The Story of Frank, Part 1. I wish we’d talked about it.

Let me be frank.

Hello Frank.

Once upon a time there was a little blond girl called Frank. Her father was a doctor, he spent a lot of time away from home making people better. Her mother was beautiful and very funny but worried a lot about a lot of things. So much so that the little girl ended up being more of a Mum to her Mummy. But she didn’t realise that until much, much later.

Frank and her Mummy and Daddy lived a good life. Often Frank and her mum would while away the school holidays at the golf club pool where lots of other mummies whiled away the school holidays. With wine. And then gin. But there was nothing unusual about that. Then Frank’s daddy bought a beautiful little farm with another doctor and there were many happy idyllic years of horses and BBQs beside the stream. And more wine and more gin. And more worry. But no-one talked about that.

Frank grew up and went to boarding school. Her mother didn’t like it at all. So there was more wine and little white pills to take the edge of the worry which was growing into something bigger and scarier. And still no-one talked about it.

Frank grew up some more and went further afield. Her father became very sick. Her mother couldn’t cope and the wine began to make an appearance earlier in the day. The dosage of the little white pills was increased,  the ‘do not take with alcohol’ label ignored and people began to talk about it. The wine, that is, not the worry.

Frank’s beautiful but by now not nearly so funny mother spent a week in the drug & alcohol unit at Kenepuru Hospital. It stopped the drinking but traumatised her. Not the best way of dealing with chronic anxiety. Another time she was prescribed a medication to stop her drinking, one that intentionally made her as sick as a dog when she drank (in fact even sicker than any of Frank’s family’s dogs). But Frank’s dying father while dying was still  very much a doctor, he couldn’t stand seeing her so violently sick and had her taken off it.  

Frank’s father died. And her mother spiralled, disconcertingly elegantly, out of control.

Frank tried to talk about it. Although often she wanted more than anything not to talk about it. But she felt that someone had to. Except that most people didn’t want to hear. 

And they still don’t really want to.

Particularly now that my mother has alcohol induced dementia.

At this point let me say, I’ve thought long and very, very hard about whether I could, and should, publicly write about my mother’s journey and my part of her story. Not just thought, I’ve searched my soul. But there are two things which lead me to hit the ‘publish’ button. The first is that I am now at peace with where we both are, in relationship to each other and her history. That’s not to say I don’t feel profound sadness, sometimes acutely so, for her condition. However the frustration, anger, grief and confusion have passed and replacing these feelings, for the most part, is deep compassion.

The second reason I choose now, not only to write about this but do so publicly, is that it would have helped me enormously to read similar stories and understand that I was not alone. One of the consequences of people not being willing to talk about it, particularly for an only child, was that I felt hugely alone. Often the unwillingness to talk was prefaced by a few brief comments about my mother’s condition not being my responsibility. And while I understood the reasons for such comments, this in fact only amplified the feeling of isolation.

I don’t believe in regrets. But I do wish we’d talked about it. I’ve no doubt that the reason for not doing so was to protect me, but I was a smart kid. I may not have realised there was anything odd about the level of wine consumption – it was normalised – but I did on some level, unconsciously and energetically, register the anxiety and the extraordinary lack of communication in my family. And instead of ripping of the bandaid and confronting the dysfunction in the family and allowing the wound to heal, under the bandaid of middle class civility, it was left to fester and become something much more diseased.

I could go on. It is said that you should write about what you know. And heavens knows, I know something about having a relative suffering from mental illness and substance abuse. I suspect I will go on, there is a great deal more I would like to share, hoping it may be of help to people in similar situations. And I suspect there are many… This morning in fact, I came across an article stating that eight million prescriptions for pills to treat anxiety and depression were dispensed in New Zealand 2011-12 (current population 4.4 million). I would say it’s a fairly safe bet that for a significant number of people taking this medication, alcohol is part of the mix.

I began this post by attempting to summarise forty years of experience, forty years of this story, my story as part of my mother’s. Somehow, telling it in the same way I would tell a children’s story intuitively felt like the most simple way of beginning.

