Friday, September 29, 2006

Herpetofauna Heaven

The owners of our current housesit are mad keen on water features (and rocks, which they brought in every last one of from her brother's farm). There's a creek with a dam that is currently weed-choked to a swampy consistency. There's this lovely little zen pool-on-a-rock under the camellia bush (and did you know that cattle love to eat camellia leaves and also avocado and nikau leaves, even if there is plenty of grass about?). But best of all is the pond next to the patio which apparently was once home to golden carp but is now home to.... drum roll please ... frogs! Ok, so maybe that doesn't sound so exciting to you, but me and Al, we're excited.

So far we've spotted three frogs and heard some lovely croaking (so we know they are not native because all NZ native frogs are silent). One big green one that we are pretty sure is a female Southern Bell Frog (introduced from Australia) or perhaps a Green and Golden Bell Frog (also from Australia). I think perhaps the two little dark ones may be older males because the females are bigger but they get darker when they are older. There's this handy frog identification guide but we haven't been able to get a good enough look at them to use it. They are very shy frogs with no interest in posing for identification purposes nor for portraits. I could have posted one of a number of photographs of the pond, and used photoshop to draw an arrow at a few pixels that Al swears is a frog, but honestly, you wouldn't thank me. As compensation I offer this most excellent of links to finish. Click here for some croaking.

Monday, September 25, 2006


I was visiting a family this weekend where, Rory, about 8 years old, turned out to have an even more extensive collection of possum bones than I do (I keep using mine in projects and having to collect more). We made up a few skeletons together on the old copper covered rudder of the sugar barge they live in.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Passing of a True Princess

Last night I dreamed about a tiny Yorkshire Terrier puppy flying around the world to come and be with me. When I woke up I realised that it was probably Princess, because one of her human companions had texted me the evening before, our first contact in nearly a year, but with no mention of Princess. Continuing our text conversation after my dream, I found out that Princess has been buried overlooking Princess Bay in Wellington. She was very old and had been frail and sickly for a long time, kept alive by the tender care of many people, most especially Ben and Sarah.

When I first met Princess she went everywhere with Ben as one of the most inconguous human-animal companionships I've come across. Princess was the archetypal twee lap dog and Ben a young surfer dude. He'd adopted her when his elderly neighbour had been forced by her deteriorating health into a home. His laconic affection for this most unlikely of pets (surfer dudes should have big macho dogs, surely) was one of the easiest ways to see past his cool image to his compassionate heart.

The last few years have been much quieter for Princess, with fewer surfing trips and loud parties. She spent a lot of time following the sun from cushion to cushion across Ben and Sarah's clifftop livingroom, overlooking the Cook Strait. She had an exceptionally good life with some unexpected twists and turns but always lots of love. I have missed her since leaving Wellington and I am very grateful that she visited my dreams last night like an puppyangel .

Monday, September 18, 2006

Hitching Stories

I did a lot of hitch hiking around New Zealand in my late teens. It was easiest to get picked up when I was alone, but felt safer when I was with another girl- though in reality some of the worst things happened with a hitching buddy. I rarely hitched with a guy, because it was much harder to get picked up. This was in the mid-eighties and I and my friends mostly were dressed as punks or other alternative style. I used to keep myself warm and entertained by singing and dancing on the side of the road and would flash big smiles at approaching cars, hoping to persuade them to stop for me.

The first time I ever hitch hiked was with a girlfriend who had done it before so I made her get in the front seat with the business man who picked us up. They were chatting and I was dozing and then they went quiet and I woke up to see him reach across to her lap. I looked over into the front seat and saw his fly was undone and he was trying to get into my friend’s pants. It didn’t make much sense to me so I said “What are you doing?” and he angrily stopped the car and left us in the middle of nowhere. It took us a while to work up the courage to stick our thumbs out again after that, but we had to so we did. The next ride was a van and neither of us were willing to sit alone in the front with the driver (who proved to be entirely harmless, like almost everybody who has picked me up since) so we both rattled round in the back for hours.

That experience made me careful but didn’t put me off hitching. I was on the dole and had lots of time and desire to travel but next to no money so it was an ideal way to get around the country. For about two years I travelled between Dunedin and Hamilton regularly as well as exploring other parts of the country. Some of my best rides were with big scarey looking Maori guys and some of my scariest rides were with straight looking white guys. Very few women ever picked me up and they would inevitably tell me that they had done some hitch hiking at some point in their lives.

I had lots of adventures. The craziest trip was from Christchurch to the West Coast with a girl who I didn’t know very well and never saw again after we finally got back to civilization. Our ride over the pass was with a car full of young guys who were drinking cans of beer and throwing the empties out the windows. As soon as we got in and saw that there were no door handles on the inside we wanted to get out so made up some excuse and escaped as soon as we could.

On the way back we got a ride with a man who said he would take us to the turn-off we wanted but he had to do a few detours to deliver magazines on the way. We weren’t in a hurry so we didn’t mind. I sat in the front seat and my friend sat in the back. He was quite friendly and chatty, asking us lots of questions about ourselves. Eventually I noticed that he was wearing a bra under his business shirt and pantyhose under his trousers. When he stopped at the first place to make his delivery I twisted around in my seat and was telling my friend what I noticed about his clothes. She showed me one of the magazines he was delivering and it was a newsletter for people into kinky sex. Then I saw that under my seat there was a tape recorder and I said “Look its recording” as I turned it off and then we saw the man coming back to the car. We were too mortified to try and talk about any of these things with him. We got out of the car as soon as we could and exploded into giggles.

