Thursday, March 31, 2005

Bush pilgrimage

Way back in the hills, when the farm track runs out of paddock and veers off into pine plantation, there is some native bush I have had my eye on for a while. Yesterday I went inside. There are no human trails (at least near where I went in). The undergrowth is quite dense so it must have been fenced off from stock for a few years at least. Just in from the edge, where the light dims and dapples, there is a carpet of knee high baby nikau palms, vividly green.
Down in the leaf litter I saw numerous giant snail shells, mostly smashed (by pigs I suspect) but two were intact though empty and I brought them home. I have heard of giant native snails but never noticed them before. I'm not sure I would want to encounter a live one.... eeuuww slimey!
With no tracks to follow I meandered slowly through slight openings in the undergrowth, not so much walking through the bush as being in the bush, moving aimlessly and noticing intensely. I spent most of an hour experiencing about 50 square metres of bush containing an incredible diversity of plants. As I walked between tree trunks I was thinking about a book I am reading about 'pilgrimage' that has some resonance for me. Nonetheless I think 'retreat' is a more apt spiritual metaphor for what I am doing here since I don't have any desire to travel anywhere except deeper into these hills, more thoroughly into this bush and more mindfully into each moment.

Really Big Snails

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A job interview

Kia ora kotou,
Ko Sinia tooku maunga
Ko Jordan tooku awa
Ko Hurei tooku iwi
Ko Meliors tooku ingoa,
Tena kotou, tena kotou, tena kotou kotoa*

Today is one of those days when I feel enormously honoured to be a pakeha (non-Maori**) in Aotearoa (NZ). Working in the public sector for the past 7-8 years I more and more frequently find myself in the kind of bicultural situations which I just don't think are mainstream practice for white people in most countries.

I have been powhiri-ed (welcomed) into new jobs, and participated in numerous powhiri for others, I have had regular free te reo (Maori language) lessons on work time, I have learned and practiced many waiata (songs) as part of my work, I have been part of meetings beginning with a karakia (prayer). I feel lucky to be part of a generation that is figuring out a new, inclusive way of organising public life that honours the spiritual, creative and communal aspects of human interation not just our bureaucratic roles. I appreciate how generous Maori are to share their traditions so flexibly.

I want to describe my experience today because I know that not everyone gets to participate in biculturalism in their work life and if you are a NZer who hasn't yet, it might seem a scarey prospect in its unfamiliarity.

Today was the first time that I was interviewed in a bicultural way- a wonderful first impression of the organisation. But boy am I glad that I have had so much prior exposure because I was given about a minute's notice that we would begin with mihi (greeting), karakia and waiata... and I was really kicking myself that I hadn't rehearsed my mihimihi (see above- I use it so infrequently it needs practice every time). But the panelist who warned me also reminded me that the point of these rituals was for the tangata whenua (hosts) to warmly welcome me and put me at my ease, and there was no expectation that I perform the corresponding rituals for manuhiri (visitors).

When I walked into the interview room the four panelists stood and I shook hands and kissed or hongi'd (pressed noses) with each in turn. Then the one man on the panel said a karakia, during which I took the opportunity to centre and connect with my own sense of the Divine. Then we all stood and sang a hymn and fortunately it was familiar enough for me to mostly sing along (and I love to sing as part of a group so this was fun). Then he said a mihi in te reo. I was pleased to be able to recognise a few words though not enough to understand the meaning but that was ok becuase he followed with a loose translation in English. The bits I remember are: they warmly welcomed me there, that I was brave to come along by myself (presumably without whanau (family)) and that what they all wanted from this interview was for me to be successful. What a good reminder that job interviewers really are more interested in finding out if you are the right person than proving you are the wrong one! Then we all stood and sang another, vaguely familiar, waiata. Then he said final short karakia and handed over to the senior woman to lead the interview.

From then on it followed the familiar pattern of public service interview questions asked by each of the panelists. My feeling about job interviews is that here is a captive audience who actually want to hear me talk about myself in a positive way. I generally enjoy interviews and this was no exception, though perhaps more laughter than usual (they were laughing with me, not at me, really!).

