Category Archives: pollution

Earth’s greatest treasure

Lot18again
In this place, I look up to the stars at night and there is nothing apart from the clouds to hide them from my gaze… the Milky Way seems an infinite cloud of light, the Southern Cross pointing as it has guided centuries of sailors, Orion’s Belt clear and bright.

I watch the moon from a fingernail of light right through to the fullness of it, and the delicious phase we call a gibbous moon. I see the sun move across the horizon with the months and then at the farthest point of winter, see it begin its journey back to the sunlit mountain behind which it sets in summer. We are halfway across as I write this and the sun sets behind ‘our mountain’.

Though we live here and bought the acres of forest we technically own, we have no nonsense of ownership… we are simply the fortunate tenants of this beautiful podocarp forest, teeming with species of tree and plant life.

Here are hidden species of frogs and lizards and fungi, almost extinct in the rest of the world, rare butterflies are still seen here. Fungi in colours that are psychedelic, brilliant blue and purple and orange, green and red grow in the dense green canopy which shelters them from the brilliant New Zealand sun-shine.

Because it is spring, on distant vistas there are patches of white to be seen scrambling up to the tops of tall trees and the sun-light – the fragrant white clematis. It grows too, on some of the ancient trees surrounding our little home in the woods. The birds we feed are gathering as spring advances, and we hear the sound of the tuis bell-like call, the heavy flapping of the wood pigeon’s wings as they circle  our valley, the harsh call of the quails who visit us to enjoy the bird seed we dispense, and the soft hooting of the moreporks – the New Zealand owl – connecting with each other across the dark forest through the night. We watch the kingfisher perching on the branch where the moreporks also sit, and see him dive like lightning into the grass to grab a morsel of food – be it grasshopper or beetle.

Those tend to be the only sounds we hear, just occasionally the drone of a distant aircraft and the rushing water of our stream after heavy rain. We feel the wind on our faces, and hear it in the trees, we savour the soft spring rain filling our water tank, and keeping the forest moist and green.  We feel the springy ground beneath our feet, centuries of humus which have accumulated undisturbed.

We feel the mysterious life around us, knowing that beneath the surface the trees are connected and communicate with each other through their root systems; that the abundant life of bees and beetles, moths and grasshoppers, birds and tiny ancient species of reptile are part of a vital chain of life which has existed millennia before homo sapiens conquered the planet. We sit in the sun, and feel the warmth on our faces, and hold smooth sun-warmed stones, and feel a connectedness with the earth and with the natural life that many people who live amid concrete, steel and glass cities, can lose.

Technology has tamed the cold and the heat with air conditioning and central heating; we have tamed the seasons, with imported food bringing us fruit and vegetables from all over the globe, regardless of whether it’s summer or autumn or winter. We may even have become unconscious of the rhythm of our own bodies, of the way we once responded to the passing of the seasons and of the years, as our culture devotes itself to prolonging youthful bodies and a belief that we can conquer the ravages of age and the vagaries of climate – until a hurricane or earthquake shatter some of these illusions.

It seems to me that when we lose this sense of connection with the life which throbs around us, with the rhythms of the sun and the moon and the movements of the starry sky, and the dance of joy in a greater whole, we may lose something very precious… and that in the end, we may in Cardinal Newman’s words: ‘choke up all the avenues of the soul through which the light and breath of heaven may come to us.’

We know that we do not own these acres that we live on and look out across. We call it our mountain but we know that that is just our figure of speech. We are simply the present guardians of this patch of our precious planet. We’ve signed a covenant that we will not disturb the forest, cut down any trees, or despoil any part of it. We cherish its silent solitude, and share the seasons with it. Does this place know or feel how sacred, cherished and unpolluted it is, I wonder?

Robert Macfarlane writes in his wonderful book ‘The Wild Places’, that even on the beaches of the Isle of Skye in the remote north of Scotland, the beaches were littered with: “milk bottle crates, pitted cubical chunks of furniture foam cigarette butts, bottle caps, aerosol canisters…”

Here in this empty place we have escaped that blight of the so- called civilised world. Even the beaches on this remote peninsula are unsullied and unspoiled. We are the fortunate ones, I know, and my heart aches at the knowledge of the poisoned polluted oceans devoid of the teeming fish and life Thor Heyerdahl wrote of during the Kon Tiki Expedition, seventy years ago this year.

