Mellow Fruitfulness


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“Share, dear, be nice.”   “But muuuuum, they’re my favourites.”

Generosity is one of my core values. I live by it nearly all of the time. But not when MY fruit is ripening!

IMG_8890_1Out comes the bird netting, tied in elaborate festoons over the grape vine.   Strung over the raspberries. Fully enclosing the fig tree.

In a total failure of a tepee over the blueberry bush. Even in an attempt at an upside-down-umbrella to catch the feijoas before they reach the ground and the gathering beaks of the pukeko.

They’re mine!

Ripening... tantalising... disappearing!

Ripening… tantalising… disappearing!


Earlier, I’d flung the netting over the weeping mulberry tree. Each year, it’s had a few tantalising fruit. I watch and wait. And they disappear. Perhaps I’ve managed to eat half a dozen in a season.

Mulberries are the taste of childhood. On the old farm we had a monstrous black mulberry tree in the backyard. It had been planted by my great grandfather, and it was huge.

Now, remembering that tree I think I know why I’ve been losing my mulberries. The fruit drop when they’re ripe. We could never have reached the branches of that old mulberry tree. Instead we – and the chooks – scratched around in the dirt and grass beneath, to get our share.

And yes – it was the same when I found an avenue of white mulberries in Italy – the fruit was thick on the ground. I smelt them before I saw them, and was instantly back fifty years and half a world.


So – the mystery of the disappearing mulberries may be simple – and nothing to do with the birds.

This autumn, the mulberry will come out of its pot where the ground is obscured by French sorrel, and into the open garden … and I’ll find another way to net my share!

IMG_9761_1Now, imagine how I felt to head away on holiday just when the grapes were blackening, and our first ever watermelon was soccer-ball size but not ready to pick.

“Share, dear….”

Solution: neighbour Rosalind (bless her yet again) undertook to monitor the informal orchard and distribute its largesse around the neighbourhood.

Then, reconciled to returning to a passionfruit vine that had dropped all its purple pleasures, and a grape-vine reduced to a few late bunches, imagine my joy when we got back to find that time had stopped! The watermelons were still there. Rosalind had diligently tapped them, and determined that they were not ready to pick. She had passionfruit aplenty waiting in a basket. And yes -the grapes were only really truly ripening!

Passion fruit flower - with admirer

Passion fruit flower – with admirer


It has been a wonderfully fruit-ful season.

The passionfruit started producing at the end of January, and only now has dropped its last ripe fruit. But wait – there’s more! Eight large green globes are hanging there from a late flowering. Are there yet enough warm days to come to ripen them?


The absolute last - for this vine, this season

The absolute last – for this vine, this season

Yesterday I picked the last of the grapes, scraping off the drunken drowsy wasps sucking the juice out of the berries that they’d managed to breach. A thrush scolded me: it was probably her who’d discovered how to fly up under the net, and get out again stuffed with sweetness.   But, I was happy to share. There had been enough for her, and friends, and neighbours, and the gardeners, and the recycling man, and, yes, the wasps.

IMG_9750_1 There are still a couple of green figs on the tree – but I’ve uncovered that now. Lesson for next year: make some kind of a cage to put the net over. Birds worked out how to perch on the twigs and press the net onto the fruit. Peckable!   I’d look out and see some figs just about perfectly coloured. Tomorrow’s treat. Tomorrow… well, another lesson in sharing. One for Mani, one for me, and one already half-eaten!

Forced to choose only fruit to eat for the rest of my life, would it be grapes (real grapes, from the vine, not the supermarket), or feijoas, or figs? I wrote about my love for figs way back.

And now – thanks to Helen and a large plastic bag from a friend – I’ve discovered green (as in unripe) figs, and a way to preserve them.

Sikalaki Gliko - green figs in sweet syrup

Sikalaki Gliko – green figs in sweet syrup

The last half watermelon is still in the fridge… we swear we’ve never eaten sweeter.  And now the grapes are gone, it’s the fragrance of the feijoas coming from the bowl.

Mexican Guavas - how can something so small perfume the whole garden?

Mexican Guavas – how can something so small perfume the whole garden?

Ah, fragrance!   The tiny Mexican Guavas – the ones some folk call New Zealand cranberries – are ripe too. They announce their readiness by making the whole garden smell as if someone is cooking jam.

Last year we tried making a liqueur from them. Problem.    Like quinces, the juice is determined to set. We have bottles of gloriously alcoholic jelly – some quince, some guava.

But nothing is ever totally disastrous: think of poached pears and icecream, with guava jelly liqueur shaken from the bottle… that works.    I suppose if I were really organised I could warm and decant it and re-set it in a jelly mould. Or I could just keep shaking the bottle, and call it exercise!


Things turn out the best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.

John Wooden





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Sunrise at Kairakau, the sun blazing a space between sea and cloud.

Sunrise at Kairakau, the sun blazing a space between sea and cloud.

The windows of my soul I throw

Wide open to the sun.”  

John Greenleaf Whittier

Sunrise…Sunset…    So we pace out our days.

Kairakau, sunset walking.

Kairakau, sunset walking.

Each sunrise carries in it that sense of possibility – especially when you’re travelling.

Each sunset carries reflections of things seen, experienced, felt, pondered on…    So here are some sunrises and sunsets from our recent jaunt up the East Coast of the North Island and back down the West.

A hint of autumn - morning mist rising from the river at Ohiwa

A hint of autumn – morning mist rising from the river at Ohiwa



Feierabend is designed for catching the sunrise.

