My Favourite Window

June 30, 2011

What If...?


In the West, the comet appeared below the bloody shroud of evening. The sun had already dropped below the mountain tops and the comet hung in the aching twilight, between snow caps and the Nor’ west arch.  Isla sat against a wind turbine on her roof, watching the flare of sunset radiating across the cloud pall; watching the brilliance of red darkening to black overhead. The wind had dropped, and barely stirred her long and tangled hair. She sipped at a glass of gin and felt the relief of seeing this day to its end.  The Nor’ wester had blown all day; singing in the power lines, bowing the forest trees and churning the autumn leaves around the village, whipping dust from the scree slopes and driving it relentlessly down the great river valley. The valley was darkened now, but the braided waters, so blue in daylight, reflected the evening light. Like rivulets of blood thought Isla.

June 26, 2011

Sun Path

Ever since I visited New Grange in Ireland I have fancied a Solstice sun-path of my own.  Long before we brought Mowbray to this site, I had dreamed of building a house which contained a window or light box to acknowledge the limits of the Sun's rising.
There was nothing of that planning in the siting of Mowbray. Two weeks from the germ of an idea to the house's placement on the land, left little time for fine-tuning, in what was really a rescue operation.
But serendipity played a hand, and the rising sun does indeed shaft through my front door and along the hallway at this time of the year.
From the Skudder House my mother used to watch the rising sun creeping closer and closer to the MDF mill; her heel stones were its steam towers turned to molten gold with the promise of longer days to come.

Sweet Solstice Tart
What with the glut of quince and feijoas this year, I thought that they deserved a place on our Midwinter Dinner table. Cooked quince loses its gritty texture but feijoas retain it.

Peel and core 2 or 3 quinces,
chop flesh into bite-sized pieces
and simmer - just covered with water -as you would apples,
for about 5 mins or until soft.
Peel and slice half a dozen feijoas to complement quince pieces.
 Lay a sheet of prepared puff or short pastry on a floured baking tray.
Scatter drained quince and feijoa slices
over pastry with a handful of big sticky raisins.
Drizzle over half a cup of crabapple or quince jelly,
which has been heated with a couple of tablespoons of water.
Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for about 20 minutes.
Serve with cream or ice-cream or custard
or all three!
(Stickily good eaten cold next day)

June 24, 2011

Winter Solstice

Surely, where tibouchina petals fall, mid-winter conditions cannot be too severe?  Not in glenny Kelburn under the eaves of the Botanic Gardens.
But admiring the view from the top of Mt Victoria, I was glad to have brought my feather-down jacket with me to Wellington. 
Mindful of Christchurch sinking two metres around the coastal areas over the past nine months, it is heartening to consider that earthquakes can also gift land to mankind.

This isthmus straddling the water, was lifted out of the sea by the 8.2M earthquake which struck Wellington in 1855, providing flat land for housing and eventually Wellington Airport.

The topography of Wellington - including the scene above - is richly inhabited with taniwha and their tales of endeavour and despair. These dragon-esque creatures from Maori folklore are found everywhere that the land humps and heaves and folds around water.  This one on the gates of Paekakariki School wears flowers in its hair.

But the real reason for my
visit to Wellington, was to join other New Zealand Morris dancers for some Solstice levity.  Based in Paekakariki, we danced in Porirua and Pauatahanui, and into the night at our Saturday Ale. 

These Winter Solstice festivities are hosted annually, by Wellington Morris sides: White Rose, and Brittanic Bedlam Morris Gentlemen.

Purple glory bush, Princess flower  Tibouchina urvilleana

June 14, 2011


The Lyttelton Timeball Station was destroyed yesterday.  Part of the tower, and the ball had withstood the February Earthquake but the second of the two strong shocks yesterday reduced this remarkable timekeeper to rubble.  I painted it onto an English Canalware dipper, as a reminder of home, about twenty years ago.  Now the romanticised scene - with a Southerly front topping the hills - is a reminder of the past in more ways than one.  There's not much Past left around Christchurch after yesterday...

Even before the 6.3 Earthquake struck yesterday, the earlier 5.7 had unnerved us all, and seeing emergency demolition work in progress in Rangiora added to the feeling of vulnerability and helplessness.  Christchurch people are feeling completely worn down, and the winter temperatures make power cuts unbearable. 

