Friday, March 30, 2012

Sails in the sunlight

What a surprise, to look out my window and see a red sail. Someone was out there, enjoying this beautiful fine day.
And then there were more
and more still
all colours, it seemed.
Later in the afternoon, I took a walk and watched the yachts scudding up and down while several support vessels stayed close by - a young person's training session perhaps. I too have sailed on the Waitemata Harbour. The Maori name— Wai te mataa—refers to water (wai) like the glinting glass of obsidian. The more modern translation is 'sparkling waters'. Today the Waitemata was showing itself off. Everything was just right, the wind, the sun, the water. A perfect day at last!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


It's done! Dear blog friends, I have just brought in the harvest of over two year's work: my new book.
I like to savour such moments. Before I set out to walk to the post shop, I enjoyed crunching into one of these 'NZ Beauty' apples, which are now filling the bins at the Health Food shop.
I like to deliver such a precious package by taking my time. I also sampled some of these Angeleno plums, that have now been picked and brought to the shops. As I tasted the dark red flesh, I reflected on the ripeness of my writing, how ready it is to leave me now, and eventually to be tasted by others.
I cut open the one passionfruit that I have, because I wanted to show you the passion that has gone into this creative project.
And before I packaged up the manuscript, I held a little ceremony of thanksgiving, offering the work back to the source from which it came.
As I walked along the streets, I felt a mix of warm sun on my back and cool autumn wind at my front. The season is turning.
This weekend we turn our clocks back, and the evenings will be dark much earlier. But the cicadas were still singing as I turned up the hill, and at the post shop I found the nice man at the counter, who advised me to pay a little more so the parcel can be tracked. I'm submitting the work for an award for an unpublished ms. It will be several months before I hear anything, and meanwhile I give thanks for the harvest. Although the work has been hard at times, it has also been as sweet and juicy as the fruits of this season.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Autumn gift

This autumn gift arrived today from the south island. Here it is, freshly unwrapped from its litttle box. 
What is it?
I've never seen such a thing before.
Here's a clue: my fingers were sticky as I unpacked it, and when I licked them - yumm!
Here's another clue: a slice of this orange delight, just before spreading.
The gift was sent by an appreciative reader in the south island. She is living on the land and loves to share stories of what's happening on her lifestyle block. And now I will reveal all: this is a round of quince jelly. It's an annual ritual for her to make it, and she loves watching it 'turn from translucent pale yellow to this rich autumn amber.'

This gift is a special treat for reasons that my south island friend doesn't know. When I was first married I decided to make jam, using the abundant quinces that were falling off the tree in the garden. They were ugly fruit, and not particularly edible, but I was told that they made marvellous jam or jelly. Armed with a preserving pan borrowed from my mother, and her instructions about how to know when to stop boiling the mixture, I embarked on the adventure of jam making.

Alas! My neighbour, who knew everything, popped in. She kept discouraging me from stopping and potting the jam, saying it needed more boiling. And so I boiled it on and on. The next morning what did I find?  Pots of toffee that were so hard they couldn't be approached. I threw the whole lot away and never tried jam-making again.
Now this beautiful circle of quince jelly has arrived through my letterbox.  The wheel has come full circle. I can at last enjoy the autumn blessings of the quince.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tasty equinox

