Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Harvesting and sowing

Finished. Christmas, harvest, 2008. All done.

What's that noise?

Uncle Dave's header:

The header gets full quickly:

Header to chaser bin (capably driven by Beta, Dave's other half):

Chaser bin to truck:

What is Unca Mike wearing?!

Hanging out with Aunty Kate:

Now the fun begins!

The plan for 2009:
  • Crack on with GP training- somehow find regular study time and some degree of organisation.
  • Get fit. The baby-weight excuse isn't cutting it now I don't have a baby anymore, and I miss running for the stress relief. Plus I have a wardrobe full of nice clothes I don't fit into.
  • Train my dogs! This year's aims are Pinky casting and taking her sides, Queani getting fit for trialling, and doing something with Ziggy and Bart. Bill is going to stick to 3 sheeping, and the pups will just be pups. Fly- hmmm...
  • Train a dog in J location.
  • Keep up with the garden, aiming for a productive veggie patch all year round, a decent thriving herb garden, pruned and netted grapes and fruit trees, and a surviving lawn, somehow without emptying the dams. First step- two more compost heaps.
  • Poultry- get the chook tractor fixed, get the chooks going, and start planning for a decent (?orchard based) chook run. Investigate ducks and guinea fowl.
  • Learn to crutch.
  • Learn to do something useful re cropping (somehow overcoming my deepseated auger phobia).
  • Write and draw, at least once a month.
  • Start wearing a hat, sunnies and sunscreen every day.
As a family:
  • Succeed with the farm expansion. Twice the work, same man-power, but I know we can do it.
  • Kennels.
  • Perimeter fencing around the house.
  • Have some sort of holiday.
  • Get the house properly unpacked after moving in (over 12 months ago).
  • See more of family and friends in Perth and down here.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas walk

We went out for a walk just before Christmas, making the most of the last days of the cropped paddocks before harvest. One of the advantages to having crops close to the house is that we can enjoy long walks with the dogs around the perimeter of the paddocks, without worrying about disturbing sheep. Now that we've finished the harvest (as of 11pm last night, woo hoo!) there'll be sheep in all that stubble, and we'll be back to exercising the dogs in the house paddocks.

Canola swathes:

Sybil keeping an eye on Muddy, with Blue and Pinky behind:

Earlier in the season the dogs used to enjoy bounding like little roos through the oats, and I always wished I had the camera with me. But these days we're likely to encounter the real thing. So the other night we weren't surprised when a handful of roos appeared out of the crop ahead of us, and we managed to call all the dogs in close as the roos took off away down the fenceline.

Except one- as we gathered the dogs around the pram and asked them to stop and wait, I caught sight of a black something flashing away around the edge of the crop. Which dog? We scanned the dogs at our feet- surely everyone was here? But nope, that was definitely a dog, a blackish one, moving very fast after the roos, but then moving off diagonally, almost in a casting fashion, as though trying to head them off. It was so far away we could hardly see it, widening out as it ran, and then, it suddenly swung in and leapt straight over the new fence without pause, streaking across the wheatgrass. "Muddy!!" but nope, he's here by the pram. Black and white? Very fast! "Fly!", but there she was, leaning on R's leg. "Queani?" but she's back home in the bitches' box.

The dog was a tiny speck in the distance as it swung around behind the roos, turning them back towards us, when R finally whistled his generic recall and the dog stopped in a kickspray of dust and spun around, racing back towards us. It was Trim, wee Trim, and she cleared the fence again in a leisurely fashion and galloped back to us, tongue lolling and ears askew with delight, just as the spooked roos crashed past along the fenceline and into the neighbouring paddock.

The Great Scot

People talk about "heart dogs", the dogs that are so much a part of a person that it's hard to imagine one without the other, the dogs that change someone's life forever. It's one of those corny Dogpeople terms that make me squirm a bit, like the "Rainbow Bridge" idea, but unlike the Rainbow Bridge, the concept of a perfect human-canine partnership makes perfect sense to me. I know exactly what is meant by "Heart Dog". It's Jules with Samroc.

