Monthly Archives: April 2010

Bovine Code Red!

I’m happy to report that the farmhouse is now complete and has been certified as habitable by the local council!

But we’re not completely done because we are now converting the old milking shed into a plant nursery where we will propagate seedlings for the revegetation project. 

So we are still being visited by builders and the other day we had an early meeting with the horticulturalist and the builder.  Rather than get up early and drive out in the morning, we figured we would go out the night before and stay at the farm, which was the whole point of building the house in the first place.

It was so peaceful and restful and I slept so soundly I didn’t even get up to go out in the middle of the night to check out the stars. 

Good thing.  Danger lurked.

The next morning, well after dawn, we woke up.  Excitedly, I opened the bedroom blinds to have a look at the place in the morning light.

And aged a few centuries. 

Less than twenty feet away and staring into my eyes was the biggest, ugliest cow I’ve ever seen.  It didn’t have a ring it its nose and smoke wasn’t coming out of its nostrils, but it was still terrifying.

Actually, though, terror wasn’t my first reaction.  The first was a sort of cognitive aphasia in which I was unable to process what I was seeing.  We don’t have any cows on the property just now and we’ve spent a lot of time and effort making sure the fences are secure to keep the neighbors’ cows at bay.  So what I was seeing just couldn’t be.

When I finally became convinced that, yes, there was a cow outside my bedroom window my next reaction was  It better not shit on my nice new driveway.  Or worse on the patio tiles I’d just personally installed. 

My wife and I then had a perfectly rational conversation about the fact that there had been a bovine incursion onto the property. 

The part that wasn’t so rational was the conclusion that I should go out and do something about it.

Over the years I’ve gone out of my way to avoid ungulate interaction.  Maybe it’s the whole cloven hoof business.  What I do know, intellectually, is that they are relatively harmless.  I just have a hard time really believing that when I get close to one and see how huge they really are.  And how irrationally they generally seem to behave. 

Not only did I not want to deal with the beast, to be honest I didn’t know how to deal with it.  I didn’t have a convenient length of rope that I could lasso it with.  Can you picture that?  I also didn’t know where the thing had come from.  Or how it had gotten in.   The farm is supposed to be surrounded by stock proof fencing.  Obviously not.  It must have somehow squeezed or pushed its way through some part of the fence.

It was highly unlikely that I would be able to find the opening.  And highly impossible that I would be able to escort the beast back through where ever it came from.  It’s not like walking a dog.

Fortunately, both the guys we were meeting with that morning had grown up on farms and once they arrived, everything was under control (i.e., out of my hands).

They figured out where the cow had come from and devised a way to secure him until the owner could come get him.  We were going to get the cow into one of our gated paddocks adjacent to the neighbour’s boundary.

The challenge was getting it into the paddock.  The customary way is to form a gauntlet, as it were, and to drive the cow(s) from point A to point B.  But moving one cow in the right direction is a lot harder than moving a bunch of them.  We were aiming him toward a six foot wide gate.  And there were only three of us.  Well actually, those two guys and me.

The plan was to form a semicircle and move in the direction we wanted the beast to go.  Its flight mechanism would make it move inexorably toward the gate.

Another reason I’ve historically given cows a wide berth is because you have to watch every step when you are around them.  A reality of cow pastures is cow pies. 

Well, this time the rules were different.  Looking down was out of the question.  We had to watch the cow to see where it was going.  And because it was a little panicked  it decided to run around in a random zig zag pattern.  The zags were often straight at me!

So there I was running around chasing and being chased by this cow.  Now I know how those guys in Pamplona feel.

Not only that, I wouldn’t have thought the cow had been around long enough to drop so many bombs.  They were everywhere and I think I hit every one of them as I sprinted wildly around.  Walking in the pastures is hard enough because the ground is surprisingly uneven.  Running is virtually impossible and when your traction is compromised by cow shit, it’s even worse.  It was awful.

All I could think of was what an ignominious end it would be if I slipped and broke my neck.  How would you like that on your tombstone?

Here Lies Thomas

A man of the city

He was chased by a cow

And his demise was shitty

Anyway, we finally got the cow where we wanted it.