* My mihmihii: Greetings to you all, Sinai is my mountain, Jordan is my river, Jews are my tribe, Meliors is my name, greetings, greetings, greetings to you all. (Kia ora (thanks to) Caro for giving me this korero)

**NZer's bear with my translations, I know I have readers in the US (etc?) who may not be so familiar with Maori words that have become part of everyday language here.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Destination inevitable

Twice in a row now I have set out on what is to be a short walk, having considered and rejected some distant destination as too far away for the time available. Both times I have taken a wrong turn and gotten lost, to end up hours later strangely close to where I decided not to go (having taken much longer to get there than if I had simply followed my first impulse).

Both times I have had to fight through filthy steep swamps and prickly undergrowth only to be rewarded by the kind of treasurable experiences that the land here seems very generous with... a series of ferneries... a kiwi burrow... three windswept totoara like sculpture on a bare hilltop... a big golden full moon rising and dipping in front of me as I walk between dark hills towards home.

Thursday, March 24, 2005


I am not a monogamous bibliophiliac. I rarely feel the need to own a book and I frequently purge those books that I have somehow come to possess. I like sharing, especially with public libraries. In fact I am probably addicted to public libraries. I have been known to claim that I couldn't live without access to a decent public library. In reality this has meant I have sometimes lived for short periods of time in the neighbourhood of impovershed public libraries, but I always move on before I'm reduced to reading Georgette Heyer or farming almanacs.

So it was with no little trepidation that I joined the Whangarei District Libraries (WDL) as my first official act on obtaining evidence of residence in said District. It was remarkably easy to become a member (haven't these people heard about the book thievery in Christchurch?). And I managed to accumulate a small pile for issuing.

Mostly though, I consoled myself on that first visit with the future promise of the big fancy new library being built down the road. The rabbit warren that currently houses the central library contained what felt like a paucity of 'good' books (i.e. those I'm interested in reading) in a series of very cramped spaces. I was, however, thrilled to find the second season of Six Feet Under on DVD, and managed to watch all 13 episodes inthe one week before it was due back (if anyone wants to loan me the third season let me know- I promise to return it soon)!

Thankfully my dear bibliophiliac friend, Sista D, is keeping me well stocked from her personal, extensive and extremely facinating library so I don't feel too desperate about finding enough to read yet.

However, all the perceived shortcomings of the WDL were obliterated (at least for the moment) when I enjoyed the first Mobile Library experience of my adult life. I had noted today it was making its monthly visit to Purua School (only 6 kms from my place) and I requested several books by phone and internet. The big shiny bus was waiting in the car park when I arrived, the first eager customer up its steps. I was enchanted to find a complete library in miniature inside-even a beanbag in the kids section.

The friendly, helpful librarian had two of my requests waiting for me and I took the opportunity to browse the shelves. The stacks were as small as you would expect but catered to a wide age range. I had expected more large print books and Georgette Heyer (a prejudice based on my exposure to the politics of Wellington Mobile Libraries when I worked at WCC) . There was an emphasis on New Zealand non-fiction and I was pleased to find an enticing book about kiwi- my new favourite bird.

The only downside of the Mobile Library is that I have to wait a whole four weeks before it comes again. But when it does, Glenn the lovely librarian promises to bring me out some CDs (we discovered a common liking for 'world' music) and a book on the meanings of Maori place names.

Somehow the mobility of the Mobile Library makes a virtue of its small size- it seems intimate rather than cramped, accessible rather than limited and has wonderfully personalised service. If I can just manage to tap into a larger sci fi collection I think I will be able to keep living in Whangarei Library's District for a very long time.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Kiwi country

I spent the morning looking for, and finding, kiwi chicks. I was tagging along with Pete Graham of DoC, with his aerial for hearing their transmitters and his specially trained kiwi-finding dog, Manu. We were in some private bush that one of my farmer-neighbours has fenced off that is apparently chock full of kiwi. We found five, including the three chicks we were looking for.

