Sunday, 27 March 2011

Broccoli bonanza!

Our broccoli was a great success this summer.  Just look at this:

I took this photo in January.

That head weighed in at 1.3 kilos!


Thinking that the plant was spent once I'd cut this wonderful head I pulled out the remainder of the plant and discarded it.  A friend later pointed out to me that the stalk is also good to eat, either raw or cooked!  Hmm, I'm not a fan of it raw, but it's very acceptable cooked if finely chopped!

Later too, I was told that if I had left it to grow the plant would have continued to produce more although smaller sprigs of broccoli.  Although somewhat disbelieving I did leave others in the ground to see what they would do.  Sure enough, they produced loads more as you can see in this photo which I took yesterday.  I had already picked lots of sprigs from it:


The white butterfly caterpillars have had a good go at the foliage, but this has not affected the sprigs at all.  If I had been vigilant about the caterpillars I could have consulted the Otepoti Urban Organics pest control page, and tried an application of garlic and oil.   Other useful links can be found in my article Gardening ~ maintenance, weed control and organics.  Next year I'll be more on the ball!

According to this article in Wikipedia broccoli is most nutritious when raw, steamed or microwaved; if boiled its nutritional value reduces with the length of time cooked.  Cooked sparingly it is good to eat and nutritious.

Broccoli is increasingly expensive in the shops.  Growing our own has meant we've had as much as we wanted, as fresh as it is possible to be, and at a fraction of the cost.  I call that a success!

Harvesting the potatoes ~

When potato tops begin to wither it's time to harvest them.  

Here are the potato tops all leafy and green in early summer

We've been enjoying freshly dug potatoes since Christmas, but now that the plants are beginning to die back, we knew it was time to dig up what remained. 

Getting them out of the ground is a bit like digging for treasure: you never know quite what you will find.  Careful digging with a fork well back from the base of the plant reduces the chance of chopping into potatoes that lie hidden.


What bounty there was:

An old curtain placed inside the wheelbarrow meant the potatoes could be lifted and moved easily.

Once harvested potatoes need to be well aired so that any remaining earth dries thoroughly.  Any damaged or diseased potatoes should be removed at this point to prevent decay from spreading. When dried the potatoes are best stored in a cool, dry, dark place.  

This crop will last us through the winter.  I hadn't grown potatoes before, and have been amazed at how easy they are to grow, how delicious, and how cost effective.  Very little maintenance is required during their growth.  We will definitely be putting in crops of these in the years to come.

Freeze those onions? Yes you can!

What to do with more than half a bucket of chopped onion?  I asked myself this question after a major barbecue left us with a surplus.  Reliable sources informed me that it could be frozen, which I didn't really believe, but since I couldn't think of an alternative I decided to have a go.  And Hey Presto! it worked absolutely perfectly.  Here is how I tackled it: 

Many recipes suggest two onions for an average sized meal for four people, so for the sake of simplicity I decided to freeze the onion in portions to match this amount.  That works out to about two standard cups which weigh close on 250 grams. 

I avoid cling-wrap plastic when I can, so used waxed paper to wrap each portion, then placed them into small resealable (and reusable) plastic snap-lock bags, excluding as much air as possible.  I then packed the bags into ice cream containers which fit comfortably into the freezer.  This careful wrapping means that the smell is well contained and I can easily get out an exact amount.  

Although all the extra chopping and wrapping was a lot of work I now have masses of diced onion ready at a moments notice. 

For the purpose of cooking, freezing causes no discernible loss of colour, texture or flavour.  There is a little water from the iciness as it melts which makes it spit as it hits hot oil, but that's the only difference between frozen and fresh onion that I have noticed.  I've been surprised at how much easier this has made my cooking, so for surplus onion I recommend it.

My article about freezing capsicums / bell peppers can be found here:
You can find all my food articles via the link below:

Friday, 25 March 2011

A new spade ~ shopping carefully to get the best

I am now the proud owner of an excellent new spade, a Stanley, which you can see pictured at the left.

I had been promising myself a proper landscapers spade for years, and when my previous spade recently buckled under excess pressure I decided it was finally time to get what I had wanted for so long.  I knew it would be fairly costly so I weighed up the range of choices carefully.

