Friday, May 1, 2015

Unearthing in autumn

 We've done this before, you and I. It's that time of year again, when the shadows are lengthening, the nights are growing cooler and it's time for us to venture to the other side of the hill.
 At first we seem to be making straight for the sea, but the secret place we are heading for means a bit of a climb
 as we take the winding path up the side of the hill. Our back pack is heavy, with drink and a container of rice salad, along with camera and warm clothing for later in the day.
 The climb never matters when there's a view like this at the other end, before the descent to the hidden garden.
 Repetition is unavoidable in a blog about the seasons. The wheel turns and we are back where we were last autumn,
 ready to join in the communal kumara dig. It starts with the tearing up of the vines. What lies beneath, says our host, is a mystery.
 There might be nothing at all this year. It will take patience as our fingers work into the sandy earth.
 Implements are forbidden. They might cut into the kumara, or into little fingers. The trick is to make a 'cliff' and then tunnel into it from the side. Not easy this year as rain has fallen and the earth is quite solid under the first loose layer of the mounds.
Our host was right. This little cluster was all I found,
 and compared with last year, the crop was not huge. When things repeat, the differences stand out.
 After a barbecue, and chats on the grass with friends new and old, it was time to wander back along the beach before the full tide made the river crossing difficult.
As I inhaled the fresh tang of the surf, I thought of the comfort of the seasonal cycle. Harvest time comes round each year. Through abundance and scarcity, friends gather, food is shared. Yet repetition also throws into relief what has changed; the friend who is now a widow, another who is in a wheelchair, the absences, the uncertainties of climate, the endings, and some unwelcome beginnings.

I returned to the comfort of the turning wheel of the year, and remembered an old rhyme:

The earth, the water, the fire and the air.
Returns, returns
Returns, returns.

May it continue to be so.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Autumn treasure

 The shadows are lengthening and the days are growing cooler. Salad days have come to an end, and it's time for hot soup and toast.
At Easter I laid a trail for the young one (now 6 1/2 years old).
'To do this treasure hunt, you need to be very observant,' I told her.
'What does observant mean?'
'It means you notice things.'
I knew very well how she notices every detail in nature. And so the clues consisted of plant samples in tiny plastic bags. Hard to photograph these, but you may be able to detect the lobelia flowers, which she found after finding the peace lily, whose leaf I placed into her hand.
 And there she discovered a lemon yellow flower head.
 She knew immediately to go to the snap dragon. It's a flower that has fascinated her since she was very small. But what are these stamens?
She had to think for a while. It's a pohutukawa, but they only flower in summer. Then 'I know!' as she ran up to the gate where a small Tahitian pohutukawa grows. These plants flower through autumn and winter.
 The geranium was easy.
 And then the clivia.
 It took a bit of hunting for this one as it hides in shady places.
 Then to the hibiscus and the jade plant - that's another easy one.
And finally to the treasure. We don't do sugary things, but she loves bliss balls, the little butterfly notebook, and a nice edition of 'The Secret Garden', which we immediately read from cover to cover.
What a delight to have our own 'secret garden' where the plants are alive and well, and fun grows freely.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Time for pilgrimage

 You have walked this walk with me before, dear readers, and it's time for us to return. Here in Auckland, In the week before Easter, St Matthew In The City creates a labyrinth (based on a medieval design) out of river stones, and lights the way with many candles.
 What is your question? What will you hold in your heart as you slowly walk the labyrinth, attending to the three movements?

First, WALKING IN: letting go of distractions and releasing unwanted thoughts. As you walk in, let them all drop away and your mind become clear. Step by step, release and clear. Step by step. Take your time. There is no hurry at all.

 The Centre is not straight ahead. You will appear to be walking away from it, often. You will find yourself on the periphery, as far away as you can be. Your path will twist and turn.

'Enjoy the turns,' you are advised. 'The turns can help you to accept change in your life.'
Whatever feelings arise, you are advised to trust and keep walking, knowing you are being led to where you need to go.
In THE CENTRE, stay awhile. You have arrived.
Open to receiving.
Maybe your question will be answered in a surprising way, and maybe it will unravel a little more.
Be still.
Be present.
From the centre the labyrinth looks different, and you may see new beauty and order that was not apparent before.

And now it is time for the RETURNING. You leave by the way in which you came. You return to the world, bearing the gift of the labyrinth.
It is yours to share.
I found many insights, and saw my question from different angles. It became a sculpture of a question, each view showing me something new. Sometimes a question is best not answered too soon. Sometimes it has to grow bigger inside, to gain dimension and presence. That is what the labyrinth gave me, and that is what I offer back to you.

I wish you all peace at Easter, and space to make your own pilgrimage into the heart, wherever you may be.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

I took my drum . . .

