Monday, 20 December 2010

Trees and Birds

On Sunday we visited the Orokonui Ecosanctuary and walked through native forest (cloud forest) to where NZ's tallest tree is – an 80 metre high eucalyptus planted in the 1870s after a forest fire destroyed part of the forest.

The sanctuary is protected by a fence that ensures the forest is pest free and the birds there are left to thrive. My day was made when we spotted a tiny rifleman, New Zealand's smallest bird; as small as the circle formed when you put your index finger to your thumb. The sanctuary has also recently obtained kiwi. We will be back to check them out once they're established.

The day we visited, the place was wreathed in fog (a recurring theme it seems). It really didn't matter a jot as we squelched our way through the forest, taking time to admire the native varieties of trees – some as old as 500 years.

As we tramped along the well-maintained tracks, we passed about four red wheelbarrows, obviously used to carry the gravel for the tracks, but also to stop visitors from taking the wrong turn. It reminded me of one of my favourite poems – you know the one.

Well, not long until Christmas 2010. We are heading away from Dunedin to spend the day with Robert's folks in Queenstown. 

Happy Christmas everyone.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Missed View

It's our youngest grandson's 1st birthday today. I look at him (as we did on Skype last night) and part of the question; where did the year go? was answered - into him. Wonderfully so.

One step at a time is what they say isn't it? Whoever 'they' are. It's amazing where one step at a time gets you. To the top of things, for example.

Yesterday we one-foot-after-another -ed it to the top of Mt Cargill, where it was misty and very cold and windy.

Eerie, misty fibres wafting among the rock and flax flowers.

If it wasn't for the gigantic, satellite dish, we could've been on a set of Wuthering Heights. Because of the fog, we were robbed of the view laid at our feet of Dunedin, the peninsula, harbour and ridges surrounding the city.

However, on the way down we detoured and were rewarded with great views from Butters Peak. 

We also went farther around to have a look at the Organ Pipes. (The tenth - or is it the eleventh? - wonder of the world … ). Kidding.

But it is an amazing sight in its own quiet way, especially if you ponder on what it demonstrates. The sight is of a scree of fallen rock under a higher row of pillars (much like the pipes of an organ, I guess). It is a result of volcanic activity here, millions of years ago.

This particular type of rock, when molten, has cooled down at exactly the same rate all around, cracking and splitting into uniform shafts. Most of the rectangular, granite blocks have tumbled down into a heap like a spilt box of giant crayons. (Thanks to my husband for the scientific info.)


Some young people arrived as we were standing at the bottom taking photos, and proceeded to take off their jandals (yes, they'd climbed Mt Cargill in jandals) and clamber barefoot over the whatever-million-year old muddle of morass, right to the top - or so I presume; we left before they'd finished climbing.

On our walk up Cargill, we passed a family, he pushing a stroller with their two-year old aboard, she with a baby in the front pack. By the time they got to the top, the stroller was missing a wheel and they were heading off into the mist for another route down that was more stroller-friendly. I admit to having qualms – especially upon seeing the baby's bare foot poking out from under the blanket draped over it. (It was chilly up there with the strong wind and mist). But as there have been no reports this morning of a family found dead from hypothermia on the slopes of Mt Cargill, I guess they made it. Other people were running up the hill (okay, here I confess, Mt Cargill is not actually a mountain, it's more of a hill).

Next walk we go on, we are going to take our bird and plant identifying booklets and the binoculars. When we got back home I checked my phone to find a text from a friend saying – 'Was it today we were meeting for a coffee or did I get that wrong?' Oops.

Why this urge to climb hills? Well for one thing, it's good for the heart. Another thing, I guess, is for that feeling of achievement. A rare and wondrous thing, a sense of achievement. I would walk 500 miles for it and then walk 500 more. (Maybe).

Guilty Secret.

