Monday, February 28, 2011


My local beach is scattered with broken scallop shells, the most fragments I have seen anywhere. As a child I remember seeing my first scallop shell, and marvelling at its beauty: the perfect fan, the little base, the one flat side and one scooped out. I enjoyed finding two halves and fitting them together, in wonder.

Emails have been pouring in, telling the stories of my friends who have survived the quake. This afternoon, I could bear it no longer. I took my spade and bucket and went down to the beach. The tide was coming in fast, bringing with it swirls of broken shells. As I gathered them, I looked for the whole shells, wondering how many I could find. Miraculously, some have survived intact.

Under the surface of the stories I've picked up a theme: retrieval. My brave and resilient friends are telling not just of the disaster, but also of the good. As I picked up one whole shell after another, I decided to put them together, with the fragments, in a shape that suggests an icon, a stained glass window, and stability.
I hadn't been working long when a strange thing happened. I smelt incense: beautiful fragrance. Where it came from who knows, maybe some house on the cliff top, but it felt like a blessing.

For all those who have suffered the shattering of homes, hopes and human lives, I offer wholeness amongst the debris. May a new order emerge, and may goodness continue to be retrieved, more and more, until eventually the retrieval becomes stronger than the fragments, which nature will claim just as the incoming tide claimed my shrine.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Circles of goodness: more prayers for Christchurch

I've just returned from leading a summer retreat on Waiheke Island. There's something about crossing water, and staying on an island that creates a zone of peace. It would have been easy to cut off completely; but in fact this was an opportunity to connect more deeply than ever with the healing needs of this land, following the Christchurch earthquake.
First we contemplated, by bringing symbols, the fullness of our own summers. Such richness appeared. I love the almonds, grown by a local woman. They remind me how nature is storing goodness in this end-of-summer season. Another woman brought a small bundle of hay, that she had scythed herself. Abundance was named, and 'circles of goodness'.
We filled ourselves with peace and goodness. Then we were ready to give, from our own fullness. Each woman made an image of healing for Christchurch, drawing the quality that she had in abundance, enough to spill over and give to others.
We placed our images around the centre. Then we prayed and sent our blessings to all those whose lives have been shaken and shattered.
The healing energy in the room was palpable.
Dear ones in Christchurch, and all those affected by this event, our love is with you.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

For the 300

At the beach this morning I thought of those 300 shattered lives. I set out to gather 300 shells, one for each of them, sending prayers as I worked. But 100 was as many as I could manage. Each shell fragment represents not just a life lost, but the grieving families and friends.
100 is a lot to handle. I placed them in this memorial arch, imagining the number multiplied by 3 and filling the space.
As I worked, two women leaned over a railing above the beach. One was a friend. She was accompanied by a Christchurch woman, who staying in Auckland when the quake struck. She has no way of knowing whether her home is still intact. Last year she suffered her own traumatic loss of a family member. When she saw what I was doing, she asked if she could add a shell of her own. So there it is, in the corner, reminding us that tragedy can strike in single, isolated incidents as well as devastating mass events.
Today the newspaper is including photos of some of those who died. I managed to pick up another fifty shells, aware of each one as a person who was alive and well a few days ago, and then I could do no more.
May all those souls find release and peace. May everyone find the strength they need to restore order and faith in life.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Prayer for stability

The tide is lapping against the beach walls when I walk down there to make something in the sand. In my mind I relive the horrific scenes from the Christchurch earthquake. The sound of the water is soothing. So many lives have been lost, and the people of Christchurch have been shaken beyond their endurance.
On the other end of the beach I find a small strip of sand, and there I shape a mound. It expresses the nurturing, protecting and stabilising aspect of the Earth Mother, to counterbalance the fierce destructive aspect that she has just demonstrated so fully.
With this mound comes a prayer.
May all those who have been shaken find stability.
May the earth remain firm so the rescue workers can save people who are trapped.
May we all find stability and healing after times of shock and trauma.
May our loving prayers reach all those in need, and wrap around them.
May the healing power of nature restore balance.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Summer's end (2)

As summer draws to a close, I reflect on how different plants age.
Some turn scruffy and straggly, and succumb to mould as they pass their greening time. They look rather sad. This is how the tomatoes and courgettes are: utterly spent.
Then there is the beauty of the full pod, like the one on this flax plant, which is ripening hundreds of little black seeds that will fall like gleaming rain on the ground beneath in late autumn.
Other plants gather their energies into a final flare, like the karamu berries that were golden yellow a couple of weeks ago and now have turned bright red; or the russet of bracken; and the flame-like fronds of the kiokio ferns that fringe the shady bush paths.

