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Showing posts from November, 2018

Grey day

Very windy day, today. The Easterly was howling down the harbour when I woke and it's been around pretty much all day. The weather has been odd this November: more rain and more wind than anyone can remember. Snow in the high country. Fog. Hail. And sometimes warm, clear spring days. The weather is decided by the movement of vast currents, moving in the oceans and the atmosphere, like the currents in a heating pot of soup. Turn up the gas a bit and the soup moves faster. Turn up the temperature on the planet, and the air and the oceans move faster, and everything is amped up a bit: more clouds and fogs, more rain, more heat, more hail, more wind, more floods, more droughts, more hurricanes and typhoons and tornadoes. In the vast scale of things the 20 years we have been in Dunedin is not a long time, but we have seen the changes in the weather. I wonder what it will be like in another 20? I wonder why all of us seem pretty lethargic about doing something about it, even the major


It's hard to take photos of flowers because it is so easy. You don't need particularly fancy equipment, and anyone can do it: just find a pretty flower, let it fill the viewfinder and press the shutter button, and there you have it. Another flower photo, pretty much indistinguishable from the other 10 billion  flower photos taken on the planet today. Flowers are like sunsets, in that the subject matter does all the work for you, and you can get a shot you're kinda proud of without having to know much about what you're doing. But because there's so many flower pix and so many sunsets and because they all look the same, most fail to convey the wonder and beauty and subtlety and colour and detail which made you reach for your camera in the first place. You hope for a masterpiece and end up with a cliche. We are surrounded by flowers. Our garden had 39 rose bushes last time I counted and I've planted another 3 or 4 since then. I think there's a couple of do


This morning I watched an extraordinary half hour conversation between Jordan Peterson and Iain McGilchrist . I have previously reviewed McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary , a book which has profoundly influenced my thinking on cognition and behaviour. It was a priviliege to listen to these two influential men discussing the brain, freedom and choice, good and evil, chaos and order, mythology, being, and becoming. I was bowled over by something that McGilchrist said late in the interview, when discussing his yet to be finished new book that "God is becoming," and here the word "becoming" is a noun, not a verb. I am well used to thinking of God as Being. Since my days in San Francisco Theological Seminary, I have prescribed to the view that there are no things, but rather processes, and that the Universe and all it contains is in process. I have long been grateful to Charles Birch for clarifying for me the term purpose,with regard to the universe, an


A house was once here, and people, who sat around this fireplace. Maybe they cooked on it. Maybe there was a kettle on a rail above the flames. It's all gone now: the house and the complicated push and pull of relationships which once filled it. I often stop to look at derelict houses, like this one in the Maniototo. They are symbols  of mortality and the impermanence of all things, made all the more poignant by the stillness of the sky and the great open land. But the sky is never still.  And the land too is in process. All things pass. All things. Photo: Nikon D7100, Nikkor 18-200 @ 18mm; 1/1600, f10, iso400. I wanted to emphasise the land and the sky as much as the old chimney,  so I included a lot of them, and to give a sense of stillness, put the horizon line smack in the middle. The chimney is on a thirds intersection to make it the emotional focus. There is some barrel distortion - this lens does this at the wide end of its range - which I was tempted to correct, but

Wood work

We have a reserve next to our house.There used to be a convent here, and when they all moved out in the 1980s the sisters sold some land to developers to put houses on, one of which is ours. Their extensive gardens were given to the city council as a park, and the council has neglected it ever since. It's now a kind of wilderness filled with massive trees. About a year ago, for reasons unkown, the council came and chopped one of them down. The blue gum, with a trunk diameter of about a metre and a height of about 60 feet,  was chopped up into largish pieces and left in a big pile about 20 feet from our fence. Then followed a series of conversations between the Anderson's Bay School, the arborist who did the lumber jacking, and us, about who might have the firewood. A bunch of young men from the school community came to take it away. The pieces of ex-tree were monumentally heavy and it wasn't possible to get a motor vehicle and trailer anywhere near them.The council was

Boys' High

Back in the early 2000s, when I was Vicar of St. John's Roslyn, my stipend didn't quite extend to such fripperies as the DSLR camera I so dearly wanted, so I put my many years of wasting time reading photography magazines to work. Having read reviews of pretty much every camera sold between 1970 and 2005, I was able to buy and sell film cameras at the time when many people were ditching them in favour of the new fangled digital ones. By carefully watching the listings on Trademe and Ebay, and playing off the New Zealand Market against any number of foreign ones I soon had a Canon EOS 300D and a couple of lenses to put on the front of it. This picture of Otago Boys' High School, taken in April 2005, was one of the first shots with my new pride and joy. The EXIF data tells me it was shot at iso100, 1/202 of a second at f10, with the stock 18-55 lens zoomed to 28mm. I can't remember taking this picture, but by the look of things I used a circular polarizing filter. I th


