'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

Go here to find out more.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Parallel Lands

I was looking at another blog some time ago and saw a photo of a piece of land half a world away (the Grand Ronde River, Washington state) that started me thinking. 
A couple of ideas:  When people move to a new country they are usually homesick.  They often do one of two things:  either keep going until they see some land that reminds them of home, and settle there; or settle any old where and make it look like home.

In the case of New Zealand, the former has, for example, meant that many Scots settled in the south of the South Island, where the stone and the weather felt right and comfortable.  In as much as we have regional accents at all, one can detect a slight burr from southlanders even today.

The latter, meant they cleared the natural vegetation, brought in livestock, and, more destructively (although they weren't to know that), brought over grass, thistles, brambles, gorse, and innumerable other seeds and plants that quickly naturalised in New Zealand's milder climate.  Also, to remind them of home, or to provide sources of food, came the dogs, rabbits, blackbirds, thrushes, hedgehogs, trout, pheasant, quail, goat, pig, stoats, weasels, deer, cats ... the list is long.  Others came in accidently:  rats being the most obvious.

New Zealand became separated from the rest of the world millions of years ago before mammals evolved.  So New Zealand's native species consist almost entirely of a few reptiles (no snakes), birds and insects.  And because there were no mammals (except for a couple of bats), the birds had often lost or reduced the use of their wings, and were nesting on the ground.  This, of course, made them incredibly vulnerable.  The destruction of the forest habitats and the introduction of grazers and carnivores has meant that New Zealand has now 27 indigenous species extinct and very many more are under threat, including several unique frogs and those bats.

These things are in my mind constantly as I paint the bare bones that once were forest-clad New Zealand hills ringing with the calls and gutteral clicks of our amazing tame birds.

This post first appeared in my now defunct 'State of My Art' blog. I re-post it today because I think it's worth keeping.


  1. Home is where the heart is, never mind the country...

  2. How could they bring in cats, weasels and hedgehogs? So very short-sighted and stupid. New Zealand was an ecological treasure house that deserved to be protected and cherished. The plaintive call of The Elephant Bird should be played over and over at the Copenhagen conference.

  3. Interesting...and I have a strange satisfaction that you are moving all of your talents to TLVD!

  4. Unfortunately environmental awareness is very young. The Outer Hebrides of Scotland had no hedgehogs to decimate its ground-nesting seabird population 20 years ago. Now hedgehogs (introduced by one stupid person) are rampant - the equivalent of the opossum in New Zealand with the dire consequences. Mink released after a mink farm went into receivership about 30 years ago also wreak havoc. The environmental problems of New Zealand started a long time before that. Humans are a very thoughtless lot!

    I am very attracted to the painting in the post and that which it represents.

  5. Thanks for your input Jinksy, YP, Sam, GB. I didn't know about the so very recent invasions of the Outer Hebrides.