Author Archives: Howard Gaukrodger

Tall Poppies

The wizened oak tree looked down. Where he’d lost a bough the previous winter, the light shimmered through, reaching a hitherto poorly-nourished patch of earth.

“I couldn’t support all that weight anyway,” he said. “And those pretty little poppies will be able to spread right up to my trunk. I’ve given them an opportunity now. There’s light; they’ll grow well here.”

The old oak was a tree of authority, reigning over a vast meadow. But he was so vast that nothing grew under his shroud – nothing that is but funghi, moss, and a sinuous vine.

Over the next six years, the poppies did indeed approach him. And with every year, his spirits rose. Soon he would have a wealth of friends to talk to. He loved their scarlet blooms and graceful stems, their gentle waving in the afternoon breeze.

And so it was that the humble poppies came to touch the foot of the lonely oak. For the whole of the season, the old man of the meadow and the dynamic fresh poppies chatted and nodded. Life was good, and the meadow was content.

But there were those who became jealous.

It started with the mosses. The poppies are too tall, they shouted. Why should they have such a view across the meadow? The fungi, intimidated by the crawling, hardened mosses, felt they had to agree. Why, they said, should the poppies have all the attention? Together, they called on the vine. Feared by the oak, and brazenly rude, the vine spread gossip like a tentacle of disease.

The poppies, they all claimed, took their land and their light. It’s not right, they said, that anyone should be so bright. And all around, the grasses looked on with apathy. It’s not our problem, they said, and turned away.

Takeover was easy. The poppies weren’t meant to die; they just needed to be encouraged to move somewhere else, their reputation tarnished. No one wanted dirty neighbours.

The old oak gazed down, seemingly impotent, as the scarlet beacons of the meadow cried out for help. Closer and closer the conspirators crept. They weren’t in a hurry; they enjoyed the sport. And one by one, the brilliant friends of the ruling oak succumbed. With drooping heads, their love of life drained away. Petals dropped. Leaves turned brown. Even their black seeds of hope were suffocated by the fungi and the moss. Someone should have done something, the grasses said.

The struggle was over; the bullies prevailed. With the tall poppies gone, the land was ripe for possession. But the meadow, now plain, had lost its leading lights. Nothing new would happen – nothing until the floods came, and washed away the moss, the fungi, and the vine.

The wizened oak tree looked down. Where he’d lost a bough the previous winter, the light shimmered through, reaching a hitherto poorly-nourished patch of earth.


Perceptions of the Centre of New Zealand

What did I see that others did not? What did others see that I did not? And even if we saw the same thing, did we perceive it the same way? I would try to observe through the eyes of a visitor.

Almost immediately, I found myself wallowing in the comfort and safety of the small New Zealand town, crossing well-surfaced roads devoid of the impenetrable smog of overseas cities. Well-tended gardens lent colour to the otherwise uninspiring natural palette. Were humans to blame for the lack of wildflowers and the splendour of pohutukawa?

The  clement breeze bathed me in the fragrance of cut grass as I marched purposefully across the Botanical Reserve to climb the 143-metre landmark.

Transitory perceptions were quickly erased by the imprint of the mighty palm trees enticing, like Sirens, those seeking the track.

I thought of children as my eyes magnetically followed the receding safety rail, its moss-laden timbers the size of Scottish cabers; and smiled as I imagined my son, climbing over.

I thought of what I didn’t see, and how I’d like more benches.

I thought I was thinking too much, and stopped.

Landslips were evident, but cultivated nikau and kanuka discreetly planted fought to bind the soil. The entanglement of branches testified to the wrath of the wind. How rewarding it was to be miniaturised by Nature, yet within walking distance of home.

Grey soil, yellow soil, gravel and gullies, the track meandered on, and with it my musings. Piqued by curiosity, I examined a horse trough. No horses here, yet maybe there’d been some?

Meadows and pastures conjured pictures of England. My reverie was short, though, with the bang-clang of cranes at the port in the distance.

Wagtails, like ballerinas, fluttered and danced, but it was the humble sparrow whose voice prevailed. Do cicadas have voices? Their scratching was deafening. A sure sign of summer; I wasn’t complaining.

Soon at the summit: the soothing satisfaction of something achieved – I could see over Nelson, the Bay and beyond. I thought of my problems. What problems? From the Centre of New Zealand, my problems were dead.