For the miracle of a garden and a blue sky on a warm day.

For McLaren treating Betty and Mabel with due respect.

For my nephew splitting logs for me early yesterday.

For my niece sharing photos of her little boy and that he loves books too.

Travis Wetland Walk

Spring is a great time to visit this restored wetland, but it’s about more than the triumph of new growth over winter. It is testimony to the hard work of Anne Flanagan, initially, to save the land from housing development, and the ongoing efforts of many volunteers to replant and maintain the habitats (from sand dune to swamp) which make up the reserve. The city council bought the land in the early 1990s and employs a ranger to oversee the work. Weeding is probably the biggest job, the ranger told us. As the trees establish and drop seeds, the new seedlings have to be allowed to thrive.

After the showy brightness of our Springtime rose gardens, it takes a little while to retrain the eye and appreciate the variety and scale of native plants. Many of them are flowering, discreetly. This stream looks as if it is covered in some sort of algae, but it is a native fern which floats on the water. Close up, it is a complex combination of trailing soft roots and tiny fronds. The flag iris to the right, however, is not indigenous.

Mānuka is flowering (alongside introduced buttercups) and we saw the last area of original mānuka on the Canterbury Plains. Plants being re-established include totara, ribbonwood, lacebark, various coprosmas, kōwhai, mataī and kahikatea. Bees are about.

Many birds have chosen to settle here or to return each year. A recent one is the Cape Barren goose which has self-introduced from Australia. Since it was not brought to Aotearoa by humans it is considered a native species. Spoonbills, pied stilts, Paradise ducks, swans, little diving scaup, kingfishers, warblers and pukeko are some of the established birds. We stood on the bank of the large lake and watched short-finned eels cruising by, while Welcome swallows swooped low across the surface of the water to feed on insects.

Even though, if you look closely, you can see houses in the distance, this view all the way to Te-Poho-o-Tamatea (Port Hills) gives some idea of what it could have been like for Māori – before Europeans arrived with a different view of what land was for. I couldn’t help feeling sad for what we have lost, but hopeful too for the future of this place.

Acknowledgements: The walk was organised by the WEA. Our expert guide was the very knowledgeable environmental advocate Colin Meurk who humorously identifies with the mataī tree in its various manifestations (from a tangled mess of twigs to a giant of the forest) and finds it a useful metaphor of ‘patience and humility’ as he wrote in a chapter in Tree Sense which ends with this inspiring sentence:

We need to acknowledge now, before it is too late, the strong physical, political and spiritual links between trees and place-making, well-being, strength and power, alongside humility, steadfastness, wisdom, patient long-termism, sustainability, and kindness to people and the planet. Like never before, it’s time to think like a matai.

Meurk, Colin D., ‘Think Like a Matai’, p167, Tree Sense ed. Susette Goldsmith, Massey University Press, 2021.

Explosive growth

That sounds rather unpleasant, but I’m talking about the incredible Spring growth in the garden. The plants are practically invading the house, pressing against the windows. When I’m looking out it’s like being in a forest – with the comfort of a couch.

I took the first photo on October 12 and the second one this afternoon. In the second photo, the house has almost disappeared.

The broad beans are bursting out of their dome. The snow peas and lettuces are pushing against the roof and sides of the greenhouse. The broccoli has outgrown its protective netting and, consequently, the chooks have been nibbling the leaves.

Clematis is pouring across the front fence, and banksia is billowing over the back fence. The chooks wade through the long, lush grass.

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ pops into my mind when I’m out amongst this explosive growth.

RIP Popcorn

Popcorn – the picture of good health

Popcorn died unexpectedly this morning. She was huddled on the top step to the nesting box breathing noisily. I stroked her and talked to her. She was puffed up and her comb was dark red.

I went inside to google the symptoms. There were the usual references to internal parasites and blockages. One site said that sometimes chooks just do die suddenly. That proved to be the case, as she simply fell off the step.

Yesterday, she was on the back of the chair looking in the window. Later I could hear her ‘popping’ up and down to reach the lettuces in the vertical planter. She dust bathed, enjoyed her treats and hung out with her other three mates all day.

