Thursday, April 27, 2006

Paradise Lost

The Paradise Shelduck, or Tadorna variegata, is a fairly common species in New Zealand. The largely vegetarian and lifelong mates favour grasslands, pastures or estuaries. The Mary Wilson Reserve in front of my office window is a large grassy area bordering on the bay, with a small stream emptying under some pohutakawa trees.

Last October, a nice couple made it their habitat, and without much ado, set out to grow the family. With the female (conspicuous white head and neck) incubating and the male ever watching, we soon had 7 new additions to our community. Throughout November and December, I kept a keen eye on the family, which managed to survive intact with 4 chicks. It was fun to watch them grow and take to the water, and soon they became real characters of the waterfront, with people and cars and even dogs finally leaving them alone to do their thing. They grew rapidly, and were floating around the bay when any danger was sensed. I enjoyed watching them work as a team.

Sometime last month, all but the mother have disappeared. She wanders aimlessly around the reserve and foreshore, a familiar sight but missing her brood. Since the young are able to fly at about 2 months, there was never a question they might disappear one day, but what about mom? She has so much time on her hands right now, it is discomforting to see her so abandoned. Still, she nods and gives the customary and shrill zeek-zeek whenever I walk by. I am not sure what it is she is waiting for, their return, or just a simple life on her own. Good question actually, and will update as events unfold...

Food issues (cont'd).. A new book by Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness author Eric Schlosser has understandably, got the MacDonalds PR machine in a bit of tizzy. Aptly titled Chew on This, it has a focus on the relationship the fast food giants have with their target consumer: kids. Staying with food, (and we must as long as we live), being in London and wondering where to eat without taking a loan or too many additives, this list of healthy fast food spots could be more than helpful. We have the tiny Organic Shop here on Waiheke, and with its small kitchen turning out some delicious home made treats, is a regular stop for me. Next time I am in London doing whatever one does there, this list will be helpful I am sure.

NPR, the National Public Radio network of stations in the U.S. ran a series of listener generated essays on personal values back in the 50's apparently inspired by the late Edward R Murrow. He being the principled journalist of Good Night and Good Luck. They have recently re-instated the program, called This I Believe, and the essays, from all over the country, are quite remarkable in their simplicity and impact. The latest is here, and it is entitled There is More to Life than My Life.

Need I say more?

Monday, April 24, 2006

On Top of the Earth

My friend Sange, of the Sherpa in the Everest region, has told me the unrest in Nepal is not good for his trekking business. That is clearly evident in pictures of a normally relaxed Kathmandu, now in turmoil. This is a story of Shakespearean dimensions about a King who inherited the throne after his brother killed himself and the entire Royal family several years ago. He now rules with apparent abandon, much to the dismay of those who would like some representation. It is a poor and stunningly beautiful country, whose people rely on tourism big time. I want to go back and trek with Sange, so it is of real interest to me. The Independent has a good synopis here, including the Maoist push complicating matters. And NPR looks at the hidden toll here. Unlike their huge close neighbours India and China, Nepal is a village nestled in the Himalayas, but would like to have some opportunity to better their situation as well. Sange is a terrific man.

As a farmer most of my life, and an avid reader of Wendell Berry and Paul Hawken, I listen intently to the discussion on Earth Day, as it comes and goes each year. Somehow the language of separation gets used to my dismay, as if we were a different entity altogether from nature and our environment. What we going to do to the environment, to the earth, is asked, almost like how we work on fixing a car. It requires more personal committment than that. Fixing ourselves and our "carbon habits" will need to be fully understood first before real changes will evolve. For many, that requires a change in lifestyle, which is a big ask. Very big for some. Tim Flannery of Australia weighs in, as does Grist magazine on the celebrity culture surrounding the movement now. Whatever it takes. We are so inextricably linked together in this ecosystem of survival, that seeing it as anything other than personal is similiar to denying our own existence. As Michael Pollan asks: "what other species can even be said to have a 'relationship' with nature?" Only us.

Bob Dylan is now a DJ, and I can tell you if I can get the programme, one way or another, I'm in. His playlist is something to savour.

