Dear Rattlesnake

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This week I am experimenting with the epistolary form. I intend to write a letter a day and post it here.
Monday

Dear Rattlesnake,
You are not the first rattlesnake I’ve met. A few of your kind held me hostage one summer in my home in big Sur. One gave birth, live birth – I’m impressed, right outside my door. That mother took to the shade of the barn door a few steps from my front door, and when I tried to leave she came out and hissed. Funny how your hiss sounds just like a spray of water escaping from a hose. I waited inside the house, hoping she would leave but she was joined by 2 other snakes. They formed a triangle in front of my door, a warning triangle, almost as stern a warning as the characteristic shape of your head. “Get a bucket of ice water and throw it on top of the snakes,” one friend said. “They don’t like cold water. They’ll curl up and you’ll be safe and then you can leave,” he said. But I would still have had to come back, and who knows how many more would have joined the reptile army? So I stayed inside instead and read a book.

The Rattlesnake in my garden.

The Rattlesnake in my garden.

Get a burlap sack, make it damp, and throw it in your direction, the man from vector control suggested last month, when I asked him how to usher you along your way. “And what good will that do?” I asked my expert. I’m told the dark, warm, sun-steamed sack would have seduced you into leaving your natural habitat beneath the brush, or even have tempted you out of the burrow you followed the no-longer-gopher into a few Fridays ago. “And then?” I asked the expert, who later mailed me photos of your kind, who knows why, and first-aid instructions in case you might bite. Thank you, by the way, for not retaliating when I accidentally dropped those daisy heads right on top of your head. My intention was to dead-head the flowers in my garden, not you. Not then at least.

“When he crawls into the sack, pick it up and take the rattler away.” The snake man said. “Where to?” I asked.” I don’t know. Just somewhere else.” He said. “Like my neighbor’s garden?” I jest. And so, not willing to trap and remove you in a sack, or even grab a spade – the wise man’s next suggestion, and chop off your head, you are still with us, a guest among my flowers.

When I startled you with daisies you raised your head, and your little tongue danced in and out testing the air for prey or danger. I backed away. Slowly. I went to fetch my camera. When you curled up and settled down again, camouflaged in the wood chips, I looked for you and snapped a shot and posted you on Facebook. Some people “liked” you. I saw your cushiony imprint under the lavender just now. At night I spray my sheets with lavender scent and snuggle down, a little like you, and I long for the peace of undisturbed sleep.

You were not what I expected, when I left my home in London and moved to California. Snakes like you do not slither-slide side after side along the underground tracks among the rats. I was not prepared for your diamond back, the risk of your venom. We had talked of earthquakes, my American fiancé and I. We had planned for shaking buildings, gathered emergency supplies of food and water. We planned for sun and warmth, even temperatures topping one hundred. We planned for fire and flood. We did not buy a snake kit. I did not expect to have to worry more than most about the risk of an attack from your kind. I did not know before I got here what poison already existed in my body. I do not get the warning rush of adrenaline a sighting of you should cause. I did not expect to have a kidney and an adrenal gland removed. I did not expect that tumor.

Evening garden

Evening garden

I travel cautiously in my garden now, even announce my presence. I stamp my feet, call out “snake, I’m coming.” My intention is not to surprise you, but to give us both fair warning. We need to share this place, this space. We need to share the beauty.
When you are sleeping tucked beneath the daisies, I watch you from a distance. I look for the beauty in the skin you shed, in your reinvention-resurrection. Like you I feel the warmth of summer sun, and when I’ve had enough of scorching skin, I too search for the shade, a place where I can hide, a place where I can shed a skin, can camouflage, where I too can adjust and change.

Light and Shadows

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My husband, Ken, and I spent last Christmas in Wales with our daughter and my best friend and her family. We loved every minute of our time with our “chosen family.”

Two days after Christmas Ken and I set off on our drive back to London. Ken was to head home and I was to stay on for another four weeks in the U.K with my daughter and some dear friends. We decided to take a few days and play tourist, stopping at Bath for a couple of nights, and at random villages throughout the Cotswolds. That’s when we discovered “the village of light and shadows.” Of course that is not the name of the village. It would not be fair of me to name it. Suffice to say the village was beautiful. It was a picture postcard English scene. I would discover the small shop/café/post office the next day, the only “industry” to grace this village since the closure of the silk mills in the 1800s. The recorded history of this gorgeous place goes back to at least AD 855, when the village was granted a monastery. The Doomsday Book records much of the early history.

We arrived at our hotel just as the sun was setting. A golden light warmed the yellow Cotswold stone. Terraced houses lined the steep and hilly streets like sentries on duty. Long shadows sheltered doorways. Detached cottages and farm houses occupied fields a stone’s throw away. The meadows heaved rich blue-green grass, and the water caressed the stones in the brook. The only sounds to break the silence were the babbled conversations of the brook, and the last evensong of the birds nesting back down in the trees. Image

Ken was careful not to knock his head against the low exposed black-stained wooden beams in the doorways of the string of 17th century cottages that together made up our hotel. Snuggled up on the sofa in front of the inglenook fireplace, waiting to be called for dinner. I fed the fire periodically, throwing on splintering dry aged logs, warming myself to the bones during this, the harshest winter in the UK in 30 years. Flipping through the stack of magazines on the antique mahogany coffee table, I stumbled upon the Parish Magazine. That’s when I began to contemplate bullying, a subject that would cause me to look deeply into my own life over the months to come.

The Magazine was filled with reports. Some told of the financial health of the village church, and the other small churches in surrounding hamlets that combined to form this parish. Other reports told of social activities. I read about the tree lighting ceremony just before Christmas. The Christmas tree was beautiful. I could see it from the window on the hallway in front of my bedroom door. It was unusual in that it sat atop the church spire and was dressed entirely in bright blue lights, lights that shone an eerie beam over the graveyard behind the church. I read about the Women’s Institute, the WI, an institution worn deep into British life, and made famous by the film, Calendar Girls, all over the world. It was heart-warming to see how many charitable activities the community engaged in. There were food drives for the hungry, collections for Cancer research, and the usual requests for used clothes and coats for winter warmth.

Admiring this tiny community I moved on to read the village school report. I don’t remember much about it, only the part about parental attendance at the annual parent-teacher evening. This is the opportunity for parents to meet with their children’s teachers to discuss the progress and needs of each individual child. It is an evening some children look forward to. An evening when paintings and projects are on display, and assignments with their letter grades are laid open on each child’s desk. This is a time when the truth is told, and some children dread their parents returning home with the inevitable chastisement, questioning and the occasional accusations of laziness.

Memories stirred in me of my childhood, and how I could never be quite good enough for my parents. I can still hear my mother’s voice: Belinda, why can’t you be like Sarah? Or any other number of children about whom my mother had overheard the teacher regale their achievements to adoring parents. I was a “daydreamer.” I was a creative child with a wild, seemingly untamable imagination. Creative children who did not conform to the workbook and rote style learning of the 1960’s did not win many gold stars to be pasted on the classroom achievement chart. Image

A statement in this annual report brought me to a pause in my reading. It read something like this: Parent-teacher evening was a great success last month. We had the best turn out ever. All but one set of parents attended.

My heart went out to the one set of parents. Shame? Guilt? What was the intention of this statement? Who knows why these parents didn’t attend? I could imagine the gossiping adults overheard by children as they read this and hazarded guesses at just who, exactly, the absentees were. I could imagine the playground conversations as some of the more precocious kids would inevitably relish in the fact, that it wasn’t their parents who dared to miss parent-teacher evening. I could imagine the anger felt by the child or children of the missing parents. The embarrassment. Surely there was another way to let the readership know just how successful the school event had been. How about “we were delighted at the best turnout ever for our annual parent-teacher evening.” How about leaving it at that? Was it really necessary to spell out the specifics of the turnout? I think not. I truly felt that to have thrown one set of parents into the spotlight of non-attendance was an act of bullying.

