Wednesday, October 29, 2014


How can we ensure that the younger generation are connected with the movements of nature, and come to care for this earth as dearly as their own selves?
In Maori, whenua means 'land'. It also means 'placenta'.
Just as the placenta feeds life-giving blood and nutrients to a babe in the womb, so does a child's connection with the land feed her soul. Burying the placenta in the earth creates a bond that will be deep and strong. (See this beautiful post on the Home Birth Association website)
The little one made her first trip to the bach when she was just a few months old. Her father buried her whenua at the base of a young kauri tree that I had planted several decades ago.  It is shooting up into the light.

The kauri is now 'her tree', the first place to visit when she comes out here. The land has a way of calling to her and for some time she's been asking to come out to stay. Now at six and a half, on Labour weekend, I brought her out for her first, long-awaited sleepover.
What a joy it is to be with a child who has found her place in nature. She trots off down the bush paths to explore, or sits in a flax 'hut' listening to the wind and the sound of the birds. She picks up leaves, twigs and pieces of bark to hold or arrange on the ground. She wanders along the nearby stream, watching the water, the waving grasses and the flashing wings of the kingfishers.
The whenua of my first granddaughter was buried after she died at six weeks, and a dwarf kowhai tree planted for her. Every time I tend the kowhai, I think of her.

For many reasons, my second granddaughter has not really bonded with the land. The placenta of this granddaughter, who is now a young adult, was lost because of a power cut. When I mentioned this to some Maori women last summer, they said that the whenua should never be put in the fridge or freezer because doing so affects its life energy. It should be buried in a pot of earth, and in this way kept until it is ready for its final resting place in the ground. And so this was done after the new baby was born this year.
It was time for the new baby to visit the bach for the first time, and for her placenta to be buried in the land.
After two and a half months, the whenua had become absorbed into the soil inside the pot, making it rich and dark. See the difference between this and the surrounding earth.
Her kowhai tree is planted, and with it her connection with the land. May this tree grow to full height. May these young ones grow up to love and protect this earth, which needs more care than ever before. And may the land feed their souls in return.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


 The shadow falls in any season, even in spring when nature is singing its heart out and growth is surging everywhere.
 There is no one season for making a crossing out of this life. As I walked along the waterfront near my city home, I contemplated the passing of a beloved elder of Te Henga.
 I thought of her soul, sailing onwards after a long life of hard work and generous giving. We first met when I returned home from Paris with a broken heart to bring up my two-year-old son in the area that she also called home. She gave me loving support through those years of solo parenting.

What I didn't know until my last visit to her, was that we shared roots in Taranaki, where she also grew up. Her father, the magistrate in New Plymouth, was friends with my grandfather, who was the policeman in Inglewood. They both held a vision of restorative justice, long before this term was coined. They wanted to rehabilitate the young, and not to punish them in a way that secured their future as criminals.
 Her funeral was held, fittingly, beside the river and the sand hills that she loved so much, and alongside the home where she and her husband raised six children. Over many weeks they took my son into their home and gave him the experience of being part of a large and loving family while I travelled overseas. Such acts of kindness are never forgotten.
Hundreds came to the funeral, bearing their own tales of what they had received from this woman of gentle strength.
This was not a day for taking photos, and my attempt is out of focus.
 At the funeral I learned about other, more deeply intertwined roots: of her family with the Maori tribe of this area: Te Kawerau a Maki. Their connection went back several generations, to when her ancestor 'Pa' Bethell first came to the west coast and began to farm. Members of the family were dandled on the knees of tohunga and taught to chant karakia (prayers) when they were little children.
 Gusts of wind shook the marquees, songs were sung and a karakia was resoundingly chanted by Te Warena Taua, Chair of Te Kawerau Iwi Tribal Authority.
Te Warena generously supported me when I was writing 'Celebrating the Southern Seasons' in the early 1990s. He made the Auckland Museum archives available and helped me to find many old books that yielded their secrets of Maori seasonal observances. We greeted one another warmly, united in grief.

In 'Celebrating the Southern Seasons' I wrote of a vision of bicultural healing:

'The roots of the oak touch the roots of the pohutukawa in sacred soil. We nourish our connection; we nourish our respect. And from here . . . we may begin the healing that makes productive and creative relationship possible.' 
A rousing haka by a group of young Maori men broke out as the land rover slowly drove away with the coffin. Tears ran down my cheeks as I made my way back home. My heart was also full of hope: that out of deep roots of love and respect, flourishing through the generations, different peoples can live together in harmony.
R.I.P. Elizabeth Alice Wheeler (Ibby)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Savage spring

Fierce storms have wrecked havoc at the bach.
Savage spring sent ferocious gusts that tugged and ripped until all resistance was gone.
 Felled is the lofty kanuka that has stood for over 50 years a sentinel at the corner.
Who guards the guardians?
The tree was sound, with no trace of rot. Maybe it was slashed by lightning. Nature has many methods.
Savage spring has torn branches off younger trees and flung them casually over the pathways.
 Nikau fronds were whipped off and disdainfully cast through the inner sanctuary of the flax bush.
 But the same power is unsheathing the new season's strong shoots,
driving weeds up through the pathways, scattering onion weed over the banks, 
bolting through broccoli and rocket, sending it to seed before it's had time to produce,
filling the silver beet with dark nutrients,
 and finally, as if in an act of contrition, offering up a single flower.
There have been times when I too have been rent asunder, slashed and tattered.
Life, like nature, has its savage seasons. But nature also brings new life and new energy.  The blood of wounding is also the blood of regeneration.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A little piece of magic

It's spring, the storms have subsided, and adventure is in the air. Time to feel young again, and to spend time with the young.
 It's nearly the end of the school holidays, and the little one (who is six) and I set out on an adventure. We take the green bus to Parnell, and step across the road to a large shop window that is full of delight.
 A large flock of fairies appears, each of them dancing on golden strings. In spring the imagination comes alive, and I've already told the story that prepared the little one for the adventure.
 The story is about the lone fairy, who is feeling sad because while she sees other fairies being lovingly chosen and taken home, she is still waiting, feeling that no-one will ever want her.
 Could it be that one, or maybe one of these? — the ladybird fairy perhaps, or the pohutukawa fairy?
 Or what about the blue elf-like one, or the one in white? Each one is liked best, and the choice feels impossible. So we narrow it down: Should the chosen one be wearing a cap, or have hair? (Hair, definitely). What colour should she be? (Blue or green). What about the wings? (strong) and the dress (frilly)? And so, by process of elimination, slowly the choice is made.
 She is put in a special box, and photographed in a flower garden outside a cafe.
She is the surf fairy, one who knows all about the ocean, how to ride a wave and enjoy the sparkling waters. The little one loves the surf too. So her choice is perfect. The adventure is complete and the little piece of spring magic shines in the dark cave of memory.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Wind Woman

 Have you met the wind woman?
 She's here today, howling around my home,
 tickling the leaves,
 pushing the trees, and tearing their hair.
 She was here yesterday, and the day before, hurling branches on to the roadways.
 The eastern suburbs of the city have been without power because the substation caught fire. Maybe this wasn't the work of the wind woman, but sometimes other mischief gets done when the wind woman is distracting everyone's attention.
 I first met her when I was a child, back in the days of reading Anne of Green Gables.
 That's when I learned that she could be a friend also, a reminder of the power in the elements and the power in me, to scour out, clear away, tear up what is old, unwanted and finished with. At the end of winter a lot of mustiness and debris has gathered and needs to be torn away.
 The wind woman stole my pale blue bucket lid, and search as I might, I cannot find it. But she also sweeps up rubbish with her big wide broom, and carries it away, never to be seen again.
When the wind woman finally is ready to sleep, and the mess has been cleaned up, a fresh start will be possible. Then, maybe, sweet spring will show her maiden face and the earth will sigh with relief and happiness.