Apparently, beer is now a remedy for menopause, but are remedies really needed? I am not a sufferer (some might disagree), so I can't commment. It does sound like another attempt to sell something that is not needed, to fix something that is not broken, to people who can not afford it. Marketing is an amazing profession. Mosquito nets are all that is needed to save thousands of lives in Africa, and what is breaking all the sales records? Viagra and Prozac. Bill Clinton, whatever you think of him, is actually getting something done to make life giving medicine available to poorer people. Is that not what being on this earth on "Earth Day" is all about, helping each other? I hope so.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Horse whispers

You can think of this as your "one-stop shop" for an eclectic blend of media snippets. Or not. My reading varies widely these days, and certainly as one wise sage put recently, "there is no shortage of information, there is only a shortage of attention.." Amen. Somewhere in the mix below, there can be almost something for anyone:

Best sex after 40? Well, er, um, whatever. Somebody with too much time on their hands and a great gift of getting funded, has this to pronounce on their survey. Then there is the recent call for more use of psychedelic drugs in battling mental illness here and again here in New Scientist, a great magazine with just about everything for the seriously curious. Let's see, that takes care of drugs and sex, all I need now is some rock n roll, and I will consider myself to be waving the Baby Boomer flag proudly. Not. Anyway, I already had a natter about the Rolling Stones on a previous post, and well, I liked the 70's, but hello? Can we all move along? No wait, here it is, Neil Young has a quick chat about his new album, and why impeachment of the U.S. president is necessaryand patriotic. OK then. Not to spoil the party on a beautful morning in Godzone by going all geopolitical or anything like that, but there does seem to be some prominent writers and historians here and here talking about this. Didn't the last president get impeached as well for something? Oh yea, now I remember, something about a dress stain and a cigar. Certainly W is not that bad?

Then there is this guy who visits Starbucks all over the world, and reports on the cultural impact of the insidious geen logo. Some people get all the good jobs. I like my beans roasted delicately thank you, from Kona preferably, and for the farmers to get paid fairly. Full stop. Cultural impact? Most likely. Visual pollution? Definitely. One more Little Nugget for the curiously disenfranchised browser today, is this on the blogging phenomena, or as the digitally sophisticated say, User Generated Content. Me? Just enjoying my writing in the 21st century...

Back on the island, the dew had not yet dried in the early morning vineyard yesterday when a newish SUV (which in itself is enough for a second glance around here) came racing down the gravel road leading to my little patch, with a visibly distraught young woman asking bluntly to use my phone. It seems her horse in the paddock next door had injured itself in the night, and she needed the vet to come out quickly. There was a flurry of activity, consultation and vehicles over next couple of hours. Broken leg. Had to be put down. Buried on the spot. I felt for her, as I travelled the rows inside my tractor glancing over at the commotion. How difficult to have a loss so sudden to start the day. At the risk of sounding existentially morose, we all might do well to prepare more for it. Loss that is. Seems somewhat prevalent. Still, it doesn't make it any easier. All this while I was listening to a book review on an NPR podcast about two great philosophers of the Enlightenment Era arguing on the true nature of reality. How would we ever know?

Speaking of which, (podcasts that is, not reality) if you are so inclined, and like audio/ radio without the ads, here are some links to The Guardian and NPR sites that offer free subscriptions to some good programmes that cover a great deal of territory, but then in this new ecology of media, one can simply choose the subjects that interest, and "off you go", as they say...

I believe I mentioned this author previously, as he certainly rates as an enjoyable science writer. With great wit and delightful stories woven into the book I am reading now, called the Biology of Desire, he is able to take complex subjects and make riveting reading. Michael Pollan is his name, and a quick overview of some of his research on the state of the food industry (a drumbeat of mine, I suppose) is found here. Although I don't agree in principle with his conclusions in all examples, his arguments are compelling and well thought out.

Market Day on the island, so I'm off to support local, while thinking global, and well, try to cover what's in between as best I can.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Sticks and Stones

Apparently, the fans of Rolling Stones concerts aren't exactly what they used to be, and for sure, not what I remember. Hard News has as usual, a good synopsis of the event here. I chose to stay on the island, attend the Jazz Festival which was, as far as I could tell, somewhat under appreciated. We heard a generous, soulful performance by Elana Stone, who simply had her band, as well as the audience, under a "spell". The festival was all very well organised, with a marquee set up on the waterfront and a jam session next door at the pub into the wee hours. Brilliant, if you are a jazz fan, which I must say is becoming decidedly possible for me.

Friends and relatives in the States talk about the horrid state of both weather and politics back there, with Hawaii and California getting rain like they haven't seen in years. They could visit Auckland in winter if they want, but then they might never come back! As far as politics goes well, there are plenty of bloggers out there with their keyboards humming on that front, so I don't need to enter the fray, aside from pointing out some interesting views not often heard in mainstream press.

On a completley different note (no pun intended), my guidebook on Birds of the New Zealand Forest (which is a very handy reference from my office window), states the colonial origin the name of my longtime favourite the tui, as a "parson bird", due to the tuft of white feathers on the neck. Whatever. Once a tui, always a tui to me. I was not aware of this history, but the authors description of its most transcendent song, was very accurate:

" of the great delights of the forest - it is mostly of fluid melodic notes, sometimes
intermingled with short coughs and clicks".

It is very hard to describe, but not at all hard to miss. They light up the bush with their song, and are a delightful conversation partner during walks. Very rapid flyers, they defend their feeding territory quite vigorously. I am fortunate with the kind of bush around my house offer them a vast and seasonally adjusted diet, one in which many landowners need to plant in order to attract. If one had told me I was to become a birdwatcher a decade ago, my reaction would have been somewhat muted I suppose. Great creatures they are.

It was great to see those with vision within the Venture Capital Industry are beginning to see signs of real opportunity for green industries and start ups. Nothing like a bit of cash available to get that next sustainable industry off and running. Good article here from the NRDC site.

And another interesting sidenote for all those active Baby Boomers here, which begs the question once again concerning our desire to do more, be more, and generally have more than any other generation. At what cost? It reminds me of an old Taoist saying:

"The Great Way is not difficult,
If you have no preferences".

That would, ahem, make it easier for sure.

Speaking of which(was I?), it is time to mail in my monthly payroll tax for the wonderful folks I have working for me, and for whom I diligently deduct a certain amount every paycheck for our government to do something (anything!) with. Right now, roading is a big concern in Auckland, because gee, I mean, we need to drive somewhere! Near a meeting hall I attend, they have decided ( for umpteen million dollars) to extend the motorway another few kilometres, so it now ends in another neighborhood, creating a backlog there. Go figure. Not complete the motorway, just extend it. Kind of like the bridge to nowhere. Which is where my postbox is located down the road. Excuse me, there is a strange clicking and coughing sound interspersed with melodic notes calling me out to play...

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Simple Things

Rocky Bay, Waiheke Island on an Tuesday afternoon in Autumn..

Easter Weekend, with a capital W, here in New Zealand, which means Holiday Time. The Official End of Summer weekend, is packed full of music and festivities for the "punters" to flock to this weekend, including none other than the Rolling Stones, playing at a midget car raceway outside of Auckland. Go figure. Here on Waiheke, we have the Annual Jazz Festival, for which I have tickets for Sunday evening's performance of Elana Stone, voted Australian Jazz singer of the Year. OK then.

Also some great new films out, and a couple of festivals offering up the best of international indie treats. I agree with blogger Mark Glaser here on demise of the multiplex as entertainment, and I am glad we have the very supportive Academy Theater in town (located just under the library). One of the few things worth going into Auckland for. Another reason for going into town is the fact that so many New Zealanders head out for long weekends, and it is quite enjoyable to have a city easy to get around in.

Then there was the weekly market this morning where I picked up some homemade vege samosas, carrot cake, and stuffed olives. Gotta love it. Local food is sustainable food. It just makes sense. I don't like contributing any more to a larger carbon footprint by having my food, the single most important interraction I have with nature, travel unnecessary distances when it can be grown and consumed locally. It is catching on, and when petrol is no longer affordable by the ordinary folk, it will not only be fashionable, but very necessary. Great interview here with journalist Michael Pollan on the food "industry" in the States, and how so much land there is used to grow corn primarily for animal feed and corn syrup sweetener, which insidiously ends up everywhere in our processed foods. WTF? When were Silent Spring and Diet For a Small Planet written? about 50 years ago? What have we learned? The book is called The Ominivore Dilemma, and the interview from an NPR podcast was brilliant. Hope the book is as good. Will keep you informed.

Speaking of the States (and I try not to much, as there just is not anything good coming out 0f there recently), but if you are interested in the Way of the World, NYTimes journalists like Paul Krugman and Sy Hersh from the New Yorker (good Guardian bio here) will give it to you straight in these articles. That oil over there is becoming so much more costly in so many ways than the $2 or $3 we pay at the pump. In our lifetimes, folks...

Back to the island (please!) means holiday festivities would not be complete without the Dirt Track Club having their weekend party and demolition derby, where loads of "petrolheads" drive around a dirt track in vehicles that barely hold together, smashing into each other, until only one is running. Brilliant. And then there is, wait for it, the Annual General Meeting of the Omiha Welfare and Recreation Society, encompassing the RockyBay Memorial Cruising Club (see pics above of the newly renovated hall that hosts everything from Dynamic Meditation to the Forest and Bird Society. The burned out store is another story, but we will get there soon. Photos taken on a busy Tues afternoon!). These are two well respected organisations here in Rocky Bay, and before you snicker, they happen to have a long and celebrated history of sponsoring events and community service (they sell the local paper for $1.50 every Thu afternoon between 2-4pm if you are in the area). I have booked an interview with some of the local dignitaries from the groups, and find out all about upcoming events. If the photo above seems like I live in derelict community, it is far from it. Just a mere population density adjustment..

The water 50 meters from my home IS Omiha Bay, so I want to ensure it doesn't head the way of some more popular and "posh" areas of the island that are being eyeballed constantly for unsightly and inappropriate development from fast buck merchants over from the city. Heads up to the Miro Valley Action Group, and the Community and People of Waiheke (CAPOW) for their sterling efforts in warding off too much greed and commercialism on the island. Growth is inevitable, but It CAN be sustainable. It does not have to be ugly.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Digital Dilemmas

OK, I admit, I am not a boffin, or even remotely in the clan of "geek". The lapse in posts often has to do with the technical challenges I face in just getting programs to "get along" with each other. This morning, both my iPod and my Antivirus program were not liking Windows XP, and as such, they were totally uncooperative. 3hrs later, we are all in better shape, not without considerable frustration, and some totally incomprehensible messages from our beloved Microsoft, about what I shoud and shouldn't be doing. I re-booted a dozen times now, and think we are all go. Can't we all just "get along" now, so I don't have to spend mornings following help tutorials?

A nice piece by Al Gore if you are so inclined..

Living on an island does make one a bit more self sufficient, as I would normally have taken the phone and just rang one of the local providers of PC troubleshooting services, but it is a bit embarrassing when they end up just doing what I could have easily done myself. Kind of like ging to the doctor and getting a prescription for antibiotics, when I know thats what I need.. why not just skip all the chit chat and get it straight from the pharmacy?

Anyway, I am working on getting some pictures online in a more efficient way, something regular, etc., but in the meantime, here are a couple of essays for other projects I have been working on, and hope you enjoy the flavour:

April 2006

I live on a small island near Auckland in New Zealand. It is in a protected gulf of islands, an archipelago of sorts, and home to America’s Cup racing. Only 10 miles from the city, it feels often like it is a long way from anywhere. Many of the neighboring islands are sanctuaries and reserves, and are very popular with boat lovers for obvious reasons. Waiheke is a bit of a refuge for those leaving cities behind them, and I am definitely not the only one from another country. In fact, there are times when it seems like native-born New Zealanders are in a minority. Immigrants from the U.S., Britain, India, China, and all over Europe are assimilating at an escalating rate. Then of course there are the neighboring Pacific Island immigrants, which make Auckland the largest Polynesian city in the world. About the only place one does not see a lot of people arriving from is nearby Australia. They must like it there.

I came to New Zealand when the first Bush was president. That does seem like a long time ago. I had been traveling around the South Pacific for a couple of years, and spent time in both Australia and New Zealand. Although it is a small island in a very large ocean, which makes for some unpredictable weather patterns, New Zealand has the warmth and natural beauty I could not resist. Upon returning to the States after initial travels, I was eager to get back. There was no single incident, or extreme political-refugee type identity crisis, I clearly saw a better life for my family, and over the course of the last 18 years, I believe my decision has been borne out. I collect rainwater from my roof and it tastes delicious. I walk along isolated and pristine seashores dotted with small cottages, and run into only a handful of people. I listen to birdsong, collect driftwood, and watch yachts cruising the gulf. I work on the land, and write at home, looking out over the sea. Friendly greetings await me on my errands in the village, and the community is both diverse and cohesive in the face of any threat. The island has only 7000 residents, but that swells to 20,000 in the summer with tourists coming for the beautiful beaches and wineries. I travel into the city by ferry (35min ride) to see my daughter or take care of other business a couple times a month. In short, it is a simple life.

What makes this island, and this country even more appealing to me is the distance, not only geographically, but politically, socially and philosophically from my country of birth. The government is a Parliament System, not unlike Britain, which I see as both more responsive and representative. The environment is a magnet for tourists, and sincere efforts are underway to preserve it from damage whilst still making it accessible. There is a “back country hut system” which allows hikers and campers to find shelter in the mountains for a nominal fee. The economy, whilst inextricably linked to the America’s, is small enough to make changes quickly, which are sometimes necessary. The culture is not celebrity/scandal-driven, in fact the opposite is true. People “too full of themselves” are often put in their place. And yes, there are a lot of sheep. Most apparent to me, upon my return from annual trips back to the States, is that I have imbibed much of the culture as my own. I feel as much a foreigner in America as anywhere now.

Steady immigration to New Zealand over the last decade has given the culture here many of the “melting pot” advantages, with few of the disadvantages. Fear is not foisted on the public at every opportunity. An appreciation of the natural environment is woven through the fabric of the society. Entertainment and the arts are starting to see a real homegrown movement, after years of “cherry picking” from British and American artists. The concept of “pace” gives me time to live a life without so much of the clutter and pressure to buy a certain thing and to be a certain way. Individuality is almost a birthright here. Kiwis, long used to isolation, have made ingenuity and innovation hallmarks of their culture. I like that. I don’t think anywhere on earth is ideal in every sense of the word. For the many American ex-pats living around the globe for their various reasons, and for the many sure to leave still, our adopted homelands serve as a constant reminder about our decisions. The great country of United States of America seems not only a long way away, but getting farther away all the time. Changing populations and demographics make it impossible for countries to be all things to all people, and yet the divisions seem to be growing wider all the time. It is like a great ocean liner, and upon needing a change of direction, it takes a long time to turn around. New Zealand is more like a small speedboat – very maneuverable.

In this fast changing world of bandwidth and gigabytes, I like the equanimity and perspective that the simplicity of island life brings. I also like the flexibility and tolerance of a young society and culture that has begun to find its way amidst the modernization of an often forgotten part of the world. A unique combination of Polynesian warmth and dynamic creative synergies that inspires rather than dominates both its citizens and neighbors

This I believe (NPR)

I believe in the power to serve. I only feel truly fulfilled when I am giving or helping others. I do this in an effort to enhance the unique qualities of life we all share. I do it to develop my humanity, and feed the planet that supports me. With so much taking, a balance can only be restored by giving something back. That can be as simple as a smile for a sad face, as complex as disaster relief, or as important as listening to one in need. I can see clearly that many others are much less fortunate than I am. I have the ability to help, and to pass that up is a wasted opportunity.

For me, to serve is to give from the heart. Expectations of reward dilute the true altruistic nature of love in action. I want to give because it helps both giver and receiver understand purpose; and helps me keep my life simple and in perspective. I believe we are here to help each other.

On one of my many visits to the fascinating country of India, I witnessed penniless people walk for miles just to sweep a sidewalk or wash a wall. Not for any reason but to make a contribution to their community. They did their service, said nothing, and returned home to their villages. I understood then the power of action. Money is useful in helping others, but there is no substitute for time. What makes it so valuable is that it is definitely limited, and I, like everyone else, have no idea when it will run out.

When I plant a tree, help a child fly a kite, clean up a mess made by others, or sit and chat with a lonely person, I am learning how to become a better human. I am sharing the most valuable resource available to me with others. If I can make a difference in their lives, in the wider community, and the planet, then I am serving a higher cause than my “self”.

When I put my effort into helping and serving others, I have an opportunity to stand outside of the ego, dramas and stories that take up so much space in my life, and replacing them with the power of goodwill. I believe there is no random accident we are here on this earth with each other in such close proximity. It is an uncertain future with a clear choice: Fight each other for the dwindling resources of our planet, or realise we are all in this together, and start giving, sharing and serving each other. This I believe.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Hanging around..

If you are anything like me (and I am not saying you are), then it would come as no surprise that the amount of scrolling, pointing, clicking, pushing, minimising, deleting, entering, sending, and highlighting seems to be proportionately high, even for a part time writer like myself. There are the email, the text messages, the journals on the hard drive, the blog, and the just plain correspondence. Then there are the spreadsheets and the presentations for other projects and work. Bill Gates, for all his other traits, certainly got one right when he saw a computer in every household. Those that have houses, anyway, which I am fortunate to be one.

I was thinking about this mania of keyboard relationships on my daily walk along the coast and bush of this beautiful island. I breathe in deeply, bringing much needed oxygen deep into the cells of my body. Conscious of each step, it is a simple reminder to me of the simple things in life, that are so healthy and bring much balance into my life. I had been at the computer for more than 3 hours, and although that may seem like nothing to some, it gets my body into a state of inertia that no doubt effects my mind as well. The wind was crisp, the waves hardy but not threatening, and autumn was well on its way in the Southern Hemisphere. My route takes me through the "settlement" of Rocky Bay where I live, and through nicely paved streets with about half the homes empty for holidaymakers, and the other half occupied year around. The track through the bush leads off the road about 20 min from my house, and meanders down through native bush to the beach and Regional Park. A return trip of about 45 min, it is the ideal diversion for someone that needs a break from sitting down at a screen for more than a couple hours at a time.

When I read blogs, so many of them are concerned (as well they should be!) with some of the more unsavouray aspects of their societies such as the politics or economics affecting their lives. This is the reason that many write, no doubt, and I will leave the pundits to their predictions and analysis. I have no desire to enter the debate on Bush and his unpopular ways, or any of the other myriad of charged topics so popular in blogosphere. That requires an emotional investment of time I am not willing to put into these people. Hopefully I can regularly include links such as this one from the Cloud Appreciation Society, that allow a more creative approach to living each day with an understanding that there is more to life (alot more, in fact) than who has what power, who has manipulated or eliminated whom, and what money will get for you today.

Not that we can avoid the calamaties that are a product of American hubris and short sightedness, it is just that well, let's take it in a wider perspective, and do what we can..

Actually the nature of power - who has it, what it really is, how it is used, and why it creates the illusions it does - is of interest to me. John Lennon said so much in his song "Imagine", which I see was recently performed in front of the Secretary of State during a visit to Britain. If we were all to have a chance to have all the "power" we wanted for a week, what would we do with it? The power of our attitude is available to us quicker than we realise, and I believe the dissatisfaction and ever increasing need for "more" and "quicker" can be directly correlated to our lack of use of the power we do have. The power to change our attitude. The Slow Movement has its merits, and I am a supporter. No surprises there, with me living isolated on an island in the South Pacific. More later on that, the tide is in, and driftwood has been exceptional the last few days. Gotta move. Slowly. Deliberately. Consciously.