Chronicles of a Summer in a Tent: Tent-icles

(You’ll find the latest posts at the bottom of this page!)

It’s January 2021, and we have to move out of Lambhill for three months.
Why? It’s a secret – but I’ll tell you later on.

For now, we are living in a tent down the Lambhill driveway, 3/4 of a kilometre from home, on Spin and Joan Sutherland’s lawn.

Here are some pictures of packing up to move out of Lambhill:

Moving out of your home is stressful! We had a deadline. Thankfully we had some help when we most needed it. The house looked serene and a little bare after we had taken our essentials out:

There was a lot of trotting about in the house, carrying things – Millie watched from a safe place.
Meanwhile, we put up our new tent. Spin began the drenching process, which Jonathan finished: the tent was new and needed a soak-and-dry to seal its seams.
The mountain on our new horizon: Mt Ruapehu. Up the drive at Lambhill, trees block Ruapehu, but we see Mt Taranaki. Down the drive, here at Spin and Joan’s, trees block Taranaki.
Moving out took several hours. And then we took up the tent and built a plywood and plank floor under it, with help from some builder friends. Millie felt unqualified to help…
Spin and Joan’s dahlias!!!! The furniture came down the drive in a building van, on my sister’s friend’s utility truck deck, and even (the fridge) in the Fergie tractor’s sheep crate. And then the wind got up.

After we’d built the floor platform, the wind got so wild, it blew between the wood platform and the tent-bottom, and collapsed the structure, which was now only held by guy-ropes from the tops of the ten tent-poles! Furniture inside the tent toppled, and chaos ensued. …Until Jonathan went to town and got some clips to screw to the wooden platform, and thus secure the bottom of the tent-poles. Spin went up to the hayshed and brought back recycled baling twine, too, which we tied to the bottom of the tent-poles and ran out to secure to the steel pins tethering the guy-ropes.

That windy Sunday night (January 10) was our first in the tent. We had left Lambhill and got everything into the tent officially by 9.30pm. My priorities were: make the bed, climb into it, and go to sleep. Jonathan’s were: put together one of the kit-set wardrobe racks with shelves, set up the electrics (run by cable from the house nearby), and get the internet going. I got to sleep long before he did, in spite of his clanking and muttering.

The tent billowed and moved in the wind all night. It was cool, but snug, and we were comfortable, with our oak bed, and familiar furniture around us. Monday morning, this is what the tent looked like. I spent the morning rearranging and organising its contents.

First few days living in the tent:

View of the roof from inside. This is a Bell Tent with high side-walls, so that we can walk right up to them without dipping our heads. The canvas is a warm putty-colour.
My camping wardrobe: channelling 1920s summer…
Camping dishes.

Jonathan went back to work after his holidays the morning we woke up for the first time in our tent. He had set up an office in one of Spin and Joan’s guest bedrooms, and has been working “from home,” there, and popping out for meals from time to time.

I was intending to spend a lot of time in the tent during the day, working on various projects but very quickly found that even though the tent has two windows and they and the door can be left open, covered by bug-mesh, the vast expanses of canvas absorb a huge amount of heat as the sun climbs slowly over the sky. Even with a portable air-conditioner cooling it, the tent’s too hot for comfort, between about 9am and 4pm… And this is only January! What will February be like?????? So this is good, really: a vintage camping experience needs a great deal of time spent outdoors, don’t you agree, simply Being, as well as working, in the shade.

“Observe my foresight!” (to quote Eleanor Lavish, in Forster’s “Room with a View) – I brought garden furniture down to our camp! …And yes, Millie does drink out of a china pottie. (Only the best for her!)
Experimenting with white things to deflect a little heat. (Huh!) We have not figured out how to rig the doorway awning yet. And as you see, we have a rubber mat on the pallet the tent arrived on at the door. Joan brought the small animal hutch as a boot cupboard for us. Honestly! Don’t you think that, in this picture, the tent looks a bit ‘deshabille,’ like a fat man in a singlet? That pale thing, looming inside the bug-curtain at the door is the air-con. It is working very hard.

Poem for Spin (A Pangolin is a Scaly Ant-eater) (We tease each other!):


I have a friend, and her name is Spin;/ She desperately wants a pangolin!/ Her tantrums and stompings are getting severe,/ But pangolins just aren’t available here!/ Sir David Attenborough’s much to blame/ For lighting in her heart this flame!/ Her sister, Joan, thinks Spin “unwise”/ For letting pangolins fill her eyes/ – After all, they eat termites and ants!/ And go on long and speedy gallivants!/ – But nothing is daunting besotted Spin!/ She desperately yearns for a pangolin!

Millie snoozing on the bed in the tent, as seen from my writing desk.
This forest is behind our house. It is Dr Allison’s original 1840s Arboretum, covering 22 acres, a deep valley, and three promentories on the far hillside. The tallest tree in this photo is on the central promontory: a single, rare, Pinus torreana, which is endangered in the wild. Dr Allison imported it from its native Californian coast, we think.
As seen from the tent, on Spin and Joan’s lawn.
Edwardian hatpins – long and lethal – borrowed to keep my hat on, one windy day…

Country walks on the farm, January 2020

Clothes worn on a windy walk in the country… I love the colours and patterns against the background of muted grasses, and take inspiration from that while planning to decorate Lambhill when we go home….
I love Lombardy Poplars. They reach tall, sing like millions of vibrating cymbals and sequins in the least breath of air, and grow such gnarled trunks.
Silver poplars: pretty much a weed in New Zealand, but pretty weeds, when the wind turns their leaves over to flash white.
The secret cupboard in this tree is gradually closing.
From the ridge by the Lambhill driveway. The top of our tent on Sutherlands’ lawn.
Spin and Joan’s hypericum (St John’s Wort) hedge beside their lower drive loop. We still have no awning up. The makers forgot to send all the pieces.
The romance of Tenting… (A windy day).
Native kereru (wood pigeons) sometimes swoop down from the tops of the Eucalypts and macrocarpa trees on the ridge, to glide up the valley towards our garden at the Lambhill homestead. Mainly, magpies live here, with the odd tui visiting the flowering gums, and starlings. Jonathan walks up the drive to feed the native birds in our garden every morning, and he still refills all the bird baths daily.

The magic of grasses in the wind….

Pattern and colour! Robe and quilt.
Slumming: plastic milk bottle instead of china jug…. Ooooooo! Bad form!

Visitors to the tent: Hens, Moth, and My parents (Mum brought some geraniums which are shown):

Joan taking her hens home to their run in the evening.

A strangely wet floor

Several days after some downpours, lots of water was seeping through the woven-plastic floor of the tent. I hauled back the furniture inside, mopped it up, and went outside to look under the flooring. Trapped under the tent was a puddle of water which had blown in days before, turning our wooden under-floor green and mouldy. I crammed a bucket in to let the air through, and it dried out in a couple of days…

I love guy-ropes.


The awning poles finally arrived in the post – but how were they meant to keep the awning up? We did our best, but emailed the tent-makers… who had forgotten to ask whether we had the awning guy ropes and pegs? No we don’t. They will send those too, soon…. Meanwhile, we are doing the best we can with the awning, which doesn’t exactly look ship-shape, and which blows down in high winds! Adventures!

Daily Life in the Tent, which I am calling “Little Lambhill:”

The Peaceful Countryside…

Two nights ago, after a long, hot day in his bedroom-office for Jonathan, and a long, hot day in the tent and landscape, and transcribing old documents for me, we went to bed looking forward to the peace of the countryside and oblivion under the black, starry cosmos… Huh! A cow was “bulling” – exactly as loud and identical in every way to a foghorn heard at point-blank – every thirty seconds. For hours. And Millie was lying on her back in the middle of the bed, pressed close to “Pack Leader” – and snoring. Every now and then I would poke her with my elbow, and she would stop for a few seconds – and then begin snoring again. And then the (Farm-) Boy Racers started up on the Warrengate Road, which is quite close to Spin and Joan’s lawn…. Ahh! …the rejuvenating peace of the Countryside…. At least it’s too early for the tractors to be out all night, harvesting. That’s one mercy. And the hay’s in; that’s another.

