Aotearoa North Meets South

It feels a world away.

This jagged rock face

the dry, bitter winds

whistling through thorny Rosehip and Mataguri

over tussocks of yellow moss.

Air so cool and fresh in my lungs that it

stings my nostrils and pinkins my cheeks.

 

This place, these shortened sunlight days,

could not be more in contrast

to the sticky heat of the bush.

 

Linen off the line that comes in never quite dry.

Ferns curled as Kora

dripping with condensation.

A constant plume of flying insects following everyone, swarming on the golden beaches.

Sand in my shoes, salt in my hair.

Hot, humid nights, staring at the ceiling, trying not to move.

Early, curtainless mornings with the sun rising into orange hue.

After a seemingly endless day, the sun drops slowly into the blue ocean.

Crumbling clay banks coming alive with glow worms.

The dull ache of tired bones after a long summer.

 

So different now, as I sit amid swathes of blankets and cushions,

curtains half drawn

log burner bellowing dry heat

watching the steam rise from a cup of tea.

I look at the mountains dusted in snow.

The lake, glass-like, reflects that very same sky.

Welcome to Motueka

I arrived here in the pouring rain. White-grey clouds hung in damp swathes half way up pine trees, and I squinted ahead through the spattered windscreen wondering where the hell I was going, or if I was even in the right place. My journey to the south island, starting from a little suburb in Wellington had gone without a hitch so far, the most pleasurable part being a north-west drive along route 63, vineyards either side with a long straight highway ahead. I had the whole road to myself and enjoyed singing along to my Waterboys Live album.

As I drove along the unsealed road, feeling uncertain of the exact address, I saw four very wet horses in a field to my right. My hosts said she had horses, so this could be the place. Turning into the driveway I wondered if I was too early, but coming to a halt on the asphalt driveway I could see my host across the grass shutting the gate to a field. I wrestled with my rain mac and stepped out of the car, suddenly aware that I’m wearing fishnet tights, a summer dress and Doc Martins and being struck with the thought that I look like a real townie… what was I thinking when I put this on this morning when heading to work on a farm?

Walking towards the concerned looking woman I outstretched my hand “Hi I’m Bryony, nice to meet you.” We shared a sodden handshake “Janice. Welcome to Motueka. Have you seen my dog?” She looked around frantically “I don’t know if he went with my husband or if he’s gone off, roaming around.” Janice seemed very concerned and quite preoccupied in searching for her absent pet. “Here I’ll show you the cottage and you can get settled” She had a strong east coast American accent and stood at around five feet tall. Her shoes were not made for such a downpour and I could see they were wet through. I pulled my backpack from the passenger seat and followed her around the back of the huge garage to a little one roomed cottage with a deck that looked out towards the paddock with horses. Janice showed me the separation toilet system which is similar to a compost loo, explained the shower workings and the solar electricity use and left me to unpack my things.

Whenever I arrive at a new place, almost by default, I flick the kettle on and have a brew. It’s my way of making a place feel more like my home and musing over where I need to put things. I tested both beds and browsed the bookshelf which was full of travel books and non-fiction about sustainable living and wild plants of Alaska.

Sometime later I came into the house which felt somewhat warmer than the cottage, with the smell of slow cooked chicken and potatoes bubbling in the crock pot. Janice and I talked about her French ancestors in Quebec, learning French, my time as a chalet host in the Alps, and her friends who own a vineyard near here. “I did a whole day of grape picking with them yesterday” She told me “it can be really quite medative, and it’s so good to get to know people in the local community”.

I listened while she told me about her campaigns and petitions to ban the use of 1080; a deadly poison being dropped in rivers and woodland very close to their land. “They call it conservation, to kill off non-native animals and plants. But when you kill off what you don’t want, you also kill what you do want. It’s obscene. Complete eradication of life.” I mused on this for a while, and thought about my cousins work, a company contracted by DOC to pull out and tag non-native plant life. Do they use spray and chemicals I wonder? How many years does it stick around in the soil?

“Here’s a red I uncorked earlier” Janice took an unlabelled bottle from the sideboard and filled two small glasses of wine. I felt cold, my feet were damp on the floorboards and the window was open, I could have done with another cup of tea but when we chinked glasses and I tried the wine I was pleasantly surprised by its warm fruity flavour. “This was payment for yesterday’s picking” she smiled, and her dark brown eyes became warm and soft with the dusk light in the dining area. Janice and I played a game called Quirkle at the table, matching little wooden tiles with symbols and colours. She did well to explain it to me, my brain had become quite addled after a long journey and new surroundings and I tried as best I could to not completely muck up the symmetry of the game. Later, her step-son and husband Barry arrived home from a trip into town and they had Kai, the pet Labrador! Needless to say, Janice was thrilled to see him. I went to bed shortly after dinner and washing up, feeling quite tired from the journey.

The next morning I woke to the sound of the river, high with all the rainfall from the previous day, gushing vigorously over black rock. It was a cool dawn and the sun had just begun to rise over the high hills which were not visible when I arrived. I opened the door and the view took my breath away. I was struck by the beauty of being nestled in a steep valley of dark green fields, native bush and with patches of pine trees higher up. It reminded me of arriving in Morzine in the French alps; the first time I’d seen a real alpine town, there was snow settling on the higher pines and blowing into town.

Pulling on my chequered shirt, I thought about poo picking the paddocks, the sound of horses munching on hay, what I might eat for breakfast, and a steaming cup of tea.

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The morning view of the valley

Island Home

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A dull light slowly pervades through my curtainless window, a gentle awakening. I tug on my cotton shirt and heave open the badly hung door to my bedroom, barefeet slapping against the wooden floorboards through the kitchen.

Sliding open the glass door to the deck, I see the sun has not yet broken over Ruahine on the southernmost tip of the island, the sky made up of endless swathes of milky blue and warm pink hues. I hear the waves breaking gently onto the beach and witness fishermen keen to get their boats into the water, backing their trailers down the boat ramp and wading knee deep into the drifts. Thinking of a box of cold beers and a bucket of fresh snapper.

I stretch my arms above, stand on my tip toes, yawn loudly. Morning world.

The cicadas slowly wake as the sun creeps up, casting hot orange light onto damp, dense bush. Tuis can be heard rustling among ferns, singing their most unusual song.

Metal on metal as I slam the kettle onto the gas stove, thought of hot coffee on my mind. I fill the large cast iron pan from the tap outside, the days water, only seven mosquito larvae today.

My cousin emerges, he’s been reading for an hour in bed, stomps along the deck to go round the back for a mimi. The house shudders.

The kettle boils, whistles, screams. It’s desperate to be poured. I relieve it, gladly, and the morning rolls away into endless cups of steaming tea and watching cars drop down into the bay. People living their lives, unaware of being witnessed by the bush dwellers. The smell of warm ocean and wet ferns breezes through the open windows, tugs at the cobwebs and blows through the clothes that have been forgotten about on the line for days.

Clear blue day, woes at bay.

Home

Watching the days turn to nights
And the nights growing darker from my bedroom window
I think how I shall miss the little things of home.

The orange, crockery clad kitchen with a warm aga resting at its heart
The incompetent ‘bin’ in the cupboard, into which we play Jenga on Saturday afternoons with litter,
and Tetrus in the baking cupboard.
Mama never liked order anyway.

The creaky floorboards in the hall that tell you when someone pauses to gaze into the dark mirror, or stare into the glass bottle case.

The Christmas wrapping paper that has been used three times already and smells slightly of mould due to its storage in the under-stairs cupboard. Nostalgic, because its scent is also that of Papa’s Cinefilms.

The snug living room that has special long velvet curtains that hide French doors. Barely used.

‘The Den’, all blue, refreshing;
Dad’s room which smells of fusty books and pipe tobacco,
huge and ancient maps adorn the walls and the sound of swallows nesting outside pervade the room through large, sash windows.

The huge, hot shower in the bathroom has heard many songs and poems recited, like a recording booth.
The bath too, has healed many of my hurts.

The intimate nook in the garden
next to the pond and under the small willow tree,
where one feels eventually part of nature.

The range of obscure teas home has,
the colourfulness of home
the bone chilling cold of home in the winter when draughts blow between skirting boards and floor,
The whistling of the wind on the corner of the house outside my bedroom;
it feels wonderfully comforting.

