It’s May in New Zealand. It “should” be feeling chilly, damp and rainy by now, but the beautiful days keep coming, day after day, week after week. Sunny. Still. It’s almost eerie.
I had the opportunity to hike Mt Isobel in Hanmer Springs last weekend, and I sat on the summit for a full hour, savoring the warm sun on my hair and the hot cup of tea in my hands.
Larches were planted near the bottom of the mountain in 1959, a variety trial from a bygone era. I’m not sure what the point of larches is–they’re a conifer, but they lose their leaves in winter. Now why in the world would you plant that? There was obviously some timber value that eluded me, and thankfully some mountain ash offered the occasional diversion.
It should be like November in the northern hemisphere, and the rapidly shortening day lengths remind us of that, but the weather decries the fact. “The soil temperatures are still up at 14 C,” one old farmer informed me, “and they’re usually down at 7 by now…but the soil’s still too dry to let the grass grow!”
Despite no rain, the dew has started to fall again.
“Sun-drenched, golden, succulent…” The descriptors of these past two months have been like a SunKist orange juice commercial. I’ve been steeling myself for school pick-ups in full rain gear, for shivery breakfasts and the luxury of the heated car seat on the way to work, but winter has held off. And so too has the wind. The bane of a small island nation in the “roaring 40s” pacific latitudes, the wind is often mean, rude, fierce and downright nasty, but the last two months I’ve nearly forgotten what it’s like to have my car door slammed by its force.
The New Zealand native trees don’t lose their leaves in winter. Maybe that’s why when I mention “Fall” I get blank looks. Summer is followed by “Autumn” here, even among us lay folk. Some of the non-native trees, however un-politically correct as they are, do put on a colourful display, and I love them as beautiful individuals, and as a link to home.
There are no whole mountain sides swathed in glowing reds and oranges, but I stand under single trees, gaze up, aching, and absorb their radiance. I need to store up their opulence for winter. The last brilliant Japanese maple to get my meditation treatment turned out to be a favorite of the birds too, and was completely speckled with black-and-white poo. But never mind. From a few steps back it was gorgeous.
(Yes, I realize that this photo is NOT a Japanese maple, it just helps you to imagine the glow)
Fall crocuses, with dew ornamentation! Winter in NZ doesn’t mean barrenness. At the greenhouse where I work we’re busy cranking out pansies and primroses to brighten the winter gardens. But winter still means cold.
“Why do the leaves turn red and yellow?” The question came when I was eating lunch with some girlfriends. “Well, do you really want to know?” Nods. I gave them an ear full about green chlorophyll masking the reds and yellows that are always there protecting the plant from sun damage, and the efficiency of deciduous trees to collect all their precious nitrogen from the leaves they’re planning to discard. No more questions were forthcoming. I don’t know if I bored them or wowwed them.
Rose hips, crab apples, mountain ash, magnolia seeds…everybody seems to bring out their fruit finery in reds and oranges right now.
Every week I’ve looked at the forecast and seen another cheerful row of sunny icons, but the week ahead looks different. I think we might finally have to resign ourselves to the upcoming winter. Farewell Autumn, you’ve been delightful.