Childhood is a time during which bullying has its roots. Most schools these days, have anti-bullying policies. Educators are aware that at some point in a child’s development he/she desires to be in control of another child. Children jostle for position. It’s about hierarchy. Someone ranks higher than the child – a parent, teacher, or sibling. A child feels the need to assert him/herself, and being in control of another child, asserting ones will over another, is often the means to express this. Children experiment with power. We see it in the games they play. It is as clear as day in peer leadership, such as classroom/school, captain and prefect systems. Reading the statement in the school report made me feel that the people who should be guarding against the act of bullying were actively engaging in the practice. In my opinion, teachers and head teachers should be leading the way by example. I didn’t get the sense that the author of this school report had any interest in understanding why the family in question had not attended. Set against the background of a report that boasted the achievements of school, children and parents, this highlighting of one set of parents seemed cruel to me. I can only hope that this family were either unaware of this depiction of their actions, or knew how to deal with the fallout.

At some point in our lives, most of us are the victims of bullying, be it as children or as adults. We are also often the perpetrators. If we are honest with ourselves we can surely find instances when we were the bullies. No matter how significant or insignificant the act, we were there. I look back on my school days, and I will admit to have been to some degree at some time, a bully. In my situation it was in my role as a class leader. I feel sorry for the pain I might have caused.

Some children are able to articulate their experiences of bullying and seek help. Others are not.

I attended a reading by a famous author a few years ago. The book he read from was about his childhood growing up on an Indian Reservation. He talked about his experiences being bullied. When it came to question time from the audience, a twelve-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome stood up. He told the audience about his experience with Asperger’s Syndrome, and about how he was being bullied at school.  He asked the author for advice on how to handle being bullied. You can probably imagine there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. The author left the podium and went to the boy. He turned his back on the audience as if trying to find a private space, and sat down on some steps with the child. His advice to the boy in summary, was to find a friend, or make a friend of an adult he trusted. The author suggested making friends with a teacher, telling the teacher he needed a friend, and he encouraged the little boy to tell the teacher about the bullying. He suggested he ask the teacher for advice on how to cope with his situation. It was sensible advice delivered in a caring and sensitive way. Looking back on it, I wish that the teachers in the village school last Christmas could have heard this little boy talk about bullying. I wished the author of the magazine article understood the subtleties of bullying and his/her participation in the act.

It is not only in childhood that we can experience bullying. Some of you reading this will identify with your own adult experiences of being bullied. Bullying takes so many forms. We see it in situations of many kinds of discrimination. We experience it at work, and many people experience bullying at home, in their private lives, in the most intimate of relationships.

If you are being bullied, consider carefully what you can do about it. The advice from the author I mentioned earlier can be applied to your situation. You might substitute friend, trusted family member, or therapist, if you are lucky enough to have one, instead of teacher. Find someone and talk about it. Strategize on how to manage your bully.

I can add a little advice to that of our famous author.

I have a bully. When I say “have” I mean that she exists, and attempts to assert her cruelty on me. However, while my bully exists she cannot touch me anymore. I have developed strategies to eliminate the pain she tries to inflict on me.

In my case my bully is a family member. Those of you who have been reading excerpts from the book I’m writing about my relationship with my mother, will have come across my bully already. For those of you who have not, I can tell you that this woman has worked systematically to wreck my relationship with my mother. She has succeeded. My mother, as many of you know, had a serious stroke in 2011. I looked after her in Ireland for six months. During that time I did not see my daughter, and I only saw my husband for six days.

Strategy number one – use humor as a way to reduce your bully’s power. With that in mind, I chose to substitute a new name for the real name of my bully. I call her “Root,” as in root of all evil.

Strategy number two – examine your bully. Look at her life as closely as you can. Ask yourself where her need to bully comes from. Once you understand that, you can begin to get a sense of perspective on her, and how to manage her. For example, my bully had an insecure childhood. She came from a very large family where she jostled for place. In her mind she probably had to compete for her mother’s love, and knowing as much as I do about her childhood, this was probably true. Going beyond her childhood, I can tell you that Root married young. Her first husband was abusive both mentally and physically. I remember my mother attempting to rescue Root on a number of occasions. It is not always the case but childhood and adult abusive relationships can lead the abused into becoming an abuser, subtle or otherwise. So now, knowing even this much, while not excusing Root’s behavior, I can feel pity for her.

Strategy number three – once you have looked as deeply into your bully’s life as you can, ask yourself what she has to gain from bullying you? I can tell you that typically, and certainly in Root’s case, a bully derives her sense of self-worth from putting people down. A bully needs to make her victim appear bad in order to make herself seem valuable in the eyes of others. Root has made a career over the last few years out of blackening my name to my mother and other family members. Root has systematically taken everything good I did for my mother and lied her way into making all of my loving actions seem bad. Root is clever in this way.

Look for the areas in which your bully seems clever, and look for her weaknesses. Root is not that well-educated. Her understanding of people is extremely limited. She has had problems at work as well as with the family. She is to be pitied. She clearly has a warped sense of her own self-worth. You might find that your bully has both intrinsic and extrinsic things to gain from bullying you. These could be emotional gains, and even monetary gains. Do your homework –  forewarned is forearmed.

Strategy number four – reduce your bully in size. Seeing your bully as a pitiful individual will help this. Consider your bully’s physical attributes as you shrink her. I have reduced Root gradually from being mentally monstrous in size, down to this withered little splintered stick creature, bent over and hobbling. She has an accent and voice that my mother once said could grate granite. This mental image allows me to pick up Root and chuck her into a dark desk drawer, or even on the fire whenever she rears her ugly head. This mental picture allows me to feel sorry for root, something I know she’d hate.

Strategy number five – last but not least talk to the people you trust about your bully. Ask for their support. They might be able to help you with practical ways to deal with your bully. They might be able to intervene with your bully and get her to see the error of her ways. I have tremendous support in dealing with my bully. We can’t make her go away, but other people who know her well, trust me and reassure me. They know her and her potential for bullying and deception.

In my case, the result of Root’s bullying has a greater impact on my mother than on me. Root has silently bullied my mother, depriving her through her deception, of me, her only daughter, of my love and company in my mother’s sick old age.

If the potential exists for your bully to extract financial gain, or to hurt someone other than you, put measures into place to protect third parties as much as possible. Although my bully has caused permanent damage in my life, your bully doesn’t have to be allowed to cause permanent damage in yours. Seek help.

I have come to terms with the fact that my bully has made it so that I will never see my mother again alive. I can tell you that my bully has done her worst, and will never be able to inflict pain on me again.

My situation is extreme in some ways. The situation at the village school seems to be naïve and in the early stages of bullying. Catch it early. I would have loved to have been able to point out my observations to the author of the annual report, but I couldn’t.

In fairness, I must tell you that in reading further, and researching this school and the staff, the school appears to be an excellent school, with good teachers. The children appear happy and enthusiastic about learning. So please, village school, be careful, and Practice what you preach. Defend and protect those vulnerable children and families. Be a source of good, not bad.

I am Green

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Shades of Green

Shades of Green

There were too many people from tour buses wandering through the rain forest on the twenty minutes of exploration time allowed for on our itinerary for me to fully indulge my senses amongst the verdant vegetation. I’d like to have plunged my face into the silky wild grasses whispering in the wind. I’d like to have felt them whisper-tickling my brow. I’d like to have caught the trickling water on my tongue as it dripped from leaf to leaf. I’d like to have cradled my face between hand-shaped leaves of what looked like a rubber plant. Oh to be held between the palms of Mother Nature. There are so many shades of green here in this luscious forrest. My time is up in this slice of heaven and I must get back on the bus.