This week past was back to future, doing what has occupied me for years: sitting in an airport lounge or on a plane; going somewhere in a rental car; arriving at a venue and finding my way to where I'm supposed to be going; fiddling with the AV equipment which never, but never quite works; talking to people and pointing at stuff with the little laser and listening to the questions; staying in someone else's house and being part of their routines and sitting around on their furniture. It's all very stimulating and I really do love it. But to be back, and to be met at the airport by the one person on the planet who truly knows me, and then come back to the patterns which frame my days, is the deepest kind of relaxation, even when those days are full and energetic. So I wake, sit on my stool, chop wood for an hour, shower, make coffee, and go and sit in that place in the garden which we know will be out of the breeze today. The bumble bees are awake. The sun shines warmly

Christian Mindfulness

On Tuesday afternoon I talked with a group of staff at Woodford House, in Havelock North, about the possibilities of Christian Meditation. There has been a concerted effort by the Department of Education to introduce Mindfulness to New Zealand schools, and some of our Anglican schools have experimented with it. The government's motivation is the well attested success of mindfulness programs in positively impacting the academic, behavioural and social life of schools. Of the various methods used to introduce Mindfulness I have not heard of any which have been entirely successful, and most seem to have foundered early on several intractable problems: Training. Mindfulness is simple but not easy. It can be learned in a half hour, but sustaining it in one's own life and teaching it with the integrity which only  comes from committed personal practice is another matter entirely. The training programs are bought by schools so the providers must be seen to be giving their

First Church

When the Presbyterians arrived to found the city of Dunedin they spent no time mucking around. In short order they built secondary schools for boys and (progressively for the time) girls, the country's first university and this impressive church. It used to sit on a promontory overlooking the beach until they used most of Bell Hill to fill the beach in, and make a nice flat place for the railway lines. It's said, and I think it's true, that the tallest buildings in a city reflect the values of that place. So, in Auckland, it's gambling and commerce. In Wellington, just commerce. In Dunedin, although commerce is starting to sneak up on us, it has always been God and learning. Which are the reasons I live here, I guess. Nikon D7100; Nikkor 50mm F1.8G; 1/640 f10; iso200


They put in a causeway across Andersons Bay and turned the sandy little cove into a tidal inlet. It made for easier traffic flow when driving to Portobello, I guess. Then they put this little islet in the inlet to give the birds somewhere to sleep, away from nosy people and the cats which may have found them in the dark. My neighbourhood is the result of a century of tinkering. Sometimes I imagine it as it must have been before the improvers arrived but there's no going back now. It is what it is, and most days, when the spoonbills are sifting the mud for crustaceans and the damp clouds hang over the distant city I forgive those old bewhiskered blokes for their Victorian addiction to improvement. Nikon D7100; Nikkor 18-200 VRII @38mm; 1/40 f11

Negative Space

In describing a photographic composition, positive space is the main subject of the picture and negative space is the area which surrounds it. Sometimes, for instance when I am standing on the end of a pier on an overcast day and the sky and sea are huge all around me, the negative space seems the most important bit. As it is in many other things I encounter in the course of the day. Photo: Nikon D7100; Tokina 12-24 F4 @ 22mm; 1/320 f6.3; iso 200


Its raining in Dunedin and the harbour takes on yet another of its infinite personalities. The Otago Harbour isn't a thing, its a process. It's the malleable space where the quickly changing ocean meets, and is contained by, the slowly changing land.  The weather shifts and so does the way the land meets the sea. And so does the way I view it all. And so do I. Photo: Nikon D7100; Tokina 12-24@12mm; 1/200 f6.3; iso200


Later this morning I will stand in front of the congregation of my local parish church and talk to them about Jesus and his unnervingly acccurate estimate of the use by date of the Jerusalem Temple. I will talk about how temples, and other such buildings are the expressions of our hopes and dreams and beliefs and how we get these things hopelessly muddled up with our ideas about God. I will talk about how these psychological constructs are provisional and temporary, and so also are the buildings we express them in. They may last decades, or centuries or millennia, but all of them -ideas and architecture -will fall down one day. I will express my belief that Jesus wasn't being merely nihilistic in pointing this out, but rather that he was inviting his hearers to shift their views: to take their eyes off their own dramatic projections, no matter how impressive they might seem, and place them on the eternity which is lying close to them, hidden in plain sight all about them. Phot

