Thursday, March 31, 2011

Making it last

Visiting my friend Jennie, enjoying her garden in the mellow afternoon of autumn, and watching the tuis feeding. Jennie's husband John makes these ingenious bird feeders, using an upturned bottle that dispenses sugar water into a bowl. The tui first sits and watches (there's a neighbourhood cat).
It's safe to feed.
Sipping sweet nectar; that's how it feels as each golden day unfolds. How much longer can it last? I'm drinking it in: the sun, the peace, the bounty of late autumn.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Emptying out

 I've been reflecting on letting go and emptying out, taking my cue from nature's shedding, and also in preparation for the autumn retreat I'm leading in a couple of weeks' time.
As I took an afternoon walk, I found the berms covered with bits and pieces from people's homes. It's inorganic rubbish collection time, held at the perfect time of year, when nature is also getting rid of debris, ready for winter. What caught my eye was one chair after another, plus a sofa, too covered in debris to photograph.
I pondered on these empty chairs, thinking of the use they've had, the people who've sat on them, and the many conversations that took place.

And now they've served their time. I wonder what new seats have taken their place, and with what pleasure they are being tried out, and what new conversations will take place from within their arms.

I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.
Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Earth hour

I'm preparing my candles for Earth Hour tonight, from 8.30 to 9.30 pm.

Earth hour began in Sydney in 2007, when 2.2 million people and over 2000 businesses turned off their lights for one hour to take a stand against climate change and unsustainable energy use.
Last year, on Saturday 27 March, over 128 countries and territories joined in.
We are learning more and more ways of linking up as one earth. This simple action, flowing in a wave around the planet as each country reaches 8.30 pm, gives me hope. I also like to think of the stars shining more brightly tonight as artificial lights are turned off and the night sky is reclaimed.
My action to go 'beyond the hour' is to find an apartment-friendly way of turning my food waste to compost.

Friday, March 25, 2011

In the clover

In spring I photographed this very bank, when it was shimmering white with onion weed. Now, in autumn, red clover is sprinkled around, with its fulsome flowers passing into seed heads.
On the way back from my walk a couple of days ago, I noticed a splash of colour amidst the clover. Can you see it, in the centre of this photo?

I moved closer, to discover . . .

Here it is, the last of the monarchs (or so I imagined; a variation on the last swallow of summer). Then I saw a fat bumble bee, feasting on the flowers, but I wasn't quick enough to catch it.

This week I heard that the godwits had departed.

Before flying off, the monarch gave me a display of its bright interior.

Autumn: it's a poignant time; a season of endings, with flashes of richness.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A day of gifts

After sitting on the beach, I felt inspired to pick up my coloured pencils and draw. It's been a full day, in which I received a surprise gift from my friend Anne, sent all the way from England.
Two years ago I admired her turquoise jacket and now, after much hunting, she's found one for me in Marks and Spencer's. She wrapped it in beautiful paper and sent it off with a note to say 'a surprise is always nice to have.' How fortunate I feel, to have such a good friend, and to be soaking up the late autumn sun in a beautiful place.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Serenity and gratitude

The sun came out again, and another mellow day unfolded. I took my writing to the beach, and sat there while the seagulls stood in the weed-covered sand, and clouds and yachts sailed by in sky and sea.
The sand was dotted with small mounds, created by tiny creatures. I thought about small worlds, and made my own small world, a sanctuary to contain my gratitude for another beautiful day.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Autumn equinox

Today is autumn equinox, and it's gently raining. I discovered the local grower's market yesterday and stocked up on produce: feijoas, which are beginning to appear, tomatoes which are finishing, farm eggs, many lush greens, and best of all, fat blackberries which bring back happy gathering memories from childhood. In Taranaki we picked them by the bucketload from the sides of the roads, in the days before spraying became common. At the end of the day we'd return home satiated from sampling, and with our fingers stained red and black.

A French woman was serving ratatouille from her stall, and after tasting this delicious dish filled with provencal herbs, I bought the last two pots. 'I won't be making it next week,' she said, explaining that the aubergines and courgettes are getting too expensive now.
Before the clouds drew over the sky I photographed the full 'supermoon', which is the closest it has come to the earth since 1993. Nature is showing her abundant, benevolent face once more.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sunflower for Japan

Early autumn is a time of many festivals. Here in Auckland, the cultural festival is ending, and Ponsonby Rd was having a market day. The streets were lined with stalls, sizzling food, musicians, and many passers-by.
I bought this sunflower, which contains both summer radiance and autumn seeds, and took it to the Japanese restaurant where I often have lunch. They are always courteous and kind. Today it was my turn to offer something back to them, acknowledging the suffering of the Japanese people at this time.
These words come from Seneca, from a quote that our Governor General read out at the Christchurch memorial service yesterday:
In the presence of death, we must continue to sing the song of life.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reflections on rebuilding

Today, on the edge of the gently lapping tide, I made another little shrine for Christchurch. In the golden light of early autumn the beach is still warm at the end of the day. The benevolence of the season helps me to embrace hope.

Rebuilding will happen.
It always does.
What is built from the ruins will benefit from hard lessons learned.
It will be stronger than before.