I reflect also on the many ways that people have of ageing, and give thanks for those full pods that have showered their loving wisdom over me when I was much younger and thought that every season would last forever.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A perfect day

I took the high path over the hill yesterday. Swimmers were still congregating on the beach, and the life guards were still there, keeping people safe in the turbulent surf. Every day feels precious as summer draws to a close.
Even though I've been coming out to this piece of the coast for over 40 years, the beauty still takes my breath away.
The dappled clouds speak of change, but even that adds to my appreciation. In the early evening I cook up richly coloured vegetables of the season, and they taste delicious. It's been a perfect day.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Summer's end

I can feel the end of summer approaching. As I wandered up the stream, here on the west coast, I noticed seeds forming everywhere: big clusters in the cabbage trees, lupins shaking loose their summer rattles, toi tois waving feathery fronds, flax stalks holding out charred pods where once were flaming flowers,
and wild flowers whose white saucer-like flowers have turned to beautiful pink seed heads, hanging out over the stream.

This morning I awoke to a tinge of coolness in the air. Nature is gathering her harvest, and I am gathering mine. I tossed another blanket on the bed and snuggled down like a seed in a pod.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Beach morning

Making sandcastles with Mira (2 1/2 years), and time slipped by. At first she chose sand that was too wet, and I had to tip off the excess. But the sandcastles held together well. We sat beside the row of four, proud of our work, and watched a shag swimming by, ducking suddenly under the surface for a fish, and then appearing several metres further on. Each time the shag reappeared, Mira burst into peels of laughter. A red-billed gull stood at the water's edge, looking for small sea creatures. In the distance, a man paddled a kayak and a launch surged along the far coast.

Amongst the broken scallop pieces, I fished three perfect ones out of the tide. Mira gathered seaweed for me to place around them, breaking off the pieces one by one.
I was supposed to be working on this week-day morning, but how could I resist the chance of caring for this little one, and rediscovering the delight of playing at the edge of the sea.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A garden seat

In this ripening time of late summer, I travelled to Nelson and visited an old friend. She's a gardener, and an art dealer, and in her garden I spotted this old seat.
There it sits, mellowed by age, rendered even more beautiful than when it was new. 'Just like our friendship', I said. We met on a ship that was sailing from England to New Zealand, just as it crossed the equator. I was returning, with my husband, from my first overseas travel. My friend, a young Danish bride, was immigrating with her Danish/Kiwi husband. We were beautiful couples, eager for adventure, attending summer schools, exploring art, music and literature. The years passed, and the marriages cracked and broke. We two women lived in different cities, but in midlife found each other once more, and the friendship entered a new phase. Eventually both husbands died, and on each occasion we supported one another through the complexities of a second time of loss.

Through phone calls and visits my friend and I continue to enjoy the richness of lasting connection. We remember each others's youth, vividly, and even though we now bear the marks of age, our young selves will dance out at unexpected moments.

The garden seat was made out of recycled telephone pole cross-pieces. The craftsman cleaned off the lichen and marks of age, and sanded the wood, shaping it into something new. With pride and affection, my friend, who has the ability to sit still for long periods of time, placed it in her wild and rambling garden. And now, lichen-marked once more, it holds the invitation for two old friends to sit and talk about art, family, people, writing, and whatever facet of life drifts into the spaces between.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Summer travels

I visited Paekakariki, enjoying the warmth of late summer. The hills are covered in long grass, with seed heads rippling in the wind, giving a softness to the landscape. The coast line is long and open, guarded by Kapiti Island, a place of much history.

A new landscape that is unfamiliar, imprints its character and beauty. For a moment, the new seems superior to the landscape I've left behind. Novelty is seductive.
Then I relax into a sense of abundance, celebrating difference, enjoying the variety of this beautiful land of ours, where the sand may be golden, white, or black, and where the coastline unravels gentleness, savagery, wildness or quietude.

Seagulls, lined up on the beach, keep vigil.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The magic of light

Sometimes the light out here at the bach takes me by surprise. I gasped when I glanced out the window just on nightfall yesterday. During the day, clouds had gathered over the sunny skies yet again, in this season of summer storms. But then suddenly the sky brightened. The light was ethereal, uplifting, and made me want to shout.

Even when humidity and clouds attempt to smother the joy of summer, some pesky energy breaks through, asserting itself, insisting that ecstasy is alive and well.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


I've been reading on Penny's blog from the northern hemisphere about the first rays of returning light peeping into cold nooks in her snow-bound home. At the same time I notice a withdrawal of light here in the southern hemisphere. Lammas (Lugnasadh, First Fruits) on February 2 is an infallible marker of this shift.
I wander up stream at Te Henga and find a fringe of watercress, yellow karamu berries, the seed heads of reeds springing out like stars, and velvety bullrush seed heads, whole armies of them, so handsome. Nature's colour palette has shifted to bronze and gold.
Meanwhile the stream ripples and sighs. As I sit beside it, in a patch of shade on this warm late summer's day, I feel the mystery of time rushing by, flowing onward into the next season.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Storm treasures

Playing at the edge of the sea yesterday, late afternoon, after the storm. Golden kelp and green weed are carried up in the waves. Fishers stand on the wharf, angling for a catch.
My catch is beach treasure. I make a nest, or maybe a basket for it, and then a mask. Neptune maybe? Or Tangaroa, the Maori god of the sea? Whoever he is, he's not smiling after a grey weekend of destruction.