I’m sitting by the wood fire with the rain falling steadily outside onto the green garden. It’s fragrant with the scent of all the cyclamens I bought this year to put in pots. I hadn’t realised what a beautiful perfume they had. I picked some roses before the rain drenched them, Monteverdi’s exquisite lilting Vespers – trumpets and choirs – is playing, and I had for lunch a delicious helping of the grocer’s bargain Gorgonzola Dolce with fresh sour dough bread.
And coffee. My coffee tastes entirely different now that I’ve learnt to put the milk in first, thanks to the coffee drinking bloggers who commented on the blog I’d written about tea, and how Milk in First – so frowned upon by the pukka – is actually more delicious than milk poured in after the tea. So I’m now drinking coffee milk in first.
I’ve been watching a blackbird pecking at a red apple nailed to the fence outside the window. The sparrows love their grain in the swinging blue and white bowl suspended from a tree near the bird-bath. As I watched them, I was amazed to see a host of different birds in the garden, so unusual in this country.
There was a wood pigeon sitting in the guava tree in its approved partridge in a pear tree fashion, three pink-breasted grey doves pecking on the grass, a couple of tuis frisking in the bottle brush tree, sparrows in the feeding bowl, fan tails flitting around between plum tree and bird bath, a couple of lime-green and grey wax- eyes flickering among the leaves, and to my astonishment, a gold finch pecking around the green copper with pink cyclamen – the pink and the gold, and the verdigris of the copper a delight.
The tiny wax-eyes or silver -eyes, which are half the size of a sparrow – would top the list of NZ birds I love. Victorian Walter Buller, the earliest NZ authority on birds, called them silver-eyes. They ‘re supposed to have arrived in New Zealand in June 1856. Buller wrote: ‘…in the early part of June of that year, I first heard of its occurrence at Waikanae, a native settlement on the west coast, about forty miles from Wellington. The native mailman brought in word that a new bird had been seen, and that it was a visitor from another land.
‘A week later he brought intelligence that large flocks had appeared, and that the “tau-hou” (stranger) swarmed in the brushwood near the coast; reporting further that they seemed weary after their journey, and that the natives caught many of them alive’. Buller tells us that they were then seen in numbers in Wellington, and greatly welcomed as they ate the aphis known as American Blight which was ruining the settlers’ apple trees. The little silver-eye has flourished here ever since its epic thousand-mile journey across the Tasman.
Why did they come, flocks of them, not just a few blown by the wind? What a great heart in a tiny frame, and what impelled each one to embark on this huge migration across an ocean? Flocks of them sometimes clung exhausted to the masts of ships in mid-ocean. How did they know that a land, New Zealand, was awaiting them at the other side of the trackless sea? And how sad, that at the end of the endless journey, tiny wings beating against the winds, they were so exhausted, that many were caught by hand by Maoris and ended their lives precipitately in the Promised Land.
Whenever I see the tiny green creatures flitting in and out of the birdbath, sipping the honey in the bottle-brush tree, and nibbling the apples I put out in winter, I remember their great journey and noble hearts. Was their quest a search for a better life, like so many of the settlers, who in those same years also sailed across oceans for six months to reach here, surviving perils which included drowning, sickness and starvation?
This quest of men and birds took not just courage but a leap of imagination, and I wonder if these are the times now when we must all also take another leap of imagination and courage to save the dear earth that we know – to take, in Christopher Fry’s words, “the longest stride of soul men ever took”. Eckhart Tolle has warned that all the structures that we’ve always known will start to crumble, and we are now seeing trusted institutions, organisations, freedom, democracy, justice, free speech, free press, the environment – all under threat.
So this must be the time to take that long stride of soul – to create new ways of living on this planet, salvaging the best, and joining together to share peace and goodwill, as well as food and resources. The Dalai Lama has said that meditating is not enough – we need to act – and Thich Nhat Hanh has warned us that we can’t go on the way we are doing.
He says otherwise: “ … there is no doubt that our civilisation will be destroyed. This will require enlightenment, awakening. The Buddha attained individual awakening. Now we need a collective enlightenment to stop this course of destruction.” So enlightenment, it seems, is a journey which we can’t delay, and however difficult this may seem, and whatever it means to different people – as Lao Tzu so famously said nearly fifteen hundred years ago – a journey of a thousand leagues begins with the first step.
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
As a threadbare gourmet, I pride myself on getting at least eight meals out of a chicken, so I put the legs into the deep freeze to take out when I wanted them. After de-frosting and taking the skin off, I added them to a pan in which I’d sauted garlic and chopped mushrooms in butter and cream. I also crumbled a chicken cube in a little boiling water and added it to the mix to boil up and thicken. Then I stirred in half a teasp of Dijon mustard, some nutmeg, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sometimes I serve this on pasta, this time I served it with buttery, creamy mashed potatoes, peas, and carrots.
Food for Thought
Life is an endless struggle full of frustration and challenges, but eventually you find a hair stylist you like!