In our garden Saturday morning, I saw fuzzy-bottomed bees nosing the cotoneaster, and as I sat there, my bare feet warm in the sun, a moss-coloured waxeye came within an arm's length of me. With its white-bordered eyes entirely focussed on the flowers alone, it was unaware I was even there. Lucky I wasn't a cat, or that greedy little fellow would be long-gone.

And at that moment,  I admit it, I was perfectly, completely, deeply happy. It puzzles me why this should feel like an admission to a guilty secret.

At the top of the Pineapple Track, on Flagstaff, where there are no pineapples, but a view. That was last Sunday's walk.

A question for Dinzie - what are these flowers called (some sort of tussock?)

A welcomed cuppa always makes me feel very happy. It's the simple things. K.I.S.S.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Future Indicative

Yesterday our oldest son turned thirty, which seems to be more of a milestone for us than for him. He's always been one to enter a phase before it has actually occurred - so he probably turned thirty (in his mind) about two years ago. I remember when he was just a wee guy, he'd 'play' going to school. He'd take a packed lunch that he'd ask me to make up for him, out to the front door and sit on the steps there and pretend he was 'at school'. Kind of symbolic of how he lives his life - or used to anyway - looking ahead. Already leaving, already left.

I admit to a few fleeting returns yesterday to the day of his birth. But life is so full of the present, there's not much time to dwell in the past.

We called him on Skype to wish him Happy Birthday. (I wonder if we could have imagined that scenario way back in 1980? Maybe. We had both read science fiction.) Yesterday, all the way from Kyoto, Japan, we saw and heard his 2 1/2 year old daughter sing him Happy Birthday and we saw his nearly-one year old son having the time of his life squishing his nose. His wife was also there with her beautiful smile and chortling laughter.

No thirty years ago in Lower Hutt Hospital, we couldn't have imagined all that in our future, we were far too totally engrossed with the present. Far too busy being captured by his very first yawn.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Looking Through

Not long now - days in fact - and I will be posting off the m.s. for 'Born To A Red-headed Woman' (still not certain that will be the final title) to try its luck with a publisher.

I have just watched a wonderful video here with the writer Alice Walker speaking about all sorts of things - a lot to do with writing, a lot to do with connectivity of people and this planet, of the internet and its relevance to a writer today etc. It's an hour long, so a bit of time set aside to concentrate is needed, but I can recommend it as time well spent.

It's an empty feeling letting the m.s. go and not having a present writing project or deadline. Knowing that the whole process from go to woah for this book will take something like a year (or more going by the current climate in publishing, especially it seems, where poetry is concerned) leaves me feeling cut adrift.

Maybe I can give this space a little bit more attention now. Maybe I will post a poem a day for a while (like my poet-friend January. Do pop over to her blog and read the great stuff she's written / writing).

This poem is still in its rough clothes ... I will no doubt work on it a bit more at some stage. In the meantime, here it toddles:

Hillside Road

The struggle of plain marigolds
is easy enough to spot.
On front lawns,
scattered bits of broken
polystyrene cups,
a child's faded, plastic bike
turning brittle in the sun,
mangled shrubs, ragged
edges, clumps of grass
featuring dog crap.

A goods train growls
through the heart
of this suburb
full of front doors
wide open to passages
like tunnels, back lawns
issuing the light
at the end, a bar of sun.

And preventing any view
of hills, the long, wideness
of a sickly, factory wall
where entombed workers
making trains are kept
all day away from any
of the sun's love bites.

I pass a woman who smiles 
and stumbles barefoot 
on rough asphalt, off
to the dairy for some milk
or fags. Maybe a trumpet.
On her T-shirt, written 
in hot-pink letters on black, 

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

On the Main Road to Roxburgh

There was a house I remember as a child that looked just like this one. It had that same kind of helpful front porch / verandah with a practical and friendly clothes-line stretched across it. I seem to remember (or favour) the little, wooden bungalow had a green roof and yellow walls.

