Sunday, June 30, 2013

The feeding edge

 The sun lingers on the inner harbour at the end of the day, and all is still.
The concrete wall at the jetty is as warm as toast, even though the day is filled with winter chill, nippy winds and freezing wells of shade. But here I can snatch half an hour to do my tai chi and sit in the sun.
 People disappear from the inner harbour beaches once the tide goes out. The sand gives way to layers of mud and weed. It becomes squelchy and hard to walk on. But out there at the tide's edge, visitors are flocking in to feed. This is the place of the kai moana, food from the sea. It's rich with nutrients: tiny fish, sea snails and all the little morsels that seabirds love.
Gulls, waders and herons are busy dipping their beaks in and out of the rich mud. Meanwhile I sit with my back against the wall, and watch. Soon I too will feed, but for now watching the birds feasting is enough.
When I studied ecology I was told that estuaries are some of the most fertile places on earth:  the 'nurseries of the sea' in fact. This inner harbour feels estuarine, with its quiet rhythms and tides that come and go while yachts bob contentedly on the surface.
I think how often I seek the edge in my inner worlds, and how my creative spirit is fed by rich pickings beyond the conventional trails. As I watch the birds feeding, I feel a oneness with them. I find myself dipping for words, seeking to pull up a poem. It hasn't quite emerged yet, but in the quiet of winter I know it's there, waiting maybe for another tide. One of the gifts of winter is that everything slows down. There's no rush.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Of suns, moons and magic

 In the cold, frosty night after the storm had cleared, the full moon beamed down on us.
 Meanwhile, by day I played with the sun, as if that would help it to return more quickly,
 and the little one played with the shells again, creating 'butterflies' from matching pairs.
 I kept thinking of sun beams,

while she made a trail of special shells. 'Look, the snail made a trail like a heart!'
There was enough warmth in the sun to go outside and play with bubbles: another little moon perhaps.
In the depth of winter, life becomes simple. And there is space for magic.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Which Solstice?

Which Solstice is it for you today? If you are in the northern hemisphere, today is summer solstice.
Here in the southern hemisphere, we are in the chill and dark of winter.
But today is winter solstice, the turning of the sun.
 On my walk I found these strange purple fruit hanging from a hedge. Further along, I found another hedge that was putting forth purple leaves. This dark, sultry shade speaks to me of winter solstice: the longest night, the shortest day, the darkest time. But also the time of the return of the sun.
 'Summer is on its way,' said a broadcaster today on the radio. With snow, hail, and thunderstorms sweeping the country, it certainly doesn't feel as if warmth is imminent. Yet knowing the sunlight will be increasing from today brings comfort.
On my return home I cut up my favourite sun fruit and popped the segments into my mouth, one by one. Sun on the inside.
I also picked up some DVDs and have some good books on order, all ready for a snug weekend while the cold winds rage. These are satisfying winter solstice activities.
For you in the north, what will you be doing for summer solstice and what will you be eating?
We are at the polar opposites of the year. I greet you across the hemispheres, across the extremes of dark and light, cold and warm. Happy solstice to all!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The stones are black, she said

 'Look granny, the stones are black,' said the little one as we breakfasted after her sleepover in the weekend.
The rain was driving into the balcony, over the planter boxes and into places that are usually quite dry.
 There's something snug about sitting inside in the warm
 and watching a storm lashing its way across the skies and trees,
 bringing with it great darkness, and then a certain lurid light
 that does its best to break through as the day goes on,
until finally the storm passes. A great sigh has been breathed. The streets are littered with debris but the air is clear.
Sometimes storms pass on the outside, and sometimes on the inside. Whichever way it is, there's often a sense of peace afterwards: the calm after the storm. Often there's some mopping up to do, but then I become aware of greater clarity, and gratitude. Storms are nature's way of clearing. Another is lashing the country right now.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The red, the green, and the wise one speaks

 The little one loves shells. To her, they are pure treasure. And so when she came to visit this afternoon, I had a box of my special shells waiting for her. I'd discovered it at the bach, and was glad I'd kept it so long without knowing why. While she made little suns out of trumpet shells, I lined up these special little violet shells that sometimes appear on the west coast beaches after a storm. It would have taken many months to collect this many.
The little one looked up and saw what I was doing: 'It's a singing group,' she said.
Here she is, with her sun and butterflies.
I played some more, and she looked up again. 'It's a bunch of grapes, granny.'
We took advantage of a fine patch in the weather, and went down to the beach. There she found a very special stone: smooth all round, and quite like any other she'd ever found.
'It's soft like a cat and I can hold it against my cheek.'
While she searched the beach for special shells, I played with leaves.
She ran back to see what I was doing, and to give her commentary.

