Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A happening time in the garden

Remember the peony? It started dropping petals, messily, and now it doesn't look nearly as beautiful.

But somehow, close up, it still has a certain charm.

Meanwhile, the roses, which a week ago looked like this –

Now look like this:

And outside in the stormwater drain, a poppy is blooming. I was not the only one interested in the poppy.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bang bang bang

I had a long day on Thursday. So far my Thursday classes have been easy, or at least not unmanageable, and generally everything has been going well. But on Thursday things got complicated by the university's clever decision to demolish some old bicycle sheds. Since these sheds ran the length of the building I was working in, right past the classrooms, we had large machinery practically coming in the windows all morning, along with the cheerful sounds of ripping corrugated iron and a lot of accompanying bangs and crashes and swearing, and in the afternoon the workmen used chainsaws to make the bits small enough to fit on the large trucks which then arrived with their noise. Being only one floor up meant that we got the brunt of all this.

When I had to give a test that included some dictation I was under strict instructions to read each line only twice, but I decided NEVER MIND THE INSTRUCTIONS. I read everything about fifteen times at high volume, hoping the students would be able to fill in the gaps over the roar of machinery and screeches of ripping metal, and between the crashes, bangs, and shouts coming from about three metres outside the window. It was all very silly, and probably not educationally very sound.

There was an upside, though. (There is always an upside.) My students had really unusual lessons. They were focussed. They learned to listen very, very carefully while watching my lips. They learned to shout very loudly, in English. "PARDON? I CAN'T HEAR YOU!" I taught them to shout. They got a lot of practice with that, and seemed to enjoy it.

Also, a feeling of camaraderie was fostered in the classroom. We stared hopefully at each other when the machines fell silent, and rolled our eyes collectively when they started up again after ten seconds. We shouted uselessly and shook our fists at the window. It wasn't just me getting frustrated and annoyed. We were all in it together. When things went quiet at one point, and then suddenly a workman sneezed loudly right outside the window, we all jumped, and some of us shrieked slightly. We had become a cohesive group by that time, and it was a cohesive group jump and shriek. Then we had a cohesive group laugh about it.

So it was a tiring and frustrating sort of day, but at the same time it was a fun and unexpected sort of day. In fact on balance, despite all my complaining, I suppose it wasn't really all that bad.

Absurd, but not all that bad.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


This morning I sat on our front step enjoying a cup of tea and the unexpected sunshine. The forecast was for rain, and it is raining now, but for about half an hour this morning it was lovely.

While I was sitting there, half asleep still, I saw a bug moving across the ground in front of me. It was red and black, and I leaped up. A couple of years ago we had an invasion of Australian redbacked spiders in the area, and were warned about it. I had never seen one, but maybe this was it! I hovered for moment, knowing I should step on it. But instead, I dashed inside to get my camera.

By the time I came back I was more awake. In fact I was awake enough to see that although the bug was red and black, it in no way even remotely resembled a spider. I should not attempt bug identification when I am half asleep.

I took a photo anyway, confident that The Man would be able to identify it for me.

He couldn't. He thought at first it was a stink bug, but it is the wrong shape entirely. Trying to Google it did not help. It also doesn't help that these are not great pictures. The size of the bug is a bit over one centimeter, I guess. (That stone is a little less than 3 cm top to bottom, which gives some idea of scale.)

Does anybody know what it is?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Garden, up close

Yesterday I decided it was time to experiment with the camera lens I was talked into buying last year in Malaysia. It was expensive, but not as expensive as most macro lenses, and the guy in the shop managed to convince me it was the best thing since sliced bread. He had one himself, he said, and it was fantastic.

I had tried using it a bit once or twice, without very good results, and told The Man I thought I'd made a mistake buying it. His response was that I just hadn't learned how to use it properly, and it was probably fine. Yesterday I experimented in our garden, which is pretty scruffy, but with good spots. It seemed to me that a macro lens was the best thing to use – I could show the good bits, close up, and miss the scruffy bits.

I think I might be getting the hang of my new lens.

Here is the tree peony, blooming extravagantly outside our front door. Our tree peony is a few twigs in a pot most of the year, but then at this time of year it suddenly produces enormous pink flowers. It used to produce one. Then it became two. This year it was three, but in this picture you can only see two. This photo was taken with my ordinary lens.

And this is one of the flowers close up, taken with my new lens:

I spotted a ladybird on the bridal veil (thank you Kenju, for the name!), so decided to photograph that next. I didn't notice the aphids when I was taking this picture. It was only when I got the picture on the computer that I saw what the ladybird was up to:


(This is why gardeners like ladybirds.)

When I was about to go inside I spotted my first frog of the season, well-disguised on the wall next to some dead ivy. (Dead because I'd chopped it to stop it from strangling the rose, which is not blooming yet.)

I do not regret buying the new lens, now, and you can expect a few more close-up pictures from me in the future.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I do love these white flowers.

And I'm not the only one.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sour kiwifruit

Last night I went to bed very early for me – ten o'clock – so that I would be well-rested for the early start I had today.

At eleven o'clock the phone rang. The Man rushed to get it, but it was too late. I was awake. I stared at my clock blearily, panicked, and leaped out of bed.

"IS IT REALLY ELEVEN O'CLOCK?" I screeched. Then I looked at the window, which was dark.

"... at NIGHT?" I tailed off, confused. "What was that?"

"Yes, it's eleven" said The Man as he came back into the room, slightly puzzled by my extreme reaction. "That was a fax."

I fell back into bed gratefully.

"Thank god for that," I said. "I thought it was eleven o'clock in the morning, and that I'd missed my first two classes, and that was the university calling to ask where I was, and I would get a really, really bad reputation, and ... "

It took a long time to fall asleep again. Paranoia is a hard thing to get rid of, especially first-day-of-classes paranoia. Today was my last first day. Nothing had gone terribly wrong yet, so I guess I was getting a bit nervous.

This morning The Man woke me at ten past six.

"I thought you set the alarm for six?" he said.

"I did!" I answered. I checked the clock, and gaped. The alarm was set to 'off'.

Then I remembered the previous night. "I guess I must have turned it off when the phone rang," I said. "That's always what I do when I get up."

"Aho," said The Man, and he was right. I was aho.

But the day went well after the unpromising beginning.

I must apologize to my regular readers for the dearth of postings about the new semester, which started last Thursday. I have been more than usually wiped out. But I will write about it soon.

In the meantime, allow me to blow you a kiss. I may as well. My mouth is still puckered up from eating a not-very-ripe kiwifruit after dinner tonight.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Soaked but unhurt

I thought for a moment I was reading The Onion.

But I wasn't.

Two men who allegedly dumped water on pedestrians from the 11th floor of an apartment building have been arrested and their bucket confiscated, police said.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Tall hedge

They had some very, very tall monks hidden away at the inn where we stayed. It is a part of their esoteric Buddhist training, to grow very tall so that they can trim the hedge, and by getting the edges perfectly straight, gain enlightenment. There are two of these monks, who work either side of the hedge, growing taller, and trimming.

The enlightenment bit happens when their heads finally pop over the top of the hedge and they get to see the person they have been working with for all these years.

(Suggestions in comments about very tall ladders will be frowned upon. Very tall ladders are no fun at all.)


At the inn at Koyasan, they provided zori for walking in the garden. They're a bit tricky with socks, but I managed.

I did not walk on the raked sand, but I did walk on the gravel.


The cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

It is a lovely spring day, and a little windy, so some of the petals are falling.

Apparently they are delicious.

Monday, April 06, 2009


The evening my friend and I arrived at the temple inn at Koyasan, we were sitting at the window of our lovely room.

This is the room.

And this is the view of the inn's karesansui garden, from our window.

We were tired after all the walking we'd done, and gazed at the garden contemplatively. After a while I said to my friend,

"Whenever I look at this kind of garden I get the same kind of feeling."

"Yes?" said my friend, looking a little apprehensive. I think she was worried that I was going to say something deep and spiritual in a clunkily gaijin way, and as she trained as a Buddhist priest she would feel she had to be understanding and empathetic.

She needn't have worried.

"I get an almost irresistible urge to make footprints in the sand," I said. "Don't you?"

My friend laughed and laughed and laughed.

"But really, don't you?" I asked. "It's like freshly fallen snow. It looks so beautiful and perfect, and after admiring it for about two minutes the next thing you want to do is to mess it up. It's the HUMAN thing to want to do."

After a pause I added,

"It's not just me, is it? "

"Well ... no," admitted my friend. "But I will never take you to our main temple. We have gardens like this."

"Don't worry," I said. "I have learned to restrain myself, over the years. I won't embarrass you by behaving like the unenlightened oaf I really am."

And it's true. I won't. But I will still THINK about doing it. And perhaps I'll actually do it when I am an old lady and can pretend (if necessary) to be slightly batty.

I'll give the gardeners a Zen moment.

Another Jizo, keeping warm

Sunday, April 05, 2009


When we were walking along beside this wall I started to feel a little dizzy. When I realized what was causing it, I took a photograph.

More trees

Saturday, April 04, 2009


I went to Koyasan yesterday and today, with a friend, and we took a lot of photos. Yesterday the weather was quite good (although cold), and today it rained, and was misty (and cold). This is my favourite photo so far.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

It's that time again...


Jizo statues in the garden at Sanzenin Temple

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


I completely forgot I'd put that cardigan into the washing basket. I usually handwash wool knits, and I certainly don't put them in a tumble-dryer, at least not on purpose.