Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Birthday Mariner

The way we were, barreling along while the wind blown spume speeds downwind like smoke. It's one year after launching, Circa 1980. Mariners hull was then painted Royal Blue. Here we are racing with the number one working jib and one reef in the mains'l on Whangarei harbour with Limestone Island in the background. There was a fresh South Westerly wind blowing, gusting to 30 knots.
Great, great sailing that day; one of many, many more that were to come. After this sail I blinked twice and found it was 2014. That makes Mariner 35 years old this year! Time for a birthday party shipmates, that's for sure.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

An Opinion Piece By - Brian Turner - Mainland Poet

  by Brian Turner 
 Article in New Zealand 'Listener' 
A response to the recent open letter from Ranginui Walker.

"No one would doubt or challenge Ranginui Walker when he asserts that his sense of attachment and belonging to the place where he was born and brought up runs deep.
But when he says, “I have been here a thousand years. You arrived only yesterday”, he very clearly denies a similar depth of feeling to almost everyone else.
Are Maori Feelings
More Authentic?
Walker’s empathy with his surroundings, he implies, is more authentic and valuable than that of, say, farming families of the Maniototo, or the people of the Waitaki Valley, or the townsfolk of Dunedin or Timaru. In New Zealand today, there is a relentless presumptuousness about the way in which non-Maori feelings for land and water are dismissed as less heartfelt, less sensitive, less spiritual. In this regard, Walker, and those like him, leads the way.
Am I Indigenous?
Living here, one often hears tiresome, incessant talk from Maori, and non-Maori urban-liberals especially, saying that if you are of European extraction, you can’t possibly truly belong here, in the way that those with even the most attenuated Maori ancestry do.
I vehemently disagree. Try telling that to the people I live among, and others, who go back generations here. I am indigenous.
Stop The Bigotry
I say, stop the bigotry whereby one culture or another claims greater moral virtue and/or spiritual sensitivity. Recognise the worth and strength – and the reality – of hybridisation.
Isn’t this what just about all of us are, hybrids. This will continue to the point whereby, in less than 50 years’ time, it’s likely that more than half of the population will be able to claim some Maori connection. Then what?
Who Is A Minority?
Who is a “minority”? Recently, a friend drew my attention to a marvellous address by Susan Sontag, when she received the Friedenspreis (Peace Prize) from the German Book Trade Association. At one point, she said:
“A good deal of my life has been spent trying to demystify ways of thinking that polarise or oppose. Translated into politics, this means supporting whatever is pluralistic and secular.”
I hope that Ranginui Walker and anyone like him might reflect on that, in this country where a sanctimonious culture of reprimand is rife.
To Disagree With Maori
Is To Be Racist?
I have found that, for many years now, to disagree or take issue with almost anything that Maori assert guarantees that you will be attacked and deemed anti-Maori, Eurocentric and racist, among other pejoratives. Some of those attackers, oddly, include a number of strange birds, predominantly of European ancestry, who insist that, in order to live here, we have to atone for the sins of some of our fathers and be prepared to keep on atoning until Maori say “enough”. All nations, all societies, all families, all individuals know and accept that their pasts are murky, that, at one time or another, they have transgressed, often badly. So, contrary to the remorseless line that we are fed by various, mainly government agencies, it is not ignorance of the past that makes most people unwilling to forever make amends, it is a belief that little of benefit is to be gained from it.
Shouldn’t Assistance
Be Based On Need, Not Race?
We all know that many people here live in, by New Zealand standards, impoverished circumstances. Would it not be best to provide assistance on the basis of need, and remove the racial component? For years now, I have heard people express resentment that goes something like this:
If Maori are down and out, the cry is, “It’s Pakehas’ fault.” If non-Maori are in strife, “It’s their fault.”
It might be better if, instead of alleging that New Zealand’s social problems are racially based, we accepted that they are, principally and more accurately, related to ideology and the changes wrought as a consequence since the early 1980s. (Rogernomics)
All Races Can Be Racist
I hasten to add, before the ranting begins, that I am not saying there isn’t racism in New Zealand. Human beings are often racist, and to varying degrees, wherever one goes.
In this country, there are racist Maori and racist non-Maori. There is also a high degree of preciousness and a scary, sometimes farcical eagerness to take umbrage.
With respect to the issue as to who owns the foreshores and seabed around New Zealand, Walker in effect says that although he and his tribes folk are happy, in the main, to share the seas and beaches with other recreational users, he reserves the right to exercise control. He expects the rest of us to defer, which is patronising and unacceptable.
Tribal Arrogance
He often seems to advocate a kind of latter-day tribalism, a society based upon a wish to replicate conditions and a world that no longer exists. And what Walker is really saying is:
“What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine, too.”
It’s cake-and-eat-it country. He reminds me, again, of how proselytisers, when referring to rights conferred by article three of the Treaty, seldom acknowledge their corresponding responsibilities.
Maori Signed Up To Be British
Whether anyone likes it or not, they signed up 163 years ago to being British (read New Zealand) citizens. As such, that means a responsibility to work to improve and safeguard this society for the social, cultural and economic benefit of all.
I can’t see any point in us reverting to a system that boils down to pitting tribe against tribe. To me, the seas and rivers and coastlines and lakes are part of our common heritage. It is time for us to confirm that recreational activities involving access to those parts of the outdoors are the customary right of all. That is what the overwhelming majority of people who appreciate them want, and expect their democratically elected government to protect.
Not Only Maori
Have Customary Rights
A great many people would be happy to define a customary right as a practice that citizens who live here are accustomed to engaging in. Walker insists on ownership, but it would be good to reconsider what it is that we have a right to own. Our own property and personal possessions, but little else, in my view. Ownership of things we have created or, possibly, had a hand in making: but who among us made birds, fish, native forests, land and water? Give permits to use, in some cases, but more than that, no.
The Vision To Say “Our”
And when it comes to recreational use, make the same regulations apply to all.
The date of arrival of one’s ancestors (or, often, a selected few of them) should be no excuse for the awarding of preferential rights. Walker writes repeatedly “my coastline”, “my shores”. This country will remain divided until he, and others like him, acquires the vision to say “our”, until he will say that not only “some … Pakeha intermarried” with him, but “some Maori intermarried” with Pakeha. "
           -------- Brian Turner

