Monday, January 31, 2011

And summer's lease . . .

The storm has carried away millions of tiny seeds, blowing them through every door and window, over my clothes, into the bookshelf, and on to the floor. Seeds now form a carpet over the concrete of the carport. I pause to study them, and carve out a heart shape. They are beautiful: tiny gold stars, studded with leaves and petals.
It's the last day of January, but this seed spread brings up a feeling of the season passing all too soon.
On this theme, no-one is more eloquent than Shakespeare. I pick up my well-loved book of his sonnets. Once a warm red, the cover is now faded at the spine. But his words never fade, and who is to say which is more beautiful: that original cover, or the spine with its history of many summers on the shelf.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May
And summer's lease hath all too short a date . . . 
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrim'd . . . 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Beach doodles

Another weekend storm has now blown over, and I take a walk to the local beach. The tide's edge is heavy, loaded with black fronds of sea grass and other debris. As the water creeps slowly in, with its storm-cast burden, I doodle in the sand with whatever I find. Then I play with the idea of progression, placing the white shells in a column.
The next thing I know, is that they've turned into a creature, wriggling over the sand.

And then, before I leave, a couple of spirals emerge. That's better: there's nothing like a bit of beach play to get me ready for writing again.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


After the storms of the weekend, a perfect summer's day arrived. I drove to St Heliers, along Auckland's waterfront, for some dental work. While a crown was being made I sat on the beach under the shade of a pohutukawa tree, resting my eyes on the soothing shape of Rangitoto and recovering from the drilling and jolting in my jaw.

Meanwhile, a man from the Council started making piles of the debris that had been washed up over the weekend. In the end, he had a small truck-load to cart away. So it goes: nature tosses everything hither and thither, we clean up, and the sun shines again. Here the damage was minor, but I'm still remembering Australia and the devastating floods, and thinking how lucky we were, this time.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Summer gifts

An old friend came to visit, bearing gifts from his garden on Waiheke Island. It's usually dry over there, but this year the gardeners are happy because of the torrential rain that fell over the weekend.
He brought purple beans (that turned dark green when I cooked them), silver beet, cucumber, tomatoes, and herbs that he'd tied carefully into separate bundles: parsley, thyme, summer savory, sweet basil, chives, and lemon verbena - 'for tisane' (He's French).
What better gifts can there be than someone's home produce, carefully tended over many weeks. The basil, tomatoes and thyme went into tonight's ratatouille; the chives into a salad; the summer savory with the beans. Ah, summer flavours, food eaten outside, and the taste of a friendship that began in Paris and continues 40 years later. Life is good.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


There's nothing like wandering up and down a sandy stream for entering a timeless world. I feel like a child myself as I follow Mira and her boat. I am filled with the lazy contentment of summer.

Yet there is time in this picture too, for three generations are present in it. The little barge belonged to my son, Mira's father. Nearly forty years ago I wandered down the same stream with him as he eased the boat into the current and it bobbed through the water. The boat was made by my father especially for him. My father is long dead now, but he would love to know that even though the original tug boat has been lost with the years, the barge remains and continues to give pleasure. A grandfather's love is transmitted through time, to a new generation.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Low tide

Back on the west coast, walking by the sea, I happen to be there at an extreme low tide (affected by last night's full moon no doubt). It's not often I can walk so far out, around the rocks. The smell was tangy, with the promise of sea-food. It's a marvel to see what is revealed at such times:
Kelp, orange tinted, firmly anchored
Kelp, yellow tinted, amongst baby mussels
Sea lettuce, so bright
Starfish eating kelp
Another kelp-eating starfish
Starfish getting friendly
Sure enough, I found mussels. Carefully selecting the largest, I brought a few back to soak in a bucket of clear water overnight, ready to steam open for tomorrow's lunch.

And since this was a day when things are being revealed that aren't usually seen, I shouldn't have been surprised to discover, as I walked back, this fierce animal (or is it two?) on the beach:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Catching the moon

Walking out in the summer night, I stalked the full moon. It appeared over roof tops, then dipped below tall trees. It flashed through branches for a moment, then was gone behind bushy foliage.

Along the path to the waterfront I finally caught it. Here it is above, snared in the seed heads and last petals of the agapanthus that line the path.
And below, here it is, trying to shake free.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Summer moon

Last night when I got home, the air was still. High in the sky I saw the summer moon, swelling towards fullness, sailing past the cypress tree. Clouds gathered underneath, the clouds that today have brought welcome rain to thirsty trees and gardens.
Once, people reckoned time in moons. 'Many moons ago,' they would say as they thought of time past, or 'two moons hence.' I found myself doing the same. 'Last waxing moon,' I reflected, 'I was finishing work for the year, and preparing to go on holiday.' I remembered how many tasks there were to do, and how busy I was.
Now, under this liquid moon that bulges into a heart shape, while a dark heart opens up in the clouds beneath, I am relaxed and 'well holidayed.' I find myself wondering how this moon looks in the northern hemisphere, where friends will be seeing it rise above snowy landscapes, and how it looks in Brazil where so many lives have been lost in floods and landslides; how it looks in countries at war, and how it looks in countries at peace.
What does this moon see when it gazes down at you tonight?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

New order

Can what is broken ever be mended?

