Walking in nature

As we become more aware of what we are doing to the planet, there are more books and studies being published about the benefits of being connected with nature. It’s ironic that the only way to make this significant to us selfish humans is to point out how it’s useful to us – in fact, our existence depends upon it.

I’ve been longing to be in native bush again. Stevenson’s Island is the closest I’ve managed so far, and parts of my morning walk today to Beacon Point.

There is a “tide mark” of driftwood from the flood. As at the beach, people seem to be drawn to building structures with it.

As you can see, there is a mix of native and exotic vegetation.

Some property owners have planted native species.

The flowering hebe is thriving.

Other owners prefer a traditional, romanticised environment.

Weeping willow with swing, swathes of lawn, and a summer house.
A welcome seat amongst poplars which give Central Otago its famous autumn colours.

Invasive plants, invasive rabbits, invasive humans and their luxury developments, invasive species of all kinds – yet the beauty of the lake remains – for now.

Beacon Point

Afterword: Some reading on the topic of connecting with nature: NZ Listener article “The Spirit of the Land” (Jan 11). The Overstory by Richard Powers (winner of 2019 Pulitzer Prize for fiction).

On the lake

We’ve sat on the balcony watching the Wanaka Cruises’ launch, Dual Image, go up the lake and back every day when we are here. So, I booked a trip to Stevenson’s Island.

Heading up the lake on a hot, breezy afternoon.

The launch is very nice with lots of places to sit and watch the familiar, and then less familiar, bays and hills go by.

Rather disturbingly, the mountains were partly obscured by smoke from the Australian bush fires.

On Stevenson’s Island we learnt that the Buff Weka had been saved from extinction on this predator-free island. They have since been widely distributed about the South Island. Although they are no longer on the island, we saw a lot of little birds including fantails, piwakawaka and a little black duck with even smaller fluffy ducklings.

We had the option of swimming or exploring the island.

The island is sub-alpine, I guess, so the vegetation is quite low kanuka mixed scrubland. There are also species of kowhai and totara which are suited to this altitude. A community project is working to restore rata to the island which was depleted by the possums and rabbits before they were eradicated.

I had to wait for a pause between wind gusts to photograph these tiny flowers.
View from the top of the island

The dozen or so people on board were from Denmark, France, UK, US and Asia. But the skipper was from Invercargill! I spent most of the trip chatting to a Canadian woman about our travels, sailing experiences, art, the climate, politics and all manner of things over glasses of wine and beer on the way back.

Bush fire effect on the sunset that evening, seen from our balcony.

Wild Honey

Wild Honey Reading New Zealand Women’s Poetry by Paula Green is an impressive and absorbing commentary on the enormous scope of NZ women’s poetry.

Beautifully produced. Dust jacket and illustrations inside by Sarah Laing. Can you identify these poets?
Here are the names on the inside cover – and there’s a ribbon page marker

It’s a hefty book of 461 pages of the text itself, 571 if you count the biographical notes, footnoted references and index. All up, this makes an excellent book to read with immense enjoyment, and then refer back to later as you absorb what you have read. I marvelled as I read of the accomplishments of these poets. I was in awe of their work and of their personal achievements against the odds. I have many of the collections of poetry referred to in the book and now have those to enjoy again and again with a refreshed view and a wider perspective about how women’s poetry fits into a larger picture.

Green writes with profound inside knowledge of the art of poetry. A poet herself, she is involved in poetry at all levels – teaching, promoting and anthologising. She has a blog: NZ Poetry Shelf. This book must have taken ages and was written at her kitchen table rather than in her study. This makes a point about how women’s poetry has been criticised as overly concerned with domestic matters. These poems show how the domestic is central to human life: it matters. It is intrinsically linked to all our personal relationships and to our relationship with self, and to the world at large.

To emphasise the point, the book itself is organised into parts of the house: foundation stones, through parts of the house, and out into the garden and the world beyond. This book is clearly a labour of love (excuse the cliche – Green’s writing is never cliched) and it is a balance of subjective and academic response. It is wonderful and beautifully written.

Each section begins with an illustration and, often, a poem.
A hefty book and well worth reading.

I could have felt angry about how women poets have been treated by critics and publishers, but this was not the tone of the book. I just felt immense admiration, pride, and awe for these poets right up to the last page.

