Archive for the 'place' Category

Solace in Nature (and Solitude)

January 6, 2014


When you work in a large city, and you work with people every day and then ride home on a crowded train, I find it is often easy to dream of being alone.

This is when I start planning holidays in my head spent walking the cliffs of Dorset or Cornwall, or spend whole days longing for my parents’ coastal farm in New Zealand.  I dream of landscapes without people, and start to feel some peace.  But when I can’t actually get away and go to such places, sometimes a narrative containing an exploration of solitude and wilderness is just as restorative.

So, my comfort shelf: the books I turn to when I’m looking for that wild and quiet place.

Plainwater by Anne Carson

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

The Dubious Hills by Pamela Dean

Always Coming Home by Ursula Le Guin

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Consolations of the Forest by Sylvain Tesson

Deep Country: Five Years in the Welsh Hills by Neil Ansell


Farm Life

March 16, 2013

sheephaymakingnz gothic

A trip to the family property in Waikouaiti, just outside Dunedin, usually involves hanging out with the sheep and chickens and a bit of hard work – usually gardening or helping with the sheep.  This trip both my sister and I were home and helped with the end of summer haymaking.  Our father cut the grass using his vintage tractor, and we then spent three days raking and turning the hay.  I will always remember the smell of the grass drying in the sun and whenever I close my eyes all I see are Dorothy Norman’s photos of grass.

Singapore City Guide

January 19, 2013


If anyone tells you that Singapore is sterile and boring, ignore them.

This cosmopolitan island may have a lot of shopping centres, flash hotels and fancy restaurants, but it also has an incredible local food scene, a rich and multi-layered cultural history, and lush wilderness.  And with a brilliant (and cheap) public transport system, it’s easy to get around and explore.  I spent 10 days in Singapore in November, and didn’t come close to running out of things to do.  I felt really at home and all the locals I met were very enthusiastic about their city.  I think that rubbed off on me a little bit.  I’ll definitely go back.

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Girl in Papatowai

January 8, 2012

One of my favourite places in the entire world is a place called Papatowai in the Catlins, south of Dunedin. We spent Easters there when I was a child, and I still love to visit whenever I go back to New Zealand.

papatowai estuary

This part of the South Island coast has rock pools and tide pools, an estuary that drains out at low tide, South Island Rata that hang low over the sand and old growth Totara. It’s one of those places that you go to stay and not leave. Just get out your map, drawn a circle around where you are staying and go out explore a very small part of the world – climb your way around rock pools, walk up and down the coast, wander across the estuary in zig zags like the spoon bills that live there, sit inside by the fire.  Eat good food, go to sleep and then get up and do it all again.

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Girl in Dunedin

April 15, 2011

Dave and Horse, Waikouaiti

I went to New Zealand in February to visit my parents, who live just north of Dunedin in a small town called Waikouaiti.I was actually a pretty illfated trip – we experienced both illness and earthquakes. But it was so wonderful being able to show Dave places that I love (like Waikouaiti, Papatowai in the Catlins and rural Canterbury). We toured giant early 20th century power stations, ate a delicious meal sourced locally in the Waitaki region, and at the end of our trip were able to check in on my best friend Kathryn who lives in Lyttelton and lost her house in the Christchurch earthquake.

Waikouaiti is a beautiful place. My parents moved there a few years ago, and now whenever I visit I get to explore the area in microcosm detail. You know I love a rural microcosm. This trip I discovered a new walk, from town to my parents place via a causeway over the estuary.

Friends came out to Waikouaiti and we ate a lot of food on a somewhat rainy day (picnic-style) in my parent’s living room, and then walked up to Matanaka. But there was also visiting a plenty – my friends Becs and John in Karitane, Kirstyn in her beautiful apartment overlooking the main street in Port Chalmers, and my oldest friend Amy at her family home in Abbotsford.

