2016: a personal retrospective

Sunset with old pier, Thames, New Zealand. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

A fitting shot for the twilight of 2016. Back in March the Big T and I watched the sun set behind the Hunua Ranges, from the old pier at Thames, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Like many people, I won’t be sorry to see the back of 2016.

It’s hard to know where to start with how bloody awful the year has been. From “surprise” political events that in hindsight should have surprised no-one, to the sickening disregard for human life engendered by wars and terror attacks, greed, hate crimes and the general apathy of those for whom “I’m alright Jack” has become a frighteningly de-humanizing mantra.

In my own world, it’s been a year of loss and fragility, frustration and feelings of helplessness. In August we lost the Big T’s mother to cancer and dementia, and we watch in sadness as his father slides into a distant space created by the same disease. My mother — the youngest of the boy-child’s grandparents — turned 80, and each day I shuffle the emotions of gratitude for my parents’ continued health, with worry over every cold, pain and doctor’s appointment.

Still water and lowering clouds at Otarawao Bay (Sullivans Bay), Mahurangi Regional Park, Auckland, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

October: a quiet afternoon at Otarawao Bay, Mahurangi Regional Park, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

That’s when I’m not pitting my gratitude at living in relatively peaceful New Zealand against my helplessness at being too far away from my brothers and mother to help them through the challenges and crises they are enduring.

Throughout the year this blog has been an outlet for my tangle of emotions, and provided — in you, the wonderful online whanau (1) — frequent comfort, humour, wisdom and that all too necessary sense of just not being alone in this.

Looking back over my posts in 2016, it’s clear that art, nature, food, music and my boys are the bricks and mortar of my life (though not necessarily in that order).

So here’s my retrospective; words and images that I hope capture some of the stuff that occupied my days and my mind in 2016.

January

Sculpture of old-fashioned gramaphone. Chris Moore, 'Bird Songs' (painted steel, corten steel, stainless steel). Seen at Sculpture in the Gardens 2015, Auckland Botanic Gardens, New Zealand. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

From Art and Optimism, January 2016. Chris Moore, ‘Bird Songs’ (painted steel, corten steel, stainless steel). Seen at Sculpture in the Gardens 2015, Auckland Botanic Gardens, New Zealand. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Art is optimism made manifest. To write a poem, paint a picture, compose music or shape materials into a physical expression of an idea; for me these things entail a hopefulness about the future. — Art and Optimism, ZimmerBitch, Jan 2016

February

Nothing makes me quite so aware of time passing as looking at old photos; especially photos of my child. Is it really almost 18 years since I give birth to a tiny, skinny boy with a shock of red hair? Has 17 years truly passed since we first sat him on his dad’s motorbike? … How can it be that I can recall every hour of his first few days, and yet 18 years have flown by? — Time, ZimmerBitch, Feb 2016

March

Close-up shot of bee on chive flowers. Bees pollinate around one third of food crops eaten by humans, yet we persist in using agricultural practices that are harmful to bees. Where's the love here?mage: Su Leslie, 2016

Bees pollinate around one third of food crops eaten by humans, yet we persist in using agricultural practices that are harmful to bees. Where’s the love here? Image: Su Leslie, 2016. On Love and Failing Nature.

Nature sustains not only our physical, but also emotional and spiritual well-being. Those of us who have the ability to retreat to the bush, or to the beach, know how much these experiences restore and sustain us. — On Love and Failing Nature, ZimmerBitch, March 2016.

April

Black and white portrait of man, mud-splattered from mountain-bike ride. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

“I’m so tough, I kick sand in my own face.” The Big T after a mountain-bike ride. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. Portraits #2

A part of my life for 30 years, the Big T still makes me laugh;  “I’m so tough, I kick sand in my own face.” From Portraits #2, ZimmerBitch, April 2016

May

Ironic juxtaposition? 'What Makes a Real Aussie?

