Changing Seasons - Building Harmony
The Earthskin Newsletter Springing into Autumn 2023
Written by Nancy King
Three major storms including cyclone Gabrielle have much of Auckland still in a state of ongoing repair and despair for our land, our communities and our homes.
Despite that, I personally found the immense power of unfettered wild waters awe inspiring, even as a new riverway ran along past my bedroom and climbed freely up the clay walls!
Each storm luckily gave us enough time in between to realise how unprepared we are for the reality of these climate change times we need to face. It offered us the perfect opportunity to see where the water flows in the landscape and reshape the contours to redirect water away from the house. It also allowed time to purchase basic equipment like a submersible pump to help areas of flooding, and add taps to the tanks so we could have water available when the power wasn't on.
During peak downpours we redirected the relentless deluge with brooms in hand and invited conscious attention to the consequences to redesign a better flow to slow the water with homemade sandbags which we added before the major cyclone.
We are treasured by the support of our local community, right down to sharing a ‘cuppa’ from the family camp stove next door, to the towing service offered to my friend who found himself stranded in rising waters. Our old generator sprung to life and was shared with the street community to keep our fridges and freezers running - delaying full on meltdowns - and it worked!
From further afield we want to deeply acknowledge the timely help from our more distant neighbours from Australia who voluntarily came across with skills they too have gained after having been through similar floods.
The area of Kaipara Flats, like most of New Zealand sadly, has destroyed wetlands to extend farmland, creating the constant threat of flooding. New Zealand has lost over 90% of these vital ecosystems which do so much for us. This meant that for two weeks our country road was again blocked, with no power, internet or phone connection. All we could do was hunker down.
As an elder I was beyond blessed to have two wonderful and skilled brothers, Augustine and Nico, originally from Argentina, who made everything feel workable despite the full on crazy days! Fires were lit at home, while the gas stove and pizza oven brought fine cuisine from our gardens and larder to our tables, with candles and guitar music to fill our nights.
Having healthy soil with no chemicals in our two hectare protected food forest, with swales going down hills, heightens water absorption and amazingly the cyclonic winds missed the land in all but the tops of the old surrounding trees. As I watched the wind change direction I knew in the pit of my stomach that Piha and our beloved family generational land and Waygood Foundation was in real jeopardy, and so it proved.
The sad aftermath at Piha has been traumatic to everything and everyone, and the Marawhara river bed where we played and learnt to swim has completely shifted. Our childhood island and family memorial area is gone, as is the ancient pohutukawa tree we scrambled over as entry to our magical hideaway - now covered thickly with clay, rocks and debris.
My grandfather Les Waygood opened up North Piha, and many of his community amenities were all but destroyed, including the local water system and North Piha campground that he set up to support lifeguards. For my cousins Dennis, Sharon and their families who come annually to camp, most of the lower land is now a swamp.
I recently decided to pack up and journey to Piha, hoping they would allow me through the extensive checkpoints that are turning people away other than workmen and locals, because the roads and surrounding land are not stable - which indeed proved very scary. Together with my cousin Dennis and his wife Pauline, we walked in stunned silence and sadness addressing the devastation and a stark new reality. Though little of our childhood nature playground remains intact, we are grateful that our houses and the Foundation gardens are safe, which is not the case for many people.
At the entrance to our gardens stands the Waygood produce cart, which has preserved a small but important vestige of normality - displaying its fresh bright coloured bunches of flowers, herbs, seedlings and heritage vegetables. Sadly though, all courses and Earthskin Ecological Artist Residencies at the Foundation have had to be postponed until half way through this year when we will see if council requirements can be completed for our ruined sewerage system.
During this autumn and winter, we will begin to assess the process for supporting the joint restoration of the sacred area of heritage pohutukawa and nikau trees that encompasses
“The Glade”. What at present feels like a daunting and impossible task of stabilising the natural configuration of this delicate ecosystem, is in fact a real opportunity to work hand in hand with nature and community: to re-build and share experiential knowledge and skills - to help heal our little corner of the world - starting by being the objective observer to see and feel what is really happening rather than strategising as a first point of call.
Now I am going to hand you gently over to the Piha Foundation caretakers, our wondrous Claire and Laura, for an update of summer happenings and photos, to share the heightened challenges and the gifts of this place and time.
It has been a wild, wet summer. Currently it's quiet in Piha, everyone is recovering and feeling the aftermath of the storm.
The landslide that happened in the Marawhara valley took away our beloved Three Sisters garden, where we had beautiful pumpkins, bananas and orange heritage tomatoes growing. The day after the cyclone, those tomatoes were found amongst the debris on the beach. While the roads were blocked we were very happy to be able to share our fresh greens and flowers with our community.
Our lower terrace garden has been burried under an enormous amount of debris, the food forest we started there has completely gone.
We have lost our water supply, which is a big challenge, being worked on at the moment. Along with that we feel for the land and for Dennis, Pauline and their family, every time we look at the brown, scarred, landscape.
These past few months have been emotionally overwhelming, and our gardens were mostly left to their own devices. The gardens were growing wilder and wilder.
Now that Autumn is here, it's like the gardens can breathe again. Most plants have died down, pumpkins and gourds are revealing themselves, beans are dropping out of their pods and many seeds have been saved for next season.
Our beautiful chicken flock is happily clucking around, sometimes they receive visits from the children from the preschool across the road. They get hand fed and petted at the same time!
