Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Winter nesting

At three years old, Mira has just had her first birthday party. There was so much to wonder at: the cake with its candles, the ritual of being sung to and then blowing them out.
And then of course the presents.
I gave her a set of nesting dolls.
Here she is, wondering what to make of this strange doll with no legs or arms.
But it's not long before all is revealed. One doll nests inside the other, and she pulls them out one by one until she reaches the 'baby' inside and smiles at it with such satisfaction. 'Baby's not working', she declares, which means that the baby, unlike the others, can't be opened up.

Nesting: it's all part of winter. As the family gathers around Mira and witnesses her birthday, it feels that we are nesting within each other. As the icy winds blow outside, and snow spreads over much of the country, nesting inside one another's hearts seems like just the best place to be - and the warmest.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What do ants love best?

Last year, in autumn, I posted about the ants that were invading my home. Several people offered useful advice through their comments, and my favourite one was from an anonymous visitor who said, try out different foods, and mix them with borax, and this will help to wipe out the nest.

This year the ants arrived in autumn, and instead of being driven back by the winter cold, have kept invading. They turn up everywhere, all over the kitchen bench, up the bathroom walls, inside the electric kettle and even into my clothing.

They've been driving me crazy.
I've tried avocado, almond butter, honey, and many other kinds of food, mixed with borax - but nothing seems to work for long.

But now I've hit the jackpot! Maple syrup is the answer. They are coming in droves to drink from the little lid where this gourmet food is mixed with borax.

I'm told that persistence is needed. I suspect that every ant nest in the neighbourhood has heard the good news - either that or the borax isn't working and the population is growing as I feed them - but the ant trail is several lanes wide and shows no sign of abating after a week.

PS No photo with this one - I tried, but it's not a good look. Here's something else to delight your eyes instead. It's the photo of the view that you'd see from my place if you were an ant, and took a moment to raise your feelers from the maple sypup dish.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The bird with no head

As I walked along the waterfront yesterday, I spotted a strange sight: a bird without a head.

I came closer, and saw that it was a shag. It seemed to be have been taking a nap, but as I approached it moved, 
and opened its eyes,
taking a look at me to see if I posed a threat.
And then, deciding I didn't, tucked its head down again,
turned to one side, 
and went back to sleep.
I wonder if I could learn to do that.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The gift that grew

When I first moved into my apartment nearly two years ago, I sat there amidst the boxes and bare rooms, and had this thought: 'I wish someone would bring me flowers.'
I've always liked to grow flowers for picking, to bring life into my home.
But here I was, with no garden, and no welcome.
Then a friend came, bearing a yellow gerbera in a pot. I was elated! It flowered beautifully for quite a while, and then as potted plants do, it stopped and became just a leafy plant.
This year I decided to plant it out into my little balcony garden.
And here it is, flowering again, despite the wintry weather and blasting winds.
It seems to be smiling at me.
It welcomes me home, just as my friend did, so many months ago.
If you know someone who has just moved in to a new home, you can't go wrong by taking a flowering plant in a pot (no vases required), a plate of freshly baked scones, or a jar of home-made soup. Your gesture will be remembered forever.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A splash of yellow

It was wild and cold out here on the west coast this weekend. The rain was lashing my face, and the lens of my camera as I sneaked it out for some photos.
The rain squall intensified as I attempted to photograph the hill across the stream.
But when I returned to the bach, my eye caught a patch of yellow. On this monochromatic day, that little splash of colour stood out.
The little kowhai tree has burst into flower. Usually kowhai trees flower in spring, but over the last few years, when this one first began to flower, it chose the coldest month of winter in which to put on a show.
Each time it happens, I remember my first grandchild, a little girl who died at six weeks. The kowhai tree was planted on her whenua (placenta). The anniversary of her death is on July 21. She would have been 18 this year, in the flowering of her youth.
This little flower reminds me of a golden tear drop.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

White carrot

I haven't visited the bach garden for a month. When I pulled up this vegetable, I thought it must be a parsnip, although I didn't remember planting any.

