Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

Kathleen Jamie poem and trees and ewes at Smeaton Gardens

February 5, 2019

In the latest Poetry Book Society Bulletin (Winter 2018), there is a poem from the well known poet Kathleen Jamie. It is from her latest book Selected Poems and is entitled Skeins O Geeese – a poem written in Scots. It begins

Skeins of geese write a word / across the sky. A word / struck lik a gong / afore I was born. / The sky moves like cattle, lowin’.

I found two interesting aspects of this poem. Firstly, the dramatic images and secondly, that it reads as well in English as it does in Scots, although the poet herself (and others) may not agree, of course. We often get skeins of geese above us in the autumn (going south) and in the spring (going north) and it is a wonderful sight – a moving V across the sky. I had never thought of the onward skein as words being written in the sky, but I do like the image. The second image here – of the sky moving like lowing cattle – is also eyebrow raising and the next time you see clouds slowly moving across the sky, you might think of cattle. The poem is not just about the sky. On the ground,

Wire twists lik archaic script/ roon a gate. The barbs / sign tae the wind as though / it was deef. The word whustles / ower high for ma senses. Awa.

Only a poet as perceptive and lyrical as Jamie could see twisted wire on a farm gate as archaic script, but it is an apt simile if you picture hieroglyphics on a stone. The image of the wire using sign language to the deaf wind is also striking and the poet accepts that, as a mere human, she cannot hear the words of the wire. Again, if you read this in English, it loses none of its effect. Whustles or Whistles? Is one better than the other? Jamie obviously prefers the Scots. You can read the whole poem, as published in the prestigious Times Literary Supplement here.

New book by Kathleen Jamie (Click on all photos to enlarge)

Another cold winter’s day but with a brilliant blue sky and we parked the car at the bottom of the hill and walked up to Smeaton Gardens (good photos). Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a fascination with trees and on this walk up to the garden centre, there are a variety of kinds of trees, tree shapes and tree silhouettes. The first tree below is an evergreen but despite searching for a similar tree, I do not know what type of tree it is, but it could be a Scots pine. It stands out in the winter as most of the other trees are bare. This tree is obviously quite old as it has grown separate trunks above the base. It is an untidy looking tree, with its floppy branches and gaps everywhere and yet it stands in its own magnificence and looks warmer than its naked neighbours.

Evergreen tree at Smeaton Gardens

The second tree is a polar opposite to the first one. This tree looks as if it has suffered a lightning strike to its top and an electric shock to its branches, which although static, appear to be waving about. In the background, to the bottom left, North Berwick Law (good photos) can be seen above the distant forest.

Damaged tree at Smeaton Gardens

As you enter the grounds of Smeaton Gardens, there is a sign saying “Pregnant ewes” and warning dog owners to keep their beasts on a lead. We saw the ewes at the top of the drive. These are no ordinary ewes and the photo below shows their thick woollen coats and muscular looking bodies. The ewes were feeding amongst the horse jumping arena near the garden centre and you half expected to see one or more of them leap over one of the obstacles on the course.

Ewes amongst the horse jumps at Smeaton Gardens

On closer inspection (photo below), some of the ewes appeared to be small brown bears which had stolen in to the ewes’ enclosure to feed on the lush looking grass. The ewes were at first curious and came near us but, maybe working out that we were not going to provide them with extra food, they meandered off, looking none too pleased at our potential intrusion. It’s now February, so lambing cannot be far off for these expectant mothers.

Brown bear looking ewes at Smeaton Gardens

James Lee Burke’s “Robicheaux” and countryside frost

January 29, 2019

I have just finished reading Robicheaux by the noted US author James Lee Burke. This book is classified as a crime novel and indeed, there is much crime and many criminals to be found in the book, but Burke is such a lyrical writer, especially when describing the bayou settings in the novel, that it should be a novel first and a crime novel second. The titular hero Dave Robicheaux, has featured in many of Burke’s novel and is now semi-retired – officially – but he becomes fully involved in an investigation of a series of murders which involve police on the take, corrupt politicians, gangsters and a terrifying psychopath. Burke has always been a social commentator in his novels, although he never preaches. The book highlights the social tensions in US society between rich and poor, black and white, moral and amoral. One of the key characters in the book is Jimmy Nightingale, a populist politician who plays on the racist and anti-immigrant prejudices of many of his constituents, and is running for the senate, with hopes of higher office. Sounds familiar.