I mused on this as I played in the sand. I thought of the devastating floods in Australia, and the many homes and towns which will never be the same. I remembered the times in my life where new order emerged out of the chaos of loss.
The beach was littered with broken scallop shells, and each wave delivered some more. As I gathered them up, my impulse was to put the pieces back together again, and make a whole scallop. But in this particular jigsaw, most of the pieces were missing. So I made a new form, out of the broken bits.

Then I made a sandcastle, which had a gash in one side. The perfectionist in me wanted to start again, and try and get it right. It took the comment of a little child to help me see the beauty in imperfection. Mira took one look at the 'gash', and said, 'moon!' in a tone of wonder.

And so, for all those whose lives have turned to flotsam and jetsam, I offer imperfect images of hope: a moon and a new shape created from broken scallops.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Seeking shade

On these hot dry days I find myself seeking shade. My eye is drawn in to the cool blue of agapanthus, the acquamarine of the sea, or the shadows carved out by aloe leaves. Into these shady interiors I rest in subtlety, taking refuge from the harsh heat of pavements and roads.

I always know that a season is peaking when my thoughts start to turn towards its opposite. Today I find myself remembering the mystery of winter, with just a hint of longing, as summer unfurls one exposing day after the other.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


'Tepscams,' said Mira, 'make tepscams'. It took a while to figure this one out. I had to backtrack in my mind to the spill that occurred when she was watering my pot plants on the balcony. Then I got it: 'Oh, footprints! You want to make footprints.' Her face lit up.  'Yes, tepscams'.

And so I filled up the little watering can again and watched. First she poured water over the tiles. She stomped in the puddle; then on the tiles, making her mark with great glee. Over and over, more and more footprints.

I thought what a universal urge this is, to make a mark. Summer, of course, is footprint season. We throw off our shoes and roam down the beach, leaving trails of significance unravelling behind us. Trackers learn to discern the age, weight and type of an animal by the marks they leave. Our footprints are laden with information about whether we ran or walked, ambled or strode, moved heavily or with lightness.

On my kitchen wall I've stuck a photo taken by my friend Anne, of her right footprint next to mine. It's easy to see which is which. I like the photo: it speaks of our friendship over fifty years and the many trails we have trod since our school days. And now Anne has just sent me a book of poems written by a friend, with one of her photos on the cover. It's a photo of footprints. Mine. I don't know when she took the photo, but as I look at my own imprint in such an unexpected place, I wonder about who I was back then, and how my prints might have changed.

Film stars, when they reach the peak of their fame, place their footprints into concrete in the hall of fame: frozen identity, immortalised. The sun was shining as Mira made her wet marks on the paving tiles. By the time she came inside for lunch her prints were gone.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Beach hearts

Playing on the beach again. First I collect a few objects, enjoying their contrasting colours and textures on a bed of white shells. Then I find myself reflecting on love, making two separate hearts out of found pieces on the beach.

Then I feel that they are a little narrow, and I find myself shifting to the sand, then expanding and merging the two hearts. Now I'm satisfied.

The image makes me think of robust and grounded love, that has stood the test of time. Many of the objects are pieces of brick: clay from the earth [earth - heart - hearth, all these words are kin] that has been fired to a high temperature, been part of some building or kiln, and now has been weathered by tide and sand. These hearts have history and bear the stamp of time, yet they are still beautiful. So it is with older love.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The leafiness of trees

Do the trees, in full leaf, find their canopies burdensome? Is it a strain for their branches to hold up such large leafy heads?

The flame tree, that I've watched come into leaf so gradually, is now in full dress. The melia, whose sprouting branches I charted in spring, is bushy and full. So far, so good. But when I took a walk past the park, a woman danced towards me on the street with strange gestures, uttering an odd cry. Did I know her? No, but she'd just got a fright.

As she walked past the park, she heard a crash. Turning her head she saw that a branch had just fallen from a large leafy lime tree. 'Look, there it is', she said. I was amazed to see the size of the branch, the large tear in it, and the tree. We speculated on what had brought the branch down, and could find no answer. It's not as if the day was windy; in fact the air was still and humid. There hadn't even been a recent storm. And the branch looked perfectly healthy.

