Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dispatch 60 Shake, Rattle and Roll and Lamb Season

4 - 30 September 2010
I was on call in the hospital when the earthquake happened. It was quite long and intense here, 180 miles from Christchurch, but we haven't felt the aftershocks. There have been a record number of heart attacks in the hospitals near here and some people credit the earthquake. I could do without the extra business—it’s been really busy. Our town clock stopped at the exact time of the quake which seemed sort of momentous, and, because it was a Friday night, it didn't get reset until Monday. Friends of ours own a house that was right near the epicenter and they had extensive damage. It’s been really sad and people have been quite traumatized by the frequent and fairly strong aftershocks.

During my on-call stretch, we walked out to see the yellow eyed penguins again on a late sunny afternoon day. I cajoled Richard into bringing his camera. We got there a little late and most of the little guys had already come up the beach, but one of them was hanging out waiting for its mate right near the viewing platform (but behind some bushes.) We could barely see it but it was squawking periodically. Its mate then made an appearance which made for some good pictures, and then, miracle, the penguins both walked within 3 feet of the viewing platform. They are amazing. I was so glad Richard had his camera for that moment!! He was pretty excited too. He’s also

captured some of the local spotted shags (their word for cormorants).

Living in NZ seems like what living in the US must have been in the 50's. At least in our little town, nobody locks house or car, everyone knows each other, kids have kids (meaning they start young: 18,19,20 if not younger) and that's the way it is and everything is family/kid oriented. So all the nurses I work with, most of whom are in their 50's, are grandparents. As you might imagine, I'm a bit of an oddity with neither kids nor grandkids, but we've found other things to talk about.

But here's the thing about NZ. Kiwis don't whine. They push themselves hard and they don't really want to hear it if you are tired/overworked/whatever. I've just finished 12 days in a row of work because I was on call last Friday night and on second call Sat and Sun so I came to the hospital and saw patients both days and then all this past week. It was a long haul and I got good and sick of it by the end which everyone noticed by Thurs. when I was being a little bit naughty and grumpy. But the staff seemed a little bewildered—what’s my problem? Suck it up.

Here's another story to illustrate. I went skiing the other weekend at a place called Treble Cone—a place where the ski teams used to go to train because it’s pretty challenging (well, and summer up there is winter down here so you can ski year round that way). I hooked up with some locals for the afternoon which was a good thing because, in the morning, I had nearly found myself skiing over some cliffs because I didn’t know the terrain and was just skiing wherever I felt like it. They were telling me about a particularly bad condition day when they saw this guy coming down the run under the chairlift and it looked like total ice even from the chair. The guy was struggling mightily and stopped at one point, stood looking at the slope and then, in frustration, looked up at the chairlift and said sort of funny exasperatedly: "This snow is crap!" My acquaintances told me they yelled back, "It looks like crap from here (meaning, what the hell were you thinking taking that run anyway?). Do want us to call your mum?" Ha, ha, meaning, suck it up buddy.

Treble Cone is just outside the town of Wanaka which, like Queenstown, is a resort town built on a very large lake surrounded by mountains. It is much less built up than Queenstown and the scenery is simply gorgeous. It too is a town filled with "adrenaline" adventures such as paragliding, sky diving, and, I think, bungy jumping, none of which we did while there.

Another Kiwi vocabulary lesson. Ski areas are called “ski fields”. That fits because there are exactly zero trees on the ski slopes, none, which makes for some pretty difficult navigation when it fogs up—there’s nothing to show you where the trail is (as opposed to where the cliffs are). On the other hand, it’s weird because “fields” as we know them, aren’t called fields, they’re called “paddocks” or “reserves.” I always thought a paddock was a fenced in area. Well, come to think of it, all their fields are fenced because they mostly hold sheep though there are those with the odd deer herd thrown in.

So it's spring and it seems every sheep has lambs, one or

two each. There are lambs in every paddock frolicking around and nursing. It is cute in the

extreme. If NZ has 48 million sheep normally, it must have 70 million at the moment during lambing season. Of course, many of these go on to become edible so the population doesn't keep rising. There's a meat processing place in Oamaru, one of the biggest employers. It is called the "Freezing Works" (a meat freezing place), which beats the real description which is a slaughterhouse. I can't even imagine working there but I've met many of the patients who do and it sounds just too awful. When we walked back from the penguin place, there was an orphan lamb in one of

the yards that we had seen the woman of the house bottle feed when we were walking out. It saw us and started bleating and came to the fence so we went over and petted it. It kept trying to nurse on Richard's finger and we almost went to the house to tell them to come out and feed it again, but I decided that it wasn't our business. Later I learned from one of the nurses who used to farm sheep that lambs are always hungry and will nurse as much as they can and that this little guy would probably be fine--he was just being greedy. I guess they get orphaned a lot because the sheep will be busy having their second lamb and the first will wander away and then the mum loses its scent and rejects it. (They don't sound like such smart animals...) So the orphans often end up as pets and bottle fed. The cows are having calves too, but it's rare to see them together--it looks to me like the calves are removed from the mums really early and they're often in a paddock together (the calves). Let's not think too hard about the meaning of that observation. Almost makes you want to be a vegetarian, huh? But, having said that, first of all, ALL the cows here are grass fed so the beef is unbelievably delicious. Also there are no signs in the grocery stores proclaiming “free range – grass fed” anything, isn’t grass what cows are suppose to eat. We shop at the local butcher shop 4 blocks away where someone you saw in the field a couple of weeks ago is getting ready to become your next package of mince. And second, Kiwis are just not all that sentimental about the animals--it's a luxury of city life that you can just not think about how your meat comes to the table.

Speaking of soft hearted, we had our big chance to join the “Kiwi club” and nail our first possum who darted across the road as we drove to the ski mountain one night. We both had the mixed reactions of “Yay, now we’re real Kiwis” and, “Aw, I hope he’s all right, he was kind of cute.” Bah, soft Americans!! New Zealand is getting ready to spend $4 million on new traps going after the cute little things. Here are the headlines: “Funding to trial new killer traps announced”.
Also a little known tidbit regarding New Zealand to impress your friends with:

“DOC spends more than $20m a year controlling possums and ground-based pests like rats and stoats”.

There was a spot on the news about the efforts of an Australian animal control team attempting to get a possum out of a tree in a rural town in Australia when it stumbled(?) into town. Well the last glimpse before returning to the news was a rather large animal control person chasing this possum down the street. The possum was much faster. The NZ news announcer was just chuckling away as she said they could have done it much easier if they had just shot the thing out of the tree. Save time, money – where is the compassion?