Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

We are all immigrants

November 25, 2007

There is mounting geological evidence that at one time, the whole landmass of New Zealand was completely submerged. About 85 million years ago, the continent ‘Zealandia‘ broke away from Gondwanaland. It was about half the size of Australia. Over tens of millions of years it slowly sank beneath the waves until it was completely under water. About 23 million years ago, due to the movement of the tectonic plates, it emerged from the sea, and slowly became the shape and size it is today.

This makes the legend of Maui fishing the North Island up from the sea seem to ring very true. It also means that all life on this land arrived here, rather than evolving from the beginning of life on Gondwanaland. The seeds of plants would have arrived by dispersal on the wind, and carried by migratory birds. Those birds over 20 million years evolved to the flightless moa, kiwi, and many other species that are here today. Lizards travelled on floating logs over the sea (almost every rock in the sea is covered by lizards, they are such hardy mariners). Even the ancient tuatara, for which there are 100 million year old fossils in New Zealand, have more recent fossil relatives (35 million years) from South America, and it seems likely our tuatara came from there. The theory would also explain the complete lack of ‘native’ terrestrial mammals, for they would have had no way of surviving the journey across the sea.

I like the idea that all living species in our country are travelers, all immigrants. Some of us arrived 20 million years ago, some 1,000, some a few human generations ago, and some very recently. None of us ‘own’ this land. Some, perhaps by arriving earlier, have a greater claim to the right to exist here. The right to live, in freedom, without the threat of physical or cultural extinction by those arriving later. But all of us are descendants of travelers, the courageous, the hardy. Those willing to chance a journey into the unknown, across the oceans.

I hope that this knowledge will help us to see each other (human and non-human) as equals. All valuable, unique and alive with the spirit of adventure. I hope that it will help us to respect and love each other, and to share what we have. A canoe is a small vessel, and we must take care to get along, if we are to stay afloat.



October 26, 2007

4am in the morning the rooster crowed. I woke and went outside the cabin. The grass was damp and cold. I looked up, directly over the trees, my eyes drawn to the brightest moon I have ever seen.

Full, large, and shining in the night sky. I looked around me and there were distinct shadows cast by the clothesline, maypole, trees and me. No wonder the rooster thought it was dawn.

In the chill air I was struck by the clarity and beauty of things. Little colour, but near light as day. Life seemed simple and pure.

Cat Stevens sings about Moonshadows. To me the song is about gratitude and acceptance:

I ever lose my eyes
If my colours all run dry
yes, if I ever lose my eyes
oh if …
I won’t have to cry no more.

It’s a calm and gentle acceptance of suffering and loss. It also implicitly conveys gratitude for what we do have, in a pure clear way like the shadows cast by the moon, darkness against darkness. This verse though is the one that struck me the most:

Did it take long to find me
I ask the faithful light
Ooh did it take long to find me
And are you going to stay the night

To me the faithful light is like the inner light, perhaps cooler and less distant that sunlight. Sunlight either is, or isn’t. Dark and light are more distinct during the day. The ‘faithful light’ is more tolerant, dark and light coexist, merging at the edges. That’s like suffering, gratitude and love. They’re all part of the same life.

Wellspring of laughter

August 31, 2007

Avon’s baby was born at home, in the beautiful Kahuterawa valley. In Christchurch the first blossoms are on the trees, pink and tentative against the last grasp of winter. Around the seat where my mother’s ashes were scattered, yellow fingers of daffodil shoot from their green stems, ready to unfurl as the weather warms.

In the mountains the ice thaws and cold water babbles over the river stones, soft and gurgling like a baby’s laughter.

July gripped my heart with the rough wound of loss. I ran in the dark, arms needled with the shooting pangs of fear. Yet here, the city’s getting smaller behind the boat, and as the sea expands the hold of winter on the land lifts in me.

Night never lasts. Fast and free life springs quietly awake in the light.

Today I held the baby of my first love, warm in the sun on this island in the sea. And she, small and new and clean, smiled up at me.

Patterns in the ice

July 17, 2007

There’s something about a frozen stream. Seemingly caught in mid babble, now silent, solid all the way up to its source. Like you could lift the whole thing up, one giant icicle, molded to the contours of the land.

I’ve seen ice in so many forms in this past week. Clear and smooth, frozen rink like over the surface of a tarn. Opaque and broken, growing on alpine shrubs and falling down a slope to rest jumbled in a heap. Crystal like bobbly fringes clinging to round boulders in mid stream. Banks of glossy stalactites stretching down from mossy overhangs. Fine curved needles pushing a layer of earth out from the dirt wall left by a track cut into the hill. Webbed nets of criss crossing lines, trapped in panes frozen over puddles.

Perhaps people are like ice. Our very selves developing, solidifying in a myriad of different circumstances. Each becoming more distinct, beautiful and in so doing, more set, brittle and inflexible. But still somehow yearning to let go, to be liquid, to merge back into the oneness of the flowing stream…


July 15, 2007

We were in Arthur’s Pass for six days. It was so cold each night the pipes froze up. The air was still and crisp in the mornings and the frost took till lunchtime to melt each day. For two days the power was out as the old black bakelite mains switch in the house gave out after 40 years or so of loyal service. I really enjoyed there being no power. There’s a small enclosed fire (like a pot-bellied stove but rectanglar) which you can cook on, and use to heat water.

