Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Two faces of winter

A kingfisher sits on the jetty alone. A cold wind is blowing. I approach to begin my tai chi and the kingfisher flies away.
The flame tree is losing its leaves. Already the top is bare, while the last of the lower foliage catches the sun and prepares to drop.
 The western side of the flame tree is quite different. Here is a burst of defiant flowers, and in the light of the setting sun, even the trunk glows with life.
Winter is time to turn within, kindle fires, cook hot food, gather in convivial, cheery communities, sing and laugh, and enjoy the richness of the inner life.
The other side of the flame tree reminds me of this, as the cold winds blow and the leaves fall.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


 I've scooped out the seeds from the pumpkin-that-grew-itself at the bach. Saving the seeds of the best plant, in order to sow them in the spring, is the way to ensure a successful crop next year. This pumpkin deserved to be saved, for it grew through a season when I wasn't there to water it regularly. It grew, it ripened, and it tasted good when I turned it into soup this week.
 The envelope was ready, and I invited Mira to draw a pumpkin on it, so we would know what seeds were inside.
 Orange of course was the colour. 'I'm going round and round,' she said. 'I'm making a circle.' And so she was, in her own way.
 I'd shown her the half pumpkin that remained, and the inside where the seeds had been scooped out, so she knew about the circular shapes.
Finally the envelope was ready. I added a label, and Mira a sun. There it is, all ready to ripen the plants when they are sown in the spring time.
Saving the best. It works not just with seeds, but with memories, friendships and other special relationships. In spring when the ground is warm once more, we will dig manure and compost into the soil and plant the seeds. My father taught me how to garden, and as I teach Mira, the best of that learning is passed on to her. Maybe one day she will pass it on in turn, as she pulls out an envelope for her grandchild to decorate before slipping into it a treasure trove of sun-dried seeds.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mountains and mounds

 I've completed my pilgrimage to Taranaki. After flying in to New Plymouth, I took a shuttle to connect with the one bus per week that goes to Opunake, on the far side of the mountain. Taranaki is a circle, with the mountain in the middle. The first thing I do when I go back there is look for the mountain.

It was hard to find, but the many lahar mounds on that side were rising up thick and fast as the bus drove onwards.
 Through the bus window, I kept searching for a glimpse of this beloved cone that inspired me throughout my childhood. But all I could see was its base. Its head was in the clouds, and I heard that snow was falling.
 I wondered if my old teacher would be hard to find also, if he was lost in the mists of oblivion. Even the photo, shown to me by the Rest Home matron, could not be re-photographed successfully because it was behind glass. There he is, second from the left, the handsome young teacher whom I knew. He was one the the first Maori teachers to be trained for mainstream schools. Here he is amidst his fellow-trainees at Ardmore Teachers' College.
My old teacher knew me immediately. We exchanged a long hongi (the nose to nose greeting of Maori), and with it the exchange of the breath and aroha (love) that we have shared for so long.
'You were my favourite teacher,' I told him, 'and I will never forget what you gave me,'
He emerged from behind the clouds, with a mischievous light in his eye and replied, 'well maybe you were my favourite pupil.'
The next morning, after an evening of rich conversation, tears and laughter with an old friend back in New Plymouth, I was driven to the airport. My friend caught sight of something in his rear vision mirror and stopped the car at the side of the road. 'Get out and take a look.' and there it was at last, my beloved mountain, Taranaki.

When I was with Jim, my teacher, I sang some of the old songs he taught me, and he joined in. We were together as the years and clouds rolled back. Arohanui. It was a big journey, in every way, and worth every step.

The essential task is to feel the thrill of completing your pilgrimage. . . . There is joy in having arrived, moment by moment. Phil Cousineau, 'The Art of Pilgrimage'.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Of cooking and card houses

 Mira is cooking for me today. 'Here's a stir fry for you, with frogs and berries.'
Oh, yum. Then we had one with fish. Then some sticks were thrown in, as carrots. But 'no biscuits today, sorry.'
 Then it's time to make a card house. She's never seen one before. In each room, some of her little animals are placed: ladybirds, frogs (now released from the wok), a little pig . . .
 But woops! a frog almost got away. There, it's caught now,
and all the animals have gone to sleep. Granny made a chimney so they can keep nice and warm, because it's winter now.
Tomorrow I go to Taranaki, to visit my old teacher. It's going to be a big journey.
I've been a bit absent, dear blog friends. Life has been rather serious. But when Mira comes for the afternoon, fun and fantasy are guaranteed.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