Robicheaux himself is a complex character, who is a recovering and occasionally lapsing alcoholic and Vietnam veteran. His fight is against criminals and the corrupt, but also against himself and his sometimes violent tendencies. His best pal is Clete Purcel, another complicated man whose view is that injustice is best served via violence against the perpetrators. Robicheaux tries to help Purcel and Purcel tries to keep his friend sober. Burke’s dialogue is one of his great strengths and it can be humorous. The pair meet in a bar and it looks like Purcel may be on a bender. Robicheaux asks “Why not put your brain in a jar and give it to a medical school”. The reply is “I did that five years ago. They gave it back”.

This is a mainly male-dominated novel but some of the female characters are well developed, such as Robicheaux’s female boss. Burke has always been a superb story teller and he keeps a complex plot moving and provides the reader with intriguing possibilities as to who might be behind the crime wave that is emerging in the county. Another character is the bayou itself and Burke has many poetic descriptions of the environment in which Robicheaux has his home. For example: “The coastline was a heartbreaking green inside the mist. Flying fish broke from the bay’s surface and sailed above the water …. The salt spray breaking on my bow was cold and fresh and smelled of resilience”. Reading Burke’s novel, you get a sense of the beauty and the danger (e.g. crocodiles) of the natural world, as well as the human world. This is a pacy thriller – but much more than that.

James Lee Burke’s captivating novel (Click on all photos to enlarge)

We now go from the heat and humidity of the Louisiana bayou to the cold and frost (but beautiful blue skies) of south east Scotland. On a recent Sunday morning, we drove 2 miles up country and parked the car at Oswald Dean, locally known as Oasie Dean and went on a circular walk. There was a heavy frost at our house and it was even thicker up the country, but there is a startlingly bright beauty about a frosted scene, such as this one, looking over the bridge at Oasie Dean. The trees, bushes and grass are all whitened and make the blue of the burn more outstanding than normal. The burn interrupts the imposed stillness of its surroundings.

Frosted meadow at Oswald Dean near Dunbar

Just across the road, on the wall above the neighbouring field, I spotted the frozen ivy leaves. The leaves and grass on this side of the wall remained white and stiff, while the leaves at the top and the yellow moss on the right of the photo below, had been restored to suppleness by the sun.

Frosted ivy and sun restored moss on the wall at Oswald Dean

On closer inspection (photo below), the ivy leaves appeared to be delicately dusted with frost, which served not to conceal, but to emphasise the delicate patterns of the veins on the leaves. Some were completely iced over and prickly-looking, while others were only fringed by ice and displayed what looked like a huge river, with tributaries on either side.

Frosted ivy leaves at Oswald Dean

We continued our walk up past The Doonery, now a collection of houses but formerly a farm, with an impressive chimney. Looking back at the Doonery (photo below) the edge of the path which was sheltered from the sun, was still frost-bound. I like the long straight lines in the photo, leading your eye to the bare trees and the former farm buildings.

Frosty pathside leading to the Doonery

Further up, this path has some magnificent trees which glowed in the bright blue winter sunlight. In the photo below, you can see the shadows cast by the trees. It looks like a man or woman is reaching up to pick something off the branches. The tress maybe leafless in January but they still impress with their sturdiness and shining trunks. Above the darker blue sea in the background, the sky goes from pale to a similar dark blue.

Trees on the path up to Doon Hill cast interesting shadows

We came back down the hill via Spott Farm which now appears to be open to walkers and runners, having been closed off for a number of years. The farm has many solid sandstone buildings and as you turn one corner, you see the farm clock (photo below), with its small campanile above. The roof had been partly in the sun, but the frost was still thick on the unwarmed sections.

We were walking down the driveway from the main Spott House building, when 3 deer leapt the fence to our right and bounced across the road into the next field. Seeing deer dash away from you, with their white rumps disappearing into the field, is always a pleasure to see. I managed to catch one of the deer (photo below) as it crossed the tree-lined driveway and the still frosted grass. Again, the trees cast shadows which left sunny rectangles on the road and the grass. A fine end to a very enjoyable walk.

A deer crosses over the road up to Spott House

Scottish Birds photography and the white sands of Jervis Bay

January 22, 2019

As a member of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, albeit as only an occasional bird watcher, I receive the journal Scottish Birds – see latest cover ( and some content) here. For serious birders – do not use the pejorative term twitchers – there are many well researched and peer-reviewed articles in the journal. My main interest is in the photography. Through the help of Harry Scott of Pica Design and with the permission of the photographers, I am able to reproduce three aesthetically pleasing examples here.

