giddyup to the coffee horse…

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To say I don’t get out much would probably be an understatement. I’m not a gadabout when we are in town. I don’t like crowds so I don’t even attend exhibition openings, choosing to go after the opening to see an exhibition. I see many amazing sights when we travel so when I’m at home, I’m at home…except… that my good friend introduced me to the Coffee Horse.

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My good friend, Betty helping me solve the problems of the world! Note the rocky outcrop in the distance.

It is hard to put into exact words why the Coffee Horse has me infatuated, but it does. Betty feels the same. Some of the reasons we love living in Alice Springs are the down to earth experiences of having the bushland nearby, a thriving arts community and people wanting to ‘have a go’ at doing something a bit unusual.  Coffee Horse has it all. I hope I haven’t gone and spoiled it now that I’ve let the cat out of the bag! We also like that Alice is a small enough place that you can get to know the owners of the various shops, but big enough to be anonymous if you want to be…more or less.

Of course the flip side of our isolated, small town life is that we sometimes long for the finer things the city can offer. Recently, and arguably, our best hairdresser in town closed its doors after 36 years and some of us are mourning the loss and wondering if we are doomed to be follicle-ly challenged for the remainder of our days. So, it is with great appreciation, that we have discovered another place which feels special.

Many of you will have seen or procured coffee from a ‘coffee van’. On our recent travels a coffee van in the middle of nowhere seemed like a little miracle. One coffee-less morning on a lonely stretch of road in New Zealand, my husband and I saw a handwritten sign, alerting us that we could get ‘good coffee to go’–on a stretch of road that looked highly improbable. In fact my husband stated his doubts aloud, in the form of a chuckle when I proposed we might find coffee on the road between Franz Josef and Haast. He further expressed doubt as to the quality of such a find, to which I responded, ‘you can get a very good cup of coffee from a coffee van’. Moments later, like a mirage in the wilderness, there it was, the coffee van. Festive flags motioning us with their siren-call-promise of a great coffee. It was all true. I promise. It’s not often I’m right, but on this occasion I was…absolutely.

Meanwhile back in Alice…The Coffee Horse is an unassuming, small, repurposed caravan, located on a lot with a thriving art supply and framing business. Also, located next to it on the same lot is a shoemaker. I don’t mean a shoe repairer, I mean a shoe-maker of fine custom fitted shoes, for which you have to wait. Quality takes time. His website says requests are currently closed but you can leave a contact when there is an opening. Good for him. Sprinkled about the grounds is evidence of the creative hearts that have passed through this place—sculptures made from ‘junque’ and repurposed items —one person’s trash is another’s treasure…

At the back of the lot, behind the outbuildings, sits one of Alice’s many rocky outcrops. Sometimes when we are sitting and soaking up the winter sun, or shaded from the heat in summer, you can see kangaroos hopping through the scrub. Now you don’t get that in a city cafe!

People from all around this light industrial area come to fill their ‘keep cups’ and have a break from their day.  Some buy the custom made pottery cups, or opt for the standard, mismatched mugs and cups. The coffee that fills them is second to none. Decaf is my poison of choice and it is as good as any I’ve ever had. They make lovely toasted sandwiches (I’ve heard) and their vegan, grain-free treats are delicious (I’ve dabbled). There is no loud music playing, just the coming and going and quiet conversations of patrons. Some quietly indulge in a book, or sewing, others have their heads down in their phones, though I don’t see that very often. Most people are quietly chatting and laughing. It is a happy place. Even Alison, who operates this little oasis, gets a short break now and then. You can find the Coffee Horse on Instagram. Her new creation opens at a second location, near Watch This Space Gallery, next week. It will be called the ‘Silver Brumby’–a ‘brumby’ is a wild horse. We will check it out and report back to you.

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Creator of the Coffee Horse, Alison, soaking up some winter sun.

Who would have thought a young woman with an old repurposed caravan could draw me out of my house and into an alternative comfort zone?

In Alison’s words ‘May the horse be with you!’ And with you Alison…and with you.

 

**I have not received any payment or even free coffee for this post, I just thought you might enjoy this slice of Alice Springs life.

a survival story…

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Let me set the scene for you. It is the day after the twelve boys and their coach have been rescued from the cave in Thailand. It is a winter morning and -3C (26F) outside. I prevaricate over my usual morning walk. Will I? Won’t I? Gee it is cold. Those 12 children and their young coach got through 16 days trapped in a cave, surely I can put on my nice warm clothes and walk for 50 minutes.

I jogged up the hill near my house, walked 30 metres or so to catch my breath and then decided more jogging must happen to warm up. As I jog down the other side of the hill, still trying to get my blood pumping, I see some scavenger birds circling a distant, dark shape on the fairway of the fourth hole (we live on a golf course). A few more metres and I realise the shape is a Dingo feeding…on a dead kangaroo. I pull my camera (which is my iPhone) from my pocket and open it up, hoping that my cold fingers can still get the touch controls to work. I take a photo that I know will show very little, but it is just to get the settings right and make sure the touch control is working. As is my usual practice with wild life, I slow down. As I approach, every few metres, I take another photo, and another, refocusing and getting closer each time.

The birds of prey begin to scatter. The Dingo eyes me nervously but he is hungry, so he continues. Finally, he thinks I am too close and he reluctantly begins to head toward the taller grasses at the edge of the course, looking back over his shoulder all the while. He still doesn’t want to leave his meal behind so he stops…and watches me. I’m relieved that he is somewhat afraid of me since I am walking alone and have no means of fending off an attack. He has what he wants anyway, and that is not me.

I quietly walk on and soon am getting farther away. He decides I mean him no harm and he approaches the carcass again. Now I can see the bloody bare bones of the rib cage but I know if I stop it will spook him so I continue on. I don’t want a graphic photo of the corpse in any case. I know this is Mother Nature and all part of the survival of the fittest.

And what about those boys and their coach, and their rescuers? If that isn’t also a tale of survival, I must have missed something. The world is a marvel and a mystery, revealing itself every day.

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Dingo and dead kangaroo in the middle ground of the fairway

the stories within us…

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Just after the sun had broken over the horizon, sending a few bleak wintery rays across the grasses in front of the house, I looked out the expanse of windows that stretch the width of the west facing end. There, about 30 feet in front of the windows, silent and purposeful, strode a lone Dingo. So quiet, the neighbourhood dogs even missed a good chance to raise the alarm. So quiet, I later wondered if I had seen it at all. Nearly the same colour as the dried, blonde grasses, only the dark spot of his eye and his nose and the sunlit hairs on the ridge of his back and the plume of the tail shone his shape. Perfect camouflage.

Lingers in my mind’s eye like a dream.

I set out for my walk moments later, in the direction the Dingo was heading. A single lone Dingo was probably nothing to be concerned about since I wasn’t walking a small dog that might be mistaken as breakfast. I kept my eye on the tall grasses walking over crisp, frosted ground, down the desolate back of the golf course on a Sunday morning. No further sightings. I wondered…is this the new normal of our cohabitation? The Dingo casually strolls through the neighbourhood while I keep a watchful eye and go for my morning walk.

Stranger things have happened.

The day before, a small mob of Wallabies had converged on our patio, scratching themselves thoughtfully, studying the windows…the same windows on the world through which I had seen the Dingo. The two adults and two joeys probably saw their reflections, or maybe some slight movement inside as I adjusted myself for a better view of them. Most likely the reflections of the rocky outcrop and sky behind them was their point of interest. It must be very confusing for them. Imagine if we all became focused on what was behind us rather than moving forward. The Wallabies were not seduced. Slowly they moved up the breezeway that gave them safe passage to the bottom of the driveway and within a few hops of the road. If they cross the road safely, which has always happened in the 20 years we have lived here, there is only one row of houses and then they are back in the bush again.

With the Dingoes.

Almost 40 years ago, I looked out of another expanse of windows. It was a whole lifetime ago for me–for the world. I was high atop the World Trade Center in New York City. The place was called ‘Windows on the World’. We were there for a cocktail reception for a national gathering of Television Promotion Managers and Art Directors. Below, an enormous world of skyscrapers, tiny ships and cars, and even tinier humans, spread out for many miles. They went about the business of the world. And now, I watch the business of Mother Nature where species learn to live with one another and it is survival of the fittest. No trace or photos of any of it, just what my brain has selectively conserved. Why would this memory visit me now? Why can I remember conversing with two fellows from Australia, one from Sydney, one from Wollongong, forty years ago, but have trouble remembering what I had two days ago for breakfast?

How do we reconcile the worlds within us? For the most part it is an unconscious process. But now and again we tell stories and make art and that turns something with seemingly no purpose into something of value.

