Meeting Stewart Island locals

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We recently took our family to Stewart Island to enjoy the unspoiled wilderness there and during our stay met many friendly and interesting locals. The people are really friendly and helpful, and the wildlife also surprisingly accomodating of humans. My eldest daughter and I encountered a kiwi in broad daylight (at 11:15am) as it crossed the track in front of us on Ulva island. That was the highlight of the trip for me, but we were also visited each day by a rowdy group of kaka who hung around town like a gang of teenagers.
We were so inspired by this trip that my wife and I are now dreaming of how to live on the island permanently!

A gentle tree

My well of inspiration for post topics has run dry today so I am going to emulate a friend and write about trees.

My favourite tree is the Kowhai, especially the sub species with very fine leaves (Sophora microphylla). To me the kowhai is a gentle tree, welcoming spring with a spectacular burst of bright yellow flowers for the tuis and bellbirds to feast upon. Then once clothed in its summer leaves woodpigeons love to munch upon the new leaf shoots, teetering their bulk on fine branches.

At each of the two houses we have owned I planted kowhai trees. The best seedlings came from an old chap in Owaka who raised seedlings from his son’s farm in the Catlins and sold them for a song. These were hardy plants, well suited to a coastal climate but slow growing. I also managed to grow some from seeds, first soaking the seeds for a week in water to get the hard outer shell of crack open.

The seeds of kowhai are actually poisonous, containing a compound which mimics the effect of nicotine and in amounts sufficient to make a person quite ill. However, the seed coat is so tough that it resists degradation in the human digestive system so fortunately actual poisonings are quite rare as only the green seeds are soft enough for a person to chew and release the toxin. It seems a little incongruous that a tree I view as being ‘gentle’ would have poisonous seeds, but perhaps it is just as well for it to have some defence against opossums.

Another interesting thing about kowhai trees is that they are legumes. They have nodules on their roots containing bacteria which can fix nitrogen from the soil, making it available for the tree to use. This enables kowhai trees to grow in low quality soils such as sandy, gravelly areas with less organic material in the soil.

I’m not sure exactly why I consider kowhai trees to be gentle, it may be due to the softness of the leaves and it’s wiry delicate shape when young. But to me even mature old kowhai trees have a gentle dignity about them. They are not one of the mighty giants of the New Zealand forest, but they provide food for some of my favourite birds and have some of the most spectacular flowers of all our trees. There is a kowhai beside the bus shelter where I catch my morning bus to work and in the spring it leaves a carpet of fallen yellow flowers, making a great contrast of yellow softness against the black harshness of the asphalt footpath.

Why do dogs eat grass?

I have an interesting article titled Why do dogs and cats eat grass? by Benjamin L. Hart which was published in the journal Veterinary Medicine (December 2008, 103, 12 pp648-649).

The author did several small surveys of students and customers who were dog owners based on the assumption that plant eating is associated with illness or dietary deficiency. The results indicated that illness was unlikely to be the reason for eating grass and that vomiting afterwards is not as common as thought.

To dig a bit deeper they used an online survey to ask dog owners about plant eating behaviour. With 1571 useful responses:

  • 67% said their dogs eat plants daily or weekly.
  • 8% reported their dogs showing signs of illness before eating plants.
  • 22% said their dog regularly vomits eating plants
  • Younger dogs are seen eating plants more often than older dogs

There was no indication that dogs with lower fibre in their diet ate plants more than other dogs.

Contrary to popular opinion, most dogs that eat grass or other plants are not unwell and most do not vomit afterwards. So why do they eat grass?


Both domestic and wild dogs eat plant material. It does not seem to be associated with illness or dietary deficiency but is a common behaviour so presumably serves some purpose.

The theory put forth by the author of this article is that eating plants helps purge parasites such as intestinal worms from the gut by increasing how quickly material moves through the gut and also by wrapping around the worms and carrying them out of the body

Sooo, about poo?

My question then is; why does my disgusting dog eat her own poo? She does eat grass but the theory of removing parasites is defeated by her coprophagy!

Takahe to start 2018

2018 began well for me with a visit to the Orokanui ecosanctuary where we had the opportunity to see takahe up close, including a mum feeding her chick.

In addition to seeing the takahe, it was a great day out for us all as a family. The weather was good, kids were happy and we had plenty of time to enjoy a picnic, explore further than we have on previous visits and finish the day with hot chocolates, coffee, and well-brewed tea.

Being able to enjoy a bush walk together with everyone happy is something we treasure but doesn’t often come together as we might like. There are lots of things that can put a dampener on an otherwise good experience so it’s good to recognise and fully enjoy when it is a good experience. I remember taking kids for short walks when they were younger, trying to negotiate tree roots with a stroller that was not built for such adventures but was all we could afford, hearing complaints about having to walk uphill, at those times we dreamed of when we would no longer need to push or carry children and could enjoy a simple bush walk together.

Having happy, healthy children, being able to enjoy a beautiful public space alive with natural wonders – this is a blessing I try not to take lightly. Appreciating such things and being thankful for them is a good way to begin the year.

Let the bugs live

I read an interesting, and worrying, article today from the Guardian:

Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers.

It discussed the results of a longitudinal study surveying the biomass of flying insects in German nature reserves over the period from 1989 to 2016. Overall, the study found a 76% decline in the biomass of flying insects.

The authors of the published paper suggest that pesticide use and climate change are likely to be significant factors contributing to the loss of insects.