The first is of a honey-buzzard (below) which was captured in flight, showing its magnificent wingspan. This bird is a living creature but also a work of art. It is beautifully symmetrical – look at the outer wing, finger-like feathers and the Australian aboriginal-like painting patterns on the wings. The bird’s tail could be a Japanese fan, used to display status and cool down its user, as opposed to being part of this superb hunter’s killing machine. The eyes and the beak look small and insignificant in comparison, but they too are part of the hunter’s toolkit. I see many more common buzzards as I cycle around the countryside than I did a few years ago and buzzards often sit on fences next to a dual carriageway in our county. They look in control of their territory and their elegant flight is something to see.

Honey Buzzard – Copyright John Anderson (Click on all photos to enlarge)

The second photo is of avocets (below)which have the superb Latin name recurvirostra avosetta, which translates as having a curved back and beak. The avocet really is a most elegant bird, with its long straight legs like pillars holding up an earthquake threatened building, an upright stance and that beak which is turned up at the end, giving the bird a haughty look. There’s an excellent video of avocets here (scroll down to the video) where you can hear the birds chitter-chattering and watch their non-stop action in preening and feeding.

Avocets Copyright Ron Penn

The third photo (below) is a new bird to me, the kildeer (good photos) – the charadrius vociferous – which has a distinctive call and is a rare visitor to the UK. This photo was taken in Shetland and was only the 5th sighting in 50 years. This is a small bird but the shapes formed by the colours of the feathers around the eye, beak and neck give it a rare elegance. The subtle brown of the feathers on its back draws your eye to the black stripes and up to the slightly darker brown around its alert eye.

Kildeer Copyright Donna Atherton

While staying with our friends on our last stop in Australia recently, they took us down the coast to the idyllic beaches at Jervis Bay (good photos). We have a beach called Whitesands not far from Dunbar and it is a beautiful beach. In terms of being white however, Jervis Bay beaches are a long way ahead. The photo below shows one of the white beaches through the trees next to the road above the beach and you can see the brightness of the beach and the delicate turquoise of the sea.

Once you were down on the shore, there were big waves rolling in. The water was not as warm as we enjoyed in Port Douglas, but it was still very pleasant for a paddle. You can see in the photo below the whiteness of the collapsed waves, the bluey green sea behind and the slope of the beach. There was a considerable drag each time a wave performed its diving act and turned back to meet the next wave.

As we walked through the bush at the edge of the beach, we came across this friendly gecko, which was completely undisturbed by my close-up photography and seemed willing to pose for the camera. In the first photo below, the gecko catches your eye first but then you see the huge spider-like split in the tree trunk, as you follow the gecko’s tail to the leaf-laden floor of the bush.

In the next photo, the gecko’s ability to camouflage itself is apparent and when it climbed further up the tree trunk, it was hard to spot against the darker wood. I loved the rough curves and lines of the gum tree trunk, which had cast off the bark it no longer needed. There is a plethora of Australian geckos which you can see here. If you have more time and patience than me, I’m sure you might be able to identify this particular type of gecko.

New Year walks, pelican in the chip shop and Kiama blowhole

January 15, 2019

On New Year’s Day, we woke to 2019 to see a fairly clear sky and a sunny day albeit with a coldish westerly. So as to make the most of the light, we headed off in the morning to St Abbs Head, which has featured many times on this blog and is one of our favourite places. We parked overlooking the harbour and there is a superb view from here, as in this 2017 photograph, which takes in the main harbour, the outer harbour and the lifeboat station.

img_1331

Looking down on St Abbs Head Harbour (Click on all photos to enlarge)

We walked from east to west as far as the lighthouse which was built by the Stevenson brothers in 1862. It’s an unusual lighthouse in that it sits on the edge of the mainland, high above the sea, as in the photo below.

img_2211

St Abbs Head lighthouse

On the walk there and on the way back, we noticed that an area next to the shore had been cordoned off and a notice said that seal pups were being protected. We saw 2 pups down on the rocky shore. When they are still, the pups are very well camouflaged and look like some of the bigger rocks. So silky smooth when in the water, the seal pups clumsily made their way across the rocks to the flatter part of the shore, maybe to enjoy the winter sun. I could not find any current information on the seals, but this 2017 report (good photo) is very informative about the St Abbs seals.