 

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Winter Solstice

 

 

the road to Fleur’s place…

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There is probably little left that I can add to what has already been said about Fleur Sullivan, either by herself or by the many thousands who have eaten at one of her restaurants. Even when the renowned Rick Stein was asked if he could eat any place in the world, where would it be? Answered Fleur’s Place in Moeraki ‘because how could you want anything more?’fullsizeoutput_3f58

Fortunately a colleague had mentioned this to Don some weeks before we began our trip, because you definitely need a booking to be assured of a table. We had only a couple of hours’ drive between Dunedin and Oamaru the day we drove through Moeraki, and we planned it so we could have lunch at Fleur’s Place. But first…we had to take me to Mazagran Espresso Bar* before leaving Dunedin. I needed another one of the best coffees I’ve ever had, having also had one the day before. Thank you Mr. Google. Don is very patient with my coffee addiction, just as I am patient with his wine enthusiasm. We have suffered worse.

All coffee-d up and ready for the next leg of our adventure we decided to explore an area just south of Moeraki called Shag Point. And yes, we did see the real life idiom ‘Shag on a rock’ that is a familiar Aussie description for someone hanging about, alone. Shags are a type of bird, and they were true to their reputation, lonely and abandoned looking, though in large groups. I know, makes no sense.  It was also a viewing point for the native New Zealand fur seals. They lazed about that sunny morning on the well worn cliffs…looking for all the world like large brown…well, you know…logs. Ahem. My iPhone makes them look smaller and farther away than they were. They were enormous. It was heartening to see them in quite a few places around the South Island during the three weeks we visited. They had been endangered at one point, hunted to near obliteration for their fur, but are now protected and have repopulated well.

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native fur seals basking in the sun

It was still a bit early for our one o’clock lunch at Fleur’s so we drove up the coast just a few minutes passed the turn off to Moeraki to view another natural phenomenon, the Moeraki boulders. These are very peculiar, perfectly round, rock formations like nothing we had ever seen. Some looked as if the cliffs were giving birth, revealing the boulders where they must have formed millions of years previously.

Finally, the time was near when we could deliver ourselves to the much anticipated lunch. Still being a few minutes early, we slowly approached, observing the setting from across the bay, then closer, letting the ambiance soak in. The restaurant was purpose built but it has the casual feel of a hybrid fisherman’s cottage come boat shed. Inside, neatly scrawled all over the walls and window sills patrons had left their names and often their gratitude for Fleur, praise for the food and atmosphere. (I guess people just need to validate their having been in a place, as per last post…) Once again, we had never been any place quite like it. This was becoming a mantra for our visit to the South Island.

If you don’t like seafood you probably wouldn’t have liked the menu, however, we were spoilt for choice. Given my consumption limitations I stayed with my new favourite fish, Blue Cod, a New Zealand speciality. It was pan fried with no flour and served on a bed of the freshest cooked vegetables, accompanied by home made tartar sauce and lemon. That fish had probably been swimming around only 12 hours previously and the freshness was definitely reflected in the flavour. Now, I didn’t really need dessert, but if you think a little thing like that was going to stop me trying Fleur’s Crème Brûlée, you don’t know me very well! Don ordered an apple crumble with homemade ice-cream for his dessert. We did not need dinner that evening. And this time, that really did stop us!

Fleur’s Place was really as much an experience as it was a restaurant. Watching 76 year old Fleur hefting boxes around and fussing about place settings, then sitting down with some of the diners, and then returning to her duties was like a well rehearsed play. Two of the people who served us had French accents and one was New Zealand. We wondered with Fleur’s french name if there was a connection and I suppose I will find out if I read her memoir. (there is a nice photo of Fleur on the cover)

The entire experience was delightful from beginning to end and we kind of hated to leave when our meal was finished. So we wandered around outside and I happily took a few more photos.

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large fur seal that slept through the entire arrival of visitors and the fairy penguins

Somewhat reluctantly we drove on to what was our destination for the next three nights. Our accommodation in Oamaru (Fleur’s hometown) was a 1930’s B&B. Our hostess gave us details and said it was an ideal evening to go and see the Fairy Penguins arrive on shore. So off we went to purchase tickets for the nightly arrival of the adorable, little blue penguins. When I say little, I mean tiny. They are only about 30cm (12”) tall, some even smaller. They come in after dark, in ‘rafts’ (groups) of about 20-30 at a time. The water is rough and they have to scramble up a rocky bank and you fear for them every time. But this is their life and they are well adapted. That night 148 arrived and scurried across the open ground between the two pavilions of spectators. We were told to be very quiet and there was absolutely no photography allowed so you will have to check out this link and imagine the cuteness overload! I still smile every time I recall those impossibly small, blue darlings*.

We arrived ‘home’ at our B&B, very cold from being on Penguin watch, but our hosts had turned on the electric blanket, the under floor heating in the bathroom, and the heater for the room. Now you don’t get that in a hotel!! We snuggled in, dreaming of Fleur’s and little blue apparitions.