I will miss these things of home
the familiarity and warmth.
I will miss home

Written: October 2013

Why I am pro-choice

Just three days ago I woke from a nightmare so real that I genuinely believed I was faced with the decision of abortion or motherhood. It felt completely real and I honestly felt like I was in that situation. In the nightmare I was in the early stages of pregnancy. Words cannot express the sense of fear and isolation that shook me to my core. Although there is no danger of me becoming pregnant soon and it was only a nightmare, I have new found empathy for those who are faced with such a situation in their real life; regardless of the consequences under which they became pregnant. At one point in the nightmare I was walking towards the clinic with people shouting “Shame on you!” and “You disgust me!” in my direction and they had signs with foetuses on.
To any woman who finds themselves in such a predicament; my heart goes out to you. The pro-lifers will hate me for this, but I believe that it’s important to bring up a generation of people that are truly loved and cared for, not because their parents were forced to have them. Although I do believe in the importance of all human life, I think that everyone should have the option of a safe, clean termination if they so wish.
Those who heckle and wield signs at people heading into an abortion clinic; do you not think they have tortured themselves enough over such a decision? It’s not something to be taken lightly. The hecklers also have no idea about the condition of the foetus; I have read a moving story on Aaron Gouveia and his wife who found out their unborn child had Sirenomelia, so they had almost no choice but to abort, and Aaron confronted the pro-life protesters outside the clinic.
I genuinely believe it is up to the mother to decide whether or not they should abort their unborn child; it is not for society, not for the law, not for the church or any other self-righteous people to make such a life-changing decision. That is why I’m pro-choice. I will leave you with a quote from Caitlin Moran: “I cannot understand anti-abortion arguments that centre on the sanctity of life. As a species, we’ve fairly comprehensively demonstrated that we don’t believe in the sanctity of life. The shrugging acceptance of war, famine, epidemic, pain and lifelong, grinding poverty show us that, whatever we tell ourselves, we’ve made only the most feeble of efforts to really treat human life as sacred.” The international population has a lot of work to do on everything else that threatens human life before criticising others decision to have an abortion.
Written: April 2013

Short story set in The Lake District

Crummock Water by Phil Atherton on Flickr
Crummock Water by Phil Atherton on Flickr
Up in the north of Britain lies a sleepy village set among the mountains of The Lake District. In the summer, torrents of water flow down ancient peaks and fields are swathed with lush, green grass, craggy rocks and the shadows of clouds dancing high above.
This particular village has a popular, cosy pub within which locals fill almost every weekend. Punters pour in, just as they had for many hundreds of years, ducking under low wood-wormed beams to sip cold pints of bitter after a long day’s work. The Willow Inn is regularly full of men and women of the village by sun down; a log fire burns slowly, warming the faces of drinkers and the smell of ale and crusty steak pies fills the air.
A young, fair woman works behind the bar called Sally. She has a soft, welcoming face and strong hips under a black apron. Sally is a chatty woman in her early twenties and has been working at the pub since leaving school five years ago. Every evening she tends the bar, putting out fresh beer mats, polishing wine glasses and filling up the cash tray. On this particular July evening, the pub is hot and crowded; Sally has another barmaid helping her pull pints and take money. A hard faced bearded man leans over the bar, stooping at the shoulders a little to fit under the beam.
“Evenin’ Sally” he greets her with a slightly disingenuous smile.
“Hey there, the usual?” Sally replies, looking a little flushed. She has seen this man come in numerous times; he knew her, but she had never caught his name- she now feels it’s too late to ask.
“No. I’ll have a Fosters top tonight seeing as it’s summer and actually warm for a change.” he slides his hand into his back pocket to retrieve his wallet and adds “Nice and refreshing.” Something about the man doesn’t seem quite right, he holds Sally’s gaze for too long; she feels put on the spot.
“Sure”
She pulls back from the bar and grabs a pint glass from under the counter. Sally holds the glass at a right angle to the lager tap and pulls down the tab, watching closely as the orange fluid slowly fills the glass. In the waiting time, the young woman glances around the pub to observe the chatting people, leaning against walls and tables and conversing near open windows that let in a small amount of fresh air. The tap must be faster at filling than usual because without realising, Sally fills the whole glass to the top and it is now overflowing and running down her hand. Sally hastily flicks the tab up and pulls the glass away. The lager then drips onto her black shoes. Feeling watched by her customer, Sally tries to amend her error by pouring some of the beverage into the overflow container; she then tops it off with lemonade from the tap. Sally places the full glass on the bar and meets the man’s staring eyes.
“Made a bit of a hash of that didn’t you?” He looks serious now, almost scary. Not knowing how to respond, Sally half-shrugs and laughs softly, hoping he will pay her and move away soon.
“That’s three pounds fifty please.” Sally is wiping her hands on a tea towel, trying to rid herself of the sticky alcohol that she had spilt. Of the whole job, having beer on her hands at the end of a shift was her least favourite thing. The man slowly counts out his change into the barmaid’s hand, and gives her an accomplished look when he’s finished.
“Thank you” Sally smiles and turns her back to him to put the money into the till. She rotates back round to serve the next customer but still he stands in the same spot. He looks at her and lifts the glass to his lips, tasting it to make sure it’s right. “mmm” he murmurs finally, and shuffles away from the bar.
Sally breathes a sigh of relief. Something about the man makes her feel unsettled. The night wears on and the last orders bell finally sounds. The young barmaid looks forward to getting home to her double bed and cotton sheets, to waking late and gazing across the many fields of wondering sheep.
Finally, Sally’s shift comes to an end. After saying goodbye to her co-workers she retrieves her torch from her handbag and set out into the cool, dark evening. Leaving the pub, a calm breeze blows around Sally’s shoulders; she takes a deep breath of fresh air and walks along the dark, quiet lane. The ground is slightly wet because it had rained in the morning so she is careful to avoid puddles and enjoys the wind down after work.
Grassy banks lye either side of the narrow lane, with high hedges and Oak and Beech trees that create and arch over the road. The trees and foliage gently rustle in the breeze, but other than that it is silent where she walks. Minutes pass, Sally is nearly home where she lives with her mother in a small cottage with a stream running through the back garden. She always has to be quiet when she comes in from a shift because she knows her mother will be asleep upstairs.
Sally is just about to take the left fork in the road to struggle up a steep incline to the cottage, but she is suddenly aware of a presence behind her, and steps growing closer. Paranoia, she thinks while quickening her pace slightly. Gradually, the steps get loader and faster. Sally’s heart jumps with fear and with a trembling hand, she turns around to shine her torch in the direction that the steps came from.
Nothing.
Nothing but a slight rustle in the hedge. Must have been a bird, thinks Sally. The young woman continues up the steep road, beginning to get breathless and eager to get a door between her and the night.
Finally, Sally reaches her garden gate and hastily swings it open making sure it latches behind her.
He was waiting.
A figure lurches up from behind the hedge in the garden and grabs her by the arm. Screaming, sally tries to free herself from the man’s clutches. Realising there’s not enough time to get her keys from her bag and make it to the front door, Sally quickly knocks the man over the head with her torch and sprints to the back garden. Hearing him fast approaching, Sally runs for the small shed near the stream and throws herself inside. The door opens outwards so she hangs on to the handle inside, pulling on it with all her weight while the intruder tries to force it open.
Suddenly, the attack on her ceases as the mystery assailant is thrown onto the ground by a second person. Sally peers through the moulding Perspex window of the shed to see what’s happening by the light of the moon.
Two men are struggling against one another on the sodden grass, punching and kicking, they aim to force the other to the ground.
“I warned you not to come here Drew.” Shouted the bearded man that Sally had served in the pub.
“It’s my house, my bloody family!” replied the other man, who is now sprawled in a heap on the grass and at the mercy of Sally’s defender.
“You lost the right to see them long ago.” Said the other, breathing heavily after their short scrap. “You abused Sally’s mother and left them to fend for themselves; alone and isolated. You don’t deserve to know your daughter.” He stands upright over the man Sally has now learnt is her father.
That man, who frightened and chased her, is in her blood.
Sally finds a bike chain and lock on the floor and proceeds to loop it through the handle of the door and attaches it to the lawnmower to secure herself inside.
“I can do what I like” she hears him say “why are you here anyway Ray?”
“I’m an old friend of Sally’s mum, and I knew you’d be coming. You’re a sneaky rat, get the hell out of here. No-one around here wants to see you, not since what you did to Carol.”
The old man on the grass tries to fight Ray once again but is kicked hard in the stomach. Ray gets Drew in a headlock and pulls him over to the stream, he then hold his head under the painfully cold water for a few seconds before pulling him out by the hair.
“Leave!” shouts Ray, clenching his teeth in anger.
Drew slowly rises to his feet, battered and bruised he hobbles off towards the front of the house like a wounded dog.
Ray stands on the lawn, and after watching his opponent leave, stares at the shed trying to make out Sally’s frightened face in the window. She can see him, but he can’t see her. The moonlight falls brightly on him, casting a large shadow on the grass.
Minutes pass, she waits.
Sally stays in the shed until sunrise, listening to the running stream for comfort; she is too afraid to leave the safe enclosure just yet. When the light streams into the shed at last, Sally stands up and glances outside the window. The lawn is empty now.
What lies beyond the flimsy door of her shelter is a world of unknown. It is not the natural world, baring all its brawn that frightens her. Not the storms, torrents of icy water, thick layers of granite and other such substance below us, nor the predators, vast expanse of ocean, driest deserts, widest planes, highest mountains, most barren canyons, volcanos peaks or deadliest plants. It is humanity that terrifies Sally. The raw, barbarousness of what people do to each other; the pain we inflict on ourselves.
Written: April 2013

Spring

Silent oak trees
naked in the dusk,
still and watching,
breathing in smoky musk.

Pallid pink streaks
lay across blue, mottled skies
outside my window
bearing witness to unutterable lies.

Alone I wait,
for spring to break
from stems and branches
how long will it take?

For brown to turn to green,
for black, sleepless nights
to transform into warm, sparkling evenings,
for others to receive their deserved rights?

Birds swoop towards nests,
sheep move for shelter,
they know natures harshness
and outside they felt her.

People drive home for the day
exuding thick, grey smoke,
bustling, talking, consuming and ruling,
slowly,
we choke.

Written: March 2013