Saving more than just a Hutton's shearwater

In an old New Zealand Geographic magazine, March-April 2017, is a beautiful article about Hutton's shearwaters.

In it, the author Rebekah White describes how Kaikoura - a little town on New Zealand's South island - has become protective of these wonderful little seabirds. Education programs are weaved into the children's schoolwork: data gathered by the public gets processed by high-school statistics students, a biology class does DNA testing on fledglings etc. The local 'Hutton's champion', a lady called Nicky McArthur, has correctly anticipated that the most effective way to disseminate information within a community is to give it to children as homework - it is working.

The article ends with beautiful two paragraphs (bold lettering added by me):

"But what Harrow and McArthur and the trust recognise is that most people don’t get to take part in the care of anything fragile. The work of saving things goes on around us as invisibly as the dawn flight of the Hutton’s.

Looking out for little birds on the road means that people are looking out in the first place, that they’ve started to notice a world that’s not their own. To recognise a shearwater and pick it up and put it in a box is to exercise a muscle of care for something outside the human realm. Perhaps, after all, it’s worth saving one of a hundred thousand shearwaters, granting it another chance to race down the ranges to the sea, just as the stars are fading out, for breakfast."


Fundamentally, this is the building block of empathy - the difference between someone who learns empathy, and someone who goes through the world without care for others, standing up only for their own, personal needs.

I don't remember which other article it was that I read a couple of weeks ago, but in it the author made a point that to protect something (in this case, they were talking about New Zealand's native forests) people need to experience a sense of ownership and belonging. It is what will drive them to take protective action on behalf of 'inanimate' objects such as trees and rivers and such.

And that begins with taking kids outside.

Invercargill's Queens park at the moment
Cold, foggy mornings of the autumn

Very, very disappointed tonight

I titled this post "Winston Peters is an idiot" at first but then thought better of it. Because, fundamentally, it is never a fault of a single person - it is a system.

https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/387253/no-mandate-for-capital-gains-tax-pm

https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/on-the-inside/387291/capital-gains-tax-shutdown-threatens-govt-s-other-plans

So, to sum it up: tonight, I feel very disappointed. However, this, too, shall pass. Having already started to move off from the 'anger' part of reaction to today's news, I am looking forward and seeing what needs to be done next.

New Zealand is my home.

The side-effect of having drugs with lots of side-effects

A while ago I talked to a pharmacist who said that, by the time people take 7-8 different drugs, half of the drugs are probably to counteract side-effects of other half of the drugs. In fact, it often becomes difficult to tell apart symptoms at all. A patient may start experiencing, say, heartburn - if they are on drugs which may (or may not) cause heartburn then doctors don't really know if the heartburn is caused by 1) other drugs or if 2) it's caused by something in the physiology of the person.

So the patient gets prescribed antacids - which then start interacting with something else the patient is already taking, and the patient gets prescribed another drug to counteract the problem. And then another problem appears, so they get prescribed another drug. And then another. Meanwhile, the pesky heartburn may have been a symptom of a genuine medical problem after all, but it got overlooked because everyone assumed that it was just a side-effect of another drug. Or not.

(You see where this is going, right?)

In extreme cases it may be necessary - under medical supervision - to remove all (or most) drugs and start from zero. If for no other benefit, then at least it gives everyone an opportunity to ascertain what symptoms the patient actually has on their own, and what was just side-effects of the plethora of drugs. Because possibly, the patient needed only 2-3 drugs, rather than 7-8, and unless unnecessary drugs get eliminated, the patient will just continue using more than they need, and heighten the risk of 1) under/over dose, and 2) side-effects.

This is, a bit, like how I am feeling now. I'm at a point where it becomes difficult to tell the difference.

For a long time now I have been low on iron - iron deficiency anemia, it's called. Curiously enough, although I have been taking iron supplements (in addition to a varied diet which, for a while, included  even lamb liver - ehh!), I have struggled to bring the numbers up. Since 2017, I haven't been able to get even into the bottom of what's considered 'normal range' in New Zealand (20-200 ug/L) and instead have had blood tests hovering at around the 10 ug/L mark.

The side-effect of taking iron supplements is, unfortunately, constipation. Having been through a vaginal birth, constipation is not what I need at the moment - due to somewhat obvious (and lasting!) effects a vaginal birth can have on a woman. Dare I not say more, okay? Okay.

So, I've been taking iron supplements with kiwis - they act as a natural laxative and C-vitamin in them helps to absorb the iron. But recently (6+ months) I've started having abdominal pain - at first intermittently, but now at a point where we are starting to wonder, have I developed ulcers? Acidic foods are not nice to eat any more, and having an empty stomach is not nice, either.

So the question becomes, if that is correct and I do, indeed, have stomach ulcers - have I developed them due to taking iron supplements with kiwis (on an empty stomach)? Or may the ulcers be one of the reasons I have low iron?

Or maybe abdominal pain is caused by something else entirely?

To try to track down the reason I have low iron, my GP has asked me to start taking blood clotting medicines for 3 months. You see, I also have heavy periods, and one of the theories is, I am simply 'flushing' iron out too quickly each month to be able to replenish iron stores through diet. So for 3 months, I have been asked to take blood clotting medicines and to stop taking iron supplements for the moment. If at the end of 3 months the blood tests reveal that my iron stores have started increasing, then that will give us an answer. If not, then we'll look into other options.

But now the problem is, my ocular migraines have become worse. Side-effect of blood clotting medicine (tranexamic acid) is, unfortunately, heightened risk of seizures, migraines and headaches. I get migraines anyway at the moment, so I don't know if the frequency is due to blood clotting medicine, or something else. Same with abdominal pain - it may be the side effect of the medicine, or may be something I have anyway. Hard to tell.

For the moment though, to counteract the migraines I am taking a bit more migraine medication. And pain killers.

And if you then try to google the interactions these drugs have, then it REALLY becomes a bit of a too-hard-basket, because... how does the acid affect the uptake of hormonal supplements? Do their dosages need to be changed based on the dosages of other things I am taking? There isn't enough research data to narrow it down. One of the hormonal supplements I am using (progesterone) is 'off-label' use anyway - it is normally part of a hormone replacement therapy for middle-aged women. For me it's part of a seizure medication based on a promising clinical trial that was done a couple of years ago. It seems to work well (yess!) and that's the good thing, but because it is rarely used in a way that I am using it, then there is very little clinical research to show what it does, how it does it and what affects it. Or how it affects other things I may be doing.

I'm at a point where it feels like I am looking at a spiderweb spun by a spider who was caffeinated (don't you love that NASA actually does experiments like that?) and thinking, wtf. I don't even know which way to approach this thing any more.

Abolish the Daylight Savings

If New Zealand held a referendum on whether to keep - or abolish - Daylight Savings then I would definitely vote to abolish it.

I do not need this twice-a-year backwards and forwards hippity-hopping in my life.

The older I get, the less I am liking it; to a point where I now think that people who support Daylight Savings are obviously not working parents of young children. Or if they are, maybe they have more forgiving working hours, but the bloody murder that happens in my house twice a year is just... grrrgh!