As I walked away I began to muse on the consequences of being in full leaf: parents with many children who are all reaching maturity; wealth that becomes a burden; bloated economies, global warming . . . Not that the tree fell into these categories. Maybe it was simply too successful in putting out its head of leaves, or maybe the branch stretched out too far from the main trunk - out on a limb, so to speak. My mother's voice in my head had the final word: 'You can have too much of a good thing.'

Friday, January 7, 2011

Leafy streets

Back in the city, I walk the streets. People are still away on holiday, and the streets are quiet. There's something special about a city that has emptied out over summer. It feels gentle, and the beauty of the streets is easier to see without the distraction of cars.

And so I walk pavements now, rather than bush paths, sand, stream bed and beach. I see strange, exotic flowers, like this unknown pink one, hanging over a fence. The trees are in full leaf, offering up welcome shade on a hot day.

And then, an old friend appears: a puriri tree from which dangle these cheeky pink fruit, together with clusters of pink flowers.

I miss the bach, but the city offers its summer gifts and helps me make the necessary transition.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


The holiday is over. This glorious time of drifting, playing, pottering, snoozing, swimming, walking, cooking, eating and standing still in wonder, has come to an end.

Last night I caught a special light on the hill: slanting highlights and long shadows, which matched my mood exactly: a mix of sadness and gratitude.

There's something so poignant about that moment, when a house that has been filled with love and laughter, suddenly empties itself out. The walls feel further apart somehow, and the ceiling higher. The silence vibrates with what has been.

This morning, with the family gone and rain gently falling, I tidied up some more and paused to gather the relics of Mira's stream adventures: a feather, a stalk of bunny grass, and an unknown dune grass. Here they are, holding the sweet memories of witnessing a little one bonding with nature, and with this place: a bond that I hope will be strengthened with every passing year.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Little suns

Mornings at the bach are special. I'm woken by the serenade of the tuis, whose song is so much more resonant and throaty than the tuis in town. The air is cool and I wander among the garden plants, checking how they are, giving them water, and picking off bugs.

The garden is full of little suns: the courgette flowers which open so sensuously, offering their dusty golden pollen up to the bees, and the marigolds which are dotted around as companion plants. On a cloudy morning, these are the first suns to strike.

And this morning the kereru visited again, with a mate. So there, high in the kanuka, I am blessed by the presence of the priest and priestess of the tree tops.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Summer simplicity

Life is deliciously simple at the bach. Even though some tasks  take longer, time stretches a long hand as we relax into another week of holiday.
For water, we depend on rain to fill the tank. The toilet is a long-drop in the trees. Music comes from records played on a turntable. A shower is a gentle experience, with a gravity-fed showerhead down on the lower level. The garden must be hand-watered with buckets since there is no water pressure for a hose.

To sweep the gravel paths, I find that the best possible broom is a head of manuka twigs. This of course is how brooms were invented, and I think of my ancestors thousands of years ago picking up just such a bushy branch. This little broom lifts the leaves off the path and steps without taking the gravel with it: perfect.

Little Mira makes her own toys, playing with leaves, or riding in a cardboard box which is a boat one day, a train the next, and today, a fire truck. She has now made her own helicopter by pushing a match stick through a hole in a pohutukawa leaf.
As soon as the sun goes down we close the windows and doors that don't have screens, in order to protect against the mosquitoes.
Such simplicity. And so the days pass by in that lazy rhythm which is summer's own.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Back in the surf

The end of the day is the best time to swim when summer has arrived in full force, with a blazing sun. I got back on my board after twisting my ankle when I was thrown off some days ago, and rode the waves once more.

What a good feeling to be fizzing in the surf again, feeling the undertow and waiting for it to ease, then picking the right wave to ride.

Then the sun went down a little more, the life guards crossed the flags, signalling that they were soon to finish for the day. Sandcastles were washed away by the incoming tide, leaving only memory marks, and we returned hungry and tired to the bach. Some days are perfect, and this was one of them.

Morning visitor

On my way to the 'long drop' in the morning I heard a distinctive sound in the tree tops: a 'whoosh-whoosh' of wings. Aha, a wood pigeon! I thought, and sure enough, there it was perched in the top branches of the kawakawa, pulling off one candle-shaped fruit after another.

It was so absorbed in this morning feast that I was able to approach quite close and photograph its graceful movements. The kereru, as the Maori call it, is a rare visitor, and I'm always in awe of this beautiful bird. It's breast is white and fat, yet the head and neck are slender and elegant. It's so big I'm always surprised to see it flying.

At the end of its feeding session it winged its way up into the sky, then swooped down into some far away trees. I was left feeling stilled by my encounter with this priest of the tree tops.