That house was situated somewhere between Orepuki and Tuatapere on what is now known as the Southern Scenic Route. As kids we would look out for it on our way to or from 'Tap' (Tuatapere's nickname) having made bets beforehand on whether or not there would be washing out on the porch - and whether that washing would be nappies. It was always a fair bet that, as suspected, there would indeed be a line of square, white nappies flapping in the wind. It became something we could depend on. Like Binky McQueen's pink mailbox. Always there. A signpost. Like the duckshooter maimai's along the Waikaia River we would look out for after we shifted from Orepuki to our new location, Otama Valley.

How romantic it sounded, 'Otama Valley', how imaginative and interesting, I thought, to live in a 'Valley'. It was stuff straight out of 'Anne of Green Gables'. In this new place the familiar road became the one between Otama Valley, over the hill to Wendon and then along the river to Riversdale, and whenever we passed the maimais sitting in among the willows like the second little pig's house of sticks, it became an 'in' joke to chant, "My maimai," and wait for the echoed challenge from one or other of six siblings, "No, it's my maimai."

Then there was the bulldozed track up Pyramid Hill which we called the 'main road to Roxburgh' because Dad (the wag) replied that was what it was. One day after one of us asked him why the track was there, he stated, "It's the main road to Roxburgh". From then on when we drove past Pyramid Hill and looked up at the bulldozed track in all its clay-ey glory, one of us nabbed the honour of being the first one to call out, "There's the main road to Roxburgh!" (The fact that it was heading north and Roxburgh was fifty miles behind us to the west, didn't  escape us).

The house in the photo above is in fact located on the real main road to Roxburgh. It is the home of a family I am fond of. Look out for it if you are ever on that road, and give them a wave and a toot. You can even lay bets on whether there will be washing on the line.(But you can take it from me, it's a pretty safe bet in these days of disposables, that there won't be cloth nappies waving in the wind).

Thursday, 11 November 2010


It has been so long now since I've blogged I'm a bit afraid I've forgotten how.

Over the past few days, I've been reading Jenny Powell's new poetry book, 'Vietnam: a poem journey' published by HeadworX. I am enjoying the charming, delicacy of Jenny's work and the dream-like quality of poems that sing their way off the page and into your head. (Go here to read more impressions of the book plus one of the poems on Helen Rickerby's blog 'Winged Ink').
While reading it during one of my work lunch breaks, I had a quiet smile when I was startled by a seagull with flapping wings tapping its beak several times on the glass of the window I was sitting at. It was trying to get at the hot chips I was eating inside the cafe. The poem I was reading at the time happened to be called,'Woman with Birds in her Head'. The flapping gull seemed an apt accompaniment.

I await feedback from a few quarters on the m.s. for my next poetry book, 'Born To A Red-headed Woman'. After that I will be doing some more editing, but I hope not too much. It seems like I've been working on it forever.

Here is a poem that hasn't made it into the book.

‘a wheel within a wheel' from ‘I Dream a Highway’ by Gillian Welch

The world’s awash
with wind. In the sky’s
gun-barrel of cream
and grey, a tiny bullet of blue
spins. Next door’s
rusty, rotary clothesline

wheezes tinny, harmonica
notes. Five homing-pigeons
prance and swerve
into dawn’s sullen light
then lose themselves
in a clot of cloud.

How quiet the roads, 
how quiet the house, until I hear
the terrible summer-buzz
of a blowfly
awake at six a.m.
and fingering the rubbish tins.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Monday, 25 October 2010

And All That Jazz

Labour Weekend is a long weekend in New Zealand, with Monday being a Public Holiday.
Rather than stay and do the traditional 'garden & home' tasks (beautifully described here at my friend Sue's blog) this year Robert and I opted to take off for the weekend and catch up with his parents in Queenstown.

The fact that the annual Jazz Festival runs over Labour Weekend was an added bonus. We caught some wonderful jazz on the Saturday and Sunday, enjoying it in Queenstown's mountain and lake backdrop setting.

