Thursday, 27 January 2011

A Change of Moccasin

Recently we took a trip south through to Lake Te Anau for a couple of days, travelling over Southland's Waimea Plains and through the townships of Riversdale, Balfour and Lumsden, then hanging a left to travel along the Te Anau Downs. This is red tussock country. Red tussock is a protected native species of tussock. It sure is a sight to see the flowing acres of ruddy tufts rippling in the wind and sun.
At Mossburn, a wind farm can be spotted on top of the hills. South from there, over the distant Takitimu mountains and ranges beyond, is where I was born and which I still consider 'home'.

Once we'd arrived in Te Anau, we unpacked the picnic things and enjoyed lunch by the lakeside - despite spots of rain and a bit of mess left by the ducks and Canada geese. (The Canada goose is an imported bird that because of its appetite for young pasture, is proving to be a pest).

On the other side of the lake, the golf course is bathed in sun. At the time this was taken, Robert was there playing a round of golf.

Apparently it's easy for these planes to topple nose first into the drink. They look cute though!

Te Anau has a bird park run by the Department of Conservation (DOC). Part of its purpose is housing injured birds until mended. Above is a New Zealand wood pigeon, called kereru. (In the past it was also called a 'butcher bird' because of its splendid white apron).

A parrot called kakariki - the Maori word for 'green'.

This shows where the Waiau river leaves Lake Te Anau by means of control gates. It is the river - awa - I was born beside; in a hospital I hasten to add; at Tuatapere, just before the river makes it to the sea. The Waiau is a strongly flowing river, and further down from here, just past the small township of Manapouri, it is dammed for hydro-electric power.

A wooden church at Manapouri that like so many other churches in New Zealand, has been converted (excuse pun!) In this case, it is now a craft shop.

More of the township of Manapouri. The lake here at Manapouri is more hidden, secretive and mysterious than the open and approachable Lake Te Anau. (Well, the fact that Manapouri means 'lake of the sorrowing heart' is a bit of a clue).

In the past few years the Waiau has been struggling with a nasty green, slimy weed called didymo (also dubbed 'rock snot') which threatens its fishing and flow. Another reminder that despite claims to the contrary, we do not actually live in paradise.

And meanwhile, back in our own particular corner of half-pie-paradise, our backyard has been changed and rearranged after trees have been cut down. While this has let more light and sunshine in, it has also turned the garden upside down. It looks and smells like a sawmill. However, once it is all tidied away (which won't happen overnight) the garden will eventually be restored. A certain amount of upheaval  is probably good for me, but it doesn't mean I have to like it.

More in the way of upheaval has been an aunt who has been in hospital here in Dunedin having heart surgery. In a week's time I will be going down to Southland, where she lives, to help her in her recovery. There is a well-known proverb that says: 'A change of moccasin brings surprise and strength'. (Actually, I just made that up! But it sounds good. Let's hope it proves true).

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Wet Feet

Last Sunday (a very windy day in coastal Dunedin, but as we suspected it would be, a warm, still day out on the Taieri) we visited Sinclair Wetlands here in Otago - a protected site situated between Waihola and Milton (in the country behind Lake Waihola on hinterland bordering the Taieri Plains).

A great spot; full of swampy ground and dragonflies, frogs, water fowl; it is land preserved pretty much in its original state. Its well-kept grassy paths provide easy access through flax-y swampland.

I was reminded of times I spent with my sister and brother as young children (I am talking aged 4, 5, 6 years old) down in the gully at Orepuki, exploring a creek full of cutty-grass and chick-weed, looking for frogs and spotting dragonflies, bees and spider nests (which we would cruelly puncture in order to see the small baby spiders run in a stream of black rain); and locating duck nests ...

We never attended kindergarten, or any pre-school educational institute, but our childhood was certainly rich in what nature had to teach us. We would leave our mother behind in the house doing whatever mothers did in the home, while we freely roamed paddocks, creeks, long-grass verges, fallen logs, burnt gorse ... it was as I remember it, an idyllic early childhood.

During our visit last Sunday (which unlike today - a week later - was a bright, sunny day) I reveled in being able at one point to take off my sandals and walk barefoot through slimy puddles on the track; mud oozing between my toes. It has been quite some time since I have had that pleasure.

Here is a poem from my book 'made for weather' which describes the memories I have of exploring the gully below our childhood home in Orepuki.

wild mint and cutty grass

In the gully
we see the impaled skeleton of a cat

spread-eagled in a thorny bush
and recognise it
as our pet that had died in the summer

its body tossed by our father
into blackberry autumn has undressed

to reveal its bones and grimace
from under threadbare fur.