Our bed lies across the back of the bus – which we strategically park pointed to the view. A perspex inner window shuts out the road-dust that could sneak in through the double-doors on the back, but opens up the whole panorama out the back, and the windows either side mean that whichever way we lie we can see out.

As soon as the light goes out at night, the blind across the back goes up – and the night sky is ours.

Eventually, when the sky starts to lighten, the dawn sneaks into our slumbers and nudges us awake. So far, so peaceful.

But, if it looks as if it’s going to be glorious, comes the rude bit of awakening! I clamber over Mani, knees and elbows avoiding sensitive spots, throw on a robe, grab the camera, and am out there, watching the glory unfold.

Following which comes the next joy – crawling back into bed for the “pensioner-sleep”.

If you’ve not yet had the pleasure – here’s how the pensioner sleep goes. You wake at the time you always did, ready to face the day.

Then you think “no! No train to catch. No sitting in traffic. No breakfast meeting. No early appointment.” And you turn over and have the sweetest sleep there is.

Being on holiday, and waking for the sunrise, and then dozing off again is the perfect rehearsal for the pleasures of the pensioner-sleep, if you’re not yet quite of an age.

Ohiwa.  We'd parked by the river-side, in the shelter of old pohutukawas, on a blustery evening. Morning dawned calm through the branches.

Ohiwa. We’d parked by the river-side, in the shelter of old pohutukawas, on a blustery evening. Morning dawned calm through the branches.


Pikowai.  The sandhills in the foreground host rare banded dotterels.

Pikowai. The sandhills in the foreground host rare NZ dotterels.

Pikowai.  The Norfolk pine branches hold the last of the moon

Pikowai. The Norfolk pine branches hold the last of the moon

Comes sunset… the perfect bookend to the day.

We sometimes assume we’re going to get the best sunrises on the east coast, the best sunsets on the west … but some special places, some special days, the light and the topography combine to give us both. Kairakau and Pikowai obliged beautifully.


Sunset is of course best appreciated with drink in hand, and head lifted from the book or chessboard that has had your late-afternoon attention. The reflection of a sunset in a wine-glass is the cameo of perfection.





Kairakau - sunset viewing

Kairakau – sunset viewing

And then… sunrise… sunset…




Anzac Bay by Bowentown. Recently made available for overnight camping by self-contained vehicles... and a gem.

Anzac Bay by Bowentown. Recently made available for overnight camping by self-contained vehicles… and a gem.

Look to this day! For it is life, the very life of life.

For yesterday is but a dream

And tomorrow is only a vision

But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness

And tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day!

Such is the salutation of the dawn.”

Kalidasa, Sanskrit poet


The "Welcome Home" sunset. Home safe and sound before Cyclone Lusi was supposed to hit,   Feierabend unpacked,  and this sunset over our little lake.

The “Welcome Home” sunset. Home safe and sound before Cyclone Lusi was supposed to hit, Feierabend unpacked,
and this sunset over our little lake.


Vreni and Martin Go Fishing


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One of the great things about having visitors from overseas is working out what to do with them!   Of course, I mean that in the nicest possible way…

Thinking about … what’s special?  What is it that we like to do, that they might like too?  What might be the thing that sticks with them?  Sometimes it’s the simplest things: Roman and Margrit still talk about the experience of picking blueberries, then sitting by a stream with a bottle of bubbles and eating them.

We’ve just been enjoying the company of Vreni and Martin. They had a week with us as they camper-vanned south – and then some unexpected later encounters!

So – the big gamble…a fishing trip!   Bob Norman, one of our village friends, had arranged a fishing charter.  An email to Switzerland – would they like to come with us on that?  We’re thinking… this could be way outside land-locked Swiss comfort-zones. Sea-fishing.  Stroppy fish.  Energetic waves. Getting wet, smelly, fish-stained.  Not that we mentioned any of that in the email.

“Yes” came the response.

Ata Rangi, Martinborough

Ata Rangi, Martinborough

We led into it with civilised sight-seeing:  Martinborough vineyards.

Dennis and Helen’s place with its olive grove, truffle-oaks and hazel-nuts for the life-style experience complete with classic roast lamb dinner.

Then – a little more “real New IMG_8838_1Zealand” at Mount Bruce for encounters with some iconic wild-life…takehe, kiwi, and the much-more-willing-to-engage kaka.

We were late for the Tuatara feeding – and delighted that the tuatara’s favourite human gave us a special introduction.  

OK – time for the true “love-it-or-hate-it” Kiwi experience.

A sparrows-fart-start.  The weather wasn’t great – and forecast to get worse, but the boat skipper thought we could get in a half-day’s fishing without too much risk to life or breakfast.

And so it worked out.  There was a good run out to a relatively sheltered spot in the lee of Mana Island, with some judicious re-positioning by the skipper as the morning progressed and the weather shifted.  The fish came to the party.   Snapper, tarakihi, mackerel -  the exhilaration of kahawai, the menace of barracouta.   Vreni and Martin both fished and landed them as if born to it.

TWO kahawai at once for Martin

TWO kahawai at once for Martin

A nice tarakihi for Vreni

A nice tarakihi for Vreni

Extra joy … the birds!  Three mollyhauks were with us for almost the whole morning, awaiting their feed of fish-frames.   A royal albatross maintained a more regal distance.


A couple young shags did very teenage risk-taking, diving to intercept hooked fish on their way to the surface. The undersized fish we threw back had to be fast away or risk a quick recapture and instant swallow.

