Little happinesses and big happiness


Image result for rowland hilder paintings


I love Autumn… I loved it in England, those early morning mists burnt off by the morning sun… the scents of bonfires and blackberries, picking hazel-nuts from the hedgerows, finding silky, shining conkers and kicking up the rustling leaves, crackling them under my shoes… freshly ploughed fields, and that sense of gentle melancholy, a poetic nostalgia for the last pale days of sunshine before winter crept in…

Later in Hongkong, the end of summer came quite suddenly overnight, when the light changed, and for a month or six weeks a light pervaded the harsh hectic city, and turned the island into a place of surpassing beauty.  I waited for those weeks every year. The gleaming days and shining waters of the harbour seemed rapturous for no particular reason, and those who noticed this magical transformation said the light was like the light of the Greek isles.

And now in the antipodes, autumn is the best season of the year – soft, golden days and crisp, starry nights.
We live in a covenanted podocarp forest of evergreen trees which stretches across high peaks and shadowed gorges. Some days we wake to find the sun shining on our mountain, and then see the gold light move down the slopes until the whole forest shines. Other mornings mist shrouds the peaks, and hovers in the valleys… last night the high wind blasted the last leaves of autumn from the trees along the roads, leaving just the fretted gold leaves of the gingko trees.

So today it feels as though autumn has passed, and winter is setting in. With deep pleasure, I get out the warm winter clothes, and start to think about winter food, hot and comforting, snug evenings with the curtains pulled, and warm sheets on the bed. These are ‘small happinesses’, a phrase my daughter introduced me to a few months ago.

This morning when I put the kettle on for my early morning cup of tea, the sun was on the mountain, a small happiness. Taking the tray back to bed, I checked my e-mails, gloating over the beauty of the latest photos sent from France by my daughter… yesterday Chartres, today Monet’s garden at Givernay, tomorrow Mont St Michel… Then I found a poem by Mark Nepo, sent by a dear friend, with phrases that gave me more small happinesses…

Each person is born with an unencumbered spot…

… an umbilical spot of grace… the last lines were: the incorruptible spot of grace resting at our core.

Holding these words in my mind, my love and I went shopping to a small town an hour and a quarter away. Every mile we travelled past weathered crags, misty mountains and green fields was beautiful. Finally, we reached the narrow coast road, where pohutakawa trees arched overhead, their roots clinging to the side of the cliff.

The wide silver stretch of still water, shimmering with light, lay alongside, and I watched birds dive for food in a small feeding frenzy, marvelled at the shag colony, where up in the pohutakawa trees, the big white breasted birds sat erect on their great nests concocted from twigs, while a gull flew overhead at 35 miles an hour. We passed the curving sandy bay black with hosts of black oyster catchers standing patiently on the shores of the estuary, white breasts and sharp, orange beaks facing the high tide, waiting for the water to recede and their food to return.

We did our shopping – small, kind, cheery encounters that are the building blocks of the goodness of life. A visit to the re-cycle centre yielded a satisfying bargain and a small happiness … two pretty pressed glass Victorian dishes for a dollar each, and then the building re-cycling yard had more treasures, including the perfect windows for our building project.

Feeling contented we relaxed in our favourite café, with hot chocolate and a blueberry muffin. We sat in the courtyard under the pollarded plane trees and watched a small flock of sparrows fall on each table as it emptied, diving into cake crumbs and pulling at a rasher of left-over bacon. A speckle- breasted thrush sat in an olive tree growing in a large pot, and pecked at the clusters of pale green olives. The sage green leaves were silhouetted against a rosy brick wall and the sinuous curves of branches and leaves looked like William Morris’s famous willow pattern.

I must keep a diary again, I exclaimed, I want to remember these moments of beauty. But writing this blog is the closest I get to it at the moment. This day was like all our days living in this remote place where we are the guardians of the forest, where species of plants and creatures that are almost extinct elsewhere, still live their tranquil lives hidden deep beneath the green canopy. I once said to my love that I knew people who were living quiet, mystical lives of love and beauty, and we agreed that we would make it happen for us.

Occasionally a note of discord strikes when a person who has other agendas intrudes into our peace, but since I take Don Miguel Ruiz’s Third Agreement seriously, and try never to take anything personally, our peace of mind is rarely perturbed. I also remember a meme which says: ‘negativity can only affect you if you’re on the same frequency – vibrate higher.’ So we try.

We forget to play music because the silence is so full of sound, the wind in the trees, the birdsong, the stream rushing down below. Living in this place, it’s easy to believe in that “incorruptible spot of grace” resting at our core. It’s easy to believe too, that the mystery of love and truth and beauty do still exist, in spite of what often seems like suffering and chaos in the outer world, but which, hidden from our limited understanding, may have a larger purpose. We only have to believe in love and truth and beauty, to see them – in people, in nature, in the universe, and in the deep silent mystery of the life unfolding around us.

So the roots of the trees in this forest grow deep in the earth, sustained by creatures of the dark, the snails, slugs, earthworms, flatworms and nematodes that degrade organic matter. The rain and the sun sustain them. Tiny frogs and rare lizards hide deep in their secret habitats, bees push into the flowers of the manukau trees, butterflies hover above the flowers, birds sing, the kingfisher plunges down into the grass for a morsel, morepork owls hoot across our valley in the moonlight, and nature continues to sustain them all, and the planet, and us too… what a big happiness!!!