Way back in the early 2000s, I turned up to agility training at Perth to hear Tom raving about this Scottish girl and her dog, both just arrived in WA, and OMG, this dog is so amazingly fast that Tom was literally jumping up and down with excitement. Not only was this dog fast, but they could do things that we'd only just started to think about. Distance handling had just started to appear on our radar. We were watching the FCI World Champ videos and seeing these handlers directing dogs at top speed from half way across the course. Jules and Samroc weren't exactly at World Champ level, in fact they were fairly new to agility even in the UK, but they did have a solid system of directional commands and Sam was like a huge black and white guided missile. Jules could just aim him at a sequence, launch him (and sometimes he'd self-launch) and he'd blast over every obstacle at full speed. He's a big dog and solid power, and I've lost count of the number of weave poles that have snapped under the force of his massive shoulders driving through, but he could turn on a dime and take jumps and find weave entries at angles that seemed impossible for any dog.

Of course Sam also has a fairly effective auto-pilot function, which had a habit of flipping on whenever Jules was at all slack in her handling. But the brilliant thing about Jules and Sam was that they always had a good time on course. No matter how brilliant or bad a run they'd had, they'd come off course the same. Even today, they argue like an old married couple- Jules tries to boss him around, he flicks his ears back and does what he wants, she puts her hands on her hips and swears at him, and then they're both laughing about it.

It must have been something to do with the time they've spent together, since the day ten years ago that Jules looked over the litter of little working sheepdogs and picked the pup with the pink stripe on his nose, and then leaving behind everything they knew to travel across the world together, but I swear Samroc understands every word Jules says, which is more than I can say for most people! And he talks back, more communicative with his facial expressions and body language than I'd believed possible. Sometimes I'm sure he isn't a dog at all, but an opinionated Scottish bloke in a dog suit.

One classic Samroc moment for me was April 2006, when he and Jules came down to the farm to have a look at some pups (and ended up going home with Diva, but that's another story). We took Sam to have a turn on our training sheep. At the age of 8, he'd only been on sheep a couple of times before. He had a good idea naturally, balancing up fairly easily, but being Sam was rather pushy and was constantly up the sheep's bums, so Richard got out his Parelli carrot stick and tried to widen Sam out. After 3 or 4 well timed flicks of the rope on the ground where he was coming in too tight, Sam started to respond, but it wasn't the response Richard was expecting. Samroc shook his head in exasperation, gave Richard a "look", and grabbed the carrot stick rope, pulled it out of R's hands and flung it on the floor. After pausing for another glare in R's direction, he stomped off after the sheep again, this time on his own terms.

Samroc is an elder in the tribe Dog. He never fights or squabbles, he doesn't need to- Sam has "Alpha male" stamped across his forehead. Puppies absolutely love him, following him everywhere like tweenie girls behind the Jonas Brothers' tourbus. He takes this responsibility seriously, tolerating most things with a longsuffering expression, but cracking down on hooliganism with a hard eyed stare, and if necessary, a quiet rumble from deep in his chest. He's more effective than a stint in military school for bringing wayward puppies into line.

Sam was always a star in agility, a natural showman and athlete, the dog everyone stopped to watch. He was at his best for the big events and seemed to turn it on for the crowds, but he never gave less than 100%, ever. Unfortunately this drive became a liability in 2006, when he threw himself over a jump and into a tight turn and injured muscles in his back. After extensive investigation, therapy and rehabilitation, he started to get back into activity, but it wasn't until 2008 that he was able to get back to trialling, and by then his age was starting to take the edge off his speed, although not his enthusiasm for the sport. They travelled over to the Nationals in Melbourne this year to enjoy one last big event together, and the worst possible scenario occurred- Sam misjudged a tyre, which was unpegged and tipped over as he clipped it, landing on his back. He spent ages in hospital, and it looked for a while as though he may never walk again.

But once again, Samroc does things his way, and after months of rehab, he's on the move again- not as freely as he was before, but he's back to the most important things in life: being Jules' best mate and the canine leader of the pack.

I wish (as always) that I'd taken more video of Sam running, but this is all I've got:

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Agility Archives

A few random agility videos from the hard drive clear out:

Midland club trial, 2006

Karen Phillips' Riot running an Open jumping course:

Simone Tolhurst's Raven on the OJ course (this was pre-lymphoma, but I'm happy to say she's just as fast and happy to be out there now she's officially a Cancer Survivor):

Kriszty Cumming's Terra (Bill and Fred's great-aunty) running (I think!) Novice Jumping:

Tom Weir and Brynn, also Midland, Open Agility:

Ash Poli and Bailey at the Canine Centre, 2005:

Ash and Bailey at Northern Suburbs training, 2005 sometime. Nice weave entry, Bailey!

And the Flyboys' aunties show how it's done, ? early 2008:

Terra's earliest trialling days:

Boylee Ceilydh, May 2005:

After agility...

We don't really do agility any more, and I'm getting more accepting of that recently. I'll probably muck around with it now and then, I'll keep dropping in on training when I'm in town, and I might even enter the odd trial here and there, since Bill and Zig really enjoy it. But I wandered off the agility path a while back, and it's probably too hard to get back on that track now- it's heading into uncharted territory for me. I'm OK with the basics of fast dog training, the sending on and directionals and targetting and independent contacts and weaves... but the handling, the person's job, is something I never really did well, and living way out here in the bush, no club, no training group, no motivation, no time, realistically I'm not going to work it out any time soon. I do miss agility though, it's a great sport. Second to working a sheepdog, it's about the best activity you can do with your dog.

I've been thinking about it a bit recently, because some of the greats of the agility scene from my day have been moving on. Some of them are nearing retirement age or having it forced on them through injury. Others have sadly passed away, and it's bringing home the reality of my boy Jack's advancing age and impending mortality. He was twelve this year, and feeling every year of it. The deaths of dogs like Rod Stockdale's Bundy and Di Rose's Taylor, dogs that were there in the ring with us when we started agility almost ten years ago, pile heavily on my heart when I hold Jack's grey muzzle and look into his cloudy eyes.

Agility is very impressive these days: so many fast young dogs driving around demanding courses, precision and speed hand in hand. I love watching today's sport, but I'm also glad to have been a part of it "back in the day", especially during those exciting few years when the old style agility, with its left-side handling, "heelwork with jumps", point/shout/pray contacts started to open up to the concepts of independent contacts and weaves and dogs working on both sides, even (gasp!) away from the handler. Agility competitors these days would laugh at the idea that a dog could be "too fast" for agility, and while I was incredibly frustrated at the time to be told I needed to slow my dog down to have any hope of success, I'm proud of having stuck with it and been a very small part of such a huge change in the sport in our area.

So when I go to an agility trial now, I'm thrilled to see so many incredibly fast dogs doing things that would have blown us away. But it always seems wrong, somehow, that so many of the dogs that were WA agility for so many years are missing.

Photo- Tim Abidin, Your Dog Photos

Ash Poli's Bailey, a greyhound-kelpie cross, really was Mr Agility for me- I've never seen a dog so perfect for it. An insanely driven agility dog, he knew the possibilities of the sport long before any of us did, and set out to realise them, dragging Ash along for the ride. They started training at Northern Suburbs not long before Jack and I did, and right from Day One Bailey threw aside suggestions at heelside control and took off running. Fortunately Ash had long enough legs to stay close behind, and together they negotiated their own style, with independent weave poles, running Aframes and some of the tightest turns over jumps I've ever seen. At their peak, they were the team to beat here, and won at the top level across the country. Since injury forced Bailey into retirement (forced being the operative word) there's been a big lanky Ash-and-Bailey shaped hole in the WA agility scene.

Photo- Tim Abidin, Your Dog Photos

Emma Smith's Major was another dog I'll miss incredibly. Maj started agility around the same time Bailey did, and obviously they'd read the same instruction book. A stocky little kelpie cross, Major threw himself around a course like a cannonball, barking the entire time. Presumably he did take a breath somewhere on course, but it didn't sound like it.

Photo- from Tom Weir's website

Tom Weir's Paisley was really the dog that ignited my interest in training, when I took Jack along to our first PTODC obedience class and Tom and Paisley were practising tricks in front of the caravan. She was barking out the answers to maths questions, I think, and I decided that I would teach Jack to do that. She and Tom were an even more impressive team on the agility course. They ran like they were connected by an invisible elastic band, always knowing exactly where the other would be as though by instinct. I think Paisley won just about all the big events, and towards the end of her career topped it off with the inaugural Agility Dog of the Year title.

And where's Andrea Carde's Wicket, the ballistic Beardie? He was the permanent puppy, never taking agility that seriously (why spoil a good excuse to go fast and loud?) but he was always the most fun to watch. I don't know where agility dogs go when they die, but wherever it is, I'm sure Wicket and Major are barking the place down.

Photo- from ? Tim Abidin at Simone's old WestOz Agility website

There are so many great dogs missing from agility now, whether they're at home with their paws up or gone away forever, and I'm getting all misted up thinking about them. Rod Stockdale's Bundy and Frank Fitzpatrick's Harley, true masters of the sport, Karen Phillips' Soda, who jumped like a little rabbit and was just as quick, the Rhoden's big Max, a GSD in a border collie suit, Megan Bell's Jester and Tracey Wansborough's Jake, the start of the border collie ring domination in WA, Di Rose's Taylor, who competed with Jack at our very first trials and stayed in the sport almost until the day he died. There were lots of others, and I think about all of them from time to time, looking at rare photos or even rarer video clips. It wasn't that long ago, even though it sometimes feels like another planet in memory, but the shadows of those dogs still fall on the agility field for me.

Photo- WestOz Agility

Photo- WestOz Agility

And then there's Val Meyn and Guinea, who are both hugely missed from WA agility even today- although sometimes when I'm watching a really great run I'm sure I can hear a familiar "WhooHoo!" from somewhere not too far away...
They really deserve their own article, but sometimes there just aren't the right words.

That's a rather long-winded prelude to me posting a bunch of video clips from agility- not featuring many of those dogs, unfortunately, because I didn't get a camera until 2005. But if I ever get around to editting some of the videos I have on tape, then you'll all be for it!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Magpie dawn
Children pyjama'd and barefoot on the road's edge
Radio controlled car, new bicycle, faces shining with joy and first light
In the kitchen, day's heat beats against the window glass, loud, insistent,
Slipping through louvres
Wrapping sweaty fingers around our necks
as bent together around the table we fill the platters
egg shells and mayonnaise, watermelon and mango (don't waste the pip!)

cicada song
rising warm from the earth
barbecue smoke and laughter
under the lemon scented gums
snapping Christmas crackers and prawn shells in our fingers
Steaks, snags, seafood, salad, stubbies (cold!)
We stretch out on tartan rugs in dappled sunlight
languid as the summer air

Kookaburra chorus to mark day's end
we gather rugs and eskies and trail home
picking our way like sheep through stubble
lit golden by the embers of the harvest sky
Gifts have been given and gifts received
Family embraced, friendship rejoiced
Joy and love and for the new year
hope renewed

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Carols by Candlelight

I've been working a few extra days in the Christmas rush (all those emergency Christmas Eve pap smears and mole checks) so unfortunately we missed Carols by Candlelight this year.

I thought I could have my own Carols by Bloglight instead. Sing with me!


The North Wind is tossing the leaves,
The red dust is over the town,
The sparrows are under the eaves,
And the grass in the paddock is brown;
As we lift up our voices and sing
To the Christ-Child the Heavenly King.

The tree-ferns in green gullies sway;
The cool stream flows silently by;
The joy bells are greeting the day,
And the chimes are adrift in the sky,
As we lift up our voices and sing
To the Christ-Child the Heavenly King.


Out on the plains the brolgas are dancing,
Lifting their feet like war horses prancing,
Up to the sun the woodlarks go winging,
Faint in the dawn light echoes their singing,
Orana! Orana!Orana! To Christmas Day.

Down where the tree-ferns grow by the river,
There where the waters sparkle and quiver,
Deep in the gullies Bell-birds are chiming,
Softly and sweetly their lyric notes rhyming
Orana! Orana!Orana! To Christmas Day.

Friar-birds sip the nectar of flowers,
Currawongs chant in wattle-tree bowers,
In the blue ranges Lorikeets calling,
Carols of bushlands rising and falling,
Orana! Orana!Orana! To Christmas Day.

Sing along!

I doubt you'll find this one at many CbyC sessions, but these are my Carols, and this is one of my favourites:

Some seasonal poetry:

It's not Australian, but I love it
Journey of the Magi
TS Eliot

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times when we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wineskins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

One of the great Australian Christmas poems, catering also for the expat Scots among us:

Santa Claus In The Bush
AB Paterson

It chanced out back at the Christmas time,
When the wheat was ripe and tall,
A stranger rode to the farmer's gate
A sturdy man and a small.

"Rin doon, rin doon,
my little son Jack,
and bid the stranger stay,
And we'll hae a crack for Auld Lang Syne,
for the morn is Christmas day."

"Nay noo, nay noo,"
said the dour guidwife,
"But ye should let him be,
He's maybe only a drover chap,
From the land o' the Darling Pea."

"Wi a drovers tales,
and a drover's thirst
tae swiggle the hail nicht through,
Or he's maybe a life assurance carle,
to talk ye black and blue."

"Guidwife, he's never a drover chap
for their swags are neat and thin,
And he's never a life assurance carle
with the brick dust burnt in his skin."

"Guidwife, guidwife,
be nae sae dour
for the wheat stands ripe and tall
And we shore a seven pound fleece this year,
ewes and weaners and all."

"There is grass to spare and the stock are fat,
where they whiles are gaunt and thin,
And we owe a tithe to the travellin' poor,
so we maun ask him in."

"Ye can set him a chair at table side
and gie him a bite tae eat,
An omelette made of a new-laid egg,
or a tasty bit o' meat."

"But the native cats hae taen fowls-
they havena left a leg,
And he'll get nae omelette at a'
till the emu lays an egg."

"Rin doon, rin doon,
my little son Jack,
to whaur the emus bide,
Ye shall find the auld hen on the nest
while the auld cock sits beside."

"But speak them fair and speak them saft
lest they kick ye a fearful jolt,
Ye can gie them a feed of the half inch nails
or a rusty carriage bolt."

So little son Jack ran blithely down
with the rusty nails in hand,
Till he came where the emus fluffed and scratched
by their nest in the open sand.

And there he has gathered the new-laid egg-
'twould feed 3 men or 4,
And the emus came for the half inch nails
right up to the settlers door.

"A waste o' food," said the dour guidwife,
as she took the egg with a frown,
"But he gets nae meat unless ye rin
a paddy-melon down."

"Gang oot, gang oot,
my little son Jack
wi your twa-three doggies sma,
Gin ye come nae back wi a paddy-melon,
then come nae back at a'."

So little son Jack he raced and he ran
and he was bare o' the feet,
And soon he captured a paddy-melon,
was gorged with stolen wheat.

"Sit doon, sit doon," my bonny wee man,
"to the best that the hoose can do,
An omelette made o' the emu egg,
and a paddy melon stew."

"'Tis well, 'tis well", said the bonny wee man,
"I have eaten the wide world's meat,
And the food that is given with right good will
is the sweetest food to eat."

"But the night draws on to Christmas Day
and I must rise and go,
For I have a mighty way to ride
to the land of the Esquimaux."

"And it's there I must load my sledges up
with the reindeers four-in-hand,
That go to the North, South, East and West,
to every Christian land."

"Tae the Esquimaux," said the dour guidwife
"ye suit my husband well,
For when he gets up on his journey horse
he's a bit o' a liar himsel'."

Then out with a laugh went the bonny wee man,
to his old horse grazing nigh,
And away like a meteor flash
they went far off to the Northern sky.

When the children woke on the Christmas morn,
they chattered with might and main,
For a sword and a gun had little son Jack,
and a braw new doll had Jane,
And a packet o' screws had the twa emus,
but the dour guidwife got nane!

Merry Christmas, everyone!