Behind the west ridge the sky turned red, silhouetting the lacy stringy barks. At sundown those trees were always full of shouting crows. The long valley settled, waiting for a clear July night. The dogs were fed and had clambered into their kennels. Led magnanimously by Imperial Woman, a speckled grey hen, the fowls had bustled home, and onto their perches. The gate to keep them in, and the foxes out, was latched, in two places. Grumpy old Schleswick and her calf had been urged towards the cow yard. The calf was shut in the calf pen for the night. If she was in a good mood in the morning Schleswick could provide a full bucket of milk when she was milked in the bail beside the calf pen.
Chips and kindling filled the box at the back steps. Water, hand pumped up from the mill hole to the overhead tank, till the bob on the string reached the third bottom rung, ensured enough for next day. Push bikes were lined up beside the truck, tires checked ready for the stony ride to school in the morning. Kind Big Bertha and Lemons, the sour young mare, were unsaddled, rubbed down, and picking green herbage out on the clover flat.
As dark arrived outside, the wood stove warmed the interior of the kitchen. A kettle steamed or sang; the family’s constant companion. With the afternoon work done it was unavoidably time for the children to do their school homework. In summer the outdoor jobs could drift forever. Winter bleakness, and the beckoning bench along the table near the stove, made it harder to delay going in and facing the struggle with five interesting complex sentences containing proper nouns, ten long division sums, or the impossible-to-achieve unblemished copy book page.
But it could be a rush too. Dad made the strict rule: ‘No homework after tea.’ In summer he came in late but early dark meant he could appear sooner, needing dinner, well before the homework was done. In the softly lit kitchen, surrounded by blackness in the valley and along the guardian ridges, when Dad was home, ready to talk or hear about the day’s events, the potential disaster of arriving at school with incomplete homework lost any importance at all. It applied to unknown people elsewhere; it had nothing to do with the family tucked in the small, warm kitchen.