It turns out I was in the bush too long, according to my female companion. Perhaps it was just that we were so grateful to see the chopper, after dicey weather conditions threatened our timely return home.
The arrival home is always greatly anticipated, but always quite a come-down after a trip. Don’t get me wrong – I love seeing my dearly beloved more than anything, and being in the bush is when I truly appreciate and miss him the most. It’s more that I will have gear to unpack, clothes to wash, a rifle to clean, and a barrage of emails, texts and messages that stream defiantly in as soon as the internet allows them. And there was the moment last time when I flung open the front door, dropped my pack and called out: ” Hi baaaaayyyy…………………be. ” Only to see the carpet strewn with the remains of the dog’s bed, which had been savagely unstuffed down the hallway. This time I found it more overwhelming than other times, and I don’t know why. And this time I was actually quite desperate to get some perfume on, rip out straggling eyebrow hairs, paint my nails and deal to the crop of zits that I can still achieve in the face of dermal neglect, despite being over the 30 mark.
The trip this time was almost fruitless, despite being a productive expedition a mere seven weeks ago. Previously I took two spikers from the area, after seeing nine animals and leaving the hinds to rear their fawns. In the time from then until now, hunters have taken 17 animals from the area, leaving a wasteland of old deer sign and boot prints. Some parties took four or five animals between them, if the notes in the book are correct. I guess all those hinds I left have been shot.
On the first day things looked promising, as we saw some hinds out with their fawns and watched them for around 20 minutes. Our luck ended there as the weather declined and every nook and cranny we explored showed recent evidence of human exploration. The meat safe at the back of the hut bore a smelly pool of green-tinged congealed blood that the previous occupants had failed to clean up. I say the trip was almost fruitless, as there were some successes. A few good photos were taken, and I had the privilege of showing a beginner hunter some deer sign, the hinds and fawn, and the art of stalking quietly which she did very well.
We had cabin fever due to the abyssmal weather that we encountered – I am not sure if that is typical of the Ruahines in Summer – but we sure were grateful when we heard the chopper coming. There are only so many days that one can venture out in gale force winds and see no animals (not too surprising, I would have been sheltering too if I was a deer) before feeling defeated. When the weather is consistently bad you just have to get out sometimes to stave off the boredom, and for that chance that you will actually see something against the odds. On one such walk, we were delighted to see a pair of falcons at very close proximity. At first I thought we were about to be attacked as they flew in fast, with rapid wing beats, and headed straight for us. Passing two or three metres over our heads they cackled excitedly “kek kek kek kek kek!!!” before swirling over the valley together. Another wonderful thing we saw were some slightly weathered hoof prints – a hind and her miniature fawn, whose toes measured just over an inch. I hope they made it to safety.
Other ways to stave off boredom came about as nasty weather dragged on. A hunt through the magazine box in the hut revealed few publications harbouring a crossword. One magazine kept us entertained for a considerable amount of time with a full-page edition with some challenging clues. I mused about the kinds of magazines that people bring into huts. There were the standard hunting mags, but additionally there was NZ Gardener, That’s Life, North and South, and The Investor. The latter served as an effective draft-stopper when folded correctly.
A secondary hunting sport was developed in the evening of our final night, as a mouse entered the hut, climbed my rifle in the gun rack, and proceeded to nibble on food on the bench. The last straw was reached when the visitor gained access to the table and used this to vault into my hair as I lay in bed. This set off a bit of a chase, in which the dog was sent under the beds to flush out the vermin. He obliged with vigour, sniffing enthusiastically but completely failing to see the rodent. Useless as a mouser, he was, however, an effective firewood vehicle when equipped with a back pack.
After all card games, crosswords, word puzzles and attempts at amusing stories were exhausted, the compulsive cleaning kicked in. The hut was given a bit of a scrub up with some warm water and dish soap for just over an hour. The result was clear to see for us, however newcomers will fail to appreciate it without the benefit of comparison.
The heli ride home was rather too eventful for my liking. Strong winds made for a bumpy journey, and our pilot flew high possibly to counteract this. He was a bit of a smart arse too, leading me to believe the microphone wasn’t functioning and mocking me with faux sympathetic pouts when I thought I couldn’t contribute to the conversation. I learned later that what I said was apparently heard by everyone except me. Oh well. There was nothing more welcome today than safe delivery to solid ground by our non-cute pilot.