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Archive for the ‘Seasons’ Category

New Zealand is a pretty small country, and I’ve travelled quite a lot of it. But when my sister rang a week or so ago and asked if we wanted to join her (and her husband and Charlie) for a few days at a town we’d never visited, we jumped at the opportunity.

I love a road trip. Travelling in the middle of school holidays is something we usually avoid like the plague, but as we were driving mid-week it wasn’t a problem. We drove familiar roads and unfamiliar roads, enjoying the scenery. We saw native plants and trees, and exotics showing off their spring blossoms. One town seemed to have adopted the rhododendron as their official plant of choice, and they were all flowering at the same time, lining the roads into and out of the town, and filling both public and private gardens.

On the road, we were surrounded by lush, green fields and hills, dotted with dairy cows on the plains, and sheep as the hills got higher and more rugged. Occasionally, further north, we saw goats, and wild turkeys, llamas and alpacas.

We stopped for lunch at the town at the base of the ski-fields on Mt Ruapehu (an active volcano) in the centre of the island. For a day right in the middle of the school holidays, it was surprisingly peaceful. Everyone must have been up on the mountain, swishing down the slopes, enjoying the last days of this year’s ski season.

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Mt Ruapehu

Raglan, our destination, is a small but well known coastal town, popular for its surf beach. One afternoon we headed out to the beach to watch Charlie (who had already been on a horse trek that morning) surf the waves, along with about 50 others. The learners stayed close to the shore, but others hung further out, looking for the bigger waves. Whilst it was a warm day for this time of year, the sea would have been icy cold, so Charlie’s wetsuit was essential. Her mother and I played around with our cameras, and I managed to get a shot of her up on her board, and a second shot as she did a dramatic fall into the water. When I zoomed in, I could see her face was covered with a huge grin. She came back exhilarated and not at all exhausted, despite battling the waves for some hours.

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As it was my sister’s birthday, we had champagne on the deck of their rented house, went out for a special dinner, and generally over-indulged with coffees and cooked breakfasts and avocadoes brought from their orchard.

It was a quick but hilly walk into the town for a coffee and look around the shops and galleries, and the following day we climbed down to the bottom of a waterfall and with much less enthusiasm back up, although the rain put paid to my plans of walking the track that went right in front of the house where we were staying. Instead, Charlie and I played table tennis in the garage, but we never did get around to having the darts match we’d planned.

And in between we relaxed, read and chatted, or just enjoyed the views from the bach.

All too soon we had to leave. School, work, and real life called for us all. We decided to take it easy on the way home, and so detoured along the west coast to a town I’ve only visited once before. It too is nestled under another volcano, which didn’t emerge from the clouds hiding it until we were well on the way home. I caught a view of the top only through the back window of our car. Isn’t it always the way?

Mt Taranaki before the cloud lifted

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Today is my idea of a pretty perfect day. It is calm, with only a light breeze at times. The sky is clear, with just the occasional cloud making an appearance, breaking up the monotony of a plain blue sky. It is still cool, but not cold. I like that. It was chilly enough this morning to appreciate a woolly coat, but there is starting to be some real warmth in the sun. The harbour was sparkling and beautiful, even if the sight of a middle-aged man emerging from the water in speedos was a bit shocking.

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The dullness of winter is also over, as blossoms start to appear, camellias flower everywhere including our garden, and on my walks around my suburb, I see the blooms of numerous flowers I can’t name. As I look out my windows, I see splashes of yellow all over the valley, and these gorgeous yellow kowhai flowers intoxicate the tui, who are chirping, clicking and clacking wildly, happy that spring is here.

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Kōwhai flowers in my supermarket carpark

 

 

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  1. Hot Cross Buns
  2. Being able to sleep at night without being too hot
  3. The lovely, low light
  4. Not being afraid to let the sun in the house
  5. Hunting out my winter clothes
  6. Covering up
  7. Starting to think about warming, winter food
  8. Red wine replacing whites/roses
  9. The leaves on our oak tree starting to turn
  10. Not having to shave my legs or paint my toenails

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There’s a buzz in the air. They’ve been around for a while. A few weeks ago we went for a walk through the bush back and forth across a stream, and there was a spot that was so noisy it was hard to continue our conversation. Since then, they moved in next door. Every time I go for a walk around our suburb, I hear them, and just lately, I’ve been seeing them. I’ve even had to dodge a few. The last couple of days, they’ve been going constantly, and I can hear them now, as I type this.

The gloomy day today, when we’ve hardly seen the sun, hasn’t stopped them either. The mist is hanging low around the hills, and we had a few welcome drops of rain too. But the warmth is still there, and this is the season. It’s now or never.

The garden is alive.

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I didn’t realise they were so pretty!

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Busy bees in the garden too

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And a fern, just because it’s beautiful

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In New Zealand, the month of January* brings with it a degree of liberation. January has a lightness of burden that comes with the departure of the previous year, along with all the negatives that arose with it. There’s a relief that the year is over, and so too is the busy Christmas season that – as much as I enjoy it – comes with obligations and duties as well. The sense of relaxation that the year proper doesn’t really begin until February, delivers the freedom that this is a time of limbo when we can step away from our normal lives, and do whatever we want.

