Category Archives: environment

Watching the Whales

This morning I saw a pod of whales swim past. I missed the dolphins in the harbour a couple of weeks ago, when the children went in to swim with them. But I think I may have been the only one to see the whales.

I went out in the early morning to bin the rubbish, and walked up to the edge of the cliff to look out to sea. The sea was calm and almost silver, the sky so pale and clear, that the horizon and sky almost merged.

As I stood there in the stillness, a fin appeared, and then the rest of the whale, and a  white fountain before it plunged back into the trackless sea. And then another, a little further over, and then another, fins and fountains of water…less than quarter of a mile away.

For a few minutes they sprang and blew and dived. Then I saw them no more. But I was blissed out… just to know that there was still life in the sea. It’s only in the last twenty years that anything has been known in this country about orcas, or killer whales as they’re also known. There are three groups, it’s now estimated, and about three hundred only in New Zealand waters. They live in pods of two or three according to researchers, but I’ve seen up to a dozen adults and their babies cruising up Auckland Harbour.

The ones I saw this morning were Antarctic orcas, a steely grey, compared to the black of other groups… and a long way from the Antarctic. They travel fast at more than 50 kilometres an hour, and though the males are between 20 and 30 feet long, the females slightly smaller, they are not truly whales, but belong to the dolphin family.

We have a marine reserve a few miles north of our harbour – the first to be established in the world – and it teems with fish of all kinds, the way the sea used to be before man pillaged these unpolluted waters and in less than two hundred years managed to deplete them to the point of worry. I sometimes wonder if the fish know they’re safe in the reserve, the way the ducks all fly to safety in the lakes and ponds in the parks around the city, in the days before the duck shooting season starts.( how do they know the date ?)

When Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian anthropologist who sailed across the Pacific in 1947, made his voyage, the world was still fairly un-despoiled. (writers may be cheered  to know that his book, The Kontiki Expedition, which was a best seller, was turned down about two hundred times by agents and publishers, including author William Saroyan)

Heyerdahl, who wanted to prove that people had sailed from South America across the Pacific and peopled islands in the Pacific, made his boat the way the ancient Incas would have done – a sort of raft out of balsa-wood. I’ve recently re-read this book and the picture he gives of the ocean made me ache for the same experience.

He described the intimacy of being at sea-level, with the sea washing over the raft, so that they never sank in rough weather, and how when they killed a big fish like a shark to eat, all the shark’s pilot fish then attached themselves to the raft. The natural balsa wood of the structure also began to grow its own collection of sea-weed under the water, and among the pilot fish and the sea-weed, hermit crabs and barnacles began to make their home.

So this floating travelling home for six men became an organic part of the ocean, with its own micro-life, bobbing along like a cork on top of the water, but also in it. They were part of the life of the great ocean, visited by strange un-named and unknown forms of deep sea life, and travelling with the winds and the currents, accompanied sometimes by dolphins, sometimes by sharks, flying fish landing on the raft, and at all times, living as an integral part of the sea and the winds, the storms and the stars.

The immense nostalgia that I feel on reading Heyerdahl’s description of what was a pristine ocean, untouched by pollution, is because of course, it is a very different experience today. The water is now filled with floating plastic on its way along the currents to tag onto the huge continents of plastic rubbish which kill birds and fish, and slowly bio-degrade into tiny particles which will make their way into the fish, and finally into the human race, a well-deserved fate. And not just plastic rubbish, of course, but floating lost containers, hidden in the water, which are a constant hazard for boats.

A couple of years ago, David de Rothschild and a handful of adventurers, including Heyerdahl’s grandson Olav, built a similar raft, called Plastiki. Rothschild wanted to make the point about all the waste that we don’t recycle. His boat was built, from amongst other things, 12,500 used plastic bottles, and fitted with solar panels, propeller turbines, urine to water recovery systems, and was completely ‘green”.

He sailed from Sausalito, California to Sydney, taking nearly four months. His report on the ocean was devastating. He saw hardly any fish, – the crew couldn’t have survived by fishing every day, as Heyerdahl had done – the ocean was empty, except for plastic rubbish and other floating discards.  The plastic of course, was heading for the Great Pacific Rubbish Dump, which I see official sources have tried to downplay, and suggest is not as bad as it seems.

But if you follow up the unbiased reports, the pictures are horrifying; of dying seals entangled in nets, dead ones with plastic rings clamping their mouths shut; fish and birds strangled by plastic bags and fishing lines; and worst of all, a turtle who must have got entangled in a plastic ring less than a foot wide as a baby, who is now a grown animal, strangled in his middle by this plastic ring and completely deformed. These pictures will prick your conscience.

The plastic mountain is not just growing, but also breaking down, so that shards of plastic are entering the food chain through the fish. So the chances that we too may start to ingest the rubbish from the oceans is quite high – sailors passing across the Atlantic have also reported that they were never out of sight of rubbish floating in that great ocean too.

So what can we do? We are consumers. We can start to refuse to buy stuff that’s wrapped in plastic, and everything is. We can lobby our politicians and convince them that doing something about this issue is quite as important as drilling for oil. We can spread the word so that more and more people become aware that we are endangering our oceans.

One English scientist was so appalled when she saw the Great Pacific Rubbish Dump, that she went home, and lobbied her home town, and they are now plastic- free; no more plastic bags in shops and supermarkets, and they are now working on the rest of the plastic menace.

The crazy thing is, if we all used string bags and baskets like we used to, we wouldn’t need a lot of that oil that they’re looking for under the ocean. Bloggers of the world unite, and refuse to go on using plastic wrappings and plastic bags and all the other plastic throwaway stuff that doesn’t last as long as a china bowl, or a wooden chair. Unwrap the shirt, the scissors, the mosquito repellent, every single item, and leave the rubbish on the counter  – let’s be counter revolutionaries and clean up our world.

If you want  to know more, there’s lots about it on Google. The Great Pacific Rubbish Dump will take you straight there.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

A friend came for lunch on a chilly spring day, so we had celery soup, followed by one soft cream cheese, and one soft blue one locally made, with tomatoes and celery and hot rolls, followed by my standby, lemon tartlets with homemade lemon curd given me by a friend at the weekend, prettied up with a dab of crème fraiche, and coffee.

The celery soup was good, I added a leek to the sauted onion and celery, for another layer of taste, and a small potato for thickening. When the stock (a couple of vegetarian bouillon cubes) had been added, and the soup had been whizzed  and was just about ready, I whizzed up some of the celery leaves and some parsley with half a cup of milk in the blender, poured it onto the soup and brought it back to hot to serve straight away. The sharp green flecks of parsley looked lovely in the smooth pale green soup, and the celery leaves gave it a zingy peppery taste. We had a nice chilled Pinot Gris with the cheese.

Food for Thought

If it is to be it is up to me.

Advice from an anonymous English schoolmaster to his new students. I’ve used it before, but it seemed appropriate today.

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Filed under books, cookery/recipes, environment, environment, great days, life/style, pollution, sustainability, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Snails Have Feelings Too!

Not exactly breakfast at Tiffany’s but breakfast at the river cafe. And not exactly breakfast either – I preferred a freshly baked friand and two cups of coffee – my way.

I sat in the spring sunshine and watched the ducks, bottoms up, having their breakfast. The sparrows hopped so close that I could see the tiny inky black dots like a bib in front of the male birds’ necks. As I walked up the steps to the grocer, the scent of the miniature lemon bushes flanking the water-slide bisecting the flight of steps wafted past. The cherry trees were in that delicate stage of fading blossom with a faint green haze of leaf buds emerging. Altogether, so enjoyable that I decided to take my time going home.

Turning down a country road with a few houses at scattered intervals, I slowly drove down peering up long drives trying to see the houses at the end. One long and infinite drive was lined with poplars, the translucent apricot- coloured spring leaves just uncurling, shiny and shimmering with the sun striking through them, and their bunches of pale green catkins wriggling in the breeze.. On one side of the road was a meadow snowy with daisies, and a little further down, was another one sparkling with gold buttercups.

They wouldn’t gladden a modern farmer’s heart, but they did mine. Cows no longer browse on all the herbs and grasses that their system needs, they just get cultivated grass of one variety which feeds them: but this doesn’t give them the balance of minerals and herbs they instinctively seek out when left in organic fields with all these nutrients available to them.

I only know this from a farming friend whose cows needed copper injections, but when someone left the gate open, they rushed out and began browsing in the mixed grasses along the roadside. When their health improved immediately, he was converted there and then to organic farming. I also heard a radio programme last week in which an organic farmer said his vet’s bills dropped from over two thousand dollars a month, to a hundred and eighty a month when he switched over to organic.

Further down the road some horses were grazing contentedly in the sun, one beautiful palamino stretched out on his side soaking up the warmth. I hastily drew up at this curve in the road, for a big clump of deep blue Norfolk Island forget-me-nots had self-seeded and were sprawling along the verge. I snapped off two sprays which had gone to seed and put them carefully on the front seat so I could see if any seeds fell off.

Heading back I detoured to a tiny wharf on the edge of the estuary. The first settlers who came here in 1850 had landed their goods from Auckland here, and by 1880 this little wharf had been built. All the traffic into this region came up from Auckland and was decanted ashore here. A few years later, an enterprising local man built a shop out over the water next to the wharf, so that fresh goods could be taken straight off the boats, and this tiny space between cliff and sea became the hub of the area.

