Sustainable Living – climate change and transport

Six people attended the course this week, which meant we could work in two groups of three for a quiz. The results of this revealed my ignorance of the causes of climate change – more Inexcusable Ignorance (see an earlier post). I don’t even know the properties of all those greenhouse gases. A course in basic science is needed.

I guess I was feeling smug about biking into town. No more. I learnt that NZ is in the top 5 of OECD countries in its production of emissions per capita.

One frightening graph the tutor presented shows the UK’s emissions going down while NZ’s are going up. How can this be? The decrease in the UK’s emissions can be traced back to when their Climate Change Committee began to keep data. However, these Guardian articles may present a less rosy picture. Here, The Climate Change Commission, is only just getting underway with Rod Carr, former vice-chancellor of the University of Canterbury as Commissioner.

Really, all we could do was consider supporting organisations which are working to make companies and governments take responsibility. Fat chance. NZ’s reduction in emissions is pitiful. Submissions were recently called for by organisations such as NZ Forest and Bird for the govt. biodiversity strategy. Scientists have commented on the proposed strategy. It’s complicated.

Next then, was to look at what we can do personally. Once again, young people are encouraged to lead the way in this government initiative.

We talked about our own personal actions such as re-using and repairing instead of replacing, avoiding car travel where possible, op-shopping, avoiding plastic packaging, growing our own vegetables, and eating plant-based food.

It is an enormous pleasure to share your own produce with family and friends.

Raspberries picked this afternoon. The apples may not be ready to eat – they fell from the tree when I was planting beetroot underneath (‘helped’ by the chooks).

Hefty Tomes

Dull weather today and a great opportunity to get stuck into these great books.

I used part of a book voucher given to me on my retirement by my department colleagues to purchase We are Here. Thank you! I want to use the voucher for books which will give me years of enjoyment and interest. This one is sure to do just that. It is informative and beautiful to look at; deservedly on the shortlist of the illustrated non-fiction section of the Ockham Book Awards. I am pleased to see Wild Honey, previously reviewed on this blog, is shortlisted in the general non-fiction section. I like the Table of Contents pages in We are Here. It’s like the formatting of websites where you can choose list view or icons. Here you get both simultaneously. There’s a ribbon page marker too.

There is a lot of written text in the book, but the illustrations make it particularly captivating and informative in an accessible way about all manner of aspects of Aotearoa from living things to a musical timeline.

The knowledge and creative energy which have gone into this book are astounding.

As I write this, I can feel the earth stretching and rolling below the house – a 3.2 quake, 12 km deep, 5km east of the city, according to Geonet. Such events are featured in the book.

The other “hefty tome” is Frances Hodgkins European Journeys which accompanies the touring exhibition, currently at the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. This book came free from the Listener when I renewed my subscription last year. I cruised lightly through the exhibition a week ago intending to read the book and then re-visit. The book is fascinating. I’ve read a lot about Katherine Mansfield heading off to Europe to pursue her art at about the same time. Rather than her being all alone in that pursuit, albeit prose and poetry rather than painting, this book records lots of artists from New Zealand doing the same. Hodgkins’ work was, perhaps, more sociable than the necessarily isolated work of the writer. She made friends of fellow artists who worked together in London, Europe, North Africa and Cornwall and who supported one another. Like Mansfield, Hodgkins was fierce in sticking to what she was good at rather than being swept up by current trends – although these were influential too. “It is a difficult game I am playing but I must play it my own way though it is hard sometime to keep one’s head level & ones heart brave – but I feel my work must win in the long run” Hodgkins wrote to her mother in 1907 – with her idiosyncratic spelling (p73). She resisted abstract art. The book is beautifully illustrated, showing how her style developed.


I like the still life with watermelons. (Watermelons are available now and they are delicious, cool and palate-cleansing. The chooks like them too.) Hodgkins’ still life paintings are interesting in the way they use colour and light and shape or form rather than realistically reproducing objects – and they place interesting views behind, such as the view through the window, so you have still life and landscape at once.

You can explore more of Hodgkins’ work and life here.

