A C.S. Lewis kind of a day…

It’s amazing what a little sunshine can do to lift our spirits, awaken our senses and inspire us…

Sophie E Tallis - Author/Illustrator

We herald the coming of spring with welcome arms and lifted hearts.

The crisp coldness of winter has passed, so to has the drab nothingness of January as described by C.S Lewis, that anti-climax after the festivities and over indulgencies of Christmas – “I’ve always found this a trying time of the year.  The leaves not yet out, mud everywhere you go.  Frosty mornings gone.  Sunny mornings not yet come.  Give me blizzards and frozen pipes, but not this nothing time, not this waiting room of the world.”

So I sit here on an uncharacteristically warm March morning with the sun upon my face. The first bees have awoken from their winter slumber. All around is a soft cacophony of birdsong. Finches and sparrows welcome the sun as I do and the collared doves declare their love in echoed coos amongst the tree tops. Banks of wild daffodils sway in the…

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Winter haze, snow days…life goes on!

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It’s been a little while since I last posted, sorry folks for the delay, just a few unforeseen bumps along the road of life, but hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

SAM_2173Just over a couple of weeks ago I was staring out of my window at a scene of almost indescribable beauty.

SAM_2120Everything lay shrouded under a mantle of magical white. Landscapes I knew so well, were suddenly alien. Formless lumps and bumps smothered beneath snow. The trees and thickets, so stark and mournful in winter, had grown frosty fruits of their own over night. Icicles adorned gutters and everywhere lay a stillness and silence so strange to behold in a garden which usually resembles an aviary. SAM_2181

Little three-pronged footprints skitted across the lawn, looking this way and that in the hope of food. Deeper imprints from the various wild creatures that frequent our wooded garden, could be seen gathering round the feeders we put out.

SAM_2269The pond had frozen solid and there, as reminder of the beauty and cruelty of life, was a track, leading from the edge of the pond across the frozen water to the little island where the moorhens live. A mink.

A creature never intended to be on this little sceptred isle of ours, not indigenous but introduced, brought over here for the cruelest of reasons, to farm them not for meat, for us to live from, but for the vanity of fashion – for fur to adorn the wealthy and arrogant. And why was this mink suddenly roaming our countryside? Because it’s freedom had been given by those who oppose the fur trade. A noble endeavour, but of course a short-sighted one, and our indigenous wildlife has paid the price. Much like our poor English crayfish, on the brink of extinction from introduced foreign invaders, our otters struggle against the competition and our birds fall prey.SAM_2258

And so, in this scene of snowy loveliness I was reminded of the arrogance of man, the ‘great interferer’, who has through ignorance, apathy or intention caused the suffering of so much of our planet’s wildlife – species that were here long before us but whose lives now hang in the balance on the most tenuous of threads because of us.

041The moorhens, a breeding pair who had mated for life, had been living on the little island in my pond for longer than I have been living in this house. Last year with utter delight, we saw them raise three broods of chicks – little black balls of fluff with outsized feet, 18 chicks in total! We put out corn for them daily in addition to the wild bird seed mixes, peanut feeders, vegetable suet and dried fruit we put out daily for all the garden birds. Helping nature where we can. Anyway, there was the track of this mink, heading straight for where the moorhens have their permanent home. No, I didn’t see any blood, just a few brown black feathers. But unmistakably, there will be no moorhen chicks this year.  Only a single moorhen remains, the male, left alone nervously swimming the pond as it thawed, running and flying at the first sign of danger, seeming to look for its lost partner.

SAM_2145A sad tale to be sure…but it got me thinking about life, about all those calamities that befall us, those obstacles we have to overcome, those hoops we jump through, those times of strife.

Certainly for me, tough times are when I “go to the mattresses”, I’ve been through enough really tough times to recognise when something truly qualifies as a major disaster or simply another pot hole in the journey we all find ourselves on. That’s not to minimise anyone’s ‘bad time’, we all have days even weeks when we just shouldn’t have crept out from under the duvet, when everything we touch turns to pig slop, but you do find a perspective in life when you’ve really had struggles. As a result, you are able to deal with the odd crisis or recognise simply when things aren’t as bad as they seem – a lucky escape wrapped in a drama!

SAM_2135For me, everything is a matter of perspective. Everything I have and have achieved has been through damn hard work, sweat, blood, tears and persistence – no fickle luck, no easy hand outs or rich family members, just slog, but that does build character. SAM_2179

So, when the dust settles and you’ve picked yourself up. Look around. Smell the air, breathe deep and realise that things always happen for a reason. That you may just have had a lucky escape from a bad situation that could, and probably would, have become a lot worse. See those silver linings? They’re for you.

SAM_2235So, the next time something ‘bad’ or unexpected happens to you, take the time to reflect, look up from your duvet and simply breathe and you may just find that a new door opens up for you and a new horizon brighter than any you could have imagined! SAM_2104

SAM_2294As for my lonely moorhen, I cannot promise that he will find another partner, that life will get any easier for him, despite my efforts, but life does go on. Within days a pair of wild ducks arrived and a couple of pheasant have been taking up residence…life goes on. SAM_2232

So good luck to you all, my friends, my supporters, my family, life IS a wondrous and beautiful trip, make sure you don’t miss it!  😀 xx

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New Zealand Odyssey Part VIII – Capital Blues and the Gateway to the South.