I dropped my daughter off at daycare and said to the teacher, "She's about 2 hours short of sleep, so I fully expect the afternoon to go pear-shaped." The teacher replied, "I think most people in this room are feeling it at the moment."

Yeah, no shit Sherlock.

Who will it hurt? It's all about balance

On the whole, I have been happy with New Zealand's reaction to the recent mass shooting in Christchurch. The country has moved to ban semi-automatic weapons. Many media outlets recognise the importance of not naming the shooter, not showing his face - not offering him fame. Several organisations that are to do with weapons and hunting (most importantly Fish & Game, but also gun retailers etc) have made public statements in support of banning semi-automatic weapons.

However, it does not mean that there were not voices of dissent. Just yesterday I listened to a man make a public statement to the Parliament select committee, where he compared the banning of assault weapons to the systematic disarmament of Jewish people just before the Holocaust.

I listened to him talk and thought to myself, right. You are comparing a total disarmament of one racial/cultural group (ie, discrimination) to banning of military-style assault weapons. Man, you have some serious gaps in your logic here.

Fortunately, voices that have supported the law changes have been louder - as they should be. These voices emphasise that New Zealand has an active hunting community with a variety of rifles available to them, and that military-style semi-automatic weapons are not required for hunting. (I laughed yesterday when a man made a public statement saying, in essence, that if you struggle to hit a deer in 10 shots, then maybe you should hire a professional to do the job for you.)

Today I listened to the discussion around the compulsory buy-back of such weapons: it will become a requirement for all people owning such weapons to hand them in, and get some financial compensation for it (the exact numbers are still worked on). After a certain time, being in possession of these weapons will become a crime.

A man was complaining to the media today that such a scheme is unfair: he, personally, had done nothing wrong, so why does he need to hand in his gun? He didn't shoot up a mosque. To which, automatically, came out voices in support of the buy-back: people who say that it's important to recognise that people who were attacked had done nothing wrong either, yet they paid with their lives, their healths, their family members' lives. Keeping such weapons in New Zealand puts all of us at greater risk. It allows people who have such nefarious ideas as the mosque shooter had (and, you bet, there are more people like that not just in New Zealand, but everywhere) to have access to weapons which are, specifically, meant to kill humans.

And that's the part, I think, which is so important to ask: who will it hurt?

***

It's like a couple of weeks ago when some New Zealand parliament members were up to, really, quite silly antics. It was another Select Committee meeting and Labour members were late. Meeting was meant to start at 8 am, but by 8:10 only 5-out-of-7 Labour members were there. National members decided to walk out of the room in protest and stood just outside the door when the attendees were counted, thereby making sure that the meeting was cancelled because there wasn't enough quorum inside the meeting room

(For the next two days, it felt like they spent most of their energy on political piss-fighting over this incident: National members were saying that Labour is lazy because they can't get out of bed in time; Labour were saying that National is childish because they can't understand that a Labour member was ill and they were spending the morning looking for a replacement.)

But the real question to ask here was, who was hurt by this political game-playing?

The submitters - members of the public who were meant to speak at that meeting - were hurt. About 15 people had travelled to Wellington to make their submissions to this committee. Some were there to talk about child poverty, others about mental health. Because the meeting got cancelled at just after 8:10 am, then these people who were already in Wellington, some after having travelled from afar, were told to go home.

***

Regulations, for the most part, get put in place where it's important to recognise the collective wellbeing over a personal liberty. I am not allowed to own a tank and drive it down a street - it would put other humans at risk of being injured, and would damage the roads which we all, collectively, pay for. Yet I am allowed to own a car.

I am not allowed a semi-automatic weapon, but I am allowed a hunting rifle.

It's a balance.

Same goes for freedom of speech. Some very vocal freedom-of-speech 'absolutists' have spoken up recently in New Zealand, saying that it's wrong to forbid hate speech - it would lead to curtailing of the freedom of speech in its entirety.

To that I say: there's a difference between freedom of speech, and the freedom of providing a platform for hate speech.

I would probably be allowed to say, in private to my friends, that I hate Jews. (I don't, actually, but let's take it as an example.) It's my freedom to say it and I won't be jailed for it. But it does not mean that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or whatever should bear the responsibility of allowing me to broadcast it publicly.

'Hate speech' is a very narrow sub-type of communication. Hate speech is, specifically, targeting someone based on their religion, race or sexual orientation, and is calling for violence or prejudice against those people. We already have fundamental humans rights in place which recognise that a person should not be discriminated against based on their religion, race or sexual orientation; and so putting in place protections to guard against that is not, actually, going over the top. It's a responsible attitude.

We already have societal norms in place for not allowing child pornography, because we recognise the collective responsibility for it. We don't allow couples to take photos of themselves having sex and then put up large posters with the photos next to a highway - regulations kick in for doing it in public. Sex, itself, is not criminalised - but there are limitations around how publicly it can be practiced, or broadcast; and who it can be practiced with.

When I drive my car on a highway, I am not allowed to go faster than 100 km/h. Putting in place a limit to my speed does not take away my right of driving a car.

Ever seen the exact moment a bridge 'washes away'?

New Zealand's West Coast is experiencing a 1-in-a-100-year rain event. Yesterday, an entire bridge 'washed away' near Franz Josef glacier, and the rivers are running near or above record flows.

New Zealand Herald has a video of the exact moment the bridge gave way.
https://www.nzherald.co.nz/national-video/news/video.cfm?c_id=1503075&gal_cid=1503075&gallery_id=205095

Edited to add: as far as I'm aware, it's the ONLY place to cross Waiho river on the West Coast. Now that the bridge is gone, the closest 'detour' is either 1) by plane or helicopter, or 2) to drive about 800 kilometres around the Alpine Range (through Arthurs Pass, Wanaka and back up Haast Pass). Except, of course, that storm has damaged so much of the road on the West Coast that it's not passable to cars at the moment.

Whinge whinge symposium 3.0

I have lost my 'mojo' - for school, I mean.

Yesterday a programme manager I used to know bumped into me at school and asked how my studies are going. I replied, "Looking forward to getting out of here!" He looked at me and nodded, "I bet."

It's hard being the first students of tutors who are only just starting their job; and in the last 3 years I've had... three. Every year our teaching staff change, then halfway through last year quantity surveying standard (ie legislation that governs how work is done), changed, too, so I am constantly sitting in class, trying to learn from tutors who don't know what they're doing, or who are trying to learn the thing they're teaching us... as they're teaching us.

I've got to the point where I am thinking, "I really can't be arsed to do this any more."

I've had enough of school. I want to get out of here, start work and learn how people actually do this stuff, rather than having to listen to people who 1) have never taught before, or 2) have never worked in New Zealand before, or 3) have never seen the new standard before. I've had enough of being the first "tester" student of teachers who are only just working out what they're doing, how they're doing it, getting their materials ready.

Every student that will arrive at this school after us will be better off for it, but I have had enough. I want OUT.

Even my kids have had enough. The whole family have had enough of these 7:20 morning starts. Most of my kids' classmates are probably not even awake yet when my kids are already walking out the door. And when, for this emotional price, comes another year at school where I am sitting in class, thinking, wtf is this?, then I'm just DONE.

Yes, let me play my little tiny violin. It's an orchestra symphony of "Whinge whinge symposium 3.0". I have a whole plethora of tiny violins taking part in this symphony!
I am glad that mass shootings are covered by New Zealand's ACC. I mean... it's sad that we're even having these sorts of discussions this week, but! I am glad that ACC exists. I'm glad that people who were affected - regardless of their immigration status - will receive help with burial costs, living expenses etc.

It's been a long weekend.

"Because [they] did not feel abused until much later in life"

"It's confusing - the word "abuse" - when you say "sexual abuse" because [they] did not feel abused until much later in life." Oprah Winfrey


Yes. Yes. Yes.

It may take years - even decades - to look back at something and realise that what happened was 1) abuse and that 2) the victim was not at fault. (It took me over a decade.) It is the reason why in criminal law - at least in well-functioning democracies - statute of limitations does not start 'ticking' until the victim realises that abuse took place. It is not until they look back and go, "Shit, that was abuse. Oh my god, I was abused..." that the clock starts ticking, leaving them with 7 or 10 (or however many years different countries leave for such cases) to bring the complaints forward.

Sexual abuse, in a lot of cases, happens silently. It is usually perpetrated by people the victim knows. Let me re-iterate, just for the sake of making this point: if your child will ever abused, sexually, then chances are you know that person.

It's a bit like posters hanging in Invercargill's swimming pool: they caution adults to put away their phones and watch their kids because drowning happens silently. There are no cries of help when someone is struggling to breathe. It is the same with sexual abuse: if a child is young, unless they've been taught to recognise what's okay and what's not, they may not understand and may not even speak up when abuse happens.

Please have these conversations with your children from a young age. Talk with them up into their adulthood. This stuff matters.

Conservation burials

Recently I listened to Caitlin Doughty being interviewed on Radio New Zealand National. She talked about cremation, cemeteries and handling death in general.

I had heard about Caitlin before and was reasonably aware of the "natural burial" concept where deceased' bodies get buried in their natural state: no embalming, in biodegradable coffins made of softwoods (or, better yet, bodies wrapped in shrouds - so forgoing coffins entirely), in shallow graves. The aim of "natural burials" is to help bodies biodegrade without introducing toxic chemicals into the soil (ever wandered what embalming liquids are made of?).

But in this interview Caitlin mentioned something that I was not familiar with: conservation burials.

Conservation burials are, basically, cemeteries of natural burials that have been set up to become conservation lands. Burial process itself remains the same: there is no embalming, deceased are dressed in natural fibres, coffins (if coffins are used at all) are made of sustainably grown timbers, graves are shallow (within the "active layer" of the soil where plant roots are able to get to the nutrients), plots are filled with compost-rich soil to allow aerobic microbial processes to take place. Gradually, such cemeteries turn into parks filled with native plants or even outright native bush.

However! In conservation burials the land management takes a step further: the land is designated as "conservation" land, meaning, it gets a protected status. Say, someone purchases a plot of land adjacent to a national park. They set up a natural burial cemetery and as bodies are interred, cemetery fees go towards the maintenance of the land and the legal fees of gaining protected status. Then, as a native bush is established and the cemetery is full, the land may even be handed over to the government - with the protected status already in place - and become part of the conservation estate.

Hearing her talk made me rethink my own stance on being cremated.

So far I have requested from my family (and in my will) that if I died, I don't want to be buried. I don't want a "plot" where people have to deal with the upkeep. Instead, I have asked to be cremated and the ashes to be scattered somewhere - and if anyone's up for it, then for the ashes to be scattered in Mount Saint Elias national park in Alaska.

However, having heard Caitlin speak - and having realised that there is even a natural cemetery being set up in Invercargill - I have decided that I would be quite happy to be buried instead. Cremation is energy-intensive. If a natural burial achieves a goal of being interred someplace that won't have a tombstone, won't have a "plot" - it'll become a native bush instead - then I would be quite happy, and excuse the pun here, I could definitely live with that :).

Environmental sustainability is a hard, hard topic

I don't know where to start. Where does one start when the ideas are a mixture of anger, frustration, hope and a need to spread information?

Because, fundamentally, this is where it's at. The need to spread information.

Last year I attended a class called "Environment". It's compulsory both for architectural technicians and quantity surveyors who are studying at this institute. Unfortunately though, the class is run by a tutor who really has no idea what he's talking about: the man is trained in steel construction and the environment class has been "given" to him, I suspect, to simply fill his teaching quota. He has neither knowledge nor passion for environmental design, impact studies or sustainability in general.

Which is why, in the very first lecture of the year, I found myself in a curious position of wanting to be the teacher instead. Our tutor was making introductory remarks on climate change when another student spoke up that climate change isn't real. "It's just another way for the government to put taxes on everyday people!" he was exclaiming, "And besides, the earth cools and warms all the time! It goes through these cycles. It's what earth does! "

I looked towards my tutor. He wasn't saying anything. The man had no intention - and I suspect, knowledge - to refute what my fellow student was saying and I was sitting there, thinking, really? This is where we're going to leave it? I spoke up. "Look, guys, how about we make a deal. When you're sitting around a table drinking beers with friends, you're welcome to make grand-standing statements and not back them up with any evidence. But when we're in class, can you please reference to where you get this sort of information from!"

That other student was not impressed. For several minutes we went back-and-forth, he was making angry remarks at me, I was making angry remarks right back at him - it was a piss-fight, really. Eventually we wound down, and the tutor continued his lecture/slideshow about environmental impacts on building design and I sat there thinking, someone has to do something. This class has twenty-odd students who are in their prime time for absorbing science-based knowledge on environmental impact of built structures and no-one providing them with it. Once they are out of school, that's it. At the moment they are, somewhat voluntarily, sitting in a class listening and watching. THIS IS A LOST OPPORTUNITY.

I asked the tutor if he would allow me to make a presentation on sustainability the following week. Sure, he said, go ahead. A week later I got up in front of the class, powered up my slideshow I had meticulously prepared and launched into a 30-minute lecture. On one hand, I felt spectacularly out of place - it was clear from the content of the lecture that I was trying to fill the gap that my tutor was leaving so painfully open otherwise. On the other hand though (and you may say that it was just my personal grand-standing), that presentation was good. As much as it wasn't my role to be in front of the class like that, that day, I made a good job of teaching.

The talk covered sustainability, planetary boundaries, development of human societies and a history of mass-extinctions. I tried, in the best way I could, to explain why it's important to keep the planet in the Holocene: that developed human societies have never existed in anything other than a stable climate of the Holocene. I touched on fossil record of mass-extinctions, referenced everything I could with outside sources so as to not leave anyone wondering where I got this information from and by the time I sat down, I was both proud but also very tired. I don't actually like making public gestures of dissent. (Even if I feel very compelled to do something in the absence of anyone else doing something.)

A couple of days later, I received surprising and absolutely humbling pieces of feedback from my fellow classmates. Several said that they had enjoyed the talk, learned from it; one of them, in particular, sat down next to me in the hallway and said that my lecture had explained to her why we need to study environment. Before that, she said, she had wondered why architects even need to have this class - and after, she said, she felt compelled to go home and learn more about it.

My jaw just about dropped to the ground hearing that. But with the pleasure of having done something important, a painful realisation came that... these students were the easy ones to talk to. Most were young adults in early 20's, there to learn, an almost literally captive audience with a personally-driven interest in the topic.

But try talking to (much older) adults who really don't care. Geesh!

To the point of glitter


My daughter attends a daycare who are, let's put it this way... not the most environmentally conscious business I've come across. One thing in particular has been rubbing on my nerves lately: their profuse use of glitter. Big pots of plastic-based glitter are used in their crafting and it ends up ABSOLUTELY EVERYWHERE. On the floor, on furniture, inside clothes, inside bags, on the floor at our home, on food. Everywhere! The mess is such that the daycare have taken to using glitter outside, rather than indoors, and they brush the glitter onto grass and sandpits. "It's easier to clean up," they say.

(insert sigh)

I looked at it and one day talked to one of the teachers. "Hey, so... have you guys thought about limiting the use of glitter a little?" - "No, why? Kids love it." - "Yeah, I know. But the thing is... glitter is a microplastic. It's basically made of whole bunch of little plastic pieces. When you brush it off, it ends up in the soil, wind takes some of it, it goes down waterways. When you wash it down the sink, it doesn't even get captured by the filters in the water treatment plant - it's just too small. It ends up in the ocean. It's actually quite bad, environmentally-speaking." We talked for a while and she said she'd pass the message on to others in the monthly meeting.

I waited. And waited. Nothing happened.

About a month later I went to see the manager at the daycare. "Hey, so... have you guys thought about...?" We went through the same conversation as with the teacher, except that manager's reply was, basically, that they are making progress towards being more environmentally friendly, but stopping the use of glitter "is not a step we are ready to take". Oh.

My daughter continued bringing home copious amounts of glitter-basted artwork. I wasn't ready to give up, so I, cheekily, printed off a couple of interesting articles on the environmental effects of glitter and slid them, quietly, onto the table at the staff room at the daycare. The manager might be a bit slow, I thought to myself, but it doesn't mean that the teachers won't catch on to the message eventually.

Then, at Christmas-time, the daycare dropped an even bigger bombshell. They gave each child a bag of glitter mixed with oats and sugar (called "reindeer food") and encouraged everyone to sprinkle it on their grass so that it would sparkle in the moonshine and attract "reindeer". ARE YOU NUTS!? I gasped to myself when I saw that letter (actually, I used more colorful language than that, but that's beside the point). In the evening I complained to my husband, "Don't they realise that mixing oats and sugar into the mixture is going to make the birds eat the glitter!?" Birds' tracheas are small. Pieces of glitter are going to damage their digestive tracts.

I wondered what to do about it and, eventually, wrote a letter directly onto the daycare's intranet site, for other parents to see. Please consider NOT sprinkling it on your lawn, I pleaded with them and explained the reasoning. You could use a plate in the kitchen instead and when the kids go to bed at night, chuck the glitter in your rubbish bin. I also asked the daycare, in the future, to NOT include glitter in the mixture; oats mixed with sugar will do.

It feels like a tiring, quiet war I am waging with people that, fundamentally, don't understand.

I look at people designing fancy, multi-level standalone buildings with many corners and think, ugh. The more corners and sides a building has, the more energy-consuming it is. It is harder to make it weather-tight, it's more expensive to maintain. I am not saying that all houses need to be rectangular boxes, but there has to be some balance in there, and currently there isn't. There is so little medium-density building in New Zealand it's not even funny.

A definition of "fair" share


I walk around every day asking myself, if every person in the world lived the way I am living - would there be enough resources? And the answer is that, at the moment... no. I think I am using more than my fair share. Not by much, but I am somewhere above the median: if every person in the world lived like me, we wouldn't have "enough" Earth to make it possible, I don't think.

The painful thing is though, in New Zealand terms I am a very insignificant consumer. Almost every item I own (apart from personal electronics and tools) is second-hand: clothing, furniture, kitchen utensils, appliances. We are a one-car family - which, in a low-density town, sometimes takes a fair amount of effort. (The car, itself, will probably be the last petrol-driven vehicle we own - a 2006 Honda it will probably last long enough for alternative methods of transport to be in place by the time we recycle it.) We are gradually establishing a garden. We are attempting, in the process of renovating our house, to use as many recycled items as possible/practical - to keep what we've got and improve it, rather than rip it out and replace it.

But we're not perfect. Just recently me and my husband flew for a two-night vacation in Auckland (a 3000-kilometre roundtrip) and my friend who is studying environmental systems rolled his eyes and said, "Oh, come on guys..." The year before our entire family flew from New Zealand to Europe. (Our first trip in 8 years.) It is a delicate balance to strike: trying to do what's necessary whilst living in the human community and trying not to piss too many people off in the process, and to allow some personal alleviances... Excuses, excuses, really.

So... how to do it, then?


I find solace in the words of Johan Rockström from Stockholm Resilience Centre who has said that, in order to de-carbonise the world, we need to halve our emissions every 10 years and double our renewable energy every 6 years. He himself has said that, the beauty of this approach is that it can be scaled: a country can do it, a local authority can, a person can. I can look at my own carbon footprint analytically and say, I need to halve it by 2029.

I find solace in this approach (moreso than others') because it gives me a baseline to work with, rather than leave me anxiety-ridden with every environmental mistake I've made. As long as I am working to halve my emissions at this rate, I say to myself, it's workable.

Find cleaning products with packages that are entirely biodegradable. Tick.
Find doggy poo bags which are biodegradable. Tick.
Replace plastic-based clothes with natural fibres, where possible / practical. Tick.
Re-sole shoes, rather than throw them out. Tick.

Bit by bit, find a way to reduce the current footprint.

At the moment, I look at the land around my house and admit that, ecologically-speaking, it's a wasteland. It's mostly grass - a lawn. We mow it with a petrol-powered mower - which we own - and the amount of "useful" land around my house is, I don't know, 10%. If that.

But! We don't use any herbicides or pesticides. Even now we have insects throughout the plants and birds on the trees around us. Over time as we establish plants and a garden, more and more of the land will be "useful": either edible plants which we will consume, or native plants necessary for the ecosystem. We aim to only have a small "clearing" in the back yard and the rest of it will be... used for something. Food. Plants. Buildings.

We eat meat, yes. But! Already I am pushing back the quantities. It is hard to do in a household where people have to merge their dietary preferences, but already I am asking myself, can I cook one more vegetarian meal tonight? Postpone the meat by a day. Then postpone another meaty meal by another day. Over a year, that actually makes a difference. (And, for the most part, my husband doesn't even know I am doing it.)

It's a bit like that David Roberts' article in the book I linked earlier today, "The Best American Science and Nature Writing", but wealthier people produce more carbon that poorer people. Period. It's good to recycle, yes, and sustainable / organic / etc makeup is better than something that is full of endocrine disruptors but... most carbon emissions come from lifestyle choices.

The size of houses.
Meat consumption.
Car use.
Vacation travel.

No amount of good-looking merino t-shirts and sustainably-grown cotton totes is going to offset someone who regularly flies across countries for fun and lives in a big house and has children. Period. No matter how many Instagram followers they have.

So these are the questions I pose to myself, and answers I attempt to come up with. But I find it frustrating that, whilst I ask these questions of myself, I have a large plethora of mostly older people - and, please!, don't start throwing things at me because I KNOW THERE ARE NICE OLD PEOPLE OUT THERE, and if you are reading this, chances are, you are one of them, but it doesn't change the fact that, as a whole, above-30's-and-40's are where bulk of the problems are - I have a large plethora of people around me who don't. They neither ask questions of themselves nor understand the need for it. (Meanwhile, New Zealand kids are planning to organise a mass-protest of school walkouts to demand action for climate change.)

I am learning to speak up, and trying to learn how to do it more gently. When someone says to me that Estonia will be better off for global warming, I try to talk to them about climate change instead. I explain that "global warming" doesn't, simply, mean that it will be warmer: it means there will be more adverse, unexpected weather. Bigger floods, longer droughts, stronger winds. There will be crops that will fail more often than before, coastal erosion that will affect people's home insurances, large-scale weather events that will damage property, delay work. New types of pests will move in, old types of animals will struggle to get by. Roads may become unsuitable for what they were built for, lakes may have too much algae to swim in. A good example is when in New Zealand, recently, train network had to be stopped for a time because warm weather made electrical lines sag. The company is now retro-fitting the entire network with cable-tensioners which are common in tropical countries - a large cost for something that had never been needed in New Zealand before.

Meanwhile, all this will happen in the background of world events where millions of people will be displaced and need a new home to go to. Is everyone ready for that?

It's, like, when a couple of weeks ago a certain orange man in the US was tweeting about the cold weather and saying how it proved that there was no global warming. I think it was the National Weather Service?, correct me if I'm wrong, who tweeted a reply something along the lines of: come on, for the last time, weather and climate are NOT the same thing.

Have you read The Water Will Come? My husband ranted for days after reading it, because he was so frustrated with the fact that it is already happening and, yet, here we are having these arguments over whether something needs to be done or not about it.

On the whole, these topics leave me exceptionally frustrated, but at the same time, I am hopeful. I know I cannot bear the weight of it alone, but I intend to bear it alongside others. I cannot directly affect the amount of renewable energy I am producing, for example, but I can vote in a way that makes a difference. (I will probably NEVER vote for a New Zealand National Party, ever. But that's probably already clear from the other social choices I am making.)

But it's hard. Hard. Hard. Hard.

The Best American Science and Nature Writing

If you haven't already read the series of books called "The Best American Science and Nature Writing", please do!

I am just in the process of devouring the 2018 edition. What a great read!


Slugs and eggshells

A friend suggested I sprinkle eggshells around lettuces growing in the veggie patch behind the house. It will deter slugs, he said; they don't like crawling over sharp edges.

Well, I don't know about slugs, but it's definitely making my dog dig up the veggies so, no, I don't think I'll be sprinkling any more eggshells in the garden.

Patience. Patience, Maria.

Parenthood is stepping out of bed in the morning and tripping over someone's wristwatch on the floor. Who left it there? And, more importantly, when? It wasn't there when I went to bed in the evening.

Also, reading this important book at the moment. Because... four-year-olds. 'nuff said!

Stuff I have found whilst looking around

Two New Zealanders have devised an ultra run on the border of Southland and Otago that they claim is too hard for anyone to finish. They call it 'The Revenant'.
www.nzgeo.com/stories/the-endless-race

Lucy AitkenRead writes about activism, and the importance of 4 R's as she calls it, to be able to continue activism, rather than flying high for a little and then burning out. 

Dr George Blair-West says that in successful, long-lasting marriages partners have as many negative interactions as the unsuccessful marriages. The difference is that, unlike their divorced counterparts, successful marriage partners make consistent repair attempts and amends to create positive interactions. Also, the older people are when they get married, the more likely the marriage is to last - it's an almost direct correlation. 

Bob Borson writes about how to get a job in an architect's office, but I think his advice can be applied to almost any field where people work in an office. 

Installing a rainwater harvesting tank

Another project has rolled in. It's not that other projects are finished - this house will never be "finished", I think - but the water tank we bought a while ago has arrived, and so we are in the planning stages of setting it up.

It's a 1000-litre Devan tank in grey. Currently gracefully on its side next to the trampoline :)

To those of you interested, its capacity is exactly the same as the white 'cube' tank next to it: a thousand litres.

Once set up, it will go in front of the house where water will be used for gardening. You see that white downpipe in the corner of our house? That. We'll connect the tank to that downpipe.

Once set up, the tank will be almost the same grey colour as the windowsill next to it.

Sticks are piled in the corner to discourage our neighbour's cat from using that are as his toilet. Bloody cheeky creature!

Planter-boxes in various stages of setup: back one established, middle one just filled with compost (and some kale which, turns out, does not like to be transplanted) and front one being base-filled with hedge clippings before compost comes in.

Today me and my husband had a laborious (but necessary) discussion over setting-up details. This ensued:


Because that specific downpipe drains the smallest are of our roof (only about 20 m2), we discussed whether we are 1) better off putting the tank elsewhere, or 2) changing the gutters slightly to increase the drainage area, but in the end... we left it as it is. We will need water in front of the house, and there are electricity / sewage / water service lines running elsewhere in the front yard - on top of which, ahem!, it's better to not put 1 tonne of weight - so although our drainable roof area will only be 20 m2... it'll have to do.

Over a year, that downpipe receives more than 23,000 litres of water (Invercargill has 1,150 mm of rain annually). We won't collect all of it, of course, because 1) we will 'lose' some water to first-flush-diverting (I'll explain in a minute), 2) in summertime, the tank will run dry because we will use water faster than rain can replenish the tank, and 3) in wintertime the tank will overflow because there is more rain than we need - but for the moment, it'll just have to do. We just need to start somewhere.

We don't expect to use this water for drinking. However: we are putting in place some precautions so that, if need be, the water can be drunk. (Especially if it gets treated or filtered with camping equipment afterwards.) The precautions are:

* 20-litre first flush diverter which will 'siphon off' first 20 litres of any rainfall that comes down our gutters. (First water is always the dirtiest because it brings with it dust, bird poop and other cr#p! that lays on the roof.) Once the 20-litre mark is full, cleaner water will flow towards the downpipe.
* Another debris-filter as part of the water diverter: it removes sticks, leaves and other larger items before the water can flow towards the tank.

The tank is made of dark, thick plastic, so it will not receive sunlight and therefore, won't have algal growth inside it, but once a year, it'll be good to have it cleaned. There are access hatches at the top.

We will need to construct a small concrete base for it to sit on. As projects go, we will probably encounter problems as we undertake this work, but... also, as projects go, we will get it done. Eventually :)

"Where's the hacksaw?" he said

I don't know if you're familiar with this game - but if you are, the photos will probably give you a very good idea of the sorts of emotions my husband is going through at the moment :D










Setup number 77, if you're interested.

Why it's not possible to tickle oneself - and other interesting brain-related topics

Cathy Stinear explains why it's not possible to tickle oneself - except in certain cases where people have schizo-related brain disorders. They, in fact, can tickle themselves!

www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/raising-the-bar/audio/2018681179/raising-the-bar-neuroscientist-cathy-stinear-answers-audience-questions-about-the-brain

***

For more interesting lectures on interesting topics, please check out RNZ's Raising the Bar series.

www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/raising-the-bar

A paint revolution. Sort of.

This story is too funny to not share.

This afternoon I heard someone call out from the front yard, "Hello?" A young family came closer and introduced themselves. They'd been walking past, they said, and when they saw our house, they loved how colorful it was. They'd been meaning to paint their house, too, but they hadn't been able to figure out what color exactly - until today, because seeing our house gave them the inspiration on what colors to use on theirs! 

Three planter-boxes are up now, still needing to be oiled and filled with compost. The house also needs some more painting (window sills, window top coats, rafter ends etc) and plaster/brick repairs, but for the most part, we're getting there. We're getting there!

We talked for a while, I showed them our paint swatches. Then, as they showed me photos of their house, it dawned on me: they live in the house that WE ALMOST bought 2 years ago. They're two streets away, in a very similar brick bungalow built just 3 years after our house was built: theirs is 91 years old. And! Their house also has timber boards on the gable end, so now they want to paint their gable end in rainbow-coloured stripes!

They are planning to start painting within the next 2 weeks. I look forward to seeing what they do, and I am also chuckling to myself that the old locals are probably going to think, "What is going on!?!" 

Funny. Just too funny!

How does that saying go? Grandmothers, love your granddaughters, because they'll revenge your daughters? Something like that.

It made me laugh out loud when I heard a lady describe her daughter as, "If you threw her in the river, she would float upstream." . Apparently, her daughter is opinionated and argumentative.

I have a feeling that in about 10 years time, I may use that sentence for a relative of mine who is, at the moment, 4 years old.

;)

A rhythm of a house repair process

Another evening spent applying window putty to another set of windows.

We have a lot of windows, that's my opinion at the mo.

My dog does not eat, what?

Turns out, there are (there are!) things that Labrador retrievers don't eat.

Coriander.

We were chopping up greens for a salad today and a piece of fresh coriander landed on the floor. My husband called my dog - she's a bit like a vacuum cleaner in our house, and very efficient one at that - but instead of scooping it up (like she does everything else that lands on the floor), she sniffed it, pushed it aside and... went back in the living room.

Both me and my husband were, like, oh. My. God.

Look, my dog eats toenails, flies and linseed oil. Last week, she even ate a plaster that fell off my son's scratched finger.

But she won't eat coriander. Wow.



PS. Last week I visited Auckland for a couple of days, so my friend took care of our dog whilst we were away. Incidentally, she also had her daughter's Labrador retriever there at the same time, so she basically had two Labrador retrievers.

Well, let's put it this way... she no longer has any edible strawberries in her garden. One afternoon, she said, she looked out the window and both dogs were in her garden, riffling through strawberry plants. They didn't touch any green berries, but apparently they did a really good job of 'vacuuming out' every strawberry that had even a hint of pink on it.

Labs, eh.

PPS. Last week we walked up Omaui hill track again and blackberries are ripening alongside the track nicely.

If she could, my dog would've, no doubt, eaten them. But unfortunately blackberries have thorns on them, so you really need fingers to get the berries off the plants.

Sorry dog. I'm sure there will be plenty other edible things you'll come across in your life.

My husband and my daughter rifling through blackberry plants

View from atop Omaui hill track towards Barracuda Point below

Summer doesn't start until school starts

Of course. Of course! The day kids go back to school - the weather will climb to close to 30 degrees, and then will continue climbing to well past 30 degrees.

For the last 2 weeks we've had miserable gale force winds, rain that comes sideways (because, hello!, gale force winds), temperatures between 10-15 and most parents I know are, like, geesh make it stop.

But then it's time for kids back to school and it's, like, beach weather. A mass of hot air has drifted over from Australia. Sun and blue skies. Of course.

Thanks, Southland. I think I'm seeing a pattern here.

Michael Mcintyre stand-up comedy

Do you laugh when you listen to Michael Mcintyre?

I do. I laugh because my kids, too, argue over who gets to push the elevator button (they have a sophisticated system worked out in the library and OH DON'T YOU DARE TO MESS WITH THEIR SYSTEM!), they argue over who pushes traffic light buttons and they just, generally, seem to argue like Michael Mcintyre's kids.

But then again, I bet most siblings do :).

In fact, there's a whole bunch of things I relate to when I listen to him talk. It's good fun.

The best roast chicken recipe

Just in case you're wondering... this makes for the best roast chicken!

www.allrecipes.com/recipe/83557/juicy-roasted-chicken

I don't know why this recipe works, given how little there is to it, but it works. (I use real butter as opposed to margarine.)

Also, I know it's only January - but this is the tweet of 2019.

Also, the moment I realise one of my kids likes mushrooms and the other likes red onion, I think, must've done something right as a parent!

Also, this instagram story. Ha! Sums up parenthood attempts at socialising :D "I used to be able to rally a group of friends on an hour’s notice. But now it’s like herding cats. You really have to work to get on someone’s calendar."

Also, school is starting back up is 2 weeks. As much as I do. Not. Want. To go back - I am going to pull up my big girl panties and I am going to finish this goddamn thing! One assignment at a time. It's been done before. I can do it. I dread the 3 mornings a week I'll need to be out the door (with my kids!) at 7:20 am - again - and the justified complaints I am going to receive from my kids over having to spend so much time with babysitters - again - but I'll be out the other end sometime in November 2019 and, then, I am never going to look back.

We can do hard things. I know it; my kids know it; my husband knows it. Our entire family knows it.

We can do hard things.

Gillespie pass track 2018: the stories, the people and the philosophical discussion about the importance of getting out there, sometimes

It still astounds me that we spent so much of our Gillespie pass track under blue skies and sun this year! Given how limited our timing was (there were only so many days that my friend could have off work, and I could have away from my family) and what the weather forecast looked like going in, the fact that we had no weather delays and did not need our rain coats - if anything, I returned with mild sunburn around the rim of my glasses which other trampers kindly referred to us "Maria you have panda eyes"... All of it was, to put it simply, awesome!

(Edited to add: there was rain, but we were never in the rain. It rained on Day 2, but we knew about it ahead of time, so we planned Day 2 to be a short, 3-hour walk from Kerin Forks hut to Siberia hut. We were safely in the Siberia hut way before the rain started in the afternoon. Then, although weather forecasts predicted rain throughout Day 3, it never actually rained down in Siberia valley, so we had a beautiful daytrip to Lake Crucible. Then, there was more rain during the night of Day 4 but we were, yet again, safe and warm inside the hut, sleeping. Day 4 dawned with low clouds which cleared to a beautiful sunny day, which is to say that all the time we were walking, it was nice outside. What a treat!)


As I only have two photos to show for the entire trip (due to a certain camera-dunking incident on the river the first day), I am going to try giving some context with labels below. Like this:


This photo looks down to where we had walked up that day and is taken near the summit of Gillespie pass track, which is another 40 minutes of walking higher. The previous day we had visited Lake Crucible and had stayed overnight at Siberia hut in the valley below. Then, in one decent 8-hour day, we walked over Gillespie pass (where we met Alan who kindly took these photos).

As we walked up, we witnessed Mount Awful shedding rockfalls off its steep slopes which was, also, awesome!


Every now and again we would hear some gentle "boom... bom-boom... boom!" in the distance as the rockfalls echoed through the valley. Given how far we were from the rockfalls (about 2.5-3 km 'as the crow flies'), by the time we heard the noise, the tumbling rocks were way down the valley, settling in at the bottom of the slope.

However, there was one particularly (!) big one which made me dash like an antelope towards a good viewpoint so I would not miss out on the action. We had only just put down our backpacks, settling in for lunch in a sunny, sheltered spot below the summit, when a sound that could only be described as something you hear in a good earthquake documentary bellowed through the valley. "Crackle... crackle... Crackle! Boom! BOOM!"

It went on for a good 30 seconds. The ensuing clouds of dust wafted up towards Mount Awful. Oh how I wish I had photos of that!

Soon afterwards (just as I was thinking of standing up and going for a wee), another easily recognisable sound caught my attention. "Bzzzzzzzzzzzzz... Whirrrrrzzzzzzzzz.... Whirrrrrzzzzzzzzzz!" Yes, a drone. Someone was flying a drone near where I was looking for a place to wee and had they come over the ridge a minute later, there's a good chance they would've captured me right in the action, which is both funny and also a bit sad.

We heard the drone several times during our trip and I wondered about its intrusion on the national park environment. I am not strictly against drones, as they are fun and challenging and provide spectacular (!) footage if flown well. However! It felt very unsettling, walking under the 'watchful eye' of a flying machine in the otherwise green valley, when I didn't even know 1) who's flying it, 2) how far they are and 3) what footage they're getting, and why.

Reasonably speaking, I knew that it was most likely a tech-savvy tourist getting awesome video footage of silver beech forest along the Young river valley, but it was nevertheless unsettling to be walking on a quiet Saturday morning, the sun is out, the birds are chirping, the Young river is tumbling on the rapids and... overhead, there is the high-pitch buzzing sound of a drone. "Wzzzzzzz.... Wrrrrzzzzzzzzzz... Wrrrrrrzzzzzzzz!" (A concession from DOC is required to fly a drone on any public conservation land.)

***

The highlight of this trip, for me, was Lake Crucible. Stephen and his son Liam were there 2 days before us (we met them at Kerin Forks hut) and they have some photos and videos on Instagram.

(Talking of Instagram: 2 days before us there was also a group of Harvard Business School students (we met them at Siberia hut), a couple of days later there was Anna & Filip (we met them on the way down). Generally speaking, if you look up "Gillespie pass circuit" on Instagram, there are loads of photos there.)

But why Lake Crucible? I'm not sure, but possibly because the lake sits in a magnificent 'cirque' left by a former glacier. The cliffs go up at impressive angles to about 600-700 metres above the lake.

Screenshot from a topographical map at DOC website
It was 80% covered with snow and ice floats, which made for an impressive swim given that I had to push some ice floats away before I got in the water :).

We visited the lake as a 'day trip', so we were able to leave most of the stuff at Siberia hut and only carried light backpacks with lunch and raincoats. I think it worked great! However, it made for a very tedious start and end to our day. Lake Crucible track-head is an hour's walk from Siberia hut over a flat, sandfly-infested valley, so we spent 1 hour walking to start of the track, then had a beautiful 5-hour roundtrip to the lake, and then spent another hour walking back to the hut. (A lot of people visit Lake Crucible the same day that they go up/down Gillespie pass so they, simply, dump their backpacks at the bottom of the track, walk 5 hours to the lake and back, and then pick up their backpacks again to continue on towards Siberia hut or Gillespie pass.)

Will I do it again? Quite possibly, yes, because another friend has said that she wants to visit Lake Crucible, so we may head out there again next year. Maybe even take the packrafts to paddle amongst snow and ice? We'll see.

Talking of next year: most people walk Gillespie track from Young valley into Wilkin valley. We did it the other way around...

Screenshot from Google Earth with our route sketched on top

...because we wanted to have an 'out' option in case it rained. Young valley connects with another track to Blue Pools, so had we come to the river and seen it too high, we would've continued walking to Blue Pools where the river can be crossed via a swing bridge.

In hindsight, I'm so glad we did it this way! Because for us, walking up to Gillespie pass was an undulating, reasonable plod: steep at places, but gentle at others. It was tedious, but it was gentle on the knees. Going down, on the other hand... Bloody hell!

Young-side of the Gillespie pass is a straight-down track with not much respite. It took us almost 2 hours to go down, and most people walk up it! We were laughing on the way down that we would NOT want to be walking up it! I mean, there's nowhere to go. If you go up that way, you're pretty much going straight up for 4 hours, there is no water, no shade, it's an exposed, wind-blown tussock. And then, once you're over the pass, there is a long, ambling descent to Siberia valley. We were definitely preferring going Wilkin-to-Young, rather than Young-to-Wilkin! (Two Israeli boys going in the same direction as us wholeheartedly agreed: they, too, much preferred going down the steep slope, rather than up the steep slope!)

What else... Oh, the people: there was an amusing and sometimes fascinating collection of trampers on the track :).

For example: up at Gillespie pass we met a teenage boy with a big can of salmon in his hand, but no can opener. "Does anyone have a can opener?" he was asking us. Turns out, he was tramping with his dad and a younger brother, but they were slower than him, so he arrived at the pass much anticipating a lunch of salmon (he said, usually he doesn't bring cans of food, but had decided to make an exception this time, as he considers salmon a treat) and then realised that the can opener was still in his dad's backpack! (We didn't have a can opener, but the Israeli boys who were on the pass at the same time did, so all was well.)

On the way down another teenage boy was climbing up towards us. "HOW MUCH MORE!?" he demanded from us with furious determination. I couldn't help but laugh. It looked like he'd had enough of the Young-side climbing :). ("You're almost there, another two minutes," we reassured him. "Good!" the exclaimed and plodded on. "Yup, he definitely looks like he's had enough," I said to my friend with another bout of laughter.)