Of course, this being a fishing charter, the skipper and his mate did the really mucky stuff,  but nonetheless, by the time we disembarked with our share of the catch filleted and bagged we were indeed properly wet, smelly, fish-stained. And they loved it! Whew!

So that evening – the final stage of the proper kiwi fishing trip – the freshest of fish, cooked the simplest of ways, and eaten with the relish of sea-enhanced appetites.




We saw Vreni and Martin off to continue their camper-vanning in the South Island, said “see you in Switzerland in May” and took off ourselves a few days later in Feierbend.   From occasional phone calls we knew they were heading back  up the North Island.  Then we woke up one morning, parked “wild” outside the Morere Springs where we’d stopped for a hot pool the afternoon before, to see them pulling up behind us!  Bubbles for breakfast in their van. More farewells and “see you in Switzerland in May” promises, and on again in our separate ways.


We headed to a friend’s place in Gisborne to overnight.  We told Diane the story: “Oh, you must invite them here too!” So we phoned – and yes – all together again! Diane lent us her car the next morning for some Gisborne tiki-touring… then again we did the farewells, and “Switzerland in May” speeches.

And you know what? If Vreni and Martin are anything like us, finding that a total stranger would invite them to stay and offer Kiwi hospitality so spontaneously and generously, may be the experience that stays with them.  The fishing was great.  Getting up close with birds and seal cubs was special.  But the kindness of strangers… somehow that’s something one never forgets.

The Wharf Café, Gisborne - scene of several celebrations with our Swiss friends. Margrit and Roman, Hans and Inge ... and now, Vreni and Martin.

The Wharf Café, Gisborne – scene of several celebrations with our Swiss friends. Margrit and Roman, Hans and Inge … and now, Vreni and Martin.

Farewell Spit


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Whale skeleton outside one of the Keeper's Cottages - with a signpost that clearly did the whale no good.

Whale skeleton outside one of the Keeper’s Cottages – with a signpost that clearly did the whale no good.

News of more pilot whale strandings has my mind going back to last summer and Farewell Spit.  Such a place of drama and expanse.  Such a deadly attraction for whales.  A Walk a Day  - a newly published book by Peter Janssen – retells the Maori legend of why.  “Kuku (mussels) and pipi fought for supremacy of the sandy beach.  The pipi won, driving the mussels onto the rocks.  The noisy fight drew the attention of Takaako (a shark) and Te Pu (a whale). While the fight held no interest, the victorious pipi with their large tasty tongues were excellent food. Te Pu and Takaako rushed the pipi, which quickly pulled their heads into the sand, and the great sea-creatures ended up stranded with their mouths full of sand.”

Last summer, we finally (but not fatally) answered the long-felt  pull of the Spit.

Farewell Spit Eco-Tour's Maryann

Farewell Spit Eco-Tour’s Maryann

In a holiday of clear blue skies, we booked for a trip on a day when the heavens fell. A hasty postponement had us going out early in the morning of the next day – the tide dictates the tour timetable – and the reward for the 5am wake-up and dark stumble from house-bus Feierabend to tour-bus Maryann was being on the Spit as night changed to day, and rain to shine.

There are places where moody light feels right:  this is one.


Black Oyster-catchers. Tour Guide factoid:  If you see more than two together, the "extras" are chicks. Pairs maintain a strict territorial separation. Their Pied cousins are gregarious.

Black Oyster-catchers. Tour Guide factoid: If you see more than two together, the “extras” are chicks. Pairs maintain a strict 500m territorial separation. Their Pied cousins are more gregarious.

While you can drive out and do a short walk round the base of the Spit, going any further requires serious transport, with a Doc-approved company.

That’s worth it – not just for the access – but also for the commentary.

OK – I’m a self-confessed info-junky.  I hover round tour-guides, I merge into parties with an English-speaking guide and try to look as if I’m a bonafide member of the group, I’m that annoying person who asks a question just when the rest of the group is ready to move on… but…

...and why it's not self-drive territory!

…and why it’s not self-drive territory!

There’s such a joy in hearing someone who really knows their stuff talking about it.   Our guide guy was one such. He knew his geology, his ornithology, his history… and he had that Kiwi-guide dryly humorous delivery that you don’t seem to get anywhere else in the world.

So now we know…
Farewell Spit is, at low tide, the second largest sand-plain in the world (Poland currently holds the record).  But our Spit is aspiring… with what’s calculated as  4 million cubic metres of sand joining the effort each year, and working on stretching across Golden Bay.  They say earlier versions of the sandspit reached right up towards Wanganui, so it has a template!

Aspiring to fill Golden Bay... once again.....

Aspiring to fill Golden Bay… once again…..

Farewell Spit’s Maori name is Onetahua – meaning “heaped up sand”.  Cook perhaps didn’t know that when he renamed it from his own perspective.  The sand starts as rocks in the Alps, emerges on the West Coast, is ground down, carried up by the tides sweeping north-east, and deposited in that great sweeping arc of sand.

The sand-hills are the marching type. Called Barchans, they constantly on the move.

The sand-hills are the marching type. Called Barchans, they are constantly on the move.

Not an easy place to be a tree..

Not an easy place to be a tree..

As nature has it, Farewell Spit is totally sand.  So, an early lighthouse keeper brought in soil by the saddle-bag load to plant sheltering macrocarpas and pines.

