Our mother Kath (1913-2001) was surely one who trod lightly on the Earth.
Kath was born into a family of gardeners. Her parents grew flowers for florists and also from necessity produced most of their own food on their acre section in Mt Albert, Auckland. Her maternal family came from Denmark and a respect and love of nature was evident in the lifestyle of Danish relatives both those who immigrated to New Zealand and those living in Denmark.
Kath chose to study plants and graduated with a degree in Botany, from Auckland University. She was a fabulous gardener and could give the Latin name of just about any plant in gardens or the bush. Daughter Tess recalled: ’An amusing thing happened in her later years while I was staying. A lady phoned her by mistake, intending to call a nursery with a question about a plant. She said, "Ask me anyway!" and was able to answer the query perfectly. ‘
Kath inspired many others to be gardeners including her son and three daughters, all of whom share her passion to grow much of their own food.
Kath was a founding member of Forest and Bird in Auckland and appreciated the New Zealand flora and fauna. She loved tramping in the Waitakere Ranges, and when she needed a break from the work of raising her family of four, our father would drive her to the Waitakeres, with books and lunch, and then pick her up again late in the day, refreshed by time spent by herself in the forest.
In the 1950’s, our mother was a volunteer for Corso. Large boxes of clothes and shoes that people no longer wanted would clutter our house. Kath would sort and wash these clothes and then once a week she would work at the Corso office packing to send overseas. It was hard dirty work. The family would tease one another about our attire. “Where did you get that jacket? Out of the corso box?”
In her seventies, Kath began a new hobby, painting flowers and landscapes In watercolour, which enabled her to express her delight in the beauty of nature.
When she received New Zealand Superannuation, she felt very well off and she regularly donated a tenth to causes and charities. She never took shortcuts which might have saved her time but would have been harder on the earth. I can see her on one of those foul winter days in Auckland and it was time for lunch for our family of six, usually increased by one or two others; she would don oilskin and gumboots, go down to the garden to pull carrots and silverbeet, come back to clean the vegetables and make soup in the pressure cooker. No takeaways, no quick meals of convenience foods.
Kath was a recycler before the term was invented. She carried the grey water to her garden. She set up a tank to use the roof water. She wrote on both sides of pieces of paper and refused to buy paper towels or tissues in an effort to do her bit to save trees.
Her youngest daughter Ana puts her mother at No1 as an Earth Friend in her description of Kath’s washing ritual:
To run hot water to the tap in the bathroom from the hot water cylinder in the laundry (four metres away) was a cause for concern. So much water was wasted as she waited for the hot to arrive. So every night she took a container and facecloth to the laundry and ran off a litre of hot water at the laundry sink, thereby saving three litres of heated water. Then she carried the container and facecloth back to a comfortable chair where she washed her face with obvious pleasure, knowing that once more she had foiled a foolish, wasteful and indulgent system. She served the virtuous No Waste God with diligence.
Ana wishes she was still here to make known her views about over-consumption and waste and the damage “indulgence” is doing to the Planet, particularly in Western developed countries.
There were times when the family wished Kath would relax her recycling ways for the sake of her own health. Son Paul decided to issue the following tongue in cheek proclamation. It was framed and hung on the wall:
To Whom It May Concern:
This will serve to confirm that the hereinafter named, one Katherine Mary Knight of 35 Morvern Road, (or for that matter of where-ever) has already sufficiently recycled. From this time forward, the above mentioned Katherine Mary Knight is not only not required to recycle, she is hereby specifically commanded not to recycle, unless with my express permission. This is a divine order signed personally??? by God on the 20th day of January in the year 2000 .
Paul and Kath also chuckled many times over the story which dealt with the death of an elderly English Quaker. Those who undertook the task of dealing with her household possessions reported respectfully that they had found a row of shoe boxes filled with string, all carefully labelled:
String:over 3 ft. String:less than 3 feet.(and finally) String: too short to be useful.
Kath, who no doubt had boxes like that, appreciated the joke.
For many years, Kath was Secretary of the NZ Christian Pacifist Society and later of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She believed strongly in peace and non-violence and never shirked from the unpopularity that her beliefs brought her. Kath joined the Society of Friends when we four children were quite young. The Society was an important focus throughout her life, providing direction and support. Being a member of Friends reinforced her belief in the good in all people, and encouraged her to seek for simplicity in her life.
Kath cared deeply about people and her community. She was a great support to her family. Her care for the earth arose naturally from her philosophy of life which was that all of life deserved love and respect.
‘Catching fish and living humbly’ wrote Kath, of time spent with the university tramping club at the Anawhata student hut named The Shack. Her study of botany at Auckland University College led Kath into association with a group of students who loved to tramp in the Waitakeres, an activity which cost them nothing and brought great pleasure. It is interesting to learn that time spent in that environment remained a source of solace and strength for Kath throughout her life.
The account of Kath’s attempts to keep her use of electricity low reveals the habit of frugality born of the times. As a young student she became part of a group of friends and colleagues whose early years had been affected by the great depression of 1928-1933, when many families had suffered penury and grinding hardship. Kath’s family were not immune but they always had trees and flowers on the property which would have encouraged Kath’s lifelong interest in all plants. Though the depression was tailing off by the time Kath joined the university the cohort of students of which Kath was one were a socially aware and politically active group, appalled by the inequities they saw in society. Many of them became known nationwide as they went on to make names for themselves in politics, literature and academia. Kath was to make her name mainly as an activist for peace.
Disturbing memories of World War One may have been an early trigger but it was Kath’s underlying belief in the value of every human being that made her see war as insane. Her interest in non-violence was to develop into activism in virtually every area, especially in the field of education. She was one of the founders of the NZ Foundation for Peace Studies, and her book Learning Peaceful Relationships, published in 1979, has gone into 10 editions and is still in print.
The recently published book In Search of Peace by Don Smart (Wordsell Press, 2009) is ‘a chapter in her life’ as it follows her career as a peace activist. The book largely consists of her own writings which reveal a deep thinker and a very wise human being.
A poem written for Kath’s family by Claudia Fox is so beautiful that it must be included.
Death, be my friend
Death came to Katherine Knight
They met on a leafy easy road
where, on a fine clear morning
she chose to walk under trees
(each of which she could name)
and past garden plants she knew intimately
(seeds, shoots, leaves, flowers, and seeds again)
in a neighbourhood that knew her,
and what she had become:
Katherine Knight (frail, perhaps)
full of years and honour.
But again (considerately)
Death deferred, withdrew a few days,
in order that she could move into the next world
with many voices around her:
murmuring, whispering, consulting,
sometimes singing, sometimes sobbing;
most of all, reassuring….
So many voices, in harmony
her family, her gentle hospital helpers,
her day to day friends (and Friends ) and neighbours,
and her lifelong fellow workers for peace in this world.
17th July 2001
(From Judy, Kath’s daughter)