Some might react with gladness – the fewer annoying bugs the better. However, insects are a crucial part of the food chain and both plants and animals depend upon them to survive so rapid loss of insects over such a relatively short period is extremely concerning.

Another way to dismiss the relevance of this study to us in New Zealand would be to argue that it was performed in Europe which is considerably more developed than here and possibly more polluted. Yet we are even more dependant on agriculture than Germany so a similar decline in insect population here could have a massive impact on our economy. We also use large amounts of pesticides here too, and history shows that New Zealand’s ecosystems are sensitive to changes like this.

I have no idea if similar studies have been conducted in New Zealand, though I’m now curious to find out. The implications of a global decline in insects are huge, many of us may dislike bugs but for life on earth to continue we do need them.

My cheerful winter friends

Close-up of iris flower

As a lily among brambles,so is my love among the young women.
(Song of Solomon 2:2 ESV)

Near the entrance to the building in which I work is a patch of irises. I particularly like these irises because they flower during the winter, adding a splash of cheerfulness on gloomy days as I head to work.

I’m no gardening expert, but to the best of my knowledge these plants would normally flower in spring or summer, but for at least 12 years that I know of this clump of greenery has flowered right in the coldest part of winter. I feel like they have been my little cheerful friends for many years now, even when I have worked in other parts of campus these flowers boldly send a message of beauty and hope during the dreariest part of each year.

Somehow these small, fragile living things displaying their beauty does more to lift my heart than all my own efforts to do so. As I near the one thousand mark on my eucharisteo list I notice that many times I have given thanks for the fresh air, sunlight, plants, birds, insects, hills, and water that is given by God to all of us to partake of.

These flowers remind me of God’s extravagant love. His love in placing reminders of Him and His creative power in my path. His extravagance in that even though flowers wither within days and may not be seen by many, it is God’s pleasure to make them. Within the thorny brambles of life in a sin-wrecked world God creates stunning beauty for everyone if they will look for it.

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!
(Luke 12:27–28 ESV)

Gifts I have noticed recently:

  • Frost crystals on a sunlit rock {973}
  • Irises blazing midwinter colour {976}
  • Dozing in the sunshine {978}
  • Being less then 1 metre from an adult fur seal {980}
  • Enormous ice creams {983}
  • Very silly, giggly girls at bedtime {990}
  • Three-year-old son ‘reading’ the dictionary {995}
  • A quiet cup of tea with my wife after she finished work {997}

Simple, not easy

I was listening to Matthew Chapter 7 as I walked home this afternoon and noticed how simply Jesus taught. He did not make it complicated to understand how to be righteous – simply listen to what He said and put it into practise, simple!

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
(Matthew 7:24 ESV)

Simple to understand, certainly not easy to do. In fact, if the path I’m on is easy, that’s a good indication I’m on the wrong path.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. “
(Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)

The call and commands of Christ are easy to understand but impossible for a sinful man to obey. I must become something I am not – a little child (Matthew 18:3). A little child believes Jesus when He says it is better to enter life with one hand or one eye than to be thrown into hell with two hands or two eyes. A little child does not rationalize away sin or hell, he confesses the sin, trusts Jesus, and walks on with Jesus in obedience. I don’t need more knowledge, I need to know Jesus and live trusting Him completely.

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “
(Matthew 6:31-33 ESV)

Gifts I have noticed this week (145 – 162):

145) The means to dispatch large spiders without getting too close! (i.e., flyspray).
146) My 17 year-old watch that still goes great.
147) My Mother-in-law making my favourite cake.
148) Contemplating God while washing dishes late at night.
149) Being mesmerized by the patterns of light summer rain falling silently on a pond.
150) Gentle ‘plopping’ sounds as the rain gets heavier.
151) Dragonflies hovering.

152) A dog eager for me to throw a pine cone into the pond for him to chase.

153) School camp.
154) A washing machine.
155) warm, sunny days to get washing dry.
156) Memories of my own childhood adventures.
157) A swim for two dogs who are hot and panting.
158) A gentle, cooling breeze (see Jonah 4:8).
159) Warm sunny days helping to burn away the fog.
160) Clean water to drink.
161) A dog who is expert at finding lost tennis balls to play with.
162) Hope in Christ deeper than any circumstance or emotion.
163) A new road layout, no more walking alongside trucks.
164) The simple, brain-clearing rhythm of walking.

Inspired again

See what God has made

I was feeling distinctly uninspired about blogs today – I am noticing how banal and trivial many blogs are, even (perhaps especially) blogs written by Christians (I expect a bit more depth from Christians). I then noticed how trivial our culture is as I walked through town at lunch time and felt even less inspired. Why add to the existing deluge of trivia on the internet?

Then my screensaver displayed this photo which I snapped the other day.

At the time I was impressed by the near-perfect form of this dandelion. Today I look at it compared to the ‘fun’ culture around me and the technical wizardry of our time and am awed by the finesse, skill, care and beauty that God has put into a thing that will literally disintegrate in a puff of wind. He actually designed it to fall apart and waft away in the wind, there is intentionality and purpose in this beauty, which was growing in the weeds of my unkept back yard!

This brings to mind Isaiah 40:8 which really is about the frailty of men, not just plants, and the staggering relevance to my observations of our culture that comes from the rest of Isaiah 40. If you are feeling dry and distant from God, it is not long really until we will hear the cry “Behold your God!” (Isaiah 40:9, Revelation 22:7).