Back at the car above the harbour, I took this short video.

On the 2nd January, we took a walk along the wide stretch of Belhaven Beach. When we got to the bridge, although the tide was out, it was not far enough out and we could not cross the bridge, as the far end was covered in water. So we walked along the Dump Road to West Barns Bridge (photos from previous post) and out to the beach. The wind had eased from yesterday, so it was warmer and we could stand and watch the huge waves hurtle themselves on to the beach. There were quite a few surfers out and while some eased gracefully along a big wave, others were knocked flat by an incoming rush of water. There was a glorious sound of incoming waves, followed by a sluuurrrp as the waves hit the beach and dashed back out. The photo below shows the drama of the waves. 

Big waves and minuscule surfer on Belhaven Beach

I took a video of the waves and swung the camera round to see the chalets at Belhaven with the golf course behind.

The last stop on our overseas trip was to visit our very good friends Bob and Robyn at their idyllic house near Berry in New South Wales. They met us off the train at Kiama which is a very attractive coastal town not far from Berry. There’s a very good fish and chip shop/restaurant that overlooks the water – The Kiama Harbour Cafe. The fish and chips were excellent, but what is different about this fish and chip shop is that they have a pelican which nonchalantly walks about the shop and cafe – see the photo below -which shows the pelican waiting expectantly for fish – it does not like chips apparently – next to our table.

Friendly pelican in Kiama cafe

Kiama is probably best known for its spectacular blowhole (good photos) and it is a fascinating sight, as people watch in anticipation of the seawater being blasted into the air. The blowhole’s action comes from large waves entering a small cavern and compressing the air, which then forces the water out of the gap. This photo below shows a medium-sized eruption of water. You watch and watch for the really big blow-out and of course, this happens when you walk away and hear the other viewers yell out “WOW!”. There is an excellent coastal walk that you can do when visiting Kiama, taking in more than one blowhole, fascinating rock structures and unspoilt beaches.

Water spurting out the Kiama blowhole

Lucy Newton exhibition and back to Wagga Wagga

January 8, 2019

We recently visited Lucy Newton‘s superb exhibition of wildlife paintings at Waterston House, Aberlady. The exhibition runs until 16 January and it really is worth a visit. I last reviewed Lucy Newton’s work on the blog in 2017 and I did wonder if this new exhibition could be a as good as the previous one. The new exhibition is not just as good but better than the previous one, with the artist’s intelligence, skills and brilliant technique on show to even greater effect. Lucy Newton kindly sent me examples of her work.

The first portrait below is an exquisite depiction of a curlew – my favourite bird – which I regularly watch through my scope on the rocks near our house. The actual painting is much more effective in terms of the quality of the bird’s features and background, but I do like the way the artist has portrayed the elegance of the curlew with its long beak, strong upright stance and delicate colours in its plumage. There is a slight haughtiness but not arrogance in the curlew – it knows that it is bigger than other birds and can delve further under the rocks than the others also. I recently watched a curlew twist its head and push its beak under a rock. The beak emerged with a good sized crab wriggling in it. The curlew nonchalantly tossed the crab in the air, opened its beak and swallowed the crab whole.

Curlew by Lucy Newton (Click on all photos to enlarge)

The second painting below is of a grey wagtail and again, this reproduction of the work does not do it full justice. The colours of the wagtail immediately catch your eye, the delicate greys and the striking yellow contrasting very well with the more Impressionist depiction of the rocks behind. The detail in the bird’s feathers is very impressive and Lucy Newton captures the tense awareness of the bird – ever alert to what might be happening in its environment. The artist catches the softer elements of the wagtail’s plumage, but also the sharp lines of its beak, legs and tail to very good effect. I looked at this painting for quite a while, forever noticing some new detail.

Grey wagtail by Lucy Newton

The third example from the exhibition is of a red squirrel and here Lucy Newton’s artistry shines out. Look at the bristling tail of the squirrel, its soft ears and nose and very keen eye. Again the sharp portrait of the animal contrasts with the softer background of the tree trunk, with its gnarled features and lichens, which are so softly painted that you feel that if you reached out, they would be delicate to your touch. Few artists have the ability to draw and paint the squirrel’s fur in such beautiful detail, but Lucy Newton has the imagination, skill and remarkable technique to produce such an outstanding piece of art. Get to see this exhibition if you possibly can. Unsurprisingly, many of the paintings had been sold.