When I think back about this day, I see that it embodied the very essence of New Zealand. It had been a perfect banquet of quirkiness, kind people, wild animals, and amazing food, against a backdrop of stunning beauty, wrapped up in one delicious day. The road less traveled is a wonder.

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boulders and the sea

*Mazagran is a cold, sweetened coffee drink that originated in Algeria

*The only other place in the world you can see fairy penguins in the wild, besides New Zealand, is Phillip Island in Australia. The observation stands in Oamaru were built well after the preservation of the dwindling colony was reversed and all steps have been taken to protect this naturally occurring colony.

nothing lasts forever…

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I knew if I left writing about our travels until I got home again the writing would not be the same, if it even happened at all. There is always so much catching up to do, even when you are away for only three weeks, as we were. And then there is this thing I have noticed…I am never the same when I return from a trip to another country. I can never quite fit back into the same groove as when I left. Truth be told, I kind of like that. Travel changes me in ways it is difficult to describe. At least I have photos, and a few notes I managed to make along the way.

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Debris along Bruce Bay

About a week into the trip, on a grey, overcast and lightly raining day between Franz Josef Glacier and Haast in the northwest of the South Island of New Zealand, we came upon Bruce Bay. We had not heard of it but it came at a time when a break in the driving was welcome and we were curious. When we first got out of the car I noticed an odd pile of smooth, white stones. It was obvious they had been intentionally placed there, but to what purpose? Looking up and down the beach we could see that there must have been some serious weather in recent times. The beach was eroded and large pieces of trees and giant seaweed had been washed up. Don walked off a little way, while I studied the stones. I was curious about the source of the stones and looked over the edge of the small precipice created by the erosion. Down below, maybe 10 feet, I could see smooth stones scattered all over the wet sand. It appeared people had been walking down to the beach and choosing a stone to bring back up to the top. And then, being human, they did a very curious thing. Each stone had been written on with texta (markers). There was either a message or a person’s name. I wondered if the name on the stone was the person who was writing the message, or someone they were missing. While we were there we noticed a couple of other people who arrived just after us, contributing to the pile. We did not. I recently heard, it says more about us, the things that we don’t do, than the things that we do. I wonder. Don said he was amazed how many people were carrying permanent markers! We laughed…and later I realised I had one too, in my drawing kit!

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Stones of humanity

The day was monochromatic, ranging from mid-grey to almost, but not quite, black. As I looked up I saw Don standing on the beach, debris strewn on the sand as far as one could see. At my feet were the stones, a kind of monument to the human race, I supposed. Individual, but gathered together as a whole. Most were inscribed in a very considered way, and so neatly done, some faded, some vibrant. I took the photo of Don. And then I took a couple of photos of the stones. I wish now I’d taken more, why, I have no idea.

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Some faded markings on beach stones

Later that evening we settled into the least luxurious accommodation of our trip, and logged into the Wifi to check email. The room was cramped and smelled of dampness, which was the prevailing condition in this part of the island. The wifi was good but there was no telephone signal! Haast is in a 244km blackout zone, and was just about to get mobile phone reception for the first time at the end of May 2018. This small, remote  community had a nice information centre and several motels large enough to hold a few busloads of tourists. The town also housed the people who serviced it all.  Don looked up from his iPad and said, “I’ve just gotten a message from Steve…Dad has died.”

I thought of that solitary silhouette I captured on the beach, and the pile of humanity represented at my feet earlier that day. I wonder how many people have a photo of themselves on the day their last parent has died? Alone, but not yet knowing you are alone. It was all okay, but still. Don had returned from seeing his Father, for what he knew would be the last time, only two weeks before departing for New Zealand.

Such is life. And death. They find us no matter where we are.

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Alone.

land of milk, honey and Wapiti…

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There’s a saying in Australia “Wouldn’t be dead for quids.” Quids are pounds in the English money they used before the Australian dollar…and dead…is dead. So we have had nothing but days you wouldn’t want to miss for anything, in other words, since we arrived in New Zealand. Even the two very wet days. After the last post we traveled from Haast  having had a cold and wet 24 hours… By the time we had traveled up over the pass, the temperatures had dropped to 3C, that is pretty cold in anyone’s book. While it was raining at our level, only a short distance up the mountains we could see snow accumulating. This was a minor worry because we did not have snow tyres on the car we hired.