And I took my second shower of the morning.

Don’t Worry, Kids!

The big news down here these days?  Someone did some research and it came to us in the form of the headline “What’s Bugging the Nation’s Children?”  The article explains that an academic surveyed 8-12 year olds to find out what worries them. 

The reason that these things get my attention (and scare the heck out of me) is because down here an article like this will probably generate a few government inquiries and the establishment of a few new government departments (duly overseen by the Children’s Commissioner) to eliminate these wrinkles in the fabric of what should be an idyllic time of life. 

You may find this hard to believe, but the researcher identified 29 “common” issues that caused stress for little kids.  That implies that there are a lot more that didn’t make the “common” cut.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of my childhood, and even my adulthood to be honest, I’m not sure I could ever find 29 things to stress about.

The article describes the way findings of similar studies over the years have yielded different results.  According to the article, in the 70s and 80s, kids were worried about ‘family issues’ and peer pressure.  But.  By the 1990s, bullying, being hurt, stranger danger, natural disasters and ‘being touched inappropriately’ had joined the list.

Where do kids learn this stuff? 

That was in the 90s, but life is even more worrisome here in century XXI.  Now, in addition to all those other things, children toss and turn all night worrying about global warming, terrorism, wars and the future. 

I’m surprised that whaling isn’t on the list.

To be honest, the article leads me to believe that kids today are, for lack of a better word, neurotic.  One is quoted as saying:  “I’m worried about the environment and the global warming, the ice and how it’s going.  I write it down in my little notebook. [Are you kidding me? –Ed.] I’m thinking people should actually stop the global warming before it’s too late for their children.”

The article got me to thinking, and I decided to do some field research of my own by asking my nephews about what was stressing them out.  They are 7 and 9, just like the kids in the research survey.

What you are about to read is true.

It is a tribute to my brother- and sister-in-law that the boys’ initial response to the question of “what stresses you out,” was “Nothing.” 

I tried to coax out some information, but they were fairly adamant that they didn’t have too much to worry about.  After all, they have a loving family and live in a relatively peaceful society.  Unfortunately, not everyone is as lucky.

But I still thought that there must be something that bothers them.  I’m not saying that the researcher in the article did the same thing, but only when I started to ask specific questions did they admit to any worries.

Their biggest worry, it seems, is getting too much homework.  They hate homework. 

The thing that stresses them out the most is each other.  It is a challenge to have to share stuff and, more important, to show restraint in the face of teasing, tattling and other breaches of etiquette.  Thinking back to when my brother and I were 7 and 9, I accept that as a legitimate stressor. 

But after reading the article, such concerns seemed a little pedestrian.

I kept trying.  I asked “Are there any times you can’t sleep because something is bothering you?”

Long pause, then, “Yeah.”

Aha, I thought.  “And when is that?”

“When it’s too hot.”

“But what bothers you most?” 

“I guess unfairness on the playground.”

Aha, I thought.  “You mean bullying?”

“No when someone doesn’t play fair.  Like they hog the ball or cheat.”

Finally, I could take it no longer.  “But don’t you worry about things like global warming?”

“Oh yeah.  Global warming.  I don’t like it.”

“Why not?”

“Because the ice is going to melt and we are all going to drown.”


“I don’t know.”

“Do you worry a lot about global warming?”

“No.  Just when I hear something on the news or the teacher talks about it.”

 “Do you know if there is anything we can do to stop it?”

“No.  They just told us it was going to happen someday.”

It was clear that tomorrow’s homework volume was a more pressing concern than the polar ice caps.

The seven year old chimed in.  “I hope we get global freezing instead!”


“Because then we could walk out on the ocean and look through the ice and see Atlantis!”

That’s when I realized that we probably don’t need any government programs to allay the children’s fears.  You probably had some things that kept you awake when you were a little one.  I sure did.  But my parents were adept at mind reading and minimizing the problem. 

It reminded me that when I was the same age as my nephews, a teacher told us that the Russians had enough nukes to kill each of us 110 times.   And they really wanted to use them, too.  And if they didn’t do it, the Chinese had even itchier trigger fingers.

I went home that day and told my parents. 

They told me to go out and play.

A Few Days In The South Island

I hope you aren’t thinking that I never do any work, but we just got back from another trip, this time to the South Island of NZ. 

The South Island is considerably different than the North Island.  The main difference is that the North Island is subtropical while the South is temperate and that means you get a change of seasons. 

We have toured the South Island several times in the past but always in late spring or summer and we’ve been talking about taking a trip down to check out the fall foliage for a long time. We’ve also been wanting to visit our friends, René and Marianne, who have a bed and breakfast by Lake Tekapo, population 350.

That’s another thing that makes the South Island different–the absence of people.  The population of NZ is about 4.4 million and about 3.3 million of them live in the slightly smaller North Island.  Of the 1.1 million in the South Island, about half live in the cities of Christchurch, Dunedin and Nelson.  The rest live on farms or in small, quaint towns. 

We flew into Christchurch and left from Dunedin—here was our route:

We arrived in Christchurch early in the morning and picked up our rental car.  We did a leisurely drive, enjoying the quiet roads and sights along the way:

By lunchtime we were at Lake Tekapo.

That’s not the B&B!  It is called The Church of the Good Shepherd and it is the church in Lake Tekapo and a very popular wedding venue.

Lake Tekapo is on the edge of the Southern Alps, a mountain range that dominates a lot of the central South Island and René is a mountain guide.  Aoraki Mt. Cook, which is the highest mountain in NZ, is where Sir Edmund Hillary trained before he climbed Mt. Everest.  The lake itself is the result of glacial runoff and the silt and minerals in the water give it an amazing green/blue color.

René and Marianne treated us to a scenic flight over the mountains.  I sat right behind the pilot and it was like the opening scene of Where Eagles Dare.  We would be flying straight at a mountain and the pilot would be pointing out the window explaining some interesting feature and I wanted to say, “Excuse me, you wanna have a look at what’s looming in the windshield?”

This is one of the glaciers:

This picture shows the glacial water flowing into the lake so you can see the unusual colouring:

And if you still don’t believe me, here is Lake Tekapo next to two neighboring spring-fed lakes:

I love this airport:

Another interesting thing about Lake Tekapo is that there is an observatory there operated by Canterbury University in Christchurch.  They are applying for World Heritage status as part of the Dark Sky project because there is so little light pollution and it is a great place to observe the stars.  It is amazing.  There are so many stars that you have trouble picking out the constellations that we are used to seeing.  René also does volunteer guide work for the observatory and gave us a night time lecture in the comfort of his back yard.  We also visited the observatory by day.


We got a tour of the telescope and an explanation of the projects they are working on.  I’d love to tell you all about it, but I didn’t understand much!  It has to do with dark matter and searching for other solar systems.

Back on Earth, we learned that euphemisms are alive and well everywhere:

You guessed it.  The Resource Recovery Park is the local landfill.

After a couple of relaxing days enjoying René and Marianne’s hospitality, we headed south towards Lake Wanaka.  We took the back roads:

The road wasn’t bad, but when I saw this vehicle I really wanted to have one just like it!

As we went further south we saw more and more evidence of autumn.  It wasn’t exactly New England but it was more than enough to set the mood:

Lake Wanaka is famous for the lake, great views and Puzzling World which is a fun museum with all sorts of interesting scientific phenomena and a huge maze that can take hours to get through. 

Don’t you hate it when people do things like this?

From Wanaka we headed to Arrowtown, population 4,000.  It used to be a gold mining town and they have tried to maintain some of the old time look and feel.  Their Autumn Festival was in full swing and it seemed as if everyone was out celebrating:

Here I am enjoying the standard fare at any NZ outing—a sausage!

We then went on to Queenstown, which is NZ’s vacation headquarters with skiing in winter and Xtreme sports in summer.  Bungy jumping was invented there.  I did not partake. 

The best thing to do in Queenstown is to drive along the lake up to Glenorchy which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.  Peter Jackson thought so too and several scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed in the area.  In case you are a fan and wondering which ones, they include Lothlorien, Amon Hen, Nen Hithoel, Amon Lhaw, Parth Galen, the Ford of Bruinen, The Pillars of the King on the River Anduin, and the site of Gandalf’s ride to Isengard.