'It's going from red to green so it's turning back to when its not dying,' she said. 

Her words took my breath away.
My play was idle, unconscious. I wasn't thinking at that moment of my friend who is sick in hospital, or another who has a serious diagnosis, or another . . . I could go on.
So that's what I was doing, playing with restoring the green, the resilience; turning back the clock, wanting to reverse the harsh onward march of life.
Being in the company of an almost five-year-old is sometimes like keeping company with a sage.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Welcoming Matariki

 As Matariki - the Maori new year - approaches, the light changes.
 The winter light turns thin and watery, casting deep shadows.
 In the sky, a lost constellation is due to appear.
Over the weekend, I went out to the bach. When I went outside at night, and stood enveloped in the complete darkness that can be found out in the wilds, I noticed how bright the stars were. I knew it must be new moon, and that very soon, Matariki — the Pleiades — would be peeping over the eastern horizon at dawn.
 Walking to the beach with some golden sand and white stone chips in my bag, and a hot flask of ginger tea to fortify me against the biting easterly, I searched for some smooth black sand on which to do my rituals. The first arrangement was suddenly swept away by a tidal surge that arrived without warning around the promontory.
 I made another on a different piece of sand, that seemed safe. Just as one might shine a little mirror to guide a balloon or flying creature to its landing place, there I was creating little Matariki mirrors to greet the returning stars.
To Maori, the ancestors reside in these stars, and to be without the wisdom of the ancestors is to be bereft. And so Matariki was greeted with chants and action songs, and even tears, for Matariki is the home of those who have died.
 Matariki was the bringer of food, and marked not only a new cycle of growth but also the bird hunting season, when this prized delicacy was caught, cooked and preserved in its own fat in gourds.
Ka kitea a Matariki, na kua maoka te hinu: When the Pleiades are seen, then the preserved flesh is cooked.'
 My greeting rituals for Matariki became freer and more fluid just before I left.
 Welcome, Matariki kainga kore (homeless/wandering Matariki). Welcome Matariki, the eyes of the gods.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Last words

It's a year today since my old school teacher, Jim Okeroa, died. I still miss him.

This photo was taken when I went to Taranaki to launch my memoir, Touching Snow.

It's a favourite book, because it tells of my childhood and the years spent with this special teacher. As a result of writing the memoir, I tracked him down. He wept when he read about himself, and the influence he had on me as a child.

His death notice in the paper ends with these words:

Po atarau, E moea iho nei

They mean 'Now is the hour, when we must say goodbye', and are the first lines of a well known song that is sung in both Maori and English, to farewell travellers.

It's a fitting farewell song for my dear teacher. Here it is sung by St Joseph's Girl's choir.

and here by the Willow singers. I haven't shared a video link before and can't get it to embed, but if you click the link you should be able to hear it.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Poetry along the pathways

 Last weekend I attended a poetry workshop in a little room situated in a beautiful garden. Eden Garden was hewn out of a quarry and is like an oasis of calm in the midst of the city.
Writing poetry means being willing to sit and be still,
to take a little climb into a different realm,
 to let a shower of rain refresh your soul;
to be open to surprise,
 and moments of beauty.
 The rays of sun illumine the pathways, showing where a filigree of shadow sits, and leading you onward in search of colour.
Then you find a nook, a place of shelter,
and then you have it. A poem has appeared, you have shaped it, and it rises well-formed.

Poetry along the pathways.

I seek simplicity
and fullness in one.
A stain of cornflower
blue seeps across
a page.
Dipping my pen,
a poem inscribes itself
across the blue.
This is enough.
I am complete. 
©Juliet Batten