The youngest, about 3 weeks old was still in the nest, hiding under his papa, with another unhatched egg that Pete reckons might be a dud. Peering into their hole under a tree with a torch I could see a lot of shaggy feathers, a big beak and a tiny little beak. Pete decided not to disturb them in case the egg gets damaged; he will go back another time and collect feathers off the chick so it can be DNA tested to tell its sex. This dad has stuck around his baby an unusually long time- usually chicks are left to fend for themselves within ten days.

We found another chick, about six months old, sleeping so that its beak was quite visible from one side of its hidey hole and its big feathery bottom was sticking right out the other. Pete grabbed it by the feet and taped its legs together so that he could weigh it and measure its beak. After he was finished with his measurements I was thrilled to be allowed to hold Mwedzi (they all have names as well as numbers, transmitters and microchips) who was quite calm and docile throughout our whole encounter. Pete visits his chicks every few weeks until they are big enough to fight off a stoat, so they are used to being handled by people.

Another chick the same age was better hidden- right in the middle of a big pile of fallen trees and quite a ways from where Pete had last found it. Hiohio was much more fiesty than Wgewge and complained and wriggled and clapped his bill as we checked his measurements. He was also quite a bit bigger- almost 1000gms and big enough to be considered 'a breeding success' and graduate to a juvenile transmitter.

The morning's work completed, we were walking back through the bush when Manu started following a kiwi trail and wouldn't come when called- her way of telling Pete she thinks he should come to her. She wears a little neon orange coat and a blue muzzle with a bell so its pretty easy to know where she is. When she was a puppy, Pete tried to train her to find predators but she kept finding kiwi. So they both retrained as kiwi finders and they are a very tight team.

Anyway, Manu led us to a kiwi that Pete didn't recognise at first. The microchip gave us her number and we identified her as Paora, a chick that Pete had originally tracked in the bush capping the hill across the road from my place. She had travelled a few kms across bush and open pasture since then. She is about 18 months old, and considerably larger and longer billed than the chicks I had held already, though only two thirds of her adult size. She was pretty content to be held while measured and dressed in a new, better fitting transmitter band.

I never imagined that I would hold a kiwi on my lap, look into its bright little eyes, feel the soft/coarse texture of its feathers and see the ticks on its chin. I feel like I have had a rare and sacred experience to hold three in one day. Pete says that once someone has held a kiwi they are a good ally for them. For me, a kiwi fan in the abstract while dwelling in the city, today's experience has inspired a fiercely protective feeling towards these reclusive, yet surprisingly cuddly, birds.

Meliors, Manu and Paora

Cuddling a kiwi

ow ooh ah

I had an full and interesting day in Town yesterday. ..

I attended my first serious yoga class since the 1980s and this morning muscles that had forgotten they existed are grumbling about revival. I went to a movie with a new friend and was pleasantly surprised to enjoy The Aviator far beyond my admittedly low expectations (Leonardo DiCaprio as something more than a pretty boy?!). And I had a constructive and confidence inspiring meeting with the genial chap who will be my accountant- it looks like I may be able to put off wage slavery for quite a bit longer than I feared.

Now I have woken early in excited anticipation of accompanying Pete from Department of Conservation to visit some kiwi chicks (as in baby flightless birds not New Zealand women) living in the bush down the road from here.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Heavens open

Wow! this afternoon I put out some rice in the sun oven (that's how hot it is) and drove into town to print 3 books I'm working on. On my way home the first news item on National Radio was the fog in Wellington and I may have had a wee moment of smugness about how sunny it is here. That was before I turned into the road home and the rain started to dump down... instant mudpuddles on the dirt road. But the most amazing thing was shortly after I got home (soaked in the two metres between car and front door). I looked out the window at our little valley and saw a lightning fork come down to the pasture inside the hills, followed very shortly by a long lound peal of thunder.

Or is it more amazing that the cows simply continue to graze, apparently unphased by this extreme weather?

How to look

Boo hoo.. I can't go to the opening of Crossover exhibition tonight and see my book (How to Talk to this Diaspora Jew about Israel and Palestine) on display. Why? Because I am in Whangarei and the exhibition is in Wellington.