Of course this is not a simple story, but my message in this post is simple. I wish we’d talked. It took me a very long time to do so, with family or close friends. Because we didn’t talk about it as a family, I didn’t even realise it was a problem for ages. Talking with family might have caused something to crack, but as Rumi (and Leonard Cohen) have said, it’s the crack that lets the light in. Reaching out to friends, having friends brave enough to talk about it with me and listen, helped let light in for me and consequently allow some of my own, long suppressed light, to get out.

For those of you in similar situations, of course I don’t know how it is for you and your family. Clearly  I’m not a health practitioner, but I do have decades of life experience in health. I grew up in a medical family, within the last ten years, my father, grandfather, grandmother and two uncles have died. My father had Lewy Body dementia, my grandmother Alzheimer’s, both Uncles died far too young of cancer. I have a profound interest in health and take a holistic approach. I work in communications. With stories. I believe in the healing power of storytelling.

So, my message in this first post, part 1 of the Story of Frank, is ultimately simple. Please talk. If there’s even the tiniest window try, if not, see if you can make one. It might be, probably will be, scary, it may well be uncomfortable, you could well feel as if you’re not getting anywhere, but if I were you – and in many respects I have been – I would try. It’s never too late.

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

100,000 nerves ending on Peka Peka ground.

In three weeks, I’ll have been at Peka Peka for one year. This is a little of what I’ve learned.

Go barefoot. I have between 100,00-200,000 exteroceptors (a sensory nerve ending stimulated by the immediate external environment) in each of my feet and they love being bare. Preferably on the sand or grass, and if it’s the latter, dewy is even better. If you’re not willing to take my word for it, here is an article on the benefits of being barefoot.

Sleep is the bomb. Most of us don’t get nearly enough, particularly the early ‘core sleep’, quality is apparently just as important as quantity. You hear people say they get used to sleep deprivation, actually the vast majority of us don’t. After a year of raising two high energy puppies who for the first 6 months woke at least once during the night needing  to pee, I have considerably more sympathy for new parents. Sleep is an enormously important ingredient in our recipe for self-healing, lack of it can make us more anxious, affect food choices and lead to disease. Again, if you won’t take my word for it, click here and here.

The trick to not feeling overwhelmed by a large house (never owned a house before and this one is 300 sqm) and 12 acres of land with 2 acres of garden (never had a garden before) is to not feel overwhelmed. Occasionally this is easier said than done, but it turns out that step 1 is to make a conscious decision not to feel overwhelmed. Step 2 is to break it down into steps. And realise that I don’t have to deal with all the weeds in one day. Or even one week.

I’m considerably more handy than I thought. I’m not one for reading instruction manuals. I bave spent my adult life thus far considering myself far from handy. But it’s amazing what you can do when you have to. When no-one else is around to fix things. Or they are, but it’s your responsibility. At 11pm two days before Christmas, wickedly tired, I downloaded the manual for my dishwasher, disassembled and reassembled part of it in order to fix the fact it wasn’t cleaning properly.

I love it here. Recently, I read an excellent blogpost by Umair Haique on How to Let Your Purpose Find You. His advice is to be uncool enough to love.

“In our overly numb culture of icy cool, when we do feel something, we so often feel the opposite of love: hate, anger, fear, and envy. And those can give you drive. But drive isn’t purpose — drive is a fury to be slaked, an ambition to be achieved. Purpose is love, not just little-l love, but Big Love, the grand affair that defines a life — first between you and your better, fuller, truer, worthier self; and then between your that self and the world.”

This place found me. I fit in. It’s not that I don’t or haven’t fitted in, in other places. But this one is different. An essential element of practicing biomimicry (an ’emerging discipline of an ancient practice’) is understanding that we are a part of Nature. And we need to learn how to fit in again. I’m learning that here. Learning to listen to the pohutukawas breathe as they sit in a circle surrounding the house. I watch the hawks swoop leisurely up and up and up on currents of air and in some strange inexplicable way, a part of myself takes flight too. I’m learning to listen, observe, take baby steps in order to connect with an inherent wisdom we’ve somehow, mostly, forgotten. But with the help of the 100,000 exteroceptors in my feet, I’m beginning to remember.

