I first encountered the word “bonza” in Nevil Shute’s wonderful story “A Town Like Alice”. (And no, Alice the sheep is NOT named after the town of Alice, but after Arlo Guthrie’s song “Alice’s Restaurant”—the line about “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant—excepting Alice…”).
Come Shepherding is a new initiative I’ve started, designed to give readers a more personal experience of shepherding, White Gum Wool style. Each time I do a shepherding circuit, I first post the map and plan for the day on the Come Shepherding blog, then provide a few photos via Instagram as I’m shepherding. At the end of the day, I write up my notes and add them and the photos to the Come Shepherding post for the day.
Continuing my jazz and shepherding analogy (new subscribers click here for the previous Yarn), there’s a wonderfully apt line from “Birth of the Blues” (1941), set at the turn of the century. A ridiculously young Mary Martin is quizzing Rochester about how to sing the new jazz and blues. Rochester says, “Well, it’s like this. You listen for a note, and when you find it…you don’t play it. Instead, you listen some more, until you find another note…but you don’t play that note, either. Eventually, you find the right note to fit into the music.”
If over the last few months I’ve given you the impression that growing White Gum wool is all sweetness and light, November was certainly a counterpoint. It was a tough month, and December followed suit. The refrain has been “desperately dry”—we have had only 60% of our annual average rainfall, and our official 12-month rainfall deficit is sitting in the “severe” category.
Have you noticed how sometimes the universe and your subconscious conspire to bring your attention back repeatedly to something you don’t particularly want to examine? Recently I’ve had that experience with regard to herbicides. While I’ve succeeded in keeping pesticides, chemical fertilisers and fungicides out of my management practices, spot spraying the major woody weeds (gorse, briar rose and horehound) has seemed like the only solution.
When I first began farming, after I realised that it was not going to be as easy as it looked from the highway, I would ask “Why?” about any number of mysteries having to do with raising sheep. Almost invariably, the answer would come back in some variation of: “It’s the season.” Why is the spear grass so bad this year? It’s the wet spring. Why are the grubs so bad this year? It’s the dry winter. Why are we having so much trouble with intestinal worms? It’s the wet summer.