I’m the urban farmer, baby

As I clump about the place in my red band gumboots, smelling the farmyard smells chickens bring with them, I’m reminded of when I lived on a farm and a colleague commented that I was “playing at being a farmer”. I had numerous chooks and a goat and a large vegetable garden. A stray cat called by regularly. There were possums in the walnut tree at night. The furry beasts, with ghoulish red eyes, would screech and run along the verandah with hob-nail boots on, and I could hear rats behind the scrim walls of the old villa I rented.

Now, in my small city garden, as I toil in the service of the chooks, mixing up their mash at 6am, cleaning out the nesting box in the early afternoon, picking up their poop and burying it under the rhubarb or in the compost, fetching them greens and treats to vary their diet and marvelling at their quiet clucky chicken-ness, I feel a certain farmer-ish satisfaction.

Having solved their incursions into the garden by judicious use of the sprinkler, I am harvesting the fruits of my vegetable labours.

Home-grown tomatoes
Freshly-picked runner beans – no strings attached
Firm and squeaky courgettes. Just enough for a Carrot and Courgette Kugel.

And – drum roll, please – half a dozen eggs for a bacon and egg pie.

Bright yolks and firm shells

Free range

It has been chook chaos for a few days as Butter, Satay and Popcorn settled in and we figured out how to accommodate them. They found cosy spots to nest in pine needles under the raspberry bushes and in the rosemary and Mexican daisies.

Before you knew it, they’d be scratching in the vegetable garden. The netting and barricades of pots were no obstacle.

Several times, Satay, perching on the back of an outdoor chair began tapping on the window: “Let me in!”

It was time to restrict them to a corner of the garden. My sister and family got stuck in. The chooks took a great interest in everything – particularly when the ground was disturbed and they could fossick for insects.

Later in the day, steps up to the nesting box were assembled from paving stones as one of the chooks seemed to struggle to jump in when it was time to retire for the night.

Today the chooks showed little inclination to leave their enclosure when I opened the gate. Instead, they watched with close interest as I cleaned out their nesting box. I adjusted a climbing rose branch for them to perch on by tying it down with string to brick. With luck, the string won’t give way and send them in a flurry of feathers into orbit. The “sofa” of straw was soon pulled apart and analysed. They have shade and sun and the trees screen them from the house.

“This is not how I pictured spending my retirement,” I thought as I scooped poop yesterday. This morning, I was able to clean up the lawn and hose it down so it can be walked on without having to change into gumboots.

Only one of the chooks, Popcorn, appears to be laying – one egg a day. The other two may be a bit past it. This is not an economically viable undertaking then, with the purchase of hay, mash, pellets and seed and grit mix, not to mention all the materials used for making the nesting box and the enclosure. The rewards are on another level, perhaps. This was the first egg – a little miracle.

Avian invasion

Keeping chooks is a trend, but “The first piece of reality you need to know about chickens is that they’re actually gross” according to an article in this weekend’s Press. It’s true. But it was too late to go back on my promise to look after my niece’s chooks while she looks for a flat which will allow her to keep them.

I’ve kept chickens before – lots of them – when I was renting a house on a farm. There was a huge chicken house with perches, nesting boxes and a run. There was plenty of room for them. Not so in the city.

There is poop all over my lawn and my attempts to keep the darn things out of the vege garden have been futile. My latest strategy is to turn the sprinkler on – I suspect this will work.

I popped them into their nesting box last night. This morning they were up at 5.30am looking for breakfast.

As rescued chickens, they’re not letting an opportunity go by. They’ve investigated all corners of the garden, scratched in the borders, perched on the garden seat, wandered across the deck – pooping – and gazed enviously through the windows at our nesting box. One of them laid an egg in the garden, but the others pounced on it, leaving an empty broken shell.

I’ve been trying to see them as sort of cute…but are they in fact sort of sinister?

Daily Crafts

My Flow Keep Calm Daily Craft Book has got off to a good start. The first exercise was writing. The next one involved making a stencil and printing a pattern. This was more of a challenge, and involved cleaning out my desk drawers in search of materials. This took an hour or so of happy mucking about.