John Aspinall was a successful gambler, who, while stripping rich men of their money in London during the sixties and seventies, used his ill-gotten gains to establish two zoos, which are now famous for being animal refuges where he successfully bred species and returned them to the wild, a policy his son Damian is still pursuing (you can follow his work on Youtube)

Before he died, John Aspinall wrote his creed: “I believe in Jus Animalium, the Rights of Beasts, and Jus Herbarum, the Rights of Plants. The right to exist as they have always existed, to live and let live. I believe in the Buddhist concept of Ahimsa – justice for all animate things. I believe in the greatest happiness for the greatest number of species of fauna and flora that the Earth can sustain without resultant deterioration of habitat and depletion of natural resources.

“I believe in the sanctity of the life systems, not in the sanctity of human life alone. The concept of sanctity of human life is the most damaging sophism that philosophy has ever propagated – it has rooted well. Its corollary – a belief in the insanctity of species other than man – is the cause of that damage. The destruction of this idea is a prerequisite for survival.

“I believe that wilderness is Earth’s greatest treasure. Wilderness is the bank on which all cheques are drawn. I believe our debt to nature is total, our willingness to pay anything back on account, barely discernible. I believe that unless we recognise this debt and renegotiate it, we write our own epitaph.

“I believe that there is an outside chance to save the earth and most of its tenants. This outside chance must be grasped with gambler’s hands.

“I believe that terrible risks must be taken and terrible passions aroused before these ends can hope to be accomplished. If a system is facing extreme pressures, only extreme counter-pressures are relevant, let alone likely to prove effective.

“I believe that all who subscribe to these testaments must act now; stand up and be counted. What friends Nature has, Nature needs.”

In the twenty-first century, in the face of overpopulation, pollution and climate change, his words remind us of the urgency of the task. It still isn’t too late to stand up and be counted. And I feel that Lao Tzu’s words written two and a half thousand years ago, can still point the way for us all:

If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbours.

If there is to be peace between neighbours,
There must be peace in the home.

If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.

The picture is our house in the forest

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

The cupboard was bare so imagination was needed. Pasta did the trick…  with a couple of rashers of bacon chopped and fried with sliced mushrooms while the pasta was cooking. I added cream to the bacon mix, boiled it up to thicken it, added a grated courgette, chopped parsley, a small dollop of mustard, and a sprinkling of nutmeg, salt and pepper. This mixture was poured over the cooked pasta, and then sprinkled with grated parmesan. It went down well !

 

 

 

Advertisements

42 Comments

Filed under birds, consciousness, cookery/recipes, environment, life/style, philosophy, pollution, technology, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, Uncategorized

Our beautiful world

The wind is blowing in the trees. It sounds like the sea. The sun is on the mountain. And outside the house, a pair of nesting quails are foraging among the bird seed that has spilled from the bird table.

When I step outside, I hear the sound of many wings… I have disturbed the green finches feeding, and their flight is like the sound of many muffled hands clapping.

This place is my new home, forty acres of forest, where our little wood cabin looks down a valley and up to a forest covered mountain. Where we hear the sound of our two streams meeting down below long before they join others to make the river. It flows beside the long winding road of blind u-shaped bends and gravel and often mud, which is the only way to reach us. When intrepid travellers finally reach the top of the forested mountain range, on this road famous for its degree of difficulty, and which only the brave or the ignorant attempt, they come to our big iron gates, and the elusive gate code, only available to those who are welcome.

We live several miles further on inside the gate, down a well-tended paved road, over-hung at this moment by the manukau trees frosted with scented white blossom  providing food for bees who make the healing manukau honey. We pass the steep hidden drives of the other occupants of this magic place, a forest which is covenanted and preserved for whatever the future holds for the planet.

There are about twenty-five of us, like-minded people who, on settling here, have agreed not to have  dogs or cats or introduce plants or trees which are not native to this place. So because this podocarp forest is covenanted, and these agreements are in place, the silence is never disturbed by the sound of a barking dog, and the only man-made sound is the distant hum of a car snaking slowly along the road.

