Ode to a Little Blue Penguin


‘Tis time for a sad story about a little blue penguin. Like a sad song that needs to be sung every now and then, a sorry tale needs telling, even in a travel blog; for as all travellers know, not all journeys end well. Although I have delayed writing about the demise of the little blue penguin, I shared my gruesome discovery with Mr. Bill, the moment he walked through the door, on that dreadful fall day.

One overcast April morning, West End Beach was awash with shells and driftwood, offering good pickings for a beachcomber. Walking along the shore with one eye on the threatening skies, I scanned the flotsam and jetsam that had washed ashore, after the previous night’s wild thunderstorms. Visibility was limited, both Whale Island and White Island were shrouded in mist, turning the beach into an intimate space. The low clouds muted the sound of the surf and the shore birds were unusually quiet, on that grey autumn morning.

Spying a colony of seagulls with bowed heads, gathered around a white lump, I approached them cautiously, curious to see what was on offer for their mid morning tea break. Usually these rats of the sea, will squawk and fly at anyone disturbing their meal but not this time. They sheepishly looked up and shuffled off a discrete distance, shamefaced and silent. As the feathered crowd departed, the white mound was revealed to be the tiny belly, of a Korora, a little blue penguin. The smallest and shyest of the penguin family, was lying lifeless and exposed on the beach. It’s empty eye socket was crusty with sand. Had the Sandman sprinkled it generously for eternal sleep or had the gulls been nibbling? I tossed a look of reproach at the flock who were lingering at the water line and they had the decency to look embarrassed. Standing over the wee creature, I wanted to do something to mark it’s passing but what? What would be an appropriate tribute? A eulogy? No, not quite right. Yet I found that I couldn’t leave without marking the penguin’s lonely death. It might seem macabre but as a tribute, I took a picture- a momento mori, in the tradition of Victorian postmortem photographs. That seemed fitting. After shooting several frames, I continued on my way and the seagulls returned to their shore dinner.

Mr. Bill shared my grief over the loss of the little blue penguin and was equally puzzled by the odd sighting on the beach, which we assumed must be a ‘one off’ event. Sadly it was not. It was a one in a twenty year occurance. Hundreds of little blue penguins were washing up on northern beaches. Necropsies performed on the penguins, determined that they were staving when they died. Listening to the news on Radio One Double XX, we gasped when the DJ reported that fifty, yes FIFTY , dead penguins were discovered on one eastern Bay of Plenty beach. If I was distraught over discovering one, how could I bear to see fifty? It would just break my heart. It’s now estimated that thousands of these petite penguins have starved this year, as a result of a marine heatwave in the Tasman Sea and the Hauraki Gulf. A rise in sea temperatures, caused by several ex-tropical cyclones and the La Nina weather system prevented them from feeding themselves, as they headed into their molting season. Turbid seas created by the summer storms reduced visibility for the penguins, who hunt with their eyes , which in turn rendered them unable to feed themselves. The warmer surface also pushed the cooler water deeper, taking much of their food supply beyond their diving range. Unfortunately, that meant many little blue penguins entered their molting season without the sufficient fat reserves needed to survive the two to three weeks in their underground burrows, when they were unable to hunt.

When presented with the postmortem portrait, Mr. Bill  was not alarmed by the subject matter and he solemnly examined the picture. He was shocked however, the first time that I shared one with him. In fairness to Mr. Bill, it is an unusual genre. Poor Mr. Bill, was dutifully perusing my landscape photos one time, when he demanded, “Is this rabbit DEAD”!  “Um, yes, why do you ask”?  His eyes grew wide. He was clearly worried about the new direction of my photography, until I calmly explained to him, that it was a great reference photo. There was a beautiful rabbit, lying ever so peacefully on the grass, like it had just stretched out for a nap. When would I get such a fantastic opportunity again? Rabbits won’t pose! I patiently explained, that there was a long history of rendering dead humans and animals in art. What could be a more appropriate in a still life painting, than a brace of pheasants? I assured him that I wasn’t embarking on a series of very still lives but a good reference photo doesn’t come along everyday. Still, I could appreciate his misgivings and with that in mind, I almost passed on photographing a dead gull, fearing that I was becoming a tad morbid. However, after cycling past the bird for three days and it was lying as fresh and undisturbed as on my first viewing, I was compelled to take it’s picture. It was lucky that I did, for it rained the following day and the next time I passed it’s resting place, there were only feathers. The fish skeleton and baby hammerhead shark both demanded a photo op and the gnawed shank (feral goat or wild boar?) was a rare find. I immediately stopped and snapped – no bones about it!

This was the sad story that needed telling with prose, poetry and pictures. We found that the fate of one little blue penguin, as common as a sparrow to Kiwis but rare to us Americans, haunts us still.

“Ode to A Little Blue Penguin”

Carried to shore on the incoming tide,

in state a little Blue Penguin doth lie.

Mourners gathered around with time to bide,

seagulls farewell the bird who could not fly.

In lieu of flowers, clamshells form a wreath,

a message of bereavement on the beach.

A moment of silence for the deceased,

the gulls are quiet in their collective grief.

Heads bowed, feet shuffle, there will be no speech.

The service completed, it’s time to feast!

Washed ashore on West End Beach- little Blue penguin

Yet another little blue penguin found washed ashore on Ohope Beach.