It was surprisingly hard to find but after looking in three garden supply shops I eventually found it at Bunnings.  I don't ordinarily visit this store as I have doubts about the business ethics of any business promising to undercut all others, but having looked at the other places first I went there with a clear conscience!  I was pleased to find they had a comprehensive range to choose from, and in fact the spade I chose wasn't stocked anywhere else, I can't imagine why as it was far and away the best I saw anywhere.

I'm fussy about design.  I was looking for these features:
  • A handle that is in line with the shaft so I can get maximum energy down the shaft when digging.  Some spades now have handles which are set at an angle which wouldn't suit me at all: when I'm working the ground over there are times when I like to repeatedly drop the cutting edge of the spade to the ground in a chopping movement while keeping a light hold of the handle, and an angled handle wouldn't allow for this action.
  • A clean shaft with smooth joints at the point at which the metal wraps around the wooden shaft - my hand needs to be able to slide up and down it when I'm using it as a shovel.  Some have pronounced ridges at this halfway point or sloppily finished joints.  If you've ever used a spade which has a poor joint at this junction you will know exactly what I mean!
  • Good quality metal, tough enough for the work I do.
  • A reasonable assurance that the spade would stand up to hard work for a good long time.
The Stanley qualified on all counts: it has a ten year guarantee and the blade is stainless steel.  I expect it will last at least twice that long, possibly forever.  At $74.45 it wasn't cheap but it's a brand which has a sound reputation so I know I've made a good investment.  I will continue to enjoy using it for many years, long after I've forgotten what it cost me. 

Note: New spades are likely to be fairly blunt.  This is a safety consideration for the store owners, and you can expect to have your spade sharpened before it will be properly effective.  A good spade, properly sharpened, really is a pleasure to use.  One safety tip I will share is that I always wear closed footwear when I'm gardening - it's so easy for sharp tools to slip and cause injury, or blunt ones for that matter!  When I've taken proper safety precautions I know I can relax and enjoy myself.  The garden is a great place for that.

I've written two earlier articles about other gardening tools, the first entitled Gardening ~ tips about tools and the second about hand mowers entitled People-powered lawn mowers.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

You know you're from Christchurch when...

Christchurch's February earthquake has turned many things upside down - including points of reference, language use, and the way locals relate to each other.  A Christchurch friend sent me this check-list.  In its dry good humour are delivered a few earthy spades-full of what residents have had to learn to live with, so...

You know you're from Christchurch when:
  • Geonet / ChristchurchQuakeMap is your homepage
  • The rest of the country offers you a place to stay
  • 'Munted' and 'buggered' are official technical terms
  • You go 'pfffff' when Wellington has a 4.5 earthquake that's 40km deep
  • You see a nice park in another city and think it would make a good evacuation point
  • You sleep in one suburb, shower in another and collect water from yet another
  • When you drive on the right side of the road and no one thinks it's wrong
  • You are happy two Policemen came for a visit
  • When your bike becomes your best friend
  • You think its fine for a soldier to be stationed at the end of your street
  • You see armoured vehicles driving down the road
  • It’s normal to greet people with "Do you need a shower"?
  • A bucket of sh*t is no longer that old car you drive
  • Every house is a crack house
  • Instead of rushing to the clothes line to get clothes in when it rains, you put dirty washing on the line in the hope that it will rain enough to clean them
  • Going to Wellington to escape earthquakes makes sense
  • Your doctor recommends having a few stiff drinks before bed to help you sleep
  • You know how to start and refuel a generator
  • You have tied the pantry, liquor cabinet and all the cupboard doors closed and it's not to keep kids out
  • You prefer to sit under the table instead of at it
  • You think electronics that have "shock proof" should say to which earthquake magnitude
  • You know and actually understand the terms and conditions of your House and Contents insurance policies
  • You can see irony in claims about houses made of permanent materials
  • Your en-suite has a vege garden, dog kennel and grass
  • Your teenagers are only too happy to sleep in the same room as their parents
  • You stop using the term built like a brick sh*t house
  • Dressing up to "head into town" means putting on a hi-viz vest, hard hat and boots
  • Discussing toilet habits with total strangers is an everyday norm
  • Wee boys don't get excited when they see (another) digger or a dozer - but all the adults in the street cheer wildly
  • Voluntarily staying in Timaru for five days seems like a good idea
  • You know what that extra gear lever on your 4X4 is for
  • Metservice includes a graph for dust
  • You have dust mask tan lines
  • You can use the term 'liquefaction' in everyday casual conversation, even your 3-year old can
  • When a massive group of students appears in your street, you feel overwhelmed with gratitude instead calling the Police. What’s more, the students leave the street in better condition than when they arrived
  • The answer to where anything is ... it’s on the floor
  • You smile at strangers and greet people as if you’re one big family