Ashley still provides a tranquil haven, with full services, even though timber-built Mowbray rattles and staggers on its piles.  I have been meaning to capture the softness of unopened wattle buds in the village, but seeking distraction yesterday evening, I noticed that there are already fluffy pompoms on show. 

Wattle, Cootamundra wattle, Mimosa  Acacia baileyana

June 11, 2011

Winter Interest

"I see the ghosts have been messing about," says Lady Mondegreen, wryly. "I wish they'd clean up after themselves."  

But these fungus baskets or in Maori, the droppings of ghosts, are one of winter's wonders.  Although they are indigenous to New Zealand they appear readily around the Secret Garden where old Pinus radiata roots are decaying underground.  In the year following a destructive wildfire here, the fungus baskets cropped prolifically along the roots radiating from a felled shelter belt.  The foetid soup inside the basket contains the spores.  This particular specimen has appeared in a spell of cold, damp weather; how can there be any flies about to feed, and spread the spores?

Other olfactary treats are appearing in the garden.  These dainty narcissus, which surprise non-gardeners with their winter appearance, have just opened outside the Skudder House

How long has there been a feijoa bush in the garden? Over 30 years I'm sure. Has there even been more than a handful of tiny hard suggestions formed on it?  This, being the year of new beginnings, I have been thinking that this particular sub-tropical creature, could make way for something that bears the easterly blast a little better.  But as if to beg for a reprieve, the ragged old bush, has showered the ground with fruit.
Not quite the sweet, aromatic quality that the children and I love about feijoas, but worth a little care and attention for another year or two...

Fungus basket, Tutae whatitiri  Ileodictyon cibarium
Narcissus sp
Feijoa, Pineapple guava  Feijoa sellowiana

June 6, 2011

Village Economy

In a tranquil setting...
on a long weekend, a local family invites neighbours
to join in a village garage sale...

with pony rides, and coffee and cake:

and the occasional lull in trade.

A day profitable in different ways, and Christchurch visitors noticeably replenishing their china cupboards.  It was touching to see one old man find a whole set of soup mugs identical to his broken ones.

The quakes don't let up - a 5.5 magnitude aftershock shook Canterbury again this morning. 

But to return to china - and a remarkable set I was shown this afternoon.

The war-time austerity of un-patterned Dainty Shelley-ware
takes on new significance when it sits in the collection of a couple whose home was destroyed by fire, shortly after the September Earthquake.  Dick retrieved from the ashes, and lovingly cleaned the complete bone china tea set; now, in all its defiant fragility, it brings continuity to Dick and Pam's new house.

Because Dick and Pam have re-built on the old site, their modest new house sits in its established garden, with fruit trees and vegetable garden and flower beds full of promise. 
Some of the plants still bare the scars of the fiery blast.  The  lemon tree beside a charred fence is recovering lush growth and will surely bear fruit again.

June 3, 2011

Winter Bright

Amidst the business of bringing in
 the winter firewood and clearing my house
for the Earthquake Commission decorators,
I have found time to work around the garden.
It seems to me that as Winter deepens, there are signs of 
Life's continuity all around me.

The marsh marigolds have been flowering for over a week now - glossy in leaf and bloom.

And today I noticed, thrusting through a boundary fence, this beautiful early-flowering Kowhai.  It is a garden variety probably selected from the wild, and 'Dragons Gold'
springs to mind, but I can't be sure. 

Through a self-sown spinney of birch and cotoneaster the swamp cypress spires, still wearing its coat of Venetian red.

The quince tree has borne an abundant crop this year. 
Not having time to use much of it I have taken cartons
 of the fruit to Jill, who with a team of volunteers,
makes jams and jellies, chutneys and sauces for charity. 
Just a few fruit remain on the tree, hard to distinguish from the big yellow leaves.

And as if to remind me of winter's leafless twigs,
a stick insect has appeared in the wood pile at the Skudder House.  Although I have released baby stick insects into the garden many years ago, I have never seen an adult one here.
This one is about 4 inches or 10 centimetres long in the body.
I am not  going to attempt to identify it as even the specialists aren't certain about species in New Zealand. 

Marsh marigold  Caltha palustris
Kowhai  Sophora microphylla
Birch Betula pendula
Cotoneaster sp
Quince  Cydonia oblonga