The “Red House” just north of Greytown in the Wairarapa.
Its looked like this for years, but now its for sale with the surrounding land, and I suspect it won’t be standing for much longer.
I come from a flat land, a long, flat valley.
A ridge of mountains and hills rises in the west.
A river works its way, as rivers do,
from those hills, across farmland, to the sea,
flooding when the rains are heavy, and the seas run high.
One long straight road runs the length of this plain,
from south to north,
passing through townships,
that spread out on either side.
This flat land, where trees are a feature, two storied houses a novelty.
what effect does this horizontal landscape have on the soul?
is the only way, up and out
or to dig deeper?
I was taken to a city surrounded by hills,
cushioned in their green embrace, some might say,
or restrained, contained,
depending on your point of view.
I had a friend who would leave town every chance she got,
driving up and over those hills
to the wide open spaces of yet another flat land,
where she felt she could breathe.
I would head to the coast,
and stand watching the sea stretching ahead to the horizon.
I’d hold my breath and imagine drifting away,
across impossible distances to invisible lands, Chile or Peru.
When I go home to the land of my father,
I travel south to north,
and I pass an old farm building,
just past the town I was born in.
Its been falling down for all the years that I’ve been driving past it,
clinging on to its place,
held up by weeds and lichen and rust,
keeping its head up, for the photographs of strangers.
A rarity with stairs going up to an empty landing and a second floor.
If I lived here, I could climb those stairs and watch the sunset
watch the clouds building up over the western hills
watch the traffic heading north and south.
Empty windows and collapsing walls
would make for a quick escape
but maybe these open spaces mean
you would never feel confined.
Now its for sale
along with its own expanse of flat land,
just over eight hectares.
I read that its known as “the red house”
built in the 1870s, an “icon” of the area.
Fame has reached its doorstep,
its hand is on the door.
As soon as its sold
I hope there’s a storm
I hope the wind and rain bring it down
before some shiny-shoed developer
has their way with it.
This old girl needs the dignity of being dismantled by the elements
not to be pushed over by some anonymous digger.
And I hope some builder of a tiny-house sneaks in,
and takes the wood to reuse in their own home,
reds and yellows to brighten their days.
what effect does this horizontal landscape have on the soul?
is the only way, up and out, or to dig deeper?
well, there’s room here to expand
a soul has room to see in all directions, to turn and breathe and stretch
to build its own way up, to reach for stars and clouds
to dig into the earth, to plant, and grow, and harvest
or to discover how to swim, as it flows south with the river to the sea
this flat land
its expansion all the way
in which ever direction
you need to follow
the dark contracts
edges pull together, coalesce into beak and claw and feather
black energy takes form
These black beauties are making themselves known. They peck at the edges of the garden, throwing decaying leaves across the driveway. They peck in the guttering, throwing clumps of mucky sludge onto the deck. And they peck at my kitchen window.
Last weekend, there was a tapping at the window. I didn’t realise what it was at first, then one of the cats started looking out the window making that strange chattering, chirruping noise, and I thought, “ah – a bird”. A minute later the pecking noise came again, but I wasn’t quick enough to see who was there. And then – at a different window directly opposite me – a bird started tapping. It seemed to be almost hovering – head bobbing back and forward to tap the glass – wings outstretched. I stepped forward – it looked up, then flew away.
What was its message? Did it have one? Perhaps it was simply a curious youngster intrigued by its own reflection?
I don’t need to know.
What I love is the connection – the bird-world visiting.
And this day – this first day of spring – I feel the dark of winter withdrawing.
It condenses into seed and bud and bird – ready to release its energy into a bright new season.
Its time I posted these thoughts.
I started writing this in June – and for some reason wasn’t sure about sharing. But its time now…
In the last few weeks of last year I went to a short series of art classes, deliberately choosing the option that would challenge me the most, drawing and painting.
This is something I’ve always wanted to do, but never felt capable. Part of the problem is that I’d never learnt how. I’ve had a shocking tendency to think that if I can’t just naturally know how to do something straight away, then I’ll dismiss it by saying its not for me. (I know that this must be some form of self protection – but let’s not go there now…). And even when I have discovered something I’m good at, I haven’t kept working at it. Persevering hasn’t been a strength. Writing is probably the only thing I’ve really stuck at.
So – these art classes, about seven sessions – following the guidance of the tutor, his techniques, his encouragement, and sometimes, his direct acts of correction and teaching – it was a revelation.
I discovered I could draw – from a photo at least. I’m still working up to drawing from life.
So – the first session began with the instruction to try to draw the person sitting opposite. This is what I thought was a reasonable effort:
What was I thinking?
Then later that session, following the guidance of the tutor, and working from a photograph, I managed this:
And then the following weekend I did this drawing at home: (from a photo of Virginia Woolf’s mother, Julia Stephen).