Red squirrel by Lucy Newton

In the 2000s, we lived in the New South Wales town of Wagga Wagga for 3 years, when I worked at Charles Sturt University. I then taught from my home in Dunbar for another 6 years, going back to Wagga (as the locals call it) for 6 weeks every year. We returned to see many friends at Wagga Wagga Road Runners on our recent visit to Australia and stayed with our very good friends Paul and Sonya – superb hosts. The Murrumbidgee River (good photos) flows through Wagga Wagga – designated as an inland city – and there are some lovely walks along the river close to the centre of town. The photo below shows some of the beautiful gum trees along the riverside. The gum trees of course shed their bark, not their leaves and then they reveal smooth trunks. I like the reflections in this photo – of the trees, the riverbank and the cow on the far side.

Gum trees on the Murrumbidgee in Wagga Wagga

One of the remarkable features of the river at dusk is the arrival of very excited and very loud sulphur crested cockatoos – photo below. If you check the link and scroll down to Calls, you will hear the screeching noise these birds make. Imagine the racket you will hear if you go down to the river at dusk and maybe 200 birds arrive to roost, but not before they produce a deafening cacophony. They are attractive looking birds with their distinctive yellow crest and white plumage and will land quite close to you.

Sulphur crested cockatoo

We also made a nostalgic visit to the Pomingalarna Reserve (good photos) to walk around one of the many tracks. When we arrived in Australia we quickly discovered that you cannot run (my wife) nor cycle (me) in most country areas as you can in Scotland, so you need to go to designated areas. The reserve is well known as the home of two mobs of kangaroos and it is unusual for a visitor to the park – runner, cyclist or walker – not to see a kangaroo. We only saw some of these amazing animals from a distance, as the photo below shows, but we did see a large group bounding across the grass and into the forest – a fascinating sight. The second photo is from 2011 and shows the kangaroos on the golf course at the entrance to Pomingalarna. When conditions are very dry, the kangaroos will venture on to the course to find water. Note the flag on the green in the background.

Pomingalarna is a very interesting and attractive part of Wagga Wagga as it features a wide variety of trees, animals and birds, so it is well worth a visit if you are in the vicinity.

 

Kangaroos at Pomingalarna

Tiles on the Cafe Royal Oyster Bar and the Tauranga beekeeper

December 24, 2018

My cycling pal John gave me his copy of Pints of View (cover below) which is the magazine of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland branch of CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale). The magazine has news on new real ales and on pubs in the area which sell real ale.

Pints of View – the real ale magazine (Click on all PHOTOS to enlarge)

My attention was drawn to an article in PoV by Michael Slaughter and Geoff Brandwood entitled “Tiled paintings in Edinburgh pubs. Part 2: The Cafe Royal Oyster Bar”. The Cafe Royal is a very well known pub just off the eastern end of Prices Street in Edinburgh. The main bar itself is highly decorated and you can walk around the bar, with its beautiful wood, before choosing what to drink and perhaps eat. On the walls are large tiled depictions. The Oyster Bar is the restaurant next to the main bar. The photo below shows the lavishly decorated room – the exquisite ceiling tiles, the eye-catching tiled pictures on the walls, the impressively marbled bar and the inviting tables with traditional chairs and sparkling white table cloths. The article notes that behind the marble topped bar, ” The windows of this room have eight large stained glass depictions of British sportsmen, designed by Ballantine and Gardiner of Edinburgh” and the sports include fishing and rugby. When you are in the Oyster Bar, these windows are a magnificent backdrop to those dining at the tables.

The Oyster Bar in Edinburgh’s Cafe Royal
(Photo by Michael Slaughter LRPS)

One of the most striking of the tiled panels is one showing two of the leading lights in the earliest photography in Europe. This panel (see below) shows Nicephore Niepce and Louis Daguerre .  There is no agreed inventor of photography but Niepce was certainly the earliest to experiment into what was to be become photography. Daguerre’s work took the process further and the two men became partners in 1829, after which they made further experiments and were able to produce more sophisticated images.

Louis Daguerre (left) and Nicephore Niepce who pioneered photography
(Photo by Michael Slaugher LRPS)

The 3rd photo (below) sent to me by co-author Michael Slaughter shows a cherub playing the Pan Pipes and while the 4 cherub tiled panels are not examples of high art, they are nevertheless quite singular and joyful additions to the varied panels around the Oyster Bar. The Cafe Royal main bar is always busy and it is often difficult to get a seat. You need to book a table in the Oyster Bar but it is a rewarding experience – especially if you like oysters.

