Saturday, January 29, 2011


Something weird's going on with Blogger's formatting system today; either that or my last post's determined not to make an appearance out here. I'll keep trying. . . meantime, apologies for the false alarms. 

This water boatman alighted on one of my drawings the other day.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Love In The Early Winter by Jenny Powell


I open the window
and breathe in so much air
that the rest of the world pauses
through lack of oxygen.
I am gulping in the serenity
of early winter in the morning.
There's no bustle of breeze
so the grasses are still,
and the water race is duty bound
to reflect a frame of land.
This is the best season for light,
which flings itself
in acrobat angles on whatever
takes its fancy.

The view spreads
up the valley and waits
by the hills.

Jenny Powell
from her collection HATS, published by HeadworX, New Zealand (2000)

I couldn't resist posting this poem by Jenny in addition to The Physiotherapist's Piano that appears on the Tuesday Poem hub. Love In The Early Winter is a declaration - an exclamation - to the McKenzie country, a place of high skies, sheep stations, thermal currents, lakes and lupins.

Ah, a poem whose exuberance and restraint one can enter, breathe in, trust. . .

Thank you, Jenny


For this week's Tuesday poems, click here then follow the links in the side bar. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Dead wood & wasps

My tree-climbing child self and my best-Swedish-saw-and-secateur-wielding adult self spent most of today cutting away dead wood. In addition to the physical satisfaction of a day's hard labour, this activity is also a metaphor, of course.

Isn't everything? ; )

Beneath these piles of sorry-looking rhododendron and cabbage tree branches there is - believe it or not - grass and a footpath. . .

I was slightly annoyed at being stung by a wasp whilst working - the most uncouth of all insects, proffered friend Chris on Facebook. I'd commented that the palm of my hand was throbbing. He was being kind, commiserating.  And I agree with him about wasps. What other insect would presume the sugar water we put out for the tuis and bellbirds each morning is being poured into the coconut chalice as an invitation to them to partake? The wasps, I mean. My patient nectar-feeders have to hang about till dusk these days, practicing their riffs and trills and clackity-clacks whilst waiting for the wasps to take themselves off to their (very hidden) corner of the neighbourhood to sleep - or whatever it is wasps do after dark. (Does anyone know?) 

I am always glad of the birds' company; they become more interactive and conversational by the day - especially when I spend good chunks of time out in their garden.

It'll take me a day or three to clear up this little lot (there's a fair bit still to be done) but I felt a sense of relief when I sat down on the front steps this evening with my ripe avocado and glass of pomegranate juice; how good it is to able to see through the wide-armed trees and all the way down to the water again.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Mopani Worms

    in memory of an African childhood

Smooth as glass and cold as yoghurt
to the touch, they are dressed today
in the colours of grandmother's leftover knitting.
Ribs and rows of orange, yellow, black
and white announce their edible plumpness
in brazen stripes.

I, too, am dressed for the occasion, wear my purple
trumpet-flower gloves to pluck them from the vine.

In the dirt near the chook house, boiling oil smokes
in a blackened tin. It's harvest time and we're taking a break
from wheelbarrow rides, turning cutworms
into compost, gorging on mulberries and nectarines.

Our plastic buckets seethe and brim. The paint tin
hisses, mouth wide open to sacrifice.

We drop them in, watch the fizzing oil unpick
the mopani worms' perfect mismatched colour.
Catherine wheels explode; petroleum swirls
spin towards the edges.

The worms are floating now, a ghostly knot
of shocked grey sticks. I shift the grass and dust
of Africa between my toes. The sweat on my lip
is ripe mango.

We scoop them up with a slotted spoon,
scatter them onto yellowed newspapers
a delicacy crisping with salt in the sun.


". . . Insects are eaten throughout Africa. Along with grasshoppers, termites, and others, at least forty types of caterpillars are utilized as food across much of Africa; the most widespread of these is the mopane worm, the larva of Imbrasia belina, a large and lovely saturnid moth. Named after the mopane tree (Colophospermum mopane), their food source, the mopane [or mopani] worm appears to be the most collected and sold edible insect species in the world. . . "  To find out more about Mopani worms, click here.  


Welcome back to a new year of Tuesday Poem

This week's editor is TP curator Mary McCallum.  Mary is featuring the stirring poem - Last Rescued Bird - by wildly, widely-published Seattle-based poet, Therese Clear (a favourite of mine, too!).  

Monday, January 17, 2011


This small child's cup - 3 inches high, two and three-quarter inches in diameter - has been in my life for as long as I can remember. When I first wrapped my fingers around it I was three or four years old, waking to the delights of blackcurrant juice (can one still find Ribena in supermarkets, I wonder?), fresh mulberries, slipper-footed bantams and freshly-laid eggs. 

The cup lived in a cupboard in my grandparents' kitchen where it shared space with an odd assortment of old metal baking tins, jelly moulds, a glass lemon squeezer and a collection of variously-shaped 1950s Twinco plastic drinking vessels. The smallest pale green one was my pick of the bunch and, if memory serves me well, the one I repeatedly chose over all the others. I would drink my Ribena tap-water-cool in summer, warmed-for-comfort in winter. 

I can still smell that kitchen and the mysterious fragrances that emanated from its many cupboards - freshly-cut rhubarb and plucked-from-the-tree lemons, the particular smell of a damp-metal cheese grater, coffee grounds from the percolator (always at the ready on the back left plate of the stove), the dusty perfume of lumpy old marshmallows. . . (Marshmallows have never tasted better than the ones my grandmother kept in a tall lidded storage jar at the back of that cupboard; they were pale, stale and chewy. Perfect! Miraculously, that jar never emptied.)

When the time came for my grandparents to sell their rambling old house and move into a small  retirement village cottage, they went through the inevitable process of sifting and sorting, deciding what to take with them, what to pass on, what to send away to the auction. . . It must have been 1984. I would have been twenty-four at the time, newly married and expecting my first child. (I live so much in the present these days that my chronological memory quite often fails me; I recall the stories, with all the feelings and sensory details, but specific dates seem to elude me - does this happen to any of you?)

Young, idealistic and intent on living a simple, uncluttered life, there was very little I hankered for in the way of material things - but I did want that little green cup to come home with me from my grandparent's house. I wanted my children to grow up with it. 

And so it was the cup came to live with us.

My then-husband and I started our married life in a converted tractor shed on a pig farm outside Johannesburg - a characterful, if unusual first abode. P was away more than he was home, tangled up in what was compulsory military service in those days; as a medic, he was spared from having to perform some of the more appalling duties but the army kept him away from home for several months at a stretch. During one such period, he was called away to serve time on the Caprivi Strip, a narrow, dissent-stricken belt of land on the North-Western tip of South West Africa (now Namibia), bordering on Angola, Botswana and Zambia. While he was away, two unrelated murders took place in Nooitgedacht, the rural area we were living in. Translated literally, Nooitgedacht means 'never thought of' and looking back at that time now, it was a pretty isolated spot. . . The first death took place a few miles from where I was living; the second occurred a week later on the farm adjoining ours. 

I was pregnant with my daughter at the time, living out in the bundu*, sans husband. Another young family lived in the main farmhouse not all that far away from me, but they weren't exactly within easy calling distance. The day I learned about the second death, I set about packing our few belongings; I scooped up my clothes, our mattress and bedding, my furry companion (a cloud-coloured cat named Count Cumulus), my stash of art materials and drawing boards and - with my family's help - moved into a small flat in the city. I was working towards my first solo exhibition at the time - the flat belonged to the gallery owner and happened to be empty at the time.   

But that's a whole other story. . .    

Staying with the little green cup. . . my three children drank fruit juice and elbow-temperature rooibos tea from it during their growing years in Cape Town. It spent a decent bit of time in sandpits, garden and bath. When it wasn't in use, it lived on the window sill in our kitchen (holding parsley or flowers), otherwise with all the other plastic bits in the kitchen cupboard.

When our family of five moved to New Zealand in November 1994, the cup took on a new role as sugar scoop in a sugar bin. My ex-husband sold the family house at the end of last year and he and I spent several weeks sorting through the accumulations of two and a half decades lived out on two very different continents. Towards the end of the process - literally moments before we closed the door on that particular chapter of our lives - I remembered my childhood cup. I went through to the all-but-empty kitchen and there it was, nestled in amongst the sugar in the old bin, just as it had been for the previous fifteen years. I brought it home with me that night and use it every morning to scoop-and-scatter seed for the birds that visit my garden, brightening our world with their song. 

Few things remain the same, do they? Given all that's happened in the past forty-six/fifty-plus years, it's remarkable to me that this pale green plastic cup has survived; not only that, it looks exactly as it did when I was three or four years old. What a stalwart. So much of what I considered once-upon-a-time to be permanent, reliable, enduring - 'forever' - has in fact tumbled down, fallen away, cracked, crashed and burned. Other things have risen - are rising - up in their place.

The objects that remain are little more than prompts for memory, for the stories of our lives. The objects themselves aren't 'it.' It's the stories that dwell within them - within us - that live on and continue to imbue our time here with meaning.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Whyte and whittling

whittle |ˈ(h)witl|

verb [ trans. ]
carve (wood) into an object by repeatedly cutting small slices from it.
• carve (an object) from wood in this way.• (whittle something away/down) reduce something in sizeamount, or extent by a gradual series of steps

I've started this post several times. The words 'dither' and 'smoosh' and the old nursery rhyme 'See saw, Marjory Daw' keep popping up, but I've just looked up the dictionary definition for 'whittle' and it's this word - this activity - that comes closest to describing the process I'm in.

Whittling. In an earlier version of this entry, I talked about whittling a new set of paddles; there's still some resonance in that; something rhythmic and intentional about it. 

We wake each morning with no idea how the day will unfold; what will the hours offer? What - or who - might life nudge us towards, and why? What - or who - will we be invited to engage with, resist? What will we set aside, create, rebuild or undo? And how often do we stand/sit/lay down in this place that's somewhere between quiet calm and head-back, throat-open holler? We seem to be living an accelerated 'mixed-bag reality' that - for all its gifts and challenges - we can trust as being ultimately 'on our side'; on the side of good and of forward movement; of alignment, awakening, learning, refinement. The chaffing and sandpapering sure can sting though - never more than when someone we love finds themselves on the receiving end of a sudden sharp shock to their system? 

Group Dynamic (detail) - oil on board - CB 2010

A few weeks ago, my friend Nan (who journeyed from Cape Town to Dunedin last September) sent me David Whyte's poem Sweet Darkness. I'd intended posting it here today but after visiting Whyte's website realized I'd need to have his permission to post that poem here, and - well, the process could have taken days, weeks or months. So, instead of the poem, I'm posting the link to his website. I spent quite some time there, exploring, exploring. Click here for Yorkshire-born David's eloquent thoughts on 'Poetry, Work and Vocation' and on 'Conversational Leadership.' I also have David to thank for last night's visit to the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington (T. Clear, you and Melinda will love this site; Marylinn, too. And Susan and Melissa. . . well, I'm sure you all will. . . ! There are glass bridges and seas to cross, water forests to walk. . . ).

Also whilst wandering the far reaches of the blogosphere late last night, I came across this beautifully expressed piece by David in the Huffington Post - "The Poetic Narrative Of Our Times.".

Here's an excerpt. . . 

". . . It might be liberating to think of human life as informed by losses and disappearances as much as by gifted appearances, allowing a more present participation and witness to the difficulty of living. What is real can never be fully taken away; its essence always remains. It might set us a little freer to believe that there is no path in life - in the low valley, in the shelter of Keane's comfortable bar, snug by a turf fire or abroad in the mountain night, that does not lead to some form of heartbreak when the outer narrative disappears and then reappears in a different form. If we are sincere, every good marriage or relationship will break our hearts in order to enlarge our understanding of our self and that strange other with whom we have promised ourselves to the future. Being a good parent will necessarily break our hearts as we watch a child grow and eventually choose their own way, even through many of the same heartbreaks we have traversed. Following a vocation or an art form through decades of practice and understanding will break the idealistic heart that began the journey and replace it, if we sidestep the temptations of bitterness and self-pity, with something more malleable, compassionate and generous than the metaphysical organ with which we began the journey. We learn, grow and become compassionate and generous as much through exile as homecoming; as much through loss as gain, as much through giving things away as in receiving what we believe to be our due. . . "

You can read the full article here - and, too, Mameen, Whyte's life-affirming poem, that begins 

"Be infinitesimal under that sky, a creature
even the sailing hawk misses, a wraith
among the rocks where the mist parts slowly.
Recall the way mere mortals are overwhelmed
by circumstance, how great reputations
dissolve with infirmity and how you,
in particular, live a hairsbreadth from losing
everyone you hold dear.
Then, look back down the path as if seeing
your past and then south over the hazy blue
coast as if present to a wide future,
recall the way you are all possibilities
you can see and how you live best
as an appreciator of horizons
whether you reach them or not,
. . . "

Waters I Have Known (detail) - oil on paper - CB 2010

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rosa Mira Books

Today is an auspicious date - 11.1.11. A fine line-up of 1's. It is also the date that marks the launch of Penelope Todd's e-publishing company Rosa Mira Books.  

A few months ago - on 18 June 2010 - our friend, fellow blogger, writer, editor & now-independent e-publisher Penelope Todd wrote on her new Rosa Mira Books blog, "It's two years since I woke one night, as clear-minded as I've ever been, and understood that I would begin in the coming years to publish, promote and sell e-books. . . Recently I came across the words of Russian poet and mystic Daniel Andreev that expressed succinctly the kind of work that draws me, into which I will put my energy - 'work that bears the mark of talent and at least one of the following: a sense of beauty, broad scope, profundity of thought, sharpness of insight, purity of heart, or a joyfulness of spirit alongside a keen awareness of the world's darker depths. . .'"

It has been thrilling and inspiring to witness the gestation and (now-imminent) birth of this soul-centered enterprise. I remember clearly Penelope sharing her experience of waking in the early hours of morning a few months into 2008, responding to the 'call of nature.' Out in her back garden, she was struck by the presence of two particularly brilliant stars in a sky pinpricked by the usual innumerable others. She related afterwards that that potent moment acted as a catalyst for what has grown to become Rosa Mira Books. The idea that  seeded that night, persisted and took root. Today, RMB moves from the realm of 'idea' into that of 'actualized vision.' Wow. 

Many years ago, a Carmelite nun stood up in the final discussion session of a workshop I'd been attending in Cape Town and (this, after observing silence throughout the weekend) made the following  statement; 'Reality is born of dreams: we must write our vision high on a billboard. If we want an idea to take shape in the outer world, we must first imagine it in the inner world; then we must speak it. Speech breathes substance into ideas that – if left unspoken – would otherwise remain in the world of the imagined and un-actualized, and therefore of illusion…’


Penelope invites you - wherever you are, and if you're awake - to 'give Rosa Mira Books and The Glass Harmonica: A Sensualist's Tale by Utah-based author, Dorothee Kocks, your energetic well-wishing when the site and its first publication go live this evening.' Please join us in raising your glass or mug - or tipping your hat - at 5.30PM, NZ Daylight Time* when we gather in Penelope's Dunedin home to celebrate this beautiful 'coming-to-fruition', a door opening to a shimmering set of new possibilities. 

Congrats, Pen - you're an inspiration xo


*GMT 4.30 a.m. 11.1.11
EST 11.30 p.m. 10.1.11
Sydney 3.30 p.m. 11.1.11
Utah 9.30 p.m. 10.1.11
Buenos Aires 1.30 a.m. 11.1.11



Today is also Tuesday which means it's Tuesday Poem day. I'm going to exercise a little poetic license this week and welcome in a second Tuesday (tomorrow or the next day, depending. . . ) on which to post a poem. I would, however, like to direct you to the TP hub where Mary McCallum has written an intimate and moving tribute to dear Harvey McQueen who died on Christmas Day after a long battle with a degenerative illness. A more gracious or courageous man than Harvey it would be hard to meet. We will miss him. His tender appreciation of the natural world - its detail, mysteries and rhythms - was a gift to all who encountered him on his blog Stoatspring. He was a deeply reflective and gentle man. 

Rest in peace, Harvey. 

Sunday, January 02, 2011


". . . 'Anyone there?'. . . Several plumped fowl, asleep atop a hand mill that is tucked in one corner of the entrance, awaken with a start and set up a raucous cackle. Beyond the threshold a clay hearth stands, wet and partly discoloured by the rain that is still falling. Above it stands a blackened tea-kettle, whether earthenware or metal I cannot tell. Happily, the fire in the hearth is lit. . . " 

from Kasumakura by Natsuma Soseki - Chapter 2, page 15.

Kasamakura was a Christmas gift from a friend who's in love with all things Japanese - the more spare and ancient the form, the better. This book is considered to be a 'haiku novel.' I'd probably call it a meditation on the arts - and on reading. 

I'm heading away for a few days, driving in the direction of the sky and hills you see in this photograph. We've had an excessive amount of rain here lately and my old mud house in Naseby ('2000  feet above worry level') has been objecting. Water's been making its way in here, there and everywhere. Her patient Christmas tenants have been doing their bit to catch errant drips with pots, pans and buckets. . .  but this is about more than the odd drip. She's old and built of mud & hay bricks. Seeping rain is not good for her; it's clear her (very old) roof needs some tending to. . . So, up I go to consult with my builder friend Phil and come up with a plan of action. Wish us luck! 

See you soon. It's good to know we are all - Northern and Southern hemisphere friends - officially 'in' 2011. Happy New Year. 

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Mudra - 2011

Hand dancer - Kate Alterio 
Music - 'Tale of A Whale' by Chris Tokalon 
Paper flotilla & filming - CB - Dunedin, December 2010

May the coming year hold moments of mystery, poise, luminosity and grace; oceans of wonder, inspiration and space; may each of us know solitude, companionship, a kind and steady pace. . .