Now, only the restored wharf remains, and I stood there in the sunny silence watching the tide flow up the river, clear and blue. There were some huge shells down on the mud, so I climbed down the steep steps to gather a handful, magenta and maroon and plum colours merging into sherry and then cream. Big curved shells, and flat fluted ones, with not a chip or a mark on them.

As I stepped towards them, my black patent shoes sank deep into the mud, and I had a moment’s panic. But then thought, well you can always wash patent leather. I gathered a handful of shells, and then wiping the soles of my shoes in the grass, stopped in another bay with a tiny boat building industry, before driving home.

I put the forget-me-not stalks in a flower bed to dry and seed, but when I put the shells to dry in the sun, I found I’d inadvertently brought a muddy looking snail shell home too. I could see there was a live sea-snail inside, so put it carefully out of the sun to take back. It was only about an inch wide.

I was going to take it to the harbour, but then thought that was a bit unfair. If I’d been abducted accidentally by giants or aliens, I’d want to be dropped back home, so I did the same for the snail or crab.

Many people think it fanciful to attribute human feelings to other species, but since they can show fear and joy and all the other human emotions, why not credit them with other responses too? Some Christian authorities describe it as anthropomorphism, and use the term patronisingly and derogatively – okay for St Francis, but not for the rest of us!

But since we know that even a snail’s brain contains between 5,000 and 100,000 giant neurons, and they know when they’re being carted to market in a basket, and have lifted the lid in a concerted effort, broken out and escaped in recorded instances, can we really assume that any creature has no feelings or intelligence?

Elisabeth Tova Bailey wrote an exquisite book called ‘The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating’, a story about her companionship with a snail that came into her sickroom in a potted cyclamen. Snails, she discovered, lay eggs in different places, and visit them all regularly until their babies are hatched. So snails are maternal. The secret life of snails we can only guess at!

After reading her book I’ve been unable to put out snail bait in the garden. I either grow plants they don’t like, do companion planting, or in the case of petunias, put out some lettuce leaves by them at night, and they obligingly eat the lettuce leaves instead of the petunias. I know of a couple who go out late at night and gently gather up all the snails in their garden and taken them to a wild place where they can do no harm to a garden.

We don’t know what place snails occupy in the great chain of creation, but what we Are learning is that every creature seems to have a purpose. We are learning that now GM plants are bred with pesticides in them that kill off pests, good insects are also dying, and bumble bees who ingest pesticides, lose their sense of direction. In Africa where pesticides are widely used, not only are they polluting the lakes and rivers causing fish to die, and fishermen to lose their livelihoods, but the animals and birds that feed on creatures that have absorbed pesticides are also dying.

So it seems to me that every little snail and spider and insect may just matter more than we realise. That to tinker with the ecological chain, is as destructive to our planet as drilling for oil in the seas, burning down forests, clubbing baby seals to death, and all the other hostile acts that we perpetrate on our world. So I was happy to return my little captive to its home in this world – which is also our home – and the only one we will ever have.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

There was plenty of risotto left over from the day before, so before putting it into the fridge that night I had fashioned it into patties. The next day they had set so firmly I didn’t bother to roll them in flour, but just put them straight into some hot olive oil and butter, and fried both sides. The crispy outside, and soft tasty inside were delicious, and sprinkled with parmesan, I almost felt the leftovers were better than the original dish.

Food for Thought

Man is so made that he can carry the weight of twenty four hours – no more. Directly he weighs down with the years behind and the days ahead, his back breaks. I have promised to help you with … today only; the past I have taken from you …

From God Calling written by Two Listeners in the thirties. You can Google it and find the messages for each day. The language is slightly dated after 70 years, but the messages are still timely.

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Filed under animals/pets, cookery/recipes, environment, environment, food, great days, life/style, philosophy, spiritual, sustainability, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, wild life

Acorns Oaks and Art

Spring, and the oak tree we planted in the gully beyond the sitting room window has suddenly shimmered into leaf.

I treasure these first days when the young fretted edge of the bright leaves are still frilly, and brilliant green and translucent. They’ll weather into darker green,  leathery- looking foliage as the summer months go by, but this is spring, and the word is verdant. This particular oak belongs to a group known as marcescent , which means they keep their brown leaves until spring, so it’s gone from brown to green in the space of a few weeks.

One of my toddler grandsons and I grew it from an acorn which had rooted itself in one of my pots. Every time we moved house I carefully lugged it along, and every time the grandson came to stay, or visit, he inspected ‘his’ tree. Once I planted it, and it flourished for three years in a corner where it would bug no-one else by taking their light or stealing their space. But then after another heart scare for my husband, we left that three level house to squeeze ourselves into this little cottage by the sea next door to my daughter’s holiday home.