 Doing Tai Chi on the beach, this cool morning, I find myself reflecting on permanence - as in the rock. and transience - as in the autumn leaf.
My old school teacher awakened my creativity with puppet-making & shows, singing, drawing, and decorating. He gave me shelter in the loving ambiance of his classroom at a country school where bullying was the norm. He awakened aroha - love - for Maori culture, its language, stick games, songs and stories. All of this is permanent, and solid like the rock.
But the leaf of his life is curling up and losing its glow.
Before leaving the beach, I made a shrine of remembrance. Now, as I look at the photo, I see that I selected 14 white shells, one for each year of my growing up in Taranaki. The large scallop is for my teacher, and the small scallop for me, who will survive him and carry the tales, until I too am taken like a leaf in the wind.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


 The golden days of Indian summer are over, and the rain is falling. Moisture everywhere, with puddles that reflect the watery sky.
 Mist envelops the view as I do Tai Chi in the soft rain,
and the tide laps soothingly close to my feet.
The pohutukawa, that was ablaze with crimson blossom in the summer, lifts its head to the clouds and drinks deeply.
 On the jetty, the shags are as still as the distant boats. This is not a day for much movement.
It's a day for reflection. I find myself being drawn within, musing and remembering my dear old teacher who is dying. He taught me Maori songs and dances, art and culture, when I was at primary school. He was so full of life, laughter and creativity, and over recent years when I visited he still loved to sing in his rich baritone voice. Now his spirit is drifting like the leaves upon the sky's reflections, and my eyes are . . . watery.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Beach Cooking

I'm cooking dinner for me and Granny. You have to stir things properly to cook dinner.
 Here are some carrots, and some spinach and pumpkin.
 We need some seaweed and spices. Here they come, the sea is bringing them.
 I've got a bucket-full now, with tofu and celery . . .
 but it needs a lot of stirring.
Mmmm. Granny says it smells so good.
But it's not ready yet, so I told her she has to be patient.

Moon mysteries

To the ancient Greeks, the moon had three aspects. The new moon was associated with the maiden Artemis: young, sharp and full of hope. The full moon was the mother: woman in her full fertility: Selene. The waning moon was linked with the crone: woman in her ageing, wise aspect, Hecate, goddess of the crossroads.
This ceramic mask of Hecate was made by my dear artist friend Helen.
Over the weekend, when our women's group met in a house on the west coast, Hecate sat in our midst as we reflected on the themes that have spilled over from Halloween: honouring our loved ones who have died over the past year.
Meanwhile, in the clear skies above, Selene as supermoon shone in all of her fullness.
As I began writing this post, I received a phone call to say that my dear old teacher has only two weeks left to live.
Artemis takes me into independence and youthful zest. Selene reminds me of the fullness of creative life within me, and Hecate returns me, yet again to the crossroads between life and death..

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Among the leaves

 This is a season of change, falling leaves, and the loosening of memory.
And this autumn, amongst leaves of another kind, I discovered a gift. I was sorting the last of my mother-in-law's papers. She died in November, aged 95.
It was tempting to throw out the whole bundle. But I kept it to sort, and how glad I am. Because I found two letters, on blue paper and in an even, rounded handwriting that was familiar to me.

They were written by my mother-in-law's mother.

Beena (whom I called 'Granny') was like a guardian angel to me, when as a young married woman I travelled across the world with my husband to visit his home country of England, and to explore Europe. Several years later we left New Zealand again to live in Paris for two years, where my husband went to theatre school. In the summer holidays we rented a thatched cottage in Dorset, England. I'd written my PhD on Thomas Hardy, and there amidst the rolling hills of the 'Hardy country', I prepared to give birth to our baby.

My mother was across the world, my mother-in-law was in America, and I was bereft of female relatives - except for Beena, who set herself up in the village inn, 'just to keep an eye'.
It was from this inn that she wrote to her daughter in America. For the first time I read her loving description of how we were with our new baby boy.

Her tender words unfurled from the page and wrapped themselves around me like a silky shawl. Our baby is 'thriving', she writes. I am 'a good little mother', and my husband 'marvellous' as he does every kind of chore 'so well and happily'. She loves to see and hear me 'playing sweet melodies' on my guitar after his early evening feed, which makes him 'quiet at once.'
Such a picture of happiness. Beena would invite us to meals at the inn so that I didn't have to cook, and she watched over our little one while we rambled along the hedgerows picking blackberries.
A year later, things fell apart tragically, but for now I have this beautiful memory revived, through the blue pages that Beena wrote over 40 years ago. Treasure amidst the falling leaves of autumn .