The Cat Says Meow

After a year in my own flat with a true bird’s eye view over the world below from my 9th floor window-sill, I find myself in a new place on a new window-sill and with two humans at my beck and call.

Life had been good. Yes, I could have done with some human contact: the odd pat here and clap there, especially on those hard to reach places like my back where my fur has become somewhat matted. I was happy with the services of the elderly human who did attend my basic needs every day providing nutrition and cleaning out my tray. I think I did have a permanent human at one point but she, for I think she was a female, is but a vague smell memory.

The trauma of how I got from there to here is also vague and I am still dealing with the impact. I remember my elderly male human lifting me into a small box – I trusted him. From there it is all a complex confusion of smells and noises ending up in this new place that I assume is to be my new residence. The humans have provided the basic necessities but as I said I am still reeling from the changes and stresses so have, as yet, been unable to acknowledge their attempts to provide for me other than in a formal manner. They both seem trainable and have some potential. They are not overly familiar with me and appear to have some previous cat experience from their respect of my need for time to adjust. Although they are around most of the day they do, either together or individually, leave the room and it is then that I have been taking the opportunity to further survey my new space. I do not want to over-indulge them too soon or show too much attention. However, I must commend them for their attempts to provide me with tasty morsels to tempt my appetite.

The window-sill where I have chosen to place myself for the time being is slightly narrow but does afford a new vision of the world outside. I have a new perspective on birds and have monitored their behaviour carefully along with that of other humans and other moving creatures of which I am unfamiliar.

One very positive change of which I am aware is that the neck band I have had on and been unable to remove for as long as I can remember had now gone. The bells that would jingle every time I moved are no longer ringing in my ears. So despite having lost the complete autonomy of living perhaps things are changing for the better.

Now that I am feeling more settled, I will slowly begin training the humans further to my ways and needs. This will have to be a gradual process to ensure my exacting standards are met. I did not really think that at my time of life I would have to be retraining new humans. I very much believe in a process of positive rewards in the form of allowing them to clap, stroke and groom me and in time I may sit on them as a mark of their hard work. Although that particular reward is still a long way off.

 

White Rabbits!

Why do some people say ‘White Rabbits’ on the first day of the month?

  • Do you say it just the once or repeat it twice or three times?
  • Is the phrase ‘White Rabbits’ or is it just the animal without it’s defining colour?
  • Must it be said first thing in the morning of the first of the month before any other words are uttered?
  • Is there a preferred place to say it – top of the stairs?
  • Do you say it every month or, as has been suggested, only on months with the letter ‘r’ in them?
  • What about February with two letter ‘r’s’…is it doubly lucky or do the two compensate for the lesser number of days?
  • Will saying it at the New Year cover you for the whole year? What if you forget – will saying “tibbar” (rabbit backwards) at bedtime rectify it?

A lot of variables to get just right to ensure good luck for the ensuing month.

So why rabbits…and why white rabbits? One explanation may be related to their ability to jump and metaphorically leap into the future and forward in life. Another may be something to do with their ability to multiply at frightening rates and would be seen as a positive link with fertility and abundance. The keeping of a ‘lucky rabbit’s foot’ is seen as a symbol of good luck and there is even talk of it allegedly warding off arthritis and rheumatism. As to the colour, white is a colour of purity which may link to the notion of luck which you will be if you do manage to see one as unless you are in a pet shop it is rare indeed.

Although it is not all good omens from rabbits. Like a black cat, it is said that a white rabbit running across your path will be followed by bad luck. If you see one running down the street then a fire will occur in a nearby house.

From the outsiders perspective saying ‘white rabbits’ must seem very strange indeed. Whether from folklore tradition or superstition they are deeply ingrained in our daily language and lives. This got me thinking about the differences between our sayings backgrounds – first stop a dictionary. My choice today is Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary:

Superstition – a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, or trust in magic or chance maintained despite evidence to the contrary

Tradition – the handing down of information, beliefs or customs from one generation to another

So is saying ‘white rabbits’ superstition or tradition? To me it is a harmless tradition soaked in superstition – harmless as long as you are not putting all your eggs in one basket and sitting back expecting life to treat you well.

You might not consider yourself superstitious but you might be surprised how many superstitions have seeped into your subconscious – think back to your day…did you say ‘Bless you’ when someone sneezed or use the phrase ‘fingers crossed’…?

A hairy kiwi

Today en route for Mount Monganui I saw a brown ‘tourist attraction’ sign for Kiwi 360 which did catch my attention as to what this could possibly be. Little did I know that I had driven into the kiwi growing capital of the world. A huge kiwi fruit sign along with the promise of a guided tour of kiwi vines did make me turn off Route 2. For $20 I would get a ride on a cart and get a tour of the kiwi growing areas and why they are so successful in this nook of New Zealand. After a chat with the ladies behind the counter in the gift shop who kindly offered to clean my silver ring which is still suffering the tarnishing power of the muds of Rotorua the tour began.