These turned out to be, at least by day, as good a marker as the lighthouse itself. There’s been a lighthouse here since 1870, with the current construction standing since 1897.  It needed to be steel; the original in hardwood was worn all-but worn away by wind and sand in under 30 years!



Of course, the birds don’t need such navigation aids: they flock here from the other end of the earth, through their own GPS programming. It’s the ideal destination: remote, full of fine dining, your choice of wild ocean-side or calm bay-side bathing, a declared sanctuary, and strictly limited and controlled numbers of intruders. What more could you ask?  112 species of birds can’t be wrong!

Permanent residents - the South Island's largest land-based gannet colony.  The colony started only in 1987 with 70 pairs of birds - now there may be 3000 colonists.

Permanent residents – the South Island’s largest land-based gannet colony. The colony started only in 1983 with about 70 pairs of birds – now there may be 3000 colonists.

IMG_5757So – out we drove, with the odd seal hardly bothering to stir itself – along the ocean side of the spit to beyond the lighthouse, then back into the shelter of the old trees and the once-were-keepers’ cottages that now act as visitors’ centres for morning tea, then back along the outer spit to be off before the tide came in, and stranded us!

Our bus-load was that great mix of Kiwi visitors and world-travellers:  somehow seeing things in company with other people’s eyes adds perspectives.  There’s also that borrowed pride, that such a place, with such a history, and now, such dedicated care for its continued preservation, is ours.


And then – a reminder that there was a world long before there was anything that was “ours”:  a quick trip out to Cape Farewell.  The dramatic rock at the northern-most point of the South Island is actually a piece of Gondwanaland river-bank. Now THAT puts us into perspective, which is, I suspect, one of the things that travelling is all about.


‘Tis the Season… for the Ukulele!


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IMG_8531OK – that’s it. The last carol is sung. The jingle-bell earrings are back in the box.  The Christmas music is filed away.  Done!

If I was to rate Christmasses on a musical scale… this has been the longest – and loudest – and eventually hoarsest -  yet.

Some gigs we combined with others of Shane's troupes... here setting up at Raumati School Gala.

Some gigs we combined with others of Shane’s troupes… here setting up at Raumati School Gala.

The invitations to our Ukulele group, the Village Strummers came thick and fast as community groups and retirement villages looked for something to entertain their end-of-season parties.

Could we turn anything down?  Not likely – even when it meant four gigs in a week.  They wanted us?  We were up for any chance to strut/strum our stuff.

At the Mega centre.  On Linda's knee is her granddaughter Ella, a regular member of the Troupe. Far left is leader Shane in his best waistcoat.

At the Mega centre. On Linda’s knee is her granddaughter Ella, a regular member of the Troupe. Far left is leader Shane in his best waistcoat.

Up till late November, we were just popping in the odd Christmas number to our “usual” repertoire. Shane, our tutor/leader, was worrying away about the social penalties for premature carolling.  By the end of the season, we were sneaking in some “non-Christmas” numbers for our own sanity.IMG_8486_1

100_0296ed_1_1The final outing was loudest and hoarsest of all.

It’s a Kapiti Village tradition for some singers to pile into the gardeners’ trailers (safely caged in and with the chairs tied on) and carol our way around the Village on a close-to-Christmas evening.

This year, we added some of the ukulele strummers, to complete our group of Waits.

The Challenge:  to sing loudly enough to cut through the closed windows, loud televisions, and turned-off hearing aids – and get people out into the streets.  Our trailer-load had the advantage of our genuine Swiss cow-bell, lustily clanged by Bill, and of Bob’s door-knocking and collection-basket brandishing.

The start of the Cherry Brandy. The good fruit out of the sorters' rejects, a quick crush, and into the barrel.

The start of the Cherry Brandy. The good fruit out of the sorters’ rejects, a quick crush, and into the barrel.

End of the evening – back to the Hall for Bob’s mulled wine, Mani’s cherry brandy (the new batch from the Hastings early-season cherry run), various nibbles, and self-appreciation of our stamina and success.

The Outcome: extreme hoarseness and $560 (plus a ha’penny!) for the Wellington Free Ambulance.

Whoops – a rather sobering thought. I checked out that old term “Waits” for carol singers.   Weird Words   says they were “considered an abominable nuisance by many, who complained about the discordant nocturnal noises that became one of the perils of Christmas.”  A London footman named William Tayler wrote critically of Waits in his diary on 26 December 1837:  These are a set of men that goe about the streets playing musick in the night after people are in bed and a sleepe. Some people are very fond of hearing them, but for my own part, I don’t admire being aroused from a sound sleep by a whole band of musick and perhaps not get to sleep again for an houre or two.

But I’m sure our neighbours would NEVER think that of us!

Two reflections.

1.      All hail the ukulele!   It’s the most fun you can have on four strings.   In our group, we have a handful of people who are experienced and skilful players – and then there’s the rest of us who are experienced and skilful at looking like we know what we’re doing, while getting by on half a dozen chords.   Faking it is fine, when done with conviction and a smile.

Out of the Choir ranks, fancy hats on, and into the fun stuff.

Out of the Choir ranks, fancy hats on, and into the fun stuff.

The thing is… it’s all about making music together, lightheartedly.

When I sing with the choir, I’m thinking about making a beautiful tone, enunciating clearly, staying focused on the conductor and our collective sound.  With the ukulele – who cares, so long as we’re having a good time and giving our audience one too!

