Friday, February 20, 2009

Heat Wave

A paddock on Spring Rock in the summer

This story was written in the summer of 2007 but is still pretty much what happens here when a heat wave hits Spring Rock.

In case you haven’t heard me loudly complaining, the weather here has turned extremely hot lately! The temperature has hovered in the late 30’s and early 40’s for over two weeks now and it actually outdid itself last week reaching 45 degrees Celsius (that’s around 110 degrees Fahrenheit in real numbers). The weather forecasters are being coy about when the cooler change might be coming. We keep hearing about chances of showers, or even storms, but they are just empty promises designed to lower our morale, in much the same way that their predictions of immanent rain all through the drought rubbed in the fact that there was really no chance of any such thing.

While all around me are finding ways to keep cool, get their outside jobs done before 6 a.m. (when the weather tends to turn nasty) and lie low for the duration, I become preoccupied with finding ways to keep the menagerie somewhere under melting point while maintaining peace and my normal pet quotient. With the diverse range and incompatible natures of the creatures under my care, that proves to be a real challenge. Last summer I solved the problem simply, by bringing Hedwig (the galah) into the house in her inside cage. I coaxed Shadow (the Silky Terrier type) into the kitchen and the ferrets had the run of the house while Graeme was elsewhere. For those times Graeme couldn’t be persuaded to brave the excessive heat out in the paddocks or sheds, I invented ferret air-conditioning. Ferret air-conditioning for the uninitiated consists of a bucket of water sitting on top of their cage, with a towel end placed in the bucket and the rest of the wet towel draped over the side to catch any friendly breeze, thus cooling the air as it goes into the cage. The ferrets also have a wet towel on the floor of their cage on which they can lay their hot little tummies. This arrangement worked well with all pets agreeing to live in harmony in the name of cooling down. Well, the ferrets didn’t actually agree to the living in harmony bit, but I kept a keen eye on them while they were inside to ensure that the cats, Hedwig and Shadow didn’t become Ferret treats.

Since Billy was added to the mix, things have become a tad more difficult. Billy has very few aims in life – to spread St. Bernard drool as far and wide as possible; to keep me cornered and patting him whenever the opportunity arises and to chew on any member of the pet brigade to see if it pass the Billy test for soft and fluffy on the gums. Added to these worthy ambitions is the fact that Billy is built for the Swiss Alps where temperatures of 40 degrees are unheard of except possibly in a sauna. I’ve tried various pet combinations in the kitchen on hot days and so far they have all been fraught with feelings of guilt on my part for the poor furry objects that are banished to the sweltering backyard while the chosen few bask under the air-conditioning duct.

Each time Billy enters the kitchen, his reaction is the same. As soon as he walks through the back door he has but one thought in his huge head – find the cats! He knows they’re in here somewhere and he takes it upon himself to sniff them out and get down to the serious business of cat chivvying. It took me a while to get the message across that he was a guest in the house and must demonstrate a guest’s good manners. While our human guests rarely harbour nefarious schemes towards the cats, and are therefore given free reign of the house, rule number one for Billy is that he is not allowed off the kitchen floor. The kitchen and dining room are in fact one big room and the lounge room runs off the dining room via an archway. This provides a dog who doesn’t play by the rules access to most of the house without the inconvenience of doors to barricade his way. After many discussions on the topic, with Billy trying to convince me it was just a slip of the foot, he eventually agreed to restrict his body and drool to the kitchen floor. He still maintains the option to wander further a-field should he think no-one is looking though. He has refined his agreement to the utmost, and usually sits with his body up against the demarcation line – the silver strip that hides the edge of the carpet where it meets the kitchen vinyl. He sits so close that if he takes a deep breath his rib-cage drifts over the line.

The cats at first chose to lie low in our bedroom where the air conditioner doesn’t reach, but after a few days of Billy infesting their kitchen, helping himself to their food, drink and cool air, the cats plotted revenge. It didn’t take long for them to realise that Billy was a virtual prisoner in the kitchen and they now take great pleasure in wandering up and down under the dining table just a few feet from the kitchen/dining room border line, in full view of one very agitated St. Bernard. Last night they got really brave and actually sat as close as they dared to the silver edging, only inches from Billy’s nose. For a while there I thought Billy was going to explode. He looked like a dog who had his feet nailed to the floor! The pain on his face and the whimpering sounds tugged at my heart strings, but the cats just smirked to themselves and rubbed up against my legs, while nodding at Billy in a supercilious way.

Billy’s drool causes certain problems of its own. Wandering into the kitchen in bare feet is fraught with danger both real and aesthetic. I had the bright idea of making Billy a bib out of an old towel tied around his neck with the length of the towel draped over his front. Billy took exception to this innovation and spends a great deal of time ridding himself of the unfashionable item. When he can’t remove the towel he resorts to the sneaky ploy of getting himself tangled in it, thus making me come to his rescue. All in all the towel proved to be more work for me than just wiping the drool off the floor every now and then.

Shadow’s role during all this is to sit on the floor by the kitchen sink grumbling her mantra, “Kitchens are for shelter from storms – there is no storm – nothing good can come of this.” While Shadow will throw her little body against the back door to get into the kitchen at the first peal of thunder, the only way to get her into the house on hot days is to pick her up, ignore her grumbling about disrespect for old ladies, and plonk her on the cool floor. Shadow wants it stated for the record that she is a lot tougher than that overgrown, namby-pamby excuse for a dog and she’ll show him what her generation and breed are made of. I fully believe that Shadow would sun bake in the hottest part of our yard if only she had a pair of sunnies and a beach towel. The word “heatstroke” means nothing to her.

Meanwhile with Billy, Shadow and the cats keeping cool in various parts of the house, my thoughts turned to the ferrets doing it tough out in their cage under our old apricot tree. I spend more time outside in the heat refreshing the ferret air-conditioning than is wise for a person. After ensuring that the ferrets are keeping relatively cool, my thoughts turn to TD and TOD (That Duck and That Other Duck), Russell Crow, Feather Duster and The Girls (our two roosters and six black hens). They all live up in the back yard under an enormous pine tree and possibly the coolest part of the yard. Now I know if, in the unlikely event I was able to catch them all, there’s no way Graeme would tolerate them becoming free range house poultry so all I can do for them is ensure they have plenty of water and add them to my worry list.

Hedwig no longer likes to come inside, preferring to remain in her shade cloth draped aviary. She welcomes visits from me providing I have a scoop of her favourite seeds to offer. To provide Hedwig with relief from the heat I put ice-cubes in her water dish and spray her with water until her feathers are soaked. Hedwig enjoys these little niceties and happily lifts each wing while I spray the water over her, unconcerned about the fact that we are on tank water and I’m standing out in the heat whiles she’s enjoying her ablutions. Once she is fully damp, I leave her to dip her beak into the ice water, and once again turn my worries to the ferrets.

Today I brought the ferrets inside in their indoor cage. I placed a nice big bowl of ice water in one corner and their food dish in the other. Miette never loses an opportunity to over dramatise things. When I lifted her out of her cage this afternoon she immediately assumed the guise of a dehydrated, unloved and overheated ferret. There she lay in my hands – limp, looking like a melted ferret, appearing to gasp for every breath. This display of intense suffering might have been more effective if I hadn’t had to remove her and Albus from their quilted polar fleece sleeping bag to bring them inside. As soon as she realised that she was being taken inside, she forgot her role as the heat struck ferret and perked up amazingly.

Billy, who had braved the heat to supervise the removal of the ferrets from their cage, pushed past me as I headed for the back door. He assumed the role of welcoming committee and offered to help settle the ferrets in. Albus and Miette adopted their usual, highly successful strategy of totally ignoring Billy. I tried various manoeuvres to drop the ferrets into their cage while at the same time using my body to block Billy who was trying to get a taste of ferret.

Under the terms of the “Graeme – Ferret Treaty of 2003”, negotiated after Miette’s brush with death early last year, the ferrets must remain in their indoor cage while Graeme is inside. Despite my pleading the ferret’s case for a free run of the house, Graeme refuses to go and find outdoor jobs in 41 degree temperatures, just so that Miette and Albus can run around the house enjoying the coolness. For those of you who don’t know, no ferret can resist chewing on Graeme’s toes whenever the opportunity arises. What special quality Graeme’s toes have over the general population’s I don’t know, but I’ve never me a ferret who could walk past Graeme’s feet and resist the temptation to sample those ferret delicacies.

Both ferrets refuse to honour the treaty whenever possible, and immediately they were ensconced in their cage began testing it for weak spots with a view to a gaol break, all the while ignoring the unfolding drama of my futile attempts to de-Billy the kitchen. After various unsuccessful attempts Billy was finally put outside and began his campaign to get back inside or die trying. So, with the accompaniment of regular scratching sounds at the back door, everyone settled in to enjoying the coolness of the kitchen. It was then that Miette found a new use for her water dish.

At first I thought that Miette was indeed overheated and had decided to end it all in her water dish. She began by taking lady like sips, savouring the coolness of the ice water. Then, without warning, she plunged her head into the dish and, with her nose on the bottom settled in for what looked like a long stay! Now I don’t know what the world record for a ferret holding its breath underwater is, but I didn’t want Miette trying for the new record. I stood beside the cage tapping at the water dish and making concerned sounds while encouraging Albus to talk sense to Miette when she came up for air. With a little smile on her face and the air of one going for broke, she once again dived for the bottom of the dish causing water to flow over the rim and out onto the kitchen floor. I couldn’t convince Miette to cease her impersonation of deep sea diving ferret and I ultimately left her to it so I could focus on worrying about Billy and Shadow, banished to the laundry to keep cool while the ferrets had their turn with the air-conditioner.

One thing is for certain though … whichever member of the Small menagerie takes refuge in the kitchen during the heat wave, we’ll still need to navigate puddles on the kitchen floor.

I think I need a pair of flippers!