Thursday, December 29, 2011

Serendipitous snotty globules

Snotty globules of oil-spill dispersant, hand-crocheted  cotton with wool 
After starching up the first batch of tea-dyed crochet dispersant, I realise I really have to stop describing them as spheres.  They are lumpy, misshapen, blobby globules with little in common with actual sphere shapes. But to me they are beautiful, especially en masse. Each one is unique with its own wabi sabi character.  They are like tiny crayfish pots or loosely woven baskets and obviously handmade. I'm very pleased with my globules of dispersant.

Starched globules stuffed with wool while they dry
I've also been surprised by my globules. How I get them from flat to round is with a homemade starch mix, not dissimilar to the wheat paste glue I use to make books.  To hold their shape while they dry I stuff them with short-staple wool from an old pillow.  It turns out that when I go to pick out the wool from the dried-stiff globules its almost impossible to remove all the wool, and strands of fluff line the insides like ectoplasm.  

Last snotty bits of wool that can't be removed from inside the globules
Or snot, which is just the effect I want, because the dispersant used in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Corexit, once mixed with oil and floating in the water is colloquially called snot.  Back when I thought I was making spheres, I feared they would look too sweet and bubbly to adequately represent the horrors of dispersant's impact on ecosystems and human health. My globules are still pretty bubbly, especially from a distance, but this unexpected snotty quality, combined with the lumpy shapes is very pleasing.

I'm nearly half way through crocheting my 400 globules, and though the tea dying is quick and easy, the starching, stuffing and unpicking is very laborious. I pick as much of the wool filling out of each globule as I can, using a pair of long, medical tweezers. Its a good thing I'm so pleased with how they are turning out because I'm going to be spending a lot of time picking at snotty globules over the next few months.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Stitch oil, white and black

I've got a couple of large scale oil spill works on the go. Pressing hard at their heels are some mining works I've got planned, just waiting for confirmation on deadlines before I reassess my stitching priorities.  There's nothing to show for those but sketches and notes so far, but they are what occupy my minds eye most compellingly right now.  Occupying my hands however, is "stitch oil, black and white" as the notes in my daybook record day after day.

The first oil spill work is an installation of about 400 crocheted cotton spheres of various sizes. I've finished about 160 so far. Because my policy is to, as far as possible, use second hand or waste materials my selection of crochet cotton is quite variable. Different weights and shades, different types of spinning and possibly different materials- its hard to know if any of my cotton isn't all cotton because almost none of the balls have labels. I'm having to use a lot of white because I keep running out of the ecru.

Anyway, to try and bring some harmony to this motley ensemble of spheres I will spend some time this summer dying them with tea. Here was my first serious tea-dying experiment. After the tea dying comes the much more fiddly work of starching floppy net bladders into shapely spheres.

The intention is to represent oil dispersants such as Corexit which was heavily used on the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in 2010 and briefly used on the Rena oil spill in the Bay of Plenty NZ this year. Dispersants are much more toxic than oil but have the attractive (to oil companies and politicians) ability to make oil spills invisible by breaking the oil down into plankton sized blobs and distributing it through the whole water column. Great for dodging fines based on the amount of oil recovered, not so great for the eco-system and human health and local economies.  

Here I am holding up my big black spill (working title) which is about half of its intended finished size. Its the currently same height as me, 155cm or 5'0", short for an adult, big for a hand stitched piece.   I wrote about starting this one in a blog post about cutting the paper pattern and blanket pieces? So far I have felted and stitched about two thirds of the fabric I cut that day when I ran out of grey blankets.  Since then I have managed to acquire three more which should be enough to see this work spreading down the wall and across the floor of the gallery.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

100 years since the first person at the South Pole

The South Pole on My Antarctica (shown here while still WIP) is marked with a small pearly button

"So at last we reached our destination and planted our flag on the geographical South Pole, King Haakon VII's plateau. Thank God! This took place at 3pm. Weather was the best when we set out this morning but at 10am, it clouded overand obscured the entire sun. Fresh breeze from the SE." Roald Amundsen

Today is the centenary of Amundsen's historic achievement, being the first person to visit the South Pole, along with his four companions and 18 dogs. Amundsen is one of my heroes (along with Captain Scott who arrived a month or so later- I don't think we have to choose one or the other to admire).

Roald Amundsen is an inspiring example of single-minded focus on a lifelong dream. He did years of intelligent preparation including learning from the Innuit in the Arctic as well as other polar explorers and he employed the very latest technology available. His success is remarkable not only for reaching the Pole first, but for getting his entire party back alive, a feat that Scott tragically failed.

During the months I spent hand embroidering the continent of Antarctica I read and reread a lot of Antarctic literature and learned much about Amundsen. Pulling my needle in and out across the contour lines of the Axel Heilberg Glacier and across the polar plateau was a way of honouring this extraordinary man and the journey he started out on with seven other men and 86 dogs. Most of the dogs were killed for food along the way, and I wrote a poem for the dogs, because somehow Amundsen (like Scott) has proved too great a subject for me to write about,

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Kermadec Expedition Exhibtion

Pohutakawa bursting into bloom at Mount Maunganui

I first heard about the Kermadec artists' voyage on the radio just after the artists returned from their trip. My ears pricked up because I've been thinking for a while of making the Kermadec Trench out of blankets. The nine artists who participated included one of my favourites, Robin White, which made it even more special. Throughout the year I've been looking forward to their show.

The project involved a week's sea voyage in May across one of the least travelled bits of ocean on the planet. The work the artists have made since their voyage is now on exhibition in the beautiful Tauranga Art Gallery and I went to see it on Sunday.

Because I don't have my own car getting to Tauranga is tricky, so I formulated a cunning plan. To celebrate my birthday this week I didn't have a party or a dinner, instead I invited some friends on a day trip to the seaside with some art thrown in. Five girlfriends joined my little expedition and car pooled over the Kaimais to Tauranga. We all loved the exhibition, and went round the show several times, including after a break for lunch.

Robin White produced three enormous tapa cloths (I would guess at least 5m square) that hang in the main foyer of the gallery, filling the two story high walls. My jaw literally dropped when I saw them so big and so beautiful. Two of the tapas marked with Robin's characteristic precise and insightful drawings made using traditional techniques and the involvement of a village craft group in the Islands. They are gorgeous and perfectly sufficient on their own, but my favourite was the tapa with just two blocks of colour, ash black and ochre red, no images at all. In its simplicity, the work's strength is quietly insistent.

The other eight artist's included a couple who's work I'm familiar with and others I haven't come across before. The works by two of the other women on the trip resonated with me the most: Elizabeth Thompson and her extraordinary undulating deeply coloured pieces, very sensual and evocative of Kermadec's environments. Fiona Hall's sculptures and installations were stunning. I particularly liked the tiny screen (iphone?) playing inside a sardine can framed by a perfect tin fish. And her sculptures of bird beaks like icebergs of course.

The exhibition is on until February 2012, so if your NZ summer holiday itinerary includes the Bay of Plenty I strongly recommend going along to the Tauranga Art Gallery to see it.

After we had filled up on art and lunch our little party drove on to Mt Maunganui, where the sea was wild and the air stormy. Dozens of black-wetsuited surfers bobbed off shore and beyond them a flotilla of small yachts raced. It was too windy to sit on the beach and we walked around the base of the Mount, following the track I used to find traces of oil spill in October. There is still some oil on the rocks and evidence that the clean up operation is by no means complete. Next day I found out that the storm had caused the wrecked Rena to spill more oil into the sea, which has probably washed ashore by now.

The rain mostly held off for our walk, but started in earnest as we approached the hot pools. A consensus decision decided we should go for a soak, a truly blissful way to end a wonderful excursion.

Windblown and exhilarated, Stephanie, Meliors, Rachelle, Robin and Anna resting on our walk around the base of Mount Maunganui

Monday, December 05, 2011

Tipping Point in B-Block

The University of Waikato bought my large embroidered appliqu├ęd blanket piece, Tipping Point, from the Imagining Antarctica exhibition. I didn't know what they had decided to do with the work until a Facebook friend mentioned how much she was enjoying seeing it in her work place, B Block at the University. That afternoon I caught a bus to uni and found my way to the top of the hill, near Silverdale Road.

B Block is the Administration block, so more used by staff than by students (in my six years of study at Waikato, I entered the building only a couple times) . As I approached I could already see Tipping Point's strong contrasting geometry through the glass doors. The familiar nervous excitement I feel whenever approaching my work in a public place started fizzing in my tummy. The piece has prime spot in the reception area and looks very nice against the pale blue-grey wall.

This is currently the most easily accessible of my pieces*. Anyone can go into B-Block so if you are in Hamilton swing by Silverdale Road and pay a visit.

