Hope …

… springs eternal, or so they say. It has been difficult to be hopeful during a Covid-19 Delta lockdown and then another vile terrorist attack in New Zealand on Friday. It is tempting to say, along with die-hard pessimists, that things are bad and getting worse. But on my walk today, I saw this – a pohutukawa tree about to burst into flower – and suddenly I felt hopeful. In New Zealand the red pohutukawa flower is synonymous with summer, sea and sand. So along with the perhaps misguided optimists, I look forward to freedom from lockdown, summer and the season of goodwill to all.

Transcendence

Here in New Zealand we’re in lockdown so I am home all day. I have work to do, which I often do accompanied by RNZ Concert on the radio. This morning the I heard Tchaikovsky’s Andante maestoso from The Nutcracker played by Simon Trpceski. It is an evocative piece that replayed in my head all day. When work was over for the day, I poured a glass of wine and looked up performances of the grand pas de deux online. Watching Misty Copeland and Sterling Baca dance to that uplifting and haunting music made me forget everything – the lockdown, the anxieties it causes, the strangeness of working from home for days on end, the worry about family and friends during a pandemic – and I was reminded of how the sublime blend of the music and dance has the power to transcend ordinary life. (I’ve ‘borrowed’ the image from the New York Times)

Another bend in the river

I resigned from my job this week, having accepted another. Around the middle of March, I will move on yet again. While I am excited about the new opportunity (as a research assistant for a cancer research trust), there are always reservations about leaving what you know and have become used to. And as always, it’s those people you’ve got to know, like and respect who are the hardest to leave. I have few regrets about the work itself, which was routine and repetitive. The thought that I will be stepping off the treadmill of scheduling meetings, organising agendas and catering, taking notes while others drone on endlessly and then writing up coherent minutes is liberating. I am under no illusion that the administrative nature of the new position will be very different, though I hope the significance of the research being undertaken will make being a small part of the team feel worthwhile. I have not had a career and have worked either part-time or in what I call general-dogsbody roles, which could never have paid all the bills. But if you’re supporting others to achieve important gains, you feel some measure of job satisfaction. That is why I’ve always enjoyed the copy editing and proof reading that helps graduate students achieve their higher education goals and go on to what one hopes will be brilliant careers, which improve their lives and our society as a whole. Too idealistic? Perhaps, but one has to keep dreaming that what one finds around the next bend will be fulfilling.

Peace amidst the chaos

Opito Bay (Coromandel, North Island, New Zealand)

Today in Washington DC, armed protestors stormed the Capitol and disrupted the normal business of their democratically elected Congress at the behest of the outgoing President.

There were 7,200 new coronavirus cases in Arizona.

1,041 people died from coronavirus in the UK.

Northern Ireland’s food supply chain was disrupted due to incorrect or absent Brexit-related documentation.

More than 50 pro-democracy figures, who have the best chance of winning legislative council seats in an upcoming election, were arrested in Hong Kong.

Te Waikoropupū Springs

Near the town of Takaka in Golden Bay (South Island of New Zealand) are the Te Waikoropupū Springs. Though we’ve visited Golden Bay before, we hadn’t seen these spectacular pools. They are very close to optically clear water, with visibility to 63 metres, and are surrounded by native bush with prolific bird life. Alerted by his distinctive call, we saw a grey warbler flitting around in foliage right beside the walkway – this is the closest we’ve been to this tiny elusive bird and it was thrilling. It is easy to see why this place has been a taonga (treasure) for Māori since they arrived in the area over 700 years ago. It is also wāhi tapu (held in high cultural and spiritual regard) so there is no contact with the water at all – you just look, listen and marvel.