In one of the “mad” weeks, we’d done two ukulele gigs earlier in the week, a dress rehearsal for the choral concert followed by another ukulele gig that same night, then the choral concert on the Friday night (with a couple of ukulele numbers in the middle of the concert just for fun).  At supper, I heard myself saying “I don’t think I can face ukulele practice tomorrow morning.”  Of course I turned up – and within minutes the ukulele worked its magic.  Smile back. Energy up. Yeeha!IMG_6315

2.      The reason for the season.    Now that more than 40% of us are saying we have no religion (Census 2013) – what is it about Christmas?  Mumble-decades ago I decided I was a non-believer.  But I’ll sing carols about a mythology I don’t believe in, with gusto.

Well, I think it comes down to that much more ancient philosophy – that of Any Excuse for a Party!   If a date on a calendar gets us together with friends, family, neighbours, strangers, and involves eating and drinking – it’s got to be worthwhile.   So bring on New Year’s!

And Waitangi Day…

And Matariki…

And Diwali….  I wonder what we’d sing for that?


And – to finish the year’s bird theme … Kiwi readers -  you’ve seen the cats that look like David Cunliffe.  How about this gull as a stand-in for Peter Dunne?


Parenting – Bird-style.


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Favourite lookout, above Ron's kowhai

favourite lookout, above Ron’s kowhai

It’s been, it seems, a most fertile year! The second and third crop of fledglings are spreading their wings,  so let me introduce some of our favourite parents.

The Black-Backed Gull (Karoro) 

He is a fixture on our neighbour’s roof, his best vantage point to keep an eye on our kitchen window.

We inherited him from the lady who had our house before us, and for a long time he seemed to be a solo act – an older gent with a gammy leg, who’d found himself a nice spot in the sun for his declining years. Mani fed him bread laced with comfrey tincture to help his knee.

Then – an email from another neighbour to us in Switzerland one spring told of erotic goings-on on the streetlamp.    And yes, when we returned there were two gulls on Ron’s roof, billing and coo-ing (though the love song of the blackbacked gull is more of a plaintive groan).

IMG_4446_1The new lady-friend disappeared, only to return after the necessary time, with a youngster.  And the old boy coughed up, feeding his offspring.

Now they seem to be an established pair. She is more often allowed to stay over on the roof, and the other day he even shared food with her.



No sign yet this season of another young one – but who knows.

The Paradise Shelducks

Fiercely protective parents, these.  The two pair resident on our lake have raised only two ducklings each, thanks to early attrition, and those young birds, fledged and flying now, are still escorted everywhere by their parents.

Parents on guard, youngsters taking cover from the sun

Parents on guard, youngsters taking cover from the sun

A couple of years ago, I  had paused to watch a pair with a big brood of very young ducklings, when a pukeko ran through the huddle, grabbed a duckling, and disappeared into the bushes.  Papa Paradise plunged into the undergrowth, there was much squawking (duck) and screaming (pukeko), and he emerged triumphant, rescued duckling scurrying in front.

Young Paradise in herringbone disguise.  Then they all seem to take male (dark) feathers, and later again some add the female tan and white.

Young Paradise in herringbone disguise. Then they all seem to take male (dark) feathers, and later again some add the female tan and white.

Scruffy and daughter.



Scruffy the blackbird has been queen of the song-bird roost here for four years.

I wrote in October 2010 – “ Scruffy the blackbird is still hopping round the lawn. Scruffy lost a patch of his chest feathers last year when he was just a fledgling, and they never grew back – so we were quite convinced he would not last the winter without his feather muffler… but he has!”

Well – I was wrong on two counts:  “he” was a “she”, and the bare patch is some kind of tumour, but that’s no problem for her.

The other day, a young blackbird had got a bit over-adventurous, and been exploring inside our house.  When we trapped it, gently caught it, and popped it cheeping out the window, guess who was peeping in greeting. Yes, we’d met daughter of Scruffy (or son.. it’s still too early to tell, and I’ve been wrong before…).

The Pukeko.

These handsome characters are often in the role of villains in the village. They’re garden-raiders, midnight screamers, and have been said to rush at little old ladies and scare them silly.    And if they’ll take on a Paradise Duck to steal a duckling, they’re probably the cause of mallard ducklings’ demise as well.

IMG_1999BUT… they’re great parents, and aunties, and kindergarten teachers!  You’ll often see a group of mixed-age pukeko chicks, all out together in the care of one or two older birds.

Feeding is democratic – whoever screams loudest and begs most prettily gets fed, regardless of family ties.

What to do with feet this size...?

What to do with feet this size…?

Teaching includes

  • how to hold food up elegantly to the beak with one oversized foot,
  • how to walk lightly over the top of bushes to gather caterpillars,
  • and, yes, where to beg!
Aha - they're for holding things....

Aha – they’re for holding things….

Monthly, the Manager’s newsletter pleads with villagers not to feed the pukeko.

But there’s a sort of secret society, a guilty association of those who can’t resist the bold and beautiful beggars.

Perhaps we need a special handshake to identify each other, because the subtle interrogation over a glass of wine to discover whether you’re talking with a Pro-Pukeko-er or a tut-tutter can be problematic!

Perhaps a few too many pukeko?

Perhaps a few too many pukeko? A pre-cull coven.

The California Quail

These delightful creatures seem to do communal chick-caring as well.  IMG_4720_1Often there’ll be a male on look-out duty, perched up on a trellis, and perhaps another male on rear-guard.  A couple or more females will be doing out-rider duty. And scurrying along in the middle, the fluff-balls of baby quail.

