Saturday, June 30, 2012

Two faces of winter

 As I do my Tai Chi by the sea, I look back and see the bare-limbed face of winter. It's the flame tree, whose branches from this angle seem to be scratching the sky. All the leaves are gone now, and the shape of the tree is revealed.
 When I look back to the west, I see the leafy face of winter, in the pohutukawa tree. It rises up against the sky and seems to be softly brushing the blue. Like nearly all of our native trees, the pohutukawa keeps its leaves throughout the winter.

Once this land was clothed in thick, lush evergreen vegetation. I've grown up valuing our native trees,  learning their names, and planting them wherever I can. Despite this favouritism however, I must say that a little splash of exotic colour brings me great delight as I shiver my way back home.
Here we have it: one of the bromeliads that have been planted down our driveway. This one is so fresh and perky, I could almost be deceived into thinking that spring has leapt in early.
In the bleak days of mid-winter, I need surprises such as this.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Winter Solstice/Matariki

Our winter solstice celebration was a little late this year, having to be postponed from last week. All the same, we entered into the mystery of this time. We began by viewing a brief video clip of the solstice sunrise at NewGrange, in Ireland. You can see it on It must have taken several generations of workers to build this ancient tomb. Great precision was required to ensure that the light of the solstice sun shafted down the long entrance tunnel to hit the stone in the centre. In the video, the solstice light appears amber, flickering and magical as it enters the chamber.
 Here, on the other side of the world, we meditated in the dark. 'Winter . . . liberates the vision of the soul', said Vita Sackville-West. We discovered and shared our visions born out of the depth of darkness.
 We lit candles and ate the solstice fruit.
And celebrated also Matariki, the wandering celebration which this year fell exactly on Winter Solstice. Taranaki Maori would welcome Matariki back in a tearful reunion, and speak out the names of those who had died since Matariki last disappeared. My old teacher, who was from Taranaki, was remembered together with Matariki this year.

I've come to love winter solstice for its connection with ancestral rituals, the depth of its darkness on the longest night, and the hope that is seeded with the returning sun. In the northern hemisphere, at summer solstice, darkness is seeded. For you in the north, the season is turning towards the dark now, even as our season turns towards the light. At the equinoxes, we will feel the changeover, but meanwhile you have increasing warmth, and we increasing cold. Happy solstice, wherever you are.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Solstice Visitors

 The word has got out. Yesterday was winter solstice, marking the return of the sun. The day before yesterday was Matariki, the Maori new year, marking the return of Matariki (the Pleiades). Who knows where this monarch flew from, but this morning here it was, alighting on the jade bush,
flitting around from one flower to the next with such grace, like a messenger from other realms, telling of colour, lightness and freedom.
 And then another visitor arrived. I was excited to see it, and I'll tell you why. Two years ago the jade bush was covered with bumble bees. I did a post about it, and gave the background to the disappearance of the bumble bee in Britain, and the failed attempt to send crates of hibernating bees from New Zealand. You will find the post on
 But last year there wasn't a single one to be found, and I feared that the bumble bees were disappearing from New Zealand as well. See
Today a lone bee buzzed in. It clambered clumsily over the flowers and leaves, and made quite a contrast with the elegance of the monarch.

It - well, it bumbled around. This bee is well-named., as it was In Thomas Hardy's Dorset where they were called dumbledores by the farm workers.

At winter solstice, although I know that the sun has begun its return journey, I don't always feel it. But today was warm, and with these hopeful visitors, I can believe that the return to summer has begun.

P.S. On the news I heard that short-haired bumble bees have now been sent from Sweden (50 Queens) to England, where they haven't been sighted for 24 years. In Kent they are planting bee-friendly plants such as clovers and vetches, in readiness. I hope the bumble bees survive. I feel great affection for their bumbling ways.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


On Saturday morning at the bach, I was up early, for an international conference call, before the big event of the day. The valley was shrouded in mist and the air was chill.
 The big event took place later in the morning, as with two friends I walked the bush block next to the bach. We were looking for a way through the bush, and the best place for a house/bach site. Not for me, however. For it's time to sell this land.

Sometimes we can't see the way forward very easily. When my ex-husband and I bought this land over 40 years ago, our intention was to keep it as a green zone, and so preserve the privacy of the bach. But now I need to raise money, and the land must be sold. I entered a misty zone when I couldn't see how anyone could build on that land without robbing me of my privacy, and my view to the sea. Even though I tried to find a way through the bush to a suitable building site, it was without success.

I then made some good decisions. I had a surveyor locate the missing boundary pegs. And I asked for help.
My friends were great. Clad in woolly hats, gloves, warm clothing and gumboots, and armed with spades, we scrambled through the bush. We found the line of the far boundary. We located a building site that will suit everyone. We even identified where a driveway could go in. It was like the lifting of the mist in the mid-morning, when the line of the hill appeared, flooded with sunlight.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The good earth

 As I drove out to the bach, I wondered if the persimmons at the organic growers would be ripe. Were they ever! I had to stop at the bottom of the drive to photograph the orchard.
 The laden branches were quivering with the excited squawks of minahs, who were going crazy over the bounty. I felt like squawking too, because I adore these delicious fruit.
 The growers, a couple, have worked for years, bringing in manure from a pig farm, adding compost and other manures until the soil has become rich and black. They've just spread fresh sawdust between the rows of the vegetable beds, giving an orderly, bright appearance.
 To my surprise, they still had some of their famous beefsteak tomatoes. In my book 'Dancing with the Seasons', I tell Alan's secret for growing the very best every year.
Yes, I know it's the middle of winter, but these were ripened in the green house. I bought 3 bags of persimmons and two of tomatoes.
And a big bunch of silver beet (this is only a fraction of it). What a pleasure it is to eat straight from the good earth, and to find lettuce, rocket, sweet basil, carrots, calendula flowers (that's one of mine in the photo) and a small capsicum in my own garden. And then I was able to get a jar of tomato relish from Kathy, the organic grower at the beach. It's my favourite, and I always go through it too fast.

It may be winter, with frost predicted for tonight, but with all this goodness to fuel my inner fire, I feel as happy as could be.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Bach in midwinter

 It was cold and damp when I arrived at the bach. It's been a few weekends since my last visit, and in winter the walls turn cold in the absence of someone to light a fire or turn on a heater.
But look! - the snow drops are out. Ever since I was a child I've loved these pristine little flowers, which seemed to me like tiny skirts for fairies. Why did nature come along with her paintbrush and add those green dots? I like to think it was for fun and beauty.
The other surprise is that the little kowhai tree is flowering prolifically. The yellow tongue-like flowers are even getting themselves twisted up in their eagerness to bloom.

Kowhai and snowdrops are flowers that I've always associated with spring. Yet here they are, dancing against the dark background of the bush, even though winter solstice has not yet arrived.

I lit the fire on arrival, and after some hours, the walls have warmed up, roast vegetables have come out of the oven and into my belly, and once again the bach has become a home.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Winter magic

Today summer came to visit, in the form of Mira, a sunny day, and a ramble to the beach. Everything becomes timeless as I watch her becoming absorbed in collecting 'treasures' in her yellow bucket.
 The tide was up, sliding over the sun-warmed sand, and covering the shell fragments that lay about everywhere.
Mira, wearing a funny little cap of mine, trotted off to have adventures while I did my Tai Chi on the beach.
Then we played walking in each other's footsteps, up and down the beach. Mira made me a 'chocolate cake' for my birthday (even though it's not due for a while), ran off to find ingredients such as 'raisins', 'flour', 'salt', and 'sugar', and then planted leaves for candles in it. I blew them out, and then was served sandy handfuls of birthday cake.
On the beach we found this  gravity-defying branch, which somehow wasn't surprising on a day such as this,
and it stayed upright, even as the tide came in. That's how today felt - gravity-defying, lifting into the blue, and full of wonder.
Eventually, as the shadows lengthened, we made for home, happy and hungry.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Resting in peace

Thank you, all, for your interest in my beloved teacher Jim Okeroa, who was buried at Parihaka yesterday.
I want to share with you how he passed on the gift of peace to me.
This is one side of the monument that was erected at Parihaka to Te Whiti o Rongomai, a great chief who was known as a prophet of peace. He died in 1907, aged 90 years.

When the government began to take the land of his tribe by force, Te Whiti led his people in passive resistance. First they pulled out the surveyor's pegs. Then they met guns with ploughs, tilling the confiscated land rather than fighting back with guns, and putting up fences across the government's roads. One after the other, his people were arrested, while others took their places.
In 1881 the peaceful village of Parihaka was invaded by soldiers. They were greeted by hundreds of skipping and dancing children who offered them food. But the soldiers arrested Te Whiti and destroyed the village.
Here are the foundations, all that remain of the burned dining hall and Te Whiti's house.
At the base of the memorial, on two sides, are recesses protected by heavy glass, which is now cloudy with age. Te Whiti's pounamu (greenstone) implements and weapons are stowed in there. You can see the outside of a large mere (greenstone club) behind the glass.

My teacher's grandparents journeyed separately to Parihaka, inspired like so many by Te Whiti's message of peace. There they met and fell in love. They became members of the tribe of Taranaki from that time on.
 Jim's father spoke fluent Maori, and was the main speaker and welcomer on the marae. This is the gravestone of Jim's mother and father. You can see the lighthouse, which stands at Cape Egmont, the mountain, and the three albatross feathers which were worn by Te Whiti's followers.

The three feathers represent the Raukua, the central teaching, which has three principles:
1. Spirituality
2. Making peace within yourself and with others
3. Maintaining goodwill, despite conflict
They were a handsome pair, like their son. He inherited the philosophy of peace, and refused to use the strap in his class-room. This was most unusual at the time.

I always felt a great sense of peace and safety when I was with him. Later I discovered just how deep that river of peace had run through his family.

Now he is in the earth at Parihaka, alongside his ancestors. I know he will be resting in peace.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Requiem sky

 This poem, for my dear old teacher who has just died, begins with a line from Cecilia's blog
Besides bringing a small farm back to health in the U.S. prairies, Cecilia cares for the health of the old people nearby, with humour and tenderness.

'Everybody needs an old person,'
she said.
And now you have slipped
into the earth of Parihaka*
where you learned the art
of peace
 Your voice was dark as molasses
Your eyes, firelight warm
Your laugh a bubbling broth
Your jokes corny
like my dad's.
Your songs welled up
from a cavern of aroha.*
Everybody needs an old person
But you, my teacher,
Last of the line, are gone.

I am the old person now.

*Parihaka: famous for its passive resistance to invasion, led by Te Whiti, a prophet of peace, who practised non violence before the days of Ghandi.
* Aroha: the Maori word for love.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A light has gone out

He was my light house, when I was a child and school was tough. Rural New Zealand was not the place for bright, imaginative kids. These were the days of rote learning and corporal punishment.

In my memoir, I devoted a whole chapter to the best teacher I would ever have. I wrote:
'Mr Okeroa was short and stocky, with black curly hair, a wide smile that made his nostrils flare even more broadly, and a throaty chuckle.'
'He was a storehouse of goodness, a feast and a variety concert all in one. Creative energy poured out of him like the brass band parade that spilled down Rata Street to Jubilee Park to celebrate Inglewood's Greatest Show on Earth, or the circus that came to town . . . Being with him was like tumbling inside rich chords rather than riding on single notes, for he encouraged us to express ourselves in every possible way and in media we never dreamed existed. . . he brought joy into the classroom.'
He taught us puppet-making, singing, poetry-writing, Maori stick games, and poi dances. We painted rafter patterns on long strips of paper which he hung around the class-room. Every day was packed with creativity.
One day he took us on a school trip around the mountain, and that's when we saw Cape Egmont and the lighthouse in the area where he grew up. Later I discovered that he had temporarily taken on driving the school bus, in addition to teaching, and that he paid for the petrol himself so that we could have the trip.
Memoir writing has a way of opening the gates of memory. Through writing 'Touching Snow', I realised fully, just how much I owed to this special teacher. I wondered if he was still alive, and—what a miracle—I found him again, and we enjoyed six years of special visits, letters, and heart connection.

This morning he died, aged 82. Haere Ra, Jim. I will never forget you, and the light you shed.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Winter dawn

 I am not a dawn bird. I sing my song at sunset, not sunrise. But now that the nights are longer, an early morning meeting meant that I was up at dawn. Shivering in the cold, I opened the blinds and discovered this glowing sky.

Half an hour later, I was on an international meeting. Our faces came up on the computer screen: one in Italy and one in Germany. It was 10 pm for them, on a summer evening. Another face popped up from Canada, one from north America and one from Mexico. Our moderators were in New York state, and for them it was mid-afternoon.
What a miracle, to be able to meet and talk deeply with one another, from such far-flung parts of the globe, and yet feel united because of a shared intention.

This changing world, where new technologies arrive thick and fast, is a wonder to be in. Dawn is about new possibilities and fresh hope. This morning, in the cold of Auckland's winter, I was happy to welcome in the dawn.

I wish you all a good afternoon/evening/morning, my blog friends from around the world. I send you hope, wherever you are, in whatever season and time.