I couldn’t leave the oak behind. It was like one of my grand-children and had enjoyed nearly as much feeding and nurturing as them. So we dug it up, and re-instated it here. It’s not even on our land, but on a paper road, which legend has it was mapped out by a surveyor in England in the nineteenth century, and thus he didn’t realise he’d planned it to run straight down into the sea. So the road will never be activated, and this is a safe space for my tree.

It doesn’t spoil anyone else’s view, and there’s plenty of room for it to spread its branches. It’s grown so much in the six years we’ve been here, that it now hides the neighbouring house across the reserve, and gives me shade in summer, and lets the sun into the sitting room in winter.,

All in all, an ideal tree! I was reading the wonderful American writer Annie Dillard the other day, and she describes communing with a sycamore. She goes on to describe Xerxes, King of Persia – who on one of his marches through Asia Minor with his huge army – came upon a single exquisite plane tree, the same family as a sycamore. He was so ravished by its beauty that he halted his army and stayed there for several days in contemplation of this work of nature. She imagines his army halted, puzzled, thirsty and weary, waiting on the hot and treeless plain. And after a few days, still rapt with the glory of creation, Xerxes, warlord, invader, builder of monstrous palaces which are now lost demesnes, orders a goldsmith to be rooted out of the tents, to come and forge a medal to preserve that moment forever.

But though the Xerxes and his goldsmith couldn’t really manage to embalm that moment in time, the great composer Handel did. Written over two thousand years after Xerxes died, Handel’s opera Serse, opens with the king singing “Tender and beautiful fronds of my beloved plane tree”, from the famous largo: ’Ombre mai fu’, one of the best known pieces of classical music

However, loving beauty didn’t make Xerxes a nice person – it doesn’t, it seems… murderous Nazis like Hermann Goering collected beauty, but it didn’t rub off on them! Xerxes was the man who had the Hellespont whipped with three hundred strokes and chains dumped in it when a storm destroyed his fleet!  We won’t go into what Goering did.

But my oak, unlike Xerxes’ plane tree, is a stranger in a strange land – what is known as an exotic tree in New Zealand, where it is not a native. In its native land – England – it’s host to 284 plants, insects, birds and animals, compared with five in a chestnut, and one in a plane tree. Like my oak here, they are both alien species in England.

So in England, my oak would be hosting birds, plants, insects and creatures, from the oak bush crickets which browse in its crown, to the roe and fallow deer which seek its shade. There are bugs that feed on oak flowers, beetles that eat the bark, and caterpillars that eat the young leaves. The insects attract birds – nuthatch, tree creeper, pied flycatcher, wood warbler, (wonderful names) while the great spotted woodpecker nests in holes drilled in rotten branches.

Acorns feed jays and squirrels,  and all the wild life attracts predators like weasels and sparrowhawks.  Indigenous wildflowers grow at its roots, bluebells, primroses and wood anemones. Lichens and fungus grow on it, and mistletoe, of course, famously grows on the oak for the use of both Druids and Christmas revellers. Though the acorns are poisonous to other domestic animals, pigs thrive on them.

Yet here in New Zealand, I look out on an empty oak, which actually makes me sad. No bugs or beetles, or birds. I have to treasure it for its changing beauty alone, in a country where nearly all the trees are evergreen, and which never change with the seasons. Neither will it last for an age like ancient English oaks planted in the time of Elizabeth the First. My tree has catapulted skywards, and like the other oaks here, will reach its prime in a hundred years, and then slowly decay for the next fifty years.

So like Xerxes and his goldsmith, I just have an impression of an oak. I don’t have the essence of an oak, supporting dozens and dozens of tiny lives and plant growth, but just have to make the most of what the tree and I share – mutual love and memories of all the places we’ve lived in together. Xerxes had his tree immortalised  by Handel’s genius, so perhaps I can lay claim on Handel too, and celebrate my oak tree with  his lovely song from another opera, Semele: ‘Where e’er you walk, cool gales shall fan the breeze, trees where you sit shall cast into a shade’.

 

PS  You can listen to both Handel’s songs on Youtube, both food for the soul. Enjoy beautiful Kathleen Battle or exquisite Andreas Scholl singing ‘Ombre mai fu’, and the matchless Kathleen Ferrier or legendary Leontyne Price singing ‘Where’er you walk’. I hope you love them too.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Morning tea with friends in their airy house overlooking the harbour, all the windows open in the sunshine on the first day after we put the clocks forward for summer. Amongst other goodies we had coffee and gingerbread, and my friend gave me the recipe.

Melt 250 gm butter with a firmly packed cup of molasses or dark cane sugar, stirring to mix. Take off the heat, and add half a cup of dark rum, three quarters of a cup of full cream milk, half a cup of ginger marmalade, two large eggs and the grated rind of three oranges. Meanwhile, in a large bowl sift three cups of SR flour, two teasp baking soda, two tablesp of ground ginger, two teasp of cinnamon, one teasp each of ground nutmeg and cardamom, half a teasp of ground cloves and make a well in the centre.

Pour in the melted mixture stirring to form a smooth batter. Beat in about 120 gm of chopped crystallised ginger. Pour into a greased lined tin 23 cm square according to this recipe. Bake at 180 degrees for an hour and a half until well risen and firm to the touch. Cool in the tin. It’s better kept for two days wrapped in an air tight container before eating, and butter when you cut into slices. The recipe used marmalade instead of ginger marmalade, but I don’t like orange marmalade, and it also suggested the grated rind of two limes and lemons as well as the oranges. I wouldn’t. But I can’t wait to try my bowdlerised version, and I think I’d sprinkle some sugar on the top before baking.

 

Food for Thought.

Life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one.

Stella Adler  1901 – 1992 Actress, and founder of the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in NY, and Stella Adler Academy of Acting in Los Angeles. Her students included Marlon Brando, Judy Garland, Warren Beatty, Martin Sheen, Robert de Niro, Melanie Griffiths, Harvey Keitel and others.

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When Elephants Wept and Gorillas danced

Kiwis are not just New Zealanders. They are the a rare and unique breed of bird. And a few weeks ago after heavy rain in the South Island, a kiwi’s nest was threatened by floods pouring through its enclosure. The male and female kiwi had been conscientiously nursing their egg, a precious one, since they are an endangered species.

As the water began surge through, threatening to wash their nest and egg away, the male kiwi sprang into action. He seized twigs and grass and any materials he could find to stuff under the nest to raise it above water level. Outside, conservation staff began digging drainage too.

What this told me is that that kiwi father understood the principles of engineering.  Knowing that by levering his nest up with whatever he could find, he could try to save his offspring. He did.

The week before, I had seen some amazing pictures in an English newspaper. Two gorillas who had been born in a zoo and had grown up together, were parted, when the elder was sent to another zoo for a breeding programme. After three years, coming to the conclusion that the giant black gorilla was infertile, the zoo decided to send him back to join his brother, who during this time had been shuttled off to another zoo.

The pictures were of their re-union. Recognising each other straight away, they ran to each other, making sounds, hugging each other, rolling on the ground together in ecstasy, and dancing with joy.

What this told me is that separating animals and shunting them around to zoos and breeding programmes is as cruel as it was to break up slave families and sell mothers away from their children, and split up fathers and brothers in the days before Abolition. I read many years ago of a woman who decided to make feta cheese, and began breeding a small flock of sheep. As each generation was born, mothers, grannies, great grannies and children all remained in their family groups, and when she banged on the pail each day to gather them in for milking, they came in their family groups.

And yet we take lambs and calves from their mothers all the time, and foals from their mothers to race them as yearlings before their bones have matured, which is why so many young racehorses come to grief. Horses are not fully grown for six to seven years. Treating animals with no regard to their rights is called speciesism, a term coined by Australian philosopher and animal campaigner Peter Singer. He likens it to sexism, and racism.

In March this year, legendary conservationist Lawrence Anthony died in Africa. He was known as ‘The Elephant Whisperer’. He had learned to calm and heal traumatized elephants who were sent to Thula Thula where he lived. The first herd arrived enraged from the death of a mother and her calf. The fifteen year old son of the dead mother charged him and his rangers, trumpeting his rage, his mother and baby sister having been shot in front of his eyes; a heartbreakingly brave teenager, defending his herd.

The traumatised elephants were herded into an enclosure to keep them safe until they were calm enough to move out into the reserve. The huge matriarch gathered her clan, and charged the electric fence, getting an 8,000-volt. She stepped back, and with the family in tow strode round the entire perimeter, checking for vibrations from the electric current. That night, the herd somehow found the generator, trampled it, pulled out the concrete embedded posts like matchsticks, and headed out, in danger from waiting poachers with guns at the ready.

Recaptured, Anthony knew it was only a matter of time before they escaped again. He talked to Nana the huge matriarch, telling her they would be killed if they broke out again. He feared he would be killed too, if he didn’t make a connection with them before they charged him. Momentarily he did feel a spark of connection with Nana, and then decided that the only way he could help them was to live with them and get to know them. And this was the start of many troubled elephants being brought to him for healing.

When Anthony died, there were two elephant herds in the reserve. They hadn’t visited Anthony’s house for eighteen months. But when he died in March, both herds made their way to his house. It would have taken them about twelve hours to make the journey, one herd arriving the day after, and the second a day later. The two herds hung around the house for two days, grieving, and then made their way back into the bush.

