Feeling the Heat

DIGITAL PRINTS now available on Ebay • Greeting card selection now available on Etsy • ASNI'S GARDEN: Original Watercolour paintings available on Etsy

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In this newsletter:
 
*** Summer hole
*** News and Current Projects

Summer Hole

Summer has passed in a bit of a blur. I have been meaning to do something a little special for my Christmas newsletter, but then I ended up spending the holidays mostly sleeping: I think I must have been catching up on every all-nighter I have ever pulled! I couldn't even motivate myself to make any trips to the beach – let alone work on a newsletter.

I think I was possibly still recuperating from my brush with Lyme disease. From what I have read, getting plenty of sleep is one of the things that are important if one wants to avoid a relapse, so I've allowed myself to be as lazy as I ever wanted to be.

Besides, the summer has been insanely hot. That's not just a subjective impression, but borne out by scientific data: who still wants to deny that climate change is real? Probably a good thing I've started growing myself some subtropical trees. If it keeps on like that, we'll soon be able to grow bananas in the Wairarapa. If it wasn't for the wind, that is.

Still, I did eventually manage a day at the beach. Just in the nick of time before the hot summer weather broke, right on schedule on Tuesday 1st March.

Day at the beach, Castlepoint, Wairarapa Day at the beach, Castlepoint, Wairarapa Day at the beach, Castlepoint, Wairarapa Day at the beach, Castlepoint, Wairarapa Day at the beach, Castlepoint, Wairarapa Day at the beach, Castlepoint, Wairarapa

Day at the beach: Castlepoint, Wairarapa

There's been joy and tragedy in my little family of animals. The last months have brought a veritable baby boom: I've been hatching chicken chicks in my incubator, and several of my hens have been broody and hatched chicks of heir own. Big Mary proudly presented herself with five chicks of mixed parentage just before Christmas, but sadly they all fell victim to a hedgehog the first night they slept out of their nest. So when I spotted Bao sitting on another nest, I moved her to the safely of my front entrance, no matter what that did to the state of my carpet! I'm busy redecorating anyway, and about to tear the carpet out.

Noodle the Indian Runner duck appeared on Boxing Day with eleven little yellow fluffballs in tow, but tragially they all died a few days later, except for one which I managed to save. I'm not entirely sure how that happened: either it was the filthy water in my pond, or they simply starved. So when Muffin appeared a week later with another ten ducklings in tow, I put her in my back entrance where I could make sure they'd have clean water and food. Even though I wondered if I would ever be able to clean up the mess!

This thing they say about "breeding like rabbits" is no joke: Yin had her first litter of five at the beginning of December, sneakily behind my back – I only found them a week or so later. The next litter followed right after in the wee hours of New Year's Day: it was, in fact, pretty much the first thing that happened this year. I was just having a toast after midnight with a glass of bubbly, when I heard her moan and found her birthing behind my dining room door. So that should be auspicious! Mumrik was already queuing up to make the next batch as soon as she'd be finished, but I pulled him away just in time, and managed to keep them separate for about a week. So the third litter arrived in early February. This time there were ten.

There have been sad losses: the first to go was my sweet little Polish hen Lody. She got sick, and when I took her in to the vet she told me to off her, so as tenderly as I could, I broke her little neck. Then my funny, cuddly, talkative, and all around awesome black rooster Stout keeled over one day and was gone. I think there was an excess of mites in the cardboard box he slept in: totally preventable if only I had realized!

Mumrik, my boy rabbit, died at the vets when I took him in to be neutered. Apparently rabbits can die from the anaesthesia quite easily, and he just stopped breathing. It was interesting to observe that he actually seemed to take an active role as a dad, and was happy to hang out and engage with his offspring. He was a great fellow, and I only wish I'd had the chance to give him more time than I did.

Sad farewells Sad farewells Sad farewells Sad farewells Sad farewells Sad farewells Sad farewells

Sad farewells: Lody, Stout, Mumrik, and Te Po

And I have lost Te Po. Grumpy pest as she sometimes was, I ended up being very fond of her – and she clearly was very fond of me, even though I yelled at her sometimes.