Later that day, we got dropped off at the top of the pass and went to the public toilets to smoke a joint. Just then a bus from the Girls Home in Christchurch stopped there and we found ourselves surrounded by much tougher girls than us who grabbed our joint and finished it while bullying and taunting us. Fortunately their Matron came in and my friend and I took the opportunity to run away as fast as we could and hide in the bushes until their bus had gone past us. Then just as we emerged to try and get a ride, the car with no inside handles screeched to a halt and the same group of drunk young men tried to give us a ride. We ran again!

For years after I got my own car I would stop and pick up hitch hikers, but I have grown more and more cautious, slowing down to look at their faces before I stop. Once I was driving from Christchurch to Invercargill and several times I passed this one Maori man hitching . He was big and rough looking with tattoos and I kept talking myself out of picking him up but then he would pop up again on the side of the road. Finally, just south of Dunedin I stopped and gave him a lift to his destination in Gore. We had a great chat, he was a fisherman heading home for some leave with his family, I felt ashamed that I hadn’t picked him up earlier, but the thing was he gotten so many rides so quickly that he ended up travelling all day at the same pace as me anyway.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Signs of Spring

Every time I walk up Waiotu Block Road there are more signs that spring is on the way. The monochrome of lurid green pasture is now contrasted with banks of wild flowers. Forget-me-nots line the side of the road like a blue haze. Unidentified red, orange or pink flowers flourish in the tangled borders between pastures and tracks.

Lambs and calves are filling out, no longer the spindly new borns of a few weeks ago, they are sturdy and frisky now.

Birds seem to be busier, often in pairs. The other day as I rounded a corner I heard a strange sound: half croak, half screech, a terrible rent in the peaceful afternoon. I looked up and saw a grey heron flapping into the air a few metres of front of me. I don't know who got the biggest fright, the heron interrupted in its feeding or me to discover that the most elegant bird I know has the most horrible cry.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Kaipara Charms

If it's a common stereotype that JAFAs lump together and ignore the majority of New Zealand south of the Bombay Hills, then it is just as common that Northland is rendered invisible to the rest of New Zealand by the tall buildings and glaring lights of the big city taking up the entire isthmus connecting Northland to the rest of the country. In case you'd forgotten, Northland is that long skinny stretch of land, like the nose of a swordfish of the tail of a sting ray sticking out above Auckland. It's impossible to be more than 40km from either coast, and there's a lot of coast wrapped around the region.

Whangarei sits on an East Coast harbour and is overwhelmingly focused eastward. But last week I was housesitting to the west, a third of the way along the road to Kaipara on the West Coast so it seemed like a good excuse to check it out.

The highlight of our day out west was stopping in the tiny village of Te Kopuru where Al had preached during his days at Theological College. The church was long gone but the main street was still lined with charmingly unrenovated houses and eccentrically unlandscaped gardens. This particular garden made spectacular use of buoys and other beachcombings. Other gardens featured hubcaps and painted tires. All had meticulously groomed lawns.

We liked the beach at Glinks Gully but not the more famous Bayley's Beach which had all the charm of a filthy parking lot, complete with jeep full of young men burning circles on the sand. We liked Dargeville: Al for the old clocks powered by solar panels, and me for the very nice sage suede shoes I found on sale in an independent shoe shop. It might just have been the long awaited sunshine but I got a good feeling about the town which seemed lively and friendly.

I'd been to Dargeville once before to visit the Zinzania Paper Factory where handmade paper is created from the rice grass chocking the local waterways. The rice grass arrived in the form of clay bricks from China used as ballast by ships arriving to collect kauri back in the day when cutting down old growth forest was still a growth industry. The clay bricks were dumped in the river and the seeds in the rice grass straw germinated with enthusiasm in the warm moist conditions of Kaipara. A hundred years later, after the dairy factory closed down, some locals decided to use the souvenirs of past economies to try and develop a contemporary craft and tourist attraction. Their paper is excessively lovely but, like all handmade paper made in the West, terrifically expensive. Only diehard book and paper fans like me are likely to make a special trip to Dargeville to visit see paper making, and there's not much else to attract tourists to town. So, I'm not sure how the business is holding up.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Threehalf Press

'A poem is a picture you hear.
A photograph is a poem you see.'

Check out this lovely website,
and maybe you won't mind so much that right now
I have nothing to say.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Stone Walling

I am currently house-sitting and cat pampering over in Maungatapere which is on the way to Dargeville. So far it's not nearly as bad as it sounds, though today I am actually going to take an excursion to Dargeville so I'll know for sure after that.

In the meantime I've been checking out Maungatapere which is characterised by dry stone walls. Some are so overgrown that they just look like giant caterpillars crawling around the edge of the paddocks. But plenty, like the ones pictured here remain as fine examples of the art of stone wall building.

Friday, September 01, 2006

International Random Acts of Kindness Day

Only Ash and Kate made the effort to Dress Up for Madonna Day, but don't they look Fabulous! We listened to Madonna tunes all day boogying along until the lunch rush crashed in.

Tim was immortalised as Kirsten Dunst in Bring It On. He noted early on that today is International Random Act of Kindness Day. His random act of kindness was to bring me a wooden spoon when I was plaintively wondering if there was a clean one anywhere in the kitchen. Zane and I shared a random act by deciding not to serve the dried up pie to the nasty customers but to give them a nice fresh one instead. The most random act I was involved with was being called 'sweetie pie' when I took a bald guy his muffin.

Ash would just like to let everyone know that she is single and looking. Single, handsome, rich men are invited to call into Cafe Narnia. I recommend using the code words 'banana banana' so Ashleigh knows that you are trying to hit on her. Anyone attracted to the other Cafe Narnia staff pictured here should know they are already taken.