I’ve mentioned the drought recently on my blog…
It is continuing and our creek has now dried up completely.
Any decent dry climate person knows that, in periods of drought, animals seek water where they can find it, which is normally close to inhabited dwellings.
Our place is no different and it says something about the extreme nature of this drought that we have seen 3 snakes close to the house in the last 2 weeks. Up until then, we’d only seen 1 snake in the whole 8 years that we have owned the property!
A couple of weeks ago, I was removing rubble from behind the house when a thin 5 foot long snake crawled out from between several pieces of broken brick. I was mortified, immediately thinking I was lucky to be alive (as any decent Australian would!).
During the course of the following week, I asked many of our Italian friends about this snake and was told that they are “biscia”. They all had smiles on their faces when they described the snake (an unusual concept for an Australian!) and told me that these snakes were not dangerous but were “belle” (not quite the word an Australian might use…)
Our chickens don’t like skittering or slithering creatures and they launch into a great noisy cacophony whenever they see them. We’ve had several of these ‘operas’ this week which we’ve been able to attribute to a door mouse, a field mouse and a snake. Despite all of our soothing words, we don’t seem to be able to stop the noise until (presumably) the disturbing creature goes away.
This morning, while I was on a video call with Mum and Dad, Stu burst through the door screaming “Come and help me! There’s a huge snake in the shed!”
So I hung up immediately. It was clearly an emergency…
We both dashed to the shed where Stu started poking in a corner with the pitch fork.
When my eyes adjusted to the relative darkness, I saw a rather thick 6 foot long creature making its way around the walls of the shed. It was another biscia.
“Do something!”, ‘Stu the New Zealander’ cried, keeping an eye on the creature, “You’re the Australian! You’re used to these things!”
“Yes, I’m Australian…and we’re brought up to be scared stiff of them! I can’t go near the thing!”, I cried back.
The snake wouldn’t stay still and kept making its way towards the back wall where Stu kept all of his equipment, tools and hardware. The back wall is lined with boxes, paint tins, cupboards and all sorts of things that promised to make great hiding places for our snake.
Stu launched into action.
It seemed that he was almost horizontal. His feet remained in the centre of the shed while his hands and arms leaned over at an extreme angle to flounder at everything on the back wall, moving each piece just before the snake got to it.
I continued to watch as Stu chased his snake around the shed, trying desperately to scoop the slippery creature onto his pitchfork.
When Stu and the snake headed towards the front of the shed, it was time for me to leave. I ran outside but continued to listen to the activity inside, which I found rather entertaining.
The cacophony was comparable to our chickens.
Stu was yelling and grunting and panting. The pitchfork was clattering and banging.
Suddenly Stu yelled “Get away from the door!” and I leaped back.
Within seconds, a snake flew out though the door and landed on the path where it immediately attempted to return to the shed.
Enter a panting and sweating Stu with his pitchfork again.
There ensued more yelling, grunting, panting, clattering and banging until the snake became airborne again, this time landing on the grass.
Stu pursued the creature once more, this time throwing it down the bank towards the creek.
Finally, we stood together at the top of the bank, Stu huffing and puffing and wiping the sweat from his eyes, me nursing my sore stomach muscles (it’s not easy being bent over in laughter…)
As Australians, drought is not a stranger to us.
However, drought in Piemonte is just plain strange.
For the last 5 years, the alps have not had their usual amount of snow which in turn means that our underground water reserves aren’t recovering. Our ancient stone well hasn’t refilled after we recently withdrew some water from it.
For the last few years, we’ve had limited rain and virtually none for the last 4-6 months. Our stormwater tanks are empty.
We are now only watering (sparingly!) our young fruit and nut trees (by hand!) and have given up on having our usual colourful summer potplants around the house.
This is the colour of drought…
Our summer began early and brutally.
We’re having a heat wave.
We’ve been closing windows before 8am to keep the daily heat out and not opening them until after 7pm when we invite the overnight cool back in. We hide indoors during the larger part of the day and emerge only at dawn and dusk.
Our chickens have their beaks open and their wings spread wide so we let them wander freely to find their own cooler spots around the house. They spend the mornings foraging, then stop for 4-5 hours in the hotter part of day to bathe in the cool dirt outside the dining room which remains shaded by the wisteria.
We’ve also been doing what we can to help them cool down…and today’s treat was a cold watermelon.
We dished it up then sat down to watch them eat…but it was painful to watch ‘chook culture’ in action.