Hens wear cute bloomers. Spin and Joan’s four Red Shavers perch to drink from Millie’s pottie.
Chrysanthemums left from Jonathan’s bouquet last week – and some wisteria. Below, pictures of our awning – finally, all bits arrived and correctly assembled!

What is this flower? Thanks very much to my friend Rosie, who identified it as Trigridia pavonia! Most of my books are packed away, at home, so I’m happy to know its name! The flowers last one day only…. In Spin and Joan’s garden. As is the pretty thing below (no idea what it is!)… See the cricket?

Oops…. occupational hazard of writing with wild ink! Below, books and tea. (How do books appear from nowhere when I hardly ever go out??? This, too, is a mystery.)

You’ll notice that I adore colour and pattern…. Also, that I’m interested (below) in variations on a theme: tent stilllifes:

Skipper: a (rather benign) “eminence gris”…. Below, this was sweet. Millie stretched out to sleep on the bed, and Skipper, from his cage-posse, quietly and gently asked, “Want some! Want some!” which I interpreted (correctly) as his wish to have his cage-and-table moved closer to his Beloved! Skipper likes to be near Millie, even though her heart lies with Pack Leader. (Luckily for Skipper, Pack Leader commuted to work today, leaving Millie at a loose end. Millie’s day is wasted when he’s not around!)

The Complete Scout

This looks a bit damaging to me!!!!
Hahaha!!!!!!! Love number 3…. Couldn’t you have fun, drawing fake spoor in the dirt, near a scout camp!!!! What fascinating mendacities could we devise???!!
A tiny moment of joy in a tent day….. What tiny moments of joy are you encountering, today?

Hot days of February

Draping the roof and windows stops a little of the heat… Every little bit helps.

One of the horses bred by Spin and Joan: Bustling. I think she’s a Hanoverian (a German Warmblood).
A thoroughbred, from Spin and Joan’s stud: Periwinkle. She won the first race she ever ran.

The Wahine Storm, 1968…

Infamous in New Zealand, the 1968 storm that sank the Wahine ferry in Wellington Harbour, also knocked down trees up the coast at Wanganui. I grew up beside a farm where massive macrocarpa cedars had flattened chicken sheds – which were left in their ruined state for more than 20 years…. Here at Lambhill, the Wahine storm toppled hundreds of old trees along the driveway, and blew up the verandah roofs on the south and west of our house. I’ve been walking underneath those Wahine trees, which often did not die when they had fallen – but sent up branches as new leaders. Their shade is wonderfully deep and cool, when the sea breezes flow beneath them on February afternoons. Today, these old storm-survivors remain as characterful living landmarks, reminding us of a terrible day in New Zealand history. On that day, in 1968, Jonathan and I were both only four years old, both living with our families in different parts of Wellington – but we both remember that storm. I remember the fear in my mother’s voice, and the frightening winds and rain outside. I remember my father talking, with some excitement, of roofs blowing off…

Barley Grass. The seeds detach and, with their needle-like sheaths, work their way deep into socks, or through an animal’s fur, and deep into into its skin. Sometimes, they bore into the inner ears or the eyes of the farm-dogs, causing pain and suffering.
A tree’s knees….

Some people say they don’t see any evidence of God in the “natural” world – but I do. I see his fingerprints everywhere. Like all great artists, he leaves clues, in repeated motifs. I’ve seen those tree-ring patterns elsewhere – in spider-webs, and in agates, in ripples on water, on beaches, in clouds…

Some of the “Pet Lambs,” kept in a separate flock. They’ve been shorn for Summer, and they’re enjoying the shady trees as much as I am.
Peachcots from the Lambhill garden, brought back from a walk up there by Jonathan and Millie. Wondering which stone-fruit tree to plant in your garden? Friends gave us this tree, and we have been amazed at how hardy and drought-resistant it is – and how delicious its fruit. Recommended!
Grasshopper goggling….

