Sunday, 31 July 2011

In Between

As I sat on the doorstep tying up my shoelaces, I caught sight of a bird (chaffinch I think) in our small plum tree. Obviously spring is on its way, with the promising appearance of blossom.

The top of the beach track - the track is closed for the most part because the encroachment of the sea on to the sand dunes has made it dangerous. A shame, as up until the last couple of years it has been a pleasant cliff-top walk

All thoughts of spring engendered by the blossom in our plum tree back home, were quickly dispelled by the sight of frost on the sand-dunes.

The frosted sand-dunes stretched all along St Kilda beach. In the sun it was very warm and there were a number of people out walking - one woman was even walking in barefeet. We are in that in-between state; between winter and spring, when anything can happen.

Some boys were sliding down these icey dunes, using body-boards as toboggans.

I notice the cliff-face feature dubbed as Lawyer's Head is developing a bulbous nose - the lawyer being outed as a brandy drinker?

Remains of last night's party on the beach? Must've been a mighty frosty celebration.

Kelp in the sun ...

... kelp in the shade.

I thought this log looked like a rhinoceros. (A sea-rhinoceros?)

Back home and a comfortable blackbird in our tree. We have a bird table that, so far, only a blackbird visits. Maybe it is this one. He's certainly acting like a local. And he's not about to announce his discovery of the bird-table.
Through this winter I have seen fantails, kereru, tui, bellbirds, chaffinches, grey warbler, wax-eyes ... Seagulls lope past, high and slow on their way to the ocean, or back from it. Sometimes I hear the strangely lonely sound of a passing oyster catcher overhead.
Soon the birds will be building nests. They know what season it is, even if the weather doesn't.

(This is a P.S. photo added in after publishing this post. It shows a kereru sitting in one of the trees around our place. The photo really doesn't do this bird's large size justice. I only had its back view so couldn't capture its resplendent white-aproned front).

Later,  as I gathered in the washing I could feel the air beginning to freeze again - another frost on the way. Then I heard a familiar sound. The whip of wings in the still air as a large kereru (native wood pigeon) flew overhead to land in the branch of a tree. Portly birds, someone I know describes them as the Iroquois (as in helicopter) of the bird family.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011


Went for a walk around the inlet this morning. Perfect light for photos. This is what I saw ...

ice on the inlet? no, just a trick of ripples & light ...

ob-scene ...

is it a tree? ...

reflections ...

crushed ice anyone? ...

bird landing ...

speaking for itself ...

wings like ruined venetians ...

flamingo-pink feet ...

not one of Michael's rabbits ...

the hills from home ...

Ending up at home looking out at the hills and the sky; always the sky. 

Below are the opening lines to the poem, 'heat and cold' from my book, 'Feeding the Dogs.'

heat and cold

As the tide goes out it leaves the inlet
bared, lifts the hatch of its engine room,

its hidden motor of mud where seagulls
elbow and grab and slap splayed feet.

Along smoking gullies, mist forges
a mute trail of bulging steam. Where heat

and cold condense , it falls, coats the grass,
turns it grey  ...

Monday, 25 July 2011

Snowy Update

Silly us, listening to the wrong radio station for cancellations. 97FM is the station we should've listened to, not Classic Hits. Foiled by our demographic once again. 


Not hearing that his workplace was closed for the day, Robert walked to work. It was too dangerous to drive - unless you have a four-wheel drive. We don't. We have Ruby, a very small Cortina.  

white on green 

Nothing for it then but for him to walk home again. He suggested I walk and meet him halfway. I decided it would be the perfect time to try out the birthday present my mother sent me a whole month ago now. Ear muffs. 

rooftops and verges 

On the way, I'm delighted when snow falls and I'm caught in the spinning flakes. As Pooh Bear once said, "Trudging through a snow flurry is always something to aim for in winter".  


Actually, Pooh never said that. But he could have, while walking through the Hundred Acre Wood muffled in a scarf. On a snowy day.  

Always watch where you are going. Otherwise, you may step on a piece of the Forest that was left out by mistake.
Winnie the Pooh

Sunday, 24 July 2011

An Imaginary Line

Today where I live, winter blasts outside. Snow thinly covers the hills, but is not thick or persistent enough yet to stay around our place, here at sea-level. I haven't got out of bed. A dogged headache keeps me pinned. I'm a  muted trumpet. A lark without sky.

Looking at the photo above, you would be forgiven for thinking it shows dunes covered in snow, not sand. It captures the July coldness of a beach south of the 45th parallel. (The 45th parallel is an imaginary line drawn around the earth to mark the halfway point between the equator and the south pole).

This winter has been a kind one. Up until now. I look out to see the sky, low, white and furious. Sleet flours our lawn and sporadic hail showers pelt our roof.

