Tag Archives: birds

Domestic dramas and our daily bread

100_0392Life’s rich pageant is sometimes not quite what I expect. The last week or so was one of those times.  I’ll start with the good times… coffee with Friend at a garden cafe. At the entrance the glade of persimmon trees was a flaming circle, though the trees have shed half their leaves. Those that are left hanging are tawny orange, and round ripe red fruit hang from every branch, decorating every twig like an elegant Christmas tree. The whole grove was a blaze of glowing colour and sound, birds perched in every tree, singing, whistling and feasting.

There were tuis whose bright turquoise plumage glistened richly against the red of the fruit, acid green silver eyes flitting from branch to twig, and a host of sparrows, a few thrushes and blackbirds. The green grass sprouting after all the rain was littered with the empty flame- red carcasses of persimmons expertly cleaned out by tiny beaks. It was a busy and happy scene.

The next day began at seven am with me pulling back the curtains of the French windows from where I can glimpse the road. I saw a flash of white, and then another … just too big to be a dog. Oh no, I thought, Anna and Mike’s new baby goats. No time to ring someone to catch them they were going so fast. It was down to me! Luckily I had my slippers on (fluffy), and I prayed that it was too early for any friendly village pervs to be going about their business, as I dashed out in my pyjamas. (Age is irrelevant … the mere word pyjamas electrifies some elderly gents!)

Rushing up to the top of the garden, and down the road, I clapped my hands and called them – they are known as the little darlings. Easy-peasy, they came running, relieved to find a person who would look after them. Slowly I edged and skipped sideways in the fluffy slippers, and led them back down the cul de sac to where their field lay. Robert, the in-house, elderly billy-goat gave them heaps when I pushed them back into the field. They have little white pointed faces, sensitive and exquisite. Saanen goats originally came from Switzerland – these two from the SPCA shelter – neutered, and male, so unwanted since they can’t produce milk! The official description of these goats is rather charming – they are described as large, kind, and friendly. These ones are little, sweet and friendly.

I thought I’d give them a handful of goat treats, and had to crawl into the back of their hut up on the side of the hill-side to get their bowl out. Before I could say knife, all three goats were in and around me, as I scrabbled for the bowl on my hands and knees and was jostled by three determined bodies, and twelve dainty legs. I finally retrieved my dignity and the bowl, and fobbed them off with the goodies.

Back home and off to the big smoke with Friend for a farewell lunch with the various sprightly and foot-loose octogenarians who were about to leave for energetic tours around Germany, Italy or Alaska, we two returning to our frail husbands who cannot be left. “We were lucky to find a tour that would let over – eighties join,” said one… “We have to carry our own luggage around Italy,” chirped another.

The next morning, overcome by tooth-ache, the dentist squeezed me in, and an hour later and some thousands of dollars lighter, I was the bemused possessor of half a bridge, until the whole one had been made to measure. Things went from ache to worse in that department, and I was back again, if not writhing in pain, certainly not a happy camper, a few days later. And there’s more today!

Later, as I backed out of the garage in the rain to return a book to a neighbour, I heard a horrendous bang, and slammed on the brakes. Shaken I climbed out of the car to survey the damage. A wicked squalling wind had just blown off the sea, caught the very high tilt door, designed to let boats in, and slammed it down on the back of the moving car. The electric door was hanging dangerously off the runners at an angle, and badly dented, while the back of the car was chewed up, red glass from the lights scattered everywhere. I backed it out while I could still get it out of the garage.

So now we need a new door, and a new back on the car. Insurance, yes, but by the time the excess is paid on both, it’s a sizeable chunk of money just for a second in the wind. Later, as I searched my soul for the reason for this kick in the back-side, I got the message. Just regretful now that I must have been so dense, and that it took something so dramatic to learn a life’s lesson!

And all the while there’s blogs to read, and birds to feed. The tuis and wax-eyes, and blackbirds love the apples and persimmons I nail onto the fence-line, so I can watch them from the sitting room window. And now I’m looking for a Perspex or glass bowl to hold frozen peas and frozen sweet corn. This is food for wood pigeons. Both the loquat fruit and the guava harvest having failed after the drought this year, the pigeons are hungry and likely to starve through the winter. A bird rescue centre advises us to put the food in a glass bowl so the pigeons can see them, and wedge the said bowl in a pururi tree… in my case, it’ll be the guava tree which they already know, and which I can reach easily.

