Monday, May 30, 2011

Women on the land

I didn't expect to be putting up a post in celebration of growth at this time of the year, but after my weekend at Earthtalk, I've returned with many images of amazing productivity from a block of well-loved and well-tilled land. Everything has been done with such care, and it's all organically grown. Here is the heritage flax collection, planted for the muka, the silky fibre inside that is used by Maori for weaving. The silver green leaves set off the autumn leaves beautifully.
I stayed in 'Banana Bungalow', which was situated in the citrus orchard, and ate many of these delicious mandarins while I was there.

The grapefruit are ripening nicely.
I saw pomegranates growing, for the first time.
And pawpaws.
And bananas! This bunch was growing upside down because its branch had sagged, but it's now been tied up again.
Two women have worked hard since 1992 to transform bare paddocks on a sand dune into a fertile block of land, filled with diverse species of native and exotic plants. What they have achieved is remarkable. I am filled with admiration,  and the immense pleasure that comes from seeing the good earth happy and productive.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Awhitu birds

I've just had a relaxing weekend on the Awhitu Peninsula, staying on the organic small holding of my friends Tanya and Charmaine. There, the skies are big, the peace immense, and the bird life plentiful. On their land they made a small pond, which attracts many water birds. In the field surrounding the pond, Californian quail move around in a small, camera-shy band. They are as big as hens, and their plummage is almost blue in the winter light.
Easier to photograph are the two 'widows', who enjoy a good life scratching around in the orchard: a duck, and a very fat hen.

And when I walked down the end of the road, to the coast, there in the distance I watched a blue heron, peacefully feeding.
So much space, peace, and beauty. I feel soothed and expanded from the weekend. Bird watching is a marvellous way to empty the mind.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Singing bird tree

The flame tree takes me by the hand and leads me into winter, saying 'It's OK. I'll be there to warm you through the coldest of days. I'll be flaring brightly, no matter what.'
The flame tree makes the transition so comforting. Its scarlet flowers are opening fast, before the leaves have dropped. At no stage does the tree stand bare and cold. And in addition, the flowers with their sweet nectar have enticed the tuis back across the water. I see their gleaming black bodies flying in and out of the tree, and hopping amidst the branches as they happily feed.
With the tuis comes their song. And so the tree gives me continuity, fiery pleasure, as well as singing to me from morning till night. I am reminded of the Chinese proverb:
Keep a green tree in your heart, and perhaps the singing bird will come.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sails in the sunlight

On the threshold of winter, we have been blessed with sun-warmed days. As I came home from my walk in the sun yesterday, suddenly the boats glided across the strip of sea in front of me, their sails caught by the light.
Even when the clouds moved across the sky, still some of the sails remained lit up. They were having a race, but in the world of small boats on a mild day, 'race' really means a pleasant glide.
I used to sail a lot when I was first married and we had an 'idlealong', a 13 foot kauri sailing dinghy. We sailed up and down the harbour, just like the boats in these pictures. Sometimes the wind blew fiercely, but mostly we were searching for a good breeze, and on one occasion when we stayed out too long, the wind dropped entirely and we had to paddle back to the marina with our rubber jandals. Ah, such memories, evoked by the boats I saw yesterday.
What a beautiful sight to bring a perfect day to a close.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Everywhere I look, plants are shedding. Ivy on a wall is now bare of leaves, but sticks out these little red clusters that may be seeds, or empty pods perhaps.
In the afternoon sun, they are like assertions of life, even as the rest of the plant turns brown.
Nikau pods, having dropped the last of their red berries, are beautiful and strange, rather like coral.
And wistaria pods have their own twisting presence where they have fallen on the earth beneath.
While spent leaves hold their own ephemeral beauty.

I love the winter light, and the way it reveals what is not usually seen.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Oh for a garden!

 The biggest sacrifice of living in an apartment is not having a garden. I've always loved the rhythm of stepping outside to pull weeds, observe new growth, pick flowers to bring inside, and rake up leaves. As a writer, tending a garden provides the perfect counter-balance to working on a computer.
Here at the apartment I've attempted to grow plants in pots, but with short-lived success. Lettuces soon wilt, my tomato plant yielded only one small tomato, herbs dry out and the hanging basket of pansies and lobellia withered away after only a weekend of neglect.

I tried again, using 'crystal rain' to retain moisture, and refilling the pots with fresh compost — but to no avail. The one plant that has kept on growing, flowering and giving pleasure, is the snap dragon. I couldn't resist another attempt at giving it company when I spotted little yellow and white pansies as I walked past the plant shop.