Responsible leadership, please

A photo accompanying an article from The Times in this weekend’s Press holds a poignant message. In the photo, a victim of Russian destruction of the village of Maarat Misrin in Syria’s Idlib province, is carried on a stretcher. Behind the stretcher bearers, this detail shows a white hen following along.

Behind the hen, the man with the camera may be a journalist, one of the brave (like Marie Colvin) who go into war zones to bring us stories of the effects of political manoeuvring on the people who live there.

Meantime, Putin and Erdogan “hammered out a ceasefire…to bring respite to civilians…and defuse tension between Ankara and Moscow” (The Times).

Did they spare a thought for the many women and children killed when the poultry farm was struck in the early hours of the morning?

On International Women’s Day, we might consider whether or not women leaders would make the same old mistakes. Our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is determined to do things differently by being kind and dignified and not resorting to the distasteful discourse often employed in parliament.

Another parliamentarian who was calm, measured and dignified, was the former Green party co-leader, Jeanette Fitzsimons, who died this week. She was disillusioned by parliamentary processes to effect significant change and concluded that “real change comes from within” (The Press, March 7).

Leadership has been shown by young people and there are calls for the voting age to be lowered to 16. Dare we hope? Greta Thunberg, and other young people inspired by her, demand that politicians account for their inaction as the planet slides into a state unable to sustain human life.

We have learnt little and made insufficient progress in leadership, even after centuries of war, destruction and greed. Hence the casual disregard for the simple, peaceful lives most of us would like to live, raising our chickens.

Sustainable Living – gardening

This week’s session was a visit to the Curator’s House Garden in the Botanic Gardens.

Skirting a bay hedge, we entered the garden and were delighted by the arches of pear trees full of fruit.

Then we were drawn into this abundantly productive place which is full of all manner of edible and companion plants everywhere you look. We swapped stories about our own gardens as we identified fruit, vegetables and herbs.

I was so intrigued by it all, and drinking it all in, that I forgot to take photos, so these images were found online – as close as I could get to what it was like – although the plants seemed more abundant and taller than they appear in the next image.

There were beehives full of activity. I liked other structural elements too, such as the cold frames, the little glasshouse, raised planters and edging, the massive worm farm, the compost bins, and the rock edging along the riverside path. It all looks expensive and competently engineered.

There is lots of inspiration here, however – that magic that good gardens have. On reflection, one of the most inspiring gardens I have been to is one developed by a friend using whatever materials could be found, so there’s hope for us all yet!

Sustainable Living – Food

It was back to school today for a one and a half hour session at the WEA on Sustainable Living. I did my morning chores and some gardening, had a lunch of tomatoes and lettuce from the garden, took a photo of Dora and Popcorn sitting neatly on their perch (a re-purposed curtain rail), and walked (sustainably – I hope) to the WEA in Gloucester Street.

There were 10 people in the class and we got to know each other by discussing two sustainable things we do now and two things we would like to learn more about. Everyone in the class is already very aware of many issues and practise aspects of sustainable living. Probably not as much as our tutor, however, who dries apples and elderberries on her roof and sea weed on her clothes line – all of which we sampled, forages for seasonal food, and uses the seed exchange – among other things, as I’m sure we’ll discover in the remaining five sessions.

We were asked how we would prioritise the following when selecting food: is it healthy, is it convenient, is it local, is it good value/cheap, is it fair-trade, is it non-GM, is it organic?

Then, we were given a variety of information showing aspects of food production, such as how much water is used producing it, which fish to buy and which to avoid, which foods use palm-oil – and the many names which disguise it on labels, the use of pesticides, emissions used in production, and so on. Then we looked at our prioritised lists again with much discussion.

Some of my efforts to live sustainably

A documentary about bees, Queen of the Sun, was recommended. I’m pleased to see it is on Kanopy which I can access with my library card. Also, this website about future living skills shows local activities and events.

I made my walk home more sustainable by visiting the Frances Hodgkins European Journeys exhibition briefly. I plan to visit it again after reading the book of the same name. Then I had a delicious organic ice cream at Rollickin Gelato in the Arts Centre and watched passersby and trams while I enjoyed it. On the way home, I called in at Turanga and climbed the four floors to the fiction section where I took out a couple of books. Home to the chooks running to meet me at the gate. I gave them watermelon which they love.