“Bit expensive, isn’t it?” murmured my other half un-easily.

“That’s the price we have to pay for preserving our wild life,” I returned briskly and pompously. But it did the trick, and silenced the poor chap.

So this is life these days… in ‘The Pursuit of LoveNancy Mitford once described this humdrum of ordinary existence as the wholemeal bread of life… and so it is… but even so, I sometimes long, like Kubla Khan, to feed on honeydew and drink the milk of paradise.

So as I went to put another log on the fire last night, I was thinking to myself that yet again, I hadn’t done much with my day, when I remembered Michel de Montaigne’s wonderful words. He was a lovely man and a writer and philosopher in sixteenth century France, who has often cheered me up and given me confidence, since most of his writing is about himself and his thoughts… like mine!  In his essays he used anecdotes and personal ruminations which his contemporaries thought was self-indulgent, and detrimental to proper style. But he said: ‘I am myself the matter of my book’, and his popularity has lasted, while his critics have disappeared.

His words which came into my mind were: “Alas, I have done nothing this day! What! Have you not lived? It is not only the fundamental but the noblest of your occupations”.  Thank you Michel de Montaigne – that gives me a whole new appreciation of my wholemeal bread! Persimmons and pigeons, goats and garage, the daily bread of life, they all have a place in the hidden scheme of things… and my part is to love them and live with them, and value them, and to remember that this is a noble occupation.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Wet, cold wintry weather demands hot, satisfying stodge, so to ring the changes I decided we’d have onion tart. First step is the shortcrust pastry shell, in this case I’m afraid, ready-made, not my normal style, but needs must…. While it’s baking blind in the oven for ten minutes, I peeled and gently sautéed eight big onions – plenty- in four ounces of butter. Don’t let them brown, but gently cook until they’re a soft yellow mass. Beat an egg with two tablesp of white wine, stir in quarter of a pint of cream, salt and black pepper and a good pinch or grind of nutmeg. Stir into the onions, and cook very gently until it begins to thicken, then pour into the pastry case. Return to a moderately hot oven for about thirty minutes, until the top is lightly browned. You can also add two ounces of dry grated cheese like Gruyere.

Food for Thought

Kindness in another’s trouble, courage in one’s own … motto of Princess Diana 1961- 1997.

She also practised and advocated: ‘random acts of kindness.’

 

 

 

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The longest journey

100_0404I’m sitting by the wood fire with the rain falling steadily outside onto the green garden. It’s fragrant with the scent of all the cyclamens I bought this year to put in pots. I hadn’t realised what a beautiful perfume they had. I picked some roses before the rain drenched them, Monteverdi’s exquisite lilting Vespers – trumpets and choirs –  is playing, and I had for lunch a delicious helping of the grocer’s bargain Gorgonzola Dolce with fresh sour dough bread.

And coffee. My coffee tastes entirely different now that I’ve learnt to put the milk in first, thanks to the coffee drinking bloggers who commented on the blog I’d written about tea, and how Milk in First – so frowned upon by the pukka – is actually more delicious than milk poured in after the tea. So I’m now drinking coffee milk in first.

I’ve been watching a blackbird pecking at a red apple nailed to the fence outside the window. The sparrows love their grain in the swinging blue and white bowl suspended from a tree near the bird-bath. As I watched them, I was amazed to see a host of different birds in the garden, so unusual in this country.

There was a wood pigeon sitting in the guava tree in its approved partridge in a pear tree fashion, three pink-breasted grey doves pecking on the grass, a couple of tuis frisking in the bottle brush tree, sparrows in the feeding bowl, fan tails flitting around between plum tree and bird bath, a couple of lime-green and grey wax- eyes flickering among the leaves, and to my astonishment, a gold finch pecking around the green copper with pink cyclamen – the pink and the gold, and the verdigris of the copper a delight.

The tiny wax-eyes or silver -eyes, which are half the size of a sparrow – would top the list of NZ birds I love. Victorian Walter Buller, the earliest NZ authority on birds, called them silver-eyes. They ‘re supposed to have arrived in New Zealand in June 1856. Buller wrote: ‘…in the early part of June of that year, I first heard of its occurrence at Waikanae, a native settlement on the west coast, about forty miles from Wellington. The native mailman brought in word that a new bird had been seen, and that it was a visitor from another land.