Still Life





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Version 2

Imagine seeing another Mr. Bill!

They recommend that couples play games to keep their romance alive. Well everyday is Valentine’s Day with Mr. Bill, for he and I are keen gamers. Our two favorites are “Guess What?” and “Memory”. It’s game on, as soon as Mr. Bill walks through the door, when I excitedly say, “you’ll never guess what happened today”! He doesn’t. Mr. Bill then asks, “did I tell you what happened last week”? He hasn’t. We’re hopelessly addicted and it doesn’t matter if you win or lose; just having skin in the game, is all that’s needed to keep Cupid’s arrows flying.

I was bursting with excitement last month to play, “Guess What?”. So much so, that I didn’t even give poor Mr. Bill his turn, before I blurted out the answer to- “you’ll never guess where I went and what I joined today”! That was being a spoilsport. I am certain Mr. Bill would have correctly guessed, ‘Whakatane Library’ and ‘Writers Group’ but I didn’t give him a chance.

Joining the Whakatane Writers Group came about in the usual Ohope way; someone knows someone, who has the same interest as you and puts you together. I had invited Keturah, who was new to Ohope, to Pilates Class and for coffee afterwards. When Keturah mentioned that she was looking for a writer’s group, Erin looked up from her flat white and said that Annie, who was at the far end of the table, belonged to one. Hearing her name, Annie nodded and said that yes, she was a member of the Whakatane Writers Group, their monthly meeting was at 2pm and would we like to come along? Would we? Yes please! Talk about, ‘ask and ye shall receive’! I don’t have a car but Keturah has an adventure van and off we went to our first meeting.

The Whakatane Writers Group meets at the Whakatane Library on the first Tuesday of the month. It’s a delightful and welcoming club. Imagine finding camaraderie in an otherwise solitary pursuit. I was inspired and excited by the other writers. Some are writing their memoirs, others are penning novels and I am chuffed to be the only one with a blog. Colleen was the moderator and the meeting began with Carol’s brain teasing vocabulary quiz. Next, the overuse of commas and the passive voice  were the topic of conversation before the critique of the members’ stories. Colleen led the discussion-active voice. The discussion was led by Colleen.Voila-passive voice! In the former, the subject performs the action of the verb. In the latter, the subject is acted upon by the verb. (Annoyingly, Microsoft word does not recognize the brilliance of a passive voice sentence and will prompt you to revise. Don’t!) The meeting was entertaining and informative. Ah, if only school was always that enjoyable.

Colleen is this month’s leader as well and has suggested that we find examples of the passive voice. Done and done! Our writing task is :

A story (fact or fiction) based on ‘sixth sense’ or ‘intuition’,i.e.. do you have a story or an incident where you or your character had a feeling or a premonition that something or a situation was not right and took action to save the day? Or you/they made a decision , which leads to a positive outcome.

 I did not have to ponder long on how to incorporate September’s assignment into my blog, for as you will read, all roads lead back to Mr. Bill. The following story is my homework.

Six Weeks

Six weeks is the longest time that Mr. Bill and I have spent apart. Six weeks is an eternity when you are in love. Yet six weeks and not a day less, was how long it would take me to earn the ninety-nine dollar student airfare, to fly from Boston to Washington, D.C. That ratio of cost to wages, should tell you just how long ago it was, that I was studying art at Regis College and Mr. Bill was a student at Georgetown University Medical School. Six long weeks stretched between each parting. Time is the enemy in a long distance relationship; it slows down when you are apart, speeds up when you are together and no amount of wishing will make it stop. Was it any wonder, that I ignored the clock on one fateful visit, when Mr. Bill was then my boyfriend Bill?

Since it was a long weekend for me but not for Bill, I flew to our nation’s capital for a three day visit. A whole extra day, we couldn’t believe our good fortune. Not only was time on our side for once but there was also time to kill. While Bill was attending lectures, I borrowed his car and drove down to the mall, to spend the afternoon at the National Gallery. Blessed with the luck of the Irish, not only did I find a parking space near the museum on busy Constitution Avenue, I even had the correct change for the parking meter. With time on my side for once, I went for the maximum allowed and dropped in enough coins for four hours.

At first I wandered through the galleries at a leisurely pace, mindful yet unconcerned about the passing time. It was strange, after a while a sense of unease permeated my reverie. Worried that the meter had expired, I checked my watch and was relieved to see that I had over two hours left. I continued on through the vast collections but my relief was short lived. That vague misgiving soon turned to alarm and I found myself obsessively noting the time. My anxiety grew and grew despite being well within the allotted time. The bothersome inner voice, which  began as a whisper of worry that I had at first ignored, then shushed, was now shouting, that it was time to leave. It was ridiculous. I told myself sternly that I was being silly. Yet my inner voice would not be silenced. It screamed, “GO NOW”! I left.

Tramping down this irrational panic, I hurried through the long galleries until I was finally out on Constitution Avenue, emerging a few blocks from where I had parked Bill’s car. Something was not right. There were no longer any parked cars on the crowed boulevard. Not one. I began running. In the distance I could see a tow truck where I had left the car. I ran faster, my heart pounding as hard as my feet pounded the pavement. I had to over take that truck. Too late! It was my boyfriend’s, white Chevy Malibu, that was  about to be hoisted into the air. What can a girl do? I cried. I pleaded. Gasping for breath, I was incoherent as I begged the two operators to please, please release the car. I was a stranger in the city! I would be stranded! It was my boyfriend’s car! He would be waiting for me! How would I be able to contact him? All these words tumbled out in a rush, my voice catching as I shook with sobs. Bemused they looked at one another, shrugged and released the chain around the front bumper, while I wept at their feet.

I thanked them again and again as they unhooked the car. I shuddered at the narrow escape from disaster; one minute more and I would have been too late but hold on a second, looking over I saw that there was still time left on the parking meter. What? Now I was confused. Politely, I pointed to the meter and asked my new friends, why were they towing the car, when the meter had not yet expired. In turn, they pointed to the sign mid block which read, “No Parking After 4 pm – Tow Away Zone”. Tick tock, it was now past four o’clock. More than a little embarrassed, I waved goodbye as I unlocked the car door. That’s when I noticed the bright red ticket, tucked neatly under the windshield wiper. It was no ordinary parking violation; this one charged a towing fee, in addition to a hefty fine. No wonder they did not mind releasing the car, the tow charge would still be collected and they were on to the next vehicle. Well, at least I rescued the car from a trip to the impound yard and that saved some time and money.

I didn’t play, “You’ll Never Guess What happened Today”, when I picked Bill up that day, the whole story came out in a rush with more tears. If he was upset, he never said. It was going to take more than a ‘little’ ticket to ruin the weekend. We had each other and the car!

I believe that inner voice, which was so insistent that I leave ‘early’ that day , was my guardian angel watching over me. She is much quieter these days, now that I am traveling with instead of to and from Mr. Bill. She gets to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride, confident in my travel companion’s driving. And Mr. Bill always reads the signs.

Deja Vu.                                                                                                                                                 Oh no, Mr. Bill, it’s happened again! Bizarre but true, history repeated itself in downtown Tauranga, a scant four days after submitting this story to my writers group. However, this time there was a delightful Kiwi ending. What can I say? Mr. Bill and I were both away with the fairies, when we left our car on Elizabeth Street. There were no parking meters and neither one of us saw the parking kiosk further down the block, nor the bright blue parking sign above us on the telephone pole. We should have looked, after all we were in the city and not Whakatane, where parking is free. Ignorance is bliss and we strolled  through the CBD, without a care in the world. Why even my guardian angel and sixth sense were on holiday. Returning by a different route some hours later, we noticed first the parking kiosk and secondly the parking attendant, standing alongside our car, electronic ticket book in hand. There  were no tears this time. We quickly apologized, admitting our mistake. Cheerfully, the meter man excused us, saying,”That’s all right then. I’m just writing the ticket now. I’ll just back out of the screen and give you a warning instead of a ticket”. With a smile, he added that parking wasn’t free until after 1pm on Saturdays. This time, it was our American accents saved the day.



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Father of the Bride!


Oh happy day! Mr. Bill and I have travelled to Florida for our daughter’s wedding! Congratulations to Audry and Dave- three cheers for true love! Its’ been a while since we walked down the aisle but the trip is even sweeter as a parent.



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Here Come the Brides

IMG_1763Everybody loves a bride the world over and brides the world over, take a lovely photograph.

It is sheer delight to come upon a bride and groom in my travels with Mr. Bill. Love is in the air and we stop to stare. In fact, I’d say it’s the only time, that it is not impolite to stare. Happiness is contagious. Everyone smiles, sharing the happy couple’s joy. Strangers beam at one another and hopeless romantics snap pictures, wishing to capture some of the day’s magic.

For many newly weds, the world is their oyster, when choosing where to exchange their vows. What would The Bard say about that? Probably, that all the world is their stage. Destination weddings promise exotic locations, in which to tie the knot, stunning backgrounds for a couple’s wedding album and even wedding crashers. Tourists happily play the role of  “dearly beloved gathered together”, when a bride and groom suddenly appear like celebrities for a photo shoot, with their stylist and photographer in tow and begin posing like professionals. I can’t help but wonder how many wedding pictures have been photo bombed, by enthusiastic extras.

Recently, while watching a bride’s train being spread out on the Circular Quay, on Sydney Harbor, I begin to fret. I worried that the beautiful gown would be soiled on the dirty pavement. Angels might fear to tread on a bride’s big day but the sea gulls had no qualms about leaving a little mess behind. I tapped Mr. Bill, who was lost in thought and expressed my wardrobe concerns. He assessed the situation and pronounced that it wasn’t their wedding day, because there weren’t any guests or an accompanying bridal party. That sorted, he returned to thinking about something interesting, like gall bladders.  Well that’s alright then, I thought reassured. Unfortunately, my relief was short lived. Soon I had a new niggle. I nudged Mr. Bill once again interrupting his thoughts, to ask if it was before or after the ceremony. This time, it took a bit longer to break into Mr. Bill’s revelry. I persisted, patiently explaining that if it was pre-ceremony, than the groom would have seen the bride before the wedding. Now Mr. Bill doesn’t sweat the small stuff, he sees the big picture but he obligingly mulled it over and declared with authority, “it’s after”. Well that was good news to me, for it meant the bridal gown was pristene for the nuptials and I could stop obsessing over it. Mr. Bill always knows the right answer, especially when I ask him, “Does this make me look fat?”.  However before long, another bothersome thought presented itself and I wondered aloud, who brings a stylist and a photographer on their honeymoon? When I troubled Mr. Bill yet again, I did not get an answer. He had moved on-literally. As I hurried to catch up, I realized that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where or when the photographs are taken; what matters is having a keepsake to treasure. Many moons ago, Mr. Bill and I did not have to search for the picture perfect venue for our wedding photos, for us there was no place like home.

