The plum tree outside the kitchen window is smothered in tiny pink blossoms. Yesterday bees were snuffling in it, scattering petals like pale confetti all over the steps and courtyard. Two monarch butterflies chased each other through the blossom, and a couple of tuis, ruffling their white neck ties, sucked the honey and plunged around from bird bath to plum tree, chasing each other in their spring mating games.
Today the tree is empty, but the wind has blown the blossom over the garden, so it looks like snowflakes, and the tree is like a lace veil hanging in front of the window. In spite of the cloudy skies, there is a sort of glow in the garden from the scattered petals and the light filtering through this tree. A couple of greenery yallery silver-eyes tweeting to each other are the only birds left, for a storm blew in over-night, and there is nothing now but the sound of the wind in the trees, and the roar of the breakers crashing onto the rocks in our little bay below. The water pours over the rocks like spilled milk, the bay is boiling with white foam, and the rain falls steadily. The spring flowers are beginning to push their way up, a few camellias, lots of cyclamen, some marguerite daisies, and a few roses on the scented Jean Ducher, which escaped the heavy pruning they had a few weeks ago.
Yesterday I picked two long pink sprays of cymbidium orchids, and two more heavily flowered gold and red orchids from the garden, and stood them in two separate tall glass vases. First I had to shake lots of tiny wood cockroaches out of the flowers, and catch the ones that made it inside, in my glass spider catcher to take them outside again. (The spider catcher is actually a clear glass vase with a stiff cardboard birthday card to slide underneath)
But best of all is the news which has sped round the village that some Southern Right whales have been seen. They’ve been making their way up the coast, and were seen in the bay further south, and are now heading up towards the bay north of us – a mother, nudging her calf along on the journey. They swim very slowly, their top speed being about nine kilometres an hour, but with a calf, this mother would probably have been a lot slower. They tend to keep close to the coast, on their way from the Antarctic to the warmer feeding and breeding grounds around the Pacific, but tend to stay further south from us, so they’ve been watched with love all their way up the coast.
There are more Southern Right whales left than other species, and they can grow up to 59 feet long, and weigh 90 tons. Not much is known about them, but a North Atlantic whale was seen and recognised from her distinctive markings in 1935, 1959, 1980, 1985, 1992, and lastly in 1995 with a bad head wound, probably from a ship – which means that she was at least 70 years old at last sighting. I have a friend who as a little girl used to holiday in the bay next to ours. Her father was teaching her to row. She awoke one morning and looking out of the window, saw the bay was full of basking whales. She grabbed some clothes, ran down to the beach and jumped in the rowing boat. She rowed out to the whales and sat among them rocking in the water, until her father appeared and called her back in. I envy her that memory.
Whalers used to go for these slow moving creatures, who swam so close in, as they were easy to catch. At Lord Howe Island, where the whales had been travelling to breed for millions of years, they finally stopped coming after they’d been so savagely hunted in the 19th century. It makes me sad to think of it.
So this great Southern Right is a treasured visitor. I stand outside the french doors in the blustery wind, savouring the roar of the sea below, and wondering what other creatures of the deep are moving around there on the floor of the ocean, unbeknown to us. We haven’t seen our little pod of dolphins for a while, but popping in on a friend who lives overlooking another harbour, she told me she’d spent the whole morning watching them leaping and playing down below. So good news, they’re still around.
But the sad news for me – and our local wood pigeons – is that our loquat tree which grows beside our veranda, seems to have some sort of blight and the fruit haven’t set this year. I normally lie in bed and watch the huge wood pigeons- three times the size of the English wood pigeon – lumber in at the angle of a jumbo jet and sit chomping through the golden fruit, while the tree shakes with their exertions. The whole fruit slides lumpily down their bronze green throats and then sinks into their swelling white breasts. The Maoris, and then the settlers, used to eat them and catch them in thousands, but like the Southern Right whales, they too nearly became extinct, and are now protected. So no fruit for the pigeons this year. I try not to worry about what they will find instead.
But as I write this and the rain falls gently, and a blackbird bursts into song, I suddenly think to myself why do I worry?
I remember the exquisite words of the wonderful Indian mystic Kabir:
What kind of God would He be
If He did not hear the
Bangles ring on
An ant’s wrist
As they move the earth
In their sweet dance?
And what kind of God would He be
If a leaf’s prayer was not as precious to Creation
As the prayer His own son sang… (translated by Daniel Ladinsky)
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
Omar Khayyam sang of a jug of wine, a loaf of bread – and Thou. Well, I didn’t have Thou, but I had Friend at the end of a busy week, and I suggested the wine, the bread and some imported French camembert cheese (try not to feel guilty about the food miles) just for us girls (a metaphor). So out with the best crystal glasses, a good bottle of pinot gris, cheese at the perfect stage of melt and the warm bread, and we were laughing – the best fare of all.
Sometimes we threadbare gourmets just have to give it all away and put our feet up with nothing but the best.
Food for Thought
Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realise that it bears a very close resemblance to the first. Ronald Reagan at a conference in Los Angeles in March 1977.
He also said: You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by his way of eating jellybeans. Very true if you know what you’re looking for!