Whenever the weather falls quiet, I hear one bird's lone piping. As if it tests to see if it's still alive. Maybe it's a pointless query as to the whereabouts of today's sunshine. It is either brave, or naive.

The showers stop and I can see the hills are white as far as Signal Hill, but not as far down as Waverly. This indicates that the snow is lying down to 200 feet above sea-level. Mount Cargill (kopuka-tau-mohoka) remains its customary deep blue, not snow-covered. It takes a heavy snowfall to cover that hill's forested slopes. (Looking up to see what the name of Mount Cargill is  in Te Reo, I discover that the mountain is made up of three peaks, said to represent the petrified head, body and feet of a princess from an early Otakou tribe). Right now the princess' head sports a halo of lavender light. The transmitter tower stark against the sky like a monstrous, steel pine. (I wonder, is it a little too facetious to imagine the tower as representing the princess' tiara?)

The storm appears to have moved on and my headache has lightened, a little. Robert's sister and husband are checking road conditions for their trip back home to Gore, right when our internet has decided to go on a go-slow. We find out what we can. It appears that the roads are not too bad. They set off in the intrepid manner of people from the south. We wave to them as they leave us, their car sporting a crest of snow. They will go as far as they can, we may see them back to spend the night with us again if the roads prove too treacherous.

Darkness has descended. Our house is now just another light on a hill in a city full of lights on hills. We will have to wait for morning now to see if Dunedin will get its 'Snow Day' - on a Monday too, that's always a bonus. A 'Snow Day' is usually a welcome day off for anyone at the top of steep, snow/ice-bound driveways. To some it'll seem a shame that it's actually fallen in the middle of school holidays.

Whatever, it appears that once again, down here near the beach, it is a case of the cigar - close, but no snowman.

Thursday, 21 July 2011


Gold Office, St Bathans, Otago

Vulcan Hotel, St Bathans, Otago

Post Office, St Bathans, Otago

old stone house, St Bathans, Otago

Over a year ago we said we'd go back to St Bathans. Another promise to ourselves we have yet to honour. I must admit, the claims that a ghost haunts the Vulcan Hotel (where we planned to stay when we re-visit the place) creeps me out. Despite the wide popularity of Harry Potter-like or vampirish-fictions these days, I remain a paranormal-horror-semi-phobic. I have no fascination for ghosts and their ilk, just a wary unease. I think an alternative place of accommodation may have to be found. 
When we visited the town of St Bathans, it felt peaceful yet heavy with history; a relatively recent history compared to the history of the 'old countries' such as Ireland and Scotland ... but a history nevertheless; one that dates back to the 1860's when the town was full of gold-miners and associated activities. 
The more I delve into the history of our world, the more I realise how true the saying, 'The more things change, the more they stay the same'. (I believe we can credit someone French with that truism).
The people who frequented the buildings in the photos above, or worked the land in the photos below, would not be that much different to us. They may have worn funny clothes and spoke weird, but like us they sweated, swore, bled, cried and laughed. They thought themselves fortunate or thought themselves wretched, depending on the weather or circumstances. They endeavoured and they dreamed. They despaired and gave up. They loved, they hated, were optimistic and bitter. They were cynical. They were realistic. They were romantics. They were hopeful. They believed in a better future and yet they were convinced that they lived in the best of times.  

remains of a sluice pipe and gold dredging mounds; Blue Lake, St Bathans, Otago

remains of gold dredging, Blue Lake, St Bathans, Otago

Blue Lake, St Bathans, Otago


I invite no ghost
to look right through me,
nothing from the past to find me
hiding in the here and now 
from whatever wraith howls 
for a future turned inside-out. 

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Tuesday, 19 July 2011



In the summer we went to Dunedin's Festival. It had been many years since we had last taken the trouble to go. It seemed strange to be there without children and we wandered a little lost-ly. I experienced claustrophobia in the crush of the Thieve's Alley. Really, I wasn't particularly enjoying myself as much as I remembered enjoying such things in the past; despite the smell of hot dogs and candy floss. The clowns annoyed me and without any children as translators, the trinkets and toys just seemed to take on a tawdry air.
Then we came across a stall full of wood-turned mobiles. Charming. Unfortunately we didn't have any cash on us and the maker of these hood-winking wind machines didn't take plastic. "We'll come see you in your workshop," we promised, "we definitely want one." 
So far, we haven't made it. Seeing this photo in my file has reminded me of that promise we made to treat ourselves to some wooden magic.


wooden thing

Fashioned and bent
to trick the eye into tracking
the mute wind's turn

to dance and play, to stall,
then move again. We think
that if we buy this wind-toy

we will own it, the wind
and its moves
that run like water

to play the air like children
we think at last the wind and us
have caught up.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Winter Woollies

Winter does have its attractions.

snow-covered Remarkables through cloud

view from Cooke's

Three Sister's peak covered in mist / cloud

Three Sister's Peak revealed; sun-tipped

kiwi with leg-warmers and beak scarf! (is this the work of Knitsy? - see note below)*

* 'Knitsy' is a guerilla, graffiti knitter from Wanaka who 'yarn bombs' where you least expect it, leaving quirky knitted items around street-lights, shop signs etc. in the dead of night. A bit like the way Banksy works - hence the name, Knitsy.
Knitsy even has their own Facebook page.