Tea For The Tillerman (Again)

Bring tea for the Tillerman
Steak for the sun
Wine for the women who made the rain come
Seagulls sing your hearts away
'Cause while the sinners sin, the children play
Oh Lord how they play and play
For that happy day, for that happy day

 - Cat Stevens

"It is all for the tillerman (the farmer who tills the field all day--a long arduous task). Bring him tea, steak (hearty food: for he worked/will work out in the sun) and finally bring him wine, to drown his sorrows, when he thinks of the women who made the rain come (brought him sadness).

Although the album art shows among other things, a woman (silhouetted) performing a rain dance that is bringing in the literal clouds, I think it's a double meaning, bringing the rain meaning tears of sadness but also the water of life.

I think the song is a farewell to the heavy contemplations of the album, a sunset on that hard day's work. It puts all that stuff behind it, even though all that stuff is... Everything! Work. Love. Play. Music. Sinning. It is saying finally that after all this earthliness, even after the sun has set on life itself, there is still spirituality.

That's why the song is infused with double meaning. The tillerman is not only the plough man but also the steersman of the vessel. Or God directing the fate of men. The homophone son/sun is obviously referencing 'The Son', while wine is considered the blood of Christ in the same theology. Seagulls (who track boats and ploughs alike) are followers who sing their hearts out: disciples perhaps. Sin and innocence in the last couplet goes without saying. O Lord! For that happy day. The last words of the album are 'that happy day', that is without doubt referring to a rapture or day of salvation.

The alpha and omega. The song begins with a command. (in the beginning there was the word). And it ends with that happy day. Salvation.

The song never overtly says it is about spirituality, but it creates a room and fills it with all kinds of life, except for one elephant shaped hole in the middle. That elephant in the room is religion.

You get one chance and wasting it toiling away in the field under the hot sun in anticipation of a paradise in the next life is the way to miss out."

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Yeah, If Pigs Could Fly

I found this while looking through some school photographs.
This little winged money box pig was created by a Hikurangi student from my colleague Taras class. It was made for an art exhibition last year.  I think that this little pig is a perfect three dimensional example of the English Idiom "Yeah, If Pigs Could Fly" - Because if "Pigs Did Fly" within any given context where the Idiom held true - then the pig would probably be as metaphorically fanciful as this little piggy! LOL !

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tea For The Tillerman

I have never ever quite understood the attraction of coffee but then again I have never understood the attraction and obsession with chocolate - and there may lie the answer. They both contain considerable amounts of caffeine. Maybe I am immune to its mood boosting effects. Maybe my mother was correct when she said that sometimes I acted as if I only had half a brain. Which if true would lower the caffeine effect to my metabolism by fifty percent thus mitigating the relative stimulant effect compared to the general population. Half a brain.... Hmmmm, not a theory I want to embrace generously..... but there you are LOL.