Guest post from The Wonderful World of Sam: Biomimicry & Kapiti.

I’m making up for nearly five months of no blog posts, so in addition to How the mulch stole my purpose, posted this evening, here is the first in a series of guest posts from people I feel very lucky to be connected to. The first is Sam Rye. Sam is a Connector at Bucky Box & Enspiral, dabbles in communications and is an ‘excited-amateur’ when it comes to photography. Sam has played a key role in helping me establish the seed group of New Zealand regional biomimicry network here at Peka Peka, in fact his support has been invaluable. So, without further ado, I’ll pass you onto the wonderful Sam and his wonderful world…

I feel very lucky to be part of a small group with big plans.

About two years ago I was introduced to the wonderful Tink through a mutual friend. We both liked coffee, called ourselves connectors (in the absence of knowing how to describe our ability to make ideas, people & resource smoosh together at the right time), and seemed to have a bit of a reverence for the natural world.

We kept in touch, carried on drinking coffee, and after awhile we kept circulating around this idea of Biomimicry. We knew other people who were interested, and we convinced Tink to take us out for a stroll to introduce us to the skills she’d picked up in Costa Rica at the Biomimicry Institute training she’d attended.

Biomimicry (from bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate) is a new discipline that studies nature’s best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems. Studying a leaf to invent a better solar cell is an example. I think of it as “innovation inspired by nature.”

We began gathering at Tink’s beautiful home in Peka Peka, where a sense of perspective pervades your thoughts at every turn, and time seems elastic.  Slowly these have built over the last few months, and it’s become a monthly gathering with people ebbing in and out depending on their availability, but always with biomimicry on the table as the reason – that and the chance to break bread and share a meal.

Sunday was our last gathering before Christmas, where a small but perfectly formed group came together to spend a day dabbling with the process of the early stages of design challenges where we identified a function (e.g. temperature regulation), and then spent some time thinking about examples in nature that we knew of, as well as seeking out new ones around us.  Peering closely at leaves, watching the soft yet abrasive tongues of the dogs, observing the root structures across rocky forest floors, and breaking down seed pods to understand their biology.  As you might be able to tell – I am extremely happy in this space.

We progressed onto the most pressing and interesting design challenge – the future of Tink’s place in Peka Peka.  With a vision of creating a world class biomimicry experience where people could come together to engage in cross-disciplinary workshops to create, challenge and invent, we roamed the perimeter observing slopes, microclimates, water flow, and a host of other elements which we aim to map for future sessions of visioning & design.

Coming together at the end of the day, we threw around ideas and feelings of what this place meant to us, what it held in possibility and perspective.  I tried to explain the magnetism I feel toward Kapiti Island – how it’s presence is always with me, and whether it’s the seismic lines from the South Island which run through the area, or whether there’s ‘something else’ at play. I realised quickly that I don’t have the language for this, I never grew up with people talking about the Land, energy, or anything remotely spiritual. I grew up in London, a predominantly built environment, in a society which largely shunned the non-Scientific.  Having spent a lot of time in areas with virgin or mostly intact ecosystems, I’ve become intrigued in what I don’t know – not taxonomy or scientific explanations, so much as that which I have no language for. I’m lucky that some people I know here are open to talking about that, and I am slowly indulging in seeking out and listening to some gems of ‘indigenous wisdom’ – to people who’ve lived & survived with the land or those that have listened to stories passed down.

I headed back to Paekakariki with a warm & tired glow, and after the previous day’s allergic reaction to our Christmas tree (who knew pine trees & pine nuts would give similar reactions?), I just hoped to get some wedding planning done and enjoy the sunshine.  Still, a further bout of hay fever began to take hold, so I figured it was time for some saline therapy before bed. I threw on my togs and took to the beach.

I arrived as the sun blazed it’s final golden rays out across the water to the beach, the sea wall, and glinted back off the windows of houses along the parade.