South Island Rain Forest. Photo courtesy of gorentals.com on Google Images.

South Island Rain Forest.
Photo courtesy of gorentals.com on Google Images.

We drive past hitch-hikers, and a few of us who sat together the previous day on a different bus recall a young couple who left our bus to hitch-hike in another direction. They seemed very young. The girl looked around sixteen. her long blonde hair looked as though it had encountered some stormy weather. She seemed to be in charge. She carried the guidebook and spoke to our bus driver, Pete. She pointed to a map and Pete nodded. The girl knew exactly where she wanted to get off the bus. The boy, who didn’t look any older than the girl, dashed off the bus without saying anything. He fiddled with his hands, seeming not to be able to contain himself. He looked anxious. Maybe he’d have preferred to have caught the earlier bus – the one that actually went to the place his girlfriend had indicated on the map. The six of us who had sat together observing the couple agreed that if we had been driving we would not have stopped have for them. I wonder why?

‘I was like them once.” Driver Pete frequently joined in our conversation. He has a wonderful sense of humour. The six of us were like a school-girl cliche, snickering from time to time at a semi-private joke. There were two conversations going on on our bus. There was Pete delivering his commentary with the occasional comment thrown in from someone towards the back of the bus. And then there was our little group – the teachers pets at the front of the class, lapping up the attention our Pete was paying us. Pete indulged us, throwing in anecdotes that showed us his deep commitment to his glorious land and his neighbour-people.

“I’ve traveled all over New Zealand with my thumb. I did it as long as I could, but when I felt I was getting old it was time to settle down to a job. That’s why I’m here doing this.” Of course Pete hasn’t really given up traveling. Here he is driving a bus, sometimes going off for days and spending his nights all around his Island. It is obvious he likes his job. It is obvious he likes to tell us stories.

At our next stop along the way to Milford Sound I manage to escape my fellow passengers for ten minutes. I find my green this time. I am leaning over a railing looking through the green of trees at the sea and plants. I have time to meditate on what it means to be green

Many shades of being green

Many shades of being green

The art of translation – What is Green?

Five years ago when I was studying for my MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch University Los Angeles, I took a unit on Translation. The fact that Antioch offered this unit was one of the reasons I wanted to study there as opposed to any other MFA program. During my time at Antioch we focused on translating poetry from Chinese, Japanese and Spanish languages. We didn’t need to be able to speak or understand any of the languages. In fact, our Chinese came from ancient Chinese languages. There was one translation exercise that affected me more than others. We were given a poem consisting of about 6 lines of Chinese characters. For each word-like string of characters we were given a list of possible English word translations. I was struck by how many English words could possibly be substituted for each Chinese “word.” You can imagine how potentially difficult this made translating a poem into English, modern day English at that. We soon learned the importance of learning what we could about the author. Sometimes we didn’t have any information about the author. We researched the political and cultural climate of the time. We considered spiritual aspects of life at that time.

My senses were infused with a multitude of descriptions and essences of “Green.” In my favourite poem (sorry I can’t remember it now. I’ll go back to my MFA notes when I get home) I felt absolute awe for the number of “greens” the author was able to convey. The poem was about a man sitting in what I can only summarise as a rain forest. The smells, shades of light, textures and tastes of green, the character of the man along with the sounds of nature evoked in that poem will stay with me always.

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I am Green

I have eyes that sparkle jade when I am happy and dull to the grey of a threatening ocean swell when I am sad. I was conceived on an emerald isle where once I was the apple of my father’s eye.

I can inhabit the infamous green-eyed monster on occasions, although this is lessening as I grow sage with age. My skin turns to olive in the summer sun. I inhale the fir forest and feel drunk on the scent of new-mown grass. In autumn I* can sit in the gold light of evening and will sometimes with the drooping willow.

