Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Climate grief, family joy

Dear Family and Friends,

The images here are of our prospective house site, in which you can see some of the recent tree planting (small pale green plastic rectangles on left), a recent chainsaw safety seminar involving all who are using these devices on the properties; and of sunrise from our house. On the plain you can see the lights of the town, Motueka.

I write to you from Auckland Airport, en route to see family and friends in Canada. Such mixed feelings accompany this voyage. Uppermost is longing to see loved ones, especially the little ones. Beneath that is awareness of the ethical conflict of flying in a time of dangerous climate change. I can tell myself that the thousand plus trees we’ve planted recently offset many such flights by usual calculations, but I know this is insufficient moral balance. Underneath this is fear that at some point, who knows how soon, it may become impossible to fly across the planet, or unaffordable. Perhaps it will still be possible to do it by boat, but when I priced the cost of this in 2007, it was unaffordable. So deep down is the awful thought, is this the last time?
News of the village
We are near to having titles available for sale. All that remains to be done is to do the earthworks to prepare the sites for building, and to put roads to them. Finances have recently become available to move ahead on this. A young couple, Tracey and Craig Ambrose, have moved to Motueka with their very new baby, ready to buy a site and begin their home. They bring lots of ideas, youthful energy, many skills, and experience living in an urban ecovillage – Earthsong in Auckland. They liked Earthsong, but realised they wanted land to grow food, so have come to Atamai. They will also value the balance of privacy and community that seems to be what Atamai will offer.
A significant amount of our time is used hosting people interested in Atamai. Many of them are couples with young children, which is very encouraging. All of them have impressive knowledge and skills to bring to an ecovillage, although the manual and practical skills they bring tend to be amateur rather than professional eg woodworking, gardening. A surprising number are involved in IT, probably because it’s a job that can be done from any site.
Jacques will begin Spring planting before long. We are trying to work out whether to plant for a food-box scheme or not. Jack and Jeff have been talking to a number of people with organic gardens to examine possibilities. We are still living to a fair extent on last season’s vegetables – potatoes and pumpkins of many varieties as the staples, with kale, broccoli and a little lettuce.
News of us.
We’ve got serious about building a house. The site is a few hundred metres from our present house, and with mainly mountain and river valley views, with a little segment of ocean. A corner of the pine forest must be cut down to enable clear sun on the solar panels to be erected. Unlike Canada, here this is regarded as a good thing. Pines are not indigenous, and are regarded by ecologists as a pest species. Of course they are regarded by plantation owners as a cash crop. These will be replaced by indigenous species of less height.
Jack and Jeff often work together felling, hauling and processing trees. Jeff also spends time helping the work at Te Mara, most recently tree-planting.
Jeff will remain at home while we travel, and will be joined by his friend, Katy from Brisbane soon. I have a feeling that he’ll receive many dinner invitations while we are away.
This is the rainy season in NZ, so we have done no tramping lately. It’s surprisingly cold in the early morning, often frosty fields are visible as I look down on the coastal plain at dawn. I light the fire and toast my toes as I drink my morning latte. By noon, however, I’ll be stripped to a T-shirt.
I continue to enjoy the Riverside choir. Recently we contributed to a sort of local opera to celebrate the Maori New Year, marked by the rising of the star formation, Pleiades over the horizon. It’s called Matariki, and is a time of reflection on the past year, looking ahead, and awareness of our oneness with Nature. Jeff and I celebrated it on the marae – the local Maori settlement. There was a formal welcome, or powhiri where our credentials of good faith were established and we were accepted on to the marae with speeches and song. It’s customary to respond with speech and song from the visitors too. This is an admirable aspect of Maori formalities – each speech is followed by a song. (Imagine if parliament ran this way – so much more pleasant than the present mixture of speeches, insults and taunts.) Then a wise young man talked to us about the meaning of Matariki (using powerpoint). A bell from the wharekai (foodhall) called us to the meal of traditional food, mussels, cockles, seaweed sauce, fried bread. It was quite a moving occasion.
In the evening, at Riverside, was the local version of an opera. A Maori dramatist had written a script based on the stories of the Waitaha – a pre-Maori people who practised radical non-violence and were massacred by the invading Maori. Local musicians, Maori and pakeha (non-Maori), sang and played, including our choir, which sang in Maori. Local choreographers led the dance. Jeff did the lights. I loved it.
Otherwise, my life has been partially taken over by Climate Change. This is partly because NZ was very late in setting its carbon emissions targets, in fact, still hasn’t announced them. So many of us have been engaged in intense advocacy through July. My friend, Katerina, and I have given talks wherever we can, and dialogued with councillors on the topic. This, of course, has intensified our reading, with the result that she and I became sadder and sadder as the month progressed, realising how terrible the situation is, and how low our chances are of averting dangerous runaway climate change. Grief was what we were feeling, for the passing of the world as we know it, and as we look at the damage and depletion our children and grandchildren will have to cope with.
We know that the targets, which will be announced soon, will be far too low to have a reasonable probability of doing the job. Seems to me this work will be with me for the rest of my life.
Of course, establishing the village is a version of this, with the intention of showing that life at a lower carbon and energy footprint, and less resource use in general, is quite attractive. But this must be combined with action at the political level to attempt the large-scale change necessary to make enough of a difference.
I send my love to the large network of friends and family reading this.

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