Volcanoes in the Mist

Our pre-Christmas family adventure this year took the form of a week on the North Island. One of the many things we did was to hike the Tongariro Crossing. The track climbs the slopes of Mt. Tongariro passes between Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhoe. The volcanoes are active–the last eruption was in 1975, and they have a history of erupting about every nine years before that–so the landscape near the top is stark and raw, with sulphurous steam rising from fissures and craters, tumbled rock, and dark lava flows.

The area is tapu, sacred, to the local Māori, and it’s no surprise. Power and violence are written on the landscape, the lush lower slopes of the mountain only accentuating the devastation near the top. The awesome forces that shape the face of the planet are on display there. It is a place for gods to live.

Unfortunately, it has also become an incredibly popular tourist destination. The day we hiked it, there was a constant stream of shuttle buses arriving at the start of the track. We spent the day hiking on others’ heels, with hikers on our own heels. When we stopped for lunch, we counted sixty-eight people pass us in just 15 minutes. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation, and we estimated that there were 1600 people on the track at the time.

It seemed to me that most of the people were treating the excursion as nothing but a physical challenge–a race to be completed or 19.4 km to tick off their to-do list. A large group of twenty-somethings all but pushed us off the track in their effort to pass us as they chatted loudly to one another, oblivious to the beauty around them. A group of teens playing loud music sauntered past. A man sat beside a crater lake doing a business deal on his cell phone.

I wanted to stop, to soak in the alien landscape, to feel the immense power of lava beneath my feet, to examine the crusted sulphur on the rocks and the tenacious plant life that colonised the harsh landscape. But like sheep being herded onto a truck, we were pushed along the narrow track by the people behind us. Fifteen seconds, thirty seconds was all we could snatch at a time to appreciate the landscape.

Like our favourite beach, the Tongariro Crossing has been diminished by its popularity. The gods are still there, in the steam and the lava, the raw craters blasted in the earth, but no one is paying attention.

A-Z of Thankfulness–#3

Here’s the final instalment, posted on Christmas day, I hope you all find much to be thankful for today and every day.

Sunshine—The counterpoint to rain, and just as necessary for the garden. It’s also critical for my mental health, and I try to make the most of our sunny days.

Teeth—Where would we be without them? I wish I had appreciated them earlier in life and taken better care of them when I was a teen.

Ukuleles—Who can resist smiling while listening to ukulele music?

Vision—Not just my eyesight, though I appreciate that a great deal, but also the ability to look ahead at what could be. I’ve relied on vision the past twelve years, building a business, and then closing it to become a writer. Many days, that vision has been the only thing getting me out of bed in the morning.

Water—I have not truly experienced a lack of water—not as many people in the world have—but after losing our well in the 2010 earthquake, and experiencing a few years of drought, I have an appreciation for the ease with which I obtain water. I am thankful to have access to clean, safe water.

Xenophilia—The love of the unknown. I love the fact we humans don’t understand everything. I love the fact that in my backyard, there may be insects that have yet to be described by science. I love the fact there are discoveries to be made every day. I love that our world is populated by weird and wonderful life.

Yellow admirals—These butterflies, and all the native insects and spiders in my yard are a source of great pleasure to me. They help me tolerate the weeds, because they rely upon many of them for food and shelter.

Zucchini—How many ways can you eat zucchini? I don’t know, but I love them all. I always plant too many zucchini, and I end up wondering what on earth I’m going to do with them, but they are a wonderful summer staple in our kitchen.

A-Z of Thankfulness–#2

Jumper cables—They bring out the best in everyone. How many times have I stood by my car, cables in hand, and had strangers happy to help? How many times have I had the pleasure of pulling out my cables to help someone else? Wonderful things, those jumper cables.

Knitting needles—My nemesis. I hate them, and I have conquered them. How rewarding is that?

L2—The collective term I use for my children, both of whom have names beginning with L. They have grown into fine young people who I am proud to own up to. I take no responsibility for that—they’ve always been the best kids ever.

Mountains—They make New Zealand what it is. Every time I look west to see their changing faces, I smile.

Nettles—Okay, I’m weird, but nettles growing lush in the garden over winter tell me my soil is rich and fertile. They harbour the caterpillars of beautiful butterflies, and they remind me that things can be useful and irritating at the same time.

Ocean—A critical part of the Earth’s life support system, a source of food, moderator of our weather, a wild and mysterious frontier…and a wonderful place to play on a hot summer day.

Peas, Pumpkins, and Potatoes—Of all the vegetables I grow, these are perhaps the most important. Productive, tasty, and easy to store, they are year-round ingredients in our dinners.

Quiet—There is beauty in silence. I appreciate that every morning when I head out to tend to the animals at 5.30. It’s such a peaceful silent time of day, that even when I don’t really have to get up that early, I’m eager to do so.

Rain—We never get enough of it here, and I’m always thankful when it arrives to water my thirsty garden.

A-Z of Thankfulness–#1

I saw another blogger doing this a few weeks ago and liked the idea. I thought it would be a good set of posts for the holiday season.

Here’s the first instalment—A to I.