Green is the colour of my early days – callow then as the day was long. I could strut with my teenage friends opening our feathers to reveal the peacocks we were in every sense of the bird. As a child I would eat spinach only because so did Popeye.

Green is my state of mind. I can sink into a puerile state of meditation. I am naïve, but often creative, burgeoning, budding, bosky and blooming.

Our planet needs green and while I try to live my life as kindly as I can to our blessed planet, we all need to work much harder at embracing green.

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Weekly Photo Challenge – Lost in the Details

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I love animals.In these two sets of photos I have tried to capture the Koala Bear we are tempted to interpret – cuddly and you want to hug him. I have tried to get lost in the details and focus on the other side of the Koala.Look at those claws.

In the next pair of photos I have looked at the cow as a beloved farm yard animal, and then again as a commodity.

Cuddly Koala

Cuddly Koala

Take a look at those claws

Take a look at those claws

Ah! So sweet

Ah! So sweet

The unromantic side of the beloved farmyard animal.

The unromantic side of the beloved farmyard animal.

Koala, Kangaroos and Albatross

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I am traveling in Australia right now and am having trouble finding spots with adequate bandwidth to post videos. So, while I have the opportunity, I want to give you a taste of some of what I have seen. Please excuse the quality of the videos. I took them with a phone camera. I hope you will celebrate these wonderful animals with me. Who can resist Koala Bears?

I adore these Kangaroos. It was very windy on a beach when I took this film, so prepare for some noise.

Last video for today … I have never seen such large pelicans before.

Daily Photo Challenge

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Pelicans eagerly await the cast offs as the fisherment gut the catch of the day.

Pelicans eagerly await the cast offs as the fishermen gut the catch of the day.

I have never seen such huge Pelicans. Their beaks are amazing – talk about “jaw dropping.” They are very aggressive while waiting for food. The poor smaller birds don’t stand a chance. I got some great video of them feeding.I’ll post it in April when I get home and have more bandwidth.

The catch of the day.Fishermen spread the wings on this incredible fish. How can we eat such beauty?

The catch of the day. Fishermen spread the wings on this incredible fish. How can we eat such beauty?

Of Myths and Legends, Story and Magnificence

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Belinda at Fox Glacier

Belinda at Fox Glacier

We have travelled through volcanic owned landscapes. We have marveled at mountains rising from seemingly bottomless glacial rivers and lakes into a never-ending sky. The New Zealanders, original and immigrants, clearly took the time to consider the beauty before them before naming mountain ranges, lakes, glaciers and towns with names like “The Remarkables,” “Aspiring”. The rivers named “Roaring Meg” and “Gentle Annie” speak to the collective sense of humour and acknowledgment of characteristics of people and geography by early New Zealand settlers.

A huge chunk of the glacier falls off every day

A huge chunk of the glacier falls off every day

New Zealand is a land of story. There is a creation story attached to everywhere you go. Stories tell of how the country was formed, about how places were named, about early settlers, and even more recently about a sheep local school children named Shrek. Shrek came down from the mountains one day. He was wooly beyond belief, shearers estimating that he had evaded them and hadn’t been shorn for seven years.

