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Archive for the ‘Seasons’ Category

This Friday, New Zealand is celebrating the first public holiday for Matariki. It is a festival marking mid-winter and the Maori New Year, the beginning of the return of the light. Our public holidays have previously comprised religious holidays (in a country that isn’t very religious) like Christmas and Easter, colonial holidays such as Queen’s Birthday, and Labour Day (which rightly celebrates NZ being the first to introduce an eight-hour work day), and New Year. For years we have recognised 6th February as our national day, now known as Waitangi Day, marking the day that the Crown and Maori signed a treaty agreeing to share this land back in 1840. But Matariki will be our first home-grown public holiday, one that has increasingly been recognised over the last ten years or more. It marks a long overdue but welcome addition to our list of public holidays.

Matariki is the name for the star cluster others know as Pleiades or the Seven Sisters, that appears in the morning sky in New Zealand in the winter months. It is known throughout the Pacific, and is Makali’i in Hawaii, and Subaru in Japan. The reappearance of the constellation marks the end of the past year, and the beginning of the new. Maori mark Matariki in three ways:

  1. Remembrance by honouring those who have been lost since the last Matariki
  2. Gratitude for what we have, and celebrating the present
  3. Anticipation of the new year, and our hopes and dreams for it

The focus therefore is on whānau (family), on feasting, on learning, sharing, discussion, and decision making, often with a focus on the environment. It sounds like a pretty good mid-winter celebration, don’t you think?

I don’t have plans to get together with others this weekend, but I’m sure I can manage a feast with my husband. And although I haven’t lost anyone in the last year, I will take a moment to think of those I have lost, and those who have been lost in the last year in this pandemic, and those losses that continue. I’m grateful for my husband, my family and friends, my home, my health. I’m grateful that the world is opening up, and that we may be able to resume travel again soon. And I am filled with anticipation for the next year, for the changes I can make in my life, for the joy it might bring.

Mānawatia a Matariki!

(Happy Matariki)

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As I sit at my desk, I see my screen wobbling. The house too, perched on stilts down the side of a hill, is swaying somewhat. It all feels a little as if I’m on a boat, when you first step from solid ground to something that has been cast adrift. It’s a feeling I’m familiar with, living in wild Wellington, where we don’t take solid ground completely for granted.

On normal days, I might suspect an earthquake. But actually, earthquakes are relatively rare compared to the gale force winds that are shaking me today. The wind is roaring through the trees, and the rain on the roof is coming and going. It’s like this all over the country, as even in Auckland the Harbour Bridge has been temporarily closed due to wind gusts. But here in windy Wellington, we’re familiar with the gales.

Even then, the last few days have been quite extreme. We’ve had rain and hail, and just up the coast there have been several mini-but-still-destructive tornados. We have occasional moments of regular breezes and relative quiet, interspersed with wild gusts and downpours. It’s the unpredictability I dislike. A good storm that lasts a day or so can be comforting, inviting you to hunker down with a good book or a binge-worthy series, brew lots of cups of tea or coffee, and eat comfort food and drink red wine before going to bed with the sound of rain on the roof. It’s one of the things I enjoy about winter. But not this week.

One of the things I like least about Wellington is trying to sleep in extreme wind. I like in my cosy bed, listening to the elements, which is all very nice. But the wind pounds the house. It feels as if the roof will lift, and when a loose part rattles I cross my fingers that I won’t hear a metallic screech as it rips off, flying off across the valley and exposing us to the elements. This is not entirely an irrational fear. It is reasonably common after a storm to hear reports of a house losing its roof or part of a roof. Trampolines regularly take off, keen for adventures in new backyards. In our first house which felt the full onslaught of the northerly wind, I could hear the wind building up speed down the valley before it would slam into our house, or more particularly, our bedroom window. Occasionally, I would give up and go sleep in a bedroom at the back of the house. These days, I rarely give up, but I still have moments of anxiety as the gusts hit the house over and over and over again, each time bringing the possibility of disaster.

Wellington is unfortunately situated at the base of the North Island, on Cook Strait, a narrow stretch of water between the two islands that funnels the wind through. Cold southerlies from the Antarctic and northerlies from the subtropics whip us regularly. The rest of the country likes to joke about our wind, and yes, it can be extreme. But it’s not a permanent thing. Our recent visitors expressed delight that they were here for a week, and the weather was fine and calm. A promotion for the city some years ago established our favourite weather catchphrase: “You can’t beat Wellington on a good day.” Which is true. On a good day, when the harbour is calm and the sky is blue and the birds are singing, Wellington sparkles. The air is clear and fresh – any impurities were blown away in the last storm. You can’t beat it! But unfortunately, that does not describe today.

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It’s that time of year again, when I stay up on cold winter nights to watch people enjoying summer on the other side of the world, batting tennis balls around a court. It was worth it last night, to see Rafael Nadal win his 22nd major, and 14th French Open title. I played tennis briefly when I was younger, and always wished I had played it more, as it is a great social game. I always admire the athleticism, the quick decision-making required, and the artistry of the perfect placement of shots. Roll on Wimbledon!

Of course, watching tennis in the middle of the night means that my sleep cycle gets completely messed up. Hence, a miscellany post. Following a recipe post last week, I know I’m going to have to improve my game next week.

Winter has officially arrived, and in temperatures too. After a gorgeous week of weather for our guests from tropical climes, the weather turned wintry last week, and our heating system has been working overtime. Still, I haven’t worn a winter coat yet. I think that has more to do with hibernation at home rather than outside temperatures.

After lauding my easy and delicious bread a few weeks ago, I have to share a failure. I wanted to share it with my visitors, so prepared it one night. But oops, I spilled some of the yeast. It wasn’t till the next morning when I saw it had barely risen that I realised how much yeast I had spilled. The brick that was the bread loaf ended up being thrown out. Oops!

I haven’t had my hair cut since mid-January. The length now is shoulder length and fun. I’ve discovered at this length that I have curls and ringlets naturally, though I have yet to wear them in public. Am I brave enough, after years of cutting off the curls?

We haven’t been on a road-trip at all this year, and suddenly it is June. We’ve been muttering about a trip to Australia, but no bookings have been made. I think the pandemic has seen inertia set in. I’d love to travel. The stories of flight cancellations and massive delays at airports overseas aren’t appealing. Decisions, though, need to be made. I need to get out of this house!

Finally, how is it June already?

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