is that it was exhaustion. When I decided to have a small working farm, at first I envisioned a place about twice the size of what I have now. Land prices decided otherwise for me, and in some ways I'm glad. I'd love to have bigger paddocks, but I'm understanding the direct relationship between land area and work now. I have about 3/4 of an acre that we plant in crops for the keeping of ourselves and our animals. Fresh vegetables, right? Wonderful....hmmmm, yes. My vegetable drawers in the fridge are running over with aubergines, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and okra, while strings of onions and garlic festoon the verandah. The ata (a local variety of cucumber) and the sweet potatoes haven't started to be harvested yet. The grooms' refrigerator is in a similar state, but at least I don't have to worry about anyone going hungry.

So a major portion of this chunk of land is currently planted in garawa, which is simply corn that is planted closely together so that it stays more grassy and is used for feed for horses, cows, goats, etc. When it is planted this way, it doesn't produce the amount of corn that stalks which are widely separated do...thank heaven! Because every day now, the boys cut garawa for the gamoosa, donkeys, goats and sheep, and every day they strip the corn off the stalks so that the corn can be used for the parrots and rabbits if it's too small to roast in the evening. The larger ears are roasted over coals and just eaten warm without any additives, and they are delicious. So I have chopped ears of corn in many ziploc bags in the freezer and fridge awaiting delivery to birds and bunnies. I have grilled corn every evening for dinner and frankly am getting a bit sick of corn...but the field is only a quarter empty. Oh my.

Then there are the sunflowers. I love sunflowers. I think that they are beautiful and the parrots adore the seeds. With our weather, we can grow them pretty much year round as well. So when they were seeding the field with the corn, they seeded sunflowers, three different kinds. We have the black seed sunflowers, the striped seed sunflowers, and the white seed sunflowers. They each give different sized flowers and LOTS of seeds. As soon as we notice the birds taking an interest in the flower head, we cut it and lay it face down on a rack in the sun. The heads need to dry but if they are face down on an open rack, the birds don't seem to recognise them to come and eat all the seeds. I doubt that I will be buying seed for the parrots this year.

With a batch of baby ducks and three litters of rabbits in the flight cages, breakfast preparation for the birds has taken on a new dimension. I have chopped corn cobs for the parrots and rabbits, all the vegetable leftovers for the chickens, the fruit/vegetable salad for the parrots, and now a large plate of chopped tomato, cucumber, and pepper for the baby ducks who eat with all the delicacy of a horde of locusts. They are cuteness personified toddling around the cage floor, climbing up on bricks to get into the plastic dish that is their pool, and swimming around...but they are all business when it comes to food. We are enjoying their cuteness stage and appreciative of the fact that they will grow up to resemble their father, who was recently re-named Howard after another cartoon character who more closely resembles our father duck than Donald does. It's a lot easier to roast someone who looks like Howard, and I have people already lining up for ducks.

Rabbits are kind of automatic feeders...but that just means that their keepers have to be on their toes with the food. Our first two litters seem to be providing breeding stock to neighbours who want to breed rabbits, which is fine with me. In the meantime, they are wonderfully entertaining to visiting children who can spend hours sitting on the ground with baby bunnies on their laps. The baby ducks are entertaining too, but Howard is pretty scary so kids have to wait until I will pick out some ducklings to cuddle.

Then there are the flowers to check for seeds to plant in new beds, the flax seed that we harvested from beds of flax this winter needs to be sifted to get rid of dust and dirt, the basil plants are growing like weeds this summer so that they have to be trimmed regularly to make pesto or just to harvest leaves for friends and neighbours. Horses have to be ridden, wormed and checked regularly for stupid horse boo-boos that they accumulate while playing in the paddock. The filly has to be haltered and walked daily so that she learns to obey humans while she is small enough that we can still manhandle her when she acts silly. And one of the turkey hens is sharing a box with one of the chicken hens because they are both sitting on chicken eggs to hatch them. We've marked the eggs so that new eggs can be collected for eating...however, turkeys and hens take a dim view of egg-theft and collecting is now done at the risk of your hands. But at the end of the day with a glass of ice tea, it's still worth the effort.

copyright 2007 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani