Monarchs, kiwi, sails & poem-seed


Russell/Kororareka, Bay of Islands image

We hear kiwi call at dusk.  The male a long inhaled pipe, the female more guttural like a bull frog.  We see weke everywhere, the smaller, inquisitive, dark brown kiwi cousins.

Our balcony overlooks native marsh and bush from where kiwi sounds rise.  So too do lime-green balloons of the swan plant ripening to glory, shrivelling to seed.  Globes of lime cotton plant-weave, perfectly round and hollow so I want to catch glow-worms and keep them inside.  I am enchanted by rare magic.

The swan plant flowers feed monarch butterflies, you see them if you wait and really look, slow and large, they glide not flutter.  Black-scored umber, like veins.  Winged fallen autumn chestnut leaves.  Monarchs have a new predator here, a wasp introduced to deal with another perceived threat to crops has found a new source of food in them.

Languid, large, gliding.  Opening and closing slowly, like ideas, like thoughts forming and becoming real.  Hesitant, heavy with presence, testing air for landing, settling for nectar and staying, staying.  Like a poem-seed coming into thought.  We need to take care of our monarchs, of our slow, poetic thoughts, too many waspish predators on the delicate winged edges of living.

Storm Winston from Fiji sliced open water bags and dumped them clattering on the roof last night.  A cockerel crows in morning-clean air, a hen fusses on our deck, comes in for crumbs, delighting in a constant happy present.  No foxes here.

Russell, one of the oldest places in New Zealand European time, was settled by the French before the English. Its church bears musket holes from the Maori Wars.  I am glad to be the seaward side of The Bay of Islands; Paihia on the mainland is too commercial, bustling with fast food, hotels, tours, cruises, souvenirs, tourist buses and backpackers.

Even the woman in the I-Site tourist information office seemed bored of it.  She was tired, hot, fed up and very snippy with us, didn’t want to think beyond the usual accommodation request.  We found out about our sustainable Eco resort at Orongo Bay by ourselves.  A ferry to reach Russell brings day trippers or a curling rind of road through bush, over marsh carries those who want to be here longer.

Orongo Bay oysters last night, cream and thick and fleshy, sea-strong taste.  We ate at The Gables, old for here.  The Gables has framed a piece of old newspaper, ‘The Auckland Times’ from 1897, found in an old, forgotten cupboard between the lining paper used to keep out draughts in clapboard houses and the dulled green wallpaper.  A fragment rests beside the clipping.  I recognise Schiele’s Green, the fashionable arsenic-based green in every Victorian house, in its wallpaper and clothing, gently poisoning inhabitants.

Old roses outside old buildings, settlers bringing scents of home to their new world..

We sail the next day, aboard glossy wooden Vigilant, ten of us plus Nic the captain/chef.  A rolling bay, thirty five knots of gusty wind.  Some sail spread.  The edge of possible.  I sit at the bow, showered in seaspray as we dip and roll and sway.

imageRack of lamb clouds.  Wind mining shafts for sunlight.  Green swathes skiing down island slopes.  Land littered everywhere, flakes, breaks, stacks, rocks.  Air sparkling with salt.

Roberton Island where Captain James Cook moored, where we swim, the sea too cloudy for snorkelling in the lagoon pool between two hills below a shallow beach.

We sail before the wind back, dipping like a seabird into waves and dock at last at Russell…



Sea Kayaking


double tongued sea tasting                                                  gluttonously dripping

silent smooth glazed                                                              sea jelly glide

tannin-tea lunatic weed                                                        slaps slurps sucks

strips locks knots                                                                   in grooves and rock clefts

hissing shingle as I beach                                                     unpin taut legs reach

steps to headland                                                                    gaze look see

sea above                                                                                   sea below…

what changes?

flat hard glassy                                                                      glittered ship-pocked plain

punched arthritic knuckles                                                   land grab sky

down                                                                                         oyster sharp

winkle smooth                                                                        stone litter

astride afloat again                                                                 drawn by  tidal thread

blind moon bound                                                                    on puckered peacock sea

an orange fleck                                                                          gannets gawp

gulls guffaw                                                                                sea shudders

I slide from earth crust                            out                           to felt thread

back tight going nowhere                                                        til I check land

see I’ve moved                                                                           self powered I thought

now fragile                                                                                 I let go

sea syrup sweetens my soul

beneath-sea wind                                                                   wafts weed and me

sky currents whisper                                                              in an oyster’s ear

I am centre circle                                                                     noon mid-tide

grounded in glutinous water                                                 it lets me flow over

could with one arthritic punch                                             one long held breath

one swell of chest                                                                     knock me out

send me weed bound                                                                 down to sirens

sensed in sea deep bones



copyright Christine Cooke

April 2016

Cloud Piercer, The Goddess, & The Blue Lake


Sky taut, eagle-pinned.  Earth bleached dry,  tree line stitched at land seams.

Freeze-fried sun-chilled river-etched rock.

Wind-scorched fields ripple over land bones. Mist quivers as morning sketches outlines on sky blue glaze.

Shadowed sheep legs stroll where stippled strokes hint at growth.  Long taupe plain.  Splayed trees, wind bent.  Bulls like boulders held in winds.  Seal-snout mountains sniff chiffon clouds.  Rocks inked in luminous lichen lurch in stubble.

A road rise, a fall, a road rise, a fall and …  a Pantone blue lake.  Flat.  Edged by sharp stones dice strewn

Again blue.  An impossible blue.

I can’t see distance.  It stands ahead, tall.  Untoned, untinted, undisturbed.  What blue is this?  A blue loo cleaners dream of.  A chemical blue.

Then Aoraki.  Mount Cook.  Aoraki.  Cloud Piercer.

Erect, blue-white tipped, primed for cloud by clouds’ contents.  Crisper the closer we come.  Meringue peaks.  Shattered cheeks.  Planes.  Serrations.

Faces, squint-eyed, purse-lipped, crow-frowned, nose broke.

And then I see her.  A blush giant woman leaning over a ridge, gazing far far far, head propped on her dropping arms.

My mountain is a woman who pre-dates Aoraki, pre-dates Captain Cook…  She rests, hugging her peak to herself, warms her bones in sun before her winter cape settles.

And if I remove my hyphen she predates …

Below the sacred peak where none may step, I see her holding.  Long being.  Tucked and curled in old enchantment wrapped wide in a woven quilt of strata weft, rain gully warp, embroidered with rare stone.  First snow glittering her shoulders.

I walk towards them all, towards her, towards Aoraki, towards Cloud Piercer, towards Mount Cook.  Towards the gritty dark teeth of the glacier which calves a luminous jade block to dissolve along the line into solid impossible lake-blue.

Glacier’s rotten teeth sunk in old grey bread now cleaned by calving green berg.  Chewing rock and spitting grit.  Grinding stones, mountain bones.  Giants digging, fee-fie-fo-fum….  Does she smile as I think this or is it just a ray of sun?

I look back often as I walk away.  A grandmother’s wispy bun of cloud.  A hat and muffler.  A homespun mountain.

Night.  No lights.  Flower stars stamp velvet sky unburnt by human fire.

Morning over a glacial floodplain, shimmering blue arteries, airless ice, no bleeding but cracks and splits of salmon scars.  Above the mist an unseen avalanche, a thudding crack, distant, cloud-muted, thunder rumble of slipping snow-rock.

We leave at last.  Drive back past the lake of cloudy blue.  Blank, still, matte, unpainted paper.  An eagle tears flesh from possum roadkill, accenting with blood that cold thick old ice blue.

Above, a sliver of pagan day moon ringed by riding towers.  Below, a lake to take away all sin and purify.  Lake to be what you see.  Past and present melted.  A left-be blue of ancient ice and crushed snow, chewed glaciers.  A deity we worship in silence.  A gem lake.  Turquoise.  Set in mooned mountains which cup blue with long ridged fingers.

It pulls my eye, demanding. I know mountains range, hunched ruffled lions’ manes horizon prowling.  Yet this time-taking turquoise, unholy in its pulling pagan purity, is all I see.  All else is setting for the simplest natural brooch of melted mountain.

Still, silent under windless skies it tells of power gone, lies basking in its icy dotage, face up, there for all who see and listen heartwise to its colour tale.  Epic, heroic, adversaries ground down, it lies at rest and speaks in tongues to the world’s faces reflecting awe.






Not quite


Long lying





Christine Cooke April 2016  All Rights Reserved


Still Moving at Kaiteriteri

24-march-3-looking-back-at-kateriteriI can’t see too far outside today.

Beyond my rain-lace window a bay smiles as a golden sandy arm embraces it, sea calm as a blue egg.  A still sky shimmers a few blue tones lighter.   And all framed in slopes of soft-shaped rocks and green islands.

It is quiet.  It is tranquil.  Now, I need to be still.  To travel inside where waves of emotion surge and crash.  I don’t know why.  Why, suddenly, are tears burning my eyelids?

I am tired, I know, over-awed by so many landscapes in such short time.

I gaze in bliss at tissue-paper rain-haze, at peaceful sea undisturbed.  Today, I can’t see too far outside.

Yesterday, we travelled far.

22-march-4-pancake-rocksFrom Hokitika on the wild, stormy-wet, west coast through failed gold towns, old coal mines, up and up along the fierce ocean edge of South Island.

Into sunshine, blue sky, and new rock.  Leaving fault-line gorges, pounded black volcanic beaches, grey stones and pounama – greenstone jade –  for sandstone and limestone.  For warm tones, blowholes and pancaked rocks giving in to sea’s carving.  Swell crashes and shatters, roars, hisses, roams rocks, claws clefts.  Pummels, punches, grinds.  And this without a wind to urge.

Now as we turn inland, softer outlines, familiar shapes.  Wide river valleys, clear shallow water, lichen and river weed as rain forest thins and the last palms bless us.  Rounded hills, no sharp angles or volcanic triangles.  No old sea beds forced to surface as strata, hillsides quaked to rubble.  Rivers unscarred by glacial chaos.

And this morning, driving down a broadening pastoral valley, through sheep and cattle to orchards, vines and veg plots, into raspberry and blueberry canes, kiwi and hop vines, nectarines, peaches, plums, with lemon trees signing ripeness in citrine gems.  Small farms, smaller fields.  No logging.  A town and through, a coastal wiggle and here we are.  In gentle land.

As we park by the sea John exclaims, ‘Look.  No waves.  Not one wave.  No breakers.  It’s just so still.’

And I am overwhelmed.  I had not thought the violence of the landscape had so affected me.

Snarling breakers, rock chewing, tree-limb spewing, ship-wrecking, rip-tiding, silt-shifting.

Constant cloudburst, raindrops beating, drumming, drenching, flooding, hill slicing, boulder shoving, cascade-scissoring.

The land itself, plate grinding, heat venting, strata skewing, lava lumping, shivering, shaking, shattering, quaking.  Unbalanced and unbalancing.

I sit here, now, level.  Withstanding nothing.

Is my response to landscape so strong?  Or is it baggage travelling with me that rattles?

I have felt over-awed, yes.  Yet, I have felt.  Down to my own molten core.

17-march-9-aoraki-and-the-hooker-glacierThis land has challenged me to regain fitness and balance.  A six mile hike in hot sun and cooled air through the Hooker Valley towards Mt Cook Aoraki.  Watching a glacier calve in sacrifice at Aoraki-Cloud Piercer’s base.  Six weeks ago I couldn’t have done that.  Four months ago I couldn’t balance to walk.  Concussion.  In German, it’s  ‘Gehirnerschuetterung’,  brain shattering.

Hot, soft, lava brain.  Cold, hard, rocky skull.

Perhaps that’s why my strong response.  A landscape of concussion is what I see in South Island.  A landscape of shaking, shattering, shuddering, tremors, surges, falls, slips, crashes.  Land out of balance.  A land of creation and erasure.

Perhaps that’s why the level grey haze of sky and the duck-egg sheet of sea, the gentle arm of golden sand stir me.

A new flag from nature, striped with three balanced even bands, marking my pilgrimage through unstable mind and land.

I can’t see too far outside today.  And inside?  I see a long, bright future clearly…

Father of the Forest

P1030693The road north, through pastures and kumara fields to Dargaville and old-time, wooden chalet houses built on kauri timber fortunes as the sunray slopes were shaved. A port rich enough for knobbly braids and wooden lace fans in verandah angles.  Past a mixed-metaphor motel, Hobson’s Choice, in a town big enough for more.

Then, kauri forests.  Forests they are labelled.  They are mixed-tree forests, phoenix ferns and native canopy, kauri trees are few and far, felled for amber-glowing timber, sucked of sap for varnish.  Once, kauri gum cost more per ounce than gold.  It’s still in use, as violin varnish.

We curl through native rain forest uninvaded by oak, beech, willow and their Euro-bird companions.  Original silhouettes against a storm-bruised sky.  Our road fringed with fingered fronds of phoenix palms cupped papally over our travelling heads.

We are pilgrims under a blessing of palms.

Winds wring rain from Storm Winston’s clouds.  Our blessings increase.  A rain forest traversed in rain.  Ever norther, tropic-wards, winding vines now climb and lichens skein from bough, kid-snot green, dripping, running.

We approach the hallowed place.  We park and walk to see the blessed trees, the last great kauris, feted for survival by the men who felled the rest, for standing still, enduring, growing, being.  For two and a half thousand years.  Two point five millennia. The few.

We tread boardwalks through straight, thick, grey trunks urging to sunlight.  We walk towards Te Matua Ngahere.  We walk towards the Father of the Forest.  Our feet on boards.  Despite their age and hulk, kauri roots lie shallow, easily damaged by tramping boots.  Our eyes run upwards, open, wide.  Silence cloaks us in wonder.

A slope.  A curve.  And there we are.  Before him.  The trunk.  So broad and round I do not see it.

I see a medieval keep.  A grey, stone tower in a Welsh-March castle.  Look unthinking for ravens in its ruined castellations.

What?  Te Matua Ngahere.  I am in New Zealand, seeing with European eyes.  I close then open them.  Ah yes.  The grey stone crumbles to a sixteen metre tree bole, there, immense, so great I could not see it.  Growing greyish wood, crannies and crevices, a wasps’ nest bulging and buzzing.  The grey grows greater as my eye checks back to other trees, to slender trunks, dark, feathered with dancing, green plumes.

We gaze at each other.  Te Matua Ngahere.  I look at John.  He looks at me.  Our eyes are awe-wide, voices stilled.  There is nothing and everything to say.  We stand in a cathedral, a temple, a shrine and dare to look on wood-time.  Two and a half thousand years, still growing, still homing.  There is nothing to say, everything to feel.

Before us, an elderly Korean man puts his hands together and bows, bows, bows to Te Matua Ngahere.  To our Father of the Forest.

We sit.  Time slows.  Breath slows.  Watching our Father.  Fearful of filling forest silence with humanity.  How small our lives.  How fast we grow.  We sit still.  Alone now, together.  With our Father.

Then, an itch in the trees, a scratch in the silence that puckers air and screeches our way. Tourists on a tick-box trip, camera-click and selfie-stick, paste Father as wallpaper on each small screen.  Cackling cockatoos, they perch and parade til all the me-with-you, you-with-me shots have ricocheted around his trunk.  Ripping peace to ribbons, they clatter, garlanded, away.

P1030694Father endures.  Grey, silent, solid.  From time’s beginning to its end.  Te Matua Ngahere.

Silence settles.  We leave quietly, looking back, looking back.

Toitu te whenna – leave the land undisturbed, we are urged…



Copyright Christine Cooke March 2016

Leap Year Day in Matauri Bay

29 February 2016            Matauri Bay  image

The busy sea had been up early polishing her sandy front step til it shone for the dawning sun to glaze it silver.  In its reflection Norfolk Island pines comb the sky, teasing tangled clouds smooth for the breezes to spin.

Hand holding hand we walk along the beach, vanilla ice-cream sand, wave-licked above, and from beneath small explosions, clam volcanoes mirroring the haze-grey, worn-down island ridge that stops the sea from slipping out in a cloud-rugged hug.

Dressed for this once-a-four-year day, terns wear scarlet stockings to match their curved red beaks, seagulls choose yellow, and the grander, more formal black-backed gulls don black tails, juvenile birds a-baying and food begging, padding hyena-hunched behind.

Tattooed in the skin of the sand, if you look, are tiny kauri trees, a secret worm’s curlicue doodle, wading birds’ fluted footsteps strung like bunting through sea-sand sky shine.

Waves write lines to hang a frothy song on, soaping sand and sending terns to stutter and putter from their reflections.

Hand holding hand we walk back along the beach.

A day like no other.  Here now.  Eternal.


Copyright Christine Cooke March 2016

It is better to arrive… hopefully…

February 24 2016  Maungaturoto,  North Island, New Zealand

I feel that at last I’ve arrived.

imageUnpacked, unlagged, unstressed.  I sit in the breathy shade of the white-painted, tin-roofed, verandah of a single storey 1890s wooden house, moved from a town to this rural North Island plot decades ago to be a family ‘bach’.  Two weeks’ travelling and walking clothes flap brightly in the sunshine.  Cool leftover salad for lunch, a smile in my heart and a desire for my fingers to dance on my travelling keyboard.  I am a journey woman again, writing journey words.

The only tinnitus I hear now after these concussed months is the cicadas’ shiver and insect telegraphy, happily entering my head from the outside.  My muscles clench and tighten from leaping and riding surf, from walking the steep, stepped track to the old volcanic peak of Mt Manaia, and down again.  One thousand steps up, one thousand steps down.  I am regaining fitness with balance, body and head speak again the same language.

In the solid, multi-trunked macrocarpa tree in front of me, dark-evergreen tufted fingers pointing this way and that from chunking roots to grooved-trunk tops, a mynah bird runs through its buzzing, clicking ringtone opus.

Thick black bees punctuate blue sage spikes with droning apostrophes like a gentle, old-school teacher in a thick-aired, summer afternoon as torn leaves of wide, slow-flapping butterflies wink their way to pollen.  A cockerel crows from down the green valley where arching trees twist strands of candy floss clouds from an agapanthus sky.  A cow haunts the unseen meadow with a moan.

I have travelled through the industrialised, impersonal processing of mass international travel like a brutalised, daylight-starved, intensively-reared heifer, an abacus of flight codes, seat numbers, minutes’ late and baggage claims clattering in the neon, eye-piercing glitter of windowless, consumer-driven, branded yet anonymous airport sheds.  Held in corrals and queues for hours to be stamped, ticketed, coded and checked for foreign bodies in my shoes and food before at last being pardoned and released into fresh air, real light, dizzy with destination.

‘It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive,’ Rudyard Kipling wrote.

I wonder…

Copyright Christine Cooke 2016

Houseboat Ecstasy…

February 16 2016
Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney, Australia, heading downstream via Wiseman’s Ferry.




Pneumatic drill of kookaburra chorus.  Calm and stillness in cool air until sun heats up the day.  The bush reaches temperature and seethes, fizzing, buzzing, boiling insects.

Passing sandstone flaking bluffs pocked with sun-blisters, ash-grey to burnt-umber. Towering gums, flowering with cream and white powder.


Snake in water.

Mobile grey-green quick lean blue-green steel.  Pin-prick glint eye, whip-smart, arrow strung, flint-sharp, whip-lash, mean, seen me, snap-snip, wave stitch, sharp snap.  Lands quick, slip way, off land, on land, gone.


I am alone on the houseboat, the men are gone to re-provision in the tinny tender.  I sit lengthways on a sofa, the oh-so-kind cool, southerly breeze mopping my brow as sun cracks sandstone, peeling grey skin to expose raw orange rock.  Eucalypts’ adolescent stubble strides, top bowed and shaking in heat and air, to root in old stone fractures.

We coursed today along the tidal Hawkesbury River through National Parks to constant, double-banked applause, cicada-rich, our houseboat a homecoming river queen.  As the tide now turns, so wheels our boat in curtsey on her mooring.

I have green tea, shade, words and Vaughan Williams’ ‘Fantasy on a Theme of Thomas Tallis’ playing on mi phone.  It makes me smile.  I feel like I’m in a version of that scene in ‘Out of Africa’ where the Streep/Redford couple camp in the bush for the first time together and he plays Mozart to the monkeys on a portable record player.  Flowering gums, I serenade you.  Cicadas – here’s Tallis for your constant background clapping.  Even the flies have buzzed off and are quiet.

A moment of pure, distilled ME.  Green sarong and loose, long-sleeved white cotton tunic, bra-less, hair tied back in a bright scarf – I feel free and comfy as clouds make shadow play with orange cliffs shattered into shaded blocks… are they eye sockets?  A frowning giant?  Ruins of a fabled, ancient city?  A strange, old script?  Seats of prehistoric amphitheatre?

I love that I am far from daily routine, free to let my mind wander, explore yet comforted and uplifted by old voicemail messages, happy family and friends wishing me Bon Voyage. Space to consider my needs for an hour or so.  To stop travelling and moor, let tide and time cradle me…

imageAnd the words come…

Bursting deco trees shape tulips with bony, white hands, arachnid skeletal fingers…  Such bright shadows…  Chalk sketches on green vellum canvas.  Cheerleader trees, arms outstretched, shake long-leaved pom-poms….

And now to Thomas Tallis pure…  ‘Spem in Alium’…  A motet for forty voices. Medieval Tamla Motown wall of sound…

A scorpion cloud arches its tessellated back, stings the cliff’s tree crown into quivering life as Tallis voices soar, wedge-tailed eagles now, soar over  sandstone blocks and stack ten, twenty, thirty, forty voices…  Dissolving grey, freeing light, peeling umber, startling and bleaching the staring soul…

Now I see…

The sandstone shadow play is really music, is notes…  Quaver caves, a semibreve of shade, a colorato cliff…  My music is sandstone rock, it rings and settles, reverberates and echoes, drills into being, and quivers, quivers in the air as cicada half life.  I am alive and living, rocked riverly, sung into spirit, soul-sanded, grey-gone, sanded-soul bright and orange, crust cracked off.  New skin, new skin as Tallis voices puncture me in purity, a scorpion note cloud, combined and arched for one long, slow moment of utter harmony.

… … …

I could cry with joy – senses, words, words like no other, each a step in virgin soil.  I am the first footprint in sand, preserved by careful land and layers.  Shown when time, when nature, when wind and water, sound and stillness, say and sing me into being, into new becoming.

I pull my skin around me, I hear the men returning.  I must find shape, unstick my soul from ecstasy.



Christine Cooke

Copyright February 2016





Stepping Out

February 4 2016  Hansel, South Devon
The land crosses its arms and cradles in the cleft of crossing wrists a valley.  A wide, shallow stream with fallen weirs for conversation, lawns and steeply sloping woods, dense on the south, sparse to the north with meadows laid out like picnic cloths to make the most of a bouncing sun shining through hedgerow curls.  And though at a glance most call it winter in February it is not.

Birds sing the light in and out as it washes like a tide on the hills.  Ducks sit secretly on downy eggs and hens wear deep red combs on glossy heads as they strut through Tudor studs of primroses, yellow pouts of daffodils and green-edged bells of silent snowdrops.  The muscles of the shoulders of the land flex easily, sweating springs as they do their deep, quiet work of clasping tree roots in high winds, urging sap to tree tops and greening fields for sheep.

I step out into soft, mild, morning-cloud air that settles on my skin and moistens it.  In a few days I shall step out of an airport into dry air and strong sun that will send serotonin shooting up my skull to break a smile like a hatching egg.  I shall move differently.  A girasol, a sunflower.

And as I travel in these next spring months, through late Antipodean summer into autumn, I shall at times lie back and rest in thoughts I’ll carry of those cradling, crossed, green-spring arms where a wide and shallow, chattering stream flows over boulders under the shoulders of an old, more northerly land.


Christine Cooke

Copyright February 2016