Hedge Fortifications

Our usual route to town has been closed for the past couple of weeks, with the flooding of the Selwyn River. Instead of crossing at Coes Ford, we have to drive upstream and cross at the bridge on Leeston Road. It adds about five minutes to the daily commute, but it gives me an excuse to drive past one of my favourite hedges.

Hedges are important out here on the Canterbury Plains. Winds regularly hit 100 kph (62 mph). If the wind isn’t howling from the northwest bringing hot dry weather, it’s probably gusting from the south, carrying rain.

When we first moved into our house, I wasn’t happy about the tall hedge, no more than five metres from the south western wall, that blocks the view and the evening sun. Luckily, we moved in during winter, or we might have cut down the hedge before we fully understood why it was there. After the first screaming southerly storm, I knew that the only reason the house was habitable in winter was because of the hedge.

Hedges protect buildings, crops, and livestock, and most of them are meticulously maintained. The larger hedges are like fortifications, a dozen metres tall and two metres thick. They’re trimmed with strange-looking machines with huge, terrifying spinning blades.

One of my favourite hedges (the one I get to drive past when Coes Ford is closed) is the one in this picture. It is enormous, both in height and length, but I have never seen this hedge looking shaggy, as mine does when it’s in need of a trim. It is always trimmed like chiselled stone. And the marks of the great rotary trimmer blade leave a swirling pattern in the hedge that I find mesmerising. It is almost a work of art.

There are certainly more artistically trimmed hedges–I’ve seen a few clipped into undulating waves, or including graceful archways–but there’s something about this hedge that evokes stone castles. It is artistic in its clean lines and sheer bulk. It’s a hedge to aspire to.


Hoar Frost

My daughter needed to visit a few native forests today to work on a science project for school. Darn. I hate it when we’re forced to do that. 😉 One of the places we went to was Woolshed Creek. Though it was a sunny day, places in the shade were quite frozen. In some of those places, the frost was spectacular.

We ran across a patch of ferns with 5 mm ice crystals sprouting off the fronds in such profusion that they looked like they’d been snowed on. A truly spectacular display.

The show only lasted as long as the shade did. As soon as the sun hit, the ice melted. The plants returned to their normal, unadorned state, and the tracks turned to mud. More pleasant, perhaps for us, but not nearly so beautiful. As usual, you’ve got to put up with some hardship to experience the best life has to offer.

What are the Odds?

A winter storm dropped nearly an inch of sleet on us overnight. I crunched through the ice in the dark this morning to feed the animals. After emptying sleet out of the chickens’ feed tray and filling it with pellets, I turned and saw, in one of my footprints, a bright green/blue glowing spot.

Bioluminescence. There was no mistaking the colour. I carefully scooped up the bit of glowing sleet and held it in my hand. I could think of no terrestrial source of the glow. There are no glowworms in my vegetable garden, and no bioluminescent fungi. Besides, this was in the ice, not on the ground.

The spot glowed for a moment between my fingers. Then the ice melted, the light went out, and whatever had made the glow dripped to the ground.

I spent an hour online looking for any reference to bioluminescence in snow, and found none. The only explanation I could come up with for my glowing sleet was that a phosphorescent marine creature was picked up in sea spray four kilometres away, frozen, and then deposited in my garden. My stomping foot disturbed it, and it glowed briefly before, most likely, succumbing to a deadly infusion of fresh water.

What are the odds that organism would be picked up from the sea and whisked four kilometres inland? What are the odds it would land in my garden? What are the odds it would have still been alive when I trekked out to feed the animals? What are the odds I would step on that tiny organism and induce it to glow?

Very, very tiny.

I was given a tremendous gift this morning. One of those gifts that reminds me to always keep my eyes open. You really never know what you might see.

Winter Roses

It was -3°C (27°F) yesterday morning, and only 8°C (46°F) in the house when I got up to light the fire. The days are short and often rainy. Nights are long. Towels in the bathroom never dry.

Sometimes it can feel miserable.

But over the weekend, I picked roses.

And I have to remind myself that at the winter solstice in Minnesota, I was hacking parsnips out of the frozen ground with a pickaxe, and months would go by without the temperature rising above freezing. The day my daughter was born, the noontime temperature was -31°C (-23°F). I used to teach snowshoeing. The winter we moved to New Zealand, the ground froze to 3 metres (10 ft) deep–froze people’s septic systems for months. Winter was real and deadly.

By contrast, I have not worn a winter coat since we moved here twelve years ago.

The lawn needs mowing year round.

I grow a winter garden (and the vegetables don’t freeze solid).

I pick roses.

Hard to complain about that.

Spectacular Storm

Just a few minutes before the rain, with the sun still shining.

When I checked the weather forecast last night, it looked promising for hanging out the washing today. Perhaps a bit overly windy, but a dry nor’westerly wind.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the house this morning before it was light, so I wasn’t able to get the laundry on the laundry line. Instead, I hung it on the indoor drying rack, set on the porch.

It was a good thing.

The storm that was forecast to blow in late in the afternoon arrived several hours early.

I had a fabulous view of it from the library where I was working today. The clouds spread out like a spill of hot jam, oozing across the the sky. The leading edge, when it first appeared, was white and smooth, but behind it, the clouds roiled black.

For an hour, I watched the storm ooze toward me. All the while the sun shone bright and warm.

Fifteen minutes before I knew I had to leave to pick up the kids, I decided it was time to make a run for the car. The storm nipped at my heels, and I just had time to get into the car before every autumn leaf on the street was whipped into the air by the first gust of wind.

I drove to the kids’ pick-up spot through a whirlwind of flying leaves and rubbish. By the time their bus pulled up a few minutes later, the car was being lashed by rain and hail.

And the laundry? It wasn’t exactly dry, and some of it had blown off the rack. But I was thankful that darkness had kept me from putting it on the line in the morning.

Beauty Smacks You Upside the Head

Today was an ordinary Monday. The weather was unsettled–clear before dawn, then overcast, drizzly, clearing somewhat late afternoon. Nothing special at all about it.


Except I couldn’t help but notice today the way the sunlight on the Port Hills highlighted every ridge and valley in bas relief.

I couldn’t help but see the lush green growth of the grass that showed off the lingering oranges and russets of autumn leaves.

I couldn’t avoid seeing that the clouds billowed across the sky in purple, peach, glowing white, and five shades of blue.

I couldn’t help but see the brush fires, flickering yellow, their powder blue smoke rising to form a xanthic smudge across the sky.

Like it or not, the absurd beauty of this place smacked me in the face today. I grinned like an idiot and nearly drove off the road.

Of course, I didn’t get any photos of it. It wouldn’t have done the day justice, anyway.

Not bad, for an ordinary Monday.

Public Service Announcement: Dragon Danger

In case you’ve been wondering, my son has created this handy guide to the dangerousness of New Zealand dragons. This should come in handy, if you are ever faced with these creatures on your travels.

Please note that, though some of these dragons pose little or no danger to humans, it is unlawful to harass or disturb native wildlife. And even the gold fairy dragon can deliver a painful bite when provoked. It’s always best to view wildlife from a distance.

Particularly when that wildlife is thirty metres long, can breathe fire, and has a temper.