The water was luke warm – not so cold as to make me recoil as I waded in and dived under the quicksilver waves. I swam out away from the shore, loving the opportunity to be suspended in the gentle lilt of the Tasman Sea.

The sun, still a bright orange, flamed back at me as a paddleboarder made their way across the near horizon.

As the golds slowly gave way to myriad hues of yellows, oranges, greens, reds and pinks, the South Island silhouetted against the sunset, and Kapiti Island slunk low in the waters out to the west.

Fire seemingly burned in the clouds, and I couldn’t help but be grateful this is the special place I call home.

You will find more of The Wonderful World of Sam here.

How the mulch stole my purpose.

Recently I found myself oddly disconnected from part of my purpose, connecting. I can’t emphasise enough how much I love connecting, with people and places and information. Not long ago I asked fellow connectors to suggest a title for my LinkedIn page as I was stumped and suggestions included ‘serial connector’ and ‘sustainable dot-joiner’. And yet suddenly, there I was one morning, sitting at the kitchen table thinking about two upcoming events in Wellington (my home town = perfect opportunities to connect) which normally would have me fizzing with excitement. But there was not a single fizz in sight.

Not even a bubble.

The thought of engaging in conversation, absorbing new information, connecting dots, left me, if not cold, then most certainly luke warm. Because what I really wanted to do was put mulch on the garden.

Gardening and I are newly acquainted. My grandmother was an exceptional and devoted gardener but until very recently, it appeared to have skipped not just one but two generations. Initially it was a case of being thrown in the deep end i.e. finding myself in possession of 12 acres. I was not a little daunted and I can’t say I was in my element dealing with weeds. But then I discovered mulch.

Not long after moving here, the wonderful Kath Irvine from the Edible Backyard came to visit and her advice was to spend time clearing out, sheltering from the south and opening it up to the north, before I really considered planting anything other than herbs. So a few months later, Bruce, the arborist followed in her footsteps and consequently I now have two enormous piles of mulch.

They took me by surprise, these piles of mulch. I didn’t expect to like them so much. Big mounds of plant matter which look like Autumn and smell like Spring. I had no idea I would lose myself in the process of pulling up weeds or weed mat, piling in deep dark rich organic soil and then inch upon inch, wheelbarrows full, of mulch.

The sense of satisfaction is almost visceral. I have an active mind, I find it hard not to think, but something about mulch makes me want to not think and instead, just Be. Present. To stop and smell the lemon blossom, to put my face up to the sun, drink in its warmth and for a few full moments  absorb its light as much as it’s warmth.

Synchronistically, my infatuation with mulch has  happened at the same time as I’ve been sitting with the question ‘What does it really mean to Be In Nature?’ For two reasons, one is that the recently founded Biomimicry Aotearoa network is now based (at least initially) at Peka Peka and the philosophy at the centre of practice of biomimicry is reconnecting with Nature. Secondly, in the process of testing a series of retreats/workshops here, it increasingly feels to me as if key aspect of the offering is being in nature, being a part of it.  I want to learn how to facilitate that, amplify it. And while no doubt some desk research and learning from knowledgeable people will follow, at the moment I’m simply trying to feel it.

While preparing for the last biomimicry workshop of the year, I listened to a lecture by Dayna Baumeister (one of the co-founders of Biomimicry 3.8) in which she describes biomimicry as ‘an emerging discipline of an ancient practice’. Spending time with my hands gathering mulch and my feet in the Earth feels like the beginning of remembering an ancient practice.

So yes, the mulch stole my purpose. For a few days it stopped me from connecting with people and information and new places, but then it gave me my purpose back. Enriched, enlivened, restored. As we wind down for the Christmas holidays, I hope you have space to disconnect from the busyness and business of your life and that you spend some time with your ‘mulch’, whatever that might be.

 

The story of Peka Peka & a piece of paper.