The rain was incredible, sending ribbons of water flowing from every opportunistic crevice, creating road side waterfalls. Water flowed over mossy rocks, glistened from tiny streams up high, gathering in white torrents as they pounded into the creeks and rivers along the roads. The thing we had become keenly aware of was how tenuous the traveling here can be…humming along minding your own business one minute, and a slippage impeding your progress the next. When you start noticing, all along the roads are just loose rocks that have come tumbling down during inclement weather, earthquakes, or just because… We continually encountered road works, some are still reconstructions from the earthquakes in 2010-11, some just ongoing and never ending maintenance. This is a small country in land mass and also by population with only about 4.7 million people. And when the roads are impassable life is very, very difficult here. The reality of what a huge job this must be for the government really hits you when you drive all around the island as we are doing. The ‘roadings’ crews, as the workers are called are a very dedicated and skilled bunch.

Rain

It rained and rained and rained

The average fall was well maintained;

And when the tracks were simply bogs

It started raining cats and dogs.

After a drought of half an hour

We had a most refreshing shower;

And then; most curious thing of all

A gentle rain began to fall

Next day but one was fairly dry

Save for one deluge from the sky,

Which wetted the party to the skin

And then at last—the rain set in.

—Anonymous  (From the information center in Haast)

As we made our way up over the pass, the ‘divide’ as it is known, we noticed the river was flowing the opposite direction. Further down toward Queenstown the temperature started to rise again—a balmy 7C! Though veiled in fog and cloud we could see the spectacular setting of Queenstown, which only got more spectacular as the clouds lifted over the coming days. The thing about rainy days, is it makes the sunny ones even more stunning.

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View from our hotel room in Queenstown

We’d been traveling long enough by Queenstown that we had begun to gather some knowledge about some of the specialities of New Zealand. They are famous for their dairy products, well, at least in this part of the world. The cheeses and milks are delicious. We ate cheese made in Oamaru that was some of the best we have eaten. Their Sauvignon Blanc is second to none here, the grapes loving the volcanic soils and climate of the central Otago region. Another specialty that we were already aware of are the bee products. The humble honey bee uses the nectar from the Manuka trees (Ti Tree) to make a honey that is highly prized for it’s antibacterial properties, and contribution to health gut microbiome. New Zealand actively protects this industry and it is doing well for them after many years of development. Be careful if you buy Manuka honey that it is authentic, some attempts have been made to counterfeit the products. It can be very expensive for the authentic products so research it and know what you are getting.

Another very interesting industry, we have been told, started here in New Zealand back in the 1970’s, and that is farming deer. Mostly the Red deer are farmed, for venison and milk, and apparently for the velvet from the antlers, which is used for various medical products. The milk is highly prized in China, being used in cosmetic products. Early white settlers brought deer and rabbits and possums to New Zealand to hunt as well as eat. The animals adapted so well here they are now a nuisance in huge proportions in some areas. So the government allows hunting of these animals, sometimes for bounty, all year around…with one exception. Wapiti. What is a Wapiti you ask? It is an American Indian name for Elk. The Wapiti elk were gifted to New Zealand from America originally, but have since become feral. However, the government does require hunters to have a license and they are only allowed to hunt them during a specific season. We have also learned that some farmers raise Wapiti as well as deer and we have seen them grazing in the same paddocks, especially in the south western region of the South Island.

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One of many waterfalls in Milford Sound

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Cruising on Milford Sound, a natural fiord, and the wettest place in New Zealand

I will most likely have to post the remainder of things after we return home as I have hardly any time to write while we are traveling. This tiny country has held many surprises and is still revealing itself to us daily.

 

land of the long white cloud…

The weather is straight out of Antarctica today. The rain has pelted down all night and the wind whistles every now and then, just to let you know it is there too! We are in Haast on the southwestern coast of the South Island of New Zealand. If we were at home on a day like this I would make soup and we would hunker down in the warm house. But we need to get some breakfast at the nearby restaurant and be on our way in a while. We had hoped to visit several waterfalls along the road to Queenstown today but that is looking less likely in the pouring rain. Apparently this is normal weather for here. You don’t get all this beautiful temperate rain forest without a lot of rain. In fact this area’s annual rainfall ranges between 1500mm (5 feet) and 8000mm (26 feet). We are supposedly here during the more ‘stable’ time of the year, too!

I’m not much of a travel blogger, so I thought I’d just share with you a few of the highlights during the first third of our trip. Sadly, New Zealand is another good example of how humans have screwed up a perfectly wonderful environment and ecosystem. New Zealand was the last major land mass to be settled by humans, the Maori people, about a thousand years ago. The Maoris brought with them cats and dogs. As white inhabitants settled, thanks to Captain Cook’s multiple visits in the mid to late 1700’s, further devastation happened to the old growth forest covering the islands. The sea animals, especially eels, were fished to near completion and many birds are now extinct. The national bird, the Kiwi is almost extinct but there are a number of programs including reestablishing the habitats, that are ongoing.

