Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, October 2022

Excerpts from The Persimmon Journal: the art of getting older through lockdown, loss, and release


Lockdown: 26 March

I awaken to a quiet world. No cars starting up. No painters disturbing my meditation with knocks on the door and questions. No roofers banging high above. No hum of traffic from the harbour bridge.

The government has announced that elderly people (over seventy) are vulnerable and need to go into lockdown a week before the rest of the population. Also, we are not to leave home except for a walk. I am seventy-seven.

On the one hand, I appreciate being taken care of, and that the Prime Minister has asked everyone to look out for the elderly. On the other hand, I resist the label of ‘vulnerable’ in case it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. So I’ve decided to accept the benefits of this category while privately allowing myself to feel strong and capable.

I’ve had two weeks of lockdown already because I was sick with a sore throat before lockdown started.

Now it is the first day of lockdown Level Four for everyone. The Prime Minister gave New Zealand two days to move from Level Three to Level Four. New Zealand is closed. No cafés, bars, restaurants, dentist visits, or yoga. The painters had a morning to pack up and leave, and the scaffolders only just had time to finish dismantling the cage around our apartment block at Bayview so we could move our cars in and out.

Yesterday I took a short walk, the first for a week, keeping two metres away from other walkers as instructed. One brisk walker went down the middle of the road. Already it feels like a friendlier world, with less haste in it. My upstairs neighbour who was coming home from exercising said hello as we passed two metres apart, and addressed me by name for the first time. He’s lived here for several years and has always guarded his privacy.

Over the last week I’ve received more phone calls than I would normally in two months. My life is usually quiet anyway, and I can go a few days without talking to anyone, but now people are aware of the need to reach out. The vulnerability of the elderly is official. Family and neighbours helped with shopping before the lockdown. I have enough supplies for two weeks, except for dental floss.

I have re-framed self-isolation as ‘home shelter’ after I learned that California uses the term ‘shelter in place’. Isolation feels like a cage; home shelter like a canopy under which I can feel safe, with breathing space.

I and my women friends shifted our planned autumn equinox celebration to the online platform of Zoom and found it surprisingly intimate. What will the homeless do? Will the mail continue?

Yesterday, I suddenly had an insight as to why I hadn’t been recovering from the throat virus and kept dropping back to my couch exhausted.

It was fear. Fear of dying — swiftly, alone. I thought I’d sorted all that, but here it was again: fear of dying in the midst of an unfinished project and when I was unprepared. The pandemic was bringing this fear right to the surface as anxiety rippled through the country and the media reports.

A quieter world: 28 March

It’s as if the veils have been lifted and we have been gifted a quieter world. Lots of people are out walking and the roads are so empty of cars that runners are using the vacant space. I hear their feet beating the ground as they approach and pass.

People are moving down the footpath towards me in small family groups. I move to the verge to maintain the two metres of distance required. We smile and say hello: the lone walkers, couples, and the groups.

Being over seventy and ‘one of the vulnerable’, yesterday I found a note under my door from the young couple in the next apartment, and received a ‘Can we help?’ email from a woman who lives with her husband in another apartment.

It’s interesting to note the areas of longing that are surfacing: for my family and especially my granddaughters, and my bach on the coast. These longings are visceral; they grab in my belly and bring tears to my eyes. Comfort comes when I remember that the planet is breathing and benefiting from the way we have been leveraged into doing something about climate change and our destructive ways of living. As one writer put it in an article this morning: ‘Let’s not return to normal.’

Beginning: 1 April

I have a refreshing walk in the park, do tai chi on the grass, then sit by the big macrocarpa tree and write a poem. I draw in my nature journal. The weather continues to be golden, serene.

Lockdown: Poem from the Verge

Two metres is enough
to toss a frisbee smile
in passing

Two metres is enough
to flash kinship
across the space

It’s enough to swallow up
a downward look
or a closing in

Two metres is enough
to register the warm nest
of a family passing

It’s enough to take home
and into my night
of longing

Two metres is enough
to weave a shawl from sightings
to wrap around

my shoulders
as the day cools
and I enter the deep
sufficiency of night.


Loss of purpose: 2 April

One consequence of being in isolation is a lack of structure and stimulation. Today I’m feeling a loss of purpose. I flounder around with so many things I could be doing, but without motivation or a central purpose. I’m feeling a bit lonely in my bubble of one.

In the evening I became despondent, energy drained, throat symptoms returned. So I danced to drum music and drew a mind map with thirteen small images of things I could do. This is always useful.


Earthing: 4 April

I sat by the big macrocarpa tree in the park and started preparing my online class for Wednesday.

I made a weaving from grasses with red berries interlaced, then did tai chi on the grass.


