Thursday, February 23, 2012

The healing of communities

I visited the eco-community of Earthsong last weekend for a book launch. Here's the title of the book by Vivian Hutchinson. It's full of stories about social entrepreneurs, and the difference they have made in their New Zealand communities. Earthsong is a good example of how a vision can become reality.
 You leave your car on the road when it's a big event, or you can use the visitor carpark.
Some of the houses can be glimpsed from the entrance, through pine trees that no doubt will be replaced by native trees at some stage.
 The driveway is deserted enough for the children to play on,
although everyone takes care.
 This is the common house, where the book launch was held,
 and here, through the ripening apples, is a view of some of the houses, which are in individual ownership. They are built of mud brick, with timber cladding. Solar panels sit on the roof, and everyone's power bills are very low.
The community has just set up a pen for its first chickens, which everyone wanted to look at.
And in the common house, there is plenty of room (this is only the front row of seats) for events like this, or to share a meal twice a week.
It felt that summer had finally arrived, with a hot, sunny weekend.
At Earthsong, the gardens are flourishing, and despite all the inevitable challenges, so is the whole project. I drove home, rejoicing in the ripeness of the season and the power of community.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In memoriam: Christchurch

For all those affected by the devastating Canterbury earthquake of February 22, 2011. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Here is the quote I posted last year, when I made a symbol on the beach after the earthquake:

By not wanting, there is calm
And the world will straighten itself.
When there is silence,
one finds the anchor of the universe within oneself.
 (Tao Te Ching, 37th verse)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Neptune's necklace/Aphrodite's pearls

Every tide brings a different treasure. This is what I'm discovering as I do my Tai Chi by the sea each morning. The tide is right out now, and the air smells tangy. One of my favourite seaweeds sprawls out across the rocks.
It leaves a greeny-gold trail. Neptune's necklace: what a descriptive name. The beads are hollow, and contain both water and gas, which enables them to float. I just found out that this seaweed has another name (besides Aphrodite's pearls, which I think I might have made up), and this one made me smile: bubbleweed. I thought about how children can't resist popping the little bladders and making them burst and spurt, and about the funny post that Penny from lifeonthecutoff wrote about people's compulsion to pop all the cells in bubblewrap.
Neptune's necklace also brings back some special memories for me. Back in my artist days I used to make art on the beach. One year I was asked to be 'artist in residence' at Tawharanui, one of our regional parks, and to make art on the beach for a day. Whatever could I make?
I decided to make big trails of Neptune's necklace out of sand, and leave them there for the incoming tide to sculpt and eventually take away.
The photos are in storage, alas, but I found these 'artist's notes' in a file box.
In the course of my research I gathered this seaweed - also known as 'bladderwort kelp', and learned about how it mates with itself. On the surface of the individual 'bladders' lie the sexual cells. When the conditions are right, the sperm and egg cells all release together in one great burst, and fertilisation occurs. Then at high tide, the fertilised eggs are carried away.
Well, I had quite a pile in my fridge that I'd brought home, luckily placed into a plastic bag, because after a while I heard a strange noise coming from the fridge: a kind of hissing and exploding. I looked inside, and discovered that the pesky kelp was mating with itself in there. Something about the fridge must have created the perfect conditions. (I see from my notes that being cold and dry triggers reproduction).
So now, calmly doing my Tai Chi at low tide, I start to laugh. There wasn't a move that I knew of, called 'shaking with laughter', or 'smiling fit to burst', but there is now. I'm afraid my careful moves turned to jelly every time I thought of Neptune's necklace/Aphrodite's pearls mating in my fridge. Ah, such memories. I never know what is going to come in on the next tide.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tai Chi on the beach

Every day is different, as I do my Tai Chi by the sea. The tides change, the weather changes, and the company changes. Today the tide was way out, and so I was able to scramble round to the little beach near the jetty and stand in the mottled shade as I did the sequences.
Above my head, I felt shelter spreading out from this very old, many-branched pohutukawa tree.
And along the shore, visitors arrived. First the black stilts, having a good feed at the water's edge.
Then a couple, gliding along with poles on their surfboards.
And Princess Heron, stalking gracefully through the shallow water, and finding plenty of tasty morsels to eat.
She is so elegant, and I'm fascinated by the snaking movements of her very flexible neck.
 Mine feels a bit stiff and awkward in comparison, but as I relax into the flow of the Tai Chi, I imagine a time when I might feel like a heron beside the sea.
 Maybe I'll find some moves called 'Stalking the water's edge', or 'Lifting legs, snaking neck'. Maybe if I keep practising, I will become as expanded as the spreading pohutukawa and as delicately poised as this elegant visitor.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The garden that grew by itself

