My Favourite Window

April 14, 2016

Heart Wood

The woodshed is all but empty.

Early in the day I tidied up the last of the small-wood I'd gathered to dry over summer. 

And I realised as I worked at my sawhorse, that today Elwin would have celebrated his 75th birthday. I remembered... because he made the sawhorse for one of my birthdays. He presented it with a hobby horse head, the children riding it into the bedroom dressed for chivalry with pruning saws for swords. I look back and think how his gifts like this one meant so much more to me than jewellery or lingerie or luxury holidays. A sawhorse is a perfect accessory for the forester in me!

Beechwood fires burn bright and clear
If the logs be kept a year
Oaken logs if dry and old
Keep away the winter cold
Chestnut's only good they say 
If for years 'tis laid away 
But ash-wood green or ash-wood brown
Are fit for a King with a golden crown.
Elm she burns like the churchyard mould
Even the very flames are cold
Birch and pine-wood burn too fast
Blaze too bright and do not last
But ash wet or dry 
A queen may warm her slippers by.

My stocks of various species are collected from my garden or the churchyard. I also buy to support fundraising efforts, as well as from local firewood merchants.  The rhyme above is an old English guide but here in New Zealand, I spurn poplar for its cold slow burn; I covet oak which does just as the rhyme says; I puzzle over gum, because the different varieties perform differently and I forget from year to year what burns how.  I accept pine gratefully; and would love to burn kanuka if it didn't mean clearing ancient stands to get good-sized logs. To my mind it is like oak - hot and long-burning once it's dry. Plum has similar qualities, and needs to season for a couple of years. There's plenty of that here, adding it's woodland magic to the Secret Garden.

By the end of the day I had taken delivery of twelve cubic metres of split macrocarpa or 'macro' as it is often marketed. I noticed that the firewood merchant wrote it as 'mack' when he made a note for me. It is in fact from Cupressus macrocarpa, introduced to NZ farmland because of its resistance to dry conditions, as Monterey cypress. The trees have an untidy but distinctive presence in the landscape. Here it is always called 'macrocarpa' never Monterey cypress.

Maybe there will be someone else to share my hearth and my heart with one day. I would like that: for today though my thoughts are for the richness Elwin added to my life.

Macrocarpa, Monterey cypress Cupressus marcrocarpa
Pine, radiata pine, Monterey pine Pinus radiata
Oak Quercus robur, and other species
Kanuka Kunzea ericoides
Gum Eucalyptus spp
Plum Prunus cerasifera
Poplar Populus spp

March 5, 2016

Autumn Tints

I haven't forgotten the garden, especially as Autumn brings cooler nights, mellow days... and another flush of roses. This one is 'Compassion.'

February 15, 2016

Shake A Leg

The Valentine's Day earthquake has put a new twist on this review of the annual New Zealand Morris Tour. Two year's ago I put my hand up to organise the 2016 gathering of Morris dancers. I was particularly keen to draw on the post- earthquake recovery vibe around Canterbury as my theme, before the Rebuild was complete and the creative energy had been replaced by a new steel and glass Christchurch.

A month ago, two years of planning and five days of tripping around Christchurch and the Waimakariri district came to a satisifying end. 

Visitors from around the country as well as from overseas, especially those who hadn't visited the area since the February 2011 earthquake, felt moved at seeing close-up, some of the sites - and sights - which played over and over again on news footage following that disaster five years ago. 

Some also expressed awe and dismay at the magnitude of land clearance, observing that they could only understand it once they were standing amongst it all.

But yesterday's 5.7 magnitude quake brings the safety fences, the barriers of shipping containers, and the fear back into sharp relief. These when will they be gone, features proved their worth yesterday, particularly around Sumner where cliffs and rock faces crumbled spectacularly.

A reminder of our frailty; a reminder to love well, to enjoy the life we lead; and not place too much value on tangible possessions.

Back to the Tour then!

Kitty made me proud - and  wistful because Elwin wasn't here  - to see her play melodeon for the Morris for the first time in public.

When she could get a break from work Bryony joined us

 - as a groupie - delighted to see old friends from our years in Wellington.

We did indeed take an ex-London bus - for a night out at The Twisted Hop. The route the driver took from Kaiapoi to Woolston was an unexpected treat in itself. The sun was low and bathing the familiar countryside of pasture, market gardens, and Red Zoned riverside, with an evening glow. Even the sewerage ponds and estuary with all the water birds settling for the night looked beautiful with the back drop of the Port Hills sculpted by the light. I drive this route regularly but had never seen it from the top of double decker bus before! 

Earlier in the day the group danced in Rangiora, meeting the maker of our badges, Caroline Travella of Bizzart, in Good St.

I was a bit disappointed that our dance spots in Rangiora did not reflect the Rebuild. I'd watched Conway Lane being developed over the last eight months and thought it would be very celebratory to dance there. It is a new and well thought out collaboration between Council and business owners, but I couldn't get approval to perform there.  

Dancing in Victoria Park had very little to do with the Rebuild but everything to do with showing off a place dear to me. From my earliest childhood visits to the playground, through my time as a gardener learning my craft there and any number of fairs, markets and picnics, this park is part of my being. But showing visitors around always opens up new awareness. People commented on the huge size of the two oak trees, something I take for granted. We were certainly grateful for their shade.

On our day in Christchurch we managed to see and dance at some of the best known features, not all of them at Rebuild stage...

Cathedral Square 

Re:Start Mall

The Dance o Mat

The Margaret Mahy Family Playground

Along with the evening bus ride I think the morning tea hosted by the Pines and Kairaki Beach Association was one of my personal favourites on the Tour programme.

So much of these two beach settlements were made uninhabitable by the September 2010 earthquake, yet the residents maintain a strong and unified community. Members spoke to us about the Residents' Association history and also how lessons learned from the Canterbury quakes were used to inform Wellington's earthquake readiness. 

It seemed strange that with the land cleared and all the homely back gardens gone, the Pines Beach Hall actually had a lovely treed one to host us in. The hall itself is damaged and we could only venture in a few at a time to view the history display of the area.

Later that day we danced at the Brick Mill Cafe which is part of a larger historic twine mill at Waikuku. The building is an ongoing labour of love for its owners, Paul and Jeni Sanderson. They have managed to strengthen it using ingenuity and their own labour, running it as a cafe, gift shop, art gallery and antiques shopping destination.

For a sobering end to the week's outings we joined Joseph Hullen of Ngai Tahu for a fascinating tour of the local Kaiapoi Pa site. Joseph coloured his talk with, botany, archaeology, and New Zealand history, but tempered that with his own familial links to the site. Everyone agreed that his humble and non judgemental approach brought the site to life. 

Being in that place, where poor governance and betrayal lead to a horrific massacre, was also a reminder to me that no matter how distressing the Canterbury earthquakes have been, they are an act of Nature, not mankind against mankind. 

The seismologists tell us that there are still another 25 years or so of after shocks - like yesterday's - ahead of us. They will be part of the rest of my life. I hope that even though I feel my dancing days are over, Morris dancers will continue to be family of mine for the rest of my life. As 13 year old Myles said in his television interview "Everyone's nice". 

9 year old Ewan had this to say about his dancing holiday: Tour this year was AMAZING!!! The best parts were riding on the double decker bus, having lots of fun at the Ale and playing at the Margaret Mahy playground. I absolutely loved dancing and riding on the tram. The food was delicious, I had pizza, Chinese and Indian. The trip to Sumner was AWESOME, especially climbing the rocks. Thank you to the organisers and I’m looking forward to next Tour.

The youngsters attending this tour showed that a new generation is moving up, with Myles, Kitty, 11 year old Hamish, and Ewan, all having grown up around Morris dancing. It's too early to tell whether 4 month old Rowan who was also on Tour is going to follow in his father's footsteps.

January 10, 2016

NZ Morris Dancing Tour 2016

2016 New Zealand Morris Tour
Sunday 10th – Friday 15th January 

Public Appearances

Monday 11 Jan:
11.45 am – 12.30 pm: The Tannery, post-Earthquake Boutique Shopping Centre, Woolston.
2.30 pm – 3.30 pm: Sumner by the Seaside.

Tuesday 12 Jan:
 1.30 – 2.30 pm: Good Street mall,  Rangiora.
 3.30 – 4.30 pm: Victoria Park, Rangiora.
 7.45 pm: The Twisted Hop In Woolston.

Wednesday 13 Jan:
10.00 – 11 am: Cathedral Square
11.30 am – 12.30 pm: Re:Start Mall
Also dancing at other points around the central city.
3.30 pm Dux Central Brew Bar.

Thursday 14 Jan:
10.30 – 11.15 am: The Pines Beach Oval
2.00 pm The Mill, Waikuku

For the full programme see:

January 1, 2016

The Year Behind Me

So many photos sit in my files that don't see the light of day. 
I've chosen twelve for this post; not one for each month, but rather for the memories and milestones they mark.

In January I made a point of sleeping in the Skudder House, not in any of my old bedrooms, but for the first time in the house in thirty years. The room I did sleep and breakfast in is flooded with sunlight all morning. A few years ago the Google Maps image for this address showed my mother sitting in her chair in the sun, just an obscure internal shape to any other viewer, but familiar and dear to me. 

After the demolition of the Farmers building in Rangiora, the waste ground came alive, at first a sea of green, and then a vast crop of waist-high fat hen. Because Rangiora is historically a farming town, and fat hen is a weed of crop and pasture land, there were some vitriolic letters to the editor about it being allowed to flourish. 'Spray it' was the cry. All credit to the project manager who didn't. This land had last been open to the elements in 1918. Historic fat hen indeed.

This year another large block of land in the Ashley village was developed for housing. Five houses from Red-zoned land in Christchurch were trucked here - no - only four of them made it. One caught fire while passing under - and clearing - power lines during a wet and stormy night. Insurance cover means one of the houses is a 'new build.' The developer went to a lot of effort to arrange the houses in a sociable and community minded manner, and they do look good now. But the quiet country village that I grew up in will soon be a suburb of Rangiora.

What with the limitations of arthritis and other foot conditions, I haven't danced as much this year as I would have liked. But I did join a sewing bee in June to make a set of tatter coats for the Tussock Jumpers Morris Dancers. We gathered in Michelle's sun drenched house overlooking the city and in spite of keeping our mind on the job of sewing narrow fabric strips, in rows, onto base coats, had a good time together.

Kitty and I visited another favourite city of ours in June. We lived in Wellington for two years when she was little; we visit regularly; we have friends who live nearby; but we had never quite got around to seeing Katherine Mansfield's Birthplace. Kitty reads and has an appreciation of KM's writing so with that awareness she was ready for this visit. The entry fee was very modest and the house is lovingly presented; a poignant introduction to the writer's difficult but talented life.

I look at this photo and think, Is that really my garden? I took it following a prolonged hail fall. Maybe because it was winter the hail didn't pass quickly and violently as it does in the summer. It 'rained' gently for about ten minutes leaving a thick layer of fine ice highlighting the contours of the land.

During another trip away, to join Morris friends in Nelson, I rejoined Judy afterwards at her home in Queen Charlotte Sound, in Marlborough. Here she is on her beach deck! She and her husband John operate a delightful B and B or Homestay. Here is the link

In September, the Skudder House had visitors. Ernie Skudder, who I have met before in Rotorua, brought family with him to see the house for the first time. His daughter, Bev, is the great, great granddaughter of Thomas and Hannah Skudder who built this house. How strange that she opened my eyes to something I'd never noticed before: afternoon light coming through a window beyond this one and flooding this room. Bev is a photographer too. I wonder how her photos turned out.

At the end of September I joined the fly team for The Wizard of Oz. Oh boy, I never imagined I would be drawn to this element of theatre, but a tour after the Rangiora Town Hall was re-opened, left me in awe of those upper spaces. Really, I want to go even higher, into the roof space above the auditorium with its walkways and the great curved timbers supporting the vaulted ceiling, just looking like any other lathe and plaster from above. I found my strength on the fly floor was on 'comms' relaying the calls from the stage manager to the fly boys. 

Although the new Ashley, Cones Rd bridge was opened in March the old one wasn't demolished until October - pretty spectacular and in spite of its scale, done in a methodical and orderly way.  This area is also a rare bird nesting site, and all the bridge work over the past two years has been done with strict limitations on the field of operation.

Recently I wrote about an old riverside kowhai tree that hadn't yet flowered, but it did: about three weeks later than usual. I got back with my camera when the seed pods had begun to form. Those long silky filaments will eventually fatten into the shape of the old pods, still showing on this tree.

And what better way to finish the year than with a family picnic down beside the River. Yes it's the middle of summer and there are a lot of scarves and warm jackets! My brother, Hugh, took this photo. His daughters, Livvy and Jess are second in on both sides of the table, next to Kitty and me. At the far end are my sister Ingrid and her son, Rowan. Her daughter, Alys is forward of her sitting opposite Bryony. We had a good ramble afterwards, and promised each that we should do this more often!

Fat hen Chenopodium album
Kowhai Sophora microphylla

December 26, 2015

Christmas Joys

They are many, but for me they need sorting from the other highlights of December in New Zealand. I keep customs like decorating the tree until after I have observed the Summer Solstice around the 21st December. Some of the Christmas joys are quite unexpected like the appearance of this family of California Quail on the road outside our house on Christmas Eve.

The quail were a distraction as I made final preparations for the Ashley Carol Service. The Church of St Simon and St Jude was full, and the interdenominational service, lead this year by Baptist pastor Jonathan Melville, was uplifting and reflective in equal measure. 

Supper in the churchyard afterwards is always a sociable and satisfying point for me - knowing that the Committee's months of preparation have paid off, and that now I can turn my attention completely to my family.

Bryony and Kitty spend a lot of time wrapping their gifts with intricate care.

All of us enjoy writing and interpreting the puns and riddles we create for our gift labels. Unwrapping our presents together is as much a time of appreciating each other's mental processes and creativity as it is pleasure in the tangible gifts.

And then it's time for Christmas brunch. Bryony has taken this on for the last couple of years and working in a cafe kitchen has honed her food preparation and presentation skills. This was our main meal of Christmas Day and I have no regrets that there was nothing 'traditional' about it. 

Surely these two daughters of mine are my greatest Christmas joys, but I must mention the final joy of Christmas Day, which many of you will have shared, and that is the full moon. How brilliant its light was as we returned from an evening with extended family. In this part of the world it was certainly not a Full Cold Moon. Its warm summer light gilded the architecture of this house and I fell asleep in a room full of moonbeams.