‘A week later he brought intelligence that large flocks had appeared, and that the “tau-hou” (stranger) swarmed in the brushwood near the coast; reporting further that they seemed weary after their journey, and that the natives caught many of them alive’. Buller tells us that they were then seen in numbers in Wellington, and greatly welcomed as they ate the aphis known as American Blight which was ruining the settlers’ apple trees. The little silver-eye has flourished here ever since its epic thousand-mile journey across the Tasman.

Why did they come, flocks of them, not just a few blown by the wind? What a great heart in a tiny frame, and what impelled each one to embark on this huge migration across an ocean? Flocks of them sometimes clung exhausted to the masts of ships in mid-ocean. How did they know that a land, New Zealand, was awaiting them at the other side of the trackless sea? And how sad, that at the end of the endless journey, tiny wings beating against the winds, they were so exhausted, that many were caught by hand by Maoris and ended their lives precipitately in the Promised Land.

Whenever I see the tiny green creatures flitting in and out of the birdbath, sipping the honey in the bottle-brush tree, and nibbling the apples I put out in winter, I remember their great journey and noble hearts. Was their quest a search for a better life, like so many of the settlers, who in those same years also sailed across oceans for six months to reach here, surviving perils which included drowning, sickness and starvation?

This quest of men and birds took not just courage but a leap of imagination, and I wonder if these are the times now when we must all also take another leap of imagination and courage to save the dear earth that we know – to take, in Christopher Fry’s words, “the longest stride of soul men ever took”.  Eckhart Tolle has warned that all the structures that we’ve always known will start to crumble, and we are now seeing trusted institutions, organisations, freedom, democracy, justice, free speech, free press, the environment – all under threat.

So this must be the time to take that long stride of soul – to create new ways of living on this planet, salvaging the best, and joining together to share peace and goodwill, as well as food and resources.  The Dalai Lama has said that meditating is not enough – we need to act – and Thich Nhat Hanh has warned us that we can’t go on the way we are doing.

He says otherwise: “there is no doubt that our civilisation will be destroyed. This will require enlightenment, awakening. The Buddha attained individual awakening. Now we need a collective enlightenment to stop this course of destruction.”  So enlightenment, it seems, is a journey which we can’t delay, and however difficult this may seem, and whatever it means to different people – as Lao Tzu so famously said nearly fifteen hundred years ago – a journey of a thousand leagues begins with the first step.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets 

As a threadbare gourmet, I pride myself on getting at least eight meals out of a chicken, so I put the legs into the deep freeze to take out when I wanted them. After de-frosting and taking the skin off, I added them to a pan in which I’d sauted garlic and chopped mushrooms in butter and cream. I also crumbled a chicken cube in a little boiling water and added it to the mix to boil up and thicken. Then I stirred in half a teasp of Dijon mustard, some nutmeg, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sometimes I serve this on pasta, this time I served it with buttery, creamy mashed potatoes, peas, and carrots.

Food for Thought

Life is an endless struggle full of frustration and challenges, but eventually you find a hair stylist you like!

 

 

 

 

 

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The mystery of other lives

 
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Not a picture of hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil, but a picture of the three fat wood pigeons sitting on the power line outside our house yesterday.

They used to be plentiful, but between the Maoris and the settlers they nearly became extinct. They’re now protected, and their numbers are increasing. The Maoris call them kereru, we call them wood pigeons. They are precious to us.

This morning, waiting for the kettle to boil while I made a cup of tea to take back to bed, I stood at the bench looking out of the kitchen window, and watched one of these pigeons in the guava tree. As he swallowed the guavas whole, they travelled down his throat and then the lump disappeared into his white curving bosom.

I was fascinated to see how this big heavy unwieldy bird kept his balance on the thin frail branches. He moved from fruit to fruit, gobbling them up, without ever looking or checking to see where his feet/ claws were going to find a secure foothold. The feet moved with an intelligence of their own. Once, the twig bent so much, the bird keeled over, and his wings flapped open to hold him, as his feet found a better foothold. Enough being enough, he whirred heavily out of the little tree shortly after, and lumbered off. The tangy red guava berries are small and sour this year, with no rain to swell them, so I’m leaving them all for the birds.

I took the tea-tray back to bed, and lay back on the pillows looking out of the window on the other side of the house. The loquat tree, just beyond the window, which is covered in blossom, was rustling and shuddering. A turquoise and black tui was enjoying the blossom, seeking the honey, long beak pushing aggressively into the flowers, and plunging from one bough to another, with the same sure-footedness as the wood pigeon.