We took a cruise up north in the Marlborough Sound that was named ‘the mail run’ in Queen Charlotte Sound. It was so named because it is the run that delivers the mail to the inhabitants living in remote parts of the bay, only accessible by boat. At each stop the resident came to meet the boat, usually with a dog in tow and often a few children who waved at us. The Captain had special dog biscuits with him and don’t you think the dogs didn’t know it! They waited, tails wagging, for their treats. Fun for the dogs and good entertainment for the punters!

An important stop on the 4.5 hour cruise, was a place called Ship Cove. This was the exact place where Captain Cook stopped a documented five times on his explorations of this part of the world. Whatever else he was, Cook was a great navigator. To have found this idyllic, protected cove once would have been a good thing, but to be able to find it again, four more times, is nothing more than genius. This area is blessed with ‘old growth’ vegetation and is so dense you can hardly imagine it being much different in Cook’s time. The sound of birds was quite pronounced, and a few Weka came to see if anyone would feed them, and a very cute, wren-like Fantail flitted around me at one stage until I thought it might even land on me! Both birds are natives. But it was on our return trip back to the port of Picton, when we encountered a large pod of bottle nose Dolphins. In this part of New Zealand the dolphins commonly reach a size of four metres, about 13 feet. They were not at all perturbed by our presence and the captain hovered in the area for probably 10 minutes until the pod had passed and swam into the distance. It was truly a memorable experience…all of it.

Much of the original native vegetation has been encouraged to regenerate and one can now drive along for kilometres on roads lined with gorgeous ferns and native trees. One stretch of road on the drive between our overnight destination of Haast, and Jackson Bay, the southernmost settlement on the Southwest Coast of the South Island, was certainly one of the prettiest drives I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately we couldn’t stop at the section of the drive that was the best, but just near it we stopped and I took a photo so you can have an idea.

At Jackson Bay, there looked to be about six houses. Some enterprising person had brought in a little diner style demountable, painted bright pink and named it the Cray Pot. The rain was teaming down and no place to pull over so I couldn’t get a photo, but imagine the most crisply new and brightly coloured little rectangle overlooking the turbulent sea, and surrounded by the accoutrement of a tiny fishing village, and several very modest homes. The lights were on and it looked quite cheerful and I’m sure it is a favourite place for the locals and also a welcome sight to those who have ventured all the way to that remote point and want a place to stop. Here are a couple of photos taken from the car, looking at the tiny village an its jetty, and also looking out to sea from about where the ‘main street’ of the village would be.

This blog writing from an iPad is less than satisfying and more into cumbersome, possibly due to user ignorance, so I will not try your patience further on this post. I’ll see if I can refine some technique for future mobile postings. The bottom line is, New Zealand is amazing!

on poetry and ordinary things…

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Still dark, I lay in bed, door open to the cool early dawn air. Musical tones, almost conversational, and a little eerie, drift in from not far away. The dingoes are back.

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pied butcher bird

Pied Butcher Bird practices her beautiful song for quite a long while. I stretch and bend my body toward functionality, which is my morning practice. The piercing song sinks deep into my psyche. I wonder what the unfortunately named bird was singing about? A nice insect it had just consumed? A good place to perch? Come here…this garden has no cats or dogs and they keep a nice bowl of water too.

Or maybe, “beware, the dingoes are near.”

I set off on my morning walk…listening to a favourite podcast. The episode was from Krista Tippett (On Being) interviewing beloved Irish poet, Michael Longley. More and more, I find myself being drawn to poets and their concise artistry.

The interview started with Michael Longley quoting his own favourite poet:

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morning light

“There’s a line by John Clare that I adore. I love John Clare. I revere him. “Poets love nature, and themselves are love.” And I believe that with all my heart. And part of writing is adoration. For me, celebrating the wildflowers or the birds is like a kind of worship.”

Those words pulled me in and for the remainder of the walk I was absorbed in a sort of reverie of someone else’s experiences, uniquely expressed, yet similar to my own. That is what art hopes to achieve, something previously unidentified, but immediately recognisable.

The Wedge Tail Kites (large birds of prey) circled above me, occasionally landing near enough to see how large they were. Some are big enough that my neighbour carries a golf club to chase them away, lest their carnivorous tendencies see her young puppy as breakfast!

