Get On The Grass

I have fond memories of grass related activities as a child. We made mud slides in paddocks (picture supplied, T’shirts never recovered),  played hide and seek in waist high kikuyu (think a grass version of waist deep snow) and learnt the seasonal prickles via experience. I reckon most kiwi kids recognise the green to brown change of onehunga weed in summer. I remember doing athletics and hoping not to get ‘the prickle lane’. Some sports like hockey have benefited from the move to artificial turf but I reckon those of us who battled the natural stuff learned a lot about friction and the usefulness of sleeves for wiping mud out of your eyes.

But it’s even simpler than that. I remember making seed head sling shots and blowing dandelions.  And who can make a grass whistle between their thumbs? (Well it sounds more like a cross between a fart and a scream combined than a whistle). Today I remembered and shared these with a young person and the delight and joy of mastering the art of mimicking flatulence was as it has always been.

So come on all you grown up kiwi kids time to bond over some seedy weed fun with younger kids. Lets not lose these traditions to technology or lawn mowers.


Plastic not so fantastic

Petroleum products have not been around for long but they have certainly had an impact on our lives and the environment. Our love affair with hydrocarbons has spawned all sorts of useful things including my favourite – polyurethane wheels for skate boards. The 70’s saw the explosion of plastic inventions including Tupperwear and cling wrap or ‘glad wrap’ (aptly named for the time). I remember my Dad keenly wrapping everything in my lunch box so much so that completing a rubix cube might have been easier to solve than how to get into my sandwiches. These days almost everything comes wrapped in some form of plastic. Sometimes I want to laugh hysterically, don a balaclava and run into a fruit and vege shop with a craft knife and free all cucumbers and cauliflower that are suffocating in PVC condoms and polystyrene.

The relationship with this stuff needs to change. We need to break it off as a species and get honest with the cost – not the monetary value or economic impact – the cost to nature. I’m not sure if you have tried enjoying a walk on the beach recently but I don’t so much as enjoy it anymore as find myself picking up bits of bags, pegs, corks, nylon, and ‘sad wrap’. There is a bit of an addiction to problem-solution thinking as well. Yes we need to clean up the environment but it’s become a trend to find novel ways to use waste creatively or find ways to recruit nature to help do the cleaning up. One of the current ideas is that mealworms are the answer – they can eat polystyrene apparently and not get a hangover. Sounds very ethical, keep making a mess and let someone else clean it up – and you don’t even have to pay them. But plastic that gets into the ocean is another story. Sea life needs better protection and every loose bit that falls into the sea is a hazard. If it isn’t strangling something, it’s ingested even when dissolved into microscopic levels. Yes – plastic has been found in plankton, the only way is up the food chain from there.

Summer is coming, the beach is calling. If you see a bag blowing along the beach, jump on it – just watch the sudden reduction in friction resulting in the inadvertent splits and potential hamstring strain. Nature has just one request leave nothing but footprints and buttock creases.

Butt out of it

I have grown up with pets but I really am a cat lover. My cat Jack is easy to communicate with, he lifts his tail high in the air to greet me and if a cat does this to you it is quite a compliment. He kindly warns me as well if he is not in the mood, swishy-flicky tail. I have my own strange games that I play, silly voices and tricks. It’s a way of bonding and being with each other and yet I still respect his need to be cat like. If he brings in birds he gets congratulated and I quietly dispose of the corpse. I’m just glad he isn’t like other cats I know who bring in weta and stick insects I would not be so congratulatory.

Like all felines he has his favourite spots and routines, including waking at 5:30am on the dot even in the holidays. Cleaning is one of them and of course cats are very thorough when it comes to the nether regions. It might come as a surprise that animals are unashamedly naked all the time but should we really take offense? Well some apparently are and want to do a ‘hole cover up’ in order to maintain a sense of decorum. So we have butt bling for cats…what else can you say really. For a while I wondered about the practicality, like how to ‘attach’ the adorning jewels. Youtube answered that and I was relieved to find out no insertion was required. Sure it’s a bit of a fun gimmick and no-one will really take it seriously and I have no doubt the cats who don’t want to wear one will not have one on for very long.

But seriously leave animals in their natural state. If people have hang ups on body parts so be it but let’s not transfer our insecurities. And besides if you don’t want people to look, sticking something glittery and sparkly isn’t likely to help.

Playing along for a moment I think a dangling a big eye would be the best – brown of course.

