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. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


How can we ensure that the younger generation are connected with the movements of nature, and come to care for this earth as dearly as their own selves?
In Maori, whenua means 'land'. It also means 'placenta'.
Just as the placenta feeds life-giving blood and nutrients to a babe in the womb, so does a child's connection with the land feed her soul. Burying the placenta in the earth creates a bond that will be deep and strong. (See this beautiful post on the Home Birth Association website)
The little one made her first trip to the bach when she was just a few months old. Her father buried her whenua at the base of a young kauri tree that I had planted several decades ago.  It is shooting up into the light.

The kauri is now 'her tree', the first place to visit when she comes out here. The land has a way of calling to her and for some time she's been asking to come out to stay. Now at six and a half, on Labour weekend, I brought her out for her first, long-awaited sleepover.
What a joy it is to be with a child who has found her place in nature. She trots off down the bush paths to explore, or sits in a flax 'hut' listening to the wind and the sound of the birds. She picks up leaves, twigs and pieces of bark to hold or arrange on the ground. She wanders along the nearby stream, watching the water, the waving grasses and the flashing wings of the kingfishers.
The whenua of my first granddaughter was buried after she died at six weeks, and a dwarf kowhai tree planted for her. Every time I tend the kowhai, I think of her.

For many reasons, my second granddaughter has not really bonded with the land. The placenta of this granddaughter, who is now a young adult, was lost because of a power cut. When I mentioned this to some Maori women last summer, they said that the whenua should never be put in the fridge or freezer because doing so affects its life energy. It should be buried in a pot of earth, and in this way kept until it is ready for its final resting place in the ground. And so this was done after the new baby was born this year.
It was time for the new baby to visit the bach for the first time, and for her placenta to be buried in the land.
After two and a half months, the whenua had become absorbed into the soil inside the pot, making it rich and dark. See the difference between this and the surrounding earth.
Her kowhai tree is planted, and with it her connection with the land. May this tree grow to full height. May these young ones grow up to love and protect this earth, which needs more care than ever before. And may the land feed their souls in return.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


 The shadow falls in any season, even in spring when nature is singing its heart out and growth is surging everywhere.
 There is no one season for making a crossing out of this life. As I walked along the waterfront near my city home, I contemplated the passing of a beloved elder of Te Henga.
 I thought of her soul, sailing onwards after a long life of hard work and generous giving. We first met when I returned home from Paris with a broken heart to bring up my two-year-old son in the area that she also called home. She gave me loving support through those years of solo parenting.

What I didn't know until my last visit to her, was that we shared roots in Taranaki, where she also grew up. Her father, the magistrate in New Plymouth, was friends with my grandfather, who was the policeman in Inglewood. They both held a vision of restorative justice, long before this term was coined. They wanted to rehabilitate the young, and not to punish them in a way that secured their future as criminals.
 Her funeral was held, fittingly, beside the river and the sand hills that she loved so much, and alongside the home where she and her husband raised six children. Over many weeks they took my son into their home and gave him the experience of being part of a large and loving family while I travelled overseas. Such acts of kindness are never forgotten.
Hundreds came to the funeral, bearing their own tales of what they had received from this woman of gentle strength.
This was not a day for taking photos, and my attempt is out of focus.
 At the funeral I learned about other, more deeply intertwined roots: of her family with the Maori tribe of this area: Te Kawerau a Maki. Their connection went back several generations, to when her ancestor 'Pa' Bethell first came to the west coast and began to farm. Members of the family were dandled on the knees of tohunga and taught to chant karakia (prayers) when they were little children.
 Gusts of wind shook the marquees, songs were sung and a karakia was resoundingly chanted by Te Warena Taua, Chair of Te Kawerau Iwi Tribal Authority.
Te Warena generously supported me when I was writing 'Celebrating the Southern Seasons' in the early 1990s. He made the Auckland Museum archives available and helped me to find many old books that yielded their secrets of Maori seasonal observances. We greeted one another warmly, united in grief.

In 'Celebrating the Southern Seasons' I wrote of a vision of bicultural healing:

'The roots of the oak touch the roots of the pohutukawa in sacred soil. We nourish our connection; we nourish our respect. And from here . . . we may begin the healing that makes productive and creative relationship possible.' 
A rousing haka by a group of young Maori men broke out as the land rover slowly drove away with the coffin. Tears ran down my cheeks as I made my way back home. My heart was also full of hope: that out of deep roots of love and respect, flourishing through the generations, different peoples can live together in harmony.
R.I.P. Elizabeth Alice Wheeler (Ibby)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Savage spring

Fierce storms have wrecked havoc at the bach.
Savage spring sent ferocious gusts that tugged and ripped until all resistance was gone.
 Felled is the lofty kanuka that has stood for over 50 years a sentinel at the corner.
Who guards the guardians?
The tree was sound, with no trace of rot. Maybe it was slashed by lightning. Nature has many methods.
Savage spring has torn branches off younger trees and flung them casually over the pathways.
 Nikau fronds were whipped off and disdainfully cast through the inner sanctuary of the flax bush.
 But the same power is unsheathing the new season's strong shoots,
driving weeds up through the pathways, scattering onion weed over the banks, 
bolting through broccoli and rocket, sending it to seed before it's had time to produce,
filling the silver beet with dark nutrients,
 and finally, as if in an act of contrition, offering up a single flower.
There have been times when I too have been rent asunder, slashed and tattered.
Life, like nature, has its savage seasons. But nature also brings new life and new energy.  The blood of wounding is also the blood of regeneration.