Immigration New Zealand has a copy of Mr. Bill’s and my wedding picture on file. Americans can visit New Zealand for up to three months as tourists but in order to work or stay longer, you need a visa. Mr. Bill is granted a work visa and in order to accompany him, I have to prove that we are married and in a committed relationship. I have never  minded the stringent requirements, it’s comforting to know that New Zealand has my back. Mr. Bill is only allowed to bring  me along – no substitutes allowed.  Imagine my shock  and horror, when I  saw the headline “Migrant who had 3 partners can stay” splashed across the front page of The New Zealand Herald, on Tuesday, April 24th. The article stated, “A migrant who had three partners in New Zealand that were pregnant to him at the same time has been allowed to stay in the country”. Somebody has been a naughty boy. Lying to your case worker is a serious offense.

In order to satisfy our immigration case worker that we are truly married, we have had to submit a copy of  our marriage certificate and bank statements, documenting our financial co-dependance. In addition, Mr. Bill has to sign an affidavit, that he will support me while in New Zealand. On my application, I tick the box “no” to the question, Are you planning on giving birth while in New Zealand? I also must acknowledge that, should I give birth while in New Zealand, I am responsible for the medical bills of the little miracle. The final requirement, is to include a written narrative of our marriage, complete with photos, demonstrating our life spent together. As I thought how best to tell the story of our marriage, I remembered the Chinese proverb that one picture is worth as thousand words. For their consideration, I submitted two photographs and a long story became a short story. The first picture was taken on our wedding day  and the second was taken some years laters, showing how we had grown to look alike, like all happily married couples do!

Three cheers for true love!

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The Case of the Poisoned Pine


Mr. Bill, come quick! Call Nancy Drew. There’s a mystery to be solved.

Was the Norfolk Pine really poisoned in the dead of night? Alas, ’tis true, The Pride of Beachpoint is no more, killed while the residents slept, unaware that their pine was in mortal peril. The pounding surf muffled the sound of the crime and the murderer made a clean getaway, never to be found. Who would do such a dastardly deed? Nobody knows but neighbor Joan, says that there are forty two suspects. Better ring the Hardy Boys as well.

Mr. Bill and I were shocked when we returned to Ohope, after a four month absence, to discover the massive Norfolk Pine, dead as a door nail; it’s once thick green boughs, now brown and brittle. No longer a thing of beauty to delight the eye, it was a pitiful eyesore. An investigation had ensued and five bore holes, into which the poison had been administered, were discovered around the base of the tree. Experts had been consulted and the prognosis was grim. The damage was irreversible, the tree was slowly dying. There was no saving the long standing sentinel of West End Road; it was deemed a hazard and slated for removal.

Before long, notice was given that the pine tree would be removed at 8:30am, the following day. Traffic cones were set out the night before and residents were advised to shut their windows and doors, against the anticipated dust and debris. In an especially nice Kiwi touch, we were advised not to hang our laundry out to dry.

What a morning. The tree monkeys arrived bright and early at 7:30 am and work was well underway before 8 o’clock. Mr. Bill leaves for Whakatane Hospital promptly at 7:45 and always waves as he drives away. On removal morning when I stepped out onto the balcony in my bathrobe, to wave goodbye to Mr. Bill, I was also able to wave hello to the work crew. Our neighbors, Rae and Don were already out on their balcony, coffee mugs in hand, watching the workers and they too farewelled Mr. Bill.

Ah, surely there is nothing more satisfying than watching someone else work. I poured myself a cup of Joe and settled in to watch the men tackle the mighty tree. It all went like clock work. One tree monkey scaled the tree, cutting off limbs, tossing them to the workers below, who then fed them into woodchopper. Meanwhile, out on West End Road, the Stop and Go Man kept the traffic moving, as a small crowd gathered by the beach to watch the show. As the branches were loped off one by one, our vista slowly expanded, until for the first time, we could see White Island from the lounge.

Taking advantage of a lull in the action, I grabbed my camera and dashed outside to document the process from different angles. Asking permission, I ducked under the ropes to snap a picture. Imagine my delight when I was mistaken for the press, whom they were expecting to cover the story. While I admitted that I wasn’t from the newspaper, I did say that I wrote a blog and the story would (thanks to you Dear Readers) go around the world. To that,the arborist and owner, Mr. Andersen, said, “lets do it properly then” and posed in front of his truck. He explained to me how the tree had been poisoned, showing me the bore holes at the base of the tree. I had scoop of a lifetime! Work resumed, the lower and middle sections of the pine were shorn of their limbs and it was now time, to lop off the top of the tree. With a crack and a whoosh, the crown was cut and it crashed to the ground. Now the team set to work on the remaining trunk, neatly dropping it unto a cradle, made from the severed branches. The ground crew mobilized, sawing the felled trunk into manageable sections and loaded them onto a dump truck for removal. Mr. Bill was sorry to miss the tree being felled. He was delighted, however, to return home just in time, to watch the bossman manhandle the outsized sections with his small digger, popping wheelies as he stacked and loaded the dump truck. It wasn’t until after the tree was reduced to logs and carted away, that the reporter from The Beacon finally arrived- “a day late and a dollar short”, as they say.  All that was left to photograph was a tree stump.

We lived in the shadow of the condemned pine for it’s final days, mourning it’s impending loss yet wondering how it’s absence would alter our view. Now the stately tree is only a memory but my oh my, Mr. Bill, what a view!

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March Madness

Off to work!


March Madness has hit New Zealand. Advertisements  for March Madness sales, began appearing toward the end of February. Frankly, I’m not at all sure, what the connection is between deeply discounted mattress sets and collegiate basketball; yet it feels normal to me, because mattress sales herald events in America, as well. Upon viewing the March Madness commercials, I couldn’t wait to tell Mr. Bill, that (hopefully) he would soon be able to watch his beloved Providence College Friars, right here in Aotearoa. Rugby is King but with Kiwi superstar, Steven Adams, playing in the NBA, basketball  has developed a devoted following. Still, the promotion of the American NCAA College Basketball Tournament was exciting and surprising. I envisioned how happy Mr. Bill would be, watching all the games. There would be hours and hours of  TV coverage, from “Sweet Sixteen”, to the “Elite Eight”, followed by the “Final Four” before the tournament’s end, with the broadcast of the championship game.

Excitement mixed with anxious anticipation, was building with daily advertisements touting March Madness. Back in the States, Selection Sunday,the day when the 68 teams that have made the field are announced, was scheduled for March 11.  However on March first, New Zealand jumped the gun on the big reveal. It was proclaimed with great fanfare on the news and in the papers, that March Madness had begun! As it turns out, March Madness in New Zealand, is not about basketball after all- it is about traffic. Not just any traffic but the type that sucks all the joy out of life and induces road rage. March is the peak month for highway congestion in Auckland, when 100,000 returning university students, swell the ranks of the city’s commuters creating gridlock and misery on the motorways. Poor Mr. Bill, his hoop dreams were dashed but at least he’s not stuck in Auckland traffic.

Mr. Bill loves his commute from Ohope Beach to Whakatane Hospital. It’s fair to say,  the trip soothes his soul. Driving to work along the ocean, up the hill, down through the gorge, around the round-abouts and through the city’s tree lined streets, with nary a red light to stop him, is a daily pleasure, not a daily grind. Reversing his route at day’s end, means that the best view comes last, when he reaches the crest of West End Escarpment  and The Bay of Plenty is revealed, stretching as far as the eye can see, with White Island, the Jewel in the Crown, puffing serenely on the horizon. What a homecoming at day’s end but “Wait there’s more!” as they say in the infomercials – dinner’s waiting!

Mr. Bill did not always have such a sweet ride. As a student at Georgetown Medical School, he had to navigate the maze of Washington, D.C.. By trial and error he learned that many one way streets, illogically reverse direction, when bi-sected by parks and there are a LOT of parks in The District. While a Surgical Resident at Brown University in Rhode Island, Mr. Bill was caught out in the Great Blizzard of ’78.  The state was paralyzed by a massive snow storm and thousands were stranded in their cars, when the roads and highways became impassable. When Mr. Bill headed home that fateful Monday evening to his heavily pregnant wife, after finishing his weekend shift, it was 19 degrees Fahrenheit (-7.2 Celsius), the snow measured 27.6 inches (70cm), with drifts up to 27 feet and there were gale force winds. He made it through the deserted city streets, onto the highway entrance ramp, only to discover Route 95, the great artery of the eastern seaboard, was at a standstill. Abandoned trucks and cars buried under snow, blocked all the lanes. Unable to go forward and soon boxed in from behind, Mr. Bill followed suit and tramped the mile back to Rhode Island Hospital. He remained there for 5 days, until the roads were finally cleared. There are no snow days in medicine, nor is there overtime pay in America for doctors but Mr. Bill was one of the lucky ones. He had a bed in the residents’ hall to lay his head for a few hours each night and after 3 days, the cafeteria stopped charging the staff for meals. I think that was one of the weeks he worked 120 hours- still it could have been worse, he could have been stuck in his car.

With a blizzard as a benchmark, it was hardly a spot of bother when Mr. Bill experienced a taste of March Madness in Tauranga. When needed, Mr. Bill travels the 95  kilometers (59 miles) to Tauranga to hold clinics and operate. It’s a gorgeous drive along the coast, past cows grazing in green pastures and kiwi fruit orchards but once inside the city limits, it’s every commuter’s nightmare- congestion, lengthy delays at red lights and merging mayhem at the roundabouts. Mr. Bill goes with the flow, taking the good with the bad.

March Madness has also hit the gentle streets of Ohope Beach. There are now traffic queues (Now there’s an interesting word- only the first letter speaks while the next four remain silent.) on Pohutukawa Avenue. A major culvert repair is underway. The one and only road through town, was reduced to one lane of alternating traffic. The asphalt was dug up and then replaced one section at a time, as crews removed the old culvert and installed the new pipe under the road, centimeter by centimeter.  The Stop and Go men, brought Ohope to a standstill the first week , as everyone became used to the new traffic pattern. I’m sure I was the envy of all the waiting drivers, when I cheekily rode my push bike to the front of the line and stopped in front of the man, spinning the Stop & Go sign. That’s when I had an, “Only in Ohope Moment”. The construction worker beckoned me forward with the crook of his index finger. Startled, I pantomimed back “me”? with my index finger pointing to my chest. He nodded. I warily advanced. Was I in trouble for cutting the line? No. He was smiling and was motioning me onwards, wanting me to squeeze through the gap, instead of waiting for the all clear. Then he cheerily said, “they’re not digging now, you should be alright to bike past”. Gulp! I went for it and got a big thumbs up from the sign holder on the other end. We all became great friends as I cycled passed the construction site twice daily. It was mighty disappointing the following week, when temporary red lights replaced the Stop and Go crew. I could still zip to the front of the queue when the light was red but without my mates, I became the caboose when the light turned green and the cars passed me by.

Construction is ongoing but Pohutukawa Avenue is now back to two lanes, the red lights are gone and orange cones guide the traffic, through the work site. The footpath has been dug up and a temporary sidewalk has been created on the road. When that is open, I have my very own travel lane, which is much safer. Sometimes though, the entrance is open but the egress is blocked when there is a hole too wide to jump and I have to reverse out and find another route. My friend Mark, has emailed his concern about my biking, writing,”I must admit that I am troubled by a nice girl like you peddling her ass all over New Zealand”. Please rest assured, there’s no Hanky Panky  in New Zealand but there is Hokey Pokey.

Happily for Mr. Bill, the construction zone lies beyond where we live and he is spared this bit of March Madness. Sadly, his beloved PC Friars lost their tournament bid and he has March Sadness. Poor Mr. Bill.



My special travel lane!


Just mind the swing of the digger when you bike past and you’ll be alright.

Going to the hospital...

Fortunately, Mr. Bill turns right onto Pohutukawa Avenue from West End Road to go to work. Going that way, he misses the culvert construction which is further down Pohutukawa.


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Hiding in Plain Sight


There they were, scores of stingrays, hiding in plain sight, riding the face of the incoming wave. What I missed, Mr. Bill would have spotted. Briefly visible, before dropping into the tube, to ride the barrel wave- the penultamite run for all surfers- the stingrays were gliding elegantly on the incoming tide, arriving en masse for the “All You Can Eat Crab Buffet”, served daily at low tide.

Unfortunately, I missed them but fortunately, the camera lens did not. Intent on trying to capture the translucent green of the breaking waves, I was oblivious to the drama occurring beneath the surface. If only Mr. Bill was walking West End Beach with me that day, his keen eye, accustomed to always looking deeper, would have quickly determined what lay beneath and diagnosed stingrays. I would have been ecstatic. Instead, left to my own devices, the artist in me concentrated on the dazzling play of light and color, growing increasingly frustrated, every time a shadow ruined the shot. However, Mr. Bill, whose clinical assessment is always on, far from becoming frustrated, would have been analyzing and searching for the underlining cause. I observe. Mr. Bill divines. I suppose, it’s all in how you look at the world.

It was some months however, before  the proverbial penny dropped and I learned what I had missed on that late fall day. A chance encounter, sent me searching through my digital iPhoto files, to discover the feeding phenomenon I had unwittingly photographed. Winter was at long last on the wane and the beach was filled with happy children, enjoying the warmth of an early spring day. It was low tide and the sand was littered with sharp empty clam shells, courtesy of the shore birds’ midday feast. I had stopped to chat with a woman, who was watching her young grandson on his boogie board. (Is is absolutely grand, that you can just stop and have a good chin wag with a Kiwi. They love to talk and you will come away with a new friend and having learned something interesting.)  As he walked through the shallow water, the boy hopped from foot to foot, crying out “ouch, ouch, ouch” with every jump. When I remarked that the shells must be cutting his feet, she answered unconcerned, “oh no, it’s not shells he’s stepping on, that would be the crabs pinching him but they don’t hurt. ” She went on to explain, that stingrays eat the crabs at low tide. The penny dropped! The failed photo was not a failure after all.  I told her of my frustrated attempts to photograph backlit waves. I explained that shadows, which I determined to be seaweed, had spoiled every shot. Nana was indignant. “We do not have seaweed on West End Beach!” she exclaimed. She was of course, right. I have never, ever, seen seaweed on the West End of Ohope Beach or anywhere else, along New Zealand’s favorite beach.

What a relief, that I had not deleted the picture. Although I did not get the photo that I wanted that day, I thought that the dark shapes within the waves, created an interesting design and decided to keep it. As an art student, I learned that there are no mistakes in art, just happy accidents. Keeping the photograph and having the enlightening conversation was indeed fortuitous.