And yet it is never silent. Tuis flute their glorious song during the day, the shining cuckoo sings its melody, while green finches cheep, and sometimes flights of red, blue, green and yellow rosellas come chattering by. A kingfisher, making his sharp repetitive call, sits on a dead branch a few yards away from the cabin, and dives into the long grass to snatch up in his sharp beak a grasshopper or other insect which his beady eyes have detected.

At night, a morepork – the New Zealand owl, so named because his call sounds like those words – perches on the same branch and hoots softly across the valley from where answering calls return. When birds are silent in the heat of the day, the all- pervasive buzzing of bees and flies and other insects fill the space, and then there is the glory of cricket and cicada each in their appointed time sending out their nostalgic rasping, warning us that summer does not last forever.

I listen to try to hear the moment when cricket takes over from cicada, but am never mindful enough. We have now watched the sun move across the horizon opposite for one whole year, and know that when it reaches the point of the ridge on midsummer’s day, it will begin once again to move inexorably back to the dip in the ridge halfway across the other side, towards the shortest darkest day. And we have watched the moon now for a whole year, as it rises in the sky to the side of the cabin, and then shines over the mountain and the trees, shedding gold light and mystery over the silent forest.

When it rains we gaze across the misty view which echoes a Chinese painting, and the beauty catches our breath. A myriad of different species of trees inhabit this unspoiled place, the different greens and shapes sprawling like a huge tapestry over the hills. When I gaze at them in the sunshine they  shine, almost as though they were lit up with the lights that stopped Xerxes, King of Kings in his tracks, when his great army rolled across the dusty plains of Asia. Transfixed by a mystical, shining sycamore tree he remained there for two days to the puzzlement of his soldiers.

And here, as the sun moves across the sky, shadows deepen the colours of towering trees, and reveal deep folds of green hills and gorges, and one mountain crowding another. Hidden deep beneath the canopy are rare and cherished species of trees and ferns and also exquisitely camouflaged frogs and lizards, moths and insects, one lizard so rare that only twelve others have been sighted in the rest of the world.

We had the privilege of seeing such a lizard when a neighbour found her with her tail gone and a blood-shot eye. She was rushed to the zoo several hours drive away, and there nurtured back to health. When healed a few weeks later, she was returned to her home grounds, and a group of residents gathered to inspect the precious creature – about four inches long – to witness her return to the wild. This shared concern makes a warm community hard to find anywhere else, particularly when that concern is cemented with good wine and cheese to fortify us before returning to our own native habitats!

We achieved brief fame on the estate when we discovered an Archey’s frog, another endangered species, down our drive. These finds are logged and we have to provide the time of day, the weather, the habitat and many other tiny details to enlarge the knowledge of environmentalists. Since then others have been found, and we realise that this place has become a haven for endangered species.

Are we an endangered species? Sometimes it feels like it. Knowing as we do that the world is changing, that climate change is a fact, whatever climate-deniers, big business and flat-earthers think, that ice caps are melting, our oceans depleted and polluted, that bees are dying from strange viruses and pesticides, and trying to get our heads around the fact that people are still killing the great animals which ensure our survival on the planet – the future of mankind seems as misty as our cloud covered hills.

There is something deeply awe-full and dread-full about the words ‘the Sixth Great Extinction’ which we are now living through according to scientists. So grasping at small straws of comfort can help us to come to terms with this extraordinary time in the history of the world. Living here in this precious piece of preserved forest and rare species has made us much more aware of other safe places and of so many other people dedicated to nurturing the planet.

So wonderful Bill Gates and the other billionaire philanthropists who are devoting huge sums of their money to work on long term alternative green energy sources make me feel hopeful. And I read today that Catholic priests have been instructed by the Vatican to preach about the environment, climate change and preserving the world. It’s what used to be called ‘spreading the word’.

It’s about each of us doing what we can, where we are. I have a friend who never goes anywhere without a plastic bag folded in her pocket. Whether on a walk on the beach with her, or on an overseas trip, staying in a rubbish strewn camp ground, she fills her bag. Single handed she can’t clear all the rubbish, but she does her bit.