The source of this list is the Facebook page 'You know you're from Christchurch when'
Thanks for letting me know, team!  :-)

All my articles about the Christchurch earthquakes and aftermath can be found via the page linked to below, or at the upper right of this screen:

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Predictions, earthquakes & preparedness ~ living in our changing world

The changeable nature of the world we live in makes it probable that all of us will experience disasters at some stage of our lives.  Whether they are caused by humans or by upheavals in the natural world, I'm sure most of us wish we could know of them in advance and thus avoid them. But life isn't like that.  And even in the best ordered of circumstances there are no guarantees.   

FORECASTING AND PREDICTIONS:
Be that as it may, a degree of informed forecasting can ease our passage considerably: accurate weather forecasting, for example, is essential for those who fish and farm, as well as making life simpler for the rest of us; forecasts of supply and demand are helpful for retailers and buyers alike, and so on.  Earthquakes are far harder to predict.  From detailed scientific study of known fault lines seismologists know much about where and how often earthquakes are likely to occur, but cannot usually predict their exact occurrence; statistics give a clear picture of averages, but this does not mean that seismic events are evenly spaced. 

Even the most carefully considered predictions are chancy things.  
Sometimes predicted events come to pass and often they don't.  Predictions that are worth taking note of are based on accumulated insight which takes into account a whole series of historical events.  This is where science can be a big help in giving us a rational base for how to prepare for and respond to these situations.  

It's natural that where science can't give us certainty that we look for other ways of divining what may happen in our world.  To give in to this sort of reading of the natural world is tempting but in my view seldom helpful.  An intuitive sense of impending disaster can be useful in prompting us to do the preparation we should be doing anyway, and while an unexplained impulse to run out from under a tree just before it's struck by lightning can be lifesaving, pronouncements about impending cataclysmic events are often productive only of panic and hysteria.  In my view they are best disregarded.  

This weekend a lot of New Zealanders, especially those living in Christchurch, have become very anxious due to a prediction that a further earthquake may occur.  This prediction has not come from seismologists or accepted 'authorities' but none the less many people have taken it seriously and become very agitated.  Will it prove to be accurate or not?  I'm not going to consider that.  What will be will be.  (See 'Later Note' below)

What I aim to provide here is a more practical perspective which may help re-balance the scales in the direction of greater calm.

PREPAREDNESS:
I think all of us are afraid of disasters of this sort.  A serious earthquake is a serious disaster, which could kill us and even if we survive could cause ruin in our lives.  This is big stuff.  On the other hand, no one gets out of this life alive, but in the meantime we can improve our chances of being here longer and more comfortably if we are practical and apply a little science.  It's not difficult, but it does require us to apply ourselves to the task at hand.  

Some examples of disaster preparedness which we observe without thinking: when we get into our cars we put on our seatbelts - good; before we get on our bicycles we put on our helmets - good; do we answer our cell phones when we are driving?  Of course not!  We have rules and laws about all these things, which is as it should be - there's no reason to court disaster either to ourselves or those around us by neglecting these points.

Other routine examples of disaster preparedness which are very much part of our lives are: fire drills and exit points, earthquake drills (at school anyway!), life jackets, safety harnesses, poison hot-lines, aeroplane take-off safety drills, insurance policies, and many safety codes covering multiple aspects of our lives.

But do we have water stored and a grab bag for emergencies?  Ah... maybe part of, sort of...  I think most of us are in this situation.  

The Christchurch earthquakes have been a massive wake up call for us all.  
Preparedness is actually quite straightforward to achieve.  The Civil Defence site gives sensible lists.  If you have friends or relatives living in Christchurch they will no doubt have additional items they are very firm in suggesting you add to your list, such as shovels and toilets seats!  And yes, it is that basic.  A wheelbarrow is now on my 'must buy' list, also a dog chain.  In disasters lost dogs on the loose are a real problem to house and tether.  I'm teaching my cats to wear and walk with a harness and leash.  I draw satisfaction from knowing that our well-stocked vegetable garden provides a good portion of our food and we have lots of preserves in the cupboard.  Beyond this I have a range of things I need to think through and get done.  When I've completed them I'll be confident that I've done what I can to prepare for looking after my own needs and that of my household in the event of a disaster.  That's a helpful, practical thing to know.  Beyond that I can't control events.  That's a good thing to be clear about too.  That's life.  Again, there are no guarantees.