As I watched this bird, with his bright white bobble of feathers jiggling at his throat, which caused the early settlers to call him the parson – bird, I felt I was watching something familiar, and then I remembered. As the tui sucked the honey, his tail waggled back and forth in an ecstasy of concentration, just like the tails of lambs when they are suckling their mothers in the fields.

During the nightas I turned over in my sleep, I heard a morepork, the New Zealand owl calling, very close; later, the huffing of a possum in the loquat tree, which sounds like the hissing of a python and what I feared were rats rustling in the roof above. I hoped the hedgehog I found yesterday was on the move in the garden drinking, eating and making merry by the ivy. I seemed to be inhabiting a corner of the universe where other creatures were getting on with their lives oblivious of homo sapiens.

When I drove through the little hamlet at the edge of the sea on my way to shop the other day, I slowed down when I saw a couple of ducks crossing the road. I stopped a good fifty yards away from them, so they wouldn’t feel hassled, and was tickled to find them being followed by at least another twenty waddling, feathered bodies. When I slowly drove past the drive where they had all disappeared, I saw there was a feijoa tree hanging over the fence, and the ground was covered in the fallen green fruit.

The ducks were feasting… how did they know the fruit was there, that this drive was the only way to get at it, and that this is the time of year for fallen fruits? Their intelligence is of a different order to ours, and it works for them. It being the beginning of the duck shooting season in a few more weeks, they will soon all congregate on ponds they know are safe from hunters, in city parks like the duck pond in the Auckland Domain….

And on the way home I dodged a quail family scuttling along the side of the road with half a dozen speckled brown babies. In our last house, I once looked out of the window and saw a veritable army of quails advancing down the drive… eleven to be precise, four adults and seven tiny powder puffs on wheels. They all scattered over the lawn, while the four adults stood one at each corner, with their backs to their babies, guarding them.. When the babies had finished, the adults marshalled them, and moved off, with one adult bringing up the rear, and keeping the stragglers in order. An exquisite example of responsibility, co-operation and parental love.

Henry Beston wrote in ‘The Outermost House’:  ‘We patronise 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 move 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.’

And philosopher Ken Wilbur writes that: ‘Every single thing you perceive is the radiance of Spirit itself, so much so that Spirit is not seen apart from that thing: the robin sings, and just that is it, nothing else…’

And so as I catch in a glass the bumble bee which has just blundered into the house, and is buzzing angrily at the window, I release it outside, sending it on its way with a blessing, knowing that we are all fellow travellers and all connected by Spirit.

 Food for thought

This prayer of St Francis is dedicated to America with love – and to the world – since we are all one…

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

St Francis is the patron saint of animals. He lived from  ADe l,ived fromH1181 to AD1226

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Seize the day!

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Today was not one of those days, but One of Those Days.  Yesterday, as I watched the tiny, greenery- yallery birds we call silver- eyes in the trees, hunting for insects and the like, I thought how I hadn’t seen the cock pheasant for months. He must have found another home, I thought.

When I awoke this morning I jumped out of bed and looked out of the open window to the sea as usual. There, right below my window, was the pheasant, in the garden bed with the bromeliads. He slowly pecked and ambled his way down through the vegetable beds to the petanque court, and then sauntereded off down the path into the wild patch. A moment earlier or later, and I would have missed him. Do I believe in coincidences, or did the pheasant pick up my wave-length?

It was one of those glorious late summer days. The colours bright, the air sparkling.  In the morning I rendezvoused with two old friends at an art gallery in the next village, to see an exhibition in a barn in the orchard. The gnarled branches of the old fruit trees were blanketed in fluffy celadon-green lichen, and hung with knobbly green quinces and pink and yellow apples. The barn was full of pottery, paintings, sculpture and furniture.

Robin knew one of the painters, who told us a dealer had wanted to see her work, so the painter had suggested that the dealer come to the exhibition. The artist led the dealer into the barn, and before she could show off her vividly coloured abstract flower paintings, the poor painter told us with some chagrin, that the dealer had instead pounced on a set of black and brown geometrical abstracts, and said she’d buy the lot. These black and brown works of art were composed of cow dung, clay and other mixtures, and smelt richly of a farm yard!

After a cup of coffee by the river, and a whip round the gallery there, we drove on to Tawharanui National Park, and the “Exhibition in a Woolshed”. Never has the sea looked so blue, the islands so green and purple, and the sands so white. The rolling hills were burnt gold in the flaming sun, and the gum trees which lined the last stretches of the dusty, winding gravel road gave us grateful dappled shade.