The quail "call and response" is  "Where ARE you? Where ARE you?" "I'm here. I'm here."

The quail “call and response” is “Where ARE you? Where ARE you?” “I’m here. I’m here.”

There’s pair-devotion, too.

Last year, a pair were startled, and she flew into our patio doors. She was stunned, motionless on the ground.  By the time I did the fleeting calculation that one quail would not be really worth roasting, she had wobbled to her feet, and into the bushes.

The male bird then patrolled, marching up and down the edge of the row of bushes, and shouting warnings to any other bird that ventured close, for a good twenty minutes.  We thought she must have succumbed. But then, a stirring…out she tottered… and off they went. Aaaah.

The Thrush

Warning:  this story started off with a happy ending, but in the time between the first draft and publication, it has turned dark.

We’ve lost the thrushes from the gardens around us in Switzerland. Perhaps they’ve emigrated, because here, they’re everywhere.  Handsome speckles, happy song… and harvesting worms so assiduously that I wonder there can be any left!

A couple of days ago, we were about to drive out of the garage when Mani saw a young thrush under the work-bench. It was still only half-fledged and stumpy-tailed, much too young to be out adventuring.  Mama (or Papa perhaps) was hovering outside the garage door, mouth full of worm, and trying to coax it out. Our intervention only resulted in it going in behind the generator, well out of arms reach.    Solution:  leave the garage door open a bit at the bottom and leave Mama – or Papa – to the job. When we returned, there was not a peep.

But – aaaargh! As I was loading up the photos to this post, I heard a thrush’s wild alarm call, and saw a Black-backed Gull swoop up onto the roof, baby thrush in its beak.  Surely not our Gull or his lady-friend? Surely not the youngster from the garage?  But then again … perhaps…..

Perhaps it's just as well we can't identify these two....

Perhaps it’s just as well we can’t identify these two….


IMG_8461For a couple of seasons now I’ve been mystified by the brilliant gold caps on some starlings’ heads.  Mating plumage, I reasoned.  But the websites I looked at didn’t mention that.

This year we’ve had an incredible flax flowering, and the starlings have been deep-beaking for the nectar.

Illumination!  The golden helmets could be borrowed glory, pollen from the flax.  That could be why some young birds, still in their drab camouflage feathers and far too young to be advertising for a mate, were also flashing crowns.

Armed with that hunch, I searched again, and ended up on Great site, and yes, of course it knows what NZ-resident starlings do!


So – another evening approaches. Mani is in the kitchen, preparing.  And the congregation is gathering on the lawn outside the kitchen window.  Have you ever seen a Black-backed Gull salivate?   They do!

The ruler of the roost  - seeing off the pukeko and chick.

The ruler of the roost – seeing off the pukeko and chick.

Nature – Red in Beak and Claw


The territorial impulse runs deep – especially when you’ve got a family to protect.

Loud was the shouting from the Paradise Shelducks, so we rushed out to see what was up.

The two young are a good size now, fully fledged, and pot-ready (just joking!), but the parent Paradise still escort them everywhere.

So when a rash foreign male had ventured into the little lake, where “our” family of four were in residence, “our” male bird went on the offensive.


By the time I grabbed the camera, the males had each other by the neck, beating at each other with their wings.IMG_8324

The female was hovering, looking to intervene.  (Unusually for birds, she’s the more colourful of the pair, with her white head and auburn plumes.)

She was circling the fighting pair, honking. Encouragement? Or an attempt at mediation?

After they’d been struggling for several minutes, she literally waded in, climbing over their threshing wings.  The young birds were hovering, observing, learning?


Then – one drake had the other motionless in the shallows, standing on it, in the conquering hero pose.

Mani’s mind turned to duck for dinner. It wouldn’t do to waste a gift from nature.


IMG_8328But a sudden flurry and scurry…  the under-duck had only been playing possum, and was off into the bushes faster than I could click.

Our Paradise pair celebrated with much mutual congratulation, cleaning and preening.


And then I wondered…  I was assuming it was our loyal pair, triumphant. But what if it was actually a darker story, and we’d just seen a violent change of partners?

No.  I’m convinced all is well.  They’re back on patrol, watching over their young with the effortless routine of an established parental pair.

Back on duty... heads down and shoulders hunched, to see off the pukekos and their chicks

Back on duty… heads down and shoulders hunched, to see off the pukeko which is appropriately showing the white feather!

And … as I write this … four paradise fly past the window.  The young have their wings.   Poor things, for their days of parental protection are now numbered.  The next chapter in this drama will see them sent packing – and birds don’t take their young back home when the real world gets altogether too hard.

An earlier year's  first take-off.  These young birds would be five-year-olds now.   Somewhere.  If they've not met a man with a gun.....

An earlier year’s first take-off. These young birds would be five-year-olds now.
Somewhere. If they’ve not met a man with a gun…..

Asparagus, Whitebait and Grapefruit – we’re home!


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It’s a Frequently Asked Question as we get to the end of our time in Switzerland: “What are you looking forward to when you get back to New Zealand?”   And my mind leaps the distance and the seasons… asparagus, whitebait, and grapefruit!

Grading at Tendertips. It's a big enterprise in season - about 40 people in the shed, another 40 in the fields... we can't get fresher then this!

Grading at Tendertips in Horowhenua. It’s a big enterprise in season – about 40 people in the shed, another 40 in the fields… we can’t get fresher then this!