Hen Party

Dora makes a bit of a racket first thing when the other two are still in the nesting box and I wonder if she gets a bit lonely. To entertain her, I put a mirror in the enclosure and she seemed quite taken with it.

I let her out of the enclosure early Monday morning and she kept me company while I finally tackled the weeds in the paving stones. She would peer into my face, and I wonder if she was looking at her reflection in my glasses. We did a darn good job. Now I can look out at the garden without seeing the work I need to do. I’ve left the little pansies which have self-seeded.

I heard a radio interview this week with a woman who keeps chooks. She said that the red or brown shavers are very sociable, will follow you around and can even be picked up for a cuddle. Apart from the cuddles, that sounds like Dora (aka Satay) and Betty (aka Butter). Popcorn, on the other hand, is a leghorn and they tend to be a bit stroppy and flighty. This sounds like her. At the moment she is broody, so I have to pick her up out of the nesting box to make sure she eats and drinks and runs around a bit. Today I resorted to blocking off the entrance so she couldn’t get back in – but she was persistent. Betty often gets in the nesting box with her and does her best to push her out – not aggressively, just gently. Perhaps she overheard my neighbour (who had brought them some garden greens and windfall apples) telling me that chooks can die of overheating and starvation if they nest too long.

Popcorn spent a lot of time, while in exile, perched on the garden seat.

Then, after a dust bath, she groomed herself on the outdoor chair beside me. She is plumper and more feathery than when she first arrived – they all are – and their feathers are quite amazing. Check out her shuttlecock tail feathers.

Her head seems almost to rotate as she preens. She has little fluffy ear tufts.

Meantime Betty, in tea-cosy pose, sat on the mat between us, drifting in and out of sleep.

She began to groom herself too, showing off the patterns and caramel tones of her feathers.

Dora took a look at my feet.

And I took a look at hers. Look at those toenails and how she balances on one alligator-skin foot while the other curves elegantly.

It was a very together time. Hence the title of this post.

What was Dora thinking as she inspected my feet? What would you put in a thought bubble above her head? E.g: “I can see the gin and tonic has gone straight to her feet” or, “This explains the qwerty keyboard”.

Fowl Facts – you never wanted to know

I was going to write a blog entitled “Fowl Play” with pictures of the silver beet the chooks almost destroyed and the cover I bought to protect the plants.

The silver beet may recover. I’ve put some new rainbow chard in here too.

And about how they scratch bark all over the place and obscure the path.

After the clean-up

And how netting is essential to keep them out of the tomato barrel.

The sight of something malformed in the nesting box this morning changed my focus – in more ways than one. I thought one of the chooks had expelled her intestines or ovary. Scroll down carefully…

When I’d recovered my equilibrium, bagged the article (which was dense and quite heavy) and put it in the bin, I began some internet research. First to see what is inside a chicken. I decided the chook must be (or have been) egg-bound. This page provided some information. This one provided pictures which matched my specimen, and information (and hilarious comments) to explain what it’s all about – although the dissection this person performed showed she had more stomach (oh, no, wrong choice of words, a body part!) than I have. More information than I really wanted to know too, confirming my initial instincts about how gross chooks can be – see my post Avian Invasion.

However, an even earlier post I wrote entitled Inexcusable Ignorance was about how little we know of living things. We prefer to remain ignorant. I never watch those reality tv shows about people’s ugly bodies and weird afflictions or surgeries. Anything graphic I avoid. Then I wonder what the surgeons dealt with as they fixed my broken leg and attached a titanium plate – probably with brute force and power tools – and when my varicose veins were operated on while I was blissfully under anaesthetic. The nurse at Mole Map, with whom I enjoyed an appointment yesterday, has to look at people’s moles all day.

Apparently in the UK, this malformed egg condition is called “lash”. This explains why. But which chook laid it? And should it be treated? Another subject to research on the internet as I learn more than I ever wanted to know about the inside workings of chickens.