*My Antarctica (Ross Island) is also in a public collection, at the Waikato Museum but is not on view right now. Several of my handmade books are held in the Special Collection at the Auckland City Library, and can be viewed on request. And of course you can click the Recent Works link near the top of this page to see photographs of recent work including some held in private or public collections but most available for sale now.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New Home for No Mine

No Mine is an Island, a large embroidered sculptural piece made earlier this year, but never exhibited has sold to a private collector in Christchurch. The collector tells me she first saw it as a tiny thumbnail image on the Meliors Simms- Handmade Art Facebook page, which she had found through her sister who is also a collector of my work. She tells me "I was captivated straight away" and started following this blog. One day she was Skyping with her sister, and mentioned how much she liked No Mine is an Island. Her sister happened to be storing No Mine and some other pieces for me and showed her the work over Skype.

When I found out she was interested in buying No Mine is an Island, I emailed her some high resolution photos and links such as this. Eventually, to my great delight and surprise, she did buy the work, my most significant sale to date (and no gallery commission). She and her sister have sent me photos of No Mine is an Island hanging in its beautiful new home, looking very fine. It must be one of the best feelings for an artist, to see a piece she has poured so much of herself into becoming a treasured part of someone else's life.

Inspired by this over-the-internet sale, and chastened by the collector's comment that it was hard to find decent photos of the work she was interested in, I have been working hard to set up an online gallery. It's an interim measure until I can get a 'proper' website developed (and a few more sales are required to fund that project) but for now at least, it's a point of reference to see the best of my recent work in one place, and find out how to buy it.

Just click the 'Recent Works' link near the top of this blog to see a page of thumbnail images. Clicking on individual images will take you through to a page about each piece, with additional photographs and all the information you should need, including links to old blog posts with the back story. Not all my recent work is up there yet so if there is something you would like me to add, please let me know. I've also added a profile page with a link to my artist's CV and page of information about how to purchase my work directly from me.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Enamel, Pecha Kucha and Nancy Campbell

No Mine is an Island bleeding tailings into the sea

I was relentlessly positive going into the New Zealand's general election yesterday, but despite a great showing for the Green Party, we now have a new government keen on drilling deep sea oil and opening up new coal mines and a myriad of other ruinous policies. I'm trying to console myself with the thought that I will have plenty of local inspiration for making work about human hubris and folly in the environment. Cold comfort.

Rather than spending the evening following election results with increasing anguish, I dragged a bunch of friends over the hill to Raglan, a charming sea side village where I'd been invited to reprise my last Pecha Kucha presentation. It was my first PK outside of Hamilton and I was interested to see how Raglan's unique culture was represented. The emphasis was on environmental-themed creative projects rather than design per se. Rick Thorpe on his experiences bringing the Black Robin back from the brink of extinction (5 birds in the world in the 1970s, now over 250) and Jacqui Forbes on Raglan's hugely successful zero waste project, Xtreme Waste were highlights.

The Old School Art Centre was packed full of locals on a Saturday night. My own presentation which involved reading some of my poems accompanied by slides of my stitching projects, was well received.

"... a shimmering turbulence on the surface" or a lake of tailings

One of the poems was Cake, which has just been published in Enamel 3, a lovely little poetry journal published by Emma Barnes. Its about a dream I had involving cake and androids (the robot-human hybrids, not the gadgets) and I showed slides of work that looked a bit cake-like.

Ponting's Genius, about an early Antarctic photographer, was easier to illustrate with images from my Antarctic work. Miner's Cook of course has its very own illustrative piece No Mine is an Island. If Jellyfish Wrote History has enough linguistic imagery to sit with a variety of stitched pieces, none of which have anything to do with jellyfish really.

Evoking jellyfish with a couple of iceberg-colour test pieces

And speaking of being published, an interview I did with Nancy Campbell back in October is now up on her blog. Nancy is a writer and printmaker who is as into the Arctic as I am the Antarctic. Her blog is a delightful grab bag of Arctic, bookish and printerly topics all of which warm my heart.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I too was secretly taped!

This John Key-John Banks teapot tape scandal* reminds me of a time I was secretly taped. I dined out on this story for years and still find it amusing. If only the PM had a sense of humour, he could be getting hours of fun from the experience instead of feeling harassed and looking ridiculous.

I was about 17 and hitchhiking on the West Coast of the South Island with another young woman, both of us done up in full punk regalia. We got picked up by a well dressed man in a tidy car who said he had to make some deliveries and did we mind a few detours on our way? Since our appearance on the side of the road generally attracted much more insalubrious rides, we counted ourselves lucky and enjoyed a bit of sight seeing on back roads in the sunshine.