We listened to a mellow, Melbourne jazz trio while sitting at an outside table in the sun, gazing at a lake prancing in the sun below Cecil Peak. Well, I did the gazing, my mother in law prefered to concentrate on people. We beg to differ on that one - she says 'people' I say 'mountains'.

At the Green - designed by some far-sighted Queenstown councillors who decided that the creek formerly covered over should be unleashed to run through a green space, terraced by stone steps and forming the perfect entertainment venue - we were entertained by some young, high school jazz performers. We were blown away by their talent. A band called Hoodoo Voodoo were especially impressive - and our favourite.

"I remember when this was all just tussock and broken glass," my mother-in-law said as we drove past St Omer's Park - a green, manicured area that now runs alongside lake frontage under established willows. She was remembering back some fifty-five years. Over a time that spans some seventy years now, she has seen a lot of changes to her beloved Queenstown.

Today before we made the return trip back to Dunedin, Robert and I had a stroll through the shopping area and a coffee at a place that overlooks where he used to live as a small boy. He pointed out where his house was and described how in the weekends he would wake up, fold back the windows and clamber up on to the window-sill to sit there and look out at 'nothing going past'.
"Then I would go and climb the apple tree," he said, pointing out where it grew, an area now choked with Real Estate offices and shops selling camping gear. I tried to picture the little rough-cast home with its apple tree, trying to see through time - to blot out the ungainly clutch of modern buildings that have scribbled it out.

After that we went for a walk in the Queenstown Gardens Among the photos I took was one of the bowling green. It reminded us of the poem I wrote in 'Feeding the Dogs' about this very bowling green.

lawn bowlers, Queenstown

They rustle like medics
in white shoes
up a green

that's spotless.
They peer out
from under brims

as if this is all
they've ever known;
the regular clock

as two bowls collide,
the sentences neatly clipped,
this oven-warm sun

and backdrop range
of mountains. They stuff
their pockets

with tape measures,
dusters and chalk
and leave their hands

free to cradle
bowls the weight and shape
of babies' heads.

We arrived back to a lovely surprise. Our daughter-in-law had procured some tomato plants for us and planted them in our glasshouse (as well as mending the broken panes so that it was nice and snug for the plants). What a sweetie. Surely we will sleep soundly tonight, knowing that the traditions of a kiwi Labour Weekend, a combination of shopping, spring-planting and leisure, have been well and truly fulfilled, either by us directly, or kindly, on our behalf.

Friday, 15 October 2010


My life is divided into slices - like wedges of a cake. (Which is funny, because I sometimes get called 'Cake' by small children trying to pronounce my name). The wedges go under certain titles, like 'friend', 'worker', 'writer', 'mother ' 'sister' etc ...

Lately I have been taken up, divided, into the role of daughter, sister, niece, aunty, mother and grandmother.

There is also the writer slice which at the moment sees me working solidly on the m.s. for another poetry collection. And as always, there's the worker-bee slice when I am asked to work and really (literally) cannot afford to say no.

What I am trying to say, very clumsily, is that sometimes we can't fit everything in and other things take precedence. Lately for me, any blogging (both writing posts and reading other blogs) has had to be left until the next gap arrived.

I think another month will see the m.s. finished. For this year anyway. No doubt it will still need some editing and a bit of trimming, polishing etc. on into next year. But the hefty bulk of it has been dealt to and very soon I will have breathing room again.

Already I have planned what I am going to be doing writing-wise for 2011. Reading and sorting. Filing and research. But mostly reading. It's time to take up the slice of the cake labelled 'reader.


Photo taken at Queenstown

Just over a week ago now we had a short visit from our son who lives in Kyoto, Japan. It was arranged quickly and kind of out of the blue, and was a complete delight from start to finish. He came over with his 10-month old son, so we got to meet our new grandson whom we had only ever seen on Skype. The visit was over all too soon, leaving us with precious memories and loads of photos.