Feminist and Fulbright scholar Rabbi Leila Gal Berner is reported as saying… ‘If ever there were a time, when we can truly sense the wondrous ‘interconnectedness of all beings’ it is when we reflect on the elephants of Thula. A man’s heart stops, and hundreds of elephant’s hearts are grieving. This man’s oh-so abundantly loving heart offered healing to these elephants, and now, they came to pay loving homage to their friend.’

Some years ago another herd of elephants descended on a herd of antelopes who’d been penned up preparatory to being transplanted to another part of Africa. The rangers saw this herd of elephants bearing down on them and thought they’d come to kill the antelopes. What they did was trample down the enclosure so that the antelopes could escape.

I find all these stories of animals unbearably moving, because they all illustrate intelligence, emotional depths, and extra consciousnesses that man doesn’t possess. We say we are superior because we can reason – didn’t the kiwi reason – because we are self conscious – has that been a blessing or a curse – because we can use tools – but many animals can, as research is now showing us – because we have souls- why are we so sure that animals don’t?

Maybe American writer Henry Beston, who wrote the classic ‘The Outermost House’, put it best when he wrote: ‘We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate in having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they live finished and complete, gifted with extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.’

It seems to me that it’s man who has the splendour of the earth, and animals who have the travail. Maybe, as more and more of us care about them, that will change.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

The old chap’s 83rd birthday, and some of the family for lunch to celebrate. I made it an easy one, roast chicken breasts for them, stuffed with sausage meat and sage, and wrapped in bacon – all free range and organic. The usual, a big dish for people to help themselves – roasted parsnips, onions, potatoes boiled in their skins, and then slightly crushed with plenty of butter, spring carrots and Brussels sprouts, plus the famous mushrooms in cream, parsley and garlic instead of gravy. Pudding was easy, using the same oven, and on another shelf, I baked some apples, cored and stuffed with spoonfuls of Christmas mincemeat, placed in a dish with cream and whisky poured over. This juice is heavenly. Serve the apples with crème fraiche or ice cream and a little shortbread biscuit. It was good with coffee served at the same time.

 

Food for Thought

A friend sent me this poem, and I offer it to all my fellow bloggers:

“..a poet/writer is someone

Who can pour light into a spoon

And then raise it

To nourish your parched holy mouth’

Hafez  1315 -1390   Renowned Persian lyric poet

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Whales, Wine and Women

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!

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I’m Crazy for Power

Yesterday afternoon I was thrown out of the cinema. Friend and I had gone to see our favourite film before it went off. Quarter of an hour into the familiar dialogue, chuckling at the jokes we’d laughed at before, the film disappeared and a weak little light appeared at the top of the stairs. We waited for them to fix the tape, but instead a girl appeared and said it was a power cut. Great gnashing of teeth. I was thankful for the feeble light by the stairs, imagining what it would have been like to have been plunged into total darkness, and a stampede for the only exit at the bottom of the stairs.

Sitting around outside, they finally told us to go home. Couldn’t give us a refund, because the till wouldn’t open without electricity. So they gave us another ticket.

Before going home, I said I’d just get some tomatoes for my husband’s supper – cold – since I was going to Tai Chi. The grocery was in flat panic. Dark, with no lights, blinds down over the open chilled shelves. I asked to give them some money for the tomatoes, but they had to go to the back and find the key to manually open the till. Then they didn’t know how much they were, because the price would have come up on the till… so off they went to the office to find the list of stock prices, and finally I managed to buy the tomatoes. Thank heavens I didn’t need any petrol. The whole little town was buzzing in despair and panic, no-one could even go to the loo.

Back home, I thought about The Great Storm of four years ago. Most of the country had been blacked out, but power was restored over a few days. In our neck of the woods however, where concrete power poles had been crumbled all over the road  like biscuit crumbs, and a tree had come down over the generator across the road from us, we were powerless for five days.

A different world opens up. We catch rainwater on the roof, store it in a huge tank, and pump it into the house. But no electricity equals no pump, equals no water. No water for drinking, washing, washing clothes, washing dishes, flushing the loo. No power meant no cooking, no lighting, and no TV or stereo. Luckily we could open our garage manually, but some friends had no other way of getting into their garages, and were marooned with their car behind the immoveable garage door.

So I boiled water on a camp fire and on the wood burning heater, fried eggs and bacon, and boiled soup. Didn’t dare open the deep freeze for fear of losing the still frozen contents, and resented opening the fridge for butter, milk and the like. The village store was in darkness, their fridges going on a generator, the garage was closed. No help at the fish and chip shop. Unwashed dishes piled up. Unwashed clothes accumulated. We had to get used to unwashed bodies. Some people cooked on their barbecues, some people had no form of heating except electricity, and froze.