As our journey continued I noticed first that the man was wearing pantyhose instead of socks under his suit pants, and then that he had a bra on under his business shirt. When he stopped the car to hand deliver a document I mentioned these unusual sartorial details to my friend and we speculated on the implications. Meanwhile she riffled through his box of documents to discover they were a kinky sex newsletter for West Coasters swingers. We muffled our giggles as the driver returned to the car and carried on.

At his next stop I looked down by my own feet, saw a tape recorder and said to my friend, 'hey, here's a tape recorder... and he's left the recording button on...' as I turned it off. We looked at each other in guilt, confusion and amusement and decided as soon as we got back to the main road we'd ask to get out and try our luck with another ride. We feared he might be cross with us for turning off his tape recorder.

I was, and still am, ashamed for sniggering at the cross-dressing driver who'd kindly offered a us lift and feel far worse about him being hurt by hearing our prurient amusement than I do about him secretly taping me. I'd like to say that I learned a lesson about circumspection that I've never forgotten but of course I still sometimes say and do regrettable things like everyone else.

However, when I chose an action (such as mean gossip) I am choosing its consequences. Whether or not anyone records or overhears my ill chosen words I have to live with myself. I could blame or shame myself (or whoever records or overhears me, if they do) but ideally I would apologise, learn from my mistakes and move on with the intention of doing better in the future.

Making a mistake like being indiscreet is an opportunity to demonstrate one's ability to put things right. It's a chance to show you can take criticism, be apologetic, generous and compassionate. Most of all its a chance to show one has a sense of humility and humour. At 17 I failed to express those qualities in the moment when it mattered. By telling the story repeatedly throughout my life I have used it to learn and grow, as well as have some fun.

In the current 'teapot tape' situation I see a powerful public figure demonstrating hubris, defensiveness and arrogance. He looks angry and scared all out of proportion to this event. In an election campaign based on promoting his personal leadership qualities rather than party policies, his response to this event reveals (if you hadn't noticed before) that our current leader lacks resiliance and the ability to laugh at himself.

To my mind there are a myriad of other reasons not to vote this man back into power (asset sales, coal mining, deep sea drilling, beneficiary bashing, anti-arts, ridiculously old-fashioned education etc) but if one were chosing one's votes based on character rather than policy, then surely this is a deal breaker.

*If you are from beyond these shores, it might help to know that New Zealand has a national election on this Saturday and much has been made of the 'secret taping' of a media-staged conversation between the current Prime Minister John Key and a candidate from another political party, John Banks.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Red Billed Gull

While in Auckland for Art in the Dark last weekend, I stayed with Rachelle Wood who is the artist behind Birdspoke.   She lives in a rambling old villa set on a huge section planted to attract the birds that inspire her work. It is an oasis of birdsong and beauty near the middle of a big city.

Vintage lace 'window treatment'

Rachelle is doing some lovely renovations and her home displays her quirky, vintage and sweet tastes  perfectly. Her style might be called 'shabby chic' and I like it very much.   My mattress was in centre of the living room floor and when I opened my eyes there was almost a sense of vertigo under the extraordinary ceiling rose (complete with bursting pomegranates) set inside a large dome.  Like any proper home, its heart was in the large kitchen/dining/sitting area which opens out onto a deck with views of fireworks at night and trees in the daytime.

One third of the fabric stash

But my favourite room is her studio which is small, perfectly organised and crammed full of potential for creativity.Her huge stash of fabrics is neatly arranged by colour, her tools stored in baskets from Samoa, and her vintage lace in old suitcases.  I arrived feeling very annoyed to have left my crochet workbag* on the bus, but Rachelle quickly sorted me out with a hook and some ecru cotton from her stash so I could keep making throughout the weekend.

Bird embroideries and sewing machines

I've not met anyone besides Rachelle and me who crochets with this old-fashioned cotton that is so fine and fiddly. Rachelle shares my passion for slow making and hand stitching. She spends hours crafting each individual piece by hand to sell at craft fairs and on Etsy, Felt and Toggle.

A Huia plushie.  Huia because extinct over a century ago because their tail feathers were so fashionable.

She also finds time to make pretty things for herself and her home. I love this work in progress (below), to stitch together old lace doilies into a window hanging.  I can't wait to go back and visit again, to see the light shining through the lace.

*Complete with six precious completed spheres, two balls of cotton, crochet hook and second best scissors.   If you find my little blue and green bag, please give it back!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Art in the Dark

Stragagem Bilateral Carousel by Jasmax Grads was a nice spot to lie down and have a rest while gazing up at the lights

I caught the bus up to Auckland on Saturday so I could go to Art in the Dark, the second annual festival of lights in Western Park, Ponsonby. My daughter went last year (she is friends with the organisers and came over from Melbourne to see it) and I was so envious to hear her rave about its wonders that I had to go myself this time.

In the children's playground a long double slide was used as a projection screen to show film of children playing on that very slide, while real people also slide down. It was good fun to try and made me think I should play on slides more often.

It was fabulous, funky, fun to be wandering around an unfamiliar park in the dark with hundreds of other people, their children and dogs. Apparently for many Aucklanders this park (which I'd barely been aware of myself) is little used and perceived as threatening, even in the daytime. Art in the Dark reclaimed the space for two nights with light, sound and activities.

Rainbow Laser by Ben Clegg was best viewed from under an umbrella as the rainbow tunnel was projected through stage smoke and sprinkling water

I'm not very experienced at night photography and so my pictures are very poor compared to those on Art in the Dark's website and Facebook page. I recommend you follow the links to see better images than mine.

Some of the performances were so fleeting, so entrancing and so dynamic that I had no chance of capturing even a bad image. For example, Icarus by Celery Productions was a mysterious and marvelous swooping of enormous white angel wings worn by a man in a suit who flew utterly authentically up and down the gully. I found out later that the rigging is from the Vinter's Luck movie, and up the hill out of my view, a small poignant vignette was enacted between flights. Even without knowing any of that, Icarus was one of the favourite things I saw.

Another outstanding performance was When I Grow Up, in which a group of dancers with LED lights on their suits, danced on a dark hillside. There were no lights on their heads, and their arms were extended with lights to the length of their legs making for a very sci-fi, alien animal kind, yet with human movements.

Many of the pieces were interactive, perhaps none more so than the tree with envelopes by Ella Mizrahi. Envelopes hung from strings of lights draped around a big tree, and when we opened the envelopes we found dozens of different children and adults had contributed a drawing of what could grow on trees (sweeties, money, toys, fruit). We stuffed each drawing back in its envelope and opened another, enjoying the sense of connection with unknown contributors.

Black Gold- Memorial Tree Temple by Brydee Rood referenced my own current inspiration, the grounding of MV Rena on the Astralabe Reef in the Bay of Plenty and the oil spil.

Naturally I was very enthusiastic about the most textile-crafty work in the whole park: Knitting Luminaries. White (machine knit) fabric was stretched and twisted into sculptural forms like giant seashells crossed with fruit, suspended from a big old tree and glowing white white the tree was illuminated with blue. It was serenely beautiful and inspiring.

Knitted Luminaries by Kate Ramsay and Hyungin Yun

Western Park is very large and extends down a steep gully, with many big trees, so that there were surprises illuminating every twist and turn through the dark night. The whole experience was magical and entrancing and I walked around with a smile the whole evening. From high on the hillside, the lights of the Sky Tower and the almost full moon played along, becoming part of the Art in the Dark community, connecting our crowd to the wider city and outer space.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Paper pattern tree

I've started on my next and biggest oil spill embroidered blanket piece. I used up all my stash of grey blankets and had to buy more as well- its going to be big!

I worked out the design in sketches, then cut paper pattern pieces to make sure they would fit together and work on the large scale I intend. I have a big roll of heavy kraft paper which I bought at the dump shop for $10 three years ago. Newsprint would have been more appropriate for a project like this, where I don't need to keep the pattern for future use, but the kraft paper is what was big enough and available.

As I cut each piece of blanket, and unpinned the pattern pieces, I draped them over my lamp stand. I like the sculptural look of the paper pieces so much I've left it up all week. It takes up a lot of my tiny studio/living space and eventually I will have to put them in the recycling bin, but in the meantime, its like living with a beautiful dead tree.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Exploring oil

Since my visit to Tauranga, I've been exploring different ways to represent the tarry black oil sheening the ocean and washing up on the beaches of Bay of Plenty. Of my five recent experiments these three are the most successful; where I was working out concentric waves, waves lapping on the shore and an oily bird.

I find images of oily birds most heartbreaking, even as I grieve for all the other sea life and human lives damaged by oil spills. Seeing their graceful shapes and light as air bodies dragged down from the sky to be found as sticky black puddles on the sand is particularly agonising.

Working with wool seems to cushion my sadness a little. I'm planning a large installation piece that both responds to Rena's oil spill and cautions against plans for deep sea drilling off New Zealand. I'd like to honour each of the species on the casualty list, many of which are rare or endangered native species including petrels, dotterels, pengins, gannets, shearwaters and terns.

My bird experiment started off with layers of blankets felted into relief (above) with feather details stitched in (below).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Oil on Rock

I visited the Tauranga oil spill today. Mount Maunganui beach was reopened this weekend and declared safe for swimming (with the caveat that you should get out of the water if you suspected oil contamination). So I wasn't sure if I'd actually get to see any oil, since all the other beaches in the Bay of Plenty are closed to the public.

There seemed to be lots of people on the beach: a salsa dancing demonstration was drawing a crowd, paragliders drifted down from the top of the mountain and plenty of folk were noodling around on the sand. I didn't see anyone in the water, but that may have been as much to do with the cool drizzly weather as fear of oil.

The woman at the information centre told me that I might be able to glimpse the stranded container ship, Rena, if I walked around the headland track and the sky were clear. There was too much haze to see anything but one of the naval vessels patrolling the exclusion zone, and the helicopters taking salvage crews to and from the Rena. But there were dozens of people walking along the track.

For the first section of my walk, I was going against a tide of local volunteers returning from their clean up clutching haz-bagged gumboots and talking animatedly as strangers do when a disaster unites them as neighbours. Tractors towed trailers loaded with sacks of oil, oily sand, oily shells and oily protective clothing.

I found just one little track that was not blocked with emergency tape. Taking advantage of a rare break in the crowd, I sneaked down to the water's edge to try and find some oil I could inspect up close. I've been thinking so much about how I want to represent this oil spill in stitching. My oil spill images last year were mostly inspired by photos from the Gulf of Mexico, but the oil in Tauranga is of such a different quality, I can't use that oil spill to represent this one. I didn't touch any of the oil I found, and I was careful not to get it on my shoes and track it around the Mount.

Rena's spill may be small compared to international spills. It's certainly tiny compared to what is possible if deep sea drilling were to happen off shore of New Zealand. But the fuel used in container ships is the nasty dregs of the oil distillation process, literally the crudest of crude oils. It looks exactly like tar, and nothing at all like petroleum or even machine oil.

The beaches are relatively easy to clean up, because the oil-saturated sand can be shovelled up. Clumps of oily shells and debris are picked out. The nasty gunk is hauled off out of sight to landfill and not even a stain remains.

It's fiddly work, cleaning oil out of sand, but the cleaner-uppers have done an amazing job. News photos from a week ago showed Mt Maunganui beach covered in thick black sludge and now there's no trace of oil to be seen on the apparently pristine white sands.

But off the sandy beach and around the headland is a different story. The oil still clings to rough rocks around the high tide mark.

Here the army cleanup crew has to scrape and scrub, which looks to be very slow and laborious. They are working very carefully, paying minute attention to each crevasse or stain on the rocks. Their work reminded me a little of my own slow, absorbing stitching practice.

Despite the hard work of removing toxic gunk, the crew I observed seemed in very good spirits. I think it must be extremely satisfying to be doing something so valuable, so tangible and so effective. After ten days, most of the volatiles have evaporated from the oil, and it no longer smells bad. In fact, the Port of Tauranga had a worse oil stench when I drove past it.

A couple of New Zealand fur seals lounged on some rocks just off the headland. Signs on the track assured us that they'd been checked and are free of oil. I saw a dozen or so seagulls, swallows and a tui on my walk, and heard a grey warbler, all in fine spirits. But I thought of all the sea birds that have been killed by the oil in the last couple of weeks, and those that have been saved but must be kept in captivity until their homes are cleaned up and out of further risk. And I thought of all the fish and other sea creatures that have already been poisoned, and those that will continue to absorb the toxic residues for years to come. And those very fish are what the seals eat. So I'm not confident at all that a nice clean beach means everything is fine now.

The salvo crew is working night and day to try and pump out the remaining oil on the Rena before it breaks up. They are apparently managing to move about 10 sluggish tons an hour, in conditions of extraordinary danger and difficulty. The huge cracks in the hull, the ship's alarming tilt, and the bizarrely disarrayed containers all suggest that it would only take a bad storm or a small tsunami (there was a brief tsunami warning yesterday which thankfully came to nothing) to send the remaining 1000 or so tons into the sea. We are all praying that doesn't happen, because if it does, the thick black sludge that has been mostly cleaned up since last week will seem like a drop in the ocean.