We love our Wild Women conversations so much that we decided to make a space here for all those wonderful ideas, passions, inspirations and insights to be shared. We have been spinning together since 2018! Think of it as a conversation around the cauldron, a gathering space for women to spin together their stories, songs, howls, and hopes. Each thread that is spun becomes part of a world wild web, connecting wild women around the globe.
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Meanwhile, welcome -- we look forward to spinning magic with you...and don't forget to explore the wonderful, wild threads 1 - 28 as well, featuring Liza Adamczewski, Zena Edwards, Louise Kenward, Jini Reddy, Alice & Jade Starmore, Kathryn Aalto, Jo Sweeting, Fiona Black, Jane Burn, Gill Lambert, Elspeth Wilson, Tanya Shadrick, Jackie Morris, Rebecca Smith, Wendy Pratt, Ruth Snowden, Aim Me Smiley & Renee Ananda (Troubadours of Divine Bliss), Liv Torc, Deborah Alma, Gill Hands, Rosie Doyle, Jessica Sneddon, Jhilmil Breckenridge, Beth Porter, Elizabeth Rimmer, and Dal Kular.
Victoria (Founder, Wild Women)
January - Thread Spinner 29 -- Home: becoming a naturalist in residence -- Stefanie Rixecker
Text & Images by Stefanie Rixecker
Akaroa, New Zealand
For some, familiarity breeds contempt. For others, it yields appreciation, connection. I am in the latter camp, perhaps because the first twenty-six years of life involved 30 moves across three countries, three continents. I loved being peripatetic, discovering new places, new people. At some point, though, a longing for “home” surfaces, even if home is no longer a place of birth, or ancestral connection.
Although I still have fond memories of northern hemisphere January - a month of beginnings, setting goals, planning the year, playing in the snow – I also remember it as a time of reflection, awaiting the release from winter’s darkness and the promise of a warmer sun. So, these past twenty-seven southern hemisphere Januaries offer quite a contrast. Here, it’s a month of abundance when summer’s bounty unfolds in the splendour of berries, stone fruit and homegrown veggies. It’s a month filled with sea spray, long, hot days at the beach or on the water, and cool evenings listening to the sea lap the jetty. It’s a month of roses and geraniums alongside the bright hues of summer natives, notably pohutakawa and southern rata in resplendent reds. “It’s summer!”, they shout.
The month is filled with fun, friends & family, boardgames and swim races alongside long, languid lunches of homemade fare. Some days bring calm early mornings, perfect for a solo kayak on the harbour. With summer comes the joy of reproduction – fledgling native birds, seal pups alongside precious Hector’s dolphin calves. Soon, too, the treat of Orca bringing their young into the harbour to hunt stingray and dazzle the locals. These are southern hemisphere rhythms in Akaroa, Aotearoa (New Zealand).
Akaroa has been in my life for the past twenty-seven years, since I first set foot upon Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud. For many years, I visited annually and had the privilege of sharing a family bach (humble holiday house) for sporadic, yet always significant visits. These past five years have seen an even greater connection through building my own hut and bach, places for reflection, connection and writing; weaving place and word, crafting natural and cultural history.
During this same period, I wove strands of life together – an academic career, a precious family, relationships in and with the people of this place, an understanding of the layers of history that continue to shape this land and its people. Throughout this time, half my lifetime now spent in one place, Akaroa got under my skin. It is more than a singular place or site. Indeed, it is better expressed in Te Reo Maori (the language of the indigenous people, Maori) as tūrangawaewae – a place to stand; a place of particular empowerment & connection; my foundation; my place in the world. In short, my home.
I now visit most weekends throughout the year, and in January I stay for weeks on summer holiday. This month feels like a portal to another world, time in suspended animation, one day bleeding into the next. The blissful feel of “summer holiday” is here, rain or shine, even with the weekly visits throughout the year. January is a special time, familiar and fleeting all at once.
The village of 700 permanent residents swells to upwards of 1500 with holiday makers and bach owners settling in for the summer. And still I take the same walks through the local cemeteries: Anglican, Roman Catholic and Dissenters. The names on the tombstones are the same, familiar characters of another era occupying the present, connecting history. How can one grow tired of these familiar souls who walked these hills, swam this harbour, shared this space?