Our really bossy hen, Drumstick, made sure that she and her man Horris ate first. While they ate, Yolko Ono stared into my camera. I’m sure she was trying to charm me into changing ‘chicken law’…but pecking order can’t be altered so she had to wait until after they’d finished…
Last year, the wisteria on our fienile grew too big for the temporary wire structure we had built for it…so Stu created a better support structure which will see it through a good few years yet!
We held our Spring BBQ last weekend.
This is an annual excuse to have friends over as well as to ‘launch’ the use of the fienile for the season.
We’re always proud to show off our roses in May and this year we were keen to show off our chickens too.
Unfortunately, our chickens (or one of them in particular) had different ideas…
Two of our friends reported afterwards that they had seen our tiny rooster try so hard to crow that he fell over!
He was able to correct himself quickly but he was seen to cast a quick glance at his ‘women’ to check that they hadn’t witnessed his little wobble.
Apparently, the said ‘women’ were busy foraging so he did manage to maintain some semblance of pride…
Stu and I believe in constantly challenging ourselves.
We figure challenges will ensure that we are always discovering and growing and never becoming stagnant or complacent.
One of our latest challenges has been our chickens…
We embraced all things chicken in September last year and, so far, have had a blessedly easy life with them.
But sooner or later, things were bound to go wrong…and our chooks have recently opened up a whole new world to us.
This week we were faced with our biggest chook-related challenge yet.
We woke one morning to find Horris (our bantam rooster) obsessively scratching one of his eyes and constantly rubbing the same side of his face on the ground.
I watched him for a while because, to be honest, I needed time to realize that I had a sick chicken on my hands.
After a few hours, Horris had deteriorated and couldn’t stand or walk straight. He had a weird grey crusty thing above his eye and was clearly very traumatized by whatever was happening to him.
When I was young, Dad used to solve all animal-related problems with warm water and antiseptic solution. We never used to take our pets to the vet. Invariably, Dad’s ‘solution’ always worked.
I suspected that chickens in country Italy may never see a vet either (they are most probably ‘despatched’ instead) so I did what I always do when faced with a new challenge here.
I found a great chicken discussion forum where I read about all sorts of horrible chicken ailments (that I hope we never see!). One possible explanation for Horris’ behaviour was an infestation of tiny ticks (which made me itch just reading about it!); another was an infected eye.
The home solution for the ticks was to smear vaseline on the mass which would apparently suffocate the ticks until they fell off. In the absence of vaseline, I decided a dob of quality New Zealand antiseptic manuka honey might work instead.
I picked up Horris, smeared him with this (rather expensive) goo and left him for a few hours.
That night, when he was all tucked up in ‘bed’, I sought him out armed with a warm water and eye wash mixture and a few cotton wool balls. I was confronted with a little rooster that couldn’t open his eye and wondered fleetingly if sticky honey had been the right thing to do.
But as I carefully washed his eye area, to my surprise, the grey mass came away with the remaining honey and the little fellow looked up at me!
The next day, although Horris looked completely back to normal, we decided to see if we could get something medicinal for him just in case he deteriorated again.
We started at the agriculture shop where we buy our chicken food. The man there told us to go to the chemist.
Yes, the chemist.
Apparently, in Italy all medicine whether it be for humans or animals is obtained from a chemist!
We really struggled with this; it just didn’t seem right to stand in line with a whole lot of ailing humans and ask for chook solutions.
But what have I said previously about challenges?
So we set off to the chemist.
Like all embarrassed foreigners, we loitered outside the chemist until we were certain that there were no other customers inside.
Then we entered.
“I need something for an infected eye”, I announced in bad Italian to the lady behind the counter.
She peered at my eye.
“For my chickens”, I explained in bad Italian.
Her and her colleague looked at each other and I was sure the man at the agriculture shop had played a joke on me.
I looked down, embarrassed and desperate for an escape or at least for a few more words in Italian that might explain my chicken predicament.
I could see Stu out of the corner of my eye. He was slowly backing away and making for the other side of the shop where he was feigning great interest in an advertisement on the wall.
The 2 colleagues looked back at me and I realized that they were waiting for more explanation.
Completely bereft of words, I rubbed my eye on the back of my hand several times in an expressive manner, then walked around in circles in a crooked lopsided fashion.
The 2 colleagues looked askance.
Stu feigned even greater interest in his commercial but suddenly returned to me in a panicked state.
Somehow, we were given a small tube of antibiotic ointment and sent on our way.
It was only later, outside the shop, that Stu explained his sudden departure from the advertisement. It seems that he had been showing great interest in a commercial about female sanitary products.
Next time we need a chemist, we might try the other one in town…