Instead I will walk around the hills talking to cows (they seem to like that) and scaring birds (not on purpose) because now I am a country girl. And to me that is actually more fun than standing round listening to speeches, drinking cheap wine, picking through kai for something I can eat, and talking artist's bullshit with other artists and their mothers.

But I wish I could see the exhibition. So if you are in Wellington this week can you do me a favour? Can you go along to the Academy of Fine Arts (it's on the waterfront, at Queens Wharf), check it out and then tell me about it. Of course I am interested in how the whole thing looks- very multicultural I'm sure- and in my friend's work, like Katrina Ching. But what I really want to know is... how does my book look? Email me or comment here... Thanks

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Creating home

When I wrote in a recent artist's book proposal that making an 'Atlas of Purua' would both document and assist my developing sense of home... it was more because it sounded like the right kind of arty-talk to put in a proposal than because I had really thought about what that might mean or how that would work.

Returning from my week away I have gradually come into a much stronger sense of home here than before I left. I was a little resistant when I first returned, a reluctant lover of this land. I wish I lived on an organic permaculture farm in a beautiful rammed earth eco-house with an established sculpture and food garden full of eccentricity and tropical colours. The reality of this overgrown and neglected beef farm and my tin shed dwelling with its bit of shaggy lawn don't look very much like the fantasy.

But...yesterday the last afternoon of daylight savings turned on humid sunshine for me and I explored more of the wild beauty behind the hills that are my immediate horizon. And as I walked, every new vista, corner or track, every fallen feather and every bird in flight delighted and inspired me. And as I walked, the Atlas took shape in my mind and in developing my book ideas I increase my acute awareness of my surroundings.

Home is a sense of committment, and my commitment emerges with each of the sturdy, spiritual, sensual gifts of the land that I am uncovering through my creative work here. Just as I had anticipated so glibly a month ago my sense of belonging grows out of my pleasure at being fully and creatively engaged in each wonderful moment. I walk with bags for collecting treasures, my wonky little camera and my notebook. I soak up everything and write and draw prolifically.

Even the dead kitten in the pine forest, and especially what I think (hope) might be a kiwi burrow under a punga, move me. Even the most unpromising dusty track offers up a dozen bright feathers from different birds, a crop of lush watercress, a new view of the valley and always, always, the extreme pleasure of exploring these hills I can call home.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Soul food

It was interesting to spend a week away from a home I'd only lived in two weeks before I left, and away from a rural life I'd only been living for about 5 weeks in total.

I don't think I could have coped with most of my trip if I'd been still living in the city. My journey to and from WOMAD was a zig-zagging sales trip around the North Island. I showed my work at over a dozen galleries and came home with a big list of orders to fill. Last year selling my work felt like torture- I mostly avoided any attempt because of how hard it felt to cold call on retailers. This time my experience was entirely positive- I even enjoyed meeting the buyers who, for whatever reason, aren't going to be stocking my work right away.

I also enjoyed being in the big crowds at WOMAD- something I've increasingly avoided in recent years.

Looking at the changes in my life: creative solitude, working full-time on my art, living far away from cars and concrete and crowds, spending lots of time with trees... these things feed my soul and build up my resiliance. I think I'm finally able to enjoy bursts of intense social contact and I'm able to take myself and my work out into the world with confidence because I spend so much time alone with the green.

Honey I'm home! (from WOMAD)

It's wonderful to be back in my quiet little valley where today the clouds are the fastest moving things in my my line of sight. But I had a great trip away too, though it was full-on the whole time.

WOMAD was wonderful... I was exposed to lots of new (to me) music that I will be seeking out more of, including Mweya, a very blonde Marimba band from Motueka (NZ). It's hard to pick out favourite acts, because I enjoyed almost everything I saw, and am regretting almost everything I missed (but I had to have some breaks from sensory overload). It was the whole atmosphere that made it a fantastic experience: the mellow diversity of the crowd, the smooth and comfortable logistics like toilets and camping, the perfect weather, the idyllic setting in New Plymouth's beautiful Brooklands Park... I knew so many people there, both those who I'd planned to meet up with, and the almost hourly encounter with some long lost friend. I very quickly started feeling like WOMAD was my whanau and I had come home.

