Cynthia lives and works amidst the beautiful trees and majestic west coast beaches of the Waitakere Ranges. She has come to learn that art and the written word are injected with an energy which speaks to others. She is searching for ways of using both to start conversations which inspire others to protect and sustain our natural world.
The grandfather of ‘the economic man’ was born in Scotland. He wrote about all the monetary contracts that were involved in the making of a meal he was consuming.
He waxed lyrical (as far as an economist is able) on the potter who made his plate; the butcher who brought meat to that plate; the man who forged the tines of his fork, and described the economics of all those exchanges.
Never once did Adam Smith mention his mother.
She cooked the meat, plated his food and set the table, all in order to provide his meal, his nourishment. And all for love, for no return, no exchange.
This weekend I have been sharing a nature writing experience beside six amazing, warm, generous, talented women, and it is in women such as these that I find hope.
We are not just aware of nature we are part of it. We know it, we can read it; it runs through us with every breath. We didn’t have to go outside the door to experience it; it was there every time we looked in each other’s eyes and laughed.
Here is where the answer lies. Raise the voices of women such as ourselves, stop giving credence and precedence to logic, to individual profit, to ‘the economic man’, and talk together as women. We have a power we are only just starting to realise, as the frailties of the practices of before are being so cruelly exposed.
Nature Writing Workshop
Meg grew up in Australia, reading Enid Blyton books, and the love of literature has never left her. Working as a teacher librarian made her wonder how she could have so much fun and actually be paid for the privilege.
My mother. Nature. The words are inextricably mixed. You’ve asked about my earliest memories of engaging with nature and its majestic power. Memories are tumbling and jostling. Violets, peach blossoms, lilacs, roses, weeds!
My mother loved her garden and I grew up watching her planting, weeding and harvesting. She taught me the plant names as she worked. And woven in amongst those gardening forays, she taught me “life”. Where did my resilience and fearlessness come from? Elsie. She brought down huntsman spiders from our bedroom walls. One sweep of the broom and out the window. Gone. No big deal. She demolished the snake with a few hefty blows of the hoe. (Yes, I know. Not so correct in current thinking, but her children’s safety came first, after all.)
We harvested small pieces of coal from the train tracks, we picked wild boronia from the forests and I lovingly took to school a bunch of colourful leaves from the rhus tree. Thanks, mum. My face blew up like a balloon.
Anissa has lived in a war zone and in communes, cities and the wilds, writing through it all. Now she lives in a little house on a hill looking out over the sea in Karekare.
Climbing the chill tunnel of pohutakawa, watching the sunlight fall rash-like on the black sand and leaves reduced to bone, I hear the surf. Muffled, but relentless somewhere ahead, or near, it is hard to track the sound. My eyes squint at the rush of sun as the branches fall away to ghostly clouds. Coming up to the ridge, the track is held by banks of dune, grass and a straggle of fern. The warmth is a wall I walk into, skin reaching to savour the touch of summer I’ve been craving, but then it’s gone. My feet have taken me up, over and into the wind.
My eyes widen. The world drops away, the million things on my to-do list, the washing I forgot to hang up, the weeding of the garden and the deadline looming. It’s all gone. Swept clean by this vast chunk of blue sky, I am taken out to sea, past the loud crunch and crashing and receding of the waves, out to the horizon where it is peaceful.
It’s larger than I remember, this view, this place. Every time I come to lose my self and the incessant chattering and doing of the human world, it is larger. The people like cartoon insects moving ponderously under all this wind, the sky, under the weight of all my lists of things to do that I have unthinkingly thrown on them.
Robyn’s early life was filled with powerful visual experiences of the sea and she finds writing gives her a way to express her life in Auckland as a mother of three, a committed 'Deep Ecologist', sailor and Waka Ama paddler on the Waitemata Harbour.
We must learn to live with the wilderness again.
It is our duty to make the hyper-expansionist system of unlimited growth, redundant. If we were to focus on grounded, small-scale is beautiful, bio-regional schemes, restoring watershed areas that are defined by the presence of rain, soils, trees, plants, fauna and landforms, and where mystical rivers and gentle streams flow together to meet at the coast, with patience, we might just bring it about.
We need to look within ourselves, each and every one of us, and give up those parts of our human nature and culture that no longer serve us or the planet. Who are we really? Composed of water, minerals and salt. Who do we wish to be?
If only we could overcome our fear of each other and our greed, acknowledge that we are visitors here, temporarily part of nature, existing as humans, with animals and other spirit beings here to assist us.
Women are the source, the rhythm and the essence. We are the shepardesses. We can do it, for through our sensitive, life-giving bodies we know how to listen to the ancient wilderness.
Gill is revelling in a phase of gardening and willow weaving after decades of health and social change activism.
I was obsessed with fishing, initially captivated by the thrill of chasing cockabullies in the Waianakarua river where we spent our summer holidays. I would haul them in buckets back to Camp Iona and invariably they would be upside down in the morning.
When I was about eight years old, I met a man who was a trawler fisherman in Oamaru. He collected things he had pulled up from the depths of the sea and preserved them in jars of formalin. He had seahorses and octopi and sea eggs, wondrous strange things in containers at his back door. Best of all he had a shell collection in glass cases with blue velvet for them to rest on. Each one was catalogued and numbered in Indian ink.
He was the father of a friend. I was frightened of him because he drank beer and they lived rather roughly but I was drawn to him too and wanted more than anything to be able to go out on the boat. This never happened but he gradually started giving me specimens to take home and I started my own collection. I made cards and labelled each shell with Indian ink and even had a jar of formalin in the laundry at home with fish floating forever preserved above the washing machine. I studied their Latin zoological names and ransacked my mother’s fabric pile for the same dark blue velvet material. To no avail. She gave me a piece of pale blue corduroy and I used an old wooden box from the Oamaru Peter Pan Bakery to make an approximate replica display.
Later I took to catching eels in the river with a cleverly devised scheme of placing plastic bags filled with stones around large rocks. In the excitement and flurry of lifting the rock and if I was lucky, an eel would end up in the plastic bag and make its way home to the laundry tub.
Diane was born in a small country town in Australia. She came to New Zealand in 1974. Most of her working life has been in Women’s Health which led to living and travelling in Asia and the Pacific. She now lives in Huia, West Auckland. Her two daughters and their families are also Westies.
I am going through a period of great grief. Nature is my key solace. I’ve considered writing about this experience. It could be therapeutic, but somehow it feels disrespectful to the subject of my grief. Thinking about how gardening appeases my mental pain I am hopeful that writing nature will help me through this terrible time.
I visited a dear friend and she told me about this workshop. The idea of attending appealed. It seemed right which is unusual, as currently the idea of meeting new people or extending myself in any way is anathema to me.
So many writers speak of the healing power of nature. Rachel Carson’s words provide hope.
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night and spring after winter.
In his book Soul Mountain, Gao Xinjiang describes the profound experience of being absolutely overwhelmed by the beauty of nature. His writing had such an impact on me I underlined the text so I could easily go back to it. His writing is sparse, unflowery and clear. I would love to have that ability.
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