September 13, 2012 § 4 Comments
Rain is a very New Zealand thing. In some places on the globe, winter manifests in snow. In many places in New Zealand, winter manifests in mud. (Remember those scenes trudging through mud in the film The Piano?)
After weeks and weeks of rain and mud here in New Zealand we are finally walking into spring. Phew. Maybe one wouldn’t notice the mud so much if one weren’t walking a dog every day. Or wasn’t a farmer. Not that I’m a farmer. But I’ve just spent at least three months toweling a wet and muddy dog at least two times a day. And for three long months I’ve tried to arrive at work without shoes caked in mud or without mud splashes all over my black pants. Not possible if you have a very lively dog that needs running before you ask her to wait in the car or sit still in your friend’s house while you are at work.
The other thing that was always there over the last three winter months was another real Kiwi thing: I’ve been reading all of Murray Ball’s Footrot Flats cartoons. When I first moved to New Zealand so many people told me that if I wanted to know what New Zealand is all about, I really really have to read Footrot Flats. I went yeah, yeah and never bothered. But when I had to put my dog Fin down and sat on my neighbour’s garage roof sobbing (I shall write more about my neighbour and that roof later), he gave me his collection of all the Footrot Flats cartoons. My neighbour Maurice is a retired South Island High Country shepherd and musterer, was a dog man for most of his working life, and is very proud of his Footrot Flats collection. He keeps them all in a plastic bag together. He said, “Here take that; it’ll help.”
If you haven’t come across Footrot Flats yet, by any weird accident, you really should have a look. The cartoons are just so funny, and, yes, reading them did make me laugh and it did help after Fin was gone. The Dog, a black and white working border collie with an unspeakable name and tortured by Horse the cat, tells us all about New Zealand life. The Dog is just so .. well … so much dog. Murray Ball captures everything that is the essence of dog. The drawings are superb, and all the characters are bigger than life. Wal, Cooch, Pongo, Rangi, the Murphies, Major, Jess, … Go meet them.
But anyway, to get back to what started me off, that very New Zealand phenomenon: rain. When it first starts it’s great and beautiful and fresh and all the plants look fresh and all the surrounds look clean … and then it rains and rains and rains. Here is the Dog’s ode to rain:
AH, THE GENTLE KISS OF SUMMER RAIN SPRINKLES LIQUID DIAMONDS ON GRASS BLADES. WATER-FAT LEAVES EXUDE HEAVY SCENT AND FANTAILS SPRAY SILVER IN THE DRIPPING BRANCHES … MILK TURNS INTO SCUMMY GREY WATER AND UNEATEN MEAT ON BONES HANGS WHITE AND TASTELESS LIKE SOGGY COTTON… SHEEP DROPPINGS SQUASH THROUGH YOUR TOES LIKE SMELLY PEA SOUP; FLIES HANG IN A HUMID, HUMMING CLOUD AROUND YOUR HEAD; MAGGOTS HATCH ON UNCURED LAMP-PELTS
— From Murray Ball, 1983, The Cry of the Grey Ghost