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ordinary minutia

In my ears, unfolded ‘The Vitality of Ordinary Things’.* Even thinking about it now reminds me of my own strong connection with tiny and ordinary pieces of life. It has only been in the last decade or so that I have recognised my own fascination with this side of life. I think it has always been there. I just hadn’t realised it was a theme—perhaps not had the mental space to see it.

Once you see a thing, it cannot be unseen.

Home again. My daily habit is to water the rosemary plants, growing in pots along the patio. I lifted the metal watering bowl we keep in the outside sink. A sizeable, and  nearly expired, lizard had curled up underneath and was still–eyes closed, but not yet dead. Poor thing, what is there to do? I picked it up gently and placed it in the shade of the vines, surrounding the rosemary pots, hoping it wasn’t too late for it to revive. Its response was not encouraging. As you know, I’m sympathetic to the lizards around here and this was one I didn’t often see–about three times the length of a gecko and with lovely patterned skin. After laying his limp body in the shade, I dribbled a little water over him. Eyes still shut, he looked dehydrated, hovering near death. I suspect he had crawled into the sink for water and then couldn’t get out again. It happens sometimes, and with our hot weather, anything that small can dehydrate quickly.

I felt sad, and more than a little worried for him, having lost Bernie so recently.

Wanting to know…and yet fearing how the lizard fared, I waited a few hours to check on him. I carefully picked through the vines to peek and see if by some miracle he had revived. ‘My stars and garters!’, as my Aunt used to say! There he was blinking back at me. He looked almost normal and not in a huge rush to scurry away. And me with no camera.

But I have a pen.

And paper.

How much more of an ordinary thing can one do, but to interact with nature? Then again, how much more of an extra-ordinary thing can one do but to save a life?

Anything, however small, may make a poem; nothing, however great, is certain to. –Edward Thomas

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likeness of rescued lizard

 

*for the uninitiated, Michael Longley has the most gentle and calm Irish voice and explains so well the creative life of a poet as well as some of the complexities of life in Northern Ireland. He is an agnostic, so if this bothers you, try to put it to one side. You will see that he is deeply reverent and impishly delightful. The link I have given is so that you can listen to the interview on the computer or read the transcript, or see the title and find it in your podcast app. I have to say, though, it is his lovely, lilting voice that enhances his thoughts and humour, so if you can listen. It is worthwhile.

a voice from the ages…

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Evening stroll to the concert. View of the Yarra River.

We have just returned from a little ‘warm up’ trip to Melbourne. Even though I arrived home beyond tired, I’m calling this a warm up trip because it is a small prelude to a longer trip in a week’s time, to New Zealand.  Here is how the Melbourne trip came about…

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Satu Vänskä, Principal Violin, Australian Chamber Orchestra

A little over two weeks ago I saw a television interview with Satu Vänskä, Principal Violin, of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. The ACO has on loan a 300 year old Stradivarius Violin and Satu is the talented musician who plays it for their performances. Her interview captivated me as she described the violin as an extension of herself, as her ‘voice’, were she a singer. She explained the ACO has a fundraising program that enables them to purchase vintage instruments which become part of their orchestra. They are not just for show, they are participants in their art. She played a couple of short examples of the music they would be performing. It went straight to my heart, the way things do when we are open to experiences.

It so happens my husband was already booked to travel to Melbourne about a week hence, for a series of meetings. He encouraged me to check the ACO performances and see if they happened to coincide. They did. And there were seats available.

I believe in synchronistic adventure.

We enjoy listening to classical music but are not cognoscenti, especially me. I just listen and enjoy. Neither of us had ever attended an ACO performance. But there was something about the sound of that Stradivarius, even heard over the inferior quality of television speakers, that filtered to my innermost being. I suppose that is what great art does. But there is more…

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Dad and Mom in Rome

About forty years ago, when my Italian speaking skills were fresh enough from studies to be of some use, I organised a trip to Italy for myself and my parents. In those days I could only get two weeks off from work so it was an ambitious plan. We flew into Rome, enjoyed the delights, picked up a rental car and headed to an area about 70 miles outside of Rome to meet my father’s extended family, then south to the Amalfi Coast, then back up through Tuscany and through Cremona on our way to the Lake Como area. Like I said, ambitious. Dad and I took turns driving —oh the things a fearless father and a confident young daughter can achieve! I wonder if my Mother spent the entire trip with white knuckles?

When we neared the Cremona area, Dad sprung on me that he wanted to stop, to see if we could find anything about the Stradivarius violins that were made there in the 18th century. Himself, a musician, Dad was from a very musical family. His father played the violin and his Uncle made violins, one of which is in the possession of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. Musical talent certainly skipped my generation, though perhaps there is a lingering gene or two in my other creative endeavours.