We can not control the shaking of the earth, but we can prepare our homes and ourselves to be as safe and resourceful as possible.  Being properly prepared is reassuring.

LIFE IS A RISKY VENTURE:
To put earthquake risk into perspective I look at the relative chances of dying in an earthquake, a vehicle accident, or in an accident around the home: 
  • The chance of dying in an earthquake is relatively slim.  I don't have statistics for this, but given the number of residents living in Christchurch at the time of the earthquake and averaging that out over the nationwide population and back over time to include earlier earthquake fatalities, shocking and disastrous as these certainly are, such deaths are not that common.
  • Driving a car is way more dangerous, and yet we happily zip around in our cars, many of us daily.  The risk doesn't end with those travelling in vehicles, but is shared by everyone going about their business on or by any road.  In New Zealand more than one person a day is killed due to motor vehicle accidents - that's over 365 a year as you can read on the Ministry of Transport website.  We completely accept this, taking in these appalling statistics with our dinners as we sit in front of the tele in the evening.  Then we take the next forkful and go on to the next thing.  I'm not saying that this acceptance is at all right or proper; what I am saying is that this is what we do.  We really are very complacent about it.
  • Contrary to what you might think, our homes are the scene of many more accident fatalities, close on twice as many in fact.  You can read about this in this article which appeared in the ODT on 31st August 2010 30 Otago people die in home accidents
From this one can reasonably conclude that dying as a result of an earthquake is relatively unlikely.

IT IS IMPORTANT, AS WELL AS HELPFUL, TO HEAR WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY:
The article Quaking in our boots: how prepared is Dunedin? was published in the ODT on 18th September 2010.  At the time the newspapers were so full of the drama of Christchurch's 4th September quake that I'm sure that most people didn't notice this article at all.  It's a comprehensive one and well worth a thorough read.  If you do look at it be sure to read all four pages, and bear in mind that Christchurch's 22nd February earthquake has cast some of the conclusions related in it into sharper perspective.  Those living in Otago in general and in Dunedin in particular would be well advised to take the lessons of Christchurch's situation to heart and to act on them.  This is not being alarmist, this is being practical.

Having said that, how likely is an earthquake this weekend?  
In the ODT article of 15th March 2011, No more earthquakes than usual: Dunedin geologist, Professor Richard Norris assures us that there are no more earthquakes occurring around the world than usual.  The reason that there might appear to be more is because in the last few years large earthquakes have struck heavily populated areas causing many fatalities.  He points out that similarly large earthquakes that occur in remote areas receive little attention and are quickly forgotten.  He assures us that fault lines in and around New Zealand are too shallow to cause tsunamis of the size recently experienced in Japan.  He further assures readers that he would happily go to Christchurch to stay for the weekend. I'll leave you to read the detail of the article for yourselves.

LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE:
It's very clear to anyone who has taken the slightest interest in either of the Christchurch earthquakes that building choices, both of location and materials are likely to change considerably in the years ahead.  

It has been commented that buildings constructed of brick, stone and tiles have fared badly and homes built in the modern style on flat concrete pads laid directly onto the ground have suffered unprecedented breakage.  On the other hand those constructed of wood, roofed with corrugated iron, and built on more conventional foundations up off the ground have in general suffered significantly less damage.  

In terms of location, those with foundations on rock fared very much better than those on less solid ground.  Many low-lying areas of 're-claimed' land have been hard hit by liquefaction.  I am sure that our building code will be updated as a result of trends observed from both events.  

I have long been concerned about the recent trend of laying concrete foundation pads directly onto the ground.  A house built on the older style of foundations can be jacked up and re-levelled, even moved, but a house on a concrete pad that suffers inundation or fracture is wrecked from the bottom up and may have to be completely demolished.  Television news bulletins have shown this to have happened to a number of nearly new homes.  It seems crazy.  Just near where I live all the new houses in extensive property developments have these sorts of foundations.  They are in the neighbourhood not only of a major waterway but also sit on the edge of a flood plain.  In my view this is madness, plain and simple.  

It's worth noting that as the world's population increases more casualties from earthquakes can be expected simply by dint of increased population density. Furthermore, most of the world's population live in coastal areas or near major waterways.  

Stripping out natural protective barriers such as mangroves and sand dunes from our coastlines for the sake of having a nice view for a select few greatly increases the impact of flooding of any sort.  I read this point in discussion of the effect of the tsunami which impacted so disastrously along the shores of Thailand on Boxing Day of 2004.

CHOOSING A HAPPIER PERSPECTIVE ABOUT LIVING ON OUR RESTLESS PLANET:
New Zealand has been formed by the the shifting of the earth's tectonic plates, and continues to shift and change.  Mostly this change is so gradual that we are not aware of it.  Most of the time it seems safe and stable.  Our perspective on this is due to our relatively short lives.  In my earlier article New Zealand ~ land of earthquakes and volcanoes I look at this in greater detail.  Included in that article are videos which describe the natural history of the planet as a whole and how the continents have shifted and changed over the millennia. 

I grew up on the outskirts of Christchurch on a hill which overlooks Redcliffs and New Brighton.  From there New Brighton looks like a thin strip of sand and when I was little the horizon line of the ocean seemed to hover above it.  I did not understand that the water was not vertically above it in a perpetual wave, and worried what would happen if it fell down.  


I don't remember mentioning this concern to my parents and it seemed to be years before I realised I was mistaken.  Even so, vestiges of my early fear of inundation stayed with me, often causing nightmares.  Dispelling these sorts of fears can be difficult but can be helped by changing our point of view.  

Sometimes our way of looking at things can be influenced in unexpected ways:
Late in my teens I had a memorable dream which addressed this theme in a very different way.  It was so different that it permanently altered the way I regard this sort of thing, and it was for the better: 
I was standing alongside one of my brothers on the bluff at the foot of the hill where we lived.  It seemed to be in a time before any people lived there, a kind of prehistoric era as there were no buildings at all and no one else other than my brother beside me.  In what might be described as a time lapse of hundreds or thousands of years a series of events took place as I saw the land and the sea changing in a dream-like fashion: I saw a forest of trees begin to grow and then to populate the neighbouring valley as well as New Brighton across the water.  Then I saw water come in over the trees and the valley become a bay, and so on.  The land and water changed their relationship with each other numbers of times, with the changes flowing gently but surely into and through each other.  I understood completely that this change was natural and to be expected.  It wasn't threatening or cataclysmic, but more like a progression of seasons. 
This dream was immensely helpful and freeing.  I still have dreams about inundations, but in my waking life I don't have the same fear or resentment of them.  

And so it is with us: we have our own seasons and progressions, and like the Earth suffer bumps and bruises along the way.  Now, although I still fear disasters, it's not the same way or to the same extent.  One day I will die.  In the meantime I hope to make the most of my life here in this time and to live as fearlessly as I know how.  Life is an adventure, something like a camping trip perhaps.  There's a long time to rest afterwards when none of this will signify to me - in a physical sense anyway.  I think though, that if my soul continues on, that my love of the Earth itself, and all its glories, will be forever.  

But back to practical realities, back to the thump and bump of the physical world: what we can do is learn, understand, plan and prepare.  These simple steps can help us set aside undue worries about the future which will leave us more free to enjoy ourselves. 

I hope this article brings a measure of calm to those who have been anxious.  Let's all make the most of each other and this beautiful planet while we're on it.  I wish you all peace of mind and a satisfying life journey, whatever that means to you.

Note: On 22nd March 2011 the NZ Herald carried the story: It's better to be prepared than scared. In it the practical points I've made about the value of preparing for earthquakes and our chances of surviving them are closely reiterated by seismologist Caroline Holden of GNS.

Later Note: 'Moon Man Ken Ring in hiding after death threats' - ODT 24th April 2011.  The riot act (yes, it's true) has been read to Mr Ring forbidding him to make further predictions about earthquakes as he is not qualified to do so.  Good!