Point of view

I have a bag full of lenses and know perfectly well which one to use for which purpose, but sometimes it's important to break the rules. Sometimes I like to go outside with only one lens, knowing that the choice will restrict what I see, and the restriction will force me to see differently. So this picture was made with a wide angle lens, precisely what you don't use for flowers, and I quite like it because of that.  In a creative writing class I once took, an exercise was to write a short story with certain self imposed restrictions: in my case it was that the story would be exactly 1000 words long; Contain a discovery that leads to conflict; Mention 7 objects that all start with 'S' - (I chose sleeping bag, soap, sack, satin ribbon, stove, saucepan and soup); Have a question in every piece of dialogue; Mention every colour of the rainbow plus black and white, once and only once. The result is here . The point of the exercise is not to produce great lite


This is a shot of a royal albatross, taken on the same day as the other albatross pics I've posted this week. It's not a very good photograph. Let me tell you whats wrong with it. Its not sharp, particularly around the all important eye area. Dynamic range is limited, so it looks flat and dull and the white patch on the bird's shoulder is overblown and has lost all detail. The corner to corner composition is sort of Ok but the body, and therefore the centre of attention, is smack in the middle of the frame giving a stolidity and a  stillness to the shot which isn't the best presentation of what was there.  With regard to photographic equipment, the lens is far more important than the camera it is attached to, and my gear that day consisted of an extremely capable camera body, a Nikon D300, and a comparatively inexpensive Nikkor 18-200mm zoom. This particular lens is designed as a jack of all trades lens for enthusiastic amateurs who are probably going to be snappin

The Bell and the Blackbird

Nikon D7100, Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G, 1/400 f8, iso200 A couple of weeks ago Clemency and I drove to Queenstown to hear the poet David Whyte. I think that people resonate with writers when they articulate for us the doings of our soul, and David Whyte has done that for me several times, as I have mentioned here and here and here and here .  I had seen that he was in New Zealand to conduct one of his famous, week long walking tours, which I would dearly love to have joined, but my budget didn't stretch to the $US5,000 a head ticket price. But I saw  A Day With David Whyte advertised and decided that whatever the cost, I was going. Turns out it was only $95 a head, so Clemency, despite the fact that she was only vaguely aware of who he was,  came too. We left home in the dark and arrived in plenty of time for the 10.00 am start. The venue was a kind of back packer type place on the shore of Lake Wakatipu. About 60 or so people were there, mostly women, all of them looking l


This photo of the same albatross as yesterday has been framed and hangs on our bathroom wall, so for a couple of years now my most vulnerable and undignified moments have been carried out under that stern gaze. The line which runs across the cheek is an organ of communication. It opens up to display a bright red line which no doubt is fraught with meaning if you are another albatross. Some of the ways I saw it use were easy enough to translate: Buzz off, this is my fish and Hey babe, whatcha doin' afterwards? but mostly all I could do was sit on the edge of the complex skein of albatross relationships in puzzled awe at their exquisite skills and beauty. Photo: Nikon D300, Nikkor 18-200 @200mm. 1/320 f9 iso200. Again, apart from a very small crop, this is exactly what came out of the camera. 


This is a White Capped (I think) Mollymawk, photographed  about 5 years ago. A group of us hired a boat and went about 10km off the coast, near Moeraki, to fish for blue cod. I'd gone on similar trips several times before, and as usual we caught our limit of cod (30 fish each, or about 10kg of fillets)  within a couple of hours. And also, as usual, the boat was surrounded by albatrosses, 30 or 40 of them - the big royals with their 3 metre wingspans and these petite little chaps  with their mere 2 metre reach - who hung around hoping to steal the fish from our lines or, as a consolation prize, to scavenge the post-filleting remains. The past slips away taking with it all that once seemed important. The things that remain are those which, whether we knew it at the time or not, somehow touched our souls and  therefore live on into our present. The fish were all eaten years ago. I can't remember the name of the boat, nor the name of its skipper or even his face. If I work har