The kiwi is right outside Patagonia Chocolates where we had a couple of hot chocolates (a Chili Hot Chocolate and a Lavender Hot Chocolate). Mmmmm.

remains of last week's snowfall in the garden

mossy paving stones 

When we visit Robert's parents in Queenstown (his home-town), we like to do the Wander to see 'what's new'. (Something we've done since the 70's). From that time Queenstown has just grown 'n' grown 'n' grown ... except the lake and mountains which thankfully remain the same. Robert's little boyhood town has long gone. Queenstown has a certain bustle and excitement (it could maybe be described as rich, funky-adventurer) that we can only take so much of before we scurry back home to the more peaceful, less demanding (and dare I say, less pretentious) haven of mountain and lake vista.

There is always fine food here; Robert's dad cooks amazing meals. Tonight we are being treated to a roast chicken with stuffing & gravy, mushrooms, potatoes and a platter of mixed vegetables. But first, we are treating ourselves to an Alexandra wine bought on the way here - a Shaky Bridge pinot noir. *Slainte!

*Gaelic for 'Health'.

P.S. (Later) Adding these photos of the sunset reflections on the Remarkables.

Sunday, 10 July 2011


Orepuki -: in the foreground, farming land the McKenzie family (of both Irish and Scottish heritage) established. In the background, the ocean at Te Wae Wae Bay, the Princess Mountain Range in the distance.
After weeks of plodding through the Scottish links with my family tree, one day last week I decided on a whim to take a bit of a peek into the Irish connections.
Immediately, or so it appeared, my imagination lit up. Previous to this, I had been finding it hard to come up with any spark. However, I may have been searching for the lode in the wrong place. It seems that at this particular time, for me, Ireland’s past is where the energy lies.
Re-energised, I am taking a gander at Irish myths and legends. I listen for the quick, and the dead; familial voices from the past that call to my present.
the drowned bell (an excerpt)
As the horse and I rode by the lough, I threw the small bell wide and hard and I was not sorry it was gone. Down and through, cutting dark water like the blade of a sword. No sound save a swallow from the throat of the lough as it took it. Took it from me, yes, but better yet, also from themNo longer can it sound the call to prayer. The bell of hammered iron, dipped in bronze, is now a drowned voice and I am not sorry. It has been silenced, yet in its fall it has been saved. Kept by water. The horse under me darkens, then flares as the blaze of fires from the monastery light up the sky. 
Kay McKenzie Cooke

Thursday, 7 July 2011

On Iron

Some find it easier to write the story, then do the research. As I plough into the relatively dim, unexplored interior of my own 'story-writing', I find that sometimes I need to research as I go. The research activates ideas, or in some cases (if I'm lucky) turns on a light. It can take on a life of its own however; that's when I have to watch it doesn't take off or I can end up in places I never intended to go, tangled up in the mangroves of sub-plots.
I have been researching 'bells', which led me to foundries, which led me to furnaces, which led me to iron, which led me to iron ore. It was a backwards journey (as research often is). I was starting to get to grips with the history of the ages, the metallic innards of our planet's (or in the case of iron ore, rocks from other stars and planets). Basic chemistry re-entered my conscious thought. (Some of the internet sites I looked up were 'for kids' - what a relief to find simple explanations with pictures). I guess in the world of research, the internet could be regarded as an inferior source, but for me any heavy library research will be down the line from this point in my story.
I learnt that in pre-historic times, the world's iron probably came from meteorites. Iron has been mostly replaced these days by alloys - aluminum, steel ... Some of what I had learned years ago in basic high school chemistry, came back to me. I still remembered the symbol for iron. The symbols were the one thing I enjoyed in chemistry; letters always doing so much more for me than numbers or equations. That K is for potassium was always going to be easier to remember than those weird, alien symbols you get in algebra.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

What Keeps Them

houses on hills

On suburban hills 
under Dunedin's fickle skies
they take whatever is dished out
sitting there like 

 shoes. L
ost or flung 

of  Monopoly,

such little eaved things, 
like apples or 
able to be plucked, 
still warm 
from sun or feathers.
What wild joy keeps them.
What kind, engineered 

Kay McKenzie Cooke

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...