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?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Stones for Christchurch

 February 22 is the 4th anniversary of the big Christchurch earthquake that shattered a city and claimed many lives. After the quake I went to the Auckland beach near my home and made a shrine. I returned over many days to make new ones to post on my blog. You can see one of the posts here, and four others by scrolling back from there to older posts.

I wasn't just making shrines. I was also offering up prayers.

Those who have remained living in Christchurch have been shaken hundreds of times since.
They have had to learn to live with instability.
Solid ground turned to liquid and we learned a new word.
Anyone whose life has been shattered knows what it's like to have your foundations knocked from under you, to have everything that seemed certain and stable to turn to liquefaction.

This has happened in my life, not just once but several times. Maybe it's happened in yours too.
 And so it's important to reach for a new order, to find what can be trusted, to discover another kind of stability.

Today I have made another shrine for Christchurch, invoking faith for a city whose cathedral was broken. The colours for Christchurch are red and black. My shrine has two faces. Which one speaks to you most?

Prayer for Christchurch, four years on

May the stones of faith be reinstalled.
May the heart find its own resilience.
May a new order emerge, stronger than the one before.
May there be healing and holding.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Rituals of welcome

Through the summer holidays I had been sewing, plying my needle through tough canvas, to prepare for this special day. Now that the little one was to begin in Class One at the Steiner school, she needed a chair cover with a deep pocket across the back. At the end of last year each child was asked to choose one of the colours of the rainbow, and given a chair cover for someone to decorate.

What shall I put on it? I wondered as the chair cover was entrusted to me. No problem, the little one knew exactly what she wanted: a tree, an owl, some grass and a moon. Oh, and the night before I was informed that her name had to be on it, so some hasty chain stitch was produced.
 We stood outside in the cool breeze of early morning - well, early for me, to be out driving at the one time of the day I avoid: the rush hour, when workers, and parents taking their kids to school are all out driving here there and everywhere. But this was a special day, and I had to be there.
 For on this, the first day of school, the little one was about to receive a special welcome. She wore a pretty new cotton dress, and slung her not-new back pack over her shoulders in readiness.

The whanau was gathered around her. Whanau is a Maori word for family, picked up by Pakeha ( New Zealanders of European descent) when describing a warm and nurturing family unity. And that's what we were: Chinese granny, Pakeha granny (me), father, and mother with the new babe in her arms, and the little one in our midst.
 The Steiner School is robust on caring, and this means creating ceremonies of transition. While the philosophy began in Germany, there is a strong Maori influence in this school. Together with the other families, we waited. The children from the kindergarten were shepherded into a circle by their three teachers. Then we women—mothers, aunties, and grandmothers—were called to follow the little flock, and the men asked to walk in behind. We walked a few steps towards the beautiful school hall.
 Then we waited again. A dignified Maori woman wearing a korowai, a cloak woven from the muka, the fine fibre inside the flax plant, waited in the doorway. Then the moment came that we were waiting for: the beginning of the powhiri, the ritual of welcome.
 A ringing chant known as a karanga resounded across the space between us, and we slowly stepped forward, beckoned by the smiling woman, across the threshold and into the hall with its high stepped seating, like a steep amphitheatre. It was full of pupils and teachers; in fact the whole school was waiting for us.
It was at this point that my tears welled up as if they would never stop.
The cluster of young children was shepherded some more, on to mats on the floor.  There they sat with their kindergarten teachers, to whom they would soon be saying goodbye. Every now and then a little girl crept into the embrace of her teacher, cuddled up for a while, then bravely made space for another to do the same.

Meanwhile one of the Maori teachers began his oratory, welcoming the children in, speaking of the transition that they were soon to make, to Class One in the main school. He referred to the kindergarten as a kohunga, a learning nest, and that's just how it seemed as I watched those clusters of little children on the mats.

All the teachers then gathered around him to sing a waiata (song), and a Maori man on our side, representing the visitors, gave another speech. They went on a long time, these men, all in Maori, for they were brothers showing their skills to each other as well as to us.
And then came the moment that brought more tears. A candle was lit on a special table, an invocation was spoken, and through this wooden archway, threaded with flowers, the little ones were led, one by one. Each, when her/his name was called, was met by a senior student who gave them a posy of flowers, took their hand, and brought them through to their new teacher, Mr. Wigley (yes!), who is an award-winning musician and writer of children's songs.

