17 December 2014

The African tinge to my mince pie baking

Usually while I'm doing Christmassy things like baking fruit mince pies, I dial up some Christmas carols and delight at the voices of boy sopranos. Instead, today I was feeling my African roots, so I listened to Shoshaloza on You Tube. My African roots are no stronger than any other freckly white person's. I mention them because our mitochondrial DNA shows we all come from Africa originally, and I really love African music and dance.

I listened and danced to about ten versions amidst the pastry, tins and fruit mince, with an ipad propped up at the edge of it all (plus my usual kitchen bench accompaniments of school books, art equipment and little girl novels... oh Anna, Anna, you do spread yourself around the house).

I loved them all. A favourite, though, was the Drakensberg Boys Choir's version - make sure you listen to the especially magic second part, you will be smiling and dancing! This version has my requisite boy soprano in it. For pure sound, the winners were an absolutely stunning Swedish choir (N3A of Kungsholmen Gymnasium, the title says).

The Swedish version is kinder to white people - there are no black singers among them to show up their stilted white movements! (This is a song you have to move to while you sing.) I don't know why dark-skinned people move so rhythmically, but I envy and admire them for it. I've seen it repeatedly in Africa, Melanesia and Polynesia (plus of course in Maori people here in New Zealand.)

We spend a lot of time, money and energy on Anna's dancing. She loves it and 'feels' the music, which not everyone with white skin does. It feels important to us. I'm usually sitting on the parents' benches at the side of the class doing the seated groove. Maybe my resolution for next year should be to get up and dance when the music takes me, no matter what the other mothers think! Some might join me! I hate the thought that singing, dancing and playing music is being replaced by listening to and watching other people do it, usually on a screen or sometimes a stage. Why not in our streets, our gardens, our houses?

Where are our roots, people?! Shoshaloza will remind you why they matter.

The mince pies I make are ugly little beggars compared to the others I see. They look like my grandmother's did, because I use her recipe and method, and even her tins! But oh, the taste... unbeatable. They're a really important part of this family's roots.

9 December 2014

Unseasonable wonders in the garden

I suppose humans everywhere talk about unusual climatic events, and have done so ever since humans could talk. Still, humour me by reading this tale of passionfruit, cucumbers and black soil.

It's only just got hot here, really, and at last there are summer sheets hanging on the line, being freshened up ready to replace warm winter sheets later today. Now our passionfruit vine is flowering, and as usual the flowers are over-the-top beautiful and intricate. We even have a few baby fruit, which is normal for early summer.

passionfruit flower

young passionfruit

But normal has meant nothing to my mother's garden in Tauranga, that city of sea and sun. When we visited in July - mid winter! - her vine was flowering. During our visit in September we were actually eating the passionfruit. The vine was simultaneously flowering, ready to go again for summer. Madness, delicious madness!

passionfruit vine in winter

Ripe passionfruit in winter

Cut ripe passionfruit

My own little boast is of cucumbers. We have been eating them for a month, friends. Cucumbers in November just do not happen in Hamilton, especially during a spring with such cold nights. Last year at that time I was struggling with little plants dying of cold. This year they were starting to climb the teepees I made them and dangling their delicious green fruit, which the children gobble up delightedly.

Cucumber growing up teepee

My secret? I'm not sure, but possibly it was the tremendous start the seedlings got. I planted the seeds in late August into little pots on our north-facing porch, and brought them inside the fire-warmed house each night. By October they were flowering and looking like bursting out of their pots, and I was too jaded with repotting tomatoes to do the same for them, so they went in the ground. The soil was well enriched with compost.

In fact I've planted some more seeds, which are just bursting now, for a second burst of cucumbers in late summer. Following the advice of Clare Jackson and Alice Bulmer in their e-book Growing Great Seedlings (just $3.85! And Alice is my friend...), I'm watering them from underneath so as not to disturb the seeds. Sprouting is going well, very well.

cucumber seed sprouting

Finally, black soil. As I've planted trees and buried possums down in our local block of bush, I've drooled over the soil in a certain area. I'm told it was an old Maori garden site, and certainly it's a flattened area below a well-known pa site. Those Maori gardeners certainly knew what they were doing. Apparently they enriched the soil with ash from their fires. I'm sure they could give us other tips as well. How could any plant not thrive in this soil?

black soil

How is your gardening growing?

5 December 2014

Restoring the bush: the big reasons to do it

We live in a city, but close to a beautiful patch of native bush with a boardwalk running through it. It's next to the mighty Waikato River. This morning I walked along the river's edge, rounded a corner and there was a harrier hawk taking flight - I had frightened it away before I'd even spotted it. Its senses were so much better than mine. It was big, graceful and totally silent - a contrast to the noisy flight of ducks and tuis. Just gorgeous.

It had been in the shallows of the river. Perhaps it had caught a fish? There was nothing to see among the ripples it left behind. I walked on, and a minute later I came across a small broken blue egg speckled with brown, either hatched or eaten. Another minute or so later there was a blackbird on the ground, far closer to me than usual - was it sick, perhaps? It jumped away from me, but didn't fly. I walked away, not wanting to harass it.

I find peace and joy in encounters with nature, and I'm not alone. It's good for everyone, it turns out, and there are now many studies showing that people have better physical and mental health when they spend time in nature. Children learn better, too. Nature is not just a 'nice to have', it's essential to humans' well being.

(Although once I knew a woman who was moving to New York. She would be delighted, she said, if she never saw a paddock again. Mind you, I don't like paddocks, either. I didn't ask her about native bush, rivers and beaches, but I'd be surprised if she'd be happy to see them receding as she looked out of the plane window. Or maybe her nose was deep in the latest fashion mag.)

Four or so years ago this was mostly weeds.
I'm involved with a group that's helping to restore our local patch of bush to its former glory. We dress in unfashionable old clothes to do this rough work. Stunning and biodiverse as our bush is, there are terrible weeds and pest animals amidst the beauty. For the first time this week we wandered down on a Wednesday evening to start a series of weekly working bees to get on top of the weeds. Usually we do monthly afternoon working bees, but this is a cooler summer alternative.

"This is better than blobbing out in front of the telly after work," said one man as he sawed down a weedy privet tree. "Usually I feel like doing nothing when I come home, but once I get into it.... this is GREAT."

So we worked, not out of a sense of obligation. (I think we do have an obligation, though. Who brought all the weeds and pests that ravage this stunning country? Our forebears.) Rather, we're excited about the beauty we're creating, stoked by our sense of achievement, and happy to be getting in among it. We're in awe, too, of what we are in the midst of - this week we found a little patch of exquisite native ferns growing next to a heap of weeds. Nature creates such lovely things.

In many ways, though, it's not just about the bush. We're connecting with others in our community. We're being useful. These are things that are well known to make people happier and healthier.

I got a bit excited about the importance of nature after hearing Richard Louv speak a couple of weeks go. He's the author of the best-seller Last Child in the Woods. He pointed out that because most of us live in towns and cities these days, creating nature-rich urban areas that we can get to easily is vital if we are to have the well being we all want. Urban ecological restoration, it's called (well, it's restoration if you're restoring what used to be there before people came on the scene).

It made me feel proud of our slice of goodness, and the way we nurture it - it's not just for ourselves, or for the bush and creatures that live in it, but for anyone who wants to come here.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...