We left Queenstown and drove on toward Dunedin.  We tried to find interesting sights and towns on the way.  Here are black swans at Lake Hayes outside of Cromwell:

We stopped in St. Bathans, an old gold mining town, current permanent population 6.  They used a brute force method of mining which basically consisted of washing the dirt off the ore with giant hoses.  It has left permanent scars on the landscape but also created a nice lake:

And Naseby, population 120:

Oh, and I almost forgot!   They’re everywhere!

It was a wonderful trip filled with beautiful scenery and great people.  I can’t say I’m ready to move to a town with the population in four figures or less.  But at least it’s nice to know they are out there and that they always have the welcome mat out.

Citizen Who?

Our local video shop, in an effort to boost sales, has provided us a list of the “Top 100 Movies of All Time.” 

Like most people, I love lists.  They provide a lot of raw material for interesting debates and discussions. 

There are, however, two things that I don’t like about lists.  The first is when political correctness (or recent demise) is a reason for including someone or something on a Top Something list.  I’d give an example, but it would be politically incorrect.

The second is when the list compiler insists on including something just to appear sophisticated or esoteric.   

For example, each afternoon on our local public radio station, they have a segment where someone calls in to tell what, in their opinion, is “The Greatest Song of All Time.”

Now that’s pretty hard.  How do you choose the “greatest?”  Especially when there are no refining criteria.  Do you narrow it down to the song with the greatest guitar solo (still a difficult decision) or the song with the most influence, or the best lyrics?  No matter how you slice it, you will still have a lot of contenders for the title.

And I don’t know about you, but my opinion on the greatest song changes just about daily.

But what I don’t understand is why I’ve never heard of any of the songs that people call in and describe as their “greatest.”  A lot of times I haven’t even heard of the group. 

For example, they will call in and say that the greatest song of all time, bar none, is “Three Legged Blues” by Bradley Noodnik. 

There will be a pregnant pause so that the listeners (except me) have time to say, “Ah yes, I’d almost forgotten.  How true!”  Then the host will say, “Tell us about that song and why you think it’s so great.”  After a lengthy discussion of Bradley’s ouvre, they will finally play the song. 

And guess what?  You don’t agree that it’s the greatest song of all time.  In fact, you come to understand why no one has ever heard of Bradley Noodnik before. 

So with these prejudices in mind, before opening the pamphlet from the video shop, I said to myself “I bet Citizen Kane will be on the list.”

You know I was right.

Now, this is not a criticism of Citizen Kane.  It is not even an attempt to argue that it shouldn’t be on the list.  I’m not saying that the list is flawed because it includes Citizen Kane but leaves out Surf Nazis Must Die. I don’t know what the criteria for being on the list are.  I’m just saying that Citizen Kane is always named as one of the, if not the, greatest movies of all time and I want to know why here at the beginning of the 21st century that is the case.

First of all, let’s look at some of the other offerings on the list.  There is Star Wars, of course.  And Rocky.  And Borat.  You see where I’m going with this.  The Sound of Music is on the listBut not Die Hard.

You see my confusion?  It looks to me like some different demographic groups had input into the list and I don’t know about you, but I have trouble figuring out who is in the demographic that says that Citizen Kane belongs on a list of top movies today? 

When we compile a list of the top inventions of all time, we do not include the Comptometer.  It might have caused as many techno-orgasms as the iPad in its day, but no one today thinks a clunky old calculator belongs on a list like that.

Would Pong belong on a list of the top video games of all time? 

So if you were asking people what the greatest movie of all time was, who do you think would say Citizen Kane?  People at a Lady Gaga concert?  People at a video game convention?  World Cup Soccer fans? 

How about if you added a voting choice for American Idol fans?

I doubt it.  I don’t know many people who have actually seen the movie.  And none who rave about it.

Oh, wait.  What about college freshman sitting around smoking dope and discussing the evolution of the roman a clef. 


I guess there are more of them out there than we thought.