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.

Monarch Butterflies

We’ve had a lot of Monarch butterflies swooping around the garden. I know that they winter over in our local park – where they’ve had a tough time, and we’ve been fascinated to go and see them hanging in the trees there, and flitting about on sunny days.

Mum requested swan plants, so I planted four around a barrel outside the sitting room window where she could watch them. I kept a record of progress in sketches.

On Friday, a migrating caterpillar was spotted on the footpath looking for somewhere to pupate.

My observant brother-in-law (he is a scientist, after all) spotted the first pupa under a fern frond the following day – not necessarily made by the same caterpillar, I would imagine.

I thought there would be a wait of several days, but three days later the butterfly emerged.

There have been many caterpillars, but the first four plants are now sticks, as are the four newer plants. I have just planted four more behind the barrel. My sister and brother-in-law have covered their swan plant to let it recover before more eggs are laid. It is woody-stemmed and becoming a shrub. An assistant at the garden centre told me that a friend of hers in the North Island has a swan plant which is as big as a tree. I worry that my efforts to plant more swan plants have simply encouraged more monarchs to lay eggs only for the caterpillars to die for lack of leaves.

I was first made aware of the plight of Monarchs by Barbara Kingsolver’s book. Protectors of monarchs have run into dire trouble in Mexico lately.

Here you can look at their life cycle and detailed information about these amazing insects.

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.