 It's a dream come true. I sometimes think I should give up on my bach garden, at least over summer, because if I'm away too long the soil dries out and the plants die. But this year, with rain every week of the summer, my dear little plants have grown into vigorous big ones, and look at this! A little pumpkin is forming, under the leaves,
 and the tiny red lettuces that I tucked into the soil are waving their frilly leaves, saying 'eat me!' (I did). Down to the left, lots of little rocket plants have sprung up from the seed mix that I hopefully tossed into the earth on the day I left. And marigolds everywhere are flowering, supposedly keeping the bugs away.
 Parsley has popped up on the steps,
 and a sweet basil plant, which a friend planted when she was staying out there, is burgeoning.
 Zinnias are doing really well. I planted them for the first time, because their petals can be sprinkled through the salad greens, bringing brightness and good cheer.
And here it is - fresh carrots straight from the garden to the grater, lettuce, rocket, basil, thyme, marjoram, with only the capsicum not grown by me. Eating this salad was pure pleasure.
When I was teaching Environmental Studies back in the '80s, we had a slogan about how you can't rob nature: 'There's no such thing as a free lunch.' Well, today there was!
Thank you, summer rain.
P.S. I did have a lot of weeding to do, but I didn't mind at all.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sociable species

The morning Tai Chi by the sea begins, with a lone seagull on the roof, and a lone shag on the boat ramp.
 It's a long boat ramp, with plenty of room. But where does the second shag land? Why, right beside the other one.
 Then she decides she would prefer to sit on the other side. So she crosses over,
 and flaps her wings to dry them out after swimming and diving for fish
The other shag is unperturbed. She must be used to the fact that they perch together. Its a little bit like the herding instinct that leads humans in an empty carpark to park alongside each other.
It's friendly and companionable. It must go back to some ancient instinct of safety in numbers.
The newcomer starts preening now, and soon will settle down alongside the other one. Patiently they will rest and dry out in the sun.
Meanwhile I do my Tai Chi moves. As I spread my arms out and draw them back, I think of it as 'Drying one's wings', and as I do the final move, it becomes, 'patient like a shag'.

First swim!

I blush. It took till the 7th of February, when the day was bright and warm and it felt that yes, summer really has arrived, before I took my first swim.
I lay on the beach at the end of the day with two friends. Two more, on the water, showed us how it's done (I've forgotten, it's been so long). In I plunged. And it was warm, apart from little nips of cold around the ankles from time to time.
I can't remember a summer when I haven't been in the sea in December, or at the latest, January. But this summer has been a tease, with plenty of rain, clouds, and cool winds. Now that I've taken the plunge at last, I can't wait to do it again. But today isn't so tempting, and the tide is a bit too far out, so maybe tomorrow . . . (sigh).

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Morning light

 The mornings are cooler now, down at the jetty. I'm noticing the diminishing light now that we've reached the half-way point between summer solstice and autumn equinox. But the quality of the light has become magical, bringing new beauty to this familiar spot as the tide laps against the shore.
 No shags on the boat ramp. All is still.
 Silent and empty.
Utter peace.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Spreading one's wings

 Mother shag is there again as I practise the Tai Chi movement 'Spreading one's wings'. She joins me.
 Then she rises up on her feet, just as I am doing,
 and sinks down again, with her wings still outstretched.
 Then suddenly, she is gone. I just manage to catch her in flight, with her tail feathers thrust up for balance.
 She descends,
and lands on the water, where she swims like a duck, patiently searching for more fish.
I have finished spreading my wings, and return to my study to fish for inspiration as I continue my writing.

Friday, February 3, 2012

City sky

 I was sad to leave the bach and its magical skies. But look at this: here in the city, the scudding clouds that keep the sun away by day, create patterns of light in the evening.
The wonder of nature is everywhere.