She has had absolutely no luck in her short life. I had to separate her from Yin and put her out of the house sometime before Christmas, but unfortunately I picked the moment just before her first litter was due. Both she and Yin had been at nest building for weeks, and I'd been expecting the first babies much earlier, but ended up being unsure if they were even pregnant at all.

She popped her babies behind the washing machine on top of some of the chicken's eggs, where I found them the next morning. I moved them and their mother into the brand new as yet unused chicken house I had just acquired, but a couple of days later the babies had all disappeared. Something must have come in through the flap and eaten them all, a hedgehog perhaps or a cat.

Meanwhile, Te Po had gotten quite sick. She had sustained a substantical scratch, either from one of her fights with Yin, or from a run-in with a local cat, and I had to take her to the vet to surgically remove a huge abscess. It cost me a stiff vet bill, but she was a fighter, and surprisingly collaborative when I washed out the wound and gave her her meds: I am sure she understood that I was helping her, and she ended up doing quite a bit of the work herself, licking the remaining pus and dead tissue out of the wound.

First thing she did when we came home from the vet, was run into the chicken house, then behind the washing machine, looking for her babies. I picked her up to comfort her, and I swear the rabbit was sobbing. Or whatever the sobbing equivalent is in rabbits.

Then just as the abscess was all but healed, she had another run-in with Yin and took a solid bite out of her flesh. I told her off quite sternly, and she figured out how to open the window latch in the room where I kept her and disappeared for a couple of days, presumably to sulk. When I spotted her again in the garden, she did not try to move away when I went to pick her up, so I figured something was wrong. It was not until a day later that I realized that she wasn't hopping properly and was dragging one leg: she'd dislocated a hip.

At that point, I was almost ready to take her the way Lody had gone: but for the fact that I suspected she was pregnant again, and only a few days away from giving birth. And having witnessed how she'd acted about the loss of her first litter, I felt fairly positive that if I could have asked her, she would have told me to let her have those babies, NO MATTER WHAT.

She somehow managed to build a makeshift nest and pop five living babies while barely being able to move, or bend herself around to lick her bottom. I gave her a hand with putting together a proper nest, then tried to convince her to keep still and move as little as possible: from what I'd read, if I could manage to do that chances where she'd grow a fake hip joint, and I just couldn't afford to have another surgery on an even bigger scale than the first, and which might not even fix the issue.

The leg healed quite well. It was still sticking out at an odd angle but after a few weeks, she was hopping around again quite confidently, though I was concerned that it would put a permanent strain on her spine. The babies all grew up, except one which had been very small and weak, and eventually got squished by its siblings. They were beautiful, as could be expected from such a mother. I had just taken photos to list them for sale, when a cat came by and apparently ate all four of them: at least I haven't seen one of them since. And that is just so bloody unfair.

Now Te Po is also gone. Perhaps, I think, it is for the best: I was worried that she'd end up in permanent pain, and I felt horrible that she'd lose all her babies, second time round. They were all but weaned at the time and she didn't show signs of distress, but she was a singularly smart rabbit lady and I'm sure she must have felt it. She was very cuddly with me those last few weeks. At least I hope I have finally made her feel that she was loved.

New arrivals New arrivals New arrivals New arrivals New arrivals New arrivals New arrivals

New arrivals: Cundry, Otto, Käthchen, Moin, a wild rabbit and some chicks

On a happier note, there are some newbies on the patch: apart from the homegrown offspring – my chicken and duck crossbreeds are turning out seriously beautiful if I say so myself – there is now Cundry the Barnevelder hen, and Otto the silver campine rooster. Plus, a little wild rabbit who decided to move in with us. Apparently word got round that life is good for rabbits on my patch.

I've been ordering some eggs online to breed a few more silver campines and some anconas, but ended up with a trio of brown leghorns instead: not a breed I particularly wanted to have, but they add a different colour accent to my mostly black, white and blue, and they are supposed to be good layers. So I might keep them around, or I could sell them to finance my chicken habit. Selling chickens, ducks and rabbits turns out a whole lot easier than trying to sell art, I can tell you that!

I did manage to hatch one poor lonely silver campine chick who is now called Moin: I wanted it to be a boy to breed with my two hens Buten and Binnen, but its looking like it will turn into a hen, and then I found Otto, so that will be even better.