Settling: 9 April

What am I noticing that’s different? Birds: I heard a riroriro (grey warbler) singing in the trees along the driveway, and my friends in the central city heard a ruru (morepork) two nights ago. What is bringing these birds into the city? Fresh air? Quiet, so their songs can be heard?

I’m sleeping more and deeply, shedding layers of tiredness. Daily exercise outside has become non-negotiable and a pleasure. I say hello to strangers. I’m making nourishing food to eat and it tastes better. I get hungry. I am putting on some weight at last. My nervous system is settling and I feel more grounded.

People still phone. I haven’t used my car for three weeks. I am finding a new rhythm, slower and more peaceful. My balcony plants are thriving because I’m caring for them well.


Change of rhythm: 14 April

People are getting careless now that it seems New Zealand is past the peak of Covid-19. Two metres apart is sliding into one metre. Cyclists and runners are the worst culprits, as if speed will counteract the need for distancing.

I see more cars on the road. I alternate between feeling energised and dropping into weariness.

I have settled into a slow rhythm, and every day make sure I get out for my afternoon walk in the park, even though the weather is changing and becoming less inviting: showers and wind today. The wind has brought down pine cones and I filled a bag for the bach, even though I can’t go there yet. I made a big pot of soup, mostly to freeze.

Lockdown poem: Picking the lock

I have time to pick
caterpillars off the
before they
the lot,
leaving me
to curse the loss.

Aha, it’s all a matter of
and time is what I have
to outwit these
minuscule wrigglers
with monstrous

Never before
have I caught them
so early
at their pinhole work.

Oh Lockdown, you
are granting me time
to deadhead
each lobelia flower,
to pick a hair
from the carpet,
clean the back
wall of the
polish the
impossible stain
of turmeric
on the

Time to stand
on the earth,
asking for

Time to enter
the eye
of the needle
into the vast

And to write a poem
about beating
a caterpillar
to the feast.


In the park: 5 May

In the park I take a quick barefoot walk, hastening back to hear the Prime Minister announce if we are going to Level Three. In the park I see the man who each day throws discs like flying saucers into a little black cart, intent on beating his record. The same grey-hooded woman sits on the same seat, her shoulders bowed over maybe the same book. She too is there every day. Each time I see her, I think I’m back in yesterday or the day before. Her presence seems to have frozen time.


Out of Level Four: 6 May

The grey-hooded reader abandoned the park bench and moved to a patch of sun on the grass.

I had to adjust my daily walk to an hour earlier to avoid the chill of long shadows.

. . . On Monday morning two nurses clad in plastic came to my apartment door to give me the test.

‘It won’t hurt but it will feel strange.’ It certainly did.

‘Close your eyes’ — and a swab went up my nose, twisted and squirmed into some unknown recess, scraped what it needed, and twisted out again. It was horrible. I felt disoriented; an inner chamber that until that day had been known only to my body had been invaded. Once they were gone I sat down to recover.

‘You will get the results in two days. The longer it takes, the better the news.’

Tonight I feel sad.

‘Come to dinner on Sunday,’ said Claire, after my Zoom storytelling session with my two young granddaughters. ‘I can’t. It’s against the rules.’

We didn’t think to create a secure bubble at the start, and now I can see it’s too late. ‘Not until Level Two,’ I say, hearing my heart breaking.


A different world: 9 May

I dream that I have the virus in a little square cardboard box. Someone sent it to me. But it’s dangerous to open the box or even study the virus because it may have mutated.

Covid-19 language:

Keep your distance.
If you’re sick, stay at home.
Wash your hands.
Be safe, be kind.
Team of five million.
Going hard, going fast.
A tricky virus.

. . . Now we are in Level Three, traffic has returned, its sound rasping away the peace. This peaceful park, with fresh air, birds, and regular visitors has once again been scoured out by noise.

The quoit-throwing man who was ever seeking to beat his record has gone. The hooded reader, who had moved from her seat under the trees to green grass in the sun, has gone.

An ambulance siren whines in the distance, and then a police car. A man with a dog passes my tree, coughing. Was traffic always so loud? I turn off my hearing aids, not ready for this intrusion.


Level One: 9 June

Rose, my wonderful admin assistant and art student, is back. Today when we greeted, I had my first hug in a hundred days.

It was warm.

Then I asked for another.



Juliet Batten has a PhD in English and taught English, Women’s Studies, and Environmental Studies at the University of Auckland before working for twenty-six years as a psychotherapist. As an artist, she has held many solo exhibitions and coordinated collaborative art projects, including the One Hundred Women project at Te Henga beach in 1986.


She has practised meditation since 1983 and has celebrated the seasons with a group of women since 1985. Her writing, teaching, and art reflect a deep connection with nature as well as a commitment to spiritual growth through all stages of life. Juliet has a son and three granddaughters and lives in Auckland. Her new book was released on October 18. Readers can find it here


Visit Juliet at www.julietbatten.co.nz or