Jenn and Ignatius

Dave and Ignatius

We had such a great time with Amy – eating onigiri (my new favourite Japanese snack), listening to the best music of the second half of the twentieth century (Amy made a musical compilation for her Dad for his 60th birthday, one song for every year he has been alive – such difficult and personal choices to make, but such a great musical conversation between father and daughter… I loved it!), and playing trivial pursuit until 2am. Amy’s family has a beautiful dog called Ignatius, who I now look forward to visiting every time I go back to Dunedin. He is one special dog. And Dunedin is one special place. I like that my first home is still such a wonderful place to visit.

my little valley, you have such small hands… I knew that I should love you

March 13, 2010

I am fascinated by landscape values and environmental literacy, and how both of these things relate to attachment to place.  The comments of a girl I used to know in Dunedin, a long time ago, who has for the past 7 years been an important spokesperson for the New Zealand Department of Conservation, drive this home pretty well:

“I moved to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park when I was almost 7 years old.  We lived in a house tucked up against the mountains at the entrance to the Governor’s Bush walk, where my family would often wander.

I woke up every morning to that incredible and awe-inspiring view of Mt Sefton and Mt Tasman towering over us, and watched the sunset turn the peaks a dusky peach shade in the evening.

“I learned about the insects, the birds, the names of clouds and, while not paying much attention to it as a child, the park was indelibly inked on my heart and soul, so that when I grew up, my path was already decided.

“I then spent five years in Twizel, with the Mackenzie Basin as my playground.  The land use change and the water issues in that special, amazing place are another thing I intend to be involved with.”

I would really like to do some research into this, I guess qualitative interviews, plus place attachment theory.  It seems like a really promising (and fun) Masters topic.  Possibly even PhD.  And it takes me home to where I feel happiest, Geography.  The applications are vast, too, I think.  I need to think about them more, and try and map it out. But most conservationists have a place that is very special to them, that they feel connected to, that shapes their identity and their politics.  Writers have the same.  I think it explains a lot about how environmental attitudes form.

Really, though… I just love the idea of going home.  And I love the idea of interviewing people about the places that are important to them, the terrains that are imprinted across and woven through their autobiography.

Do you have a place that is special to you, that has shaped how you feel about the non-human world around you, and our relationship to it?  The place that is always there in the back of your mind, remembered with fondness, that you always hope will still be there?  If so, I would love to hear about it!


January 28, 2010

These are some of the photos that I took with my pentax when I was home in Dunedin over Christmas.

I had never been to my parents’ new place at Waikouaiti before, but it feels so much like home that I may as well have spent much of my life there.  It is so much like our old bach near Reefton, on the West Coast – except with an awesome permaculture garden.

I didn’t realise how lovely it would be to be so close to cliffs and the sea.  I love that there is a whole new place for me to discover in microcosm detail, until I know all the trees and all the roads… all the little special places and how to get to them.  There is an entire stretch of coast just waiting for me to go back and explore it.

I miss how peaceful and grounding that place is already.

Girl in Lyttelton

December 23, 2009

I come visit my friend Kathryn in Christchurch from Sydney about once a year. Each time that I visit she has a new place to live, and they are all lovely.

This latest is my favourite, though. She has moved to Lyttelton, a little port town east of Christchurch that has an air of rebellion and new growth that carries within it a certain timelessness. It reminds me of Dunedin, if Dunedin were taken and put in a bag and shook all around and then dumped back down on the earth again. Same harbour, same volcanic hills, same port, same little wooden villas – but it is all facing East instead of North.

There are small and insignificant things that keep reminding me that I am at home: a full sky brimming with stars, the smell of mud on the gravel drive in the morning, bellbirds calling. I randomly ran into an old friend in a cafe my first morning in Lyttelton – she used to live in Dunedin. New Zealand is just small enough to be full of such strange connections and passing coincidences.

It has been a very nice couple of days, rummaging through vintage stores and antique shops, talking and drinking and eating well. but it has been busy.  I arrived down in Dunedin last night, and now it is time to relax.