Asparagus – that translates easily.  There, as here, Spring means asparagus eating –  though in Europe there’s as much white asparagus on offer as green. To me, the white is the more retiring flavour, still a little earthy. Given the choice I go green, the flavour bursting forth as the stems emerge into the light.

Over there, the restaurant menus are full of asparagus, generally served traditionally, steamed, with hollandaise.

And expensive! I remember ordering a large dish, in my early ignorance  -  and only later realising the menu price was per 100gms.   The after-taste went momentarily bitter – but… it was a beautiful spring day… on a river-side terrace… and it had been delicious … and the first of the season… equanimity and pleasure returned.  However thereafter, asparagus is a domestic dining treat.

So – here’s to Horowhenua asparagus!  Great fat green spears, steamed, sautéed, baked, microwaved.. everywhichway! And here’s to Helen, who passes the farms more often than we do, and always delivers a farm-fresh bag to supplement what we get from the market.

Double-happy. Asparagus AND whitebait

Double-happy. Asparagus AND whitebait

But white-bait … that’s much harder to explain to the land-locked Swiss, many of whom still treat all sea-food with suspicion.

I can’t explain how whitebait run in our veins, and how we’ll pay so much for a taste, when we can’t go to catch it ourselves or have blessed friends and rellies who can and do.  Thank  you Denis and Ali.

I’ve been wondering whether I can claim any ancestral rights to Pop’s possie on the Waitarere River.  It’s not that far away from home here now, if only I could just

simple traditional perfection - whitebait caught and cooked by bro'-In-law Denis.
simple traditional perfection – whitebait caught and cooked by bro’-In-law Denis.

remember just where…..

And then grape-fruit.

Again – almost beyond translation. Not because the fruit is unknown in Switzerland. The bigger supermarkets will have grapefruit in their “special fruit” section, but they’re from Israel, or California, and their taste does nothing to explain the wondrous flavour explosion of a real, ripe New Zealand grapefruit.

Grapefruit to make your heart sing -  as long as you're not on heart pills!

Grapefruit to make your heart sing – as long as you’re not on heart pills!

So, joy! We’d not been back long when we went up to Te Puke, and stayed at Croeso I Hafod, a B & B set in a glorious garden.  A quick exploration before the threatening rain… and a grove of grapefruit, dropping golden globes onto the ground. I asked host and garden-creater Maureen if I could have one for breakfast.   “Yes, and take as many as you want” was her generous response.

"Take as many as you want" said Maureen, wheeling out the barrow.

“Take as many as you want” said Maureen, wheeling out the barrow.

That breakfast grapefruit came with a mint-leaf – the complementary colour matching the complementary flavour.  IMG_8269

So – asparagus- tick. Whitebait – tick. Grapefruit – tick.   We’re home!

And just to be certain we’re really home….. the crayfish clincher.  Should we go out to celebrate my birthday?   Why, when we could have crayfish at home? Case closed. Shell opened. We’re definitely home.


Architectural Time-travel


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Pfahlbauten Open-air Mseum at Unteruhldingen courtesy of Wikipedia Commons - Share-alike

Pfahlbauten Open-air Museum at Unteruhldingen
courtesy of Wikipedia Commons – Share-alike

Just a little more time-travelling through architecture before my thoughts are firmly back in the newness of New Zealand…

And this time – travelling just about as far back as we can go …

The first two reconstructions, built 1922 and still holding up well. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert, by courtesy Wikipedia Commons

The first two reconstructions of Stone Age houses, built 1922 and still holding up well. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert, by courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Once upon a very long time ago, Stone Age people discovered the benefits of building houses on poles in lakes.

It was easy to keep your domestic animals inside the village, and wild animals and other human marauders out.

Thatching and building materials grew in profusion on the lake edges, there was mud a-plenty for weather-proofing, and fishing was just a matter of throwing out a trap, a line or a spear.

You were above the floods, well, most of them anyway, and if you chose your location well, you were on a trading route as well.

A safe spot for goats - for milk, fibre and food.

A safe spot for goats – for milk, fibre and food.

And so it worked, until the end of the Bronze Age when climate change and rising water levels pushed the settlements back into the hills, and their pole villages were inundated and thus preserved by the water that made them uninhabitable. Destruction and preservation in one act.

Bodensee – LakeConstance – was one of those highly desirable water-locations.

Fast-far-forward to the 1920’s at Unteruhldingen on the German side of the lake, and the start of the reconstruction of the Pfahlbauten - the pole-buildings.  Archaeologists,  architects and enthusiastic amateurs have brought together preserved remains of buildings and artefacts from around the region, and reconstructed clusters of Stone-age and Bronze Age buildings, complete with tools, domestic arrangements, food production and preparation implements.

Fast forward again to last month, and Lois and Roger, Margrit and Roman, and Mani and I are there, looking down into the lake-bed at the remnants of the original piles, and walking around the reconstructed Villages.


Summer had done a sudden switch to autumn – much better for prompting thoughts of the bleak reality of much of early life.   But also prompting wonder. From 6000 years ago, in the Neolithic age, people were settling here.  4000 years ago, in the Stone Age, they were building to last.  They were creating comfort and safety through constructing buildings that not only sheltered and protected them, but allowed them to make things of beauty and worth, to decorate their lives and celebrate their spirit.   By the Bronze Age, 3000 years ago, they were trading way beyond the Alps.


Now, in the Information Age, we can again discover their crafts, their arts and their architecture.  At Unteruhldingen,  the open-air museum has created an “Archaeorama” that you walk through before emerging onto the lake. It is new since Mani and I were last there, and an impressive scene-setter with full surround pictures and sound.

