Friday, November 30, 2012

Quietly feeding

 I needed stillness. The end of the year always brings extra pressures. This year, out of the blue, and in the midst of bringing my new book to completion, an unexpected deadline arrived.
Five of my previously published books have won funding to be converted into ebooks. The proof-reading process has been laborious, because I can't mark the 'pages', and have to write copious notes to describe the mistakes and corrections. So I've been taking it slowly. But yesterday I was given a deadline of December 15. After that date, there will be no more funding.
 Today I focussed intently, ignoring the newly arrived printout of my new book that also requires proof reading. Between bursts of activity, I took time out at the jetty, to do my tai chi.
The tide was going out.
A kingfisher sat on the boat ramp, very still, watching the water.
Beyond, a heron stalked the water's edge, searching for fish.
The wind rustled the leaves in the overhanging pohutukawa trees, which at times seemed to sigh with a long outbreath.
The water rippled in gentle swathes of greys and greens.
Tai chi by the sea slows me down and helps me to enter a different rhythm.
Even though the heron seemed active, compared with the kingfisher, it too paused between forays, and assumed utter stillness.
Watching these birds, serenely seeking their next meal, helped me to slow down and trust that all is well, the impossible task will be done.

I always loved Dylan Thomas's lines about the heron - 'herons spire and spear', and these lines also from 'Poem in October':

Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
    Priested shore . . . 
The priestly presence of the heron, and its companion, the kingfisher, brought me into sanctuary and a sense of gratitude.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Planting memories

 At the beginning of November it was the first anniversary of the death of my dear mother-in-law, Elizabeth. She was 95 and we had been friends for over 40 years.
When there has been a big loss, I always like to plant something. As the plant unfolds, so do my memories.
I don't have a garden any more, but on the day of the anniversary I spotted this amaryllis in a shop, and bought it to bring home. I liked the promise held in that passionate bud, and the presence of the smaller one lower down.
 At first the petals looked liked propeller blades, ready to fly away. Elizabeth was a great traveller. She flew, bussed, drove and rode in trains all over the world. When she came to New Zealand she travelled overland through the middle east as war was breaking out all around. She was diverted by a stay in Hong Kong for a year or two, where she taught English.
 Her entry visa to New Zealand expired because she had taken so long getting here and had been out of reach of communications on her overland journey. So she went to Australia where a fellow-traveller had a little cottage on her land, and there she stayed until she became an Australian citizen. This gave her free entry to New Zealand,
 where she arrived at the age of 70 and set up house in the Bay of Islands. Her home was full of exotic objects collected from her travels over the years.
As both buds on the Amaryllis have been spreading their vibrant petals over the last few weeks, Elizabeth has been in my thoughts,
and with these flowers I celebrate her adventurous life.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Midlife at Piha

This weekend I was invited to Piha, on Auckland's west coast. A group of women asked me to lead them in a workshop on midlife, based on my book Growing into Wisdom. 
The organiser graciously hosted us in her own home, which perches high on a hillside. It's a steep climb up her driveway but well worth it. This is the view from her deck. 
The first thing I like to do in a new place is to take a walk, and get the feel of the land. So I arrived early, and found a track that led to the sea.
 The pohutukawas are just coming into flower out on the coast.
 On the way I came across Madam Pukeko, sunning herself in a grassy clearing.
 She drew herself up, offended at my intrustion
 and took off to where she could walk about undisturbed.
 The workshop began with a simple setting in the centre of our circle. Soon it was filled with rich symbols and drawings.
And of course, in the breaks, there was the delicious food that women always manage to produce on these occasions.
My wish was to feel the flow between all of us who were there, and the spectacular environment of Piha. The wish came true, and more. I felt bathed in a spirit of generosity, from the host and all of those present; generosity that was matched by the pohutukawas that sprawled over the hills, the rolling ocean, abundant bird song and the lovingly prepared food.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dancing with leaves

 Remember how I posted about Mira and I collecting spring leaves (and the odd petal) to press between the leaves of a heavy book? The post was called 'Taking a leaf out of Nature's book' and if you missed it, click here to take a look:
I said I would let you know what we did with our colourful collection. So here it is, above. We made magic!
And this is how: first we uncovered our leaves from the leaves of the heavy book (I love the way English has the same word for both). Then we chose our very favourites, and arranged them on a small pane of glass, which I had found.
The next step was to place an identical sized pane of glass on top of our arrangement. The leaves slipped and danced around a little, until I squeezed both panes into a frame. I had bought masking tape, all ready to bind the edges to hold the two panes together, but was delighted when they fitted into the ready-made frame.
And so we had our picture, which we propped up against the ranch sliders so that the light could shine through.

When I was a little girl, my mother used to make chocolate paper pictures. She first drew - usually a beautiful seated woman or girl - on the glass, then filled in most of the background with black paint. By placing shiny chocolate papers behind the black paint, she made a gorgeous dress for the seated figure. A gold paper would make her hair, and another colour her shoes. 
Eventually I was able to make my own, after saving lots of papers. (My mother loved chocolates, which was quite handy).

And now, making this glass leaf picture with Mira, I am reminded of those happy times with my mother. When we make something beautiful with someone we love, the memory lasts forever.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The quiet of the turning tide

 The low tide is silent. No waves, no lapping against the shore, no rush of salt water, just quietness.
 The only movement comes from the hop of a blackbird as I draw near.
 A heron feeds, serenely.
And another waterbird paddles along at a contented space. From the air above, a kingfisher calls.

Dear readers, my creative energy has ebbed as I've dealt with one drama after another, from computer breakdown to a publisher denying permission to use some important material (and informing me by snail mail, after the manuscript has been sent off). At times it's felt like death by detail.

But today, I can feel the tide turning, slowly and gently. I received wonderful support from someone, who helped me make decisions about what to write on the back cover, tidying up my biography, and above all, choosing a cover image. I also received 12 sample pages from the designer, and they look beautiful.

The tide turns in the most delicious way when I begin to let go of being a writer in the late stages of book production, bogged down in footnotes and punctuation marks, and become an artist once more. I let go of the words and have a vision of how the book will look. This afternoon I sat down and did some pages of illustrations for the chapter headings. The images flowed from the charcoal. I feel creative again. The tide is turning, slowly, deliciously, quietly inside me.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Goodbye, hello

As I was doing my tai chi on the balcony, I looked to the east and noticed that the flame tree was waving goodbye, with the last of the red flowers that have cheered me through the winter.
And then as I turned my head to the west, I caught sight of the first pohutukawa blooms, just beginning, preparing for a flamboyant hello.

As one season passes and the flaming vermilion flowers drop away, another comes in, bringing with it deep crimson. How lucky I am to have such beauty between me and the sea, and such continuity of passionate colour!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Taking a leaf out of Nature's book

 Today Mira and I are pressing leaves. We choose the ones we like best, pohutukawa, ivy . . .
 trying to find leaves that are in good shape. The lime tree leaves look as if they could cut your skin, but really they are very soft.
 We found a few toon leaves that are still pink. Most have turned to green.
 And bamboo leaves. Now they are a favourite because Mira knows all about them. 'Pandas love bamboo leaves, don't they?' 'Yes, but we're not pandas.' (giggles)
 The bougainvillea has flowers that look like leaves, and so they found their way into our bag.
Now they are all carefully arranged between sheets of tissue paper, and placed between the leaves of my heaviest book. We will wait for them to press flat. Then comes the next stage . . . ah, but that would be telling. Wait and see.
Selecting leaves with a four year old is a delicious thing to do. The variety and perfection of nature is everywhere, and in her spring guise, she is excelling herself. There's nothing like the eyes of a child to keep me awake to the miracle that is all around, in every season.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Celebrating Beltane

 With a group of women I've been celebrating our southern seasons for over 25 years. Beltane has just passed, and this time we turned up at the house of our oldest member, bringing what we thought was fitting for the season. Quite spontaneously, the colour theme of red and green emerged. The vibrancy of these colours suited the season perfectly.
Tarata (lemon wood) was used by the Maori to make a lemony scent. Here it is in flower, in the discreet way that so many of our native trees have (for they were usually pollinated by moths at night rather than bees by day). The smaller leafed tarata is actually more fragrant than this variety, with its larger leaves.
Lavender was blooming profusely in my friend's garden, where I gathered the tarata. Both native and exotic vegetation is full of fragrance in this time of high spring.
About an hour before I set out for our gathering, I sent my edited manuscript to the designer — yea!!
It's such a relief to be changing from words to images. The red and green, shimmering together, were perfect for the feeling of celebration, flowering and sap rising.