Taking care of all the jobs required just to stay warm and fed gave a certain rhythm to the day. Get up, light the fire, boil water, pour hot water on the frozen pipes under the house, cho wood, cook breakfast, boil more water for the dishes, stoke the fire, do the dishes, and so on. There was still plenty of time for walks and playing cards and board games, but the day was measured and paced by the basic routine of survival.

You can’t hurry this. Everything takes as long as it takes. You can’t make the fire start faster, or rush the water to boil. It forces you to slow down, to move methodically through the day, and to go to bed early, when the light fades and the candles sputter out. There’s a sense of the eternal here. I can imagine my grandchildren and great grandchildren coming to this bach. It’ll be just the same in another 40 years. Just like these mountains, quietly measuring the seasons, sitting together in the stillness of the sky.

Where do we go from here (part one)

April 15, 2007

At the moment, up to Arthur’s Pass for a week at the bach, to catch up on sleep and spend time with the kids. And also to connect with nature and cool my spirit in the chill beauty of the mountains and beech forest. I promise normal blogging service will be returned next weekend, with thoughts about YF camp.

Hands and heart

April 1, 2007

The flower arrangement at Meeting today was a combination of nerines and five finger. Nerines are a South African flower, and five finger (pseudopanax) is a New Zealand native. The person who had brought the flowers explained that they could be seen as a symbol of harmony, of the possibility for peace. In the 1980s New Zealand and South Africa were in conflict over a rugby tour where many people in New Zealand protested about the continued oppression of apartheid.

I liked the symbolism of the green five fingered pseudopanax as hands, and the bright nerines as hearts. When hands and heart are separated, at odds with each other, terrible things can happen. When they are aligned, in harmony there is the possibility for peace and beauty.

The Green Silence

March 30, 2007

“He had run behind Ta-Kumsaw through the forests of this whole land, north and south, and in that running young Alvin learned him how the Red man ran, hearing the greensong of the living woodland, moving in perfect harmony to that sweet silent music” – Prentice Alvin by Orson Scott Card.

After two days of running workshops in Hamilton and Auckland I was ready to go home. I got a taxi through the motorways and spaghetti junctions of Auckland’s desperately congested and inadequate transport system, massive concrete ramps seething between high rise buildings and endless suburbs. The flight was delayed for two hours so I sat in the sterile, blandness of Auckland airport.

Once home I drove to the Quaker family camp at Journey’s end, near Loburn, about 40 mins north of Christchurch. Almost everyone had gone horse riding so when I pulled in to the camp it was quiet. The sun poured dappled through the birch and willow leaves onto the thick grass. Native birds sang in the trees and circadas chirped a rhythmic beat. The calm and peace of the place washed over me like a warm bath. I sunk into the quiet beauty and spirit of the site. Within minutes I felt restful and still. Just as Orson Scott Card described it, the silence was green, alive.

What is it that makes us surround ourselves with dead things, with steel and glass that separates us from the living land? How can I return more often to this connection with the source and the earthly manifestation of living energy?

Builder dust and willow snow

November 3, 2006

The Resident Friend’s flat and accommodation at George Fox House in Wellington is undergoing renovation. I haven’t seen the changes yet, but Anna’s been describing the process to me:

“I have a new wall now but no door in it which means the dust just blows back in from the hole in the ceiling & floor”

Given how familiar the place has become for me it’ll be strange to have it changed. Renovations are such a violent process, walls are rent, plaster ripped, joists and beams hewn. Things that have been solid, immutable for many years all of a sudden have openings cut through them. What was certain, a fixed boundary, is now open to light and air. And all around is ‘builder dust’, and precious things must be covered in sheets to keep them from being covered in the detritus and building blood of change.
Sometimes changes in our minds, our lives, need to be like that. Wrenching, profound, what was fixed for years ripped open within a day or two, and new light let in. It can be uncomfortable, painful, but nevertheless the only way.

Yesterday I was running around the river. The air was thick with ‘willow snow’, the light fluffy balls that carry willow seeds floating on the air. The willow snow collected in drifts on the grass verges of the footpath. To the touch it was as one who’s never seen snow before might naively imagine it to feel, soft, warm and fluffy. The willow trees, so pliant and patient, that yield and break before the wild winds and yet are ever growing. To them change is slow, and steady, almost imperceptible. They grow gently, softly and beautifully.

And sometimes that is the way it is with us.

Welling up

October 30, 2006

During JYF camp we went to Waikoropupu springs. In this place a whole river wells up out of the ground, apparently from nowhere. The water is the clearest, most pure I have ever seen. We had a walking Meeting for Worship, following each other in the silence through the bush on the path to the springs. Standing at the viewing platform as a whole group, silently and in reverence of this incredible natural beauty it was easy to see why Maori held this place as sacred. Nowadays it is protected by the Department of Conservation.

In Meeting this week someone spoke about a documentary he had seen on the establishment of a Thai Buddhist monastery in Christchurch. He had been curious about how the monks did not cook for themselves, and that this was done by the Thai community, who contributed much to keeping the monastry going, both time and money. The monks were given the space to meditate, and to teach on matters of the spirit and of healing.  He drew a comparison with the incredible plethora of committees, conversations and work that goes on simply so we can have an hour of silence on a Sunday morning in Friends.

Other ministry that morning was about truly listening to people when they talk, taking the time to really hear what they were saying. All these things spoke to me about the upwelling of the spirit. When we create the space for silence, when we wait before responding when listening to someone, we allow the spirit to well forth. We get out of the way, and let the pure clean energy of the universe flow through us.