Home Grown

Turning over the garden, turning over thoughts and memories of growing up in a hunter growing family I noticed the accumulation and intersections of meanings unfold. There was also the realisation that there is a purpose for crocs, they are in the garden – socks optional. So while I have been reading and immersing myself in some rich philosophical texts I still feel a need to ground my thinking in familiar activities and metaphors. However it isn’t the growing ideas I want to go with, it is the process of gardening itself, of cultivating, deciding how to plant seeds and the ways this reveals some of the cultural and historical practices of knowledge.

My Dad grew up in the 50’s, hunting and fishing were part of the Man as provider story emerged out of other philosophical discourses about nature (woman) needing to be tamed, dominated, conquered, brought under Mans control. Gardening was a big part of my childhood as was fishing and a bit of hunting and I feel enriched by these experiences. Dad’s garden and style of gardening reflected the values and self sufficiency of an age where industrial production of food was still in it’s infancy. The post–war generation learnt how to take care of themselves, it wasn’t a fashion statement it was born out of a genuine experience of hardship. But my goodness as a kid in the 70’s, it was like a religion with Eion Scarrow being our own green saviour. Yates bibles filled the shelves and anything that got in the way of producing perfect tomatoes, silverbeet, etc was annihilated. Chemical warfare was absolutely legit practice, he was Mr “Spray and walk away”. If things weren’t growing you just put more fertiliser on – more, more, more. Bugs didn’t stand a chance, neither did weeds, neither did birds – nature had no business in nature. Being alongside it and respecting the natural world wasn’t the kind of relationship being modelled at the time (things did change). But we ate well (let’s just side step the chemical bit) – no shortage of greens. And I learned about generosity and sharing. Because there really are only so many grapefruit and tomatoes you can eat juice, freeze, pulp. Looking after your neighbours was part of it and a good way to practice your fishy story telling (probably where I learned the art of hyperbole). People swapped seeds, shared tips and tools and connected over their successes and failures, learning from each other.

Moving through the 80’s – 90’s saw a huge shift economically and as such culturally for the ways we related to food production and what we ‘consumed’ in terms of associating gardening with lifestyle. For me this is where I feel a bit of nostalgic loss for ye old school ‘rip shit and bust’, ‘number 8 wire’, ‘bit of 4 by 2’. DIY grow your own has been reabsorbed as a commodity, a brand. Garden stores are almost like jewellery stores – just going into certain ones gives people a sense of status. Cooking shows dominate our screens, often with ‘fresh home grown’ produce as part of the tag line and ‘looking good’ while doing these activities ensures there are also stylish gumboots to wear. Now it’s not just ‘putting in a garden’ it’s ‘what kind of garden’ with an undertone of assessment of the gardeners ethics or spiritual alignment with the earth – or brand loyalty.

I’m not sure what kind of gardener I am, but I do know the joy and pleasure of eating something you have grown. I don’t mind sharing with the odd snail or white butterfly. I’m unlikely to buy fancy footwear for the garden, isn’t that what old running shoes are for? Dad doesn’t garden so much these days, however the silverbeet self-seeded and is growing wild outside the confines of the neat and tidy cultivated earth, in the hard clay – and it is thriving. Go Nature.

Metamorphosis – Deleuze not Kafka

I never cease to be moved intensely by nature in all its forms. Watching a caterpillar munching a leaf hanging upside down while beside another begins to form a chrysalis I wondered if our default understandings of nature needed an overhaul, certainly the ways we incorporate ‘growth’ metaphors into the language of life. We love to talk about roots, trees, branches and leaves all leading to a linear hierarchical system of reference. Even the over worn caterpillar to butterfly invites a sense of transformation in a preferred direction, the end point being the goal or aim. The caterpillar is lacking until it becomes the butterfly – it is incomplete. Inside the chrysalis something incredible takes place and for years I imagined the caterpillar turning ‘into’ a butterfly – that somehow it ‘sprouted wings, legs etc. Well – here is the kicker, that doesn’t quite describe what happens. There is a reconstitution a breaking down, dissolving, redrawing the map of life. For a time it is no-thing – a veritable Body Without Organs on its way to becoming something we recognise and can signify with the word ‘butterfly’. It is this juicy mess inside the chrysalis that fascinates me for thinking about change, transformation and purpose. Contained inside the private world of the small green pod, colours change indicating the assembled parts are now close to the taxonomy of the familiar, the categorised. Breaking free and extending the delicate new appendages our sense of completion falls on the first flight. We look for the cycle to begin – repetitive and always coming back on itself, forever stepping over or past that no-thing unrecognisable plane of reference. But this is where I want to be, not ‘trapped’ inside a chrysalis waiting, hoping and striving to become a butterfly. Here behind the veil of the known, seen and unseen, forming and unforming. Not lacking or desiring to be anything, but allowing my form to shape with desire, for it to allow for the coalescing and connecting of matter so that I might take shape for a moment of recognition and join with other Bodies Without Organs.