Ironic juxtaposition? ‘What Makes a Real Aussie?” poster showing 1916 ID photo of Monga Khan from Afghanistan. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. From Facing up to New Faces.

May was NZ Music Month, and with this tiny country’s brilliant and extensive back-catalogue to trawl, I managed to post frequently. I like pretty much everything I wrote around some songs that I love, so my pick for the month is based on my admiration for the Australian artist Peter Drew, and his campaign What Makes a Real Aussie? At a time when the number of displaced persons in the world is at all-time high, raising awareness of the value of ethnic diversity and compassion has never been more important. In my post Facing up to New Faces, I included a clip of the Dave Dobbyn Song ‘Welcome Home’, which I’m also adding here.

June

A ball of string; black and white close up shot. Su Leslie, 2016. Edited with Snapseed.

String. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. Edited with Snapseed. The Point of String.

If I were looking for a metaphor for life at the moment, I’d say that I am so busy untangling knots and straightening out threads that I forget what I was going to do with the string. — The Point of String, ZimmerBitch, June 2016

July

Lemon poppy seed pound cake and a cup of tea. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Lemon poppy seed pound cake. Image (and baking): Su Leslie, 2016. The Changing Seasons, July 2016

August

Finding the light. Black and white macro shot of gerbera at the Wintergarden, Auckland Museum. Image: Su Leslie, 2016.

Finding the light. Gerbera at the Wintergarden, Auckland Museum. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. In Deepest Shade.

It’s only in darkness that we can really see light. The last few weeks have brought light from unexpected sources; old friends arriving to offer support, grandchildren demonstrating again and again what fine adults they have become, professionals going way more than the extra mile to comfort and assist. These kindnesses large and small have shone bright and illuminated hope. — In Deepest Shade, ZimmerBitch, 2016

September

A year or so ago the Big T and I created a sourdough starter: flour, water and whatever bacteria and yeasts inhabit our kitchen. We feed it, keep it warm and sniff it a lot to check its health. We also bake bread: mainly wholewheat, but sometimes fruit bread or foccacia.

Over the year our bread has got better but there is always room for improvement in our quest for the perfect loaf. — Quest for Improvement, ZimmerBitch, September 2016

October

Black and white shot of trees reflected in lake at Tokaanu Boat Ramp, Turangi. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

At Tokaanu Boat Ramp. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. “… how do you find where you belong.”

In October I travelled to Whanganui to visit my father and do a glass-making course. On the way I stopped by Lake Taupo at Tokaanu. The post “… how do you find where you belong?”  recorded that stop. The title was inspired by this song by Eva Prowse with the band Fly My Pretties:

November

… it takes something quite special — like his grandmother’s desire to have a “nice picture” for Christmas — to persuade him (the boy-child) to be photographed. — It’s not this time of year without … portraits of my son, ZimmerBitch, November 2016

December

Close-up shot of juvenile NZ falcon named Hisan, at the Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre, Rotorua, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Hisan, a juvenile NZ falcon. Seen at the Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre, Rotorua, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. Close Encounters of the Bird Kind

I’m always dubious about attractions that seem to involve “performing” animals, but at Wingspan, the focus is on the bird’s welfare and development. We were told that Hisan, the juvenile Karearea we saw, is a good candidate for release into the wild. But for that to happen, the Centre staff need to be sure he has the skills to survive. So while Hisan’s afternoon flight sessions are highly entertaining for watching humans, they are vital to his development and well-being. — Close Encounters of the Bird Kind, ZimmerBitch, December 2016

To everyone reading this, my very, very best wishes to you and those you love in 2017.

Written as a contribution to the Daily Post Discover Challenge.


(1) Whanau, often translated as family but in fact more complex. See Te Ara Encyclopedia of NZ

DP Photo Challenge: path

Path through urban bush, Auckland, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

A change of direction, and an unknown path. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

When I was a child, my parents had a very clear path mapped out for my life; university, profession, marriage, children.

