New name, new host, same blog

Yesterday I made a couple of changes to my blog, though I’m hoping that you will barely notice one of them.

The change you will most likely notice is a change of blog name, from ‘Mike McArthur’ to ‘A Saved Wretch’. This is the name I used for my blog for a while in 2014 and despite not using it since then I kept the domain name because I like it.

Over recent weeks I’ve been feeling that I should write more about my faith than I have been and the name change is based on this conviction. I like this name for the depth of meaning it derives from the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.

I personally identify with being amazed that God in his grace would save a wretch like me. This is a significant element of my story so seems appropriate to use as the name for my personal blog. And while I do want to write about my faith a bit more, this remains a personal blog – an ongoing story of my life. Topics will continue to range wherever my wandering mind happens to go.

I mentioned having made two changes. The second is switching my hosting provider from Siteground to WordPress.com. My one year of hosting at Siteground expires soon and while they offered a 60% discount on the first year, the full price thereafter is a bit steep for what you get so it was time to look elsewhere.

WordPress.com have a massive and efficient infrastructure, tailored towards ease of use. The platform is restricting with respect to not allowing plugins on the cheaper plans, but this is not currently an issue to me so the pros outweigh the cons for what I need. I’m using the same theme as I had previously, so all you are likely to notice about this change is different wording in the site footer credits.

Disadvantages of always carrying a notebook

For at least the last five years I have carried a small notebook in my back pocket, a habit I highly recommend. I very seldom use my iPhone to capture short notes, anything I want to remember goes into my notebook.

However, I’ve discovered a few downsides to always having that notebook in my back pocket:

Pocket wear from my ever-present notebook

I always keep my notebook in the same pocket, with the result that over time it has worn a hole in that pocket of my jeans. I would have thought my phone would have worn a hole, but I must carry the notebook around more than the phone.

This last weekend I was working in our back yard and got a bit wet at one point, with resulting damage to my previously pristine notebook:

It dried out OK so I’m continuing to use it. And the advantage of having used pencil in this notebook is that there were no issues with ink running.

Perhaps I will find more downsides to pocket notebooks as the years go by, but compared to the headaches I’ve had with smartphones over the same time span, old fashioned paper and pencil is remarkably robust.

A Gentle Tree

My well of inspiration for post topics has run dry today so I am going to emulate a friend and write about trees.

My favourite tree is the Kowhai, especially the sub species with very fine leaves (Sophora microphylla). To me the kowhai is a gentle tree, welcoming spring with a spectacular burst of bright yellow flowers for the tuis and bellbirds to feast upon. Then once clothed in its summer leaves woodpigeons love to munch upon the new leaf shoots, teetering their bulk on fine branches.

At each of the two houses we have owned I planted kowhai trees. The best seedlings came from an old chap in Owaka who raised seedlings from his son’s farm in the Catlins and sold them for a song. These were hardy plants, well suited to a coastal climate but slow growing. I also managed to grow some from seeds, first soaking the seeds for a week in water to get the hard outer shell of crack open.

The seeds of kowhai are actually poisonous, containing a compound which mimics the effect of nicotine and in amounts sufficient to make a person quite ill. However, the seed coat is so tough that it resists degradation in the human digestive system so fortunately actual poisonings are quite rare as only the green seeds are soft enough for a person to chew and release the toxin. It seems a little incongruous that a tree I view as being ‘gentle’ would have poisonous seeds, but perhaps it is just as well for it to have some defence against opossums.

Another interesting thing about kowhai trees is that they are legumes. They have nodules on their roots containing bacteria which can fix nitrogen from the soil, making it available for the tree to use. This enables kowhai trees to grow in low quality soils such as sandy, gravelly areas with less organic material in the soil.

I’m not sure exactly why I consider kowhai trees to be gentle, it may be due to the softness of the leaves and it’s wiry delicate shape when young. But to me even mature old kowhai trees have a gentle dignity about them. They are not one of the mighty giants of the New Zealand forest, but they provide food for some of my favourite birds and have some of the most spectacular flowers of all our trees. There is a kowhai beside the bus shelter where I catch my morning bus to work and in the spring it leaves a carpet of fallen yellow flowers, making a great contrast of yellow softness against the black harshness of the asphalt footpath.

Always an idea

I read to discover meaning.

Obviously there is meaning in the words I read. But there is much more than that. I keep reading to experience the jolt of realisation when something finally clicks.

It’s this jarring shock which keeps me searching, drives me to read more.

I read to not understand.

The emotional impact of a poem that baffles me.

Reading is an exploration of the human condition, seeking the edges, searching for the core. Pursuing a phrase that smacks me out of the mundane into profundity. It is a drug, an elusive hit hidden within text. When I find it tectonic shifts of insight occur, a tsunami washes away the dross of trivia.

The effect can last for hours, days, weeks even. Then the search continues for another hit, never knowing where it might be found; a web article, a book, a poem, graffiti in the street. I can’t describe what it might look like, could be a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph or a chapter.

Always it is an idea.

A hot day but a storm is coming

Today reached a high of 34°C in Dunedin and even now at 10:30pm it is still 26°. But that’s due to change in about an hour when a deep low left over from tropical cyclone Fehi hits with lots of rain and a southerly change. We are not likely to see much of it, but there is also a lunar eclipse tonight.

On Holiday

No blog posts this week while I’m away on holiday with only an iPhone to connect to the internet. I will resume posting next Monday (29 January).