At the National Park we enjoyed the pungent smell of a real woolshed, and savoured the integrity of the wooden slats and fences, smoothed and polished by the hands of generations of sheep shearers – hands – no doubt, impregnated with oil from the fleeces. Another collection of absorbing paintings, pottery and sculpture, and then a walk around the sculpture park edging the turquoise sea.

The day flowed from one treat to another. Late in the afternoon we arrived at another cafe for lunch, exhausted with art and walking in the midday sun. We sat outside in the shade of the trees, where we could see the waterfall. We go back through twenty nine years of gruelling growth courses, endless lunches, regular birthday parties, shared experiences and watching our children grow up, marry, have their children, break-up, divorce and struggle on, in sickness and in health…

Two of the paintings in the woolshed were accompanied by poems by Fernando Pessoa. They were numbered and called “The Keeper of the Sheep”…. my favourite lines from number 11 were:                                                                                                                                                      “The world wasn’t made for us to think about it…                                                                                                                                                                          But to look at it and to be in agreement”.

And then, number XXX1X:                                                                                                                                                                                                                        “… the only hidden meanings of things                                                                                                                                                                                                   Is that they have no hidden meaning.                                                                                                                                                                                                        … things are really what they seem to be                                                                                                                                                                                          And there’s nothing to understand.”

Words which were a wonderful antidote to artistic pretension and cow dung! As we left the woolshed, outside in the sheep pen there was a battered old farm noticeboard which read:

‘Cows: bulls, steers, heifers, calves.’

Sheep:  rams, wethers, ewes, hoggets lambs.’                                                                                                                                                                                 The names were as evocative as a poem, a hymn to a rural past that few people now remember or experience.

Sheep seem to be in my consciousness at the moment. Last night, I’d been reading an artist’s account of her decision to find a lamb to photograph while she was painting Jesus, so she’d get it right. She went to a local market, but saw only a sorry collection of scraggly mixed breeds – no lambs. She was about to turn away when a sparkling white ewe emerged from the flock and approached her. She was pregnant.

The artist decided to buy her, and the dealer told her the sheep’s breed was a ‘mouflon’. On the way home, she was suddenly struck by the fear that the sheep might be some sort of new hybrid which had not existed when Jesus had been on earth, since she had never seen a sheep like her, in spite of growing up on a ranch.

After establishing the sheep in her new home, the artist set off for the library, where she found that the mouflon was the oldest domesticated breed of sheep in Europe, and had  been herded in the Middle East two thousand years ago. Since they were living in the US, it was an amazing synchronicity to find the exact type of sheep she needed, especially since she hadn’t known that she did need it!

The perfection of the interlocking factors in this story reflect a little of how I feel today. It’s as though I know in my heart, and not just in my mind, that all is well, and that if we let go trying to make the right thing happen, the perfect thing happens. And it may not be what we planned or thought we wanted. This means a sense of peace, a calm, and a certainty. There is no need to keep striving, because when we surrender, life falls into place anyway.

And I’m learning to let go the distinction between the earthly and the spiritual. There is no distinction. Everything is sacred. So the laughter of today has the same value as this morning’s early meditation. As I hummed the pop song:  “Take my heart to higher ground’, a la Streisand, I felt it was as sacred as a Bach cantata. Feeling that every moment has a hidden significance, means the days are lived at a particular level of commitment

Making the most of each day, and knowing that the sum of these days add up to life well lived, is its own reward, and so in the words of that old Jewish saying, we can go on our way stringing pearls for heaven. And maybe try for heaven on earth… and carpe diem.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Browsing through Sally’s latest blog at mybeautifulthings@wordpress.com , I saw her picture of lunch at Falmouth – salmon fishcakes, spinach, poached egg and Hollandaise sauce. My taste buds sizzled, and I thought this is what we’re going to have for supper. I actually had some salmon, plenty of Agria potatoes – best for mashing, and all the trimmings – fresh eggs, spinach in the deep freeze, and a recipe for a quick hollandaise sauce.

Here’s my recipe for the quick hollandaise sauce. Blend the juice and zest of two lemons, four egg yolks and two teasps of mild mustard.  Melt the butter, and keeping the motor running, pour the butter into the eggs in a slow stream. Process until just thickened and no more. Season to taste, and keep at room temperature until using it. This makes two cups. Extravagant and delicious!