Once upon a time…

…nearly twenty years ago, a young law student named Tink sat in a boring law lecture. Or at least she found it boring, most likely there were others who found commerical law highly engaging, but Tink didn’t. Instead she sat sketching on a piece of A4 paper, trying to capture an image held in her mind’s eye of a series of buildings wrapped around a hillside overlooking the ocean. In her mind, or rather somewhere in her soul, the sense of this place was vivid, it seemed to call out across time and space but the details were indistinct.

For years the piece of paper sat folded up in a box of  journals that Tink stored in her parents’ garage when she moved to Sydney. Sadly, her father tended towards shock-&-awe cleaning sessions so although she’d scrawled all over the box  ‘Please do not throw out. Please do not throw out. Please do not throw out’, he threw it out. Yet while the piece of paper disappeared, the image in her mind did not. And occasionally it would surface again leaving Tink to wonder if the place existed, where, when.

Many years later, back in New Zealand, Tink found herself traveling on a weekly basis up and down the Kapiti Coast in the course of developing a project. At the time, she was living in a rented space and occasionally she turned her mind to putting down roots. The round trip would take her two and a half hours and without being entirely conscious of it, she began to pay attention – almost peripherally – to the landscape she drove through.

It didn’t take long for Tink to became aware of a stretch of land which seemed to sparkle in a way nowhere else did. Driving north between Waikanae and Otaki, through Peka Peka, the land rises surprisingly steeply away from the coast up into peaks covered in pine trees. For some reason she became increasingly drawn not just to the stretch of land but a particular road. It was as if there was an insistent little elf perched under the street sign on the edge of the highway beckoning to her. Eventually she relented and one day flicked on the indicator, drove across the railway lines and headed up Hadfield Rd.

Reaching the top, Tink wanted to turn right, but couldn’t – either direction led into private driveways – so she simply turned the car around, parked and instantly felt a kind of ‘voooooooomphhh’. A sweeping in and a landing. The sound a big bird makes when its wings fold in and it touches down. She sat there for minutes, looking down over rolling green paddocks, sand dunes, out onto the ocean, across to Kapiti Island and she thought ‘One day, one day, I would like to live here’. Yet having no idea how that would be, could be, possible.

Nearly three years later finds Tink living in her grandmother’s house. The family had kept in on while Mary, the matriarch, lived with advanced Alzheimers’ in residential care. The big old home was a a useful base for visiting relatives but when she died they all began to consider its fate and Tink began to consider her next move. Having never seriously looked at real estate before, late one night as the old wooden house shuddered in a Winterly gale she sat up in bed, idly googled realestate.co.nz and searched for Peka Peka. Somewhat to her surprise, the results included a place in Hadfield Rd. She sat with that for a while.

As Spring began to blossom, she searched again and found the place still on the market. This time she thought ‘Maybe, just maybe, I should go and have a look’ and as Spring became Summer, Tink drove up Hadfield Rd again, this time allowing the car to turn right at the top. At the end of the driveway, slowly drawing to a halt in front of the house, she found the location of the image she’d captured on a piece of paper in a commercial law class nearly twenty years before. A house on a piece of land which wraps around the hills of Peka Peka.

The late summer breeze rustled the scarlet petals of the bougainvillea as Tink moved in to the house on the hill accompanied by a puppy called Audrey, Andre & Claude the cats and a big vision. Melissa from the Powa Centre followed a week later. The two women had begun a dialogue about a shared vision for a well-being centre in central Wellington several months earlier and in the course of many conversations they’d become friends, soul-sistahs. And they began to realise that not only did they share a vision that related to ‘work’ but a much more holistic one relating to how they would like to live. A way of sharing resources, of enjoying the company of animals yet retaining the freedom to travel and of experiencing a much closer connection to Nature.  Of building something.

Sitting in that lecture theatre all those years ago…

…I really couldn’t make sense of the image I tried to sketch. The structures seemed to incorporate more than one house and extended beyond the residential. Now, as I walk along the beach looking back up at the hills or through the paddocks below the house, that original image is coming into clearer and clearer focus. It is beginning to make a great deal more sense.