Dorothy Sucher's book 'The invisible Garden' has stirred my longing. The book was recommended by Penny from American's midwest, whose wonderful blog, lifeonthecutoff, I follow with much pleasure.
Dorothy Sucher says:
'The garden gives us back so much that at times it's hard not to sense a consciousness out there, a living earth-spirit that appreciates our efforts and reaches out to heal us when we are troubled.'
Maybe the earth-spirit will thrive in the little pansies on my balcony, with their bright, hopeful faces.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Watching the melia

May 18
It all happened pretty fast. There's nothing like a good wind storm to shake the trees and reduce them to naked branches. Only three weeks ago, the melia tree outside my window looked as if its leaves would hold on forever.
April 27
For sure, they were turning yellow, but still they formed a good head of foliage.
April 18
 I'd been watching them for some time, hoping to chart a gradual process of leaf-change. But as you will see from these photos, the leaves looked very similar through April after an initial yellowing in late March.
April 7

March 30
March 8
What happens inside a leaf, to suddenly weaken it so that it can no longer hold fast to the branches? What is it inside ourselves that suddenly weakens, so that we can no longer hold on after weeks, months or even years of heroic endeavour? Maybe we too, like the leaves, need to discover our limits, to loosen and let go, fall to the ground and make compost, and in this way regenerate our fertility and capacity to grow anew.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Lemons to the rescue

‘Have you got about twenty lemons?’ asked the neighbour who had just knocked on my door. Fortunately I did. The lemon grove here at my apartment block is heavy with a new crop.
My neighbour had seen the window open, and could smell fumes from the car park. Even though I’d gone away for the weekend while the painter used a toxic sealer for the concrete wall that was seeping and making the paint bubble, I got quite a hit on my return. By Monday afternoon I was feeling really sick.
‘Lemons will do the trick,’ said my neighbour. Cut them in half and put them everywhere, and they will absorb the fumes’. He’d learned this from a painter friend of his.
He was right.  I couldn’t believe it, but in fifteen minutes I could no longer smell paint, only the fresh tang of the lemons. And so the lemon grove, that cheerful sign of the transition into winter, has come inside together with my neighbour’s kindness, and I have found relief.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Leaves a-turning

Even evergreen native trees change colour and shed some leaves. Karaka leaves were falling on the paths when I was last at the bach. With them I made this circle, a wheel for the turning season as it moves into the dark segment of the year.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Of purple & pohutukawas

The swamp turns purple on the threshold of winter. In autumn it flushes russet, but as winter approaches the colours change. If I remember rightly, Van Gogh saw shadows as purple. We are now entering that time of year when the shadows lengthen, sculpting the landscape and highlighting every bush and tree.
I saw purple shadows and purple light on my walk yesterday.
Between the bach and the beach, young pohutukawas are everywhere making their presence felt, raising their bushy heads. They are growing because of the vision of one man, who raised hundreds of seedlings many years ago, and organised his students to help plant them, In another ten years they will provide welcome shade along the track to the beach.
For now, their rounded forms in the purple haze, seem mysterious: part of the magic that happens when the light changes and familiar things take on new significance.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The two-sided tree

The flame tree, that I watch through the seasons, has become two trees. On the east, its leaves are slowly turning yellow and becoming more sparse. I photograph this side of the tree in the morning, when the sun catches its leaves.
But on the other side, which stretches out towards the west, more and more red flowers are blooming. I photograph this side in the evening, when the setting sun bathes the leaves and flowers with golden light.
On the west, the tree has begun its winter flaming.
On the east, the tree is still in autumn leaf-fall.
Two seasons in one.
I feel I am witnessing transition, right before my eyes.
I feel comforted.
When nature is showing so much of its jolting, harsh, abrupt side, gentle transitions that include some of the old and some of the new, give me time to adjust and accept the inevitability of change.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Kiwi Halloween on Ponsonby Rd

On Saturday night, April 30, my helpers and I held a vigil on Ponsonby Road. We swept the pavement and set up an area with mats, ready to receive the candles and pumpkin lanterns that people brought. They wrote names on pieces of card, of those whom they wished to remember, and then lingered as others came by and the number of lanterns grew.

It felt special, to be holding faith with this significant moment on the threshold of winter, and the ancient festival of Samhain, day of the dead. This was an oppportunity to pay tribute to those who have passed over. This day of seasonal change felt very aligned to the cycles of birth, growth and dying, and the perfect time for commemoration.

For New Zealand Aotearoa this is still a new practice; but it feels important to offer an alternative to the commercial Halloween which has been thoughtlessly imported in spring time, when it makes very little sense.
Restoring meaning to our rituals; that's what the people on Ponsonby Rd and all over the country did tonight when they lit their candles. Thank you to you all for holding faith; it was beautiful, and it will grow.