With a heavy heart, I dragged myself away from magical Lake Taupo and the wonders of the Tongariro National Park.

Leaving my rental car and the majesty of New Zealand’s active volcanoes behind, I grabbed a cheap bus ride and headed south towards the country’s capital, Wellington, the southernmost capital in the world!

Known as ‘Windy Wellington’, it certainly lived up to its name! Situated in the latitudes of the ‘Roaring Forties’ and perched on a range of steep-sided hills that run down to the harbour and the sea beyond, Wellington is also particularly exposed to the coastal gusts that blow through the Cook Strait. The city also lies on an active geological fault line and has a high degree of seismic activity as a result, with several small earthquakes occurring every year, and was the sight of New Zealand’s most powerful recently recorded earthquake, in 1855, reaching a massive 8.2 magnitude.

Arriving, somewhat weighed down by my now massively heavy backpack, I got a room in a small B&B then set out to explore the wonders of Wellington.

I wandered amongst the harbour and quayside, a picture of city tranquility and civic pride. None of the dirt, litter and graffiti so prevalent in our own capital. Public sculptures and fountains jostled amongst neatly clipped lawns and perfectly manicured flowerbeds. Only the unpredictability of the sea reminded you of the wildness beyond the city fringes.

I took the cable car and drank in the breathtaking views over the city as I passed Kelburn cricket grounds and headed up the hillside to the botanical gardens above and the Carter Observatory and Planetarium. Seeing the stars of the Southern Cross for the first time and a different night sky to one you’ve always known, is strange and thrilling.

The next few days whirled by in haze of sightseeing, but there was always something dogging my tracks, like a whisper on the wind, a feeling of melancholia that I couldn’t shake…

Rarely in life do we realise that we are having the time of our lives while we are actually having them! Yet I was all too aware, as I reached the mid-point of my four-month odyssey, that I had never felt happier, freer and more contented, and that the experiences and memories I was making, would stay with me for a life-time and shape my life in ways I could never have predicted.

Booking my ferry ticket, I posted home some of the encumbering weight of my backpack, before bordering the Interislander Cook Strait Ferry and saying farewell to New Zealand’s North Island!

93km and 3 hours later, for what has been deservedly described as ‘one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world’, I saw the stunning inlets and channels of the South Island’s Marlborough Sounds. A 4000km2 maze of coastal ‘sea-drowned valleys’, of heavily wooded hills and sparsely populated quiet bays at the far north of the South Island, which evoke the best of ancient Scandinavian legends. A heady mixture of mystery, Maori mythology, spectacular landscapes and sweet solitude. Nature at her best!

I arrived at the sheltered harbour of Picton, gateway to the South Island. Grabbing another cheap bus, I headed west through the glorious rolling hills and vineyards of Marlborough’s famous wine region to the bohemian city of Nelson, the geographical centre of New Zealand. A small but wonderfully artsy feeling place, full of galleries, indie record shops and festivals, Nelson became my base for the next week.

Bathed in the highest amount of sunshine per year, making it the ‘Sunshine Capital’ of New Zealand, you can understand why it’s cerulean skies and dry heat are so perfect for making fine wines. And so, despite sadly not being a lover of wines myself (my immature palate makes them taste as disgustingly sour, as when I tried sipping them at age 13), I found myself getting lost down empty country tracks, picking grapes and macadamia nuts from the roadside! Bliss.

After happy days soaking up the sunshine and culture of friendly Nelson, I took my rental car and headed west, as I found myself aching once more for wild places. Branching off from the State Highway, I took the picturesque coastal road past Motueka and onto the pretty little town of Kaiteriteri with its sandy beaches and cafes…But still the wild beckoned me.

Following a twisting road, which can only be described as a single gravel track hardly wide enough for a car, with sheer drops inches from my wheels, I gingerly skirted the forested hills and cliffs towards my destination, Marahau, hoping against hope not to met a car coming in the opposite direction!

Crossing the Otuwhero Inlet, I was immediately amazed by the startling azure of the Tasman Bay and the Pacific beyond and the almost ethereal white of the beaches. Sheer paradise. Marahau, a tiny inaccessible village, gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park and outpost for laid back beach bums, surfers, hikers, adventurers and those wishing to get lost, had the most magical feel to it. Artisan and bohemian in the extreme, with only one way in or out, its solitary grocery shop, cafe, post box and the few dotted roads, houses, caravans, water taxis and kayaks, invited you to stay a while…and so I did.

THIS was a place to live and breathe and write! Hemingway, Greene, Kerouac…if they knew this place existed, they would have packed their cigars, white shirts and shades and headed here on the first plane. Du Maurier too…but maybe without the cigars!

