The Good Life: Mustn’t Grumble
On the importance of being a hippopotamus. By Michele Hewitson.
I have been getting about Lush Places like Eeyore lately. I mutter and mumble and grumble. What I am muttering and mumbling and grumbling about is mud. There is a lot of it about. There has been a lot of it about for what feels like months, and I am completely and entirely and altogether over mud.
Am I a hippopotamus? I feel like a hippopotamus as I squelch about in my gumboots. Squelch, I go, at day break, through the mud to let the chickens out. Squelch, I go, to give the sheep an early morning biscuit. Squelch, I go, to the bird feeder to give the wild birds their breakfast. Then I go inside, look out at the mud and grumble about not being able to get anything done in the garden.
You can’t garden in mud. You can’t plant in mud. All you can do is grumble and stay inside and read books, and then get on the internet and order plants you can’t plant.
Still, the daffodils will flower soon, and the Christmas lilies are popping up, and the Jersey Benne seed spuds are chitting away, happily, in the garage. The hellebores are utter bliss. These things make me smile.
So does a book about mud. It is a very old book. My mother was given it as a child, then I given it as a child, and it is still one of my favourite books. It is, in addition to being about mud, about a hippopotamus called Harriet. Harriet is The Unhappy Hippopotamus, the book’s title.
One day, she decides she doesn’t want to be a hippopotamus anymore. “She didn’t know why — she just didn’t. Now, the best way not to be a hippopotamus is not to do anything hippopotamuses do.” So, she leaves her muddy river home and goes to live, like a fine lady, in a house. This does not make Harriet happy. On the contrary, “Miss Harriet Hippopotamus completely and entirely and altogether forgot how to smile!”
She makes friends with a very smiley mouse whose name is, of course, Mouse. Mouse pledges to teach Harriet how to smile again. To smile, you have to be happy, and Mouse has a number of lovely schemes to make his new friend happy: Harriet gives a party, she goes to the lolly shop, she learns to play musical instruments, she goes for a ride on a merry-go-round. None of these things make Harriet happier.
The last page of my copy of the book is missing. But that’s fine, I know how the story ends. Harriet returns to the river, and she wriggles her toes in the mud and then … can you guess? Of course, you can. Harriet smiles. She has become a happy hippopotamus again.
One does not want to blow one’s own trumpet, but one will anyway. It turns out that I have accidentally become a sheep farming innovator. I tooted my own trumpet on this exciting development to Miles, who really is a sheep farming innovator. He managed not to appear surprised. He also managed not to appear the slightest bit impressed. Nobody does deadpan like Miles.
I recently watched a YouTube video about an Australian merino sheep farmer; which is what we do for kicks in the country. This farmer, after losing his much-loved sheep dog, decided not to get another dog. Instead, he “has harnessed the power of his children’s pet lambs” to get his mob of 700 sheep to come to his call.
He, and the sheep, enjoy the new, quieter life: no barking, no nipping, no shouting at the dog and at the sheep. The sheep trust him now that he’s no longer a threat. He just calls them, opens the gate, and they follow: they know they will get fresh pasture as their reward.
He has been hailed as something of an innovator by an Australian animal welfare group. I call him a legend. And here comes the blowing of a rather large trumpet: I have been doing the same thing for three years now, albeit with the help of hundreds of packets of biscuits.
Whoever dishes out medals to rural legends, please send mine to Lush Places, RD6, Masterton 5886. A medal would be a nice thing to have. I’d wear it wading through the mud, smiling.