Yes, on our own we cannot save our world, but like my friend we can all find ways, however small, of mitigating the damage. I know everyone who reads this blog is already committed to preserving life on earth, so I’m merely sharing one aspect of my new life, which is all about the environment. Tell you more next time!!!!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Having broken my leg badly six months ago and due to side effects still having difficulty walking, I’m actually listening to my doctor for once. She gave me a leaflet full of calcium – rich recipes, and one of them has transformed my idea of breakfast. It’s delicious as well as nutritious.

Leave quarter of a cup of oats soaking in quarter of a cup of hot water overnight if possible, but for at least four hours. Peel and grate an apple and mix into the oats with a tablespoon of lemon juice. Stir in two tablespoons of cream, quarter of a cup of natural sweetened yogurt and a tablespoon of honey – I use the healing manukau honey.

Fruit if desired… it’s a filling and satisfying breakfast, especially when topped off with a freshly brewed cup of lapsang souchong, the favourite drop of the cup that cheers but doth not in-ebriate !

And a PS… many months ago my computer collapsed, taking blog, addresses, etc, etc. Before I had a chance to rehabilitate myself and come to terms with a new computer and the dreaded Windows 10, disaster struck, and I disappeared into hospital for two and a half months. Still rusty trying to climb back on the computer deck, and still clambering  clumsily around trying to master the new technology . So please excuse any infelicities you detect!

Food for Thought

I don’t know who wrote this, but I like it:

dawdling,
not doubting,
intrepid all the way,
walk toward clarity
with keen eye,
With sharpened sword
clear cut the path
to the lucent surprise
of enlightenment.
At every crossroad
be prepared to bump into wonder

50 Comments

Filed under birds, bloggers, consciousness, cookery/recipes, environment, food, happiness, life/style, pollution, sustainability, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, Uncategorized

Paradise is not lost

100_0559 In this country the sun is reputed to shine twice as often as it does in England, and it shines with especial clarity on Coromandel, so called when a ship of that name anchored where the township is now. The Coromandel peninsula is a rugged line of purple ranges and deep ravines where clear bright streams and rivers rush over rocks to the sea. Once the peaks of Coromandel were clothed in primeval kauri forests, and once too, those peaks hid seams of ancient gold. But now these two sources of gold have long been mined, the hills are covered in secondary growth, and the mine shafts are empty.

It’s always been a place of passion and politics, where potters and painters, poets  and philosophers have fought to defend their way of life in these empty, unpolluted and un-peopled places. Ringing this neck of land, pohutakawa trees flaunt their red flowers along the rocky coast-line, and distant blue horizons beckon to unexplored peaks and impenetrable bush.

Our house on the side of a narrow valley leading down to the water’s edge, looked up to the steep foot hills of the Coromandel ranges behind us. And we faced the Firth of Thames, where the light on the water had a mystic quality in the winter sunshine; where the line of Miranda beach on the opposite shore could just be glimpsed; and where flights of godwits gathering for their heroic autumn journey to Siberia, could be imagined.

Further down the coast was the place where Captain Cook first came ashore in this country.  Young Nick, the cabin boy who sighted land, gave his name to Young Nick’s Head, and where Captain Cook observed the transit of Mercury, he called the bay where they anchored, Mercury Bay.

When the Endeavour came sailing into Mercury Bay it was watched by a nine year old boy. Eighty-three years later the magnificent old man told his story. As he watched the great canoe with huge white sails skimming towards them, he was amazed when the ship’s crew then rowed ashore in the time-honoured fashion with their backs in the direction in which they were going.

“Yes, it is so,” said the old people watching with him, “these people are goblins, their eyes are in the back of their heads.” Eventually Horeta Te Taniwha, as he was called, gathered the courage to climb on board the ship with the older people.

“I and my two companions did not walk about on board the ship – we were afraid lest we be bewitched by the goblins; and we sat still and looked at everything at the home of these goblins… the chief goblin… came up on deck again to where I and my boy-companions were, and patted our head with his hand, and he put out his hand towards me and spoke to us at the same time, holding the nail out to us.

“My companions were afraid and sat in silence; but I laughed, and he gave the nail to me. I took it in my hand and said “Ka-pai” (very good), and he repeated my words, and again patted our heads with his hand, and went away.

