19 July 2006

Midwinter, Pohangina Valley

Midwinter, and all good blowflies should be torpid. Or dead. But there’s warmth in the two o’clock sun and this brown blowfly—Calliphora stygia—has emerged from somewhere to soak in it. The dark verandah boards radiate heat; the fly turns, presents as much as possible of its body to the sun, stretches its wings, rubs its back legs over its bum, and falls over.

The torpor, it seems, hasn’t vanished completely.

Like the fly, I’ve emerged onto the verandah to soak in the sun’s warmth. Unlike the fly, I don’t attempt to clean my bum with my back legs. After a month in the suburbs of Palmerston North it’s good to be here again in the Pohangina Valley, especially in weather like this. I’ve been back three nights now, and each day I’ve walked down through the cutting, its banks a mass of flowering tree lucerne [1]. I’ve listened to the korimako [2] sing loud and glorious through the soft roar of innumerable bees foraging among those flowers; bird and insects competing for the excess of nectar. Kereru [3] eat those same flowers; the buds, too. Big, heavy birds stretching necks to pluck succulent buds from the tip of a swaying twig. Sometimes it’s too much for the shoot to bear—it dips; the bird slips and falls into the air, swooping off with a rush of powerful wings to land somewhere nearby. This morning, two kereru sat on a dead branch high up on the bank, preening in the sun. Soaking it up, like the blowfly, like me. I studied them through the binoculars, entranced by the texture of feathers, the diverse colours, the iridescence on the breast, the red pigeon-beak. I’ve seen these things so often, yet it still delights me. I believe it always will.

Each day I’ve carried on and peered over the railing of the bridge at Te Awaoteatua Stream rushing below; each day I’ve seen it a little less swollen and turbid. A pair of putangitangi [4] seem to have set up home nearby. They’re noisy, but spectacular; today they were in the paddock on the true right, yesterday they were on the other side of the stream, in the quarry paddock. Both days they yelled at me. I wonder if they’ll get used to me, whether they’ll eventually look up, think, “Oh, him,” and carry on feeding?

The blowfly seems reluctant to go anywhere, to do anything other than reposition itself in the sun. By the time Spring comes, it’ll be long dead.

I’d walked up No. 3 Line, about halfway to the terrace, when I had that feeling of being followed. I stopped and turned, looking back down the winding road. About 10 metres behind, Alice lowered her head and drooped her ears and looked sideways at me. Apprehensive; submissive. I bent and patted my knee and she came up and leaned against it and looked up at me, guilty as sin. I scruffled her around the collar and patted her shoulder and told her off.

“What you doing up here, eh? Ya ratbag. Y’know you’re not allowed to follow people.”

She wagged her tail and looked up, still leaning against my leg. Then she tried to hongi, but I was having none of it. Dogs eat things I’d rather not think about.

When I continued up the road, she didn’t come any further, but milled around trying to look innocent but succeeding only in appearing furtive. By the time I returned, she’d gone. Home, I trust.

A tiny ladybeetle motors along the edge of one of the verandah boards, then slides up onto the top, into the sun. From this distance I can’t see its legs, so it looks like a minute, mobile blister of red and black and white. It turns and heads towards the blowfly. Perhaps it’s remembered it’s a voracious predator and has a glorious vision of bringing down this giant fly and feasting all winter. The fly shuffles sideways, out of harm’s way, but the ladybeetle immediately changes course and aims for it again. The dance continues until the ladybeetle finally accepts that ladybeetles eat aphids and similar-sized insects, not beasts the relative size of a mammoth. Unlike the blowfly, this tiny beetle might make it to Spring.

I go inside and slice up an apple, return to the verandah and eat the crisp, fresh slices. The blowfly’s gone and there’s no sign of the ladybeetle. A tui [5] whirrs across the paddock and drops down into the tree lucerne, and one of the local kahu [6] circles slowly, high in the blue air. Bright sun and a cold breeze; the fractal silhouette of a leafless sycamore against the sky. A piwakawaka [7] dancing by the dog kennels, sunlight flashing in the fan of its tail. The Pohangina Valley in midwinter.

It’s good to be back.

1. The recommended name for tree lucerne is tagasaste (Chamaecytisus palmensis), but I prefer the old name—everyone knows what you’re referring to.
2. The New Zealand bellbird, Anthornis melanura. The April 2006 issue of Massey University's magazine (imaginatively called Massey) has an excellent article about current research on korimako song; it includes much information on korimako behaviour. Recommended—and it's even better if you can locate the hardcopy, as it has some lovely photos which the online version reproduces poorly. [Wood, M. 2006. Songlines. Massey 20: 12–19.)
3. New Zealand pigeon, kukupa, Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae.
4. Paradise shelduck, Tadorna variegata.
5. Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae. The tui, korimako, and hihi (stitchbird, Notiomystis cincta) comprise New Zealand's honeyeaters.
6. Australasian harrier, Circus approximans.
7. New Zealand fantail, Rhipidura fuliginosa.

Photos (click on the photos above if you want a larger image):
1. My back yard, Pohangina Valley. Late evening, March 2006.
2. Female putangitangi, camping ground at Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.
3. Rainbow, No. 3 Line, Pohangina Valley.
4. Chook house detail, Pohangina Valley.
5. Heat, at the other end of the year and the other end of Aotearoa. Surat Bay (if I remember correctly), the Catlins, South Island.

Photos and words © 2006 Pete McGregor


T. Beth said...

Thank you for your enjoyable blog, especially for all of your lovely photos!

It's blazingly hot midsummer here in Arizona, USA, and your winter looks quite delightful.

pohanginapete said...

Thanks T. Beth. In fact, it's not quite so delightful right now: it's been raining — soggy, persistent, and drizzly — for the last day and a half. Not wild enough to get excited about, but I suppose it's keeping me indoors, writing... :^D

KiwiSoupGirl said...

The Valley is clearly your turangawaewae, Pete - demonstrated in pure form when you write and take those beautiful photos full of love and respect. I am left feeling silent and calm after reading this - quite a feat considering my day and week! :-)
Hope the rain is easing a little - it always feels like the land is holding its breath when the weather does that...to me anyway. When it breathes out again, the life (and light) that bursts forth makes me catch my breath - so its my turn to hold...*smile*

Duncan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Duncan said...

We had our first bit of sunshine for quite a while today Pete, the weather's been cold and damp for ages here too, but at least we've had 25 mm of rain. Moistened the ground and allowed us to put in 1250 trees and shrubs at the local wetland today. All we need now is a bit of follow up rain to kick them along. I wish those clouds over your backyard were over mine right now! BTW, I deleted the original comment to correct a glaring grammar mistake! Wouldn't do on your blog!

chuck said...

Your posts provide a nice respite in 'Pohangina time'...a short sojourn 'outside of time'...

the Flaneur said...

I'm glad to see you're back in your home territory.
You may well be right the putangitangi (paradise ducks) will get used to you in time. I saw a pair had settled to raise a family in the Botanical Gardens down here. They were quite unconcerned about tourists photographing them from only 3 metres away.

pohanginapete said...

KSG: Thanks :^) Food for thought in that suggestion, and it gets me wondering about the scale of concepts like turangawaewae — thus, when I’m leaving the valley, at what point do I feel the concept no longer applies? And where is it strongest? The boundaries are diffuse. And is it possible to identify with more than one area as turangawaewae? I can’t answer that one, but I know my affinity with particular places includes more than just the Pohangina Valley.

Duncan: 1250 plants! Marvellous! You must be well and truly carbon positive... If I had a hat I’d take it off to you. And, just quietly, there are a few typos of my own scattered around. Don’t expect me to provide examples, though. ;^P

Thanks Chuck: ‘Pohangina time’ is a recognised — and widely applied — concept here. From what I can gather, it has relatives all over the world.

Flanêur: The ability of putangitangi to spot someone, even when apparently well hidden, and from huge distances, amazes me. This one was in the sort of situation you describe — obviously well used to humans and recognising us as a potential source of food rather than danger.

yllstonewolf said...

wonderful sense of peace. gorgeous light in the images. as always a lovely visit here pete!