It's autumn equinox, the rain is falling - three month's worth in 24 hours up north, creating more floods. And yet the fruits are ripe and lush. I visit some blogs where people post delicious food that they've cooked, and my mouth waters. I'm too busy cooking up the text for my new book, and trying to get the flavour just right, which leaves no time for other culinary feats - but I offer you the tastes of the season.
 Feijoas, which have just ripened. I cut them open and scoop them out with a teaspoon - yummm! the insides look like four little trees of life, making new seeds in their little cavities.
 Plums of all kinds -  they bring back memories of the family's plum tree, and trying to pick them before the birds could beat us to it. This seasons' plums are lush and full of flavour.
 'Do I dare to eat a peach?' - oh yes, indeed. What sensuous pleasure there is, in seeing the yellow flesh as well as biting into it.
Just a scatter of blueberries remains, but I'm still tossing them into my breakfast muesli each morning and enjoying their round, indigo taste.
And finally, the tomatoes. Like the feijoas, they put out little trees inside, making seeds. Mmm - ratatouille time lingers on, with sweet basil scenting the kitchen as the tomatoes simmer away and the red juice intensifies its colour.
What a marvel, that nature could ripen all these fruits with so little sun. Yet the bountiful rain has no doubt helped them to grow juicy and fat.
Happy Equinox, wherever you are, in spring or in autumn. Around the world the light and dark are in balance. It's fruiting time here in the southern hemisphere, even though the green is just appearing in the north. Wherever you are, I send you an abundance of delectable tastes.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Low tide, west coast

Yesterday was cloudy and the beach a little sombre, with the tide right out and the clouds darkening overhead. 
I took my friends from England down to the south end of the beach, where driftwood curled into strange shapes, looped and tangled with kelp and debris.
 The encrusted cave ceiling seemed to be calling for ancient marks and paintings of prehistoric animals,
while on the black sand of the cave floor, a spinafex seed danced lightly.
Out at sea, black shapes blobbed like seals. Here are three of them, waiting for a wave, as the tide turned.
Even a sombre day yields its gifts: the pleasure of long-term friendship, the uncoiling of our lives from school days, and the shared love of this wild west coast.
PS A note to my Wordpress blog friends. Last week something changed, and my comments have been rejected ever since. I've contacted Wordpress support with no reply. I love your posts and am still reading with enjoyment, and hope I can leave comments again before too long.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Tick tock, dandelion clock

One o'clock, two o'clock, three o'clock, four. 
Summer's gone, it's out the door
It didn't come here anyway
Still the children want to play.
It's been a month since I visited the bach, and here I am, blessed with that rare thing, a fine sunny day. The bach garden has gone wild while I've been away. Usually at this time of year, if I'm not around to water the plants, they shrivel and die. But not this summer.
The calendulas and marigolds, planted to deter pests and bring brightness to my salads, are happy and laughing.
The pumpkin that grew itself, is quietly swelling and ripening under the leaves.
A month ago it was just a little green thing, but all the rain has kept it growing.
What's the time, Mr Wolf?
Autumn time.
Five o'clock, six o'clock, seven o'clock eight
Autumn's here, it can't be late
eight o'clock, nine o'clock ten o'clock eleven
The sun came out, today was heaven.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sandspit, tides and play

