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.
Gretel (46) writes to share parts of her life story with her family. She is in the process of returning to live in her childhood home, to be with her parents and wider family, to be closer to nature and to develop her new writing practice, in the months, hopefully years ahead.
Looking down on the hospital bed I saw my mother and father crying. I was emerging from a place I’d never been before, a big round and alluring sphere that had a warm, peaceful glow. I could feel the relief, freedom, lack of pain, the option to be carried away in this warm light. I knew I couldn’t let life go just yet. The timing felt out of sync with the order of things. And I felt drawn back to my family, whatever the consequences were going to be. I remember this feeling of floating above my parents, before choosing to drop back into my fifteen-year-old body, reclaiming all parts, including the numb.
As I was coming to, I overheard a conversation between my neurosurgeon Mr MacDonald and my parents. He was explaining to Mum and Dad it was unlikely that I would walk again. I had been so close to mortality’s front door, to the very edge and back again.
In the process of ongoing recovery many aspects of human resilience revealed themselves to me; within me, those around me, including my whanau and medical team. I’ve spent much of my time since, building these stores of resilience and endeavouring to help others build theirs also, on personal and community levels. It is this reservoir of collective human experience and ongoing strengthening practices that I find myself drawing on now, as the tumour cracks through my bones like an icebreaker. It helps me accept that thirty years on from this pivotal experience, I have what I need within and am now ready for my life to end several decades sooner than a ‘normal’ life expectancy, and probably before my parents. This enables me to move towards where I hope to be when I die; in my childhood home, with whanau and nature around me — trees, birds, bush, animals, the garden — life carrying on as I float away, this time for good, from the same bed my Grannie died in, with so much dignity, grace, strength and love, forty years ago.
Cathy lives in Auckland surrounded by whanau. She is a lifelong reader and loves to write, play with her mokopuna and hear the stories of other people.
I well remember the wide open space of my grandparents’ front hall and the smell of spiced apple wafting in from the kitchen. I can still feel the joy of a visit ‘all by myself’, where I had the luxury of time with my gentle grandfather. Grandpa and I would wander hand in hand to the little stream running near the house to play ‘pooh sticks’. We would then return via the large shed in the backyard where walnuts from their tree were stacked in hessian bags.
As time went by, I became more aware of my grandparents' shared history going all the way back to the little township of the farming community of Keith in South Australia. They both came from large families of people who settled and struggled on the land. Grandma was a very efficient, loving but at times hard woman with an acerbic energy, who didn’t always find it easy living with the slower paced kindly Fred. He was a second choice for Gladys after her first love was killed on ‘Flanders fields’. Somehow her discontent showed itself to us all and I know I thought of Grandpa with a warm protective kind of love.
He grew up the youngest of six children in Streaky Bay, the most south western corner of South Australia and it was a poor hard existence. His sadness at the death of his beloved, favourite sister Maud, at the tender age of eighteen from appendicitis, lived with him until his death at 98. They had been too far from medical help.
Later he went to Jerusalem as an ambulance bearer and the experience stayed with him, leading to an emotional breakdown in his early forties. Much later when my husband and I took him to see the movie Gallipoli, he sat with tears rolling down his cheeks. “It was just like that,” he said. “They took the best of us.”
I have come to the end of my long working life and have found myself facing boxes of letters and photos that have been hidden behind chairs and under beds for a long time, all passed down to me. It is now time to get them out for examination. If I can write a few stories that will highlight my past adventures and reflect on my discoveries of what I have learnt, that will be of some comfort to me.
My mother, Kathleen, Kay, Kitty, daughter, sister, wife and a mother to me, her last child, a
girl after birthing four boys. She was not a traditional beauty, her face was open and sweet, soft blond hair and blue eyes. When I think of her, I always see her dressed well — straight skirts, blouses with a little embroidery collar, warm pretty cardigans, stockings and heels. She was a great outdoors woman too, loved gardening and camping.
In her youth she was popular and loved to dance and had many boyfriends. She met my father Selwyn through her brother John, they were both doing medicine in Otago, Mum always said she had made a good “catch”, he had “brains”!
After my Father died in 1956, she packed up the tent on to the top of the Worsley car and drove us down to the South Island to my eldest brother ‘s wedding in Christchurch before Christmas. On the way Mum picked up the twins from boarding school, at the end of carol service and we continued on to Hamilton for the night.
The next day, it was a long drive to Wellington to board the inter-island ferry to Lyttelton. The car with its fully loaded roof-rack was driven on to a platform and lifted by crane onto the ship’s deck for the overnight journey. After the wedding we drove down to Dunedin where we stayed a few days, then wound our way through central Otago, visiting the newly completed Roxburgh dam, from Alexandra to Queenstown, where we camped in the pouring rain.
The thrill of going through the Homer tunnel with water dripping from the unsealed roof, it was so primitive, drilled through rock, rough and raw and very wet. Mum had the windscreen wipers on. Would we get through to the other side? A trip on a boat on Milford Sound seeing the thundering falls up close and spraying our faces. I was seven years old, from Remuera in the tropical north and I’d never seen anything like it. It was magic.
The journey continued, on to Wanaka climbing over the Crown Range on a metal road, the car swinging side to side, zigzagging the Lindis Pass into the Mackenzie country. We visited the Hermitage and viewed Mt Cook in the distance, stopped at Lake Tekapo to look at the lake, through the window of the church. My mother handled the big car with its weighted roof-rack extremely confidently driving all the way to Arthurs Pass and the West coast — not through the Haast Pass, as that road wasn’t completed until 1960 — to Franz Joseph, Fox Glacier and back up to Greymouth and further north again, visiting the pancake rocks, at Punakaiki and the Buller gorge all the way to Murchison. There we turned back and drove to Christchurch to catch the ferry to Wellington to make our way Home, the boot heavy with rocks from the South Island rivers.
Although we had lost our dear father and were a family grieving, my mother turned her life around and became a renewed pioneering woman. She inspired us all with her strength.
Helen loves to travel which seems to be an inherited trait. She met her husband in Montreal, brought him and their children to NZ and now their family are scattered around the world. She would love to write traveller’s tales starting with her own family history.
When I expressed interest in our family genealogy my brother John took me to an ancient family chapel in the English countryside west of London. In the middle of the chapel was a large stone sarcophagus. Carved into the stone was the figure of a knight, Sir John Wayte (our paternal grandmother’s surname) and his wife Margaret. The date was 1397. How did his descendants end up in New Zealand?
Five hundred years later my great grandfather Alline Wayte (a second son) was sent by his family to New Zealand to buy land. After acquiring a block of land in the South Island he returned to England to marry his betrothed, Helen Nossiter. His diary of 1890 describes a long difficult sea voyage with his new bride and her lady’s maid. They landed in Dunedin and drove by horse and cart inland to his property at Otamita.
John’s young wife arrived at her new home with her trousseau containing gowns, linens, kitchen utensils, dinnerset and books. Imagine her shock, coming from the manor house in England to the house that he had built: a one room wooden shack with raupo roof and dirt floor.
But imagine what her lady’s maid was thinking.
“I have to look after m’lady in this?”
I asked my grandmother “What happened to the lady’s maid?”
Grandma replied “Coming to New Zealand was the best thing for her. She married a local farmer who bought three failed farms from the wealthy second sons who had been sent out from England to become land owners. This wild country was not like England. No place for gentlemen farmers, many gave up and returned home. The lady’s maid became a wealthy land owner.”
Grandma smiled, “This could never have happened back in the old country.”
Please submit your story via the Contact page and it will receive a gentle edit from Deborah.