Tag Archives: pollution

Light footfalls in the Forest

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I’m back… after a lull and a few health issues, can’t resist coming back to blogging. I’ve kept up with reading all my old friends, under the radar, and am up with the play on the health and antics of various cats and dogs and pigs, and people! And thanks to the magic of technology, the internet has kept me up to date on the strange happenings around the world. I hesitate to put a name to the events which fill today’s headlines.

Here in our remote rainforest, politics and pollution, carbon footprints and climate change feel a long way away. Though I did calculate our carbon footprint today, and since we make one trip into town a week, amounting to fifty kilometres, catch our own water from the roof, and purify it, don’t waste water since we have a compost toilet, build our house with re-cycled windows, doors, kitchen bench, neighbour’s cast-off extractor hood and other donations, and only use electricity for heating, our footprint is fairly light.

D, my love, has used skateboard wheels to create a sliding door which purrs every time it’s opened, while a steel knitting needle and some big beads from a necklace have been used to fashion a light fitting that can be adjusted and moved above the dining table depending how many guests we have. He’s made exquisite sounding bells from divers cast off tanks which function as warning bells for us, and become presents for the people who are enchanted with the sound of the bells, and want one too.

A friend gave us an unwanted Italian stone plinth which, with a great, perfectly round concrete ball cast by D for me for Christmas, has become the focal point of my new garden; another friend delivered a ten foot pallet he wanted to dispose of, which has, with a few extra pieces of wood nailed on, become an elegant trellis barrier painted black and swathed in white wisteria, honeysuckle and star jasmine, dividing drive from garden.

Along the top of the trellis are ranged a row of perfect round black balls. They were once the feet of an armoire, and so ugly that I had them cut off, and have carted them around for the last nineteen years, hoping to find a use for them someday. That day has arrived. Painted black, and augmented with a big central one made by D, they have come into their own. The honeysuckle was grown from cuttings taken from the side of the road. The stubs of used candles are melted down and blended together to make candles for the storm lanterns down the drive when friends visit.

Arum lilies, dug up from a field at a friend’s farm, and roses grown from cuttings, fill the urns and pots, and on finding half a dozen miniature pink buckets in an op shop, I filled with them with pink cyclamens and lined them up on the steps to the house. I fill any gaps in the garden with big white marguerite daisies grown from cuttings – the original plant I bought back in 2003, and have kept supplies of these generous sized daisies ever since. At this moment in the porch are twenty- four flourishing little green rootlets waiting to be transferred to wherever they are needed. Ivy cuttings are also rooting quietly after a walk past an overgrown wall.

A raised vegetable garden is the next step… to be tackled when D has finished inserting two beautiful coloured lead light windows into the bathroom wall which looks out into the forest. They came from a dresser we bought for a song at the local rubbish tip shop. The hinges on the doors and handles would have cost more than we paid for the whole dresser if he had bought them new, D says.

And as well as the hardware, we have the lead light doors to the cupboard now transformed into windows, and the bottom shelves, divested of doors, painted white and flossied up with a bit of moulding, matching another sturdy bookshelf the other side of the room.

The satisfaction of this way of life is immense. Though we are surrounded in the forest by splendid architect designed dwellings furnished with architect-speak fashionable furniture, black leather Mies van der Rohe-like loungers, cow-hide rugs, low backed sofas, I am unmoved by this elegance. I still love my ancient seven-foot sofa, bought from an acquaintance twenty- five years ago when it was already twenty- five years old. New feet gave it a new lease of life, and loose covers made from hemp twenty years ago are still as good as new.

My antique French Provincial arm chairs are still comfortable, even though the cat appropriated them all the years of her life, and the old painted peasant looking chest of drawers gives me as much pleasure as our walnut and rosewood antiques of yesteryear. Pretty china, rugs and cushions, lamps and books have been the same companions for the last four decades.

And books continue to find their way in. Last week it was a book on Tuscany found for a dollar at the local rubbish tip shop. It’s a big illustrated hymn to Tuscany by Frances Mayes, whose other books on finding her Italian house have always enchanted me. This one is filled with exquisite pictures, disquisitions on art and architecture,  wine, and food and recipes. She tells us that when children are born in Italy, they say they have entered the light. The poetry and beauty of this idea of emerging from the darkness of the womb into the light of the world I find very moving.

Mayes says that Italians have the lowest rate of suicide in the world. She puts it down to the contentment of living amid so much deeply satisfying beauty. She also says that Italians are very low on obesity scales compared with other countries, and she puts this down to the fact that they eat such nourishing delicious food, that they feel satisfied and don’t need to fill up with junk food and sugar treats.

So needless to say, I bustled into my kitchen, and began experimenting with her take on Tuscan food, which doesn’t rely on fancy ingredients, and at a quick glance just seems to require good olive oil, good bread, fresh vegetables, including garlic, fennel and mushrooms and devotion to good food! That devotion I have in spades.

Watch this space!

 

 

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Filed under environment, flowers, gardens, life/style, pollution, sustainability, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, 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.

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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

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