I also had fun interviewing the wonderful Yair Dalal, an Iraqi-Israeli musician. The interview will appear in the New Zealand Jewish Chronicle (along with photos by Katrina Ching) so I won't give away the goodies here. Suffice to say I love his Jewish-Arabic music and he is a intelligent, spiritual and interesting man. Follow the title link to hear some of his sounds.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Off track

My heartfelt wishes for a digital camera donation did not fall on deaf ears. My darling mum, bless her, clipped 7 coupons from the Herald, paid them $25, and sent me a digital camera the size of a credit card. She will receive a packet of new little books next week when I get back from WOMAD.

It's lucky the camera is so cute to look at as that somewhat redeems its functional shortcomings. The main challenge so far is that its aim is not true but I have figured out if that you position the centre of the picture you want in the lower left corner of the view finder, the result is more or less meaningful. In terms of focus and lighting and resolution it's probably good enough to illustrate this blog, its primary purpose. Except that all of the photos I took on my walk this afternoon mysteriously disappeared out of the camera's memory before I could upload them to the laptop.

So you just have to imagine the lush bush scenes, lichen covered old fence posts, and babbling brooks that I was going to show you from my particularly thrilling and wet walk today. Wet because, though I waited until the rain had stopped, I couldn't resist leaving the track to wade through long wet grass, rockhop up streams and plunge into cunningly hidden swamps. Thrilling because I finally got out into some 'real bush' out the back of the farm, off the track, diverse but not terribly dense given the cattle traffic.

Not long after I inspected some pig-rooted ground came the most exciting moment. I emerged from the bush and decided to try a short cut through a hilly paddock. This led me to be faced with a wall of gorse meeting a 10 metre drop to a rocky stream. I was contemplating my options when I heard a very pig-like growling from behind me- the only apparent way out from my little impasse. I couldn't actually see a pig (the only thing that really scares me in the bush) but I started to whistle bravely and tunelessly and went forward into the gorse... Actually I managed to tiptoe my way between the gorse and the cliff for about 50 metres by ducking under some prickly totora. What exhilaration to emerge, as I had hoped, into a familiar paddock bordering the main farm track.

Tomorrow I leave for WOMAD and a tour of North Island craft galleries. Transmission may be interrupted but I will be back on board next week for sure, with the further adventures of Meliors: Book Artist and Bush Whacker.

My place

Purua Chooks

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Blissing out

Yesterday I drove out to the Tutukaka Coast for the first time. Even on a grey day it was easy to see why it is such a tourist magnet, especially when there were hardly any tourists around. My destination was Whales Bay where I had been promised a massage. I went exploring first, down the steep track to the beach which is a croissant of golden sand fringed with pohutokawa and nikau, edged with black rocks where people were snorkeling but mostly just gently lapping of water to sand. Even the school trip worth of kids couldn't spoil the enchantment and when they left I sank down onto the silky sand and dozed off.

Climbing back up the hill I couldn't imagine feeling more relaxed but it just got better. Louisa Sinclair welcomed me into her family's log cabin on the cliff top, and turned my back to jelly. She learned massage from her Cook Islands whanau and had lots of new and different techniques that I hadn't felt before (and I consider myself a bit of a massage connoisseur). I felt like I had a total spa experience (not that I've ever had a total spa experience) with the beautiful surroundings, the carefully chosen oils and music, the sensitive and healing touch. And all this in exchange for a Boob Book. I feel very very lucky.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Chilling out

One of the trees by the creek is starting to turn yellow: winter is coming to the winterless north, but oh so gently. I had hoped to write how I was using the sun oven to cook up windfall apples from our orchard but they had to go on the stovetop because the famous northland rain is floating down like it can't quite make the effort to form drops. And the sun which rose so promisingly in pink and gold bands across the hills this morning has disappeared and I am almost cold, chilly enough to put on long trousers for this first time since I moved up here. But not cold enough to light a fire, and besides the chimney hasn't been swept yet and I have a feeling swallows are nesting up there. The clouds are wrapping the hills which wrap the valley which wraps my little cottage and today feels like being cocooned in dandelion silk or possum fur, or downy feathers.