When I tell my sister the fragrant green
under our feet is wild mint, she cries.

She is afraid of mint that might growl
or suddenly leap. But it is the cutty grass,
its neat accuracy

we must be wary of. And
this sluggish bog, reluctant to help,

that sucks and slurps at our gumboots
as, overhead, an unseen skylark
wrestles with the sky.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011


When R was a young Civil Engineer, part of his brief was to design a flip-bucket for the Clutha Dam. That was over thirty years ago now. It was a project that like all hydro-electric schemes wasn't without its opponents. However, engineering was R's job for a time. Now he just teaches it.

Over the years, as we have travelled through to visit his parents in Queenstown, we've often pulled into the dam's viewing platform to have a look, but never managed to see the flip-bucket in action. On this latest trip through, however, it dawned on us that with recent heavy rain, the dam would be at full capacity with the flip-bucket doing its thing.

Sure enough, we were rewarded with the sight of a flip-bucket working perfectly, deflecting the weight and flow of the rushing torrent down the slipway and sending it into an impressive billowing cloud of foaming spray. It was doing exactly what it was designed to do - stopping too much water from rushing all at once on down into the dam's outlet. The fact that the day we finally saw it operating happened to also be R's birthday, was icing on the cake.

His birthday falls in the week between Christmas and New Year and provides a good excuse to 'keep the party going', especially when we are with extended family holidaying together for the Christmas, New Year break. His sisters usually make him a cake. As you can see from the photo above, these cakes are never ordinary, but always meaningful as well as delicious.

The walks continue. Sometimes I am accompanied by R, sometimes I am on my own. Sometimes I bring along the camera. As I walk, solutions and ideas tend to tear themselves off from any problems and anxieties, leaving the latter to lag behind; the way it should be, because problems and anxious thoughts don't make good company. 

I used to have a Peanuts poster depicting the security-blanket toting Linus stating; “There is no problem so formidable that it cannot be run away from.” Or walked away from.

During this summer break, I've been reading poetry. It's always hard to choose what to buy; New Zealand has a rich source of local poetry from which to choose; but I ended up with Bernadette Hall's 'Lustre Jug', Fleur Adcock's 'Dragon Talk', Paula Green's 'Crosswind' and Anne Kennedy's 'The Time of the Giants'. Plus I also have David Karena Holmes' 'Genesis', David Eggleton's 'Time of the Icebergs' and Cilla McQueen's 'Radio Room' to read as well. 
While in Queenstown, as I read I'd lift my eyes to the view of Lake Wakatipu, and the Remarkables mountain range in their summer gear; looking a little pink and embarrassed without any snow on.

(If you look closely, you can see a fish in the creek).

As my eyes flicked from the words on the page to rocky-sided mountains, the mountains in the tricky light looked like a knobbly row of leathery toads crouched on their haunches ready at any time to hop into the cool lake. Every time I looked up, it seemed that they'd edged forward just a little more.

And then there was the wooden rocking-chair on the deck beside me creaking and rocking slightly with the heat. As if an invisible person sat beside me. Once I pretended it was my father – dead now some 42 years. What do you think Dad? I asked. To which he replied; It all depends upon your perspective. I looked up at a noisy jet flying overhead at the same time, with its wings the shape of a pick-axe and its tail the shape of a crampon, it seemed to be scratching for a hold on the sky's icy-blue surface. I looked again over at the chair. Empty.

Then my brother in law arrived and sat down in the chair. I told him about how it had been creaking in the sun and how I'd imagined someone was sitting in it; omitting the added craziness of pretending it was my dead father. Talking to yourself? he asked. Yes, I said, exactly.

We both looked out at the mountains and commented on how slowly this new year was arriving. Slow and easy. In the garden, honey bees were gathering pollen. One had a heavy load of yellow pollen which made it look as if it was wearing anglers' thigh-high gumboots. Two white butterflies twirled past.

I looked down to where the bees continued to butt at the flowers of the clover, and asked my brother-in-law (a rural advisor) about the recent outbreak of the damaging clover weevil. He didn't think the recent release of wasps that it is hoped will rid the country of the weevil, was going to do much to curtail the problem. I got the impression it wasn't an agricultural disaster of mammoth proportions and couldn't help but feel relieved. The less disasters this year, the better.

We are back home now and pottering away on our 'estate', tidying the trees and shrubs that have got away on us in the thirteen years or so we've been in this house. We are letting in the light. Hacking away dead wood. Meanwhile, the weather continues mixed. Clouds and sun fighting it out. The clouds seem to be winning. The sun maybe could do with a flip-bucket.

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...