The day before a group of women in their mid-60's had walked over the pass (we met them at Siberia hut after our own trip to Lake Crucible). The moment they walked through the door, you could tell that they were DONE with it. Several plopped their backpacks down and even before unpacking anything, laid down in the bunkrooms for a 10 minute nap.

I chatted with one at the water tap later.
- "So, you guys came over the pass today! How was it?"
- "I am never coming back here again!" (Laughter.)
- "How come?"
- "Too old for this nonsense."

Turned out, they were good friends from Auckland who every year headed onto multi-day hikes together. Gillespie pass had been an idea one of them had and, let's put it this way, they were not expecting to be as hard as it had been for them. The descent, especially, they said: it had taken so much time to go up the steep slope of the Young-side of the pass, that the decent had felt 'endless'.

(Just to remind you of the landscape: this.)

We went up the way most people go down. Behind us is the landscape we ascended in: Siberia valley where Siberia hut is, then forest alongside Gillespie stream (lots of tree roots!) and eventually alpine tussock on the slopes towards Gillespie pass. We had probably walked for about 3.5-4 hours by the time this photo was taken.

They had descended into a 'hanging valley' where Gillespie stream flows towards Siberia valley below and, erroneously, they had thought, this is it, we must be almost 'home'. The Siberia hut must be somewhere in here! But then the track started descending again (there is about an hour-long walk over tree roots to reach Siberia valley below) and one of the ladies later described that, "This downhill just about killed me." Then, of course, once they reached the Siberia valley, they had to walk another 45 minutes to reach the hut.

So, yeah, by the time they reached the hut, they were not impressed!

Meanwhile, we were hanging out, playing card games with the group of students from Harvard Business School and just, generally, having a really good time. Then another couple arrived who, turned out, had lived and worked in Nepal for a while, so once my friend learned that (he has trekked in Nepal several times), there was a whole table-full of Nepal stories for the ensuing hour. I usually went to sleep by about 7 pm. (Wakeups were usually at around 6 am.)

Surprisingly, I ate less during the trip than I do at home. I think. Which meant that, in addition to extra food we had taken along in case of rainy weather, I ended up carrying quite a lot of food back out with me. (I had, actually, read about a similar pattern with hikers on the PCT who don't start eating loads until a week or two into their journey, after their bodies get used to the continuous walking. I wasn't sure how I would react though, given that it had been such a long time since I went tramping last so, yeah, lesson learnt.) Curiously enough, when I arrived back home to Invercargill 6 days later, I stepped on the scales to find myself way heavier than usual! But that weight quickly came off within 2 days - and lots of peeing! - so I assume it was water retention from all the inflammation around my joints and muscles. We were all pretty darn sore after the tramp :D

Also, I managed to test another piece of gear that I hoped I would not need to test whilst multi-day hiking: my Mooncup. Although I have used one for over a decade and am well familiar with the routine, the prospect of using it on a 5-day tramp scared me. How to handle it? How to keep my hands clean before and after handling it? Is the river water clean enough to deal with it?

In the end, it was awesome - like the rest of the tramp! I read a couple of articles beforehand (this and this) and from there, worked out a routine that worked for me: a packet of disinfecting wipes (for cleaning my hands before and after), a bottle of water (for rinsing it out) and... that's it, really. Somewhere along the line I realised that if river water is clean enough to drink, it must be clean enough for a Mooncup, so... easy-peasy!

***

Along the trail I thought a lot about the importance of getting out there like that, sometimes. Every person is different, so I don't pretend to have answers for all, but especially from the point of view of depression and stress: it's very difficult to have continuously stressful thoughts whilst multi-day tramping. Every now and again I thought about things that cause me stress back home, and I would mull about them for a while, but eventually... my thoughts would move. I would focus on my feet or breathing instead, take in the view, listen to keas' screeching. There is a beautifully rhythmic pace to walking on an un-even, forested surface, and a certain quality of life that is not attainable in an artificial, city-scape environment. I kept wondering that this - this is what humans are 'designed' for. Evolution has created humans who 'fit' with this sort of environment, and our bodies do well in these sorts of conditions.

Mine did, anyway.

I felt a lot of gratitude as I walked. Gratitude towards New Zealand, gratitude for my health which allows me to walk up a hill like that; towards my husband who kept kids home for a week so I could go off; towards being able to hike with a good friend for whom, I think, this will be one of the very last 'big' tramps he'll ever go on.

Which, in the end, might be the cornerstone of why this tramp was such a good one: I think we all felt a lot of gratitude that week.

News of the gardening variety

For the most part, it's been a "stick it in the ground and see if it lives or dies" approach to gardening this year.

But, hey!, I'm learning. And some stuff is actually fruiting, so we've been enjoying berries, herbs, peas, salads... I've got several trays of mint dehydrating in the over at the moment, I wish you could smell the house right now!

Left: hazelnut and straberries, behind them currants and strawberries. Center front: pumpkins; behind them are tomatoes, cauliflower, kale, carrots. Left: potatoes and the compost bins.

Timber for next planter boxes is cut up and oiled, ready for assembly, as is compost. More carrots, I say! And watercress! And coriander!

Left to right: tomatoes, strawberries, chives, coriander, carrots.

Un unexpected addition to our family is a little apple tree that's growing from seed. The seed had self-sprouted inside a store-bought apple (Royal Gala variety), so we stuck it inside a pot and, hey presto!, it's growing. I guess we'll try bringing the tree up to full height, then. We'll see.

Reading: Alan's blog

Have spent an evening reading Alan Robinson's blog at alansonabike.wordpress.com.

We met Alan near the summit of Gillespie Pass track. He was heading down, we were heading up, and for about 5 minutes we chatted about our respective plans. Alan is, let's put it this way, a badass!

Originally from UK, Alan is spending a year backpacking in New Zealand. Currently, he is making his way from Makarora to Glenorchy, but rather than take a car (a 2-hour ride), he is going through the mountains on foot. From Gillespie Pass track he was going to 'link up' with Top Forks / Jumboland, then continue on over the Rabbit Pass (which is so steep at Waterfall Face that some people refer to it as "put your foot in the wrong place, you're dead"), from East Matukituki valley into West Matukituki, then on over the Cascade Saddle, onto Rees-Dart track and then to Glenorchy where he was going to buy some more food.

And then he would continue!

He was planning to run the Routeburn in a day. Then, I don't remember exactly, but I think he was going to use Caples-Greenstone track to get to Mavora lakes, then on to Te Anau and from there, did he say, Ducky track? I don't remember.

A long, long walk anyway :D

Alan took a couple of photos of us, so providing all goes well, in a couple of weeks I will hopefully hear from him when he comes back into 'civilisation' and uploads his adventures onto his blog, and maybe even e-mails me the photos of me and my friend going up Gillespie.

He seemed like a really, really cool character! alansonabike.wordpress.com