Nor do I find contempt on the familiar pathways through the Garden of Tane, a now scenic reserve covering hectares, originally created in 1874 when the Canterbury Provincial Council set aside 5 acres. It includes many exotic species, some planted to commemorate the great peace after World War I and again World War II. The 1960s saw this space grow and cared for by a farmer and environmentalist who re-introduced native plants. It fell into disrepair upon his death and only in the early 2010s has it again been re-invigorated by locals. I’ve walked these paths for twenty-seven years, across planting trends and stages of neglect and newly found love. No matter when, these paths call for another visit.
Here, it’s easy to find cheeky pīwakawaka (fantails, Rhipidura fuliginosa) hopping from branch to branch, twittering a cheerful tale. And within seconds the calls of the korimako (bellbird, Anthornis melanura) chiming in unison celebrating their continued return. The whirring of feathers, perfectly timed through tight branches, can only be their feathered signature. This feathered whirr contrasts with the deep thrum of the kereru (wood pigeon, Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae), working to keep its svelte, curvaceous body in the air. More recently, this walk also includes tui (Parson Bird, Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae), their clicks and calls adding to the korimako increasing holiday chime. These birds had all but disappeared – indeed, tui weren’t here when I first visited in 1993, and korimako were quite rare. Thanks to human intervention – predator trapping and tui re-introduction to the Peninsula – the dawn silence has turned into a dawn chorus of native birds declaring their return. No contempt here, either!
Akaroa Harbour is the result of volcanic activity between 11 and 6 million years ago, leaving two overlapping volcanic cones. The valleys were flooded as sea levels rose approximately 6000 years ago, connecting land to the Pacific Ocean. More recently, Akaroa was noted in the “top 5” destinations in the world for cruise ship holidays. Since March 2020, it’s been quiet, though, with all cruise ships banned as Aoteroa closed its borders due to the global pandemic, COVID-19. This has removed all international tourism, with no tenders running to and fro while the ships are anchored, creating a much quieter harbour with significantly reduced traffic for humans and wildlife alike.
This year has seen a success in breeding for the endangered Hectors’ dolphins (Cephalorhyncus hectori), the world’s smallest dolphins endemic to these waters. To date, six mothers with calves have been spotted - four more than last year with the potential for more yet to come. Indeed, later this month, I’ll be onboard a research vessel to spot marine mammals and assess water quality. No contempt in these familiar moments either. Rather, recognising the importance of routine, data and monitoring connects the familiar with the dissonant, thereby pointing to change and action.
It’s in seeing the every-day, the familiar, that we can also notice differences – improvements and setbacks. These help map our place, the places and spaces we share with wildlife. Being connected, understanding, expecting the familiar, all help us to see patterns and set expectations. If and when these familiar patterns change, they can give us hope – like the continued naturalisation of tui on the Peninsula – or raise concerns - like the 2nd year of blue penguin deaths due to low food supplies in December. Understanding the familiar and appreciating it means connecting with changes and determining when and how interventions can benefit.
And so, I reflect on twenty-seven years in one place, not my natural home, yet now my naturalised home. Becoming of a place requires time, focus, connection – a commitment to place, the familiar. While I now call Akaroa my home, my place to stand, I also know that I am still becoming a naturalist in residence.
Stefanie Rixecker was born in Germany and has lived in four countries and on three continents. After attaining her doctorate in the US, she worked in academia in environmental policy & management for 25 years, attaining a full Professorship alongside publishing numerous journal articles and book chapters on environmental issues, including climate change and environmental justice. She’s a sought after public speaker, having delivered over 100 addresses worldwide. More recently, Stefanie actively moved from theory to practise, and now leads the largest regional government organisation in Aotearoa - which has responsibility for environmental management of freshwater, biodiversity, natural hazards and climate change impacts, amongst other key areas. Her current passion is learning to bridge academic prose with nature writing; her photos and favourite quotes can be found at her Twitter site @SRixecker.
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