 I live with a woman whose happy place is the 1350 square metres surrounding our house, and she's very often happy. When required I saw off branches and dig holes and move stuff around in the wheelbarrow but mostly, my role is to be the audience. It's what we do before breakfast, with coffee, when even in November there is a dew and you can see traces of your breath in the clear, early air. Bring your camera, she says. Look at this. Quick, over here, this is special. A bellbird proclaims his dominion and her friend the blackbird is loitering, hoping she may be doing something with the worm laden compost. The vegetables are coming along nicely. The wisteria is in bloom. How did this happen? How did we end up here? Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Photos: Nikon D7100, Micro Nikkor 105mm 2.8 

Armistice Day

    At 11 am on this day, 100 years ago, in a railway carriage in Versailles,  German and Allied representatives met to sign the agreement which would officially end the First World War.  The terms of the agreement were harshly punitive, a piece of spite on behalf of the victors, which aimed to ensure peace by making the prospective cost of any future war unbearable for Germany. Instead of its intended effect, however, by destroying the German economy and by unnecessarily humiliating and embittering the shattered German people, the terms of the armistice virtually guaranteed the continuation of the conflict in 1939. The Second World War can be accurately thought of therrefore,  as a further phase of the great conflict which began in 1914. The origins of the "Great" war lie in the jostling for power of those European blocs who had already presumed their right to annex most of the globe and help themselves to its resources. Fearful of the consequences of provoking ea


Tough. Voracious. Cunning. A little shy of company. I like them. A lot, actually.  But apparently, so do stoats and ferrets and possums and feral cats and rats and all those other creatures we thought at the time would make excellent additions to our fauna. Not that the predators would take on a full grown pukeko, but they eat the eggs and the chicks when they can find them. And pukeko chick and roads are not a congenial mix. So these big ungainly birds with their brightly coloured bills and irridescent blue feathers, though there's plenty of them elsewhere in the country,  had been absent from the Abel Tasman National Park for years. But lately, a concerted effort at trapping and poisoning predators has allowed them to return. Good on yer, DOC. I think its their toughness and self sufficiency I admire. They originally found their way here, all by themselves from Australia - they are a sub species of the swamp hens found throughout the South Pacific. They gauge perfectly, h

St. Bathans

Drive through the Pig Root, and then the Maniototo, and just when you think you're as far away from anywhere as you can possibly be, take the side road to the right, drive about 10 minutes and you'll arrive at St Bathans. It's a place where, a hundred and fifty years ago, people went a little crazy looking for gold. They built a little town with a hotel and a bank and a church on the hill made from (yes, really) corrugated iron. They dammed the stream and used the mounded up water to sluice away the ground, making untidy piles of debris and carving a great wound in the Earth. The gold is long gone but the town remains and people still visit to get  a share of  quaintness and to eat a meal in the hotel and maybe encounter the ghost which lurks in one of its bedrooms. Some pray in the church, which, against the odds, is still there, as good as new. But most come to look at the wound, now aged and filled with water. The Blue Lake. The scar has become ethereally beautifu


Sitting all by itself, at a crossroads in the South Eastern corner of Southland is this tiny church, the spiritual home, when I visited it,  of a small,close knit congregation of truly lovely people. I don't know whether they still meet there. Their existence was precarious a couple of years ago, and will be more so now. The rural church is disappearing. The tide of 21st Century secularisation is washing with as much vigour through the farm gates as it does through the streets of the cities, but out there, where no-one much is looking, there has been an additional pressure. Over the last 30 or so years there has been a revolution in New Zealand farming, away from mixed cropping, sheep and beef towards dairying. The transition is seen in the infrastructure of the countryside and in the change from small woolly  inhabitants of paddocks to big black and white ones. A significant part of the transition is not seen, and that is the change in the social structure of rural New Zealan


I've never much cared for HDR photos. They contradict my usual photographic approach - I'm trying to engage with and portray what is there, and it seems that a picture that is produced largely in the computer, while it may be beautiful, goes in another direction. But recently I switched to Corel photo editing software after years of using Lightroom and Photoshop, and my new program, Paintshop Pro has an HDR option,  so why not try it out? It made the photograph above, out of this: And I realised, that not only did the HDR shot look better than the orignal, but it expressed more accurately what it was I saw on the headland at Karitane back in late December 2011. So for the last 24 hours I've been playing. There's tens of thousands of photos on my hard drive that I've never bothered with, because they are kind of nothing shots - ones that didn't quite work. There were others I've worked on over the years but never been quite satisfied with. But I'v