I splashed out, booking myself into the rather posh, Ocean View Chalets, self-contained wooden chalets perched on stilts and overlooking the sea. The view from my balcony was nothing short of spectacular. This was the stuff of dreams. If you couldn’t be inspired here, then you couldn’t be inspired anywhere.

Wishing every minute would stretch itself and every hour would become a day, I spent the next three glorious weeks in a heightened state of happy delirium. No drugs needed, just utterly intoxicated on life.

Taking the Abel Tasman walkway and coastal track deep into the rainforest, I was astonished to see a passing group of little wild blue penguins casually crossing the path in front of me, as a cacophony of exotic birds cooed in the canopy above.

Abandoning shoes, I spent most of my days walking barefoot, hanging out on the beach as if it were a religion, beach combing, sketching and horse riding along the surf…yes, as clichéd as it is, there is nothing like it! Writing for hours and hours as the sun hovered overhead, a guiding light for my imagination. Watching the sunset blaze into the ocean, or the drifting embers of a bonfire on the beach, sharing gentle conversation with strangers, all as blissfully happy as me.

Days were meant to be like this…

Spring days…beyond the waiting room of the world.

We herald the coming of spring with welcome arms and lifted hearts.

The crisp coldness of winter has passed, so to has the drab nothingness of January as described by C.S Lewis, that anti-climax after the festivities and over indulgencies of Christmas – “I’ve always found this a trying time of the year.  The leaves not yet out, mud everywhere you go.  Frosty mornings gone.  Sunny mornings not yet come.  Give me blizzards and frozen pipes, but not this nothing time, not this waiting room of the world.”

So I sit here on an uncharacteristically warm March morning with the sun upon my face. The first bees have awoken from their winter slumber. All around is a soft cacophony of birdsong. Finches and sparrows welcome the sun as I do and the collared doves declare their love in echoed coos amongst the tree tops. Banks of wild daffodils sway in the breeze and already the air is thick with the promise of summer.

When the world around us seems so unfathomably crazy at times, so endlessly hard and giddily fast…it’s days like this that remind us, of how lucky we are to live on this beautiful blue planet and just how magical life can actually be if we let it…

New Zealand Odyssey Part V – Giant Sand Hills and the Mixing of Seas.

Taking my backpack and the rental car, I left my base in the Bay of Islands and headed far north to the very tip of New Zealand. With Radiohead’s latest album (at the time), ‘OK Computer’, as my travelling soundtrack, I followed the meandering State Highway north, as it hugged the coastline. Spectacular views flowed past me as a dreamscape. Beauty round every bend of the road.

It was a perfect summer’s day. Under an azure sky I crossed Whangaroa Harbour and continued north to Doubtless Bay, stopping off to have a picnic lunch on the white sands of Coopers Beach.

Dragging myself away, I took to the road again. The afternoon waned as I cruised past yet another breathtaking sight, the Houhora estuary. An inlet of very shallow water, crystal clear, with white sandbanks breaking the surface here and there. But nothing was to prepare me for what was to come…

Journeying ever northward, the highway, the only route north, eventually petered out at Cape Reinga, the most northerly tip of New Zealand.  I parked, just one of many tourists, many of them pouring from coaches and bus tours. But despite this, the place was still remarkably unspoilt and quiet. Leaving the car, I was inextricably drawn to the famous Cape Reinga lighthouse and its signpost, a testament to just how far away New Zealand is to every other country in the world!

Taking the coastal path, I walked along the edge of what had become my beloved Aotearoa (New Zealand) and watched in awe at the mixing of the seas –  a strange and beautiful phenomenon where the Tasman Sea suddenly meets the Pacific, just beyond Cape Reinga’s point.

I stood mesmerised by the sheer power and purity of nature. As the sun sank in the most gorgeous of sunsets, I found a sheltered cove just above a tiny beach and camped out beneath the stars. Just magic. Nothing but the sweet beautiful blue disturbed my sleep…

If heaven existed…this was it.

I rose early, just as the first throng of tourists arrived. To my satisfaction, I was not the only single-minded solitary traveller who had had an impromptu stay. Weary but intensely happy, these campers gave knowing smiles to each other as they filed out of the lighthouse ‘restrooms’.

I was reluctant to leave, but I knew there was one sight I could not leave without seeing for myself…the famous giant sand hills!

Studying my maps, I travelled back south a little way until I reached Te Paki, a small settlement of houses, then turning right I followed the Te Paki stream road, really no more than a rural track until I reached them.

I still cannot explain the startling sight of driving through green countryside and emerging from lush woodland to be faced with a desert landscape!

Towering sand dunes or hills surrounded by green…beautiful desolation!

I went exploring. Watching a small party of thrill seekers ‘sandsurf’ and body board was great fun, but it was solitude I sought. Suddenly I was alone walking along the ridges and shifting sands of the Sahara, the Gobi, the Kalahari…

The starkness and simplicity of nature was humbling and again, I found myself letting go of demons and dreaming of distant forgotten lands and cities of sand…