It brings an often unfamiliar warmth with it that is wrapped in promise; the promise of summer fun, of beaches and ice-creams and nature walks, of chilled wine and drinks on the deck, and barbecues with friends and family. The warmth brings freedom too, from extra layers of clothing, from huddling inside, from the need for heat. It’s a time when we wear carefree clothes, and thrust open our windows to the summer air and its scents. Our shoulders drop, our necks lengthen, our backs straighten and we stand tall.

In my city, January brings a beauty only matched by Septembers’ kowhai blossoms, starting with the pohutukawa flowers in the first week or two. Long gone in its native environments to the north, the New Year in Wellington sees red trees everywhere. As you know, they lighten my heart and make me smile and exclaim with joy. As they fade, the agapanthus blue flowers burst forth. Hated by conservationists, as they are native to Africa and are therefore an invasive species here, they have been much-loved by the city’s gardeners. Hence, they are ubiquitous throughout the city, including my own garden, inherited from the previous owners. Their blue flowers, like the pohutukawa’s red blossoms, are a welcome shock of beauty in this evergreen town filled with native plants.

As the year in front of us stretches out as yet unspoiled, January delivers a sense of hope for new opportunities. This January was the first time in several years I have been able to embrace this feeling, and as February arrives, it hasn’t yet dissipated. It is, I have to say, very welcome. And as the year passes and opportunities fail to manifest and inevitably the sense of promise fades, the warm memories will linger.

 

* Inspired by Kim’s beautiful piece on January in the frozen north.

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Reading: I’ve finally finished The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, which is my first book of the year and my first book in a long time. I read only half of my 30-book target last year, a dismal performance that I hope to improve on this year. I’ve just started The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq (NOT the one by Alan Greenspan! and hope it won’t take me months to finish! Blogging and family events last year really sapped me of any reading energy or motivation, but this year I am already finding that I more time and enthusiasm for books and blogs. That makes me happy.

Watching: I’ve also just finished watching The Australian Open (tennis) every night, so I’m trying to get back to a more normal daily schedule. Before I got sucked into the tennis, I was binge-watching The Good Place, a fun comedy with equally fun plot twists that was just what I needed. There’s a lot of good quality TV about to start up. There are all the Oscar films to catch too. But with the hot sunny weather at the moment, it seems wrong to hide inside in the dark to watch a movie. Mind you, we might be seeking out the air-conditioning of a cinema soon.

Listening: I’m currently listening to the audiobook of Eddie Izzard reading his memoir Believe Me. It is really lovely. He’s reading the book, but he’s adding a whole lot of spontaneous footnotes, which are funny and often really touching. I am thoroughly enjoying this as I go on my walks around my suburb’s hills.

Following: I was following the tennis. There is summer cricket on, but I’m not really a cricket fan. And I’m fed up with politics, so right now I’m just following writers and people I know and like and admire, and on social media I am following a few photographers who inspire me.

Drinking: Lots of water. Today I’ve made some fruit iced tea (or it will be iced once it cools enough to add the ice) to keep me hydrated (and to replace lunch). We’ve enjoyed some of the scrummy wines we bought when in the South Island just before Christmas too. Brennan Wines is my new favourite – they do some lovely wines, and we had a nice vineyard lunch there too. Unfortunately, they’re a smaller producer so as yet I haven’t seen their wines here. (Note to self: Must go check out some of the wine stores.)

Eating: Seasonally. And of course, at this time of year, there is wonderful produce. My favourite summer vegetable medley is on the menu tonight, with eggplant, zucchini, capsicum, and cherry tomatoes dressed with mustard and balsamic vinegar. Yum.

Anticipating: We have a wedding anniversary next week (one that ends in a five), and so we’ve booked a favourite but expensive (so we haven’t been for a couple of years) restaurant for dinner. Then a week later we have a family wedding to attend, which will be nice because I’ll get to see my two nieces who live in Australia. And we plan to head over the hill at some stage to enjoy the vineyards and olive groves with friends. So February is looking like a happy month.

Contemplating: How I want to spend (and fund) the next five years or so of my life.

Loving: The relative freedom of the warmth of summer, the ability to get out in nature (we went for a walk on a new track yesterday), and the long summer evenings. Summer in Wellington doesn’t last too long, so we’re soaking it up (whilst complaining about the heat at night) while we can.

Still unashamedly copying Loribeth’s regular series.

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Yes, as I wrote on my daily blog the other day, summer has arrived. Not as hot, so far, as last year, its arrival had been more gentle. Tomatoes and basil, strawberries, cold drinks outside on the deck, early mornings and (relatively*) late nights are all reminding me of the time of year. So too is the sun. I set off on a walk yesterday, determined to charge up and down the hills of my suburb, until – ten minutes in – I realised I’d forgotten to put on sunscreen, and had to turn back. Exercise is important, but sunburns are dangerous, and so a reminder to my fellow Kiwis and Australians – don’t forget to cover up!

This all meant I needed to change A Separate Life’s livery. The pohutukawa flowers are already making an appearance and will be in full seasonal bloom here in a couple of weeks. I’m hoping I won’t miss them.

* after visiting Iceland and Norway last year in June, it’s hard to be surprised by daylight at 9 pm.

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