I used fresh smoked salmon and dill in the fish cakes and rolled them in flour before frying them in a mix of butter and oil. I think if I was feeling threadbare, a tin of red salmon, or even pink salmon jazzed up with plenty of herbs would work.

Food for Thought

I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big success. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets…

William James 1842 -1910   Sometimes called the father of American psychology, and also best known for his book ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience.’

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Bullied by the birds

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It’s two months since I wrote a blog about the drought called Summer days and thirsty hedgehogs, and since that time we have had no rain.

The country is split between those who live in towns- and so many NZ towns and cities are on the coast – and those who live in the country. The townies, as country dwellers call them, are loving every moment of the long hot summer, revelling in long days at the beach, splashing in swimming pools, lolling around in their gardens, and sitting outside at cafes and restaurants enjoying leisurely meals in the soft twilit evenings.

Families take off at weekends with their tents and boats and kayaks for old fashioned summer camping days by the sea, in the certain knowledge that there will be no rain. At the same time country folk are measuring how many inches of water are left in their water-tanks, or joining the two or three week long queues to have water delivered. I see trees and hedges dying, and my heart aches.

Farmers are selling their stock since they can’t afford to feed them, for there is no growth in the dry brown paddocks: drying off their milking herds, and worrying about hay for the winter. Gardeners like me, are carting buckets of water from their baths to moisten around trees, watering roses and hydrangeas and salvias all struggling to stay alive in the baking heat, and trying to coax dahlias and Japanese anenomes, usually the splendour of the garden at this time of year, to open their stunted blossoms.

I fill the bowls of water around the garden regularly throughout the day, and anyone foolish enough to knock on my door with census papers, Jehovah’s Witness leaflets, or to fix the faulty electric plug for me, all get their ears bashed to put out water for birds and thirsty creatures. I’ve rung the local rag, and got my daughter to Twitter, and hope the SPCA will remember my message about ringing radio stations to remind their listeners.

But one person cannot defeat climate change! This is our third drought in four years, and in the worst one four years ago, we lost so many birds and creatures. The native pigeon population was decimated, as young birds had no water, and people talked of seeing pigeons drop from the sky, dead from de-hydration. The kiwis who dig their long sharp beaks into the ground for bugs and worms starved because the ground was so hard they couldn’t break into it, and when they did, the worms and other food had retreated deep down to damper layers of soil.

This year, another native bird, the kokako, is not breeding at all – for fascinating reasons – the females can see that there are none of the berries on the rimu trees which they normally eat, and are therefore refusing to mate, knowing there’s no sustenance for their offspring. And hedgehogs are dying of thirst.

I’m thinking I’m going to have to start feeding the birds again. I used to feed the handful of sparrows and a chaffinch couple who lived around here – under a tree a little way from the house, and where I could see from the sitting room window.I also fed the dozen or so mynahs, a little way down from the tree so they wouldn’t frighten off the smaller birds. Moist wholemeal bread for the mynahs, wheat and birdseed, and when I ran out, porridge flakes for the others. They loved it all. They told their friends. Within a couple of weeks I had at least a hundred sparrows, four or five doves, some itinerant blackbirds,  chaffinches and an occasional thrush.

They had also worked out from whence this largesse came . They waited in the plum tree outside the kitchen window and watched me until I came out with their breakfast. And for a couple of hours they sat and barracked me from the plum tree and the garage roof in the afternoon, until I sallied forth with afternoon tea – theirs.

A great whoosh of wings accompanied me to the tree. Then I had to make sure that the neighbour’s ancient lonely dog was not hovering in hope of a dog biscuit. If she was, I had to return with the bird food, and dig out a biscuit and walk her down the road with it, away from the bird food which she would have gobbled up. Dog distracted, back to the birds.

If I was out, they would be waiting for me at the bottom of the road. They recognised my white car, and swooped from telegraph pole to telegraph pole all the way down the road with the car. They’d then hover round the garage yelling “she’s back, she’s back” till I came out. If I went for a walk, they’d fly down the road with me, and wait on the corner.

Finally the worm turned. There were so many birds I couldn’t keep up with them, and was buying a large sack of wheat from the farmers shop each week, as well as extra bread for the big greedy mynahs – money I could ill-afford. The garden was becoming white with droppings, and I was back to the chaos of when I’d had a bird table. The sparrows could probably have made a pot of tea themselves, they’d watched me so intently through the kitchen window for so long.