 'Bring a drum,' they said, 'to help with the protest.' So I dug out my old animal skin, shaman's drum that I made many years ago. In the rainy morning, the drum skin sagged. So I put it in the airing cupboard, and almost left it at home, taking a saucepan and wooden spoon instead. But then the sun came out, and after a little sun bathe the drumskin tightened up and became staunch and all ready to go.
 What got me out on the streets? First it was the fight to save the 500 year old kauri tree that a developer was about to fell (with permission from the Council) in Titirangi. Then it was my rush to 'save' the flame tree when its limbs were being sawn off one by one (as described in my last post). Now it was the threat of deep sea oil drilling around our coastline. In an island nation like ourselves, any oil spill would be devastating.
 We drew the line once, and said no to nuclear power for our nation. Now it feels imperative that we draw the line again.
There were so many children and young people on the march, and their messages were simple, even simplistic.
'Evil', she wrote quickly on the pavement outside the conference centre where the government was meeting with the petroleum companies.
It's easy to blame our leaders and to call names.
 But the issues are more complex than that. How can we oppose the oil economy when we are still so dependent on roads and cars? We are complicit. And dependent. Buddhist activist Joanna Macy, in a recent interview, speaks of this with such clarity.
 This bright bicycle spoke of another way to travel. But it's not for everyone. For me, I've changed to a smaller car and reduced my footprint by walking and taking buses as much as possible. But to get to the bach and reconnect with nature, I need to use petrol. The issues are filled with dilemmas.
What did my drum have to say? First, when it beat in slow unison with hundreds of other drums along the streets and outside the conference centre, it was sounding the beat of the earth. Keep beating your heart with the beat of the mother, said my drum, and you will know what to do.

Then, when I sat down, weary from drumming, and held the drum in my arms while others kept going, I noticed something surprising. My drum was vibrating. It was vibrating with the beat of all the drums around it. I held it amazed, as the vibration went on and on, bringing strange comfort.
These are heavy issues to face, the ones around climate change and what we are doing to the earth. Sometimes I feel alone with issues that are too big to bear. But today, marching with 6,000 others, I was part of a tribe. Together, our hearts were beating. Together our drums were roaring. And together we were resonating, as one heart, one voice, all saying one thing: No more.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Don't fall in love with a tree

Dear reader, don't fall in love with a tree. 
 I did. How could I help it? From the balcony of my apartment I look out on it every day. Beyond the cypress, and in front of the sea, there it stands through all seasons. In summer it leafs greenly, and in autumn turns to yellow. You will have seen this tree before in my blog posts.
In winter when the leaves drop, it flares brightly, for this is a flame tree. Its lower branch holds a swing for children to use. They live in the apartment block next door, and I often hear their laughter.
 The tuis flock from far and wide to sip nectar from flowers. I hear them chortling and croaking in the branches as they flit, black and sleek between the red cups of nectar.
 At the end of the day, the setting sun caresses the sturdy trunk and sets the flowers aglow all over again.
 Every morning as I exercise or eat my breakfast on the balcony, my eyes sweep out and over this tree. It is my daily companion. And so, I fell in love. Love at first sight, to tell you the truth, but also a love that grows tenderly over the years.

And so, dear reader, you can probably imagine how I felt when I heard the chain saw screaming through the air.

 My client saw it first. 'A branch has just fallen from the tree,' he said. 'You'll have a better view of the sea now.'
I didn't want a better view of the sea. I wanted my tree.
By the time my client had left, and I dared to look out, many major branches had already been cut.
 These photos were taken in haste, not like the loving, lingering photos of the whole tree that you saw earlier.

I phoned the Council immediately. 'We'll check the Resource Consent,' they said.

I put on my coat and ran. Ran up our steep driveway and out the gate. Ran along the street and round the corner. Ran down to the piece of public land that runs along towards the tree on the neighbour's property.

'Who's in charge?' I asked the lounging workmen, waiting with their empty truck to take the debris away. 'No one,' they said and laughed.
I ran towards the tree. One man was tied to the top, and another on the ground held the ropes.
'What's happening?'
'It's coming down,' said the bloke on the ground, and laughed, showing gaps in his teeth.
But the bloke up the tree understood. He stopped the chain saw.
'The trunk has rot in it,' he said. 'We're removing the weight from all these branches so that it doesn't fall over.'
'We are trying to save the tree.'
My pounding heart began to slow down.
He got the other guy to take me round the back of the trunk. I had to scramble over a tangle of cut limbs and bushy foliage. Sure enough, I saw the rot, and understood what they were doing.

As I left, I passed the neighbours who had come out of their apartments to watch. A suave gentleman called out mockingly, and the other workmen did too.

'The pohutukawas are going next,' they jeered. As I left I heard their laughter.
Dear reader, never fall in love with a tree.

You may be seen as a crazy old woman or man.

But when the chain saw tears through the branches, you will feel as if your own limbs are being severed. And when you look out in your favourite direction in the morning, and see the damage, it will hurt. Even though it's all for your own good.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A cyclone conversation

 It's hard to believe that a fierce cyclone is approaching. The evening before is so golden and calm.
There is just time for a quick dip before the little one goes to bed. Sleepovers are so precious. They allow time for conversations to unfold:

—'What's a cyclone?'
—'It's a fierce storm with wild winds and lots of rain.'
—How do they know it's coming?
—Because the satellites up in space circle the earth and take pictures. They see a place where the clouds are going round and round - like a whirlwind, and that's the cyclone. It's up in the Pacific islands at the moment, and is moving down towards New Zealand.
 Time for a warm bath after the shivers that follow a dip in the sea. Then to be wrapped in a warm towel. And a little more conversation:

—Granny, can I lift the plug?
—Yes, you can.
—I want to see the cyclone go down the plughole.

If only the cyclones that sweep through our lives could be dealt with so easily! If we could unplug and watch them spin away, never to return.

We have been warned to put aside lots of water, get batteries for our torches, have a radio handy, food in the cupboards, and not to go outside when the cyclone hits tonight.

When the life cyclones hit, what do you need in your survival kit?
I have a little pouch of prayers, a bundle of bravery, a rumble of resilience, and a fistful of faith.
How about you?