Keep your remarks to the weather.
Four Seasons in One Day (or thereabouts)
By Philippe McMurdo
About 30 odd years ago, a clever couple of brothers named Tim and Neil Finn wrote a great song called Four Seasons in One Day. After a couple of days with it rattling round my head, I decided to look it up. Turns out the song was written about Melbourne's changeable weather, but I have to be honest, it reminds me more of where I've come to call home: that's Oxford - a small North Canterbury town at the foot of Te-Poho-raka-hua (that'd be Mt Oxford if you didn't know) and I reckon we're pretty famous for that kinda changeable-weather caper as well.
Take the couple of months we experienced one spring not too long ago. When I think about it now, I reckon the whole thing started off with a wee blitz of snow that covered the ground within 30 minutes of starting to fall.
The family and I had been sitting in church when I'd happened to turn and look out the window, and noticed it really starting to come down. By the time the service had finished and we were making our way to the car, the whole thing was completely covered and you were slipping all over the place! It made a great story for the kids at school when I got to work the next day, and noticed they hadn't seen a single flake of the stuff despite living just a few minutes down the road in Fernside.
Following that, the weather seemed to all but lose its mind here for a while.
It can't have been more than a week since the snow had disappeared that I'd travelled into school during one of these lockdowns that are so popular these days. I suppose I had been there a couple of hours or so when I got a few excited messages and photos from my wife showing the place covered in snow again. There's nothing really unusual about that seeing as it had done it just a few days before, but the strange thing really was that by the time I had driven home about a couple more hours later, it was sunny and there wasn't a single spot of snow to be seen. If she hadn't of sent those pictures, I might've thought she was going mad.
After it had snowed that second time, we were caught unsuspectingly with one of the nastiest wind storms that I reckon Oxford had seen in a while. We'd gone to bed as usual that night, and despite it not being uncommon to experience a little bit of the old gusties up around the place, it was easy to tell that this lot was going to get quickly out of hand when at about 11 o'clock at night, we'd woken up to what sounded like a giant sledgehammer hitting the entire house all at once. The following six hours carried on like the engine of some great divine vessel giving it guts across the sky.
I'd lain in bed awake for a few hours listening to this monster wind roaring and ripping its way through Oxford. Outside, I'd heared things being chucked around pretty bad, and I really hadn't felt sure about what I was going to find in the morning. I laugh now to think that my main concern was my chickens. I'd imagined I'd get up to be left with just a couple of feathers stuck to the wiring. I knew that I'd built the coop pretty sturdy, but you never know when the beast comes stomping through town.
Well, it'd gotten to about 4.30am when I'd finally turned and suggested to my wife that it was time to get downstairs. Upstairs had been rocking something fierce for a while and it had only been getting worse. Getting up, I'd seen the windows quivering - flexing in and out as if they'd been rolling waves on great, violent ocean. The house had shuddered and doors rattled as we'd grabbed the kids and made our way to the back room. The wind had screamed its way into, and past everything, and what was left behind after one gust was picked up as ammunition by the next.
At about 6 o'clock in the morning, we'd lost the power and I'd begun to be able to see what had happened outside during the night. Two trees had come down in the paddock next door, the porch was completely swept clean - even the stack of firewood against the house had taken off. There was a great mixture of alpaca and horse manure spread all over the lawn swept in from the paddock, the playhouse which had withstood many attacks from the wind in previous years was lying on its face, but bless it all, there were my chickens clucking around the place without a scratch.
My wife thought I was nuts but I'd figured at this point I had no real good excuse not to get to school and teach for the day, so I'd made a plan to have a quick shower and get out the door. Seeing as there was no power, our water pump wasn't pumping. No hot water either. I'd turned the shower on, got undressed, and found myself huddling under a little drip that was coming from the showerhead which I gathered up in my hands as much as I could and had tried throwing it over myself. Wasn't even going to try soap.
Shower out of the way, I'd grabbed my camp cooker and made myself a couple of cheese toasties and had boiled some water for a coffee for breakfast. Then it had been time to get myself into the car off with another story for my students. At that stage, I was only looking at being somewhere between one - one and a half hours late to work, and I'd still've made it before the bell rung to start the day. I'd jumped in the car barefoot as is my custom, and tore off up the drive. That's when I'd realised that I'd be later than I thought.
A large tawhairauriki (beech tree) had fallen right across our drive, just missing the neighbour's house. It'd made getting out impossible. In a fit mixed of adrenaline, exhaustion, and fury now I'd run to get my electric tree trimmer which had a chainsaw attachment. I was now feeling like I was in personal combat with this day- stuffed if I was going to lose too. I'd got back to the tree in record time, and started ripping into the first branch only to have the battery die before making through a single one. No prob, I'd figured I'd give a quick charge and get into it again.
Back into the house.
Grab the charger.
Plug it in and put the battery on.
No bloody power!
I'd had a guts-full by this point, I don't mind saying. I grabbed my axe and started swinging at that tree with all the pent-up frustration, confusion and disorientation a sleepless night can bring. No sooner had I started did I step on a big bit of hawthorn, but I kept at it. Stood on the blighter again on about my 5th branch. Got through the bugger though and drove to work.
Just out of Cust, the dairy farmer there had decided to have his herd cross the road so there I'd sat for another 10 minutes feeling about as wired as I ever had before.
The countryside was a mixture of downed trees, and mangled fences. Sheds were down here and there, and a number of branches intruded onto the road which made driving a bit tricky in some places. Silage wrapping flapped and waved in the now slowly dwindling breeze and amidst all this, a couple of sparrows looked to be in the middle of a lover's quarrel and were having a right barney in mid-air over it all.
I'd got home ok after work, got the chooks back into their coop, stood the playhouse, and had just stood on my third bit of hawthorn when my youngest son came out and announced proudly that he'd saved me a couple of Smarties from a packet he'd had early in the day. Good chap.
The next day the whole of Oxford had risen, and had collaboratively composed itself a symphony of chainsaws, trimmers, tractors, quad-bikes, motor-bikes and anything else able to be used to clean the place up right there on the spot.
I went out and caught up with my neighbour - a good bloke who works in milling. He reported that people had lost thousands of dollars' worth of plantation. It was enough to keep him going for a long time but there was a danger of the timber spoiling before getting through it all.
Another curious thing he mentioned was the way in which a number of the trees had fallen. Normally, you would expect a tree that was blown over by the wind to fall in the direction it was pushed - you'd be celebrated as a reasonably intelligent feller for coming to a fair conclusion like that. But, reality has it a little different in some cases. It'd struck my mate that some of the tree had actually fallen into the wind and this was how it was confirmed to us all just what kind of force we'd all experienced the previous night. When wind pushes a large tree hard in a certain direction and then suddenly lets up, the tree springs back to where it was with such force that it catapults itself out of the ground. I'd never heard of that happening - until living in Oxford that is.
It the weeks that followed, it didn't let up either - we had more snow, more wind, more sun, so much rain on several occasions that the place flooded a number of times, and thunder storms to boot. Some people complain about Oxford weather, especially the wind. But I reckon it was here doing its thing long before we arrived to whine about it.