Saturday, June 16, 2007

Winter Storm (10)

Previous Chapter
In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next few weeks. And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some "zeds". Or "zees" depending on what part of the world you hail from.
That dump, in May, caught everyone by surprise. It was breathtakingly cold. Concerned about his cattle still caught out on the high country of his farm David was up early the next day and driving out to “the Run” to bring those animals in. I knew it was cold because even David stopped in some wonder to observe that the creek up in that part of the farm had been snap frozen, caught in mid motion as it tumbled over little waterfalls and swirled around the sedges and tussocks. We had a laugh later in the day as we went high up onto another mountain to bring down two of his bulls. The snow had started to come down heavily again and we were starting to think that they had been lost in the cold when they came bulldozing through the snow to us, attracted to the sound of the truck. By now the snow was coming down so heavily that it had covered the fences and gates and it was hard for me to get my bearings. I was also very concerned about driving with David as we felt our way up a scratch of a track tacked out of a steep hillside. Somewhere out on my left the mountain dropped away to nothing and a wrong guess would put us in mid air for a few seconds as we plummeted to a dead stop. I recall being quietly relieved when he asked me to get out of the truck and to walk back down the track to open a gate I could not see but which the bulls would need to have open if they were to make it back to the safety of the yards. Pushing through the snow I felt my way down the fence (after locating that first) to the gate and arrived just in time to hear a muffled shout of warning from David. I turned around. The falling snow was sufficiently heavy to have David in his truck almost invisible only twenty metres away, just a shadow in the grey-white silent swirl. But between the truck and where I was standing the snow was heaving and pulsating and from which the rolled eyed, snorting heads of two Hereford bulls pushed a few moments later. In a nanosecond I was standing on the strainer post supporting the gate and refusing to get back in the snow – despite all David’s exhortations and taunts. And laughter. But sense won out in the end. David stopped the truck and waited, the bulls settled down, only their heads being visible above the snow, and I reinserted myself into the snow to unlatch the gate and pack it back far enough for the bulls, who clearly knew what was going on, to amble through, down the track and to a dry spot under some macrocarpa (a cypress) trees where they started into an unprotected tumble of old hay bales.

In fact travel with David could often be a precarious thing, but it was especially so when he was in a risk taking mood. South of Cherry Farm is a stretch of highway that in wintertime would not see any sunlight for a good few months, it being cut into the shadow of a hill. The drop off was not great, maybe thirty feet or so, but at the bottom was a water channel and swamp that promised deep water. It was the perfect environment for black ice to form and stay. On a cold winters day we were travelling in a new four wheel drive that David had just purchased. As we rolled down past Cherry Farm and the strip of icy road hove into view David, who had been delighted with the way this new vehicle performed in the mud and snow, declared he would be interested in seeing how it performed on black ice. So without slowing down as we reached the ice he swung the steering wheel. Instantly we were travelling sideways down the road, fortunately perfectly in the middle. I was looking out the side window at the centre line passing underneath us, with my back to the water. Fortuitously there was no traffic coming the other way. Without seeming to be too perturbed (maybe I was too fixated on my own alarm to really note David’s disposition) he flicked the wheel and we continued to slide sideways down the road but this time we were facing the water. After correcting that move we slowed down and behaved more circumspectly as we rolled out onto less slippery bitumen. I never did ask what he thought of its performance on ice.

Next Chapter

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