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Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category

Summer hasn’t shown up this season. Yet, I add hopefully. Here in Wellington, it’s been totally AWOL. After the steamy heat of Japan and Korea, and then even worse in Vietnam in June, I said – foolishly, it seems – that I didn’t want summer to arrive too soon, or to be too hot. But this is just getting ridiculous. We’ve had non-stop wind since October. Usually the spring winds last a few weeks, or maybe a month, around October or November. But December was crazy, and although we get the occasional calm day, the wind has otherwise been the most consistent part of this “summer.”

I’ve worn sandals once. I haven’t even had to paint my toenails, or shave my legs (though don’t worry, I have), because I’m generally in shoes or sneakers and jeans. We’ve even had the heating on, including today, and I’ve managed to sit outside on the deck with a drink for – count it – ONE measly day! So it’s been wine and cocktails inside, in a desperate attempt to pretend that it is, in fact, summer. Sure, we’ve been able to get lovely summer produce from the supermarket and even the garden, so that’s kept me busy at least.

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Tomato and zucchini relish jars

Yet from almost every window in my house, I look outside and across the valley, and see dozens of bright red pohutukawa trees. As much as I love them, it’s as if they are mocking me!

Still, I can’t resist photographing them. Here are a few from my walk down my street the other day, on a rare calm and sunny (though not very warm) day.

 

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There are some days when the colours seem brighter, the air fresher, and the earth and sea and sky seem more alive. Today is one of those days. Yesterday we had mild temperatures, but the day was quiet, with mist hanging around at the top of the valley, dampening noise, spirits, and – in my case at least – activity.

But this morning, Monday greeted us with the brightest of greens, and the bluest of blue sky. Temperatures are warmer too, edging into almost-summer temperatures (high teens/low 20s C) here in Wellington, though elsewhere in the country they are getting full-fledged mid-summer temperatures this week. We drove out to visit my father-in-law on the road that edges the shore (tracking the fault-line), and the harbour looked glorious.

As often happens at this time of year, Wellingtonians desperate for summer to arrive over-estimated the temperature. The Husband was happy in shorts and a T-shirt, but I saw many women in summery, sleeveless tops, and one even in a boob-tube (tube top). I had to smile at this optimism, this wholehearted embracing of temperatures that tell us to get out of our winter coats and woollen tops!

We stopped for lunch at a cafe on the way home, where people were enjoying their lunch outside in the sun, though forever cautious about UV rays and the damage they can do, we sat inside.

And on the drive home, even a pohutukawa tree was caught up in the exuberance of the season, beginning to flower several weeks earlier than usual. It reminded me that it will soon be time to change my blog header, to the vibrant red pohutukawa flowers of the season.

That said, the early flowering of the pohutukawa tree made me sad too. Climate change is urging it to bloom early. The warm temperatures we are experiencing have come from across the Tasman Sea from Australia, where they are suffering major, early bushfires that are destroying lives and livelihoods. The colourful sunsets that have resulted here are a sombre reminder that the beauty we see is a tragedy for others.

 

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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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We noticed it first on our drive to the northeast of our country – I was shocked to suddenly see poplars turning yellow, even though everything else still felt summery.

By the time we got home, we’d seen lots of poplars and willow trees starting to turn, which is not something we see here, surrounded by largely native, evergreen trees. Then we noticed how much darker it is in the evenings, the sun suddenly setting around 7.30 pm, about half an hour earlier (it seemed) than when we had left, and it seems shocking that daylight saving will end in a couple of weeks.

The agapanthus have finished flowering, as have the hydrangeas and other flowers, though a few hardy blooms of other varieties still bring colour to our lives.

But it was still hot on my walk this morning, and at a spot a few hundred metres down the street, I was greeted again by a large monarch butterfly, a sign of summer still lingering. They’ve been prolific this summer – a friend even nurtured one to adulthood in her garden – and I’ve taken enormous pleasure at seeing them swoop and fly around our hills, and especially at the ones near our mailbox.

As much as I complained about the hot nights, I do feel sad that summer is drawing to an end. But then, I felt that way at the end of winter too.

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