Saturday, March 30, 2013

Walking the labyrinth

In the week before Easter, it is time to take my annual pilgrimage. I go to St Matthew-in-the-city, which I have visited at this time for the last four years.
 There I find the labyrinth awaiting me. It is set out in river stones and candles each year, for the four days before Good Friday. Some of you have walked the labyrinth with me before. And now you can enter it again. Do you have a question? Pause a moment and let the question surface from the depths, like bubbles arising from a deep bush pool.
 My question arrived as I was sitting on the bus. When the right question comes up, it's often surprising. For me, it was like a moment of illumination.
At the end of my slow walk to the centre, just as I was about to leave, a surprising thing happened. I heard a voice, arising as if from nowhere. 'Would you like to go upstairs?" I looked around and could see no-one. Again, the voice came from the shadows: 'Would you like to go upstairs?' Then I saw her, sitting in a back queue, the woman who had earlier been tending the candles.
'Would I?' I love upstairs, and always have.
After all, I grew up in Taranaki, where the great cone of the mountain inspired me throughout my childhood. I wrote a whole book —a memoir called Touching Snow—about my childhood yearning to reach the mountain. (click to see it on my books page, and scroll down to the bottom)
The woman pointed me to a secret staircase in the corner. 'You can open the iron gate,' she assured me. And so I pulled aside an iron concertina gate, like the ones they used to have in lifts. I trod carefully up the narrow stone steps, that twisted around in darkness. Then I came out on to the balcony, and there below I could see the whole—and take a photo.
And so my pilgrimage was complete. And my question was now answered.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Inky visitors

It's unusual to see black swans on the beach, but this pair was having a good time feeding at low tide.

 Meanwhile, we were making a house for the fairies.
 Another inky visitor, not usually found on the beach, came to visit, and tried to sit in the house,
and then to give the little one's foot a brush and tickle.
She made this little pathway for the fairies to walk along. Who knows, but inky fairies may be dancing along the shells tonight while we are asleep.
Our beach play days keep bringing surprises, and with the fine weather continuing, we are making the most of every chance to be there.

Friday, March 22, 2013

My book is taking a boat trip!

 My book is taking an ocean voyage. Yes, on March 15,  the Cap Manuel set sail from Hong Kong, carrying 33 cartons of books.
 My words are being tossed on the ocean waves.
They are feeling the temperature change, as they sail from one hemisphere to the other, from winter in the north to summer's end here in the south.
They will arrive at the port in Auckland at the end of March (for ocean trips do not have precise arrival times), and there be heaved onto solid ground. Then a truck journey as the pallet on which they sit will be driven to south Auckland, and I will do paper work, show my passport and pay all the right people in order to guide them through Customs.
Meanwhile, I'm preparing a place for them in my small apartment, while in my imagination seeing them flying out the door to eager readers, releasing space once more. And doing lots of pre-publicity work.

Today is autumn equinox. Harvest time.

I sneaked in a little late afternoon swim. A slightly cool wind was blowing, but the water was as warm as a baby's bath. Warm and welcoming. As I floated in the gentle waves I imagined my precious harvest out there on the Cap Manuel, drawing closer every day, and making a safe landing.
Dear blog readers, please forgive me for not visiting you so often right now. I will catch up again when this burst of preparation is over.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Watching clouds

 Have you ever heard of people who rush towards a volcano when they hear that it's about to erupt? Well, I felt a bit like that as I drove out to the bach on the very weekend when rain could be falling.
Rain, what's that? We hadn't seen any for weeks. The whole of the north island has been declared a drought zone, and even the west coast of the south island—where there's enough rain to fill a dozen gumboots a day —was applying to the government to be declared a drought zone. And so if rain was going to fall, I wanted to be there. These clouds could be hiding what we've all been waiting for.
But by evening, the picture was a little uncertain. They seemed to be rolling away once more.
 The next morning I awoke to a new sensation in the air. I couldn't hear rain, but I could sense it in the air. And sure enough, when I looked out, there was the most gentle rainfall that you could imagine, like a cloud coming down and kissing the earth.
Would it be enough? The farmers grumbled, 'no.'
But I could see that this was perfect. The earth was being gently softened and prepared
 for what followed the next day: rain falling in streaks from the sky.
 Rain falling with a splash and a rebound, Yes, real, wet rain.
It must have revived the insects pretty fast, because the trees were soon filled with tiny fantails and wax eyes, who were happily flitting and catching their food.
My choir friend, who is a scientist, told me that I was right to feel that this gentle soaking was exactly what the earth needed. She said that when the ground dries out, its chemical structure changes and it becomes hydrophobic. Now isn't that an odd word! My psychological training immediately gives me a picture of the ground with a great fear, or phobia, of water.
But it just means that the ground has sealed itself off. In order to accept water once more, it needs a bit of retraining. I guess that's not unlike humans with phobias.
So here we are, with people smiling and saying, isn't the rain wonderful! The berries are happy, all clean and lush, and I'm sure the berry-eating birds will be happy too.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Play date at the beach

 My friend and I met when our children were still small. Now we are both grandmothers, with a granddaughter each who is four years old. For a while we've spoken of getting them together. Yesterday it happened. We met at the beach, and the two little explorers picked up their buckets and headed off to see what they could find.
The beach is full of treasure. 'Look what we found!'
'Let's go and find some more.' And so they did, while we two grannies sat and talked the talk of women who are keeping an eye on young ones, (for we also had my friend's little fourteen month old who sat and ate banana and crackers.)
 What a treat to sit, and chat and watch, while gulls plunged their beaks into the muddy fringe of the sea, herons stalked in their elegant way, and two black swans appeared. They swam in synch, just like the two little girls, who fell into the rhythm of companionship with such ease.
This golden summer, while so hard on the land and the farmers, is bringing treasure all the same.

Monday, March 11, 2013

My kingdom for a grass hook!

 My little scythe, which evidently is called a grass hook, has broken. I inherited this implement with the bach some 40 years ago, and it has done many years of trusty service. It's perfect for cutting the tough grass that grows along the pathways and steps, and around the garden. You know how it is, when you've been using a good implement for many years, somehow your body makes friends with it.
 I learned how to take care of garden tools from my father. He would oil his spade and slide it into a bucket of sand to keep it shiny and rust-free. He taught me how to tie knots, stack wood, and later, to sharpen tools.
 He would approve of my wood pile, and the way I've crawled in to the wood box, and started pulling out the back row, ready for a new lot of wood to be cut for the winter. Here we are still in summer drought, but my father taught me how to prepare for the next season.
In my forties, spurred on by feminism and the slogan, 'Girls can do anything', I asked for tools for my birthdays. Here I am with one tier of the compost bin my father gave me one year. Another time he gave me a fine carpenter's saw, and my man friend of the time gave me a yellow crow-bar.
And so, when one shop after the other informed me that they no longer stock grass hooks (because everyone uses those horrid weed eaters), you can imagine my disappointment. The grass was growing while I went from one shop to another, and in the end I had to buy this Chinese-made machete. I knew it was not well-made: the handle is not at all hand-friendly, the studs attaching the blade don't look very secure, and worst of all, I discovered that it was quite blunt. Even though I've tried sharpening it, I've had no luck. A blade made of poor metal won't sharpen well.
And so,  I'm putting out a call for a good, old-fashioned little scythe. My kingdom for a grass hook!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Little monkey writes her first book

The little monkey loves the sea, especially when it's full tide and there are branches to swing on, and the water to catch her.
Now that she's with me every Wednesday afternoon, we are making the most of the warm weather to play on the beach and have a swim. Then we come back and eat lots - and the imagination flies freely.
This time, one of her 'What if . . . ' sentences turned into a story.
 I know I'm a doting granny, but maybe you will indulge me this once, because it was exciting to see how quickly a story could turn into a book. It was a just a matter of grabbing a big sheet of white drawing paper, folding and cutting it, and writing down her words.
 To my surprise, she understood how to illustrate it. So here are the waves, with Mira lying happily under them.
Thank you, little beach monkey.
You are so at home in nature and to see this makes my heart sing.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What's that sound?

 Let me take you back a few days, to Sunday morning at the bach. I awoke to an unexpected, and almost unfamiliar sound. Could it be . . . ?
 Could it be . . . . . RAIN?
 It was. Drops settled like jewels on the grateful garden plants. The gentle shower turned the invisible visible . . .
 and created magic in the space between verandah posts.
Yes, rain had fallen —not for very long, and not enough to fill the tank —but without a doubt it had fallen. Did I dream this event? The paving stones, the spiders and the tomatoes all say no. Those clouds, under whose cover I walked only the day before, had at last delivered something.
It wasn't long before the fierce sun returned and the land was dry again. Three provinces are now in the process of being declared drought zones. The land is panting for moisture, up and down the north island.
So all I can say is - there was a tiny change, and I NOTICED. To notice is to encourage, it is said. I noticed and appreciated. Every little bit helps. Thank you clouds.