Saturday, April 30, 2011

Preparing the pumpkins

Tonight is Kiwi Halloween, exactly 6 months before it occurs in the northern hemisphere. Pumpkins are of course abundant when we bring our Halloween in line with the seasons. I'm preparing for tonight's Kiwi Halloween on Ponsonby Rd by carving a pumpkin and making pumpkin soup for the helpers.

The same pumpkin looks different when the candle is lit inside it. That eerie look is in keeping with the original meaning of this old festival of Samhain, the day of the dead.
Tonight people will bring their candles and pumpkin lanterns to light on Ponsonby Rd, where I will be keeping vigil with my helpers. Who knows how many people will turn up, and what will happen? This is the third year I've done this, and last year children turned up who never wanted to leave, they were so fascinated by it all.

This year we will have a special area for those who died in the Christchurch earthquake. One woman is going to bring her violin to play, and I will play on my English concertina. The concertina is made our of rosewood, with silver-tipped buttons. It is 140 years old, and belonged to the McKeever grandmother who died before I was born. Her ancestry was Irish and English, and when I play this old instrument I can feel my ancestry flowing into me.

Monday, April 25, 2011


'They're not seagulls', I said, as we sat on the beach during the finest day of the Easter weekend. 'I think they might be terns.' I was right.
When I could check my bird books and the web, I learned that these dainty birds were black-fronted terns, known to Maori as tarapiroe. They are also known as 'sea swallows', because of their forked tails. Tarapiroe breed in the shingle rivers of the south island, but move north in late summer and autumn, gathering to feed around river mouths.
Startled by passersby, the whole flock flew in the air as if it were a single entity. It wheeled around, making elegant patterns that I was too slow to catch with my camera. But here they are coming into land. 'They are definitely not gulls,' I said. 'Gulls are competitive, each for its own, but these birds act in unison.' The gull in the foreground was unperturbed, intent on finding out if we had food scraps.
Terns are rare visitors to this beach, and their graceful presence felt like an Easter blessing.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Quiet depth

There's depth and quiet in the landscape out here at the coast over Easter. The bullrushes are showing their final russet coat before the decline, while distant hills seem transparent in the soft light.
 A full tide sweeps over the iron sand, keeping me up on the high track above the beach.
While a lone kingfisher keeps vigil, and a change in the weather slowly sweeps over the sky.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Storms and seeds

The gales of last week wreaked havoc at the bach. I arrived to find twigs strewn everywhere, then branches, and then the lacebark severed from its trunk.

The mellow days of autumn are definitely over, but on a gentler note, I found the carrots I planted last time, were daintily dancing in their rows.
The day was warm, and I worked happily in the garden, digging in seaweed and planting broad beans.
Nature, on the one hand is savage: a hand that takes. We are approaching Kiwi Halloween, and I'm very aware of the lives that have been snatched or beckoned away this year.
But I'm also reminded of the hand that gives, for here in Auckland it's still warm enough to plant seeds and sneak in some more crops. I find that comforting as the season turns.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Autumn glory

Mostly, I love our native trees. But in autumn it's the exotics that I enjoy, as their leaves change colour. Today on the north shore I found many glorious trees to help indulge my need to hold on to autumn.
So golden, such glory.
And yet, there is a darkening too, and the clouds were gathering.
And, just in case I needed a reminder, I was served this egg/tea timer with my tea at Sausalito cafe. I was reminded of the first hour glass I ever saw: in 'The Wizard of Oz'. I trembled on the edge of my seat as I watched the sand running through, anticipating doom. At the cafe however, the words written on the holder for this tea-timer were comforting:
'Your tea goes live in 3 minutes.
In 1 minute your tea will have colour.
In two minutes your tea will have flavour.
In 3 minutes your tea will have the health benefits of antioxidants.'
Health benefits indeed, in this range of 'NZ Live Tea', for it combines traditional teas with Maori herbal remedies.
So as I drank my cup of 'Otago Gold' (green tea and kawakawa with ginger and lemon grass'), I felt warmed and mellowed. Even though the leaves on the trees are losing colour and flavour, a little more each day, at least some of it is being transferred to the inside of me, there to enjoy and hold.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Walking the labyrinth

For about 4 days before Easter, St Matthew-in-the-city sets out a labyrinth in river stones and candles. The church fills with music: sometimes a choir, maybe electronic music, maybe the sound of a river gurgling by. It's an age-old practice, to walk the labyrinth in order to connect with the depths of our own soul.
The labyrinth in St Matthew is a simplified version of the one at Chartres. This inspiring cathedral was the last place I visited after living in Paris for two years. I have photos of my baby son sitting in the cobblestone street outside the church, but none of the interior (probably not permitted).
The timing of today's walk was perfect, for I'm not journeying gracefully across the seasons at present.
The tradition is to carry a question into the labyrinth, and simply to hold that question without expectations while one walks.
My question was 'what am I resisting?'
It was answered in the most unexpected way, as I took a turn in the quiet walk.
What is your question as the season turns? May you find the quietness to hold it in sacred space. May the answer arise from the stillness inside you.

Monday, April 18, 2011


I'm watching and feeling the changeover. Nine days ago we were still basking in the late glow of autumn. The shadows fell warmly upon the wall and the tiles glowed. The air was still, and I rested in the illusion that this could last forever.

Now the southerly gales are blowing, leaves are scattering, and the light has turned pale. Late autumn is here, and with it, melancholy. My thoughts turn to endings, and loss. I always find it hard to say goodbye to the golden days.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


I know a place where the pine trees grow
And the tanekaha, ever so slow
It's there I go to fuel my fire
With cones to make the flames leap higher
And there I find the toadstalls gold,
Red ones tiny, or spotted bold

Every autumn I walk the trails
Preparing for approaching gails
And if perchance I should expire
Just add me to the winter fire.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Going underground

On my walk, I saw this woodpile that a neighbour has prepared, ready for the cold nights that are getting closer.
Creatures are burrowing underground, finding nooks and crannies to huddle away in. Ants have been pouring into my kitchen and into every little-used cupboard, seeking out winter shelter.
And I had to chuckle when I realised what the workmen were up to down the other end of our street: why, moving the powerlines from poles to underground.

It's called an Undergrounding Project.

There they are, snug in their orange pipes.
I wonder if powerlines hibernate too, and if in the spring they will come bursting through the earth again, and sprouting power poles on which to climb.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


I'm basking in the glow of the autumn retreat that I led in the weekend.
It was so rich, being in the good company of others from many spiritual traditions.
The many seeds of autumn are still with me: shiny flax seeds, kauri cone segments, golden kowhai seeds, and from the northern hemisphere, acorns and a head of wheat.
I know I'm seeding too, and it's a mystery to be unfolded.
Autumn is drawing me within, to the quiet space of gestation.
Nature always wears the colours of the spirit. (Emerson)

Saturday, April 9, 2011


In the golden weather of autumn, which keeps extending itself, day by day, I sit on the beach. With Mira, it's very simple. Just be there. Enjoy. Play in the sand.
 Watch the boats sailing by,
while Mira finds her own solution to sandcastles that won't come whole out of the bucket. She just puts the bucket back over the crumbled pile and continues to build on top of it, and all around. While I've made a mound, Mira tells me she's making a mountain.
When you are two and a half, imagination always finds a way. With Mira, life is simple.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I just sat

I played truant and took a bit of time off in the middle of the day to go out to the bach. There I took time to just sit in the garden, in a patch of sun, between showers.

I heard the sea's distant roar.
I caught the rhythm of the wind, heaving great sighs and then growing still.
I saw a pumpkin vine that had clambered up a tree, but lost its fruit.
I felt a sigh of release pass through me, after the pressure of busy days.
I found my gumboots still in the garden, starting to fill with water.
I tasted kawakawa tea, peppery and perky.
I offered gratitude for this pocket of peace.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Seeds of hope

Happiness is working in my bach garden. After harvesting my butternut, tomatoes and capsicums in the weekend, I started clearing weeds and dead plants, then preparing the soil for new planting. At the end of the day I'd planted two rows of carrots. The moon was waning, which is a good time to plant root veges, and the soil is still warm enough for them to do some growing before winter.
It always feels hopeful to begin a new cycle, even if it gets sneaked in between seasons.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


I can still buy fine capsicums and courgettes from the organic growers up the road, and now they've brought in their harvest of butternuts.
I reached the bach after a few weeks away, not sure what I'd find in my own modest garden, especially after the rain had come. My capsicums are rather small, but very bright and tasty.
I harvested just one butternut, because the others died when I wasn't here to water them. Just one butternut, but it's the first one I've ever grown, and I know it will taste special.
I also picked the last tomatoes, and uprooted the plant, which was very ready to be composted.
And the sweet basil, although it's now flowering,  still has some fragrant leaves to add to my vegetable casserole.
It's a modest garden, and I'm not here to tend to it every day, but somehow it's produced enough to keep me satisfied.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Beach magic

It was a perfect day at the beach today, the last of daylight saving. The beach gave me one gift after another. First, these tiny fish, flicking rapidly through the shallow stream that feeds into the beach lagoon.
Then, feathers everywhere, having dropped from birds just as leaves are getting ready to drop from trees.
The freshness of the waves breaking on rocks down the south end of the beach.
Treasures on the sand, beautifully arranged by Nature's hand.
And finally, kelp for my garden. I untangled a good sized hank from this bundle, and dragged it home, feeling happy and lucky to have been able to get out to the coast for this special day.