Sunday, December 27, 2009


On Christmas day, I drove out to Aramoana - 'gateway to the sea' - and was surprised to find a green beach, waves foaming like hot spinach soup. 
Each time I go walking out there, I know I'm in for a different experience; this time, the sea had delivered up a surreal and extravagant carpet of frilly green seaweed. A solitary oyster catcher was having a feast, his red-pencil beak dipping in and out of the spongy squelch, his small black head thrown back every now and then to gulp and swallow. (What bird can equal an oyster catcher in earnestness and attitude?) 
I walked the length of the beach several times, soaking up the smelly pleasures of salt and kelp and slowly rising heat, my bare feet coming to grips with a whole new vocabulary of sound and texture.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Forty-eight Christmases

... that's how many (or how few, depending on how one looks at it) Christmases I've been around for; add this year and we're looking at a total of forty-nine. Forty-nine's a fine number - I like the frank shape, red sound and nuts-and-bolts reality of it. Seven times seven. This, too, has a lively ring, redolent of promise. A tree that age has roots that reach a fair way down, respectably weathered bark, a crown capable of holding its shape in a headwind. 

Our dear friend Chrissie, whose triumphant memorial service was yesterday, was quaintly eccentric about her age. She was well-read, not least in matters numerological and esoteric so her evasiveness/discomfort/playfulness about her age has been a tad mystifying. We discovered yesterday that she'd given herself poetic license to be between one and ten years younger than she was. Good on her. We share a writer friend, who could be in her early sixties but is in fact in her mid-seventies, and who gives newspapers and literary journals a different age every time they interview her and want to know how old she is. 'What's it got to do with them?', she says, 'It's up to me how old I am. I tell them whatever I feel like telling them on the day... ' Last time there was an article about her in The Oddity (the Otago Daily Times - our local rag), she'd boldly claimed the number sixty-four.        

I'd intended to post a few Christmas recipes today since I've been cooking all day, but here I am talking about numbers and defying age. If time allows it, I'll write up a couple of recipes tomorrow or the next day. Christmas is virtually upon us - I'm still running to catch up with the calendar. I did have the happiest time in the kitchen today, however, baking up a storm with my two sons (both in their early twenties) in celebration of friends and in anticipation of their older sister's return home from the North Island. It's a joy to have all three offspring back in Dunedin for the holidays.  

D, T & I cycled through reggae, Bob Dylan, Ray LaMontagne, Preisner and Iron & Wine whilst making roast capsicum & olive compote (delicious - with anchovies, garlic, fresh mint, thyme & basil), a rhubarb & raspberry compote, dark chocolate & guinness cake, boterkoek (Dutch recipe - a family tradition), spicy roast nuts & pretzels... now this is a heavenly mix. (I made my way to David Lebovitz's recipe from Miriam Levine's blog - thank you Miriam. Thank you, David.). This is the kind of treat you'll want to munch your way through in large quantities and at immodest speed.)... What else did we make? Oh, I know - a dark chocolate and whisky fruit cake. 

I was up with the bellbirds this morning - they wake at around 5 these solstice days - and the last of the light has just dissolved the edges of the peninsula hills. It's bedtime for me, too. 

Earlier this evening, while I was filling the birds' coconut chalice with sugar water, I found my thoughts turning to those of you who live in the Northern hemisphere where the nights are long and the ground is now thick with snow. How very different our Christmases will be. I send warm wishes your way. 

Warm thanks to all of you who pop in & engage in conversation here. 

~<   Wishing you a peaceful, joy-filled Christmas   >~

Friday, December 18, 2009

Candles & french fries, boston terriers & choral music, angels and cornflower blue...

To know and to love: the same thing - Theodore Roethke

C h r i s s i e   E l l e n   M a h o n e y

- - - 9 August 1953 - 17 December 2009 - - -

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Harnessing the power of the unfinished

As Christmas approaches with its welcome invitation to don my stained old kitchen apron and start rustling up the family's festive favourites, I take special pleasure in the annual tradition of climbing the ladder and stringing the lights. Each year, I braid my studio's 'spine' with tiny blue and white LEDs. It lights up more like a tall, skinny lighthouse or a mast on a boat than a Christmas tree, but that's part of its charm and I love it.

For some time now, I've had an urge to bring the sea into the studio and 'therein to dwell.' This is not a new impulse. An appreciation of water - whether fresh or salty - references a number of different things, amongst these the near-absence of this element in my natal chart, a simple love for  the ocean and an as-yet unfulfilled wish to dive in it - and I don't mean the bobbing, snorkeling kind. I'm lucky enough to have done my fair share of that. I mean the kind that requires dry suits and tanks and breath-taking plunges into deep, dark waters. (This is a metaphor, of course, and yes, life is letting me know there's work to be done before this year is up.)

An oversized painting (10 X 10ft) has been sloshing about in me for some time and wants out. Chances are it could be a messy process but we all know that squalls inevitably make way for calm. Like the ocean or psyche, the environment of a painting is tidal. Certainly, it is my hope that this one's water will ebb and flow, the spaces and particles in it opening and closing, linking up and separating, drifting in close where appropriate and otherwise cutting the ties that bind in favour of risking a ride on a different current... I'd like it to be an environment that can embrace its own rhythm, one in which heavy objects find their buoyancy and float instead of sink. Darkness and light will visit, ruffling the surfaces without clouding the depths. There will be rest and rebellion, a piece at peace with sometimes spilling over its own edges. 

