Summer’s ill wind and thunderclouds

Weather’s this summer’s talking point. But here’s the newsworthy bit: in the Wellington region, the weather’s been great

Summer and I have a tricky relationship.

I want temperate temperatures: the bulbs and blossom and leaf of spring; autumn’s shadows and morning dew; the roses, sweet peas, and berries that usher in summer; flaming dahlias, apples and pumpkins that mark the end of it.

I spend a lot of time looking forward to all this. But by the time summer’s solstice arrives, I’m lost in winter nostalgia. On a wintery day, I might go out and dig holes, plant some things, and shift some other things, give voice to the gardens and hedges clamouring in my head.

I’m not very good at just being here, now -- not good at living with my mistakes. Summer is a sort of purgatory.


Here are some simple summer celebrations, happening now:

1. Happy hens at sunrise, in the meadow grass. They form up like a line of beaters, daintily snipping ripe seed, and catching the early worm.

2. Rain, especially rain at night, and on thundery afternoons. I sat on the porch and listened to it patter and cluck in the dark; I worked outside on a muggy day, while the rumbling got louder, and fat spats of rain turned into torrents. I cannot get enough of the foresty smell of wet dirt afterwards, and the way green things look: greener, and bigger.

3. Staring at the vegetables: some alchemy of food and water and warmth has lit a fire beneath them. There is a 3D picture at the bottom of my garden: a leafy green tapestry, picked out by clusters of fruit. It’s a conundrum, that doesn’t really need to be solved: is this garden beautiful in spite of its functionality, or because of it?

4. Provisioning: slowly accumulating firewood, pinecones, bottled fruit, seed potatoes. I haven’t bottled fruit before. It looks cheerful and pretty in the cupboard, and it’s nice knowing winter breakfasts will be sunnier.

5. Fistfuls of sweet-smelling sweet peas, stuffed cottage-style, into mugs and jars.

6. Hedgehogs, who are little creatures of habit. On a moonlit night, or any night, around nine or ten, you can follow the noise in the undergrowth, and find hogs of assorted sizes going about their business. If I am lucky, one of the bustling snuffling shadows on the lawn will hoist up its prickles and skirts, and run on tippy-toe.

7. Growth, and concomitant pruning: the vegetables are inflating by inches daily; the almond trees are two feet taller. It is a sort of sleight of hand: I take an armful of branches off each baby tree, and yet the tree is not diminished. It looks more dignified, more like its grown up self.

8. Murphy’s Orchard: in truth, it is a little early in the year for going to Murphy’s Orchard; their Black Doris plums are not ripe. But anyway, I do. The land must be worth millions, they surely hardly eke a living from the fruit, and yet they do not sell it. I look at their beautifully pruned trees, then come home, and try to copy.


But this is a surreal, barren time. The old feijoa flowers, prodigiously, every Christmas time, but never fruits. Thuggish wind roars down from the northwest, and pummels and desiccates. I want to shield my poor blasted trees and plants from it, like a mother hen. The Orpingtons, Poppy and little Rose, brood on empty nests. Weeds bolt, the soil dries out, grass crackles under foot. Green fades out to dun. Harsh hot sunlight lays bare all my mistakes. And when I sit in the garden, looking, most of it looks like failure.

Both stories are equally likely, and equally true.


Two weeks ago it rained hard and long, and then it rained some more. It is going to rain again. It was “unseasonably cold” weather. Reporter Abby Scott, on the Wellington foreshore, gave life to this story by showing her own four layers of underclothes, as per the weather advisory.

But it was a good day, at my house -- not like summer at all, and not much like Wellington, either. I spent a lot of it outside, digging a row of holes, and planting a new hedge. And then I wrote this post.