All my articles about the Christchurch earthquakes and aftermath can be found via the page linked to below, or at the upper right of this screen:

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Children on rooftops ~ & looking out for the neighbours

I was bringing in the washing when I spied Samantha's little boy and his friend cavorting on their porch roof: they were gleefully tossing down a selection of toys... down, down, down.  He is three, and his friend the same age, or at least looked it.  I dumped the basket and ran, trying to look both calm and severe.  The upstairs bedroom window swung wide some distance above their heads; the paved courtyard below had never looked so threatening.  "Boys, what are you doing!  Go back to the window, go back to the window now!"  They retreated to below it.  "We can't get up" they explained.  "Stand right there!" I commanded, and pounded on the front door, calling to Samantha and trying not to sound agitated.  She opened the door.  "Samantha, the boys are on the roof," I pointed above my head.  Her face froze and she shot off upstairs. Stepping back I saw their little arms reaching up as she leaned out to hoist them in.  They were okay.  

But they might not have been.  Children move so quickly and imaginatively!  They had discovered that the window latch was loose and followed the impulse of the moment.  They had been having a great time.  Downstairs, the grown-ups had been enjoying a few minutes respite in the comfortable knowledge that the boys were playing in the bedroom - or so they thought!  It was a reasonable assumption.

Later Samantha came over to thank me.  She was still incoherent with shock: "I keep thinking what could have happened!" she repeated.  "Yes," I replied each time, "but they are safe, they are okay".  

There are so many near misses in all our lives, some we are aware of, and many, I suspect, of which we are quite unaware.  What angel prompted me to go out for the washing just then, or was it just a coincidence?  Who knows?  And having witnessed the danger, I still had to do something about it! 

I keep an eye out for people when I'm out and about, and if something looks odd I do say Hello and may ask, "Are you okay?"  Mostly they are, or at least say they are; sometimes they're not.  Once when I was out walking I passed an old woman on her hands and knees in her front garden.  She'd been weeding.  I said hello.  Something about her looked not quite right and I held her gaze as I continued walking.  "Could you help me up?" she enquired, "I'm stuck!"  She certainly was.  Together we figured out how to get her on her feet, exchanged names and small talk, and I went on home.  Once she was up she was okay.

Some weeks later I was out walking again when I passed a garage sale at her home.  Her family were selling off household things as the old lady and and her husband had had to move to an old people's home.  They couldn't manage by themselves any longer. 

I bought her beautiful art deco chest of drawers - and asked her daughter to pass on my greetings and appreciation.   And so it worked out that each of us helped the other: I adore the chest of drawers and could never have afforded it at its true value.  It's strange how our paths sometimes cross and re-cross with those of relative strangers in unlooked for ways. 

We all need help at times.  Our ability to give and receive it is what makes communities strong. While it certainly takes a village to raise a child, that response-ability does not end with childhood, but continues on throughout our lives.  

So I encourage readers thus: to keep a warm heart, your eyes open and your wits about you.  Now be prepared to DO something with that awareness.  

Note:
I have written an earlier article on a similar theme entitled "All those helping hands ~ some special people and ripples spreading out"

Friday, 4 March 2011

The Christchurch earthquakes ~ shock waves both within and without

Earthquakes occur in many forms, some in the natural world and others within us.  Some are public and obvious and others private and invisible - or nearly so.  When the Christchurch earthquakes came roaring to the surface they affected us in many ways.  Those living beyond the quake zone are not exempt. 

I left Christchurch years ago but it is the place where I was born and grew up.  I have family there, know people there, people who are dear to me.  I have mixed feelings about the years I lived there yet it is the place I come from, my point of origin, if you like.

The Maori people have a way of introducing themselves which describes where they come from and belong: they say which is their mountain, which is their stretch of water.  In these terms Mt Pleasant is still my mountain, and Pegasus Bay my stretch of water.  But how does one describe the sky?  Standing at the summit of any of the desolate tussock-covered hills of Banks Peninsula, one could easily imagine dinosaurs sleeping amidst their rounded folds; looking up into the biggest sky I've seen anywhere one feels that the sky is not so much the roof of the world, but an entry point to outer space.  Everywhere the views encompass great distance.  The majestic Southern Alps march peacefully along the horizon seeming far away.

Pegasus Bay blends with the Pacific to stretch to infinity on the other side.  Below, the city seems inconsequential.  Until you get there.

