Is The Weather Changing?
There is still fierce opposition in some quarters about whether the weather is changing and the whole climate change debate.
It seems to me that humankind has indisputably contributed to the raised carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. And the disgusting levels of pollution throughout the world can only be attributed to us.
Whether or not you agree with climate change, a radical overhaul of the way we treat our environments — local, national and planet-wide is sorely needed and long overdue.
This week I took a look back at some memorable weather moments on the farm in Garston. Snow, rain, wind, storms, droughts and of course many, many lovely days. We’ve had them all and more in the 35 years I’ve lived in this beautiful place.
Weather And Water
Last Summer was a hot, dry one. The faithful stream which feeds our farm and two houses dwindled to a trickle. Day after day the sun beat down, the thirsty sheep drank more water than ever, and the pool which houses our precious water intake came within an inch of failing.
But Spring this year has been the opposite: sun — sure — but also wind, snow and so much rain! The trickle has transformed into a torrent and now instead of drying up, our water pipe is in danger of being washed away.
When you work outside the weather plays a huge part in your life. You’re at the mercy of the elements day in, day out. And no one is quite so vulnerable to the whims of the weather gods as a farmer.
Weather Varies Throughout The Valley
When glaciers carved out the Upper Mataura Valley in the last ice age they left a narrow river valley and a series of terraces rising up towards the mountain ranges which line the valley east and west. The formation gives the weather gods plenty of ways to play their tricks.
It’s only a small valley by world standards, but the weather at one end can be completely different to what’s happening at the other end. I well remember one summer when day after day afternoon rain bands swept up the valley floor but left our farm on the terraces parched.
And I’ll never forget a particularly fierce thunderstorm which rattled the windows of our house. Hailstones poured in such torrents that they formed a fountain shooting off the guttering. Thunder and lightning flashed overhead and there was no way I could drive down to a scheduled meeting at the school.
10 minutes later the whole thing was over and I dashed down to the meeting — only a kilometre away and there was not a hailstorm to be seen. No wonder they looked disbelieving when I explained why I was late.
But nothing can compare to the wall of water which swept out of its creek bed and down the road towards two thousand sheep and lambs one fateful summer evening.
January 2001. It was a hot, hazy day — and we had spent it bringing sheep and lambs down to the holding paddocks beside the woolshed, ready for weaning the next morning.
Its quite a tricky job — lambs and ewes are notoriously hard to move. While the majority of them will run where you want them to, there are always lambs which bolt in the opposite direction — and ewes that are determined to search back through the mob for their missing lambs.
However, by evening the woolshed paddocks were filled with a great noisy mass of sheep and lambs. Gradually they settled enough to eat and to drink from the small stream which winds through on its way to the Mataura River.
On this fateful day, towering storm clouds had built up over the mountains as they often do on hot afternoons. Thunder rumbled occasionally but no rain fell on the milling mob of sheep and lambs and we were pleased about that. A thunderstorm over the outside yards would have meant we’d be working with drenched sheep and slippery mud the next day.
By 8 o’clock the clouds over the mountains were thick and black. It was clearly teeming up there. Most of us were just relieved it wasn’t pouring on the sheep but a subdued rumbling sound made Terry uneasy. Abruptly — and for no reason that I could see — he abandoned his meal and headed to the hill paddock above our house where he could spot the creek as it came down the mountain.
Casually we watched, wondering why he was driving up there. Suddenly his truck spun around and shot back down the paddock at high speed. At the gate, Terry leapt out, dashed towards his dogs and yelled at me — “Get help! There’s a flood on the way!”
Down to the woolshed we dashed with one purpose in mind — to get the sheep away from the creek paddocks and onto higher ground.
Chaos ensued: dogs barking, kids screaming, alarmed sheep bleating and Terry yelling orders which no one could hear. Suddenly into this confusion burst Andrew — the neighbour I’d called for help — bringing more dog-power and a renewed urgency. Dashing down on the heels of the flood he had seen the wall of water which was sweeping down the narrow gully towards us.
Just minutes later the last animal had been hustled through the gate onto the hill above the woolshed. James and his new partner Lizette — making her first visit to the farm this fateful day— together with 7-year-old Chris dashed their truck across the bridge seconds before the wave hit.
On it swept, spreading across the paddocks, inundating gardens and flooding the State Highway as it crashed its way towards the Mataura River.
1 km up the road, Scotts Creek was behaving in a similar manner, leaving its farmers equally stunned. And yet, in the whole valley, these were the only two streams which flooded. All the water in that intense thunderstorm was concentrated in one narrow band — flooding the two streams and leaving every other waterway untouched.
What a mess that flood left in its wake. Our road and all its culverts were washed out. Fences piled high with debris which took weeks to clear away.
The neighbour’s water system was destroyed — but not ours, thank goodness.
We marvelled at the path of destruction which was visible along the creek bed for months afterwards. The mud-covered bushes high above showed just how far that wave had reached.
Farmers Are NEVER Happy With The Weather
My farmer lives and breathes the weather. He is always out in it, rain…hail…snow…wind…sunshine, and so are his animals and crops.
As you can imagine, it’s not a lot of fun for a sheep being out in the wet and cold. We have sheltering trees and bushes in most of the paddocks, and of course, they have their woolly coats for protection, but they still look miserable in the sodden paddocks on a rainy day.
However, too little rain is equally bad. When the dry weather goes on and on the ground dries out and the grass doesn’t grow. The sheep lie panting under the trees and are constantly looking for food.
Even when I think the weather is perfect, something will be wrong with it from a farmer’s point of view. Inevitably that nice drop of rain in a dry year seems to come just after we’ve cut the grass for hay.
In a really good year (weather-wise) I’ve even heard farmers muttering about “too much grass” on occasion.
When I first came to the valley way back in 1981 I used to phone home to Auckland on an expensive toll call once a month.
When I hung up my landlady would always say “What’s the weather like up there?”
I didn’t know. It was not a question I ever thought of asking. As a city girl the weather wasn’t so important to me back then. But nowadays, I’ve lived so long on the farm that I understand just how much the weather matters.
I don’t phone home much these days — but thanks to the world wide web my messages with Mum are frequent, and you can be sure that nowadays we always mention the weather.
And Your Weather Is…?
I’ve often been heard to thankfully remark that whatever the weather gods are throwing at us in Garston, its always far worse somewhere else in New Zealand. Our weather is mild and kind compared to the extremes some of you face in the world every year.
What are your best and worst weather memories? Comment below – and/or share a photo on Time of my Life’s Facebook page.