Sandspit is an hour's drive north of Auckland. There we headed for a family weekend, as the unexpectedly fine day began to gather clouds. There's something soothing about estuaries, and watching the tide slip in and out, changing the beachscape as it goes.
Our cabin was right on the waterfront. This meant a long walk to the ablution block (for this is an old fashioned Holiday Camp), but for a view like this, was worth it. Boats and buoys bobbed peacefully in the sea as waders and gulls stalked the water's edge, feeding themselves at leisure.
Visiting this Holiday Park is like stepping back into old New Zealand. The hazy smudge near the centre of this photo may look like a nostalgic soft focus, but in fact it shows where I touched my camera lens by mistake (now wiped clean).
Here is our beach front cabin, where we slept deeply, lulled by the lapping of the little waves against the rock wall.
Here's the TV room, with its old 'Moving Pictures' signs. We spoke to a woman who has been coming here since her childhood and now visits regularly with her husband and little daughter. Lots of people are regulars. Everyone is friendly.
 We are here for the Play Centre annual camp, with many other families, lots of little children, and an atmosphere of co-operation. Everyone looks out for everyone's children, as they run from one cabin or tent to the other, enjoying the fun of visiting Other People's Places, which are always so much more fascinating than one's own. I do my Tai Chi on the deck, and discover a cluster of little faces at the window next door, all watching with great interest.
Mira and I start making sand castles on the beach together. Have you ever placed a dollop of jam into the bottom of a steamed pudding basin? Well, somehow the memory prompted me to try placing an upside-down-shell in the bottom of the bucket, so when I turn it out the shell is embedded in the top. We make a little path to the first one. Then Mira's friend arrives. We make more, and they have the idea of joining them up with shell paths.
Then the friend's brother is here, and other children, all making paths, more shell-topped castles, and then a road. I sit back and watch it all unfold,
until a little village emerges, all linked with roads, everything connected, just the way these Play Centre children have learned that life works.
It's a beautiful mirror of the way we are, I think, as we sit at a shared meal and barbecue in the evening. The newspapers are so full of bad stories about the treatment of children. I've cancelled my newspapers for a couple of months, to allow some breathing space while I finish my book. Being with the Play Centre community reaffirms my faith in the good values of so many of our parents. They love their children, show great patience, and talk to them kindly.
Little Mira, when I commented how kind she was to give me a special shiny shell, carefully selected, solemnly declared: 'When I die and turn into different people, they will all be kind too.'
What a comforting thought, that kindness can go forth and multiply.
In the morning, it's raining softly. The woman who's been coming here since childhood, is out in a kayak, teaching her little daughter to fish.
Mira said, 'the sea has covered the sandcastles and turned them into sand.'
And so we leave, our marks erased, but our hearts full with the knowledge that some old values are alive and well.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Garden fairy visits again

 The first thing the visiting fairy said to me was, 'Help me put on my wings.' Of course I did. A fairy must be able to fly.
 In return, she set to work trying out my new blue watering can and making sure all the plants had a good drink. She visits me every week now, and we have a whole afternoon of fun together.
This time, there was at last a fine patch amidst the rainy days and I'd thought we could go to the beach. But wearing a fairy dress?
 Well, like any good fairy, she's good at a bit of shape-shifting. With a change of clothes, we were all set to go. The tide was way out. Two little boys were playing on the beach with their father and a whole assortment of toy trucks. The father introduced them and asked the fairy if she'd like to join them in making a road.
 No way. The fairy, once she's changed clothes, loves mud and sea weed, and set about collecting it. 'Messy play!' she declared with glee, stomping in the mud and wriggling her toes. The little boys thought this looked like fun, and soon joined in,

as we made nests on the beach.
to which I added 'eggs' shaped out of clay, with little shells on top. One of the little boys broke an 'egg', and announced that a bird had hatched, and then they all ran off looking for 'worms' - little strands of Neptune's necklace.
And so the afternoon passed . . . Before going home, the fairy made sure we took a bucketful of seaweed back with us - 'for Daddy's garden.' After all, she is the garden fairy.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The other side of the storm

A 'storm bomb' hit New Zealand this weekend, hurtling across the Tasman Sea from Australia. We had planned to arrive at Half Moon Bay, where the class reunion was held, by ferry. 'Not safe,' decided my friend's husband, who drove us there. The night was wild, the reunion intense, but we all made it, some from England, others from Australia, or the South Island.
 And the next morning, the marina was serene and calm. It was time to feel sadness for those who could not be there this time, including two who had died. This is our third gathering over the last six years, and the numbers are smaller on each occasion.
But the weather was glorious. On the other side of the storm lay a summer day, such as we have hardly seen when the official summer was here. We were able to take our boat trip to Waiheke Island, in the Hauraki Gulf, for a beach front lunch.
And to watch Rangitoto sliding past Motukorea,
the way our lives have slid into many new regions,
slipping out of sight, yet reappearing when we meet and remember not only the good times we had at our High School,
but the goodwill that is still present whenever we meet, despite the storms that we have faced in our lives.
And so, as the ferry sails back to Auckland, it's goodbye again—until we meet in another two year's time, hoping that we will all be there, in good health and spirits.