Cherub tile from the Oyster Bar
(Photo by Michael Slaughter LRPS)

On our visit to Tauranga in the north island of New Zealand, we stayed at my sister and brother-in-law’s house. It has a large garden and next to the well-filled woodshed, there is a beehive. The bees are looked after by another Scottish emigrant to New Zealand – Heath, who was a renowned ships’ captain before retirement. This beekeeper hails from the bonnie wee village of Echt (good photos) in the north of Scotland. The first photo shows Heath taking out one of the internal boards in the hive and inspecting it. As you can see, he is very well protected and your photographer was keeping his distance from distracted bees who had been disturbed from their hive activities. This is the equivalent of a giant lifting up a whole village or town and shaking people out of their houses, so it’s unlikely that the bees welcomed this intrusion. You can see the structure of a hive here.

Echt beekeeper in Turanga NZ

In the second photo below, you can see how the bees have filled holes in the mesh structure and formed combs. The beekeeper will inspect the combs from time to time to ensure that the bees still have room to expand their food store. It looks a very complicated life that these bees lead but hives are highly structured in terms of hierarchy and what work is done by the different bees. In terms of logistics, bees can teach much about organisation of production and management of the workforce.

Close up of bees on hive board

I took a video of Heath checking various boards in the hive and you can hear his commentary on the healthy state of this hive. For those not accustomed to Scottish accents, you will hear phrases such as “drones – useless brutes o’ things”, and “they’ll run out of space and say that ‘we’re oota (out of ) here”. So, it’s probably worth viewing twice. It was a fascinating visit from this expert on bees and a real learning experience for me, who had never seen the inside of beehive before. Click on full screen to get the best effect from the video.

The Illegal Age by Ellen Hinsey and Karangahake Gorge Walk

December 17, 2018

There are very few books of poetry that make you feel uncomfortable while reading them. You admire the versatility of the poet, the striking imagery and the immaculate construction of the book, but the content is disturbing. Ellen Hinsey‘s The Illegal Age (review) is one of the these books. The subject of the book is totalitarianism across the world and what she refers to as “political illegality” as seen, many would argue, in regimes such as that in Turkey today. So this is not poetry for the faint-hearted and it may be seen as very different from lyrical poetry dealing with nature for example. On the other hand, it is not so different, in that the poet is using imagery to allow us to examine the subject of the poems. The book is highly structured, with 3 sections, each with 7 sub-sections and the reviewer above suggest that the poet may be trying to replicate the bureaucratic structures of oppressive regimes – something I had not thought about.

The first section beings “Nothing happens quickly; each day weighs on the next -/ Until the instant comes -” when someone walking “along/ The foggy lane in innocence”  disappears. This suggests the gradualism of oppression. Another section deals with The Inconceivable which again creeps up on society until it is too late. This reminded me of Germany in the 1920s and 1930s when most people would have seen the consequent rise of Nazism as inconceivable at the time. Hinsey then writes “.. the Inconceivable seeps forward, mastering territory with the unpredictable sleight of a storm’s stealth” – a frightening but beautiful image. In The Denunciation, subtitled East Germany 1979, a woman reflects on her husband/lover’s betrayal, asking when it began e.g. “when you sat together by the braille of a restless lake” or when he kissed her “by the prying iridescent eye of the butterfly”. Both these images – of the lake and the butterfly – are very imaginative and in another context would be uplifting and Hinsey does this throughout the book, to great effect. 

This will not be the most comfortable read of you life, but it does stress how important it is to record the rise of oppression and to remember it. Hinsey’s imagery will stay with you for a long time. 

Ellen Hinsey’s powerful book of poems (Click on all captions to enlarge the images)

On our trip to New Zealand, our niece took us to Karangahake Gorge (good photos) which is the site of an old gold mine. There are a number of different walks and we chose one of the longer ones which took us to the top of the hill which housed the mine. There are many interesting boards along the way and the one at the start of the walk (below) gives you an insight into what you might be encountering along the way. 

Karangahake Gorge in New Zealand’s North Island

It was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that gold mining was undertaken by large British companies at Karangahake and there is a good history here. As you go up the mount, you come across the remains of the mining infrastructure and equipment. Working in these gold mines was a hazardous occupation, as cyanide was widely used to extract the gold. The information board below shows some of the machinery used to crush the stone and then to mix the ore with cyanide. The ore/cyanide mix was made into bullion and on the bottom right, you can see a photo of a man pouring the molten liquid into a barrow. Health and safety regulations were unheard of in those days and other boards told of the fatalities that occurred in the mines. 