And just to keep some of my neighbours happy, and because I didn't yet have quite enough birds, I have now branched out into parrots. Käthchen is a Bourke's parakeet: they are the size of Budgies but pink, part of a group of small parrots known as Australian grass parakeets. She's been making friends with my lonely chick Moin, but I think it is time to find her a couple of companions who will stay her size. More of that in my next, I hope!

But no worries, I will still be looking for a replacement axolotl, some goldfish, and a pet turtle, one day.



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Flax game illustration by Astrid Nielsch

Flax game, Wild Things magazine, issue 129, Summer 2015

News & Current Projects

The creativity has been on a low burner this whole last year, but just before Christmas, I quietly stepped over that important threshold of being officially published in a public publication. And credited, and paid for it, too.

Johanna Knox is the editor of Wild Things Magazine, published by Forest & Bird, with the aim of getting children interested in conservation issues. She invited the attendees at last year's Tinderbox conference to work on an issue that would feature local writers and illustrators. She gave us a list of topics, and I expressed an interest in working on something about New Zealand flax – the only plant on the list. After all, I am a certified horticulturist even if this year, I have been mostly growing chickens!

Johanna is a keen plant lover herself – she's written a book about foraging for wild foods, and we'd met on Facebook on the basis of this common interest. I joined the project rather late in the game, when most of the other teams were already formed, so she came back to me and suggested to team up with her. And why don't we work on a game? So my illustration scored the centre spread, and I am proud to say that Johanna also went with some suggestions I made about what the game should be about. She wanted to wholesale credit me with the concept, but I told her no way, I couldn't have worked up my ideas into an actual functioning game. That's a bit of a mystery to me!

The piece is published in Wild Things magazine issue 129, Summer 2015. Text by Basil Keane and Johanna Knox, illustration by your's truly, concept by Johanna and myself, layout by Rob Di Leva. I got a whole stack of copies in the mail, so hit me up if you want one! The issue also features beautiful work by Viv Walker, Adele Jackson, Deborah Hinde, Kat Quinn Merewether and Harriet Bailey.

The other thing I have been working on, which also came out of Tinderbox, is a commission for a Young Adult fantasy ebook cover. The author requested a piece in the style of my Farewell Song, but in the end decided that it looked too "flat". I think she was after something more generically fantasy-y photorealistic. Still, she paid me, and the rest is totally up to her. :) Shame though, I think it turned out quite well, and it definitely "reads" as a small thumbnail size.

Well, I suppose I could always work it up into a poster, and add it to my Etsy shop.

On AMAZING STORIES, I have continued my space exploration miniseries: Astronaut/Cosmonaut looks at the differences in cultural outlook between the Soviet Union and the USA, expressed in a slight difference in terminology. Moon Landing features men on the moon. Then the new Star Wars movie came out, and DeviantArt went wild: the art I have posted on this blog had been uploaded within a 12 hour period, only days after the movie premiered. Visit my author page, with a list of all my blog posts on Amazing Stories.

Taking about the new Star Wars movie, I got to go see it just before Christmas with my mostly-online friend Stephanie from Switzerland, who just happened to pass through on one of her every-other-year visits to New Zealand. She'd invited me for our ritual Indian dinner on Courtenay place, though in the end we decided to diss the Indian and go Vietnamese on Vivian Street instead. As to the movie – let me just say how much I loved it. I should probably write a review, but then this newsletter will never get finished. Maybe another time.

She was the second mostly-online friend to drop by in December: earlier in the month, I'd finally got to meet my friend Anna-Stina from Finland and her partner, who came to stay at my house despite the utter chaos it is currently in, and descended straight onto my bookshelf. Such a European thing to do! It occurred to me that in my now 13 years in New Zealand, none of my local friends had ever done that. I took them out to Cape Palliser and they found the secret rock pool that I had missed on my previous three or four visits to the place. I'm beginning to think that having a social life might not be so boring after all.

Arohanui, from Asni


Animal antics in Asni's Garden – watch on Youtube



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Greetings from the family Greetings from the family Greetings from the family

siesta * la famiglia * paranoid