On two occasions, I have been lucky and have seen stingrays in Ohiwa Harbor. Sadly, Mr. Bill has not been as fortunate. Even his discerning eye, would not have tipped the scales in his favor, on those days. The first time, Mr. Bill was in the ‘wrong’ seat in the kayak. The second time involved lunch and Mr. Bill does not eat lunch. Fortunately for me, I was sitting up front and because lunch is my guilty pleasure, I saw the stingrays. On the former sighting, Mr. Bill and I were exploring Ohiwa harbor with Kenny McCracken, of KG Kayaks, when my paddle disturbed a stingray resting on the sandy bottom. Up popped the stingray to my delight but it dove back down in a flash, kicking up a cloud of sand, that obscured Mr. Bill’s view. Poor Mr. Bill, he was understandably disappointed. The latter encounter happened, when I had gone to lunch at Ohiwa Oyster Farm with my friends, Lois and Nick, (Yes that Nick of blog post- “A Fanciful Friendship”) where stingrays join the lunch crowd, enjoying an alfresco meal on Ohiwa Harbor, courtesy of the Seafood Shack. The stingrays come ‘running’ when they see their friend, wade into the water with fresh fish and they flap and swirl around him, as he tosses them their daily treats. It only took three years to train these wild, gentle creatures to come for their free lunch. Patience is a virtue and I reckon both man and fish are amply rewarded.

My advice Dear Readers, if you wish to have a stingray encounter, is to keep your eyes peeled and never skip lunch, unless of course, you are traveling with Mr. Bill.



Stingrays surfing on West End Beach


Shore dinner on West End Beach- Ohope Beach


Come and get it!


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Water blog

IMG_2099I do apologize Dear Reader, if you are feeling waterlogged, after reading one too many stories about cyclones. So begging your pardon, here is yet another soggy missive. Owing to Mr. Bill’s peculiar super power of attracting wind and rain, it should come as no surprise, that Cyclone Gita has followed Mr. Bill to New Zealand.

Now Mr. Bill can attract precipitation but he cannot control it’s temperature; depending on where he is, it will be either wet or frozen, changing from one to the other, as it Travels with Mr. Bill. On Wednesday, February seventh, we departed from Boston in a snowstorm and arrived in New Zealand, a day and a half later, in a rain storm. The Land of the Long White Cloud, had been transformed into, The Land of the Low Grey Cloud. Our American friends kicked off their snow boots and hung up snow shovels, while our Kiwi mates, pulled on gum boots and grabbed their brollies. A late arrival in Auckland, meant that we missed the baggage transfer deadline and we would have to hump our suitcases over to the Domestic Terminal. It’s a fairly short walk, just shy of 15 minutes and after a long flight, it is  always a welcome opportunity to stretch our legs and breathe 100% pure New Zealand air – unless it’s raining. However, we barely got wet at all and Mr. Bill not at all, due to a little professional courtesy. Recognizing Mr. Bill, the clouds parted briefly, allowing him to push his trolley without being showered. Unfortunately, I lagged behind, separated from Mr. Bill, by a slow moving family. Once Mr. Bill had reached the safety of the terminal, the heavens opened and I was blessed with my morning’s ablutions.

Instant summer is exciting even when it is raining. The thrill does wear off though, after a week of wet muggy weather. Mr. Bill brought along seven days worth of rain.  Moisture found it’s way inside our Beachpoint apartment, making everything feel damp to the touch. All those neatly pressed clothes, that had been packed, oh so carefully, were soon hanging limp in the wardrobe. Too wet to go outside and play, Mr. Bill and I discovered the fun of indoor slip and slide, when heavy humidity left a skim of water on the floor. The challenge of the game was to step from the carpet onto the slick ceramic tiles without falling. It was also too wet to bike or run but it was not to wet to swim. Could I entice Mr. Bill into the pool or the ocean? Absolutely not. Despite being a rain maker, he is not a water baby, famously declaring once, ” that he didn’t have to be in it to enjoy it”. Obligingly, the rain would pause politely at the end of the day, for Mr. Bill’s daily run along Ohope Beach and he was able to jog along the sea without getting wet.

All that rain was just the warm up act for Cyclone Gita, who had been swirling around the South Pacific, after hitting Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. The weather forecast predicted last week, that Gita would leave the tropics and head south, striking New Zealand on Tuesday, February 20th. She did both but with a twist. Having left the tropics, Cyclone  Gita became ex-tropical but was still a formidable presence, with New Zealand in her path. However, instead of making landfall here in the  Bay of Plenty, Gita was expected to pass through the Cook Straights, striking the bottom of the North Island and the Top of the South Island. Instead, Gita changed her mind, tracked a bit more to the south, encountered the Southern Alps and split in two.  All this time, the Lady had been toying with Mr. Bill, playing hard to get. Perhaps Mr. Bill has met his waterloo.

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Bomb Cyclone

104936091-NASA_bomb_cyclone.1910x1000Mr. Bill is a cyclone magnet. Taking a walk on the wild side last year, he enjoyed flings with Debbie, Cook and Donna. Now it’s true that, some married men like to flirt with danger when they are chick magnets but Mr. Bill has a fatal attraction for rapidly falling barometric pressure. Whether called a cyclone in the Pacific Ocean or a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean, Mr. Bill loves them, just the same.

The possibility of experiencing yet another cyclone with Mr. Bill seemed improbable in Ohope but downright impossible, here in the Land of Steady Habits; I had travelled with Mr. Bill from New Zealand to New England, arriving in Connecticut last October, well past the devastating hurricane season of 2017. I thought we were safe from wild, wet, weather, systems spawned by the sea or were we?

