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.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Sweet lingering

 We know that summer is over; yet the days are warm and still, and somehow in this golden glow of autumn a special feeling of gratitude sweeps down like a dove from the skies. I can taste the concentrated sweetness of summer in this papaya which melted in my mouth soon after the photo was taken.
 Yes, we know that these golden days are numbered. As soon as daylight saving ends next weekend, darkness will come rustling around us like a taffeta cloak. And so, it's time for that annual ritual of wandering into the forest,
 to forage for the winter fires to come. I can feel the change of season beating at my back as I plan this excursion,
 because once the rain comes, this ground and the buried pine cones, will turn soggy.
But for now, it's beautifully dry. My friend and I fossick with glee, and wander off the paths, always seeking a bigger, better cone.
And then it's time to clamber up the track, puffing and resting as we go, each with a backpack of cones hanging from our shoulders, and another bag in each hand, feeling that delicious sense of satisfaction. She has a fireplace in her house, and my hoard will go to the bach.
We know the rain, wind and cold is just around the corner. But we are prepared.
And we can savour the last delights of the season, before it drifts away for another year.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Walk with me

 You and I have arrived out west. The days have been so busy that we didn't make it till early evening. There's just time for a barefoot walk, out on the dunes. We walk out in this big open space, wondering if we'll make it to the lake. Then, sensing that the light is fading, we turn around, and discover what nature has been doing behind our backs.
 Not a soul is in sight. Just the wind gently rippling the dune grasses as we pad over the hard sand,
 letting go of all the activity, the busyness, and drifting into the magic of twilight,
 which has its own special sound, a song without words, a song without a tune: just a gentle hum that fills you to the brim, for the beauty is so great that you are emptied out and have become as vast as the sky.
And then darkness falls, quickly, and your feet move faster, hoping you can find the path before the light is completely gone. Fast, now, quick now, pattering along, back to the little light of home. Returning to sleep like a babe, full of wonder at being alive.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Equinox Altars

Today is Autumn Equinox.
Time to celebrate abundance
and balance, for today the light and the dark are equal. Northern and Southern Hemispheres, whether in autumn or spring equinox, are poised in the balance of day and night.
Here, summer is gently washing away as autumn drops in quietly with the falling leaves.
The sea is calm, the day is serene. 
We give thanks for the harvest of the heart's work;
Seeds of faith planted with faith;
Love nurtured by love;
Courage strengthened by courage.
We give thanks for the fruits of the struggling soul,
the bitter and the sweet;
For that which has grown in adversity
And for that which has flourished in warmth and grace;
For the radiance of the spirit in autumn
And for that which must now fade and die.
We are blessed and give thanks.
Michael Leunig

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Lost Cone

Last week my friend and I were ready to walk up one of the other volcanic cones: Mt Albert/Owairaka, the dwelling place of Wairaka. And who was Wairaka?
Wairaka was a chief's daughter who became renowned for her bravery. After the arrival of the tribe's waka (canoe) in Aotearoa/NZ, the waka broke its moorings. Wairaka seized a paddle, crying out 'Let me act like a man!' , encouraging the others to paddle also, and saved the waka.
From the lower slopes of Owairaka we could see the Waitemata harbour to the north.
 It wasn't long before we began to climb,
 turning our backs on the road to the summit and taking the pathways that wound around the slopes.
 And here at the top, I felt sad. There is no deep crater at the top. There is no beautiful cone. Nothing but a flat field, which is marked in a grid for archery practice.
I already knew what Owairaka once looked like, for its beauty was captured in this watercolour by John Mitford, painted in 1845.
But in the 1890s NZ Railways ran a line to the base of the mountain. They built a tramway up the slopes and began to quarry away the scoria from the top. Did Wairaka, the ancestor, turn in her grave? Did she curse and cry?
If she did, it made no difference. 15 metres (nearly 50 feet) were carved off the top of the mountain, and the result is a sad flatness. The scoria was used to construct railways and roads, including the north-western motorway along which I drive to the bach. Eventually, after decades of protest, the quarrying was stopped.
 Even so, from the upper slopes we had some fine views: out to Maungawhai (Mt Eden), Ohinerangi (Mt Hobson), and Te Kopuke (Mt St John), all of which you and I have visited in previous posts.
 And on the south side, out to Auckland's other harbour, to the Manukau Heads (on the right, across the water).
Walking the cones. Each cone is different, and each cone gives a different perspective on the others. Each visit prompts reflection.
And so I sit, musing on the free-draining scoria that makes my drive to the bach smooth under the tarseal of the motorway; musing on the lost cone.
Musing on the tension between the demands of modern transport needs, and the need to conserve our precious heritage.
And musing on Wairaka, whose heroic action has been forever remembered by her descendants and by those who visit Owairaka.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Last and the first

 On my way to the bach in the weekend, I bought blueberries, knowing that they will soon be coming to an end. I stopped at the organic growers and bought one of their last bags of beefsteak tomatoes. Look at them, so full of red richness, almost bursting out of their skins. My courgette plants were all spent, for the garden is suffering from dryness, but I managed to buy a few courgettes also, enough to concoct perhaps the last ratatouille of the season.
I felt sad to know that the ingredients for my favourite summer dish were at an and.
 But then Sylvia, the organic grower said, 'We've just picked the first of the feijoas this morning. Would you like a bag?' Would I?!
 I love feijoas and can devour them very quickly. Despite my reluctance to acknowledge that cooler days must be here, together with the feijoas, I carried the bag to the bach with my mouth watering. (But dear reader, no gratification yet, because they need to ripen a little).
 Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the last of the summer garden on my deck at home. You know how it is: people and plants often have a colourful flare of life as they reach the grand finale.
 As long as I water the pots every day, the flowers are very happy.
 And what's this? the first of the passion fruit. Unprepossessing I know, but so delicious.
 I laughed at the sign at the Health Food shop. Sometimes I feel like a passion fruit on the outside,
so it's comforting to be reminded of the sweetness that lies within. Yes, it's the end of summer now, and life is rich and good.