Shrek the sheep

Shrek the sheep

Maori mythology tells us how the world was created, but traveling in New Zealand we are frequently reminded by guides and travel articles about how the north and south islands were created. According to Māori mythology, the North and South Islands of New Zealand came about due to some mischief by the demigod Māui. While fishing at sea with his brothers one day, Māui caught a very big fish. While he wasn’t looking Māori’s brothers fought over the fish and chopped it up. The larger remaining portion of the fish became the North Island, thus the Maori name for the North – Ika-a-Maui (the fish of Māui) and the next largest portion became the South Island. All the smaller chopped up pieces became the mountains, lakes, rivers etc. This is one demigod’s story.  As you travel through New Zealand you will hear more stories claiming rights of creation and ownership of the land. What would we do without our myths and legends? We are like school children getting off the bus. Memories of early school days are sparked by our Driver, Pete, and his references to our collective selves. We pull into a car park off the highway and Driver Pete calls out “Scenic people, listen up, and I hear my first form teach, Miss Grant calling us to order – Miss Grant’s class line up in twos please. Pete stands up in the bus as though at the front of the class. His stomach is hanging over his trouser belt now. It has been a long hot drive and it is no wonder his shirt is sticking to him and as he runs his fingers over his thinning scalp beads of sweat help hold his thinning hair in place. “We only have fifteen minutes here. Get off the bus quickly and follow the signs into the rain forest walk. Anyone can do it. It is not difficult.” Tired and stiff passengers stand up, stretch and reach for cameras. A few of us spot Kea birds hopping from car to parked car. We are excited pointing the birds out to each other. “Scenic people.” Pete’s voice is first form teacher threatening. “Do not be tempted to take time to take photos of the Keas when you get off the bus. They will still be here after your walk.” I ignore Pete. I take photos until he catches me and shoos me along with the rest of the herd. I whisper a deal with my husband. Ken is to do the walk and take photos and show me later. He is to take the “big girl camera”, my friend, Kim’s nickname for our new Canon 5D mark ii. I am to double back and hot foot it to the car park in search of those beautiful birds. I try to catch the Keas in flight, but my photo is a blurr of colour. I catch one playful kea attempting to rip an antenna off a car, while his buddy tries to eat his way through the seal around the window. Who knows what mischief they would create if they pecked their way into a car? I love these demon gorgeous birds. Pete herds us into our seats. We are on our way to Milford Sound. From his driver’s seat, microphone close to his lips, Pete talks to us about the difference between a Sound and a Lake. I know there has been some dispute, and i have to admit I wish we were on our way to Doubtful Sound – another descriptive name given to this body of water but curious discoverers.

To be continued …..

Kea

Kea

Mind the Gap

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We are sitting in a cafe in Papakoura, about a half hour drive outside of Auckland airport, New Zealand. Not a great coffee lover, I am amazed at the silky soft hot drink I’m sipping.This is truly the best Latte I have ever tasted. The company is rather special too. When our flight landed ahead of schedule at 4:am from San Francisco to Auckland we headed out for the train station in Papakoura where we would meet up with The Northern Explorer train to Wellington. “You’re early.” The woman at the ticket counter had a warm smile and a cheerful demeanor. We would soon learn that the warmth and friendliness this woman showed us is common in New Zealand where strangers are welcome. We asked if there was anywhere we could get a coffee and hang out for the next couple of hours while we waited for the train. It was thanks to the blonde curly haired ticket lady that we ended up Chez Trish on the outskirts of this little town.