Secret Picnic in the Lambhill Garden

I miss my garden! I miss Lambhill. The tent is lovely, and Spin and Joan are welcoming and kind. But I miss the trees, the secret places of the gardens up at Lambhill, the birds!!!! the juxtapositions of plants and space and air….. On Saturday, at the end of February 2021, Jonathan made a picnic lunch, and we took it up in a washing basket, when the house and garden were empty of people. Jonathan, who had been working hard in the heat, chainsawing some firewood for Spin and Joan’s winter stack, lay down and closed his eyes. He woke up enough to eat his egg and humous and feta sandwiches, salad and watermelon – but then he went to sleep in earnest! I sat still, watching the tui sipping nectar from the puriri flowers above us. Millie and I watched drifting clouds, and gently-moving leaves. We saw a tiny grey warbler and fantails. We saw rosella feathers in the grass. The peace and quiet joy of Lambhill soaked into us like cool water. At last, with Jonathan still asleep, I drifted through the overgrown garden as slowly as the clouds above us, smelling the pink Naked Lady lilies, the panting roses, and the lemon blossoms, feeling surprised to see the orange hips of Rosa moyesii so big, and the first pink Japanese anemones opening. Is it autumn already? I have missed the whole summer away from Lambhill!

The unmown grass is long and soft and cool. This shady spot is at the bottom of the Abutilon walk, at the edge of the Drying Green, down the hill from the house.

Way up between the tree-tops and the clouds, pairs of white butterflies were dancing tremulous quadrilles. The tui hopped silently among the puriri branches, sipping from the pink flowers that grow among creased evergreen leaves and ripening berries.

That man works too hard. I honour people like Jonathan, who fill up all their “spare time” working for others. …Maybe I’ll get time to talk with him NEXt Saturday? Meantime, let him sleep! Shhhh…..
From a wax-eye?

March in the Tent: Autumn is on its way.

Early in the month, it is still hot and humid here on our tent-lawn! The air-conditioner has been going full-tilt, aiming at a steady 22 degrees – but hardly getting there. Outside, temperatures have reached at least 30 degrees for the last week, with high humidity. In the shade, we are glad to see the mercury dropping to 25 as the afternoons sink into evening. It’s hot.

Hurrah for sparkling mineral water fresh from the fridge! You can drink the bottle dry without meaning to on days like these! (And that’s a brilliant book, by the way: an exposition of the Book of Job that not only makes sense, but gives wonderful insights into ourselves and our dealings with each other, and into the nature of God: “To Speak Well of God,” by John Pople (published on; contact author:
Birds spotted from the tent lawn: WWII era warplanes returning from the Wairarapa Air Display. Two others had flown by before I grabbed the camera.

Last Days in the Tent:

I am posting these pictures after we have moved back home to Lambhill, after a break of weeks and weeks. (Moving in took a while, and we have not had internet at the house either, much!) Here are pictures taken as the weather cooled, over autumn, and Jonathan moved into a caravan, but I stayed in the tent (the caravan’s bed hurt my damaged neck)….

The old book I was reading, once belonged to Archie Sutherland, whose parents bought Lambhill from the original owners. Archie, like all his family, was a keen supporter of the little Scottish Presbyterian kirk at Fordell village, and would read out sermons from books, as a Lay Preacher. His niece, Lewanna (elder sister of Spin, Joan, Don, and Dora), gave me quite a few of Archie’s religious books, and this one had not been read much, as you can see from the uncut pages. It was a good book, too! That’s why I took it with us when we were tenting…

The nights and mornings were getting very cold; Millie came back from an early walk with Jonathan, wet through and shivering; she appreciated the quilt and the hot water bottle for her paws… I took to leaving a small heater running over night in the tent, but it was still very cold!

The mornings this autumn were spectacular, for a while. Remember that old saying, “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight; red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning?” Jonathan saw the sky one of these mornings, and said, “Doesn’t it go, Red sky in the morning, Shepherd’s Pie?” and then he wandered off with Millie, chanting softly, “Red sky, shepherd’s pie! Red sky, shepherd’s pie!” He has such an unexpected whimsical streak!

And then it was time to move home! After six months out of the house, we were happy to being going back up the drive to Lambhill homestead…. To continue, please refer to the other pages of this blog! I will be working on them over the coming days…

%d bloggers like this: