Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The white and the green

Winter has arrived uninvited, even though it is still May. Yesterday an icy blast swept the country, bringing snow to the south. In Dunedin, schools were closed as many roads were impassable. Ruth from Central Otago sent me this photo of her herb garden covered in snow.
This morning in Auckland the storm had cleared and sun was streaming in the windows,
 catching my agave sentinels that stand so bravely in the long planter that runs along my balcony.  In the background you can see some splashes of red. The flame tree is flowering once more, another act of defiance as winter marches on.
 And so I've been able to do my tai chi, well not exactly outside in the sun because the chill of the night is still nipping my heels, but at least behind the ranch sliders, looking out to the view that always delights, and losing myself in the green folds of the agave.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Lantern magic

 Tonight I was invited to the Steiner School, where the kindergarten pupils had been preparing all week for the annual Lantern Festival.  I was a little puzzled by the timing, since our Halloween has passed and winter solstice is a month away, but evidently the Lantern Festival commemorates St Martin, and a French story about him giving his cape to a poor man who was cold.
Paper bag lanterns lined the pathway,
 and hanging from the trees were pumpkin lanterns. This one was helped by a drill for fancy decorations.
 And maybe this one as well.
 Each child had painted a piece of heavy paper during the week. The paper was then rolled into a tube, stapled and given a heavy cardboard bottom. Little windows were cut out of the sides and transparent paper glued on, so that the total effect once the candle at the bottom had been lit with a long gas lighter,
 was really beautiful. Each child had made their own handle, using finger knitting to make the cord.

We gathered in the kindergarten and heard a story of how a lantern was born. Then each lantern was carefully lit, and flanked by parents/grandparents, each child stepped out into the dark night and walked in procession along paths, up and down steps, and around corners.
 A large crescent moon lantern smiled on the procession of smaller lanterns. Overhead, a silver full moon shone upon us all. Mysterious music — guitar and violins — sounded from different locations as we walked (played by a parent and some children).
Finally we gathered around the bonfire, and sang songs while big dishes of roast kumara and other warming food were passed around.
 The children were so sweet, totally absorbed in the magic of what they had created. I could feel that universal feeling of being safe in community that comes when we gather around a fire at night. I felt rich in blessings, and like a little child again myself, immersed in the wonder of life.

PS If you'd like to view a beautiful video about a Lantern Festival in England, click here.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Autumn fruits

 Every season has its own special fruits. My eye was caught by these bright little berries, on the pavement by the library. They are titoki, and I posted about them the year I saw them for the first time. Titoki is one of our native trees, also known as NZ oak. This is what I say about titoki in my book, Celebrating the Southern Seasons:
'Its juicy, red pulp was sometimes eaten by the Maori in times past, but it was the large, shiny, black seed inside that they valued most, for this yielded oil that could be used medicinally. The seed capsules were placed into flax kits and then pounded with a club to crush them, then the bags were wrung out and the greenish-coloured oil collected. . . It was used to make a salve or massage oil for babies or breast-feeding women to ease chafing.'
 Then at my tai chi class, we were all given mandarins, feijoas and fresh garden chives to take away with us. My tai chi teacher and his wife give a lot to their community, and in turn are given surplus fruit and veges, which they then share with us. Food tasted especially good when it's freely given.
 Apples are abundant in this season, in many varieties. And of course, persimmons, my favourite autumn fruit. I'm about to eat some more, so had to be quick with the photo!
And lemons, which are fruiting in the lemon grove just below my balcony, and sending up a tangy scent.
'Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' — so far, we haven't had a lot of mist here in Auckland; more like lots of rain and thunderstorms. But fruitfulness there is in abundance, and it sets me thinking with gratitude on all the fruitfulness in my own life, including the return of the muse. I was weary with the effort of producing my latest book, and needed to take a rest. But now the muse is back, dancing with me, and I'm delighting in the richness I see all around. May the muse dance with you too!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Red in autumn

 Red leaves
Scuttle in gangs
Scratching the brickwork
 Or  fan out, spreading their glory,
while others drop to where they can dance more freely.
I lift my head to enjoy their bright bunting hanging out against the sky,
and my toes wriggle inside my autumn shoes, getting ready to dance with leaves.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Lemon in autumn

 New fruit

crowds the lemon grove:
unseemly jostling.
Boronia leaves
fan out
against a terracotta

 Flame tree turns


 this bright

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Creepy creatures, and what became of the pumpkins

 Around the time of our southern hemisphere Halloween, odd creatures appeared,
 like this gecko, caught in the outdoor washbasin at the bach,
 trying to escape, and eventually succeeding, but not before I snapped these photos.
 And then on the beach were bluebottles galore, strewn along the tide line,
 and a sea monster, stranded on the sand.
 My favourite pumpkin lantern from Halloween was carved by a man who had taken great care, and even threaded in a black cord to swing the lantern from.
And what became of the pumpkins? Some went to my friends' compost heap, but the insides of others were turned into pumpkin soup, with chives sprinkled on top and a dollop of quark. Delicious.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Barefoot through the hinterland

 Come with me; we are going to take off our shoes and walk through the hinterland.
 I always loved that word, from when I first learned it at school. It means 'the land behind the coast', [German hinter: behind, plus land).
I think of it as 'the hidden land'.
The hinterland we are going through today is a wide band that has become increasingly vegetated as the dunes stabilise and a succession of plants takes root. First the dune grasses came in, then lupins and flax, and now karo, pohutukawa and other trees.
 Sometimes our way seems easy, and our bare feet follow other feet through sandy pathways. There's a comfort in knowing that others have found the way.
 And at other times the growth is so dense that the way through is not at all clear. There are false trails, where others have tried to force their way forward. We must beware of these, or we could easily get tangled and lost. Other people's footsteps are not always reliable.
 Let's think through the soles of our feet.
Suddenly a pheasant whirrs out of the lupins like a mini motorbike starting up. It flies off fast, but not before I've glimpsed its fine autumn dress coat.
We will forgo the straight way ahead and skirt around to the left, staying high so we can see a pathway.
 And sure enough, we are rewarded with a clear view, and a way through.
 Not far now. The sight of the sea lures us onward.
 And we are out! - looking back on the line of dunes, whose hinterland is well concealed. The sea is roaring today and the wind is brisk, lashing our faces. But it's not cold, and the freshness is reviving.
And what's this? whizzing along the beach with great speed, making the most of the wind?
—and then disappearing into the misty haze of the distance. Somebody is having fun!
We came through, and found space, freedom and exhilaration.
Thank you for throwing off your shoes and walking through the hinterland with me.