Superb Cafe Mottletop

Superb Cafe Mottletop

Having left our suitcases at the station under the watchful eye of our ticketing friend, we stumbled into cafe Mottletop out of the warm drizzle that reminds me so much of Portia’s “gentle rains from Heaven.” If a coffee shop is filled with books I know I have come to the right place. No wonder the coffee tastes so good. What is it that makes a place welcoming? Naturally the scent of freshly baked goods,cheese scones, muffins, brownies and much more is enticing. The long red glass top table with a shelf of magazines beckoning from beneath the glass reminds me of home and I want to pull some of them out and flip through recipes in the Woman magazine, and indulge in the photos and stories from National Geographic. I scan the book shelves to see what’s there. The books we carry tell us so much about each other and Trish, and her assistant, Faith, are as delightful as the tomes in the refectory style cafe. “Are you travelers?” We’ve shared our travel plans with Trish and Faith and Trish, delighted to have a couple from San Francisco stumble into her shop is introducing us to all the locals who roll in for their early morning fix. It took me a few seconds to respond to the question. Where I come from “travelers” is another name for gypsies, or tinkers. i smile at the thought and say yes. Trish jumps in and tells the sandy haired man wearing an open fleece jacket over a polo-neck and shorts;”They’ve come all the way from San Francisco and ended up here in little Papakoura’. I love Trish. She is one of those women who radiates warmth, friendship and sheer joy at being in your company.I discover when leaving that she is huggy like me. Trish’s locals are interesting and as welcoming as she is. it is the first day back at school and we share the anticipation of a new school year with a couple of teachers, one of whom is clinging to the hope that the kids keep their energy in check as she is tired this morning, and the other has “butterflies in my stomach. Much like the little ones, I suppose.” We have moved from the bar stools at the counter and settled at a table. In this position by the door and window I feel as though I am holding court being greeted by all who come and go and share a slice of life with us. “It’s my son’s first day at school.” A man stands with coffee mug and scone in front of us and makes his announcement. “Congratulations” I say and “you must be so proud.” What strikes me is this father’s age.He has the look of a man in his late forties, maybe early fifties. I cannot imagine having a young child of my own about to start school. There is so much time between here, where I am now, and there where my own daughter was twenty-two years ago. “They’re travelers,” our fleecy friend feels the need to point out to our proud father. We repeat our itinerary which at that time saw us leaving New Zealand after a two week visit and heading out to Australia, Singapore, South Africa, and Brazil before returning to San Francisco. Since our coffee chez Trish we have added Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana to our list of countries to explore. Trish takes a photo of us for her Face Book page. We exchange hugs and I promise to send postcards. Armed with hot-buttered cheese scones we head back to the station, thankful for my new purple rain jacket bought at REI in a “just in case” moment. The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world.The distance between San Francisco and Aukland is 6,543miles. We have spanned an enormous gap. Yet the gap that we have travelled across is extraordinary in many ways, and I feel sensitive to where we are, what I know, and more importantly don’t know about it. In London, underground commuters are used to the recording of the woman with the BBC English accent calling out “Mind the Gap,” when the train doors open at each station and bustling passengers push and shove to get off and on the train. The newer tubes have been designed to cover the gap. The gap to be minded as I travel in New Zealand and onward is that of culture, history, customs, social norms and expectations,and language. It is all too tempting to fall into the pseudo-comfort zone of believing that the English language is “English” everywhere it is spoken. I know all too well coming from England and living in the USA that this is not so. There are words, and phrases, and idioms that while the words are the same the meaning is not. Each group of English language speakers have their own subsets of communicators who express and understand each other according to many sociolinguistic factors. For now i am delighted that the spelling I use, English English, as opposed to American English is the same as that used in New Zealand. Such a colourful place! (Sorry. I couldn’t resist it.) As a British person traveling in New Zealand, I need to be mindful of the history. I need to be respectful of the past, of the pain and strife inflicted on the native Maori people by the British settlers. There are under-currents still today. There is a gap between us, a gap in understanding and acceptance of the past. I will write more about the history and mythoology of this great land as I move along with my journey. What I can tell you now is that I will certainly take heed and mind the gap.

Today is the day! Welcome to Bake and Bake Break Bread Friday

Hello Everyone. Happy Friday. I hope you had a super Thanksgiving. Please take a look at the last couple of posts to get ideas for bread recipes. I will be baking one loaf today, and another on Saturday to join our non USA friends.

I am so encouraged to see followers from India, Croatia, Bangladesh, Russia, Republic of Korea, Canada, UK, Iraq, Israel, Belgium, Macedonia, Australia, and many others showing interest in our special day. It would be great to see recipes from all over the world. I would be really grateful if you could repost my Blog and see how many others can join us. Stay in touch during the weekend. I’m off to prepare to bake now.

Tip: Make sure to have all your ingredients weighed and measured before you start. Remember not to let the yeast and the salt touch in the bowl. Put them in on opposite sides.