The use of cyanide in gold mining at Karangahake Gorge

As you climb to the top of the Mount Karangahake you pass many of the railway lines used to transport the stone down to the processing plant near the river. You also go through dark tunnels (phone torches needed) and you get the feeling of how claustrophobic it must have been in many parts of the mine. The walk is steep in parts and tricky in others but it is worth climbing to near the summit to get the views down to the river, as in the photo below. 

View from one of the lookouts down to the river at the Karangahake Gorge

One of the most fascinating features of this walk was the variety of ferns which we encountered along the way. The ferns themselves were of a multiplicity of greens and very attractive in themselves. What was more striking were the fronds which emerged from the ferns. The photo below shows the fronds emerging from a silver fern  and the stem is called a koru. 

Silver fern with fronds emerging from the korus

A close-up view (below) shows the delicacy of the frond which looks as if it could have been knitted or woven and the design might be used as the figurehead of a walking stick. With its delicate hairs on display, it also resembles what might be a curled up millipede, waiting to strike the next unassuming insect. This is nature as sculpture and a strikingly beautiful example of it. 

Silver fern frond in Karangahake Gorge

The Karangahake Gorge/Mount walk is an exhilarating one from start to finish and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the area. Near the end of the walk, I took this video at the side of the river.

Benjamin Black’s Holy Orders and Mount Maunganui

December 10, 2018

Holy Orders by Benjamin Black  (good video) is the 6th book in the 1950s Dublin-based series featuring the clever but self-doubting pathologist Quirke, his daughter Phoebe and his detective ally Hackett. Like the other Quirke novels, this may be classified as a crime novel, but this is a very well written novel, with a superb sense of place, an engaging plot and excellent characterisation, which has a crime as its centre. Benjamin Black is the pen name of Booker prize-winning author John Banville and this shows in some of the lyrical phrases which Black uses in the book to very good effect. You don’t read Benjamin Black for a page-turning potboiler, but you do read him for a story which will intrigue you as to which way it will turn. You also read him for his engaging characters, particularly Quirke who is often troubled by thoughts of his school days when he was abused by Catholic priests. In this novel, Black also fleshes out the character of his daughter Phoebe, whose journalist friend Jimmy Minor has been beaten to death and dumped in the Dublin canal. Quirke and Hackett set out to identify the killer(s) and there is a gradual build up to a satisfactory conclusion for the reader – no spoilers here. 

Black – like Banville – has some outstanding phrases in the book which stand out in the memory e.g. “In the fireplace, a dolmen of turf logs was smouldering sullenly”. A dolmen? The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as ” a group of stones consisting of one large flat stone supported by several vertical ones, built in ancient times “. Once you know the meaning, Black’s imagery is even more powerful. In describing Sally, Jimmy Minor’s sister, Black writes “Her hair shone like coils of dark copper”. Another powerful simile – “In Baggot Street, the trees shivered and shook like racehorses waiting for the off”. This is an impactful book in many ways and as the plot develops, more social issues in Ireland emerge and become part of the story. If you like well-written, well-plotted and sometimes drolly humorous novel, then this is definitely for you and it would make a great festive season gift. 

The 6th book in the Quirke series (Click on all captions  to enlarge photos)

On our trip to New Zealand, we visited my sister and brother-in-law in Tauranga (good photos).  Tauranga has a huge harbour with extensive docks which regularly house cruise liners and large container ships, such as the one below, heading for the harbour.

Container ship heading towards Tauranga harbour.

Mount Maunganui  lies on the other side of the harbour and is described as a “holiday paradise”. It has a beautiful stretch of beach and on a sunny summer’s day, with the white waves easing themselves ashore from a deep blue sea, you can see why. Here is the beach with the Mount at the end. 

Mount Maunganui beach and The Mount.

Originally a separate village from Tauranga, “The Mount” as local refer to it, is called after Mauoa which is the remaining top of an extinct volcano. You can walk up and over the Mount or around it and the 360 degree views are spectacular from the top, from where you can see the harbour,  Motuotau (Rabbit Island) (good photos), out to the ocean and along the beach. Below is a photo taken from the top of The Mount and looking over Mount Maunganui and the beach. It is quite a strenuous walk to the top of The Mount but we did it in 30 min as we are pretty fit. The track is quite rough in parts and there are some very steep inclines. So it is a good workout as well a rewarding walk, given the views from the top. 