Actually I wouldn’t mind a proboscis for a while, make poking tongues just a bit more interesting. Shades of Kafka? Might have to read The Metamorphosis again.

Crossing the Tasman in a Kayak – why not making it means more

Scott Donaldson – you can read all about his epic solo kayak trip from Australia to NZ in a number of places. He won’t go down in the history books as the guy who made it because he didn’t quite make land. He nearly got home…he could probably smell the pies, but he was tantilisingly close when nature put on the biggest ‘fend’ in the form of an easterly and a rather persistent one, more than halting his progress but sending him west back toward Australia, immigration would not be happy over there after thinking they’d finally found a way to dispose of their excess kiwi (minus the fruit flies?).

Three months alone in a kayak and to not walk ashore but be unceremoniously plucked from the sea by helicopter might appear to be the epitome of failure but I felt strangely elated. When I think of traditional notions of conquering nature there is a tendency to default to Sir Edmund Hillary who  so eloquently put it after summiting Everest “knocked the bastard off”. As flippant as it sounds really did capture the philosophical ideals of the time around dominating, taming and controlling nature. The ‘enlightenment’ period brought about Cartesian thinking and dualistic separation of the Body and Mind. More significantly the separation of Nature (woman) and Culture (man).

Ok so most people won’t really care to think deeply and fair enough. But if you feel  a bit of dose of deconstruction then dive on in – the water isn’t too rough. Why unpack this further? What’s to be gained? For me, it makes for an interesting re-reading or a way to look at meanings that can be made if we look at what ‘failing to overcome nature’ might hold for a dialogue about being with nature. One of these could be accepting limits, not as some sense of weakness or personal deficit. Nature ‘winning’ might have been viewed in the past as the feminine/female side defeating man, something akin to a fate worse than death with the shame and humiliation that comes with being ’emasculated’. The private/public dualism sits alongside the nature/culture again with significant gendered implications for meaning. Family is the realm of private and the support required for Mr Donaldson to complete his journey was 5years in the planning and training as well as the 3 months at sea. In the past the significant contribution wives, mothers and children had in supporting conquests would have never been considered (that probably goes for all aspects of philosophical, scientific and literary greats – well those who are recognised). Mr Donaldson has his own words about the significance of his family in his blog and while he might not appreciate the importance of bringing them into consideration it is a shift away from separation and silencing of the support family play. He has his own response to questions about the ‘cost’ of his expedition and I like his account of meaningful family time. To be absent for 3 months at sea might seem a long time but there are many other ways parents can be ‘absent’ from their families. His own critique gives a valuable alternative to the well worn path of macho masochism in the mountains.

I’m not sure how Scott Donaldson will be remembered in years to come but I don’t think we need to worry about any mass migrations via kayak any time soon. Lets hope no-one tries a double crossing…not for any safety reasons but because I couldn’t stand a revival of Six Months In a Leaky Boat.



The nature of learning in Nature

I’m weary and sore and absolutely happy after two days in the outdoors with a great group of young people. I am drawn to nature especially water but I’ll take anything over being land locked. So to be given the opportunity to get out of the office and ‘go to the beach for a couple of days’ is a no brainer as my heart is already there and she rules these days.

I’m not sure if I still feel like a teacher in the traditional sense. But one of the few things I know for sure (perhaps) is that teaching about nature and the environment has to be done whilst being part of it. The ultimate class – room is a room without walls, where the elements and responding to these require our attention. What is needed is a reintegration of experiential learning and with schools being driven more and more towards assessment education has become a train on a track that just keeps moving and we watch the world pass by at great speed.

Add the distraction of technology in and we have added another layer of disembodiment of experience. So whilst we were doing things in an amazing place, the constant pulling out of phones to play music, send instagram messages, or just take photos did shock me a little. There was a sense at times of ‘going through the motions’ of the activity at times with the real emphasis being on how this would be communicated with the ‘outside world.’ I also noticed myself being tempted by this and was almost grateful when my phone battery died. If a phone or ipod or any other kind of device is ‘out’ and being used – no matter how innocuously – it seems to bubble wrap the user in another world. Almost like in a dream world where they are there but just out of reach.

All we really need to do is to stop and notice. Yes it is that simple. ‘Stars in their eyes’ shouldn’t just be remembered as a TV programme but the wonderment of sitting or lying under the night sky. World wide webs are also the products of spiders, and it would be great travesty if the only form of ‘tweeting’ any of us appreciated was of the #tag kind.

And while I am on a roll with over using double entendre, ‘surfing’…is best done on waves made of water.