“My companions said: “This is the leader of the ship, which is proved by his kindness to us; and also he is very fond of children. A noble man – one of noble birth – cannot be lost in a crowd”

“I took my nail and kept it with great care, and carried it wherever I went, and made it fit to the point of my spear, and also used it to makes holes in the side-boards of the canoe, to bind them onto the canoe. I kept this nail until one day I was in a canoe and she capsized in the sea and my god (the nail) was lost to me…”

The descriptions of the pristine land that Cook discovered in 1769, sound as fragrant and unspoiled as the descriptions of Roanoke in 1584. I ache to have seen Auckland harbour as it was then–the first accounts tell of the silence and the sunshine, the flaming pohutakawa trees bending over the still, clear water as the first white men glided spell-bound up the harbour in their sailing ships – it was a magical, mysterious country which seemed like the most exquisite place on earth to those early explorers. On the other side of the coast, where the other great harbour of Manukau lies, they found forests teeming with strange birds, great trees of more than ten metres in girth towering to the skies, cloudy waterfalls, black sand beaches  and steep jagged cliffs facing the turbulent Tasman..

 Songbirds fluted in the dense forests. Sir Joseph Banks, the great naturalist on board the Endeavour with Cook, wrote at Queen Charlotte Sound: “ the ship lay at a distance of somewhat less than a quarter of a mile from the shore, and in the morning we were awakened by the singing of the birds: the number was incredible. And they seemed to strain their throats in emulation of each other. This wild melody was infinitely superior to any that we had ever heard of the same kind: it seemed to be like small bells most exquisitely tuned.”

Civilisation has made life easier and more comfortable at one level, dentists, drains, and all the rest, and destroyed the planet in the process. And we all know it and yearn for the original untouched Garden of Eden. To have been alive then, and to have savoured this untouched land… it makes me feel homesick just to think of it. So-called civilisation of course, has changed so much of this. From 1840 onwards, the settlers did their best to destroy the forests, using the giant kauris for ships masts, and building wooden homes, wood being the quickest material to use to build a home in a new country. On the newly barren hills they planted grass for the millions of sheep which have brought prosperity to this country, and now erosion means that in some places, the rivers are no longer clear, but sluggish muddy currents.

They took the gold, and now they want the oil. Yet so many of us still want keep this country as unpolluted and unspoiled as possible; so we try to save the native birds, we enclose huge national parks,  we preserve the swathes of native bush and forest still here, and we oppose the multi-national oil companies. And nothing can change or spoil the silent, snow-capped mountains and wild waterfalls, the great lakes and endless miles of solitary beaches in an empty land the size of England, which is home to only four million people.

I now live an hour’s drive north of Auckland, looking out on green fields one side, and blue sea the other; and I walk the long deserted stretches of yellow sands, and can only hear larks singing high above the dunes, and the waves breaking on the shore. In a crowded world, where solitude and silence are hard to find, this place still seems like paradise – last, loneliest, loveliest – as Rudyard Kipling once described Auckland.

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

I love vegetable dishes. This fennel dish I can eat as a meal, and my husband can have it with his steak, though it also goes well with lamb and pork. Allow a fennel bulb for each person, though if I’m having it as a meal, I usually have two. Cut the fennel in half from root to stalk and blanch in boiling salted water and drain well. Cut the fennel again, into quarters, and lay them in a well- buttered baking dish… it doesn’t matter if they break up. Scatter pieces of fried and chopped bacon over the fennel along with a finely chopped garlic clove. Whisk a teasp of flour into 250 ml of cream and pour over the fennel. Bake for about 25 minutes in an oven set at 190 degrees. Check it’s soft with a sharp knife. Eaten with a crusty roll or wholemeal bread, it’s very satisfying.

Food for thought

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.

CS Lewis, 1898 – 1963 English novelist, poet, medievalist and literary critic. Best known for his books ‘The Screwtape Letters’ and ‘Chronicles of Narnia’.

 

 

 

59 Comments

Filed under birds, colonial life, cookery/recipes, environment, great days, history, life/style, philosophy, pollution, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

My Wizard of Oz

100_0347He was a wizard, and he flew from Australia – always known as Oz in Down-under. So of course I called him the Wizard of Oz, even though he was basically an inspired and eccentric architect, and an inscrutable, irascible, metaphysical teacher who couldn’t stand fools. This meant it was tricky asking a question. I had the feeling that if you needed to ask the question, then you weren’t worthy to receive the answer!

