Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Resonating with the dark

 The old seasonal festivals have deep roots. Today is the half-way point between autumn equinox and winter solstice. We are on the threshold of winter, and we are harvesting nuts, apples, pumpkins and kumaras.
We are also harvesting our memories, for this is the time of southern hemisphere Halloween. For many years now I have been encouraging people to celebrate this festival by moving it from spring time (when the commercial world cynically promotes it) to late autumn, where its roots lie in the old Celtic festival of Samhain.
 For five years I have held vigil on Ponsonby Rd, holding a space for people to come and light their candles and lanterns in honour of the dead.
 For my Celtic ancestors knew that as the season darkens towards winter, the veil between the worlds is thin. Spirits of departed souls come out of their resting places to stalk the earth.
This year, Kiwi Halloween has come off the street and into a church hall, for a full scale ritual of remembrance. Families and children were especially welcome; and so the little one helped with pumpkin carving. We sat in the sun, making one for me and one for her. She's good at scraping out the seeds, and making sure the base is flat enough to take a tea-light candle.
  We held our remembrance ritual last night (a day early this year, because that's when the hall was available). Can you see the cluster of seven white shells on the black cloth? They represent Matariki (the Pleiades), an important constellation for Maori, because that's where the ancestors reside. At this time of the year, Matariki dips below the horizon for about a month. Its reappearance in May/June marks the start of the Maori new year. As part of the ritual I placed the small black cloth over the shells to symbolise the disappearance of Matariki.
 Kawakawa leaves are associated with tangi (funerals). We began with stories of the dark. Maori would go into the bush to hunt birds and the little kiore (native rat) as winter approached.
 Everyone was asked to bring a candle or lantern. When they arrived they were given small cards, on which to write the names of those whom they wished to remember.
 We turned out the lights as people came forward. Lanterns and candles appeared out of the dark, the cards were laid down and the names spoken. We spoke the names back, in recognition.
One hundred and forty departed souls were remembered last night.

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. — Carl Jung

This is the last year that I will lead Last Light/Samhain/Kiwi Halloween. I have handed it over to Kim, an Auckland celebrant, and she will take the work forward. Just after I announced this, some women came forward and presented me with a big bouquet of red roses. What a wonderful way to end a long commitment. Thank you to all those who support my work with the seasons, and are equally committed to restoring the resonance to our southern hemisphere cycles.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Let's look for treasure

 Easter (or thereabouts) is when I create a treasure hunt. I used to do one for my son, then for my granddaughter who is now 20, and now for the little one. First she has to 'Look in the box where the music lives'. Aha, it's Granny's concertina box. Then 'find the palest yellow flower in a pot on the balcony. 'What does "palest" mean?'
The next clue sends her running up to the letter box to find a note saying, 'Look for a plant with round white flowers'. Then 'Search the bouganvillia.'
 It's such fun when you know exactly where to go for the next clue,
 but others are more tricky. What is the difference between a lime grove and a lemon grove?
 Ah, so that's it.
 And now to follow the trail of small leaves to the secret garden, a place where you have never been before.
 The trail is getting warm,
 And here's the first treasure,
 the second,
 the third,
 and the fourth.
 oh what fun!
We don't do sugary things, but there are plenty of other treats to be had. The little angel made of glass will watch over you, the chickens are pronounced 'delicate' but soft to the touch, and stickers are always well received.
Easter falls in autumn in the southern hemisphere, and it requires sharp timing to lay a trail between showers and before the wind blows away the clues, but today we managed. It was a little later than planned, but it's never too late to have fun. We finish with warm Easter buns laden with butter. Yum.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Remembering the flat-topped cone

 Puketapapa, meaning 'flat-topped hill' was the cone that watched over my high school years. We called it Mt Roskill in those days.
Finding the best place to approach a cone is sometimes tricky, especially with this one, which from the main road is not very accessible on foot.
This was the view I had as I cycled to high school each day. My mother and father played croquet at the foot of Puketapapa, but I never thought to climb it — until now. It's so easy to take for granted what lies close at hand.
We meet at a quiet street on the southern side of the hill, where we find a walking track through a small reserve.
It's a different world on this side. The wind creaks through the pine trees as we scramble up the slopes. The roar of traffic has dropped beneath the horizon.
 Looking west, we can see Owairaka (Mt Albert), the last cone we climbed.
 From the top of Puketapapa the eye can easily swoop through space to the distant peak of Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill) to the east,
 and Maungawhau (Mt Eden) to the north,
 before wheeling around to the south west and drifting down the Manukau harbour to the Heads.
Here in the foreground is another familiar hollow in the ground, showing where a kumara pit once lay. We are entering the season for the kumara harvest, when Maori would store the crop very carefully in these pits.
Like the other cones, Puketapapa too was threatened. A motorway, which you might just see roaring from left to right along the flank of the cone, was originally planned to cut right through it. After vigorous protests and a prolonged battle by concerned citizens (Auckland Volcanic Cones Society), the cone was saved.

We did this walk before the steady autumn weather broke. Now it's Easter, with rain, wind and floods interspersed with bright patches. Looking back on this walk, I reflect on how important it is to preserve what is precious. The previous cone—Owairaka/Mt Albert—lost its top. This one, Puketapapa, was very nearly cut in half, only a decade ago. I feel so grateful to all those who fought to keep this cone intact. And I'm glad I got to climb it after all these years, because it provides a little pocket of peace amidst roads that have become dense with traffic.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


When a problem can't be solved, especially one that keeps you bound to a computer screen, then it's time to take a walk. Time to go to the beach in search of something you need. . . 
 And here are sign posts, pointing the way . . .
 These guys are looking for what they need - and finding it. One of them came running up the beach with a silver fish, shining in the sunshine as it twirled on the end of his line. But that's not what I was looking for.
 And nor was this, despite the delight of it.
No, my quest was for something much less glamorous. I knew I'd be likely to find it at the edge of the incoming tide, and I was right. Can you see?
 Yes, seaweed. Scrumptious black kelp - not to eat though,
 but for my hungry, drought-weary garden. It needs a good boost after working so hard to be productive all summer. Kelp contains over 70 vitamins and minerals that are beneficial for the soil.
 It releases nutrients slowly over time, conditioning the soil and helping it to retain moisture. That's exactly what my bach garden is crying out for. Seaweed even keeps improving the soil structure for a whole new season, after the nutrients have been absorbed.  Meanwhile, it will sit on the top as a mulch.
When a problem can't be solved, try caring for something that needs your help. Tending a garden is an act of faith. My flourishing crop withered over the last months, but already I'm thinking about how to prepare the soil better for next time.

Gardening is the triumph of hope over circumstance. The learnings are dug back into the soil, making good compost. Innovative solutions are applied.  Past mistakes are forgotten and a new cycle is welcomed in with optimism.

PS Two days later a creative answer to the problem whooshed into my head like a wood pigeon descending from the sky to feed on juicy berries. I think it's going to work.