Roger and Lois submerged inI surround-experience

Roger and Lois submerged in surround-experience

But what would have the original inhabitants have made of that?  We can look back – and recognise in their houses and tools and life-style our own origins.  And a thousand years from now, our descendants will recognise aspects of our present in their future.  But looking forward, trying to imagine the technologies they will use to interpret our way of life to each other – that is beyond my mind!

Not quite as hardy as our forebears, but moved by their life...

Not quite as hardy as our forebears, but moved by their life…

Ah well – back to New Zealand, where our oldest buildings are but a blink of an eye into the past.   Now…  about those expensive sea-side mansions and the rising sea-levels…..

Sanatorium for the Soul 2: Forum Würth, Rorschach


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Last post, I was musing on the baroque Stiftsbibliothek in St Gallen  – a library that in itself is a work of art.

Fast forward 250 years, to the Forum Würth in Rorschach -  a totally different building… yet one that feels to me to have some of the same magic.

A briefer time-shift…

Last year, we harrumphed each time we drove past what looked like a monolithic concrete industrial building rising on the absolute lake-front at the entrance to the old-character town of Rorschach.

This year I am entranced.   The building is lovely.  The lake-front is opened up as a public space, complete with sculpture garden.

From our customary approach - with the Henry Moore Sundial  in front, and the cycle-way between the building and Bodensee

From our customary approach – with the Henry Moore Sundial in front, and the cycle-way between the building and Bodensee (Lake Constance)

Front entrance, with Moore's "Large Interior Form"

Front entrance, with Moore’s “Large Interior Form”

And inside – art!

Huge public spaces, filled with sculpture and, upstairs, an exhibition of contemporary paintings. Why is it another Sanatorium for the Soul?  I think it’s, again, that wondrous combination of aesthetics and soul-lifting purpose.

As with the Stiftsbibliothek, we have locals to thank for the grace and beauty of the building. The architects are a Zurich firm Gigon/Guyer. They’re a celebrated pairing: think them as the Warren and Mahoney of the area.  Outside, they’ve clothed the concrete in glass – alternating sheets of pale green which are at once translucent and opaque, a light-play that reflects the water on the lake alongside.

The sculpture rotates - it is one of Niki St Phalle's Nana figures, symbolising the world. There are more of her works around the garden.  The tree is wrapped against the winter.

The sculpture rotates – it is one of Niki St Phalle’s Nana figures, symbolising the world. There are more of her works around the garden. The tree is wrapped against the winter.

IMG_7979_1 Inside, the spaces are simple yet dramatic, light-filled and highlighted in Würth corporate red. And so much space for art!

Danish Sculptor Robert Jacobsen's iron sculptures  - such motion and lightness in such an uncompromising material

Danish Sculptor Robert Jacobsen’s iron sculptures – such motion and lightness in such an uncompromising material

Anther Niki St Phalle. Press the large red button on the left, and the "works" start moving.

Anther Niki St Phalle. Press the large red button on the left, and the “works” start moving.

The sculpture gallery of  Jacobsen’s works, the menacing  group Habakuk by Max Ernst in the atrium, and the diametrically different colourful and whimsical works by Niki St Phalle invite you into the ground floor.

Then in the picture gallery on the second level,  you’re face to face with famous names, Chagall, Munch, Picasso, Lichtenstein… And more smaller sculptural forms, Barbara Hepworth among them.

I’ve been twice, with different friends. What was wonderful was the reactions to one of the Picassos – Venus et Amour from 1968. Oh the joy that he still has the power to shock! And to produce such different readings of his intentions. Is Venus a victim of his gaze? Or triumphantly lording it over Amour?  Photos verboten – sorry! But you can look at it here and see what you think.

IMG_7966_1Why does this place feel so like the Abbey Library?

For starters, it’s a working corporate building. There are meeting rooms, offices, conference and training facilities, people going about their business in their work-place – and you’re walking in their corridors.  I imagine the Stiftsbibliothek would once have been like that too.

Reinhold Würth, son of the founder of the company, and the person who took it from the two-man business into a global entity, has a strong philosophy about the place of  art in the workplace, and an equally strong social commitment.

So, across Europe and Scandinavia the company’s corporate buildings house exhibitions drawn from Würth’s Collection, started in the ‘60s, and now numbering more than 15,000 items. Yes, he’s made a heap of money – but  – just as the Church was when the Stiftsbibliothek was created –  he, his wife, and now his daughter, are patrons of the arts – and that’s a fine thing to do with your profits!

Then there’s the comprehensive nature of the collection. In the 8th and 9th Century, St Gallen was one of the leading centres of Europe for learning. The books now in the Stiftsbibliothek, represent probably all of written Western thinking and knowledge of that time, added to for several centuries thereafter.  You can stand there and practically feel the intellectual joy of knowledge becoming accessible, at least to that privileged few.

The exhibition at Würth Rorshach naturally has to be more limited –  it focuses on early modern and contemporary work, with a particular nod to Swiss artists – but within that it’s richly varied, and you have that same exhilaration of exploration and communication of ideas.

Oh – and did I mention that it’s free?  Open seven days a week, staffed with guides and gallery-watchers (not nearly as fear-inducing as those formidable gallery-guards in some places!), and free to  the community.

So – centuries apart – and yet linked by their ability to stir and sooth the soul: two Sanatoria for the Soul.


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