Monday, August 30, 2010

Spring baby shower

On Sunday afternoon I went to a baby shower for a young woman in our community. She is now approaching full term with her pregnancy. Twelve women were there, and we each brought a blessing, written on a card or piece of paper ready to be pasted into a book.
What a time-honoured tradition, the sharing of women's knowledge around birth and child-raising! The table was laid with a pink cloth and colourful food, in honour of this baby girl who will soon be amongst us. I passed around little 'chickens' from the hen and chickens ferns, so everyone could take home some tender new life to nurture. As spring declares itself more definitely, and the days are suddenly warmer, I feel tender, protective and filled with wonder at the miracle of birth.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Can we connect with the sacred in nature when we are urban-dwellers? This question was raised at the Sea of Faith conference where I gave a talk on 'The Sacred in Nature'. I thought of this blog, where so many of the images that inspire me are taken from my city walks.
Late this afternoon after the conference, I took a favourite coastal route. The light was rapidly failing, but there across the water, illumination struck. When I was a child, we always took such rays as a sign that God was in heaven. I wouldn't put it that way now, but even so, I felt touched by grace as my feet found their way homeward.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fern tasting

'What little seedling abounds in the bush at the moment? I need about a hundred.' This was my request to Colleen, who lives up the road from the bach. Her property lies deep in the bush, amidst tall kauri, rimu, tanekaha and totara trees. 'Have a look at the hen and chicken ferns,' said Colleen, 'and look for the little 'chickens'. You can easily lift them off.'
She was right. I checked the ferns (known to Maori as mouki), the very ones that I grew from Colleen's seedlings a few years ago, and sure enough little babes were perching all over the fronds like green spiders.
As I held them, I felt a sense of wonder at the miracle of such delicate, tenacious life. They would be perfect to hand around at the talk I'm giving on 'Engaging with the sacred in nature.'
When I checked Andrew Crowe's 'Native Edible Plants of New Zealand', I discovered that the young curled shoots were a favourite relish for Maori. Among my ferns I found just one furry fiddlehead rising up from the middle. After stripping away the dark fuzz and steaming it, I enjoyed a delectable snack: bitter in the very inside of the coil, but surprisingly sweet as I made my way to the base. Bush asparagus! I think spring must be the season of surprises.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mild west coast

Last week this very same scene was wild, wet, and cold. This week the sun kept chasing the squalls away and people spread themselves over the beach. How much can change in only a week! The hills are now full of colour and I am full of smiles.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Wild west coast

Walking in the storm with Barbara, who also loves wild weather. We are the only ones on the beach. The wind is fierce, the rain squalls frequent. Two black oyster catchers face the sea, patiently. Plump dotterels totter around in the wind. Cloud dissolves the hill tops.
Going out and meeting the weather when it turns its tail and dives back into winter: that's the only way. I am scoured out and refreshed. Back at the bach, roast veges, eaten by the fire, have never tasted so good.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Old green, new green

Sometimes, like yesterday, spring and winter walk hand in hand, like lovers. At other times, like today, they wave their arms, shake their fists and fight like siblings.
My walk takes me along mossy footpaths that bear the residue of winter's damp. In the park, the grass has brightened and turned extravert, with all the brashness of early spring. Which season are we in? The sparks of creative fire tell me that spring is here, and it's time to strip away the trappings of winter. And so I tidy, clear papers, and wipe down the window sills. Then I have a 'mossy day', when inspiration is dampened once more. Between the old and the new, that's just how it is.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Under the gums

Suddenly the sun was shining, the wind had dropped and the sky was clear. I knew this was the perfect day for my pilgrimage to Western Springs Road. Would the trees still be there after all these years?
I've been writing about the gum trees in a talk on 'The Sacred in Nature' that I'm preparing for a conference. Saving those trees was my first piece of environmental activism. I would often walk to sit under them during breaks from writing my thesis on Thomas Hardy, and listen to the sound of the wind in the leaves. Hardy taught me to listen carefully to the sounds of nature, and as I learned to listen to the gums, I grew to love them.
But the council wanted to fell the lot in order to revegetate the hillside with natives. I wrote letters, and got friends to do the same. When the council found out that people cared, the plan was changed to include the gums along with the new planting.
And there they still are, mature now, stretching high into the clouds. Their limbs are naked, silky and sinewy. I ate my lunch with my back against one of the tallest, and listened to their rustling leaves, just as I used to in my twenties.
The natives now form a bushy cover over the hillside, and the gums along the roadside rise high out of that foliage. They co-exist beautifully, as I knew they would.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Oh fickle spring!

You shine enticing warmth, then blast with hail stones. You attack with fierce wind, then download your wet. You bite with cold, then archly present a rainbow, and smile as if to say, 'This is August. What did you expect?'

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Maidens a-dancing

I set out to walk in the rain yesterday, telling myself 'You'll be glad you did it; you always are.'
And so I was. I turned a corner and it was as if the day was suddenly lit up by what I saw: this glorious magnolia, dancing in the rain, her blossoms like a cluster of young debutantes. I was reminded of the maiden energy of Brigid, the festival of First Light, and how young women would dress in white and walk in procession. I too had a white dress once, the day I was confirmed. Ah, what careless innocence! Thomas Hardy, who knew that the custom went back to ancient times, describes maidens dancing on the village green in Tess of the D'Urbervilles.  
The rain turned torrential, soaking me to the bone. But the dancing maidens went with me, and I didn't care.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

First Light

Celebrating First Light, the festival of Brigid, with my dear women friends. Milk is poured into a dark 'well' of water in a bowl, making swirls and clouds. I watch mesmerised at the simple magic that comes from a symbolic gesture made in sacred space. I watch the milk of human kindness swirling into me, and the pure milk white of inspiration from the fire goddess. Something quickens. Maybe creative kindling is not too far away now.
I am filled with the fragrance of daphne. I sense that I am crossing a threshold.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Changing time

I was feeling impatient, wanting to prance out of the backwater of winter (as I started thinking of it) and into the surge of spring. I wanted my creativity to flow again. I was tired of gestating and gathering. My watch stopped completely, and then my calculator too, both of them reflecting how much I was feeling 'on hold'.
It's not easy finding a watch-maker these days. But I tracked down Albert in an old arcade in the city. The back of my watch hadn't been opened for a long time, and resisted the pressure of his small pliers. Albert was undeterred. He pulled out a soft white cloth, kept for this very purpose, placed it on his knee and then fixed the watch in a vice from underneath. Little by little it yielded. Turn by turn. Tap tap tap. Then he prised it open and showed me the insides: 'fine swiss movement', he said, approvingly.
He carried on, performing a complex manoeuvre between the three watches I'd brought, Slowly, delicately, he replaced a battery, then transferred a copper-wrapped chip from a broken old watch to the back of my best watch.
I was fascinated. Watching Albert taught me patience. I moved more slowly as I left his little workshop, back in step again with this slowly unfolding spring, ticking in rhythm to the season once more.