It is the unique combination of the deep ash soil, temperate climate and high number of sun hours which makes this part of the Bay of Plenty the perfect home for the thousands, perhaps millions, of kiwi vines. 80% of the country’s kiwis are grown in this region. The majority are for export to the world markets. Thousands of migrant workers come to pick the kiwi fruit once a year. The fruit are not yet ready but this ensures that they can remain in the cold stores to keep the international market supplied year round. Two kinds of fruit are grown in this area: the green kiwi which is the hairy one we are the most familiar with and the gold kiwi which has a smooth skin and not so readily available as has a shorter season and cold storage life. The gold and green kiwis have different flowering times so no issue with any cross pollination. Both types require bees to assist with the pollination process and thousands of hives are brought into the vine areas when the flowers begin to open. Both types have male and female plants at a ration of 1:4 with only the female plants producing fruit.

The crop of gold kiwis have already been picked although some have been left on the vine for people visiting. The green kiwis are nearing time for picking. Once picked the fruits are graded for size and weight. Those which do not pass the high standards required for international export are sold on the local market. The largest fruit are shipped to Japan. All the fruit are shipped in cold stores from the nearby port of Tauranga as and when the markets demand.

Quite amazing to think that the hairy kiwi I used to buy in Spinneys in Dubai came from these vines or vines nearby.

Do you have a flag? Actually we have three!

Up until the 1830’s the growing colony of New Zealand did not have it’s own flag. It was only when New Zealand began trading with neighbouring Australia did this become an issue. In accordance with international sea laws a ship had to have a flag flying to designate it’s country of origin. When the first trade ship arrived in Sydney harbour with Sir George Murray at the helm it was seized along with all it’s goods for having no flag and the crew were all arrested as pirates.

Clearly a flag was needed to prevent any more confusion and in 1834 James Busby came up with three designs for the local Maori chiefs to choose from to bring about unity, denote a collective government and denote an independent nation in what were turbulent times. The Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand was selected.

Following the Treaty of Waitangi (in which James Busby was also involved) and New Zealand becoming a colony of the United Kingdom it was the Union Flag which became the recognised flag of New Zealand despite it being burnt down four times when flown over Russell.

The current flag was adopted in 1902 with a rise in patriotism following New Zealand’s involvement in the Boer War.

Today there has been a call for a new flag in a show of patriotism and a move away from a colonial past. This move has been muted as a distraction from more serious political issues.

So there it is. When asked ‘Do you have a flag?’ New Zealand can proudly claim to have three as all are still recognised and fly proudly over the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi.

 

Whakatane

Whakatane is the kind of place where people out walking along the river greet you and when the fire siren sounds everyone stops, looks at each other and scans the skyline quizzically. It has only one ‘dollar’ shop (which is having a sale) but more coffee shops, hair and beauty salons and clothes shops on it’s high street than I have seen in a very long time.

According to Maori oral legend the area around Whakatane has been a fortified village since the first Polynesian settlers arrived around 1200. It was an incident which happened some 200 years after these first settlers arrived which gave the settlement it’s name. When the Mataatua waka (sea faring canoe) arrived bearing the first kumara the canoe was left on the shoreline but began to drift in the changing tide. One of the village woman had gone against tradition and lead the other woman folk in paddling the canoe to safety calling out ‘Kai whakatane au i ahua’ – I will act like a man.

After European settlers arrived Whakatane became an important centre for ship building and trade in the 1880’s. In the 1930’s a paper mill opened which along with beer production is still part of the local economy alongside agriculture, forestry and tourism.

In the 1990’s a few North Island brown kiwis were found in the scenic reserve on the hill. The Kiwi Project was set up to protect these endangered birds leading to Whakatane being more recently known as the Kiwi Capital of the World.

I have only just got the smell of sulphur out!

Perhaps there is a clause in microscopic sized lettering at the bottom of every travel insurance document which invalidates it whenever you enter the air space of New Zealand in the assumption that the majority of people who come here will do something which has an element of danger – is there something in the air? It is after all the home of bungy jumping and a myriad of other gravity and nerve defying outdoor pursuits in some pretty rigid countryside. I may not have thrown myself off a bridge or a plane but I have done some things which may have pushed that some may argue are on the boundary of danger: kayaked to the Tasmin Sea on Milford Sound, driven up the West Coast, stayed in Wairoa, driven the Pacific Coast Highway and stopped en route, freedom camped. Tomorrow’s trip does come into the ‘edge of danger’ and ‘slightly mad’ category in anyone’s books – walking into the crater of an active volcano amongst roaring fumaroles, glittering crystals, bubbling pits of mud (oh no, not more bubbling mud!) and hot thermal streams. From the large and expensive boats the company I am going with operates this is clearly a popular trip and that they do have a more ‘formal’ approach to safety. Their advert does say that all safety equipment including oxygen masks are included – and lunch. I have been waiting two days for the trip to run due to high swells and gale force winds making leaving the safe harbour of Whakatane and it’s infamous sand bar too difficult and landing on White Island itself impossible. Not least of all a rather uncomfortable ride for those on board.  However, tomorrow is looking much calmer so we are good to go! White Island here I come.

Known by the local Maori peoples as Te Puia O Whakaari (Dramatic Volcano) and named by Captain Cook as White Island (he did not realise it was a volcano, just an island with its head in a cloud) has been documented as smoking since 1769 and must have been doing so long before that as its been building for the past 15,000 years. It is New Zealand’s only active marine volcano and is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone which I have been driving through. The volcano is a classic conical shape with only 300m of it’s 1600m showing above the waters of the the Bay of Plenty just 48km off shore. Its last major eruptions which decimated the pohutukawa forrest and changed the landscape were in the early 80’s although there have been many minor eruptions since then. The easy accessibility of this active volcano ensures that there is a steady stream of volcanologists monitoring it’s every tremble, bubble and puff of steam. Of course this ease of accessibility also means that those who have a desire to see the Earth’s innards at close range can visit too – weather permitting!

Those who know me will testify that boats are not my favourite mode of transport but in this case a necessary evil to get to this unique island. Hopefully I will not need the sea sickness pills – I survived a recent fishing trip on Lake Taupo and a very rough whale watching trip off Icelancd so perhaps the desire to get there will be the cure in itself?

 

 

Our Boomerang’s don’t come back!

28th January – Another early start to the day and the irony of it was that after a week of waking at 2am with the residue of jet lag this was the first night had slept through. However, the sunrise waits for none so on the bus at 445am to the viewing area to witness Uluru come awake with the first rays of light. When we arrived the first golden yellow colours of dawn were already brightening the sky and the residue of last night’s clouds gave extra dimension with pinks, lilacs and oranges seeping into the dark blue.

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And then a gasp of awe from all around as there was the realisation that the sun was only the support act when behind us Uluru began to awaken with the curtains of shadows moving aside to reveal the hues of the sandstone beneath. As the sun rose the rock glowed quietly with light chasing the shadows into the curves, caves and crevices.

 

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The purple clouds of night were slowly tainted with the morning glow as Uluru yawned and the light stretched into all but the very deepest fold.

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Now the rock was awake the surrounding landscape began to take on the morning glow with trees and bushes highlighted as the sun once again stole the night from the moon and stars.

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For those of us who were now going to learn more about Uluru and it’s significance to the native Anangu peoples breakfast was a welcome sight. Within the cultural centre where photographs are strictly forbidden ‘for cultural reasons’ in one of the snake shaped buildings we ate with a view of a the now wide awake Uluru. Her highest point is 348m and is described by geologists as a smooth inland island mountain. The first European to view this island mountain was William Goss who named it after Sir Henry Ayers. It is made of pure grey sandstone which, due to it’s high iron content, has oxidised forming a red protective layer. Today it lies within the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park which has been recongnised by UNESCO for both it’s beauty and cultural significance. The ‘ownership’ of the whole area has now been returned to the Anangu who have in turn leased it to the parks authorities. Our Anangu guides gave our small group of six a guided tour of the hunting and gathering tools that have served their people for what may be 30,000 years. In many ways it was like stepping into a time machine and looking back on stone age life where only those materials available to you were your only option. The environment has changed during this time span with the climate much hotter and drier. Yet the availability of fruits, roots, game and water made this a harsh but sustainable life for this deeply spiritual community. Uluru has many stories related to the ancestral beings who created shape out of a flat world so long ago. From the shapes of the rock formations to the hollows and caves there are links to times gone by. Creating stories with moral endings form their oral history which they do still adhere to but allowing some of the benefits and comforts of modern life to seep in. The young guide spoke very passionately about his parents and grandparents experiences and his own hunting adventures – all this while puffing on a cigarette, sipping coke and checking his phone. As we walked around the base of the rock tasting the desert figs and plum swatting away the moisture hungry flies the calm and quiet was almost oppressive. The feeling of awe and majesty is tangible and it is easy to imagine how such a structure could influence a peoples belief and culture. Around Uluru there are areas which are sacred to either men or women. In Anangu culture men and women are equal but have distinctly different tasks to fulfil. From the very basic hunting and gathering to the preparing of medicines, making tools and performing ceremonies. In these sacred areas the plants and materials for these ceremonies are to be found such as the Mulga Acacia which provides the hard wood for hunting sticks and the world renowned epitome of the Australian Aboriginal peoples: the boomerang. However, contrary to common belief, not all boomerangs come back. As it was explained, there are different boomerangs for different jobs. For those Aboriginal people who live at the mouths of rivers and hunt ducks were a low trajectory and less of a hit is needed then a returning light wood boomerang is just the thing. However, for knocking out a kangaroo a much heavier boomerang is needed and you don’t want it coming back!  It was a lovely morning full of sights and sounds. To spend time with the Anangu itself was an honour. They are friendly, keen to share their culture and some of the secrets of the surrounding environment yet are somewhat aloof and in some ways are bewildered by our travelling of vast distances.