But no. It's a white Belgium carrot. Suddenly I remembered: in the autumn I was unable to buy orange carrot seeds from the organic shop as I drove out to the bach. Instead, they sold me a packet of heritage seeds, gathered and preserved by the Koanga Gardens.

On reading the packet, I see that the green shoulders, rising above the ground, are a feature of these carrots, and don't mean that I planted them badly!

Heritage seeds are resilient, and this row of carrots has certainly sprung up quickly, and shows no sign of disease.
Originally a Dutch heirloom, they have been grown in New Zealand for a long time. The packet says they are 'at their best cooked, stunning for flavouring soups and stews.'
I grated this one (not having found the packet at that stage), and with a few lettuce leaves gathered from the garden, enjoyed its juicy flavour as part of my lunch.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Two seasons

It's been bleak; a week of storms, twisters, snow falls and on the west coast, immense surf. The wind has been biting. Yet, winter delivered a surprise.

On my walk, I discovered a young magnolia had burst into bloom, just two minutes away from the grey sea coast below.

It looked so pure, like a Japanese painting.

It looked as if spring had arrived.

The seasons have become confusing. All I can do is to relax and enjoy the contradictions. I decided that this was a two-season day, and that it didn't have to make sense.
The wild winter storms stimulate and refresh me, and the beauty of the magnolia awakens me to the miracle of new life.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Serenity and gratitude

In the Wintergardens, on that inhospitable day when I took refuge in the warmed pavillion, this is what I saw: waterlily leaves that seemed to be made out of bronzed silk. A golden highlight shone on them from above, bringing out their luminosity, and a single flower rose out of the dark water.
It's called a royal water lily, and I can see why, because this one is luxurious. I sat beside it, and marvelled, feeling my soul unfold and come to rest in the serenity of pure being. Such gratitude for the beauty and peace that has been created here, flowering out of the city's chaos on a wet, windy Friday.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Winter smiles

It was a cold, windy day with grey skies. Leaves were being scraped along the ground and tossed in the air. I pulled my coat tightly around me as I left an appointment and prepared myself for two more - dreary ones, like the day itself.
With an hour to kill between them, I needed warming and cheering. So I made my way to the Wintergardens in Auckland's domain. I walked straight towards a bed of pansies, lots of little cheerful faces, smiling at me.
They were so bright and alert that I found myself smiling back
especially when I changed upon this cluster. The funny thing is, that when I look at the photos, I see that their mouths are downturned, but when I was amongst them, I swear that they were chattering and smiling and greeting me in the most friendly way possible.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sun berries

This winter I'm noticing things I've never seen before. As I drive down a certain Auckland street, I see that the melia trees are in full berry. They are like lots of little suns, all over the trees, and they seem to light up the whole street on gloomy winter days.
I didn't even know this tree until I started watching one in my driveway, as it grew into leafing in the spring and then became bare at the end of autumn. The appearance of the tiny golden berries was a surprise.
 It's a native of India, South East Asia and Australia, and has many other names, including white cedar, chinaberry, umbrella tree, and Pride of India.
Like the titoki berries, these little suns contain a secret. Inside each is a 5-grooved seed. The seeds have traditionally been used for rosary beads.
Of course, as soon as I read this, I wanted to see one. I was able to find three berries on the ground under the melia tree in my driveway, and uncovered the hard little seed in two of them, which I've photographed next to the berry itself. As you can see, the surfaces are perfect for the fingers to grip as the rosary is worked.
What treasures there are in nature, always awaiting discovery. This winter is yielding many secrets.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Where are the bumblebees?

My jade plant is just as gorgeous as it was last year.
Its little flower heads are pink and open. They are  putting out a soft, sweet fragrance. They're just hanging out, ready to be pollinated.
But where are the bumble bees?
Last year it was smothered with them. Bumble bees, being fat and fury, are great pollinators, because they pick up so much pollen.
They were introduced to New Zealand in 1885 to help the spread of red clover in the Canterbury fields of the South Island.
But they have some other gourmet tastes as well, and are eager to fly in and work any other attractive flowers.
My jade plant is the right colour. It's still gorgeous. They loved it last year. So where are they now?

Try this link if you'd like to watch a bumble bee in action (sigh).