Heading back to Kyoto

Friday, 24 September 2010

the importance of being

Sights like the bandaged tower above and the yellow crane at the ready, are common in the city of Christchurch after the major earthquake that hit them early Saturday morning three weeks ago. Sad to see in this normally tidy inner city, piles of concrete, bricks and masonry, crippled and broken buildings, roads blocked by orange cones and tape and the common sight of people wearing safety vests and wielding clip-boards as they carry out building inspections. In the suburb of Halswell where my sister lives, piles of silt from liquefaction have appeared in all sorts of places, including the cemetery.

The Christchurch Gardens were a blaze of spring colour from flowers seemingly unaffected by any upheaval of the ground they sit in.

Everywhere you go people are talking about the quake, continually de-briefing after the horror of the sudden, severe, early morning roar and shaking, by comparing notes, asking others how they fared and always, the inevitable thankfulness that no lives were lost.

Everyone has a story to tell and as it happens, the collation of some of these stories is the job of a second cousin of ours I recently discovered was living in Christchurch. It was great to meet R. My sister and I sat and had a coffee with him at a small cafe by the Avon with daffodils nodding in the breeze, something daffodils do best. Christchurch is known as the Garden City and is perhaps at its best in spring. Despite the earthquake, the flowers were evidently unfazed.

We were in Christchurch for my mother's 80th birthday and it was the first time the family were all together for a few years now. My sister's arrival from Perth was a surprise for Mum, and despite several boo-boos (one major one on my part) we managed not to let the cat out of the bag, so that Sue's sudden appearance on Friday was truly a surprise for Mum.

After-shocks in the two weeks after the quake were continually rumbling and rolling. Not a nice reminder for people and a cause of stress, as well as loss of sleep. At last count there have been over 700 shakes recorded. While I was there I experienced about half a dozen quite severe ones that made me feel as if I was in a small dinghy being roughly rocked by someone with a cruel sense of humour.

On the Saturday night, to save a strain on my sister's accommodation, we stayed at Robert's sister's place. Despite their house being over one hundred years old, they hadn't suffered much damage. While there, I felt what I thought was probably an after-shock when I heard a mysterious knocking rattle from the window latch. It was either an after-shock or their friendly, resident ghost.

My son tells me that in my family teasing and mocking is probably a form of endearment ...  but at times I felt I was shown a little too much endearment. However, I survived. Robert quipped that we should be called the MocKenzies - perhaps an apt title.

I am now back home with my life back to what I consider as normal, even if some of my siblings would not consider going to a poetry reading as normal. The reading we went to hear was one with Richard Reeve as the invited poet. As I listened to him read his poetry, the beginning of a poem of my own began to form. Strangely enough, it literally evolved from the table-top I was staring into as he read (just don't tell my family that!)

red formica
(for Richard Reeve)

In the table-top's red
formica's cloudy forest,
I see paisley shapes,
random patterns.
I see Marilyn Monroe,
Joan of Arc, bracken, a skull,

a dog, a lizard, a deer. Words
are not found there but a story
neverthelesss about formica,
its levels and layers of paper
or fabric, compressed
then laminated, a replacement

'for mica' and its name
stolen from the Latin
for 'ant'. Formica, the smell of it
after it had just been wiped
by a warm, muslin dishcloth
conjures kitchens and rain.

Formica can be yellow, grey, pale
-green ... but my favourite now
has to be this red
and its frozen, paper faces
with chiseled cheekbones,
tormented smoke, frightened trees,

wasp waists, here in this cafe
listening to Richard's poem
pummel rancid consumerism
and modelled he said on Dante,
his Inferno, his version
of a particular hell.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

P.S. Southland still retains the Ranfurly Shield despite a forceful attack by the Auckland rugby team to wrestle it off them. Go the Stags!

Clocking Out

 I have been neglecting this blog for some months. I think perhaps I should face facts and accept that it is indeed time to retire this blog...