A short holiday in Melbourne solved the problem. They gave up waiting. I felt guilty but relieved. They didn’t need the food out here in the country. It was just my hobby which had got out of hand. But now, with a hearty respect for the intelligence of bird brains, I think I’m going to have to soften my heart and help them out in this emergency.

That heart sinks at the thought of being bullied by them all again. I’ve done a lot of inner work over the years about letting go of being victim, and preserving myself from being bullied any more, but I’m not sure I can handle being bullied by the birds. It may be a step too far for my fragile self esteem, and feeding the birds may be my last big challenge!

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

We had some lovely summer pears from a neighbour which cried out to be transformed into pear and almond tart. I used the wonderful recipe for pastry which doesn’t involve rubbing the flour into the butter. Instead I melt and cool the butter and just stir it into the other ingredients. The resulting dough doesn’t need rolling, but is just pressed gently into a shallow greased tart dish. It doesn’t need pricking or weighting. Just pre-cook for ten minutes in a moderate oven. You then add the frangipane and the sliced pears and cook for three quarters of an hour or more until the frangipane is just firm.

The pastry takes 125 gm butter, melted and cooled, a generous 100 gms of sugar, pinch of salt, half a teasp each of almond essence, and vanilla essence, two generous tablesp of ground almonds and 180 gms of flour. I love frangipane, and will give the recipe in the next post. It’s the perfect base for pears, plums, apricots, peaches, and I love the sound of the word… it sounds…fragrant!

 

Food for Thought

An old pond  –  a frog tumbles in  –  the splash of water

One of the most famous haiku  by the most famous haiku master, Matsuo Basha  1644 -1694 He spent much of his life wandering through Japan, like the medieval troubadours and minnesingers of Europe, three hundred years earlier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under birds, cookery/recipes, environment, food, great days, humour, life/style, poetry, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, village life, wild life

Summer Days and Thirsty Hedgehogs

It’s high summer in our village, the sea is postcard turquoise blue, and scored with white wakes from little fizz boats having fun. I watch the big game fishing boats with tourists going out with tall fishing rods at the ready, poised to hunt giant marlin and other innocent creatures of the deep – and disapprove. All around me holiday houses are filled, and laughter and calls of children punctuate the buzz of lawnmowers.

Yesterday a homemade cricket match with children and adults on the grass across from our oak tree, filled the afternoon with joyful noise. The click of ball on bat, the shouts, the laughter, the groans, the cheers, the guffaws sounded like the archetypical holiday games of childhood that fertilise the memory, so that looking back in later years, all summers seemed sunny and filled with laughter.

This morning I sat outside in the sun having my breakfast, and watched monarch butterflies flirting, fluttering and feeding among the pink flowers of the mutabilis rose and lavatera, and rose-red cannas. Reading Anne Dillard I learn that monarch butterflies smell of honeysuckle… do they really, or was honeysuckle the last flower they’d been sampling when the researcher sniffed their beauty? The other side of the garden where it’s shady, blue hydrangeas are blooming amidst the foliage of acanthus and queen of the night, the blue African primrose is flowering profusely on the edge of the ivy, while blue agapanthus spring out of the greenery further away.

Pale blue petunias echo the colour of the faded painted wrought iron chair on which their pots rest. A tiny green silver eye dived determinedly past me and into the trellis where wisteria, honeysuckle and red and purple fuchsia tangle with each other. He rustled noisily and industriously among the leaves, eating aphids or grubs, and then flew into the plum tree and wiped his beak on a branch… didn’t realise that eating aphids was a messy business for birds!

And now, as I write this, a speckled cream-breasted thrush has just quietly hopped past the open French door, followed closely by a bumble- bee, buzzing and bouncing along the ground in an irritated sort of way. Ever since I got home from Tai Chi the neighbour’s black cat has been purring, first at my feet, then on my lap, and now on the chair beside my chair. What with the gentle susurrations of the wind in the flax bushes and the pururi leaves, the whirring and clicking of cicadas in the trees outside the window, and the receding low-tide sighing softly across the exposed sea-weed – though there is no sound of spoken word – it is not a silent world this afternoon. And since every sound is the sound of the earth getting on with the business of being, it is sweet and satisfying.