Coffee has always seemed to me to be more of a 'food', as opposed to Tea, which always has the effect on me as a 'refreshment'. After a really good cuppa, I feel as if I have just had a good bracing walk by the sea; after a coffee I feel as though I have had enough to eat and should skip lunch. Two flat whites and I am almost asleep, like a lion after eating a couple of zebras.

Nevertheless, I recognise the social lubricant role of coffee and always drink coffee when I meet my friends and help them untangle their social, emotional, philosophical and theological problems.Vast numbers have had eureka moments listening to my wisdom as I have gesticulated with one hand whilst waving a coffee cup the size of bloody Texas with the other. A large slosh of coffee on their knees in these moments of epiphany is seen as a bonus as the caffeine is greedily absorbed into their skins.

As for chocolate, I don't object to chocolate per see, I enjoy it in small amounts. Dark chocolate is a particularly good snack for gaining that extra bit of energy when kayaking, sailing, cycling or walking. But what I object to in our culture is the kind of ipso facto assumption that adding chocolate to absolutely everything is consumer choice. It is patently nothing of the sort. Recently I saw a brand of coffee marketed with 'Hints of Chocolate' for fucks sake - and my mum said I had half a brain?

Why do all the biscuits in coffee shop cabinets contain chocolate? Hasn't anyone heard of raisins, sultanas, cherries, peanuts, walnuts or dates? (Food for the gods shipmates, food for the gods!).
Why do people stare at you with that 'Mmmm Yummy' look and state, "And for desert we are going to have Black Forest Chocolate Gateau" Am I supposed to greet such an announcement with an orgasm? or a flourish of Morris Dancing? Good god, what is a man to do?

Well, a man has a good cup of tea that's what he does - Tea for the Tillerman shipmates, Tea for the Tillerman.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Moon Beyond The Finger

'All words about spiritual values are just hints. Don′t hold onto the words as if they are realities. They are hints, almost the way I can point to the moon with my finger - but don′t catch hold of my finger. My finger is not the moon. Although my finger was pointing to the moon, it was only a hint.
In one of the temples of Japan, there is no statue of Gautama Buddha in the temple. Instead of a statue, there is a finger pointing to a far away moon. It is a temple of its own kind - because Buddha is nothing but a finger pointing to the moon. Don′t go on worshiping the finger - that will not help. Look at the moon where the finger is pointing. Forget the finger, forget the scriptures, forget the masters, forget all your religions; just try to find out what they are hinting at, and you will be surprised to find that thousands of fingers are pointing at the same moon.
And the followers of these fingers are fighting and killing each other. Mohammedans killing Christians, Christians killing Jews, Hindus killing Mohammedans; and nobody bothers that you are fighting for fingers. The fingers may be different, but the moon is the same. The angles of the fingers may be different - because people were standing in different places at different times, in different ages. How can Krishna point exactly the way Jesus is pointing? How can Buddha point in the same way Zarathustra is pointing?
The person who seeks knowledge from these indications in the scriptures, in words, in statues is a fool. The search has to be within - because they are all pointing that the kingdom of God is within you.
And unless you go inwards, unless you close your eyes and relax your mind; unless your heart, your mind, your body all become a synchronicity, a harmony, a deep accord - you will not be able to hear the still small voice within you.
And that voice is nobody else′s voice, it is your own. And remember, only the truth that is your own, liberates. Anybody else′s truth always becomes a bondage.'

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Good Sign

These flowers (Purpleish Vegetartus), and these ferns (Greenish Vegetartus) shone brightly in the garden this morning, so I took a photograph of them. "What's up?" I asked them.

"We're up" they replied, "But if you are looking for a deeper meaning, the only one we can give you is Summer, but we do mean Spring and Spring with a vengeance."

"Good" I said. "Very Good."  - I didn't risk hurting their feelings by adding, "It's about bloody time," because I am old enough to know that everything under the sun has it's season - and its reason - and its meaning.

So, I am going to join hands with the sun, moon, stars, ocean, earth, wind, fire and sundry Rainbow Colourish Vegetartus's and anyone else who wants to join me and make this a very, very, very, very good summer - or not, as the case may be, LOL. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

At The Heart Of The Matter

If, as I think, all spiritual truth at the heart of most religious traditions is essentially about the transcendence of the 'Self', then the advice given above is true - hard to achieve, but true nevertheless.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Five Minutes Away

 (Shipmates - To Get The Big View, Double Click The Photograph)

The good ship 'Mariner' is here amongst these yachts if you look hard enough. This view is only five minutes away from where we live, a bit beyond the hill in the background. One of the benefits of living in the provinces in New Zealand is that you don't have to be a multimillionaire to organise a reasonably good affordable lifestyle for yourself. When I do my walking / cycling / kayaking exercise I am able to do it all here, within five minutes of our home.

There is a clue here in this photograph as to the future - an intimation that is casting its shadow backwards in time. More about that in another blog post maybe.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

An Apple In Peach Cove

Yesterday I paddled one of my favourite day trips - Taurikura Bay to Peach Cove. It's a round trip of about 20 nautical miles. Part of my trip was from the relative safety of Whangarei harbour out into the open ocean where I hugged the coast for a couple of miles. It's an easy and enjoyable trip in fine weather. I only took an apple and a bottle of water for an early lunch - Us Kayakers, come dieters, who aim to become as lithe, fit and trim as Norwegian Racing Sardines have to make sacrifices - I thought about those sacrifices as I tucked into a fine lunch with wine when I returned home.
My new waterproof deck bag proved its worth keeping my camera and other gear nice and dry. I am slowly building up my kayak gear so that when I am ready and have the time I will have everything I require for an over night trip.
The distant headland on the top left of the photograph is the entrance to Peach Cove.
If you double click this photograph you will get some idea of the lay of the land. I have paddled from the top left hand area of the photograph down to where Peach Cove is marked on the map.
One of the great delights of kayaking is being able to paddle within touching distance of the coast and see the flora and fauna at a very close distance. I will have to ask my friend Gerry, an amateur ornithologist what these birds are. (Gerry has told me that the white wading birds I described as "Regal" in my last blog are in fact "Royal Waders"). Seeing bird and ocean life is one of the bonuses of being in and on the water.
A Pied Shag dries its wings. 
Getting in close along the rugged coastline.
Shooting the gap. There was a bit of a surge between this small craggy island and the mainland, but I managed to time my paddle through on the top of the surge so that I didn't hit the shallow bottom.
I have been on a fairly strict regime of daily exercise to increase my fitness, so I was pleased that I was able to deal with this paddle and the low key, in the back of the mind anxiety about paddling around exposed coast land. I am always very careful, and watch the elements with the well honed eye of a sailor who only deals with heavy weather when he wants to, or has to.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Another Local Circumnavigation

Today I did what's becoming an old favourite; a circumnavigation of Limestone Island. It was dead low tide which meant I could see just how much water there was in the south western channel between the island and the mainland. I found there was plenty of water which is good news for future circumnavigations of the island in my variety of small boats. I think there is actually enough water in the channel for the good ship Mariner but I don't think I would risk it - well not when I am sober.
As I rounded the south eastern end of Limestone Island I spied this big black ketch. I knew instantly that it was a pirate ship. As I paddled past I called out to the young skipper and his two young children, "Are you pirates?" They laughed and instantly replied "Yes!" They made me smile, it's good to talk to people who know exactly who they are. Anyone who can't instantly recognise their inner pirate is bound to be someone whose entire bookcase is filled with books about Grain Silos and who has never, ever slept with a pom pom hat on their head.
Further on I spied something that must be new on the island - Two large 'Pou' - large, free standing Maori carvings not unlike North American Totem poles - but perhaps more related to the 'Moai' on Easter Island.
Further on around the island I spied this spoon billed wading bird looking and walking regally along. I instantly named him Oscar and thought of that quote of his, "The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible."Oscar Wilde - Which is very much to the point when you see dudes like Oscar strutting his stuff, and begs the question - Why is there something, rather than nothing? I don't know the answer to that question but I give thanks for all that I see because the visible wonder of the world is, well, wonderful..... and a mystery.
The markings on this channel marker are telling vessels to pass the marker to the West. The reason is very apparent at low tide with the reef to starboard (right) of the marker extending all the way to Limestone Island. This reef is covered by approximately a meter of water at high tide.
This bird which I think is a Gannet gave me a fright by diving from a great height and barreling into the sea a couple of meters in front of my kayak. He then popped up and investigated me thoroughly. I thought (As you do) that this bird might well be the reincarnation of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer was a German philosopher best known for his book, 'The World as Will and Representation', in which he claimed that our world is driven by a continually dissatisfied will, continually seeking satisfaction. Considering the fact that Arthur didn't come up from his deep dive with a fish in his mouth I decided he must indeed be a dissatisfied Gannet, but it is a moot point (and indeed a huge leap of distorted logic) as to whether this means he was indeed Arthur Schopenhauer. Just at the point when I was about to politely ask him if his name was Arthur he flapped his big wings and buggered off.
This small fishing boat named "Tin Foil" motored past me - he didn't return my wave - proving that fishing, whether by Gannets or Humans is a very serious business and that there is no time for dilly dallying - or perhaps he is just a moody, bad tempered, unfriendly bastard, not my sort of pirate.
In the foreground of this photo of the north facing side of the island is regenerating bush that with other volunteers I helped plant many years ago. Between the green bands (access tracks) are ancient Maori gardens. Because of the historical significance of these gardens planting cannot take place in this area of the island - but interestingly some regeneration of native bush has already taken place in the garden area. I showed this photograph to my alter ego  and said that someone with an active imagination may very well mistake the lines on the hillside for symbols created by beings from a UFO - My alter ego replied that I was doing well up to the point of Arthur Schopenhauer, but not to push my luck.
Now, the bird in this photo (A Pied Shag) was too far away for me to ask its name which will be a blessed relief for the reader.
I have no idea what this old structure was used for but I do have a theory - But I will spare the reader the details (for the time being). BUT - I have to say that I wish that I could own it, because by the time I had paddled past I had designed a commodious four level holiday home with davits on all sides for various small boats, which could be easily built after I have won the national lottery.
I don't dispute that the house and two black tanks in this photo is used by the Limestone Island conservation caretaker, but what I do dispute is that the tanks are water tanks. If they were water tanks they would be higher than the house so that the water could gravity feed to the house when a tap is turned on. So if you are as perceptive as me you will know that there is an illegal whiskey and rum making Still on the island. I can see that I will have to make many clandestine night raids to the island to confirm my suspicions. But I am not averse to a bit of off the grid individual enterprise and Garry Grass is not my name -  So I envision myself inserting small taps into the sides of these tanks to prove my theory - so call me old fashioned, but leaving the taps there is vital so that I can revisit my theory over time for evidential top ups. Of course this sort of malarkey is strictly for someone who is a pirate. It will be fun, and fun is good. --- and it is there that I rest my case.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Premonition And A Pounamu Taonga

This is a story that would be easy to make up, but I swear that it happened exactly as I have written it. What happened doesn't make my hair stand on end, or give me goose bumps - it just makes me smile and smile and smile and gives me a very good warm feeling.

A few months ago I retired from Teaching after 40 years continuous service. I was farewelled by the staff of Hikurangi School and given a card and a gift - and I thought - 'Well that is that, roll on retirement'.

Two weeks ago I had a premonition - That is, an idea attended by a very, very strong feeling popped into my consciousness which said "Hikurangi will give to you a Pounamu (green stone) pendant that you can wear". I thought about this and smiled, then I dismissed it as some sort of wishful thinking. I thought that although I had taught for 40 years in various schools, I hadn't taught long enough or made the sort of impression at Hikurangi School that would warrent the giving of such an honour.

Well how wrong I was.

Last week I had a phone call from Hikurangi School asking me if I would like to attend their end of term Arts Festival presentation. So Christine and I went along and in an audience of parents and friends of the school we were entertained as each class presented fabulous and varied dance and drama items. At the end of the concert, to my surprise I was asked to come forward. I was then presented with a 'Clear File' folder full of poems, posters and letters of farewell from a range of children of all ages across the school. I was also presented with this Pounamu (Greenstone) Taonga (Treasure). Then a farewell  Waiata (song) in the form of a  Ngeri (a type of chant) was sung for me.

It is hard to express in words how deeply I was affected by all of this - I found it all deeply, deeply moving and I told them so in my farewell speech to them. As I watched the fresh, young, animated faces of the children and listened to the wonderful chant of the Waiata I looked and looked and looked and listened and listened and listened - It was a moment I wanted to etch on my mind, something I wanted to never forget - and it shall be so.

What I love the best about all of this is that I have received this Pounamu pendant in the way that Pounamu is supposed to be obtained according to Maori protocols, that is - As a gift - A gift that has been prayed over and blessed and given as a sign of Esteem, Appreciation and Aroha (Love) - There is no other symbol that I would have rather received than this - For me it is the most wonderful and perfect full stop to 40 years of teaching service - Given to me by the school that despite the challenges has been the one that I have had the happiest time teaching in.

Arohanui, Kia Kaha - Go well Hikurangi Primary School Children and Staff - Beneath this Pounamu Taonga that I wear every day beats a heart that will never forget you.