I was learning to look – learning to see.
During the next few sessions we explored different media and techniques, mixing colours, and I discovered the joy of painting with oil.
My elderly cat Frida died towards the end of the sessions. A week or so later, I went to the next class, and tried to engage with a couple of the photos provided as prompts for painting, but it felt as if it was forced, almost as if there was a rhythm I could sense but not connect with. So I restarted using my own photo of my girl – and if there is a “flow” then I fell deeply into it.
I didn’t quite realise what I was doing until I heard a couple of “ooh”s and “aah”s from behind me. I stepped away and walked across the room – turning back – it was as if Frida was shining through the darkness. “Ghostly” was a word one or two others used.
I remember feeling quite spooked, quite stunned that I’d come close to her likeness, and that it had such an eerie quality. I was happy – but also in quite a strange state of mind – floating. To be honest, not really in a very focused state to start the 40 minute drive home. A near miss at a round-about shocked me into paying attention, and made me realise what a strange state I was in.
Can animals come through to us?
Can we channel their energy?
Was the thin veil still open, so I was in tune with her essence?
Did she come through to me, gifting me with an ability to see and create that I longed for but hadn’t known til now?
That’s how it felt. As if she had been present – and it wasn’t a “cat” presence. It was an energy, a pressure, a transference. As if there was more to her than I had realised when she was in cat form. And I haven’t stopped, I’ve kept working.
We got another cat. A sweet, nervy, anxious creature. I painted him that summer.
This year, I started a painting of my friend’s dog. I wasn’t happy with the background, so I started another.
Just a few weeks ago I gave them both to her. And it felt good to release them into the world.
So – this is why there hasn’t been so much writing on here lately. This new passion has taken hold. And it feels like something I will persevere with. I know I’ll have days when I’ll feel as if its all rubbish and I should give up. But I’ve seen enough to know that this is something I can do – and I love it.
My goal – to keep learning – and to find a way to combine words and images – perhaps to have text as part of a painting.
Its going to keep me busy for a long time…
Winter speaks in many voices
the languages of stars, of birds
of wind and rain
and the small dark hollows under trees
she writes her prayers with clouds
she spells the names of dark nights
with the rare bare branches
of this evergreen land
a vegetal alphabet
on her tongue
thunder her drum
lightning her torch
she curses her way across the sky
Winter speaks in many voices
today she is sleeping
and all I hear is her slow rhythm
breathing in, breathing out
the canopies of trees swell gently
heads pressing softly together
and Winter rests
cradled in their arms
her cool lips brush
across the tips of leaves
today she is weeping
all day her tears have fallen
who does she cry for
what love is lost
how can I hold her
when she slips away
her song riding on the wings of birds
today she smiles
the day is bright
the sun low, and reaching
deep between branches
Winter whispers to the leaves
naming each one
her eyelashes brittle and snap in the wind
arms, hair, fists flail across the sky
fury unleashed, and undirected
great gobs of spittle cast against windows
but these tears cleanse
rinsing dust and dirt and spit
from every branch and leaf
until the world
she thrashes in her sleep
ripping bedsheet and blanket
throws dishes across the kitchen
blocks the sink and floods the floor
she breaks the windows and runs barefoot
and bleeding into the night
today is fine
still and sunny
she has brushed her hair
and dressed for lunch
in blue and yellow
she sits with one elbow on the table
wrist arched back
as she might if a cigarette was held between her fingers
she is quiet
reading and tracing the pattern on the tablecloth
with one hand
today is fine
blue sky, high clouds
she is silent
as her daughter
drops her head
slips the cloak of darkness
across her shoulders
and makes her escape
and in the morning
she sings up the sun
whispers into the ears of snails
her voice circling in the spiral hallway
whispering into the quiet spaces between petals
her warm words lifting the feathers
of sleepy birds
her breath settles low on the hills
letting the morning wake slowly
she speaks quietly
as the green rises
and the birds wake
and the barefoot creatures
step into the light
after the long winter
when the shadows linger
we begin to see movement
Earlier this month I was distracted by a whale in the harbour, planets in alignment and the lunar eclipse – so distracted that I wasn’t aware of the turning of the month, calendar time was lost on me.
So now we’re in August – the days are still short with dark mornings and dark nights – but the plants know spring is coming. New shoots are forming, some plants already flowering, and birds are back in the garden.
There’s a restlessness in me after so much time spent inside. I find myself moving outside – even in the dark – in the rain – my lungs are opening to the freshness in the air.
My first attempt at an “Inspiration Map”.
I first saw one of these created by @shewhois on instagram and thought it was a great idea 🙂
From top left:
And just today I learned of the sad loss of Marion Woodman – she belongs in more than one of my nine squares.