This one was made 7 days after the earthquake

Live in the present
Do all the things that need to be done.
Do all the good you can each day.
The future will unfold.
(Peace Pilgrim)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Making the most of it

Out at the coast over the weekend, the surf was still refreshing, but not too cold. There we were, not knowing if this would be the last swim or not, making the most of the golden weather.
Cabbage tree turning flowers to berries
koromiko flower
karo seed capsules, bursting open to reveal sticky black seeds
Meanwhile, nature is busy making seeds, berries and pushing out the last flowers of the season.
I too am gathering up goodness, ready for the shift into a darker, cooler time.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Autumn's richness

The sun is shining; the days are warm. The oaks are shedding their acorns, which pop out of the little cups at their base. A feijoa tree drops fruit over a fence, on to the pavement.
Berries are abundant, and bright with colour.
Ivy leaves are shifting allegiance.
And in the shade of a huge oak tree, tiny toadstools lift their heads out of the ground.
Autumn is here, bringing a welcome sense of stability and benevolence.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hearts for Japan

Last night, at an interfaith gathering, we contemplated spiritual teachings on the theme of uncertainty. This theme was chosen before the Japanese earthquake had occurred, and proved to be even more pertinent than expected. One of the readers was a Japanese woman, who had been about to make a trip home.
Going deeply into this theme and experiencing the discomfort of uncertainty together, brought unexpected comfort. Such a paradox.
As I contemplate nature, and the energy that is being put into making seeds in this season, I come into the presence of a great power. The kawakawaka, those green hearts that I love so much, from this plant used by the Maori for much healing, are full of greening, drinking up autumn's rain. The power of regeneration is ever present.
The power of love was also abundant last night as we lit candles for Japan. The Japanese rescue team was the first to be sent to New Zealand following the Christchurch earthquake, and this morning I heard that we have now sent a team back to them. This is love-in-action.

'Love is actually a state of being, and a divine state at that, the state to which we all yearn to return.' (Ram Dass).
My flax and kawakawa heart for Japan keeps me in the presence of love. I feel a great wave flowing towards Japan right now, carrying prayers for comfort, safety, healing and regeneration.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Seed time

Everywhere, nature is shedding.
Flax plants stand up proudly along the coast. Their pods are cracking open, and raining black seeds on to the ground beneath.
I gather them, and make a basket shape from the leaves, wanting to contain and hold what is flying away.

The earth, which I've always thought of as stable and benevolent, has shaken violently: first in Christchurch and now Japan. The destruction from the recent earthquake and tsunami is overwhelming. I want to believe in the life force of seeds, to believe that all is well in nature, that the cycle of death-growth-birth will continue. I think of new flax plants sprouting up from these shiny black seeds, with  flame-like red and yellow flowers licking the sky once more, and the leaves offering themselves to be woven into baskets to hold fruits, vegetables, and hope.

Autumn seeds and flowers

On the hill, toi toi waving freely.
At the base, blackberries ripening.
In the bush, a bridal shower of houhere (lacebark).

Autumn is here on the coast, with its own rich beauty and contrasts.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Evening beauty

Sometimes nature is so beautiful that I forget her fierce aspect, that brings floods, earthquakes and cyclones.
There's something about a new moon that always moves me: seeing that clear slice of silver in the sky, and feeling a new cycle begin.
When the new moon is combined with a sunset like this, it takes my breath away.
And the following night, here it is again, though without the moon because the clouds were gathering.

The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone
with the heavens, nature and God.
 Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature.  I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles. 
                                                                                 - Anne Frank 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


I spent the day getting rid of things, clearing my desk, throwing away old papers that were no longer needed.

I hadn't planned the day that way; it just happened. I had thought to continue working on my new projects, but somehow the mess had been interfering with the new work. I also cleaned the bathroom and kitchen, filled the recycling bin, then vacuum-cleaned everywhere.

Later, satisfied with my clear desk, I went for a walk and found this nikau tree. It too was shedding what was no longer needed: in this case, an old husk and a dead frond.

In the 70s, we used to retrieve the frond base that had been shed, varnish it and use it as a fruit bowl. Not now. I'm shedding, not accumulating.

As I looked at the beautiful bulbous shape emerging from the trunk, now smooth and unencumbered from the heavy old frond, I could see how the tree was now free to put its energy into ripening those droops of berries into the rich red of late autumn.

I too am now free of old fronds, and ready to ripen my new projects into mature fruit.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Autumn gift

Autumn is here; the days and nights have been nippy and the change in weather quite abrupt. I felt a bit caught out; not quite ready for this. But today I received a gift. After spending time being interviewed by a research student, talking about seasonal food for Matariki, the Pacific Aotearoa New Year that will be heralded in early June, I was given a jar of marmalade. She made it herself, from her own organically grown kumquats.
Here it stands, a golden feast in a jar. It's such a time-honoured tradition, to gift food as a way of saying thank you, or as solace for hard times. Within summer stored in my kitchen, I'm ready for the lengthening shadows, cool nights, and yellowing of the leaves. Thank you, Christine.

Friday, March 4, 2011


I made shrines for the broken hearts of Canterbury today. The beach was empty, the tide receded; rain threatening. The sand was gritty with shell fragments. Pieces of glass had been sea-shaped into curious little objects. I placed green leaves for healing, as foundations for the work to come.
Rebuilding begins with making a home for the heart.
It won't be the same as it was.
Clinging to the old way will only increase suffering.
It is necessary to surrender, and find a new haven for the broken heart.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.  ~Martin Luther King Jr.

Then, preparation for physical rebuilding can take place, beginning with cleaning and clearing.
New plans must be made.
The learnings must be incorporated in the new structure.
Eventually it will be stronger than before, and the heart can take up residence.
The work done, I left it on the beach, to be taken by the next high tide.

Catherine of Sienna said: Make two homes for yourself, my daughter: one actual home . . . and the other a spiritual home which you are to carry with you always.