We always feel a bit like time travelers, flying between New Zealand and America. Time does fly as the seasons fast forward during the flight. Landing in Boston, we discovered that we had skipped summer, trading spring flowers for fall foliage. In a blink, we went from shedding layers to adding layers. Despite hoping for an Indian Summer, autumn turned to winter without a backward glance. At least Old Man Winter did not arrive empty handed. His present was a beautiful White Christmas and it was the gift, that kept on giving. For two weeks the temperature did not rise above freezing in Connecticut. The average daytime high was 9 degrees Fahrenheit (-22.7 Celsius). The  northeast was in the grip of a bone chilling, winter and the entire eastern seaboard was experiencing prolonged, below normal,temperatures. Snow fell from Maine to northern Florida. Iguanas, numb with cold, fell from trees in Miami, when the temperatures dropped to 40 degrees (4.4Celsius). Frostbite warnings were posted for northern states and meteorologists issued, ‘Cuddle Alerts’, in Florida. Brrr! Everyone was shivering!  Surely, no tropical depression could form and develop into a cyclone or could one?

The seemingly impossible happened. On January 4, 2018, the east coast was smacked with a Bomb Cyclone, also known as Explosive Cyclogenesis,  which is a “rapidly deepening extratropical cyclonic low-pressure area”.* These aptly named explosive storms are created, when a low-pressure system’s central pressure, falls 24 millibars in 24 hours or less. This snow hurricane dropped 59 millibars in 24 hours. However, one doesn’t need a fancy barometer to measure atmospheric  pressure, just ask Mr. Bill. Forewarned is forearmed; after all this wasn’t our first rodeo. We battened down the hatches and waited for the wind driven snow to arrive. Soon our old house was being buffeted by howling winds and pelted with icy snow. Old homes were built to last and our nearly one hundred year old, Dutch colonial, proudly withstood another test of time. There was only one tiny breach. We discovered snow in the enclosed breezeway. It  had blown under the back door and through the keyhole as well, reminding us why  doors to New England homes, do not open directly into the house. Vestibules, porches and breezeways make great antechambers, to trap the warm air in and keep the elements out. Amazingly, we didn’t even lose power.

There are some sun worshipers who circumnavigate the earth and flit between the hemispheres, thereby chasing an endless summer. Mr. Bill, on the other hand, marches to the beat of a different drummer, pursuing extreme weather around the world. However, don’t be alarmed. It’s quite safe to journey with Mr. Bill, for he always knows which way the wind is blowing. Strong winds may swirl all around us, with cyclones rotating left in the southern hemisphere and hurricanes rotating  right in northern hemisphere but life with Mr. Bill,  is lived in the eye of the storm.



Snow drifts at the back door


Strong gusts blew the wind under the door and through the keyhole


Mr. Bill shoveling snow and dreaming of Ohope sand. (Note the Silver Fern knitted hat)





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The Naughty Little Digger

dscn29631-e1505711903237.jpg” Auckland Airport is out of jet fuel and planes are advised to find fuel elsewhere” presenter, Peter Williams of TVNZ One News, calmly reported last night. Mr. Bill and I looked at each other in stunned disbelief. Did he really just announce that Auckland Airport, New Zealand’s major airport, was out of fuel and airlines had to fill up elsewhere? Um, we were perplexed. How would they do that exactly? It’s not like you can taxi into the nearest Z petrol station and top up with aviation fuel. Our television set here, cannot be paused or re-wound, so please accept my paraphrasing of the news announcement. I wish I could say, that Mr. Bill and I had misheard but sadly it’s true. Auckland Airport has indeed run out of jet fuel and it could take well up to a fortnight, to fix the problem. I can, however, accurately quote journalist, Mike Hosking, when he interviewed Bill English, the Prime Minister, on NZ Radio’s News-Talk ZB program. Hosking asked the Prime Minister,” Why yet again, with this pipeline, do we find ourselves as a Huckleberry little backwater, that is seeing our biggest airport crippled by a singular pipe and a dickhead with a digger?” Ouch!

Apparently, this major disruption to air travel in, out and around the country, was caused a few months ago, by a swamp kauri log hunter and his digger. He  scraped the underground pipeline of Refining New Zealand, while searching on a nearby farm, for buried treasure, in this case, the highly valued kauri logs. He either ignored or did not notice the posted hazard warning signs. Lying beneath rural and urban areas, the buried pipeline, owned by Refining New Zealand, connects the refinery on Marsden Point to Auckland Airport, 163 kilometers away. It’s reported that Refining New Zealand, was aware of the situation but it didn’t become critical until the pipeline was shut off, this past Thursday. That is when the compromised pipeline finally ruptured and fuel began leaking into the ground. Now there’s a spill to be contained and cleaned up, before the welders can safely replace the broken section of pipe. It became a catastrophe for travelers on Sunday, when the storage tanks at the airport ran low and flights were cancelled or rerouted. They are now looking for that “dickhead with a digger”, whom I am quite certain, is long gone. The CEO of Refining New Zealand, Sjoerd Post, did appear on the morning news programs today and said, “sorry”.

Surely, this is a job for the Little Yellow Digger. The “Little Yellow Digger”, is a delightful children’s book written by Kiwi authors Betty and Alan Gilderdale. The Little Yellow Digger is small but mighty and he always saves the day.  In addition to the original story, The Little Yellow Digger, there is The Little Yellow Digger Saves The Whale, The Little Digger at the Zoo and The Little Yellow Digger Goes to School. I can see in my mind, the tittle, The Little Yellow Digger Fixes the Pipeline and Saves Auckland Airport.

Pigs might have to fly first though.



Swamp kauri log


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