Keep in mind, this was well before GPS systems, the internet or smart phones! We had only an ‘old school’ road map and my Dad’s sketchy knowledge of the Stradivarius. I could scarcely believe we actually found a museum or school or some such place, where there was said to be a Stradivarius. But when we arrived it was ‘chiuso’—closed. The hours were posted on the door so we decided to try and return when it would be open again. As we turned to leave, an Italian gentleman came into the piazza. Dad, never one to hold back, but knowing not a word of Italian, stopped the man, then realised I would have to do the asking… thanks Dad. If you’ve ever learned a second language, you will know that often it is not the difficulty of asking the question that is the problem, it is understanding the reply that is tricky. Eventually, what I understood was that this gentleman, a ‘professore di musica’ was also the person who came once a week to play the Stradivarius that was kept on display here–to keep it in good working order. He told us when he would be playing if we wanted to wait.

We waited.

Eventually the door was opened, probably after siesta, I can’t quite remember, I just know it was a warm day and we were waiting on hard stone benches in the piazza for a while… We were told where to go and il Professore, true to his word, was preparing the famed violin. He, and we, were the only people present. He played. Dad was riveted. Me? I was young and not as appreciative as I might have been. The uniqueness of the moment didn’t fully sink it at the time, but somewhere deep in the folds of my grey matter it has been waiting to come forward and be gratefully acknowledged.

Hearing that Stradivarius on television restored that memory as if it was only a few years ago. Perhaps the spirit of my Dad was urging me to go to Melbourne. It was the sort of adventure he would appreciate. The actual star of the performance was the up and coming Australian Soprano, Nicole Car, who has performed in London and Paris to acclaim and who is performing later this year at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. She was superb.

But for me, the star was the Stradivarius.

What a voice Satu has…a three hundred year old Belgiorno Stradivarius that lives on through her artistry.

 

 

If you live in Australia, the ACO tour continues for the month of April. Also, there is a performance from this series that will be played live on April 22 with Nicole Car singing. I will be out of the country and can’t imagine that I will get to hear it, but who can say, with these synchronistic things? Link: http://www.abc.net.au/classic/live-music/classic-live/

this morning, this moon, these atoms…

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(note: it is annoying that WordPress needs to put a different date on this, than when I am actually posting it here in Australia, but that seems to be the way it works. It is April 1, 2018 here)

I admit to being rather uninspired to take photos lately. Possibly because I have other creative things on my mind…possibly…just because. But the moon was so super bright, and apparently ‘blue’, this morning… I shot out of the house and up and down rocky outcrops following its journey’s end across the sky as it lightly touched the sharp, molten edge of the ranges and then disappeared.

Nature, the universe and all its inhabitants inspire artists of all kinds, I’m certain. The golf course where we live is highly regarded both for golf and for its surrounding beauty. And I am among its most appreciative observers. However, a person needs to watch carefully where they are walking, while keeping an eye on the bright spherical prize, or else you will go ass over appetite pretty quickly, not to mention twist something vital to mobility.  I am a Light Chaser, so I risk it. The price of being able to indulge this scramble is staying fit enough to pick carefully, but quickly up the lightly worn paths the kangaroos use (judging from the droppings…) and along the ridge. It is an art.

Eventually, when the sun had nearly erased the contrast between sky and moon, I came down from the ridge and walked toward home. The tiniest of wildflowers were in blossom, from timely rains a few weeks ago. They would nearly fit on the head of a pin. Across the way the funny ole Galahs were doing their civic duty on a small knoll, crunching a favourite of theirs, the ‘three corner jacks’. They are horrible, large prickles and in this instance, no one begrudges the Galahs their preferences!

On the home stretch I spied a crested pigeon feather in the red dirt, with tiny tufts of green grass, again results of the recent rain. Around it, tiny dried purple flowers, blown along the way from a ‘Geisha’ bush several metres away.IMG_1278

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What a marvellous and memorable walk, while in my ears played an interview * with literary thinker Maria Popova and astrophysicist Natalie Batalha.

It took 13.7 billion years for the atoms to come together to create the portal to the universe which is my physical self. –Natalie Batalha

And there I was, my ‘physical self’, perhaps only accidental atoms, but able to experience perfection.

 

*This link is for the WEB page interview that you can either read or listen to, if you are so inclined. Podcast is ‘On Being’ with Krista Tippett, episode titled ‘Cosmic Imagining, Civic Pondering’

If you wish to see the photos larger you can just click on them. I used no filters or editing, these photos are as they came from my iPhone 6 camera.