This winter we are going to restore and enjoy the quietness in Piha, while dreaming and planning for spring to come around again.
Warkworth Home and Earthskin Barn Development
Geunther is leading the on-site permaculture development at Warkworth for the outdoors, including mentoring graduates of the permaculture design courses to further their studies. Inside, Patrick, Augustine, and Anna bring the old house organisation slowly to completion. The wish is to create a private sanctuary and a public space that comes together harmoniously.
Our ‘Wonderful Wednesday’ garden team of Anna, Nicola and Kate ensures much laughter and organic food is being produced, shared and stored. Enriching and developing the land in preparation for community courses, creativity and a slow building up our two hectares into whole functional natural systems.
We have just purchased the Perelandra Garden workbook to begin a journey of truly learning to reconnect into the profound and mysterious capacity of nature. With us as part of nature playing an integral role to nourish and be of service to all life as an integrated living system (though a large family of pukeko is sorely testing the boundaries).
This time calls for shared experience not words. It's our NOW o'clock: our opportunity to build the potential to effectively support and build a fuller life for all life.
As an elder my heart sings when sharing in such aliveness of nature. In the sense of real gathering with heightened potential for a fine future. Young people arrive here with so much intellect, commitment and care that I recognise - and trust … most days! Together we have all the skills to co-creatively bring our beautiful earth and communities into connection and balance - with chaos as a tool to engender change and healing, rather than staying in the chaos.
I would like to include words from Joanna Macy, speaking to the times when we do lose hope.
“We are capable of suffering with our world - and that is the true meaning of compassion.
It enables us to recognise our profound sadness and interconnectedness with all beings.
Don't ever apologise for crying for the trees being cut,
And burning in the Amazon, or over the waters polluted for mines in the Rockies.
Don't apologise for the sorrow, grief and rage you feel - it is a measure of your humanity and maturity.
It is a measure of your open heart, and as your heart breaks open there will be room for the world to heal”.
We had the great pleasure of a short but invigorating visit from Sally Cole who had pre-planned her return from Britain for a residency at her beloved Piha (while also visiting her son and wonderful family). But in the aftermath of the rains, she could not enter Piha and consequently became our first artist in residence in the Earthskin Barn. Her verdict: “a bit of work still required, but good bones to work with”.
Inside the Earthskin Barn the walls and space are being prepared with light earth panels, and more clay has been dug from our pond. The stairs have been shifted by our fast change magicians Geunther and Anna, and light is now pouring into the kitchen area. Work on the walls to line and insulate them (including use of on-site bamboo) will open the doors to a summer burst of visitors and short courses.
The footings are completed for the arrival of a storage container - to house materials currently stored in the barn. The workshop for Earthskin’s Appropriate Technology Collection is going to have a new concrete floor. We are hoping to use a new low carbon additive for concrete that is a strengthening and waterproofing agent, being developed in New Zealand by a company called NeoCreate.
This could join a heady natural mixture of hemp, wool and flax, to make a live cocktail for future alchemists. Allowing them to work with nature, using the principles of regeneration and biomimicry, leading us towards realising a never-forgotten clean and green commitment.
This autumn and winter 2023 we are on a glorious shared mission to create and complete the Earthskin Barn as a ‘re-storying hub’, where all the elements of Earthskin can kick start new possibilities. To bring together a vortex of passionate people, sharing and extending their loved life experience and skills, to vitalise this pivotal moment of time.
For people enquiring after Veronique Desmet and the house at Muriwai Earthskin (including those who completed residencies there), this is a quick catchup to tell you the house has been yellow stickered for moderate work, and deemed unlivable until completed. This has meant the new family have until now been crammed together in a small caravan at the local camping ground, but with one of life's quirky twists and turns have been offered a temporary home with the architect of the old Earthskin House!
Such is the magic of life!
Our first Muriwai Earthskin resident, John Blackburn’s family has also gifted his artwork on the actual wall of the old Earthskin Art Studio, to stay there in his memory, which will anchor a fresh start. I feel so much pleasure at the ongoing connections that are still present with the new owners.
Veronique is well too and here is a link to her website with photos of her beautiful wood and art work.
Earthskin Scholarships for Permaculture Design Course accreditation.
This year, the Permaculture Design Courses that Earthskin supports for students will be limited to the longer training as the two week course at Te Moata did not get enough people despite the help of Earthskin Scholarships, so the Matakana modules run by the renown Permaculture teachers Trish Allen and Guenther Andraschko ... are brimming!
The annual Earthskin Scholarships for entry to short courses and the EBANZ conference attendance drew a lot of interest and wonderful young people, including tradespeople ready to utilise the new standards for natural building. Painters, engineers, plasterers and teachers were our main applicants this year.
As I complete this newsletter from an Easter family holiday in beautiful Bentonville Arkansas, surrounded by my children and grandboys, spring and dogwood is blossoming and greening every moment. Like the new leaves, I too feel so tender. Though like the old and beautiful leaves I pick up on my morning walks, I am part of the nourishment of life's seasonal cycle.
I am so privileged and humbled from a lifetime of learning from my mother and father about what is true wealth, when used as a powerful tool of sharing to make the world a better place.
I am aware how being brought up connected into the land and its abundance, not just on it, offers a vastly different life experience. The very act of midwifing magic spaces with love for community, to learn skills and realign thinking, opens doors to come together afresh.
Be well and big hugs to you,