Popcorn eyeing the tomatoes last summer

She is the last of the three rescued chooks who came to live here (temporarily, at first) in January 2020. She is now with Betty (No 1) and Dora in the chicken graveyard under the lilac (which is flowering beautifully). The second little flock of three, which came from my niece in Dunedin, remains. Is it my imagination, or do they seem subdued, this morning? Popcorn used to boss them about a bit, so they may have to re-think the pecking order.

Popcorn in charge

We are subdued too. Popcorn was the ‘star turn’, entertaining us with her antics. She was the first to investigate anything new and the first to run to see if I had anything for her when I was picking salad leaves in the garden – as she did yesterday.

Post-moulting, the new feathers grew abundantly this year

It will be very strange without her. Rest in peace, Popcorn.

Post Script:

Popcorn’s star turn in the after-life

October snow

The time is out of joint…

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May

The blast from the Antarctic left snow on the deck this morning, while the apple tree is in full bloom. The snow was crunchy underfoot and so compacted that I hardly left any foot prints. The chooks were very wary and refused to cross it even to get their food on the lawn.

I filled my car boot, and the back seat, with extra firewood which we will need before our delivery of next winter’s wood. There’s a biting wind despite some moments of bright sunshine.

At the hardware store there is a line-up of brightly-lit Christmas trees and trolls in woolly jumpers. Last week they looked entirely out of place on a warm Spring day. Today, not so much.

It’s a day to enjoy being beside the fire with a good book.

Little machines for big jobs

The sewer repair began last week with manual digging to find the sewer join. This is where the newer PVC pipe meets the older clay or terracotta pipe. A camera probe early this year revealed earthquake damage in the old pipe. It has been a long wait for the work to begin.

A further complication was coordinating the pipe lining once the initial digging had been done. The pipe liners turned up first thing on Monday without warning. There was time for one shower, after which there was no use of toilet or sinks. This experience was a reminder of how to conserve water. I brushed my teeth in the garden using half a glass of water. The local pub proved useful for a mid-morning toilet visit. Mum held on with the forbearance of the late Queen, until my sister pointed out that you could use the toilet as long as you didn’t flush. It was a matter of keeping your mind on the job and not pushing the button out of habit.

The pipe lining is ingenious. It was invented by Eric Wood in London in 1971 apparently, when he was faced with difficult repairs to a sewer pipe. The invention has saved my drive and garden from being dug up. Instead, the lining is fitted into the old pipe and inflated.

A variety of intriguing little machines were used in the process. The grey one in the distance (above) was used to inflate the lining.

This one emitted little puffs of smoke, like the little engine that could. I think it is a generator – although they used a power connection in the garage. What is the blue machine for?

Later, a larger machine appeared in the drive. It was big enough to have its own trailer, and is an air compressor (I asked).

This morning the chimney sweep came with a very tidy little vacuum machine.

Usually we have finished using the log burner for the year before we have it cleaned. Today’s news, however, tells us to expect a cold blast direct from the Antarctic ice sheet.

Women’s suffrage

Lianne Dalziel addresses the crowd. Facing her is Helen Brown, who also spoke. She is one of the authors of the recently published second volume of Tāngata Ngai Tāhu which features many women, a number of whom signed the petition.

It was good to meet with friends at the Kate Sheppard National Memorial on Monday 19th to celebrate 129 years of women’s suffrage in Aotearoa New Zealand. I was interested to hear our mayor, Lianne Dalziel, speak before her term in office ends. In the photo she is wearing a camellia brooch given to women members of parliament on Women’s Suffrage Day several years ago while she was an MP. Several other women spoke. We heard about the effort the suffrage movement took and about the women organisers (and some of the women who signed the petition), that the Electoral Act was passed by only two votes, that it was long afterwards before other reforms and inclusive political representation occurred, and that hard work is still required to maintain what has been gained.

On Wednesday, I was pleased to see Kate Sheppard featured in our notes for the class at the WEA on Women in Philosophy. We learned about women suffragists and activists, thinkers and writers from other countries too. It’s worth noting that the term ‘suffragette’ was applied mainly to women suffragists in the UK. To me, it has disparaging overtones, belittling the cause and belittling the women. No wonder that – out of sheer frustration at the lack of progress – they resorted to violent means. A friend and I discussed this today and thought sympathetically, and with concern, of the women currently protesting in Iran.

