Being Blown Away

I thought I’d moved to Canterbury, not Kansas, but last Tuesday’s windstorm did its best to convince me otherwise. With winds gusting up to 250km/hr, I met the famous Nor’Wester, alright. In fact, it came barging thorough our front door without even knocking, contributing considerably to my Southern education in the process.

The first lesson was that down here it is necessary to take weather warnings much more seriously than I’m used to. The phrase ‘four seasons in one day’ is the standing forecast for Auckland, where on even the finest of blue sky days it pays to carry a raincoat ‘just in case.’ In such conditions, one just hangs out the washing once the load is done and crosses one’s fingers that the sun will come to the party. That’s what I did on Tuesday morning, which led to my sheets embarking on a very intimate relationship with the rosebush some hours later.

The second lesson was that a bicycle is not an appropriate mode of transport in 100km/hr wind gusts. As serene as Drew Barrymore looked as she sailed past the moon on her bike, the E.T. look is sure to end badly when practiced outside a Hollywood studio. Having cycled to my friend’s house shortly before the storm hit I found myself stranded there, helping to lash down outdoor furniture whilst battling constant Marilyn-Monroe moments with my skirt. The construction site fences cartwheeling down the street outside confirmed our suspicions that things were serious. The bike was stored in the shed and a car was dispatched to come to my rescue.

Later that evening, having prised apart pillowcase and plants, we were just contemplating what movie to watch – classic, action or perhaps The Wizard of Oz – when the wind joined in the debate, plunging us into darkness and forcing the romantic angle with a dinner by candlelight. It also forced us to turn back time by posing a most pressing question: how do you make microwave chocolate brownie in the absence of electricity? Use the fire, of course. Coals to the back, tray in the front, cake tin wrapped in foil on top and smoke detectors on full alert, we were ready. In fact, our makeshift oven was far less disastrous than it should have been, given that it was operated by a bunch of twenty-somethings who have always enjoyed the benefit of ‘fan bake’ and are accustomed to sourcing the majority of our recipes direct from the internet. (Lesson three for one member of our posse was that modems actually require power to work).

So, last week I learnt a thing or two about the power of the wind. Come Wednesday, twisted irrigators, upended truck and trailer units and shelterbelts lying like dominoes attested to its physical strength, but the storm also forced us to come up with the kinds of creative solutions that would make Spielberg proud.

 Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian 

South Wind I (Autumn)

The wind grows fat, fed by the polar ice
Forecasters predict a cold snap as she flexes her muscles
Prompting ripples that collect into swells
And parade their taughtness against the cliffs of the west
Boy, can she pull a punch!

She twists her lithe body through treetops and powerlines
Doing pull ups and resistance training
Until the branches and wires can resist her grasp no more

She tries out her lungs, howling like a newborn
Screaming like a teenager
Sighing like a mother with furrowed brow
Grumbling, groaning, whining, puffing,

Until she is ready to step into the ring
Rattling the windows
In search of a worthy opponent:
Wake up!

Her hibernation is over.
As summer slinks out the back door
She comes in the front
With a BANG!

If Only

If only, if only, the South wind moans
I could penetrate coats, get right into bones
I’d take over bodies from deep inside
As the glint of the chill crept into their eyes
I’d banish their warmth and then, in lieu,
I’d tinge their flesh with a blueish hue
Though they may shiver and protest
It’d be too late once I’d made my nest
Once I’d found a hold for my icy tooth
I’d still their hearts and preserve their youth,
If only….

South Wind Doth Blow

Little Miss Muffet and Incy Wincy Spider may appear to be uneasy bedfellows, but in Methven a closer look will reveal they’re both made of the same stuffing. A nursery rhyme convention has taken over the town in recent weeks, and any birds that were considering nesting in the region will now have reconsidered, thanks to the 33 themed scarecrows that have popped up as part of the school holiday trail.

We joined in by doing the trail, but we could easily have joined the party with a themed yard ourselves. All we needed was a mulberry bush, and the cold and frosty morning would have taken care of itself, transforming our yard into a scene straight out of a playground chant.

It happens every year – first the frost, then the snow, augmented by a southerly wind and an ever declining ration of sunlight. Commonly known as winter, this state seems to take people by surprise every time, with the long summer months inducing mercury amnesia. Then suddenly you can see your breath, and the weatherboard house with single glass windows and cotton curtains starts to resemble the chiller section at the supermarket, minus the frozen peas. Add in a couple of extra jumpers, house slippers and a hot water bottle clutched to your abdomen and you’re on your way to having the quintessential New Zealand experience, complete with chillblains and the odd dose of bronchitis.

Despite the fact that winter is a fairly regular occurrence, many of our houses have failed to adapt to the fact. Insulation is optional and double glass and underfloor heating are virtually unheard of. It’s a case of man vs nature, and judging from the layer of ice on the inside of our windows the other morning, I’d say that nature is used to delivering a knockout blow pretty early on.

I know people who’ve come to New Zealand from northern Europe, where winter means no sunlight at all and a permanent cover of snow. When looking at the forecast charts they scoffed at our furrowed brows, oblivious to the fact that the predicted temperature was not for their borough but for their bedroom. They later resorted to pitching a tent on the living room floor to try to conserve heat.

While many ceilings such as theirs remain woefully bare of any insulation, in the absence of any batts the personified thatching material around town is starting to look like an attractive option… The South Wind Doth Blow, alright, and the Methven scarecrows had better watch their stuffing!

Originally published in The Ashburton Guardian