His devotees were doctors, including a very illustrious one, teachers, estate agents, salesmen, housewives, seekers. I studied with him for several years at the end of the eighties, ostensibly learning about herbs and nutritional medicine. The herbs were an old idea, the nutritional stuff quite new, much of it channelled. He had studied with other New Age luminaries like Stuart Wilde and Denise Linn in London.

We learned lots of other things besides herbs and supplements – at the time they seemed avant garde, and a bit out of left field, but we now read reports on just what he told us back then – that pouring boiling water on coffee draws the oil out, which is a no-no… so never make coffee with boiling water he told us. So we didn’t. Never drink instant coffee either he said, drawing our attention to the smell of dry cleaning fluid emanating from it. Eat butter, not chemicals was another nugget of wisdom!

He told us that teenagers have their best sleep between seven and eleven a.m. and that they need it. Twenty five years later, one secondary school here doesn’t start lessons until after ten in deference to what is now known about teenagers’ sleep needs. I think of him every morning when I test, using a method like muscle testing, to see what nutrients I need … sometimes I need more calcium, sometimes more amino acids, or niacin… or whatever. This way I almost never have a cold, flu or other health problems. My husband has always called me a New Age Nutter, but the proof is in the pudding.

During the years I worked with the Wizard, we were required to have a thirty minute afternoon nap, he said it was good for the system and kept us young. I still do. Starting off with Reiki, before I know it, I’m deeply asleep, and wake exactly on time.  Our spiritual destiny is to be in the right place at the right time, he mentioned almost as an aside. And since wherever we are, is right place, right time, this was immensely comforting – and practical.

One of the disciplines that he suggested when we were working with him, has now become a way of life for me. The world you live in is not a violent world, he said, so why pollute it by connecting with the fear and violence in other people’s worlds?

Watching fear-based programmes or reading about disasters simply feeds your mind with negativity and unnecessary fear, he said. So I stopped watching the TV news. I had never read the crime pages – why read about people who’ve had dreadful lives making their lives and the lives of others worse, or waste time reading about crooks and crims – I used to say. It felt like voyeurism or schadenfreud. And by avoiding stories that were violent or negative in newspapers or magazines, and having never watched violent thrillers, horror movies or any fear-based plays, films, or TV programmes, my world became very peaceful indeed.

I used to joke that I only watched the weather, there was plenty of action and excitement there – floods and hurricanes, snowstorms and thunder-storms, earthquakes and tornadoes, tsunamis, droughts and forest fires – but without the drug of violence or voyeuristic sex. Now, I don’t even bother to watch the weather, finding it far more interesting to take what comes. If I want to know the weather to plan what to wear for a day away from home, there are plenty of people to ask, from my husband to the shopkeeper in the village. Nearly everyone seems to listen to the news and weather, except me. Some people seem almost addicted to news programmes, as though listening and watching make them feel that they are involved in life and all that’s going on.

But I find that this actually gets in the way of me having my own life and trying to be mindful.  I don’t need to hear about other people’s dramas and traumas, or disasters and scandals to make me feel I’m alive. Sometimes something so horrendous happens that of course I hear about it, and want to send my compassion, but no-one needs my curiosity.

Now though, with all the reading that I do with blogs, another insidious fear has crept up on me. I’ve been aware for the last forty years (who hasn’t) that we don’t treat our planet with the respect and understanding that will keep us and the planet in good health. But in the last year of reading informative and expert evaluations of the various threats to our world – Arctic melting, drilling for oil, fracking, carbon dioxide levels, destruction of forests, GM infiltration, death of bees, polluted oceans, dying species of fish, birds and animals – the list goes on – I’ve become so well informed that I realise I’ve begun to get sucked into anxiety and negativity.

For we rarely hear about the numberless organisations, groups and individuals who in their own way are making a positive difference to their communities, and therefore our world. Sadly, the good news doesn’t sell news or newspapers. And yet there is good news all around us. So now I feel I have to take the Wizard of Oz’s discipline a bit further.  Stop reading all the doom and gloom about climate change, desertification, rhinoceros poachers, Monsanto and the rest, and instead actively seek out the good news.