This afternoon we visited Kate Sheppard House where a volunteer gave a detailed talk about some of the clothing and items belonging to Kate Sheppard and what they tell us about her and the time in which she lived. She began by considering how Kate Sheppard, with the symbolic white camellia, is represented on the $10 note. Afterwards, we were able to explore the beautifully presented house and garden and were hugely impressed.

The Women’s Suffrage movement included at least one Māori woman activist who played a significant role. She is the first of the standing women in the memorial statue in the top photo.

We saw where Kate Sheppard and several other suffragists assembled the petition which was sent in sections from all around the country and pasted together ready to present to parliament. It was the third petition they had presented.

I hardly need to point out how hard it must have been then, with difficult access, to collect signatures for three petitions.

One of the rooms features many women who have achieved high office in Aotearoa New Zealand since the vote was granted. I know they have all had a difficult time being in the public eye and that the downsides of social media make it even more difficult today. I am pleased the government bought this house as a national memorial and education centre to be administered by Heritage NZ Pouhere Taonga. It is important.

Art effect

Going to the Art Gallery Te Puna o Whaiwetū is like taking a sideways step out of your life and into contemplation of the creative mind. It can ‘leaven the lump’ – a term I encountered recently in a Scottish novel. At least, it can distract the mind for a while.

This is some of the ceramic art of Cheryl Lucas in an exhibition called Shaped by Schist and Scoria. I puzzled over the work and marvelled at it simultaneously while considering the creative impulses of the woman who had made it. There were pale ceramic shapes draped over wires in another room. Why? I asked myself, (and where would it go when it’s not being exhibited?) while also admiring the shapes and angles and the unexpected use of ceramics – like socks on a washing line.

Another area featured work from the gallery collection curated to show the artists’ use of light. I entertained myself by trying to identify the artists before reading the plaques. This one I didn’t pick as a Rita Angus, but I enjoyed the subject: an aquilegia. Rita Angus’s Goddess of Mercy is a favourite which was also in the exhibition. It is full of light and colour, so this muted watercolour was a surprise and my appreciation of it was heightened by my own enjoyment – and irritation, sometimes – with aquilegias in my garden.

Also known as columbine and granny’s bonnet, once you’ve got them in your garden they appear everywhere, muscling their way into pots and between paving stones and putting down strong, deep roots. Their most delightful features are the unusual spurred shapes and varied colours of the flowers, but also the pale green leaves with their rounded, frilled edges. So it was unusual to see this concentration on just the form of the flower and with only a hint of colour in the leaves. Art helps you see something in a new way. Here it is the form of the plant which is emphasised – against a muddy background (made muddier in this photo by my reflection in the glass).

Over the next few days, the images and the calm of the gallery remain in an illuminated corner of my mind.


Mabel was in the nesting box for quite a while this morning, while Popcorn shouted encouragement from outside – but this was the result.

Poor Mabel. She’s doing her best, but I think her egg-laying days are over. A friend suggested the chooks are now in ‘henopause’.

To encourage laying, sometimes a china egg is placed in the nesting box. I have an egg-shaped stone from Riverton beach which might do instead, just in case Mabel simply needs some inspiration. Here it is next to today’s little egg.

For further comparison, here is today’s egg next to Mabel’s Friday effort which I’ve dubbed ‘the egg man’.

Strangest egg yet

Perhaps one of the chooks decided to make an effort after hearing me say yesterday that I would stop feeding them dog roll since they’re not laying (the dog roll is to ensure they get the minerals they need for egg production). They love their dog roll. (I choose one which has no chicken in it.)

Perhaps their only ‘value’ is the chicken poo they produce which goes into the compost bins. However, we find great value in their company and the entertainment they provide. We call it ‘chicken tv’. This little egg has certainly lifted our sad mood today when the radio speaks only of the Queen’s death.

The tiny double egg was in the henhouse this morning – the one they haven’t been using all winter. Instead, they huddle together on barley straw in the cosier space of the smaller house – more like a nesting box than a henhouse with perches.

Now that it’s spring, the chooks are more active about the garden, digging and exploring. In the last day or two I’ve noticed them going, briefly, into the larger henhouse. Perhaps it’s time to refresh the wood shavings in there and make the nesting box part of it more welcoming, but I fear they are getting too old to lay eggs. In a commercial enterprise they would have been culled long ago. Here, they can live out their days.

Speckled texture – and a little bow on its head

What to do with it?