The wind which has blown across the Tasman from the terrible forest fires in Australia, has been unceasing, and the ground is dry and hard. Ponds are drying up, and birds are spending much time not just at the bird bath, but also at the dog’s drinking bowl outside on the road. Thirsty birds as well as dogs keep me busy re-filling it.  Yesterday when I went up the path with a jug to top it up, someone had dropped three one dollar coins in the bowl. I love it  – a random act of fun – and yet obviously my bowl is very tempting because it’s the fourth time in the last few years that I’ve found coins in the water!

I’ve heard several people talking about finding hedgehogs in their swimming pools, unable to get out… they don’t seem to realise that they’re looking for water. As I drove back down our road after shopping the other day, I saw a hedgehog weaving an unsteady path across the road. I stopped the car, jumped out, and picked up the little ball of prickles, and carried it home. As I delicately carried her, so as not to be impaled on the prickles, she uncurled, and I felt her warm leathery legs hang down. I stood her in the flat water bowl in the garden, so she knew in her confused state that water was right there. I left her there drinking, while I walked back to retrieve the car.

She’d shuffled off (into the piles of dead leaves, I trust) when I got back, but I’m putting out cat-food, in the hope the hedgehog gets to it before any other wild-life – like rats. I’ve also now got shallow plant pot holders all over the garden filled with water for little creatures. I hope the little thing sticks around…I like the thought of a hedgehog in the garden.

They are amongst the oldest mammals, fifteen million years old. They have between five and six and a half thousand prickles, and beautiful quizzical little faces framed by their prickles. Anyone who grew up on Beatrix Potter is unable to resist them – shades of Mrs Tiggywinkle and Fuzzypeg –  there are hedgehog hospitals in the UK, and patrols to rescue hedgehogs trapped at the bottom of cattle grids. Conservationists in this country don’t like them as they eat native birds eggs as well as all the garden pests. I am a one- woman Society for the Protection of Hedgehogs.

I found a pair of snails crawling up a big deep bowl of water I always have in the courtyard, and to my amazement, found them at the water’s edge some time later. Wasps also drink from the dog’s water bowl. With streams and ponds covered over in towns and cities, there’s little water for thirsty creatures. A hundred and fifty years ago, an English millionairesse and philanthropist, Angela Burdett-Coutts donated horse troughs and  fountains for animals in English towns … but if anyone tried to do the same now, I could imagine the red tape and town planning regulations and resource management restrictions preventing anyone from re-instating drinking places for thirsty animals.

When I lived in town I always had a drinking bowl on the pavement outside my gate. It was a big deep blue and white china bowl I’d brought from Hong Kong, and everyone told me I was mad, it would get stolen as all the students on their way to lectures, and cleaners on their way to hospital trailed past our house. But it never was, and even late at night I’d see cats drinking from my bowl, the only water around.

When we moved I asked the doctor who bought the house if he’d keep it filled if I left it there. He promised, but when I met him six months later and checked that he was still filling it, he told me it had been stolen two days after we left!

Here in my village, everyone respects my drinking bowl, except the birds who bath in it, so I’m always changing the water because it gets so dirty. Who knew that birds were so dusty! I see dogs straining at the lead to get to it – they know it’s waiting for them. And being a village, people stop to talk to me sitting in my garden, and thank me for the water. And then there are the ones who drop coins in it – I hope they make a wish as they do!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

This is a lovely summer starter, and cheap withal! I’ve used it since I was a very new wife fifty years ago, so you could say it’s stood the test of time! You need one orange per person and some black olives. Peel it so that all the pith has been removed, cut it in half, and then slice thinly across, keeping the juice, and taking out the centre line of pith.

Arrange the slices in individual dishes, dot with olives and then pour this vinaigrette over. For the vinaigrette peel and finely chop an onion, chop two to three tablesps of mint, and one of parsley, and make up the vinaigrette – one third wine vinegar, two thirds olive oil. Mix all the ingredients together, and add salt and black pepper to taste. I add any orange juice that has run out, and only pour the vinaigrette over the oranges just before serving.

It’s summery and refreshing, and the mint and onion with the orange is tangy and different.The oranges and black olives and green mint look beautiful too.

Food for Thought

Education is identical with helping the child realise his potentialities. The opposite of education is manipulation, which is based on the absence of faith in the growth of potentialities, and on the conviction that a child will be right only if the adults put into him what is desirable and suppress what seems to be undesirable.

From The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm  1900 – 1980 social psychologist, philosopher and writer.

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