View over Mount Maunganui beach 

There is also an excellent walking track around the base of The Mount. It is a much easier walk but it gives you time to appreciate the surroundings more – the trees, the sheep and the vegetation. I mentioned the many tankers going into Tauranga Harbour as well as the cruise liners. On our last visit in 2011, we were walking around The Mount when we were passed by this huge liner. You can see the size of the vessel by looking at the people on the track. We had seen this same cruise liner docked at Circular Bay in Sydney just a few days earlier. 

Cruise liner heading for Tauranga Harbour

Daintree Rainforest and snorkelling on the Low Isles (Version 2)

December 4, 2018

On our trip to Australia, we had two things that we wanted to do that we hadn’t done before. The first was to visit the Daintree rainforest (good photos) in Northern Queensland. The rainforest is the oldest in the world – 180 million years – much older than the Amazon equivalent. It is a vast forest covering 12,000 square kilometres and our Daintree river trip host told us that it has 1034 native trees. To put this in perspective, he told us that the UK has 37 and the USA 300+. On the river trip, you look up to the huge swathes of trees but you cannot really distinguish different species of tree and fern until you walk into the forest itself. A short way up the river, we came upon a female crocodile (photo below) on the river bank. Crocodiles are perhaps fascinating to some and while it was good to see one in its natural habitat, they are not the word’s most attractive creatures, although the patterns on their hide are elegant.  

Crocodile on the Daintree river (Click on all photos or caption to open in a new tab)

It is when you go into the rainforest itself that you appreciate the variety of trees and ferns on display. The boat host advised us ” in the forest itself, don’t look AT the trees, look THROUGH THEM” and this was very good advice. In the photo below (from Creative Commons) you can see some of the variety of the trees and the ubiquitous ferns which are very attractive. It is fascinating to look at even this relatively small space and note how many different trees there are and how they are differently shaped. 

Inside the Daintree rainforest

In the next photo (my own) you can see the vibrant colours of this large leafed fern. We had just missed a rainshower and the leaves were sparkling in the afternoon light. Behind this fern , you can see a variety of smaller ferns and you can read much more about the Daintree ferns, which first appeared 325 million years ago on this helpful site. It would have been wonderful to go on an extended walk with a guide in the rainforest but time was limited. One for a future visit. 

Beautiful ferns in the Daintree Rainforest

The other reason for choosing Port Douglas as the first destination on our trip was to visit the Great Barrier Reef (great video). The reef is under threat from climate change and there have been dire warnings that, with further warming of the seas, it could disappear in 10-20 years. We went on a boat trip to the Low Isles, a half hour of huge waves and some extreme ups and downs. When you get to the island, it looks idyllic – see photo below – with its pristine sandy beach, lighthouse and trees. 

Low Isles sea, beach and lighthouse

Once on the island, we were given thin suits to protect us from jellyfish, which are called stingers in this part of the world. Confusingly for British people living in Australia, jellyfish are also called bluebottles. We were then taught how to use the snorkelling masks and flippers. It was our first experience of snorkelling and what we saw under the water made it a worthwhile trip. Once we were directed to a buoy not far off shore, we saw the range of coral on the ocean floor and a huge variety of fish, including parrot fish (good photo) and angel fish (good video). We also saw some fairly large turtles in the water nearby.

After the snorkelling, we were taken on a short tour of the island and we saw numerous terns which were nesting. Unlike the local arctic terns which nest near Dunbar in a protected area and which will dive approaching humans, these common terns (photo below) went about their business quietly. Close up, this is a most attractive bird and the background of spiky tree trunks and leaves show off its sharp colours and distinctive black/blue line across its eyes.  

Tern on the Low Isles near Port Douglas

On the island, there is an impressive lighthouse which was built in 1878. Our guide asked us to look up towards the light and we did, we could see two osprey chicks (photo below) sitting at the edge of the nest. I was hoping that the birds might look down to improve the photo but they remained still, while haughtily ignoring our presence far below. The birds looked smaller than they are, especially sitting next to the huge ramshackle nest. 

Osprey chicks on the Low Isles lighthouse

This was a very satisfying day for us – a new adventure on an idyllic island surrounded by the warm ocean, on which the sun glinted and the water sparkled.