After a couple of days we began to gingerly adjust. I drove to a nearby town which had the power on, and bought water and lots of extra pairs of underpants and panties. My husband thought of using buckets of water from the swimming pool next door – my daughter’s holiday home – to flush the loo. I never got used to not having my electric blanket, but at least we had a hot water bottle. Candles made the house look and feel beautiful, but the light wasn’t good enough to read by at night. Some neighbours used miners’ lamps, clipping them round their heads to go to bed and read. It worked apart from the large circle in the middle of their foreheads from the pressure.

I read today that the Blessed Bill Gates has offered a prize for a loo that works without water, electricity or a septic tank – all components of our system here – a loo that costs only five cents a day to run, preferably captures energy, and discharges no pollutants. A number of brilliant solutions have been invented. And the idea is to provide safe sanitation for the 2.5 billion people around the world who don’t have it.

I think we should all be able to buy these loos. Our over-crowded world desperately needs sustainable solutions like these for everything. We need alternatives to electricity, oil and coal … we need a dozen more Bill Gates’s to find solutions that involve the sun’s sustainable energy, the wind, the waves. For a few days, we in our village experienced a few temporary discomforts when power was unavailable, but were able to get outside help from places that did have power.

But there will surely come a time when there won’t be enough of anything. The world’s population is estimated to grow to between nine and ten billion within forty years – the lifetime of our grand-children. Two hundred years ago the population of England and Wales was eight million, compared with 56 million now, and it’s the same sort of increase  all over the world. So we urgently need more solutions like Bill Gates’s loos.

This is not cause for despair, for all is not lost. Mankind is brilliant at creating marvellous inventions, and resolving problems when it wants to. I’m reading a book called ‘The Great Disruption’ by Paul Gilding about how you and I can do something to help resolve these problems. Watch this space – I’ll let you know!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Having had lunch with a friend in her bay window overlooking a long, white, empty beach nearby, and then afternoon tea with a couple of friends to swap books, I hadn’t really thought about what to feed us in the evening. Something quick was wanted, so I fell back on my old standby, my un-orthodox version of kedgeree, made with a tin of salmon – cheap too.

A cup of long grain rice on the boil, two eggs on the boil, half a cup each of sultanas and frozen peas soaking in boiling water, and I was ready to begin. After gently frying a chopped onion in oil until soft, I added a couple of cloves of garlic and a chopped up knob of fresh ginger (you can always use powdered, but fresh is nicer).

When the garlic is soft, sprinkle a teaspoon of powdered cumin, turmeric and a bit less of coriander into the pan, and let them cook gently. I sometimes also use some made up curry powder as well, and vary the amounts of the spices depending on how hot I want it. Better to start with less, and increase it, than find it’s burning the roof off your mouth (I have been known to add some brown sugar to take the edge off a too hot curry).

Now open the tin of salmon and drain, and add it to the mix in the frying pan. Drain the peas and sultanas and stir them in. Add a knob of butter if it needs lubricating. Drain the rice, and add this, gently stirring with lots of chopped parsley. I always find that adding another generous knob of butter improves the taste. Pile onto the plates and chop a hardboiled egg over each helping. Usual caveat – serves two greedy people generously, and three to four well-behaved people – add an egg for each person.

Food for Thought

Lead me from death to life, from falsehood to truth.

Lead me from despair to hope, from fear to trust.

Lead me from hate to love, from war to peace.

Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe.

No, not the prayer of St Francis of Assisi, but a translation from the Upanishads by Satish Kumar  Born 1937.  Jain monk, nuclear disarmament campaigner, founder of Schumacher College, in Devon, England which teaches green values and sustainability, and present editor of Resurgence magazine

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The Love of A Lion

If I ever need a lift to the spirit, I check out Christian the Lion on Youtube.

His true story is all there on film, a story that many people reading this may already know. It was back in the sixties, when Christian was bought from Harrods by a couple of young Aussies enjoying the swinging London scene. Those were the days when the late John Aspinall walked around town with a tiger on a lead, and girls had snakes coiled rounds their necks instead of scarves. Nowadays I think people realise how unfair this is to animals, and it probably wouldn’t go unchecked.

However, the owners of Christian did their best for the beautiful lion cub, giving him lots of exercise in a walled churchyard in Chelsea, courtesy of a friendly Vicar,  giving him the run of their home and their furniture warehouse, feeding him with all the food and vitamins a lion cub could want! He played ball, turned out chest of drawers, and generally behaved like a kitten, an ingenuous, irresistible, cuddly kitten. He went out to dinner in Chelsea restaurants with them, and travelled in the back seat of their open sports car looking at the people passing on the pavements.