Cable Bay

On a recent visit to the top of the South Island, we went to Cable Bay for the first time. Though it was the middle of a New Zealand winter, which is often grey and rainy, we were there on a gloriously clear day, as you can see in the photograph. As we edged our way along the narrow road to the bay, we came across a couple persuading a pair of cows into a paddock – apparently the cows were in disgrace because ‘they’d already munched their way through Grandma’s garden’. When we got to the bay and parked on the shingle, we noticed two more people bundled up against the cold wind, sitting on canvas chairs holding fishing rods. Then we put on our jackets, scarves and beanies and braved the elements ourselves, walking up the steep incline to read the information board. The bay was the site of New Zealand’s first overseas cable link – via Australia – and was opened in February 1876. It revolutionised the lives of settlers who could now get a message to their families in Europe in four days, instead of the six weeks it took a letter. The cable station operated till 1917, after which it was moved to the North Island, at Titahi Bay near Wellington. I’ve just checked the track details on the DOC website and noticed an alert – the track is closed for lambing. How much more Kiwi could it be? Cows, fishing, lambs and splendid isolation!

Too good to be true

There is an old saying that if something seems to be too good to be true, it probably is. We recently spent a night in an off-the-grid eco-cottage where there was an outdoor bath. The cottage, which has both gas and solar panels but no electricity supply, has hot water and a hose to run it into the bath. However, we were there in July, which in New Zealand means it’s cold and wet. Getting up to cottage involved driving along muddy farm tracks and up a steep incline, which requires a four-wheel drive vehicle. Once we were in the cottage and had the fire going, there was no way I was going to take a bath in the open air! Fortunately there was a perfectly good indoor shower with a plentiful supply of hot water. It was a lovely experience having our dinner in front of the fire before getting into a comfortable warm bed. Then waking up to the sunrise turning the valley golden – as you see in the photo above. Perhaps we should go back in the summer when the prospect of an outdoor bath while drinking in the glorious view is much more enticing.

Freewheelin’

Bicycles for hire – Penang, Malaysia

We took up cycling during lock-down thanks to the gift of second-hand mountain bicycles by a friend. It was liberating to ride around mostly traffic-free country roads during those restricted weeks and it reminded me of the feeling of freedom a bicycle can bestow. It’s also true that you never forget how to ride a bike – I hadn’t ridden one for at least 40 years but had no problem at all, except for getting the hang of all those gears! We went for a ride this morning after a long break. And it seemed to me that the slogging up hills and the freewheeling down the other side was a metaphor for the ups and downs I’ve experienced recently. New Zealand has all but rid itself of the coronavirus and we’re at level 1, which is normal life but with closed borders. This has been cause for great satisfaction among the five million of us who live on these beautiful islands in the south Pacific. We’ve gone back to work and re-connected with family and friends – so good it feels like freewheeling down the hills on my bicycle, wind whistling past and sun on my face. But I’ve also experienced loss alongside family and friends – Jackie who lost Trevor, Simone and Ollie who lost Rachel, Rosanna who lost Chris and Jo who lost Jonathan. These sad losses have irrevocably changed lives and seem unbearable for those left behind. Lying awake in the long watches of the night thinking about them feels like slogging up an endless hill in the rain. It is almost always the first thing I think about when I wake in the early morning, wishing that sympathy could change anything for any of them.

Autumn calves

We are lucky to live on a farm, which gives us the lovely, wide views that have been a life-saver during lock-down. It also means we can walk out the gate and up the road without seeing anyone else. We do, however, see lots of animals on our meandering around the neighbourhood – cows, chickens, sheep, goats, hawks and the odd bold rabbit. It was a delight to find a paddock filled with cows and their new calves one sunny afternoon. There is something so hopeful about seeing young animals in the autumn.

As much sense as a chook

We live on a farm where there are plenty of free-range chickens, some of which wander into our garden. This is fine with us, especially if they lay us some eggs, which they do from time to time, and stay out of the vege garden. Today one of the hens was out on the road with her four little bundles of fluff. They were feasting off insects, oblivious to the danger from cars and trucks. It seems like a metaphor for those of us who rushed into the supermarkets as soon as the lock-down was announced and bought enough groceries in one day to feed 10 million New Zealanders, oblivious of the official announcements that the supermarkets will remain open and the food supply will be maintained. We need to be smarter than that! We have at least four weeks of lock-down ahead so we’ll need to pace ourselves and use our common sense. I’m happy to report that the hen and her chicks survived (by wandering back into the paddock beside our house) and so will we. Stay home and stay safe