I made my Whangarei debut this weekend reading at a poetry event at the Mokaba on the Town Basin. I was the youngest reader by some decades (and I'm no spring chicken myself). I was also in a small minority not reading rhyming verse. Gardens were a popular theme. There was one quite risque poem and some political satire. Almost no one read for too long. Despite (or perhaps because of) my handicaps of age and free verse I was very warmly received and invited to attend both of the monthly poetry groups that meet in Whangarei.

I couldn't help but compare it to the last open mike I read at in upper Cuba St, Wellington where the most memorable performers ranted explicitly at length about sex and drugs. I'm not sure where I fit into the New Zealand poetry scene but if I do have a niche I haven't found it yet. Happily in my experience, whatever the cultural context of such poetry events, they are overwhelming supportive and affirmative of every poet.

This was also the weekend of the Artisan's Fair which started at 7am. That is quite early when one has been partying it up with the Whangarei poetry scene the night before (and have to drive in from the wopwops). It was worth it though, much more successful than my previous market experience. The weather was perfect and I got a prime spot under a gum tree that occasionally dropped leaves artistically onto my table and next to a massage practitioner so that together we could create a little oasis of contemplative calm in the busy market.

The Optimistic Heart continued its golden run as my best seller in every situation, but the wee books I had made especially for the market did well also. There is one copy of 'Wavelets' left for sale- with coral on the cover ($15). The Houghton Bay book didn't do so well- I think the surfing Cook Strait joke probably doesn't make so much sense in the 'City of a Hundred Beaches' of endless warm waves. And, not surprisingly, the Boob Book got lots of attention and laughs. However, the only buyer for it has taken me up on my offer of barter and I am swopping her the book for a relaxation massage this afternoon- it seems kind of appropriate!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

A Beatrix Potter moment

On today's gold star afternoon walk I spent several minutes in a staring competition with four home-alone baby bunnnies. They lined up outside their burrow (at my eye level in a pock marked clay bank held together with totora roots) watching me as intently as I was watching them, twitching their little noses. Maybe they were too young to be scared of me, or perhaps they knew that I am no threat, especially in the face of such cuteness.


Eating toast on the deck, watching my landlady move cattle around the farm... they make a lot of noise, those pregnant cows... not so much mooing or lowing as bellowing and groaning. They started up with the cowtalk when she moved the calves to the paddock next door to the cows-I thought maybe they were the joyful greetings of long lost kin. Then as the big beasts filed past the orchard they kvetched and grizzled, assembling outside my house, they leaned over the gate to get a good look at my place, and one in particular met my eye as it stretched its neck in a forceful cry. Eventually they carried on up the race and round the hill to chew down a paddock so overgrown that when I walked through it a couple of days ago the grass was chest high. Apparently there is some concern that they might get the wobbles from eating the seed heads.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


Yesterday was my first trip into town for four days. To prepare myself for hours of hot driving in circles I decided to go for a dip in the stream, first.

I walked round to the concrete ford where there is quite a deep shady swimming hole I had spotted earlier in the week. After a cooler day of rain the water was a bit bracing and my skinnydip quite quick. But on the other side of the fence across the stream, sunlight glinted and I decided to try walking back to the house along the stream bed.

The water was ankle to knee deep most of the way and delightfully cool in the sultry heat of the sunlight. There were many little fishy creatures darting around and patches of tired looking watercress. I passed a couple of swimming holes which would have been more enticing if less muddy or slimy. There is a lot of slime, apparently seasonal, caused by the sunshine. There is a lot of mud too, churned up by cattle.

Although I'm pretty sure I was the only human around for many miles that morning, I did have some interesting encounters with cows. Unfortunately that stream runs through a paddock where a herd of very pregnant cows are grazing. At midday they were very sensibly hanging out in a shady area by the stream and were a little concerned at my passage. Unfortunately they would move away in the same direction as I was heading so we met up several times, before I decided to leave the (suddenly quite deep) stream to them and head out across the paddocks for home.