Sunday, November 30, 2014

Preparing a welcome for summer

 Here we are on the brink of summer, and the little tree climber has come for a sleepover. Pohutukawas are great trees for climbing. They sprawl out over the beach, and their bark has plenty of grip.
 Jumping off on to soft sand isn't hard.
 And now we've collected some offerings from nature, it's time to make our summer solstice cards. The little one made her first card last year, and today is the promised day for making a new one. We gather shells & stones, together with petals & leaves.
 I still have some of my once vast collection of stones and shells gathered from North Cape to Totaranui at the top of the South Island. In my days as an artist these were my materials for installations and ritual performances.
 I'm glad now that I kept some. The mandala grows slowly.
 It takes patience to balance the tiny shells on the stones, and to protect the petals from the Wind Woman's frisky fingers.
But finally the circle is complete. Once photographed and printed out, I paste it on to a yellow card for her, ready to be gifted to the family. In the flurry of her being picked up, and our packing up of so many playthings, I forgot to take a photo of the final card.
 Never mind, here is a picture of last year's card. Now we can welcome in summer.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Abundance Tree

Do you ever feel concerned that today's children are at risk of growing up less connected to nature than to electronic media? —that children are now overprotected from exploring the natural world?

Then come down this suburban street with me. Technically, it's called a 'blind street'. But I think of it as an all-seeing street, because it opens my eyes so wide.

From the top of the street the green outline looks like a distant hill. As you get to the bottom of the street you will discover that the 'hill' is really something else:  I call it 'the tree at the end of the road.'
 To a child, this is wonderland. The tree is a puriri, a native of New Zealand. Not only is it robust, but it  also has a long life (one specimen is thought to be 2000 years old). Limbs decay and drop off, and others take their place. It's a perfect tree for climbing. Children have probably climbed in this tree for a hundred years or more.
 There are a lot of kids in this neighbourhood, and friendly parents who have added to the tree over time:
 first a swing in an old tyre, then a wooden horse swing, then a simple stick fastened firmly to a rope.
A ladder was added, and then another to help take-off for the adventurous,
 or to lead them up into the welcoming arms above.
 Coming down is always a little more tricky than going up.
 And then, just to finish off, here's a fun game. Why should a swing be nothing but a swing? That red rope can be twisted, and twisted, and twisted again,
 and then let fly, faster and faster, whirling around and around [sound track: delighted shrieks and giggles].
There's even a rocking horse for the very little ones to ride.
What a well loved tree this is. It welcomes in all the neighbourhood kids. It is full of possibilities. It offers different perspectives, from the ground looking up, to the higher branches looking out ('There's our house!') to the upper reaches into the leaf-filtered sky above.

Truly, this is an Abundance Tree.

We all need one. What is yours? What holds you in abundance, delight and openness to myriad possibilities and imaginative play? Do leave a comment, as I'd love to know your thoughts.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Summer Mandalas

When the wind keeps stealing the joy of spring, and rain and hail dampen the spirits, it's time to look forward to summer, which surely is coming.

And so I've made a gift card set from my past 'Summer Mandala' images. I've done one of these each year now, and the card set will be tucked into book orders that arrive during November, as a free gift to delight my loyal readers.

It gives me so much pleasure to prepare a gift that comes from my own labour.

Now I've started creating the image for 2014, which I will make into a card to send to family and friends.
 Dear reader, I must confess it's not going well. The ingredients are beautiful, but how to put them together?
 I try adding jade plant leaves to add some life, but no, it's not quite right. That flax mat looks too yellow, and drains the energy.
How about doing it on a tile? Hmmm. I'm repeating myself from other years. A fresh approach is needed.
I read an article many years ago about the stages of the creative process. Frustration is a stage. It's not forever. In fact it is said to precede a breakthrough.

I'm reminded that the images in the cards above took many hours or days to produce. They all went through the process, with frustration speed humps jolting and jarring the flow and tempting me to give up.

When in the frustration stage, it's useful to take a break, and to remember past successes. So that's why I've photographed my card set and posted it at the top of this blog. It makes me smile to share it with you. Meanwhile, watch this space and see what emerges from the failures.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Reshaping the wood

What can be done when at the height of spring, lightening strikes, destroying a living, breathing tree?
If the heart wood is sound, it then becomes a resource.
I pick up my old saw and cut two pieces from the golden and red heart, one each for the little one and me.
Then we begin to sand, first with coarse sandpaper, because the wood is full of ridges and splinters. She gets the idea quickly, and sitting by the fire, keeps sanding while I make the dinner. I'm surprised by her focus, but then again we both come from a long line of wood carvers. My grandfather Tempest carved beautiful furniture which he sent out on the boat with his daughter Amy when she voyaged to New Zealand to marry my grandfather.

My father's father was a builder and creator of houses. Working with wood was in my father's blood, and in mine. Just the smell of sawdust as my saw bites into the kanuka gives me a thrill of long-forgotten things.
We change to medium grain sandpaper, and then the next morning to fine grain. It's exciting to feel the wood grow smooth and satin to the touch. With all the sanding, the colour has faded.
But 'wait!' I say, 'it will come back.' I dig out an old bottle of raw linseed oil from under the house. We anoint our pieces of wood, just as my father and grandfathers would have done. The wood glows golden and red once more. It smells good. And the pieces are beautiful.
In Maori tradition, when a significant elder dies, the event is often likened to the falling of a great tree.

Today I attended the funeral of my oldest client, who died just after her 93rd birthday. Even though her peers have long ago passed on, the chapel was full, for Betty was much loved by many generations.
Amidst the sorrow I witnessed a life being harvested, and like good heart wood, sanded and smoothed by much touching and remembering, already on the way to being reshaped into something new, beautiful and lasting.

Rest in peace, dear Betty.
Don't grieve. 
Anything you lose comes round again in a different form.