Although I’ve reached  some of those way-points, I’ve done so by following — sometimes just stumbling across — very different pathways to those that my parents envisaged.

Path through urban woods, Auckland, New Zealand. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Safe, flat, easy terrain. A clear path, but perhaps not the right one. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

For many years now, I’ve been navigating a series of trails called “motherhood.” I’ve fallen over quite a lot and got lost far too many times, but when I look back, it’s with some sense of achievement.

Now that the boy-child has left home, those trails are less and less meaningful, and I need a new direction.

Trail through bush at Blue Lake, Rotorua, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Unsure what’s round the corner. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

I’m not sure what path 2017 will take me down. I’m not even sure there will be an actual route — I may have to make my own. I’m pretty sure I’ll stumble around, complain loudly about not having a map, and I will certainly lose my way sometimes.

But I hope that whatever path I make, it takes me to places where I can live simply and do good. But most of all, I intend to enjoy the walk.

Clearing in native bush, Auckland, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

A clearing in the woods, but maybe no path. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

A contribution to the Daily Post Photo Challenge on the theme of path.

 

 

 

DP Photo Challenge: Anticipation, take 2

Wrapped Christmas presents. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Christmas and anticipation seem to go together.

And I don’t mean the anticipation of boundless joy and togetherness portrayed in popular culture’s ubiquitous imagery of shiny children beaming over shiny gifts, or huge happy families gathered around tables laden with food.

I’m thinking instead of how that imagery, which equates Christmas joy with rampant spending and over-consumption, also serves to heighten — for many of us — the anticipation of loneliness, isolation, inadequacy, fear.

In Auckland (and many other places), people are queuing all night outside the City Mission in the hope of a food parcel and perhaps a donated gift for their children. (Stuff, Dec 16 2016)

Police and Women’s Refuge say that incidents of family violence will rise over the Christmas period, and that only a small proportion will actually be reported (NZ Herald, 10 Dec 2016).

Those who have extended family can turn to newspapers and websites for advice on “how to survive the family Christmas” (Stuff, Dec 10 2016) — some consolation perhaps for  those already struggling with loneliness and social isolation.

In my little family, we have developed and evolved our own Christmas rituals and coping strategies. Yet I still feel anxiety that as the principal architect of our family’s social structure, I will somehow get it wrong and engender disappointment rather than joy.

And as much as I want to create something special for those I love, I am eagerly anticipating Boxing Day, when I can just relax and read my book.

This is a contribution to the Daily Post Photo Challenge. The theme this week is anticipation.

 

DP Photo Challenge: Anticipation, take 1

Gannet guarding an egg. Seen a few weeks ago at the Muriwai Gannet Colony, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Gannet guarding an egg. Seen at the Muriwai Gannet Colony, Auckland, October 2016. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

During the last couple of months, the Big T and I have made a few trips out to the Muriwai gannet colony to watch these amazing birds during their nesting season.

We’ve just made our first visit in a few weeks; anticipating the arrival of chicks. We weren’t disappointed. In fact, it seems that most probably hatched not long after our last visit.

All over the cliff-faces there are adult gannets jostling for space in their shallow nests with fast-growing off-spring. Some seem to be nearly as large as their parents, but are still covered in gorgeous white down.

Adult gannet with chick. Seen at Muriwai Gannet Colony, Auckland, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Adult gannet with chick. Seen December 2016 at the Muriwai Gannet Colony, Auckland, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

The chicks are born bald, and develop their white down over a period of about a month. This is replaced over following weeks with distinctive, speckled, plumage. After about four months in the nest, they take off — flying to the east coast of Australia where they remain for several years before attempting the flight back to the colony to find a mate and breed. It’s estimated that even in a good year, only about 25 percent of the birds return safely to New Zealand (Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Gannets: Life History and Feeding)

This post is a contribution to the Daily Post Photo Challenge. This week the theme is anticipation.