This work will no doubt present me with a few challenges. If it brings me to my knees, so be it. It may never reach completion, depending on what completion means. Right now, though, I feel energized at the thought of spending the coming year in conversation with whatever tussle and magic's resident in this stable-yet-mutable universe - oops, I mean, painting. My hunch is it has things to teach me that will require me to stick at it, to stay close at hand. 

This morning, whilst doing my blog read-around, I came across a marvelous site I'd not encountered before. What a remarkable community this is. There's so much good will and generosity out there... When you get a chance, do visit Edward Byrne whom I thank warmly for his introduction to Louise Glück in the following piece from her collection, Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry (Ecco, 1994) ---   

“... I do not think that more information always makes a richer poem. I am attracted to ellipsis, to the unsaid, to suggestion, to eloquent, deliberate silence. The unsaid, for me, exerts great power: often I wish an entire poem could be made in this vocabulary. It is analogous to the unseen; for example, to the power of ruins, to works of art either damaged or incomplete. Such works inevitably allude to larger contexts; they haunt because they are not whole, though wholeness is implied: another time, a world in which they were whole, or were to have been whole, is implied. There is no moment in which their first home is felt to be the museum. A few years ago, I saw a show of Holbein drawings; most astonishing were those still in progress. Parts were entirely finished. And parts were sketched, a fluent line indicating arm or hand or hair, but the forms were not filled in. Holbein had made notes to himself: this sleeve blue, hair, auburn. The terms were other—not the color in the world, but the color in paint or chalk. What these unfinished drawings generated was a vivid sense of Holbein at work, at the sitting; to see them was to have a sense of being back in time, back in the middle of something. Certain works of art become artifacts. By works of art, I mean works of any medium. And certain works of art do not. It seems to me that what is wanted, in art, is to harness the power of the unfinished. All earthly experience is partial. Not simply because it is subjective, but because that which we do not know, of the universe, of mortality, is so much more vast than that which we do know. What is unfinished or has been destroyed participates in these mysteries. The problem is to make a whole that does not forfeit this power.”

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The tender cursive of waves

by Margaret Atwood

Nothing like love to put blood
back in the language,
the difference between the beach and its
discrete rocks & shards, a hard
cuneiform, and the tender cursive
of waves; bone & liquid fishegg, desert
& saltmarsh, a green push
out of death. The vowels plump
again like lips or soaked fingers; and the fingers
themselves move around these
softening pebbles as around skin. The sky's
not vacant and over there but close
against your eyes, molten, so near
you can taste it. It tastes of 
salt. What touches
you is what you touch.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Gooseberry jewels

Fun in the kitchen with G while D's away with the birds; he and his camera are happily ensconced on a chair a foot or two from the feeder...

'If you never did
you should. 
These things are fun 
and fun is good' 

... wrote the insightful Dr.Seuss. 

Visit his exuberant site... with or without your children; there's enough fun 'n' stuff there to keep everyone entertained for ages. 

Thanks for the goosegems, Pen x

Friday, December 04, 2009

For the birds

My parents - G & D - are out from the UK at the moment; here for another ten days or so. Earlier this week, my SA cousin's daughter P surprised us with a text from her Magic Bus to say she'd be arriving in Dunedin on Wednesday and would love a bed for a night or three - or five? Yes. Yes, I said. Life's calling for wriggle-room and spontaneity these days. My eccentric old house is bulging at the seams and enjoying every minute of it.

And the birds have never had it so good; dear Father (a bird nut if ever there was one, bless him) tops up their drinking chalice with sugar water twice a day, pounds raw peanuts to a pulp for the small-beaked wax-eyes and finches, talks to the hoardes from the front steps, whistles their little riffs back at them... 

The tuis brush our shoulders when they come down to feed these days and the wax-eyes stay right where they are on the bird-feeder when we decide it's time for a top-up. 

The garden footpath's taking a bit of a hammering with all this activity - sunflower seed husks and no-holds-barred guano attesting to the birds' delight. It's fast becoming a hazard patch of exuberant black and white. 

Bring it on, I say. Bring it on.

; )

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Hidden Depths


A Caselberg Trust fund-raising event at Portobello Aquarium - 7.00PM, Thursday 3 December (tomorrow).

I'll be talking about art, science, Euclidian geometry, porcelain bell vessels, ice, music, invisible tides, katabatic winds, uni-cellular aquatic organisms and a red polar haven (amongst other things). I'm not the world's funniest person, but I am passionate about Antarctica and hope that by the end of the hour you'll be feeling that way, too. 

The Caselberg Trust does terrific work in support of New Zealand's artists and writers. Please come along - the more the merrier. 

An admission fee of $20.00 includes wine and seafood nibbles. (Door sales - or you can book ahead of time by phoning the NZ Marine Studies Centre on 479 5826)