When I went into my local town yesterday, in each shop I visited I met gentle good people, living gentle good lives. Knowing them as I do, I know they put a hundred per cent into their vocations and work. And then there’s the girl at Tai Chi, who with her husband buys up Christmas trees every year. They take their cars and a trailer each, and go off separately to other towns selling the trees and then give the money to charity.

There’s the fun, wonderful woman working with refugees and indigenous communities, and who started her local branch of the hilarious Red Hat Society; the teachers in the local school who use The Virtues Programme in their schools; the organic farm which teaches sustainability, where people come from all over the world to work there and learn. The local council now takes their advice.

There’s the business man who mentors fatherless boys, and the amazing woman who finds homes for unwanted animals and who secretly rescues battered wives, taking them to hide in her home until they sort out their lives. And Greenpeace have just e-mailed to say that New Zealand will soon become the third market in the world in which all major canned tuna brands have committed to use only tuna that is caught by more sustainable fishing methods.

This is the sort of news I want to know about. This is the sort of information that comforts the soul and inspires hope for the world. And most encouraging of all, is to know children and young people who are growing up fully conscious of all the ills of power and hypocrisy, greed and moral equivocation, and who are evolving their own code of such integrity that the world will be safe in their hands in the future. Our children and grandchildren are up with the play, they are wise and knowing. So no worries then, as they say in this neck of the woods. ‘All is well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’…. as long as I monitor my fear and violence intake !

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Mushrooms were on ‘special’ at the grocer, so I bought a lavish tray of them, and brought them back home to use some for a quick lunch. I used sour dough bread toasted and buttered, and sliced plenty of mushrooms in butter and finely chopped garlic. When they were lightly cooked, I stirred in parsley and enough cream to bubble up and thicken. Poured straight onto the waiting toast, they were filling and delicious. I’ve also used sherry instead of cream in the past, and that’s good too. Shitaake mushrooms are delicious this way too, and any of the big tasty mushrooms are scrumptious – unfortunately they make me ill – so it’s button mushrooms or Shitaake for me.

Food for Thought

This is a postscript to a blog called ‘Voices from the Void’, which I wrote back in February about the ‘Voice ‘ which so many people hear when they are in a dangerous or difficult place. Reading a biography of Queen Victoria last night, I came across this quote from her after the early death of her beloved husband Albert, when she was still a young woman. Writing to her unhappy daughter, the Empress of Germany she said: ”I too wanted once to put an end to my life here, but a Voice told me… no, “Still Endure”.

This made an indelible impression on the Queen, who used “Still Endure” as a motto for the rest of her life.

 

 

74 Comments

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

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.

57 Comments

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

Real Things Matter

It has to be real coffee. I can’t bear the taste of instant coffee with that smell of dry cleaning fluid lurking beneath the coffee fragrance.

No tea bags either. I reverted long ago to a tea-pot and a tea caddy. I love the meditative ritual of boiling the kettle, spooning the tea leaves from the caddy, and enjoy using a beautiful circular shaped silver spoon with a little intricately worked handle. I wonder who used it for this purpose in the past. When the tea is made, the pot goes on a tray with a cup and saucer with Redoute roses on it, a matching milk jug and tea plate. There’s also a little cream French provincial jug which holds hot water to make the tea weaker if I want. It’s Twinings’ lapsang souchong, the delicate smoky taste such a habit now that I never drink anything else.

I sometimes think that this will be my greatest deprivation when I’m shunted into an old people’s home – which is why I’ll be drinking a nice pot of hemlock before that happens.It’s the same with the ritual of the breakfast coffee and tray. It gives me such a sense of well being to enjoy these pretty things, instead of keeping them for best, and to eat and drink good, honest, unpolluted foodstuffs. There’s also a feeling of mindfulness as I savour these little things.

There’s no way I’d have mucked- around butter on my table either. We have the real thing, not some mixture with chemicals and oils to pretend to ourselves that it’s better for us than butter. I simply can’t believe that a pure substance like butter could be bad for you when the other is filled with all sorts of food substitutes.

The fact is, I don’t want any substitutes in my life. I want the real thing. I don’t want plastic plant pots in my garden, I want lovely terra cotta pots, the sort you find in Beatrix Potter’s pictures of Peter Rabbit in Mr McGregor’s garden. I don’t want hybrid dwarf ageratum and stunted shasta daisies and miniature dahlias in the garden. I want the old fashioned blue ageratum with long stems to loll for most of the year at the back of the border. I want tall straight Shasta daisies, not mean little blooms cowering among the lavender, and in autumn I want those big shaggy dahlias shaking their blowsy heads at the sun, not struggling to find a space among the marigolds. Same with bouncy blue agapanthus. Who wants miniature agapanthus when the real thing is so gorgeous?

I’ve always hated synthetic fabrics. Give me real wool and cotton, linen and silk any day, whether we’re talking clothes or furnishings. And now they’ve discovered that many of the synthetics we use in curtains and carpets emit fumes which are dangerous to health – so why use them? Same with many building materials in modern homes. Houses of yesteryear, built using natural products were not unhealthy like so many modern homes. And we now also know that many of the synthetic fabrics in homes are easily inflammable and burn fast, unlike wool which takes a long time to catch fire.

Apart from the safety and health aspect, natural fibres and natural building products are beautiful.  Worse, our devotion to synthetics and plastic means that we’re using up oil to create much of the litter that’s strangling our planet. The monstrous islands of rubbish as big as continents in the oceans, are made up of plastic. The plastic breaks down into tiny shards and gets into the fish food chain, and finally into us. Serve us right.

Then there’s plastic bags! When I lived in Hong Kong over forty years ago, plastic hadn’t caught on, so we’d take home our food from the markets wrapped in real leaves and tied with real dried reeds. These small parcels were exquisite little works of art, and every Chinese shopkeeper and hawker could create them and tie them with the same instinctive skill. Even in English villages back when, we used string bags to carry our groceries home, not disposable plastic bags. Disposable of course, is a misnomer. Throwaways, yes, but then it takes aeons for the plastic to decompose.

And yes, in my day, of course we had the real thing – cloth nappies. And though the debate rages about the good and bad effects on the planet of disposables versus cloth nappies, at least you can go on using cloth nappies for years afterwards as dusters, car cleaning cloths, and so on, if you don’t pass them on to someone else.

 Actually, the debate over babies having the real thing is not funny, but is sometimes a matter of life and death in developing countries.The big global conglomerates, many of them American, have run such successful campaigns convincing Third World and Asian mothers that their babies are better off with powdered milk, that in Thailand for example, only five per cent of mothers now breast feed their babies. Babies all over the undeveloped world are being fed milk products which too often are mixed with polluted water, for lack of good hygeine. In China, unscrupulous middle-men added industrial additives to New Zealand milk powder to make it go further, and make bigger profits, with the result that thousands of babies ended up in hospital with serious permanent internal damage, and many died. So having the real thing is actually not a frivolous matter. It can be the difference between life and death. And what can be more real than a mother’s milk?

So having got this off my chest, I’m now going to make Welsh rarebit for our light evening meal. It’ll be brown bread, cooked by the local artisan baker, unprocessed cheddar cheese, real butter, and to my chagrin, the milk will be the processed stuff we all have to consume by law. No-one nowadays knows what fresh untampered -with milk tastes like. In my childhood, the cream used to sit at the top of the bottle of real milk delivered to the doorstep, and in cold weather, the sparrows would peck through the lids to get at the cream. They knew the real thing when they saw it.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Cheese goes further when used as Welsh rarebit, rather than straightforward cheese on toast, and the difference in flavour and texture is rather attractive for a change. So using an ounce of butter and a level tablespoon of flour – somewhere between half to an ounce, melt the butter and stir in the flour until smooth. Add enough milk, or milk and half beer, to make a stiff mixture. Then add a teaspoon of mixed mustard, a few drops of Worcester sauce, salt and pepper, and about six ounces of grated cheese. Stir it altogether and make sure the cheese is amalgamated. Don’t overcook or the cheese will become oily. Spread this mixture on four slices of buttered toast, and grill until golden brown. Serve at once. This amount will satisfy two greedy people, or four well-behaved people.

Food for Thought

Pilgrim,remember                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              For all your pain                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The Master you seek abroad                                                                                                                                                                                                                You will find at home                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Or seek in vain.                 Anonymous 7th century poet

8 Comments

Filed under babies, cookery/recipes, environment, food, great days, humour, life/style, philosophy, pollution, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life