The children now sat on benches with Mr Wigley, who then led them away through a doorway, off to their class room.

Meanwhile the three kindergarten teachers sat on the empty mats.

It was shortly after that when new tears began to flow, and not just from me. The seven years of magical childhood are almost over and a new phase is beginning. I felt as if the Pied Piper had appeared and led the children away into a mountain, where they would never be seen again.

A ritual of welcome can also be a ritual of loss, depending on where you stand.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Breaking bread at Lugnasad

 
 The wheel has turned, rain has fallen on the parched earth and a lively wind is rattling loose branches around my home. Time to sip tea, break bread, and give thanks.
 Thanks for the golden summer, which is now turning its head towards a doorway marked 'northern hemisphere'.  It won't be departing just yet, but all action begins with a thought, a turning away and a turning towards, and today that thought is buzzing in the breeze.
 In the Celtic calendar of old Europe tribes would gather to give thanks to the grain god Lugh, who was sacrificed with the reaping of the corn. Back to the body of the Earth goddess he was gathered, ploughed in so that new life might emerge in the spring. And so today we remember Lugnasad, his festival, and its continuation through Christian times as the festival of Lammas.
 Loaves made from the first grain harvest were brought to church to be blessed. Last night I baked a gluten-free loaf of bread, from a recipe posted by Australian blogger Charlie, who is a superb cook. She calls it a 'life changing loaf', and it certainly is. No flour is used at all. It's easy and nourishing, full of nuts and seeds. You can find it by clicking here.http://hotlyspiced.com/homemade-vegan-bread/
This season is also berry time, which was important in the Maori seasonal cycle. Not being a grain growing society (until European contact), Maori depended on the kumara (sweet potato) crop as the staple. However, at First Fruits/ Lugnasad/Lammas the kumara was still sitting in the ground, needing another month or so to mature. And so this was a lean time, 'Te Waru'.
 The native berries which the wood pigeons have been feeding on so enthusiastically out at my bach, provided some food, though not of a very substantial kind.
And the karaka berries needed special treatment, including long soaking in water, to remove their poison and making them safe for eating. Have you ever gathered wild berries? Berries are hard work.
And so, in giving thanks for plentiful food, I am also mindful at this time of year that for many, the basket is half empty. In my book Celebrating the Southern Seasons: Rituals for Aotearoa, I call this time the Festival of the Half Harvest. I find it a good time both to offer up gratitude, and also to make donations for those who are in need.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rituals of Arrival


What are your rituals of arrival, when you come to a special place?  Last weekend as I crunched along the gravel path and up the brick steps to the bach, I became aware of mine.
Between carrying in the first and second loads from the car, I found myself pausing to pull a few weeds from the path — not as in 'working', but as in greeting the land, and making a promise to tend it once more when I'd settled in.
Between the second load and the third, I made a detour up the steps to dead-head the cornflowers, as a way of saying, 'hello, I'm so glad that you are still flowering. You are beautiful.' It was but a small diversion from there to visit the tomato plants and pinch out a few laterals.
 After the fifth load I pick a fresh kawakawa leaf while the kettle boils. And after the sixth load it's time to pause for my cup of tea, and to taste the fresh fruit I bought on the way out. Big sigh of relief. I have arrived.
 Unpacking can wait till later.
 For now, creative ideas flock in, fluttering like butterflies around my head. I pull out my writer's notebook, and begin to write this blog to you, dear readers. So you come with me, you see, as my heart opens to receiving the blessings of nature, like these calling cards from the kereru (wood pigeon), that have been dropped at intervals along the pathways.
 I take my tea outside and sip contentedly, listening to the wind shaking secrets through the foliage, and the penetrating ki-ki-ki of a kingfisher spearing up from the nearby stream. I think of Jane Duncan Rogers, who wrote recently about arriving at a beach hut in Scotland, in the cold of winter, and Joan Anderson, who took a year by the sea at Cape Cod, and all those women who face the bravery of retreat.
From Virginia Woolf's room of one's own, to beach huts, cottages, baches, boats, and other hideaways around the world, where women escape to soothe their souls and wait for the wellspring to fill again, it seems I am not alone. I am a bead on a long loose string that encircles the world, and loops around times past, present and future.
In solitude and silence, the magnificence of nature is most deeply felt.