PS   The picture is by Rowland Hilder who specialised in  painting nostalgic autumn and winter scenes.


Food for threadbare gourmets

I needed a pudding for a gluten- intolerant friend, so fell back on our tried and true chocolate mousse… just eggs, butter and good dark chocolate… though I can never resist tweaking the simple recipe.

So after separating the eggs, melt a knob of butter in a saucepan, and I add a table spoon of brandy or strong black coffee or even sherry, and break the chocolate in. For every egg, use six squares of plain chocolate, and a little bit more butter.

Stirring the mix until the chocolate melts, take it off the heat before it goes grainy. Whip the whites of eggs until peaks form, and at this stage I often add one or two tablespoons of icing sugar and whip again until stiff. Stir the yolks into the chocolate mixture, and then gently fold this into the egg whites. Pour the mix into small individual bowls, chill in the fridge for at least six hours, and serve with cream.

I gave this to my children often when we were vegetarian, as it was an easy way to make sure they had enough protein.


Food for thought

“The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even heard, but must be felt with the heart.”

Helen Keller, who overcame the handicaps of being deaf, blind and dumb to gain a degree and live a life of service to others.





Filed under birds, consciousness, cookery/recipes, environment, great days, happiness, life/style, love, poetry, sustainability, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, Uncategorized

20 responses to “Little happinesses and big happiness

  1. Your writing is exquisite and since I also love autumn, perhaps because I was born in this season, I particularly respond to the beauty of your post. How strange it is to read about warm clothes when children, here in the USA, are already on summer break.
    I love your mousse au chocolat recipe. Which is a little unorthodox for a French native but sounds so tasty with the addition of coffee 🙂
    And of course the quote from Helen Keller reminds me of my beloved Le Petit Prince.


    • Lovely to hear from you, Evelyn, and thank you so much for your generous words… a small happiness for me !
      Funnily enough I too have had those words from The Little Prince on my mind:
      ‘It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.’
      Yes, I do tend to play with recipes… and then again, some are sacrosanct !!! like creme caramel … I do hate recipes with lots of ingredients added, when the original is perfect as it is…


  2. I was in love with Helen Keller when I was a kid–after reading her biography. She was the most amazing person I had ever read about. Beautiful post, Valerie. I did a double take at first because we are just moving into summer here in the U.S., and I had to remember where I was in her post.Here in Arizona, we are moving toward 120 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday . . . .


    • Hello Luanne, lovely to hear from you… Yes, I am always awed by Helen Keller… what a woman… On a course with Jean Houston, she told us that when she was seven, her class was taken to meet Helen Keller, and Jean had never forgotten the absolute happiness which radiated from her…. I though it was so sad that her family thwarted her love affair with the lovely man who wanted to marry her…


  3. I too try to ‘not take it personally” although (to be honest) sometimes it’s hard. But I do work at ‘letting it go’ and it does go. I am always stunned by that someone-man or woman- who gets so UPSET driving behind me, that when they pass they have to give me the finger…what unusual rudeness exists for some souls out there.

    As for music (and tv) those days have fled with my youth. Today we listen to the sounds of the air, the earth and the water. They are full of their own music and it is lovely. I have a hard time with the ‘bad vibes’ on tv and through news so I choose to read or to do hand sewing…I choose peace for my life now.

    Lovely post my dear sweet friend,


    • Thank you dear LInda.. letter on the way… we’re very busy at the moment painting boards and doors etc…I know what you mean about the Tv and the news… I haven’t had a TV for nearly five years now, and only watch films with no violence and that don’t ‘harrow’ me !!!! ( which doesn’t leave a lot of choice !!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Again, thank you for your generous sharing and reminding me of the happiness that surrounds me.


  5. As I read your lovely post about autumn coming to a close, I sit in my apartment in NYC, on the cusp of summer, listening to the rain outside the window and enjoying the cool, gray light streaming in, (a respite from the golden heat of the past week), and can well imagine the lovely nature habitat where you currently reside, Valerie. Thank you! 😉 xoxoM


  6. Michele Seminara

    What a ‘little happines’ this was for me! Thank you, Valerie.


  7. Looking out for beauty and for the enjoyment of ‘small happinesses’ is something which would make everyone’s lives a great deal more pleasant. Too often, one tends to focus on negative things.


  8. What a beautiful day and loving observations, stemming from that exquisite poetry. Thank you for sharing your gifts and wisdom Valerie, they are a soothing balm.


    • Claire, you are such a generous reader, as well as a discerning one, so I really appreciate your lovely comment, thank you…
      I expect you are coping with the heat waves I’ve been hearing about your side of the world… keep cool !!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve kept a diary since I can remember (and movie plus reading logs). Still takes precedence over my blog which has fallen behind due to ‘too much on currently’. Lovely post, Valerie.

    PS: big ups for favourite cafes.


    • Dear mark, just read – and read aloud to my partner – your comments about assisted dying… brilliant, cogent and actually unanswerable if your opponent actually absorbed what you wrote… big ups, as you put it !!!!!


  10. I always love your comments Mark, and have been really missing not seeing your blog,
    I wish I’d kept a log of all the books I’ve read… I did for the three years of the diary/ come everything that I published in The Sound of Water, but in the end, have to survey my bookshelves to know what I’ve been reading !!
    And yes, to the big ups for favourite cafes… I’ll drive for miles for a decent cup of coffee!


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