My vision for this space, in years to come, is to develop it into something akin to a tiny – very cool – village. A place which includes not only homes to others who want to live much more sustainably, but an innovation space, a retreat, a place to practice biomimicry, embodied practices, grow food, somewhere dots both big and small can be connected. A place of healing.

In my bones, I feel that this is a place for people to gather and out of the space in between us I know that more of the detail will emerge and become manifest. Monthly biomimcry meet-ups now take place here. We’ve already trialled a retreat. As of this morning, there is a very large piece of paper on the kitchen table with a basic outline of the land and some tentative sketches of what might emerge. So we shall see…

It is said that all good stories have a beginning, middle and end…

But ‘so we shall see…’ is not how this one ends. Quite the reverse. In my heart, I know this is the beginning of something wonderful and powerful. A book full of stories and not just mine. So please, come back and visit. If this story resonates with you in anyway, I would love to hear from you. And watch this space. I’ll continue to share how the image of structures wrapping their way around a Peka Peka hill moves from a piece of paper into a world of many more dimensions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding faith amongst the Sydney rat race.

Cedar in Lebanon

I’m in Sydney. And I’ve had my faith in humanity (which I lost very briefly) restored by a delightful Christian Lebanese taxi driver and shoes made from recycled materials.

Sydney and I have a complex relationship. I lived here for 5 years. Of my time in this city I have some very happy memories but also some very sad ones.  This is a stunningly beautiful place, but it can be tough. It felt like a rat race in 1998 when I moved here, but by crikey, it feels even more like one now. Has it changed? Have I? Or have we both?

I spent the first day or so back here – some would say misguidedly –  in the middle of the CBD shopping. Having been told that the new Westfield has the most amazing food hall, I headed in that direction.

Four hours later, having wound my way around close to one hundred stores in just two very large shopping centres, I was well and truly experiencing sensory overload. They say we’re exposed to over 3000 marketing messages a day,  it felt like my experience exceeded that by far. BUY BUY BUY BUY BUY. Every single store designed to lure you in. But the weird thing was that in the middle of it all, the majority of retail assistants simply didn’t seem to care.

I went in search of shoes and found myself in Camper in the Queen Victoria building. Spotting a pair I liked the look of, I asked the girls where they were made. In China, they replied. Not having an issue with the fact that product is made in China but possibly the process, I asked about Camper’s sustainability practices. They had no idea. Their website couldn’t tell me anything either. So no shoes from Camper. Having somewhat over ambitiously arrived with only a carry-on sized bag, I went in search of a fold down, extra bag. Cue Crumpler. Again, made in China. Again, no idea how. Beside Crumpler is a clothing store called Alastair Chung. Full of sumptious cashmere clothes and horn jewellery on sale. ‘It’s on sale’, a voice said from behind me. Turning to ask the woman where the horn is from, she replied slightly crossly  ‘I don’t know.’ Then thinking about it for a nano-second longer, she said ‘All over’. Oh good.

With my whole food salad leaking beetroot juice tucked under my arm, I headed back to Bec’s home in Greenwich. As I sat on the train, frowning, I suggested to the Universe that I could really, really, do with something to restore my faith in humankind.

Fifteen minutes later, I was sitting at the table feeling very grateful for my privileged position of being on holiday in Sydney eating scrumptious food staying with beloved friends and yet still feeling almost acutely disenchanted with the human race. But – and let me assure you I’m aware of the irony here – I was determined to find some gorgeous new shoes, I let my fingers do the walking and with wry amusement discovered a store just up the road. 106 Alexander – has a passion for a design and a philosophy for sustainability. I could see from their website that they stock Terra Plana, shoes made from recycled materials by a company which is committed to sustainability. A quick phone called confirmed they had the particular shoes I was after (heavens knows why I wasn’t this strategic in the first place) in my size.

Twenty minutes later, I bundled my self and my suitcase (I was changing accommodation and heading to Bondi) into a cab and zipped into Crow’s Nest to collect the shoes. The taxi driver, determining that I was going further afield than the shoe shop agreed to wait without charging me and as we talked on the way to Bondi, he told me his story. A Christian Lebanese man, his wife comes from the north of Lebanon, he himself, hails from further south. He would love to go back as his father is old, but he says it is not safe. I mentioned that my Aunt’s brother-in-law is from Lebanon and recently she and my Uncle visited them and walked through the ancient Cedars.

“I went back there” he said “some years ago when it was safe and visited the Cedars for the first time. I’d never been up north before. And the very first thing that came into my head when I saw them was if there is a God this is where he lives. Nature.”

And just like that, my faith in humanity was restored.

Yes, I was pleased to get new shoes, knowing they were produced with sustainability in mind. But it was hearing someone speak from his heart, of the beauty of nature, that touched mine.

Peka Peka pictures.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If they’re correct, I hope these pictures paint a story of a peaceful Sunday at Peka Peka. Harvesting from an abundant lime tree. Hangin’ out with with happy dogs. Basking in soft autumn light. Sitting quietly observing a sleeping dragon as the sun sets.

 

 

A lesson in structure from a gentle grey dog.

Three weeks ago I adopted a dog called Riva, the grandfather of my border collie puppy Audrey. I certainly hadn’t intended to get another dog quite so soon, but when I visited the puppies, I mentioned to the breeder that I’d like to get a second dog at some stage and she told me that after many years of breeding collies she’d decided to stop and would reluctantly need to re-home a few, specifically those with easy temperaments.

I fell in love with Riva immediately. It seems that everyone does. Even people who aren’t really dog people. Even people who are afraid of dogs. There is just something about him. He is such a gentle soul. Although only 5 years old, because he’s grey and I usually introduce him to people as Audrey’s grand-dad, people immediately assume he’s old. And there is something vulnerable about him. Maybe because he’s been suffering from the canine version of a nervous breakdown.

Due to his exceptional temperament, the breeder assumed he’d come up and settle in over the weekend. However he arrived in the back of a horse-truck, straight off the ferry, traumatised. And until yesterday, I’d been seriously considering – on a daily basis – sending him back, because it just seemed as if it would be the best thing for him. He was spending most of his time in his crate. He startled at every noise. 99% of the time he’d cling to me, a shadow at my side, then very occasionally, terrifyingly, he’d run. Once he miraculously made it safely across State Highway One. A couple of times at night, taking him outside on the lead, I had a sense that if I let him off he’d try and run back to Nelson.

His not coping, has taken the breeder completely by surprise. She’d been so very sad to send him away, she loved him dearly, but she genuinely thought that because he’s such a social dog, moving up here would be easy and the best thing for him. Neither of us anticipated his reaction. Over the last few weeks, he’s seemed so unclear about where he is and who he is. The look in his eyes has reminded me of family members lost in dementia, the fear of being disconnected from yourself.

I’ve wondered, at times, what I was doing wrong. Unable to figure it out, as life here is pretty idyllic for canine friends. Acres to run around in, company, frequent runs on the beach, meaty bones, a cat that actually likes to be chased. It never occurred to me that I might be giving him too much space to run around in, too much freedom, too little structure.

Earlier this week a dog whisperer came to visit and he gently suggested that for a week or so, it might be a good idea to walk Riva around the boundary on a lead at least once a day. Let him get used to his new territory. Walk and feed him at the same time everyday. Allow him to retreat to his safe space, his crate, when he needs to. Take it slowly and gently.

I’ve only just remembered that for two weeks after I moved here, I’d walk around the boundary every morning and evening. Get a sense of the place. Find my rhythm. Find my space. It was at least a fortnight before I went for a run on the beach.

I’m not sure whether it was simply two days of more structure, or maybe after 3 and a bit weeks he’s finally starting to settle in. Maybe it’s the Australian  Bush Remedy – Emergency Essence – he is an Australia pup after all…But last night he padded into the kitchen with a completely different look in his eye. He seemed, suddenly, present. While his body has been here for 3 weeks, it’s as if his spirit has just caught up with him and structure has, I’ve absolutely no doubt, has made a huge difference.

So often, it seems to me, we forget that we’re animals. Human animals with big brains and wondrous technology at our fingertips, but still animals. We’re much more instinctive than we give ourselves credit for. We’re considerably more attuned to our environment and the creatures we share it with than we realise. Adopting Riva has been a challenging but valuable lesson in how we as fellow critters, respond and adapt to change. A reminder that when we move, when significant things change  – homes, jobs, relationships – a little bit of structure can go a long way.

 

The sand beneath my paws – a lesson on presence from an old dog.

I watched an old dog on the beach yesterday.

The morning was an absolute pearler. Clear blue sky, warm, calm waters. Children were making sandcastles, horses were being exercised, families out fishing. And I was attempting to tire out Audrey the 4 month old border collie puppy. As we walked my attention was caught by an old golden retriever ambling slowly down across the sand dunes. I used to work in animal welfare so I know I’m not supposed to anthropomorphize, but it seemed to me that as he did, he was smiling a wistful smile.

As I watched, he got half way down to the water, paused and sniffed the air. Then he spotted Audrey frolicking in the shallows with her slightly too big stick and stopped. He stood there for  a noticeably long time, just watching her. And there was something about his gaze that made me think he was remembering being a boisterous young puppy, bounding in and out of the water. There was something so poignant in that moment, that I found myself smiling and welling up at the same time.

As I watched, the old fella walked slowly onto the wet sand and rolled onto his back, scratching deliciously from side to side, wagging his tail. Then, rising a little unsteadily to his feet, he made his way into the shallows for a few moments, where once he again he stopped and sniffed the sea air. Eventually he turned and ambled back up onto the soft dry sand to meet up with his human companion. She saw me watching her dog and smiled.

Prior to this encounter, I’d been thinking about events of the past week and looking ahead to the next. Analysing and planning. Crossing things off ‘to do’ lists, making new ones. But something about this wistful little experience, brought me gently but very firmly into the present. If an old dog can stop, sniff the sea air, simply enjoy the sun on his face and sand beneath his paws, then so, too, can I.

 

Adventures with Loo and Elf at Duke Carvell’s.

This evening I met with two of my favourite people, Elizabeth (known as Loo) Connor and Elf Eldridge. Both science communicators, I catch up with them each month for three reasons. The first, quite simply, is I like them. The second is that they make me think AND they capture my imagination. The third is that they provide me with new dots. Because while I’m in my element connecting dots, I’m beginning to understand that to do it to the best of my ability, I need new ones. And one of the best ways to do that is by spending time in the realm of the stuff I don’t know I don’t know.

So I meet Loo & Elf at Duke Carvell’s No. 6 Swan Lane Emporium and we’re greeted by Enzo with the magnifient moustache. A moustache, he tells us tonight, that he keeps because it makes his patrons smile. In spite of the fact that its absence would mean not having to make toast soldiers in the morning.

Eschewing the wine list in favour of Enzo’s excellent recommendation, I savour a glass of pinot grigio as Loo, Elf and I talk about all sorts of things. Or more accurately, I ask questions and they talk. About the definition of Science. The transit of Venus. How the legendary molecular biologist Francis Crick apparently first perceived the double-helix shape while on LSD. The natural curiosity of bacteria. Outer space. Inner space. Yes, all sorts of things. And I feel not only my mind expand but my heart because these two very, very bright young science communicators also care deeply about the world.

Eventually I leave No. 6 Swan Lane Emporium and make my way slowly, thoughtfully, home.

It’s been a while since I last wrote a post for this blogsite and talked about polyurethane padding in bras. In the interim I’ve moved house and found home. A home which is part beach-house, part farm house. A long rambling place where bouganvillea blooms and the two goats I’ve inherited bleat about the absence of more interesting food to forage. A space from which to find new dots and connect them. A space from which to venture out into the realm of the unknown.

Just a shortish post tonight, as I dip my toes back into the waters of personal storytelling with a few new sparkling dots tucked into my bag of fairy dust.

Sleep beckons, but before I go, a question…Do you know something now that you didn’t know a day ago?… Just asking.

Sweet dreams all.