I unearthed a stash of calendars and pictures for card-making, my water colour paints and palette, stamps, and a book of stencils. The stencil book proved useful when my potato print stencil failed. It was much easier to cut out the pattern than around the pattern in the potato, and I ended up with a print that looks like a paua shell. So I tried some wooden stamps instead, which were far too pale and, finally, the stencils from the book which were much more successful.

Now, for a week, I am supposed to take photos of the same thing or place each day. I decided that since I’ve begun making my own rules as I go along, I might as well continue in that vein, so I’m making sketches of the same place instead of taking photos. So far I’ve done three days.

I began on Thursday, not Monday, so I may need to write notes on each one to give the sequence. I intend to show the progress of the caterpillars on the swan plants. The first sketch is of the barrel beside which the plants are growing. A Monarch butterfly helpfully appeared as I was doing the first sketch. Nothing is to scale which I can hardly put down to artistic licence – just ineptitude! The next two show close-ups of the caterpillars as they munch up the plants. Actually, they are moving down the plants. I rushed today’s sketch and made it darker than the first close-up as it was cloudy, whereas yesterday, the light made the leaves look translucent. The largest of the caterpillars is now nearly four centimetres long.

Propped up beside my craft book are two birthday cards I made today using calendar pictures uncovered when I cleaned out the desk drawers. I am enjoying these creative projects!

Sweet peas, honeysuckle and caterpillars

Every two or three days I pick sweet peas. I have two varieties, and the one with the thicker stems and more flowers has performed best, lasting well when picked.

The vase of sweet peas on the left was picked some days ago.

They smell gorgeous and look pretty amazing too.

More recently, the honeysuckle has begun to flower and the bumble bees seem to like it.

On a smaller scale, tiny caterpillars are beginning to appear on the swan plants. I put two more plants in as the wee critters look as if they need fattening up. This one looks large enough in the photo, but is only about one centimetre long.

In Alice in Wonderland the Caterpillar asks Alice, “What size do you want to be?”

Creative basics

We were barely presentable to open the door for a delivery early this morning. It was the book I’d ordered from Flow last week. I had tried to order it locally, but a supplier was hard to find, so I went to the source.

What a pleasure it is to open such a parcel, full of promise and creativity.

There are other Flow books available locally, but this one seemed particularly interesting and a way of kick-starting some creativity as I settle into retirement. Will I dip into it and choose a random exercise or work from the start? I haven’t decided. There is a mix of visual and written tasks – even embroidery, which could be fun…maybe!

At the back of the book there are templates and images to use.

The book reminds of some of the resources I used to make for my students. I remember making one activity sheet which had lift-the-flap surprises. Another favourite was to devise bookmarks to go with the theme or text we were studying. I like the mix of visual and written, as in these wonderful writing resources I discovered in London bookshops in 2015.

These fold up so you can carry them easily with you as you explore and write.

At various times I’ve collected workbooks which have fun language and writing ideas. I’m looking forward to using these too. I used them at school for inspiration, but they have not been written in yet.

I know I will miss the creative side of teaching. As English teachers, we wrote most of our resources ourselves to suit our students and their diverse needs. Apart from common assessments and general skills guidelines, we devised our own programme for each junior class. Senior programmes were more defined to fit with NCEA assessments, but there was still room for creativity.

A poetry writing resource I wrote for senior students (Year 11 and 12)

Later in my career, I began to be terrified of running out of ideas as the beginning of each year loomed closer. I solved this by preparing for the new year at the end of the one before while everything was still fresh and I was reflecting on what I could do better or try next. This meant that I could begin the new year feeling a little more relaxed – and adapt my plans to suit the students once I’d figured out what was likely to appeal most and help them to make progress.

Now, I intend to apply the drive to create to myself with the help of the workbooks to get me started. I’m beginning to realise that being retired isn’t about just going with the flow (so to speak) but about being prepared and taking one’s own learning by the hand – gently at first, then who knows what will follow?


This week I picked 500g of blackcurrants from one plant – still leaving some for later (or for the birds). The other plant didn’t yield as much, possibly because I was rather timid with my pruning at the end of last season.

Blackcurrants are delicious as they are – tastier but more tart than blueberries. However, I can’t resist the shortcake recipe in the Edmonds Cook Book. It is for gooseberries, but can be adapted to any berry fruit. I did add the dozen or so gooseberries which I had picked earlier.