Apples—It seems a silly thing to be thankful for, but I eat at least one apple a day. They are my go-to snack. Having lived in the tropics for two years, where apples don’t grow, I am thankful to live in a place where excellent apples are produced and available year-round.

Bees—I’d have no garden if it weren’t for the bees pollinating all my fruit and vegetables. I try to show my thanks by planting flowers they like and managing the garden to maximise nectar throughout the year.

Cat—He’s a real pain in the rear a lot of the time, waking me at four in the morning, getting fur on everything, using furniture as scratching posts. But I appreciate his hunting abilities. This spring was looking bad for rabbits—they seemed to be everywhere, and I was worried they’d cause havoc in the garden and paddocks—but the cat seems to have a particular fondness for rabbit. He seems to have dealt handily with the rabbit problem, saving me a great deal of trouble.

Desk—A space of my own to work. I appreciate this most when I have to spend a few days working in the library, elbow to elbow with strangers, and without my reference books, my porch, and my view.

Earthquakes—I know, it’s a weird thing to be thankful for, but the devastating 2010/2011 earthquakes set into motion a series of events that led to my kids being enrolled in an incredibly supportive school, and to a friendship I value a great deal.

Friends and Family are the obvious answers here, and for the obvious reasons.

Gardening—I am thankful to be able to produce most of our food for the year. I get great pleasure out of gardening, watching the plants grow, and eating the excellent produce I’m able to grow.

Home—Not just a house, but a home. A community in which I feel comfortable. A place I feel I belong. I am blessed to have been welcomed so warmly into this country and this community.

Ian—My best friend, who has stuck by me for over 25 years and is father to my children. If I had nothing but him, it would be enough.

Kitchen Fumble

I had collected the day’s eggs and was putting them away when one leapt from my hand in a doomed bid for freedom.

My daughter watched it happen. We looked at one another and giggled.

We’re accustomed to kitchen disasters at our house. We spend so much time cooking, preserving, and processing vegetables, we’re bound to make messes.

There have been truely memorable ones…

There was the day I baked a quiche for dinner. When it was done, I pulled out the oven rack the quiche was on, and the quiche slid off the rack and flew out of the oven and onto the floor, pie and broken glass everywhere, and dinner ruined.

There was the time a bag full of several kilos of popcorn tipped over, sending thousands of little corn kernels bouncing and rolling across the kitchen floor.

Probably the most spectacular was a brewing mishap. My husband started a batch of beer, tucked the brewing bucket into a corner of the dining room and, and then went away for a week to a conference.

Two days later, I noticed the lid of the bucket was bulging. I knew it shouldn’t be doing that. I stepped over to the bucket and leaned down to see what was wrong.

With a boom, the bucket exploded into my face. Pressurised beer sprayed across the entire room, the ceiling, and me.

I stood gaping and dripping for a moment before bursting out laughing. What else could I do? It took ages to clean up the mess. By the end, I was grumbling more than laughing. Turns out the airlock had gotten clogged. I rigged up a makeshift airlock that could handle the very active fermentation. My husband came home eventually. The beer was none the worse for the excitement.

So the egg taking a dive onto the floor was nothing, really. It could have been a whole lot worse.

Garden Shift

From one day to the next it happened.

The garden went from newly planted to bursting and full.

It will get much more crowded before summer is over—I usually lose most of my paths by mid-February—but it has lost the widely-spaced springtime look.

It is always such a surprise and a pleasure when it takes on the summer look. It’s like the moment when you look at your teenager and you can see the adult s/he is becoming. It’s a phase shift, and though it comes on gradually, there is a magical moment when you suddenly see it.

I walked through the garden today for no reason, just for the pleasure of walking among those wonderful, full rows of plants.

Double Cherry Pie

I picked eight cups of cherries from our tiny sour cherry tree the other day. I was thrilled I’d gotten enough for two pies from a tree not much taller than me! I decided to make them all up into pie filling—I’d make one pie right away, and freeze half for later.

But when it came to filling the pie dough, I poured all eight cups in! Yikes! There was no way to take it back out, and I knew it was going to boil over and be a disaster in the oven.

I shrugged—nothing to do but see what happened—and slipped the pie into the oven (with a tray beneath it to catch drips.

An hour later, I pulled the most glorious pie out of the oven…

It had dripped a little, but no more than every other cherry pie I’d ever made.

And it looked plump and delicious. Each slice was thick and wonderfully overloaded with fruit. Truely decadent!

I’m not sure I’d recommend making a pie with eight cups of cherries—it really could end up a disaster in the oven—but it certainly was a delicious mistake.

Advent List

It’s the silly season, with end-of-the-school-year stuff piling up with Christmas, summer vacation, and garden stuff.

Once again, lists take centre stage for me. The general to-do list gave way to a ‘before Christmas’ to-do list. That list has now been refined into a day-by-day list, a sort of sadistic Advent calendar counting the days to Christmas.

I’m afraid ‘write blog’ didn’t make it onto today’s list. It was bumped off when I failed to complete ‘pick and process peas’ on yesterday’s list, due to the unexpectedly large harvest.

So, I’m off to blanch and freeze peas. Hope you’ve all had a lovely day and completed everything on you to-do list. Just two more weeks, and we’ll get a day off!