As he grew older his owners realised that life for a full-grown lion on the streets of Chelsea was not going to work. So they explored places they could take him to where he’d be happy. They couldn’t find anywhere in England. Anyone who loves animals wouldn’t want a beloved pet to end up in a zoo.

In one of those blessed synchronicities, a chap wanted a desk and went to buy one at the furniture warehouse, where he was ambushed by a playful lion cub springing out from behind a chest! The chap was Bill Travers, who with his wife Virginia McKenna was devoted to lions, and had run a charity for them ever since they’d made the film’ Born Free’ about Elsa the Lioness.  

He understood Christian’s dilemma, and contacted George Adamson at his Kora Lion Reserve in Kenya, to ask if they could bring Christian to his place, and set him free. Not an easy goal, to acclimatise a domestic pet to the wild, but finally Adamson agreed.  There are wonderful photos of Christian going off in a Bedford van to stay in the country with the Travers and McKenna, and learning to be an animal outside instead of living in a flat. The young men who loved and owned him, built him an enclosure and a hut, and spent hours sitting with him every day. They left a note on the door of their London flat: “Christian is on holiday in the country”.

To watch the film of each one entering Christian’s enclosure and to see the young lion leaping up into their arms, putting his arms round their necks, is to see absolute love. Finally, in a special cage, Christian flew to Africa, accompanied by his doting owners. They were met by Adamson, who was astounded that Christian sat quietly in the back seat of the land-rover, and got out at regular intervals to relieve himself, and then obediently climbed back in.

The frightening scenes of Christian getting to know other lions, and learning to submit to the king of the jungle were harrowing for his owners and we who watch. Eventually, it was felt he was ready to start his new life, and the chaps went back to London.

A year later, they flew back to visit him, hoping they’d be able to find him. The film of Christian, now a large full grown lion, pacing slowly down the hill, then seeing his old friends,  quickening his pace, and then running full pelt, making  lion weeping sounds is heart-stopping. Then he reaches them and springs at the first man, and puts his huge legs and paws around his neck, and hugs him passionately. He does the same to his other owner, and keeps going back and forth between them, beside himself with joy. He is now so big and heavy that they can hardly stay on their feet, and stagger back. It makes me cry each time I watch it. Then we see on the film, a lioness gently sniffing the two men – Christian’s wife, a completely wild lioness, who seeing her mate connecting with these men, does the same herself.

They go back again a few years later, and this time Christian is a magnificent huge maned lion king, who greets them with great dignity and leads them to his cave up in the hills, and the men sit there all day communing with Christian and his lioness wife and his cubs.

They never saw him again. As people encroached on the land, Christian took his family far away from the presence of men. He was now completely wild, his early beginnings in a miserable zoo, and his cage in Harrods not even a memory. But he took with him into the wild a huge capacity to love, which could be seen in his nuzzling of his wife and cubs. Is this the legacy he has handed down to his progeny?

No-one had ever seen such a huge lion before – testament to the fine food and good diet his owners had given him as a cub. And no-one has ever seen such love between a lion and a man before. The tragedy of it all is that if one lion can develop that capacity to love, so can all lions, and probably all creatures. Worse still, in South Africa they are now breeding lions in enclosures, where people can shoot them for fun through the wire, and they are also being sold for medicines to Asian countries. Along with many others, I hope, I’ve just signed a petition to try to stop this cruelty.

And the hope of the story of Christian is that he shows us that the capacity to love, to be faithful, to feel all the emotions that we claim for human beings, is also inbuilt in all living creatures.  We see it in the videos of dogs rescuing other dogs, of the stories of animals rescuing and protecting human beings, even of a rat leading another blind rat with a straw in each of their mouths. Scientists have just discovered the God/Higgs Particle, but I wonder if we will all discover that love matters as much or more than the Higgs Particle. Apparently after this scientific break-through we now Know more about the universe, but does this make us Feel more loving towards our own planet and all beings on it?

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

This is dinner party fodder, for when you need a fancy pudding in a hurry. Lemon cream is the answer. All you need is the same amount of plain yogurt as of thick cream, and the same amount of lemon curd, or lemon butter as it’s sometimes called. Whip the cream until stiff, stir in the yogurt and then the lemon curd, and pour into small glass or parfait dishes. It’s particularly good with some grated orange peel sprinkled on the top. Chill in the fridge, and serve with a shortbread or other crisp biscuit. Looks are everything, so I usually put a tiny hearts-ease or daisy blossom in the middle of each dish.

Food for Thought                                     When we do dote upon the perfections and beauties of some one creature, we do not love that too much, but other things too little. Never was anything in this world loved too much, but many things have been loved in a false way; and all in too short a measure.                                                                                                                                                                                                                Thomas Traherne,  17th century poet and mystic who died at 38. The son of a shoemaker, he went to a Cathedral school and Oxford, and became an Anglican divine.

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