Christchurch has been a beautiful city set on the banks of gentle winding rivers, the Heathcote and the Avon, which merge in the ever-mutable Estuary beloved to us all.  The rivers and estuary remain, although dirty now, carrying human waste which has no where else to go - for the meantime.  Its heritage parks and walkways have suffered breakage and disruption but it is the old city buildings which crumbled, many proud landmarks, and many lesser ones, lying in dusty, crooked ruins.

The new will rise in their place.  I hope that time and care is taken in their design and construction, that human minds and hands can join in creating fresh beauty and mark the indomitable human spirit as they rise phoenix-like from spaces where so much has been lost.

For those who died in the disaster, so many beautiful and precious human souls, I give prayer, and thanks for your time in this world; time in which you inspired and gave companionship to those of us who live here yet.  I'm thinking especially of Paul Dunlop, to whom I have written a tribute already, and also of others who have been described in equally loving terms by so many relatives and friends.   

I think too of friends and family who patiently continue to live in the shattered city, doing what they can to lead normal lives in the face of disruption and breakage at every turn, and endure the continued shake and shudder of the earth beneath.  All strength to you, those who I know, and those who I don't.  My thanks to those who help both in big ways and small, a community drawing together both in grief and tenacity. 

Their grief and loss reminds me of my own, some in the past, some still with me: I know what it is to suffer sudden unexpected loss through death: my father died when I was growing up.  My sense of loss continues undiminished although it is decades old now.  I know what it is to be physically crushed: when I was a young girl I was struck by a car and lay pinned beneath it for at least half an hour.  It wasn't my fault.   I was lucky: although very nearly killed I survived.  Others haven't.  I know what it is to suffer major personal trauma, of which I have written  much in The Wasteland Chronicle.  Again, I survived, whereas others have not.  These memories are reawakened and my heart goes out to those in need. 

I want to pray, but how?  All good deeds of helping others are prayer in action.  But what of the  bruised and battered spirit, and of the cracked and broken ground itself?  I do not forget the shattered earth, its rupture and shock.  This too needs prayer.  It is the earth we walk on, and on which we seek our rest.

How do I pray?  What are the words?  After long blank emptiness I found my answer in a children's story from many years ago.  It is "The thirteen clocks" by James Thurber, adapted for radio by Peter Fieldson.  In its whimsy I found my truth.  Here we have a prince in disguise accompanied by the magical Gollox, well-intentioned but confused.  Together they set about rescuing the lovely Princess Saralinda from imprisonment by the Wicked Duke. Various spells as well as wickedness are in force and Time has been frozen.  All this has to be remedied if the Princess is to gain her freedom.  Here is what spoke to me so clearly:

The Prince: The coast is clear
Saralinda:   How could you find the castle in the dark?
                     He would not let me burn a torch.
Gollox:        You lighted up your window like a star
                     And we could see the castle from afar.
                     Come, our time is marked in minutes -
                     Start the clocks!
Saralinda:   He [the Prince] faces thirteen men and that is hard
Gollox:        We face thirteen clocks and that is harder
                     Start the clocks!
Saralinda:   How can I?
Gollox:        Your hand is warmer than the snow is cold
                     Touch the clocks with your hand.
Saralinda:   There!
Gollox:        Nothing has happened! We are ruined!
Saralinda:   Use magic!
Gollox:        I have no magic to depend on.
                     Try the other clock...
                     Oh, still nothing!!!
Saralinda:   Use logic then
Gollox:        Now, let me see...
          If you can touch the clocks and never start them,
          Then you can start the clocks and never touch them.
                     That's logic as I know and use it.
                     Hold your hand away...
                     And now closer...
                     Now a little further back...
                     I think you have it – Do not move!
~ we hear flapping ~
Saralinda:  What was that?
Gollox:       That was 'Then' leaving the Castle to die
Saralinda:  So 'Then' is dead. It's NOW!
~ we hear the sound of multiple clocks beginning to tick ~

And so I hold my hands up to Christchurch, to the people, to the buildings, to the land, rivers and the sky.  I feel your pain in the reflection of my own.  To have compassion means to suffer with.  I know.  I know.  Not exactly, for that is unknowable, but in the depth of need and feeling.

Each day in small practical ways we move forward.  Rise up Christchurch, rise up, kia kaha, strength to you all.

All my articles about the Christchurch earthquakes and aftermath can be found via the page linked to below, or at the upper right of this screen: