Leave the highway and follow the gravel road past the row of macrocarpas, the old woolshed with its lichen-smothered yards, the derelict cottage, one window opening glassless into the vacant dark, the dark full of memories and the scamper of small feet, the other window opaque with age and grime, like a cataract. Both eyes blind. Leave the car at the broken gate; follow the track under the pines; stop for a moment to listen to the wind whispering in the needles and to feel the softly rotting litter under your feet. Then carry on, up over the hill.
Manuka scrub, a few half-wild sheep shedding ragged fleeces. A little colour in a bitterly cold sky filled with the sound of distant surf and a skylark's song—but the bird cannot be seen. At the far end of the small lake a kahu floats on wide wings, tipping and circling above a wetland of rushes and raupo. There the lake becomes the wide end of a rough gully patchworked with old gorse, through which mahoe and five-finger have begun to grow, replacing it. With time and luck, they too will be replaced and a future forest might muffle your footfalls. But now, pick your way along the sheep track skirting the wetland. Perhaps you'll flush a pair of ducks; in years gone they might have been greys but these days they're more likely to be mallards or hybrids.
Silvereyes scatter on the wind, past the rattle of cabbage tree leaves black against the light.
Follow the sheep track up through the tussocks and back 40 years; watch the old hare lope over the skyline. You're no threat to him, but he wants to be on the safe side. By now you are becoming like him, each step taking you out of the world, back to the time before the little strangers arrived, back to the time before the tide washed away the first footprint with five toes; forward to the time you can be forgotten. A gust of wind wrinkles the surface of the lake and the world vanishes.
You are the air in flight, a ripple in long grass. Sweep on over the hill, into the evening, following the hare's long lope; you will reform in the lake, somewhere between land and sky.
You are the wind, the light reflected, movement and moment. You are the sound of the surf beyond the low hills, a sound repeating the story of your life, over, and over, and over.
The passage is short and footnote markers would interrupt it, so I've not indicated them in the text.
1. Macrocarpas—Cupressus macrocarpa. The common name is Monterey cypress, but here everyone calls them macrocarpas.
2. Manuka—Leptospermum scoparium; sometimes refers also to kanuka, Kunzea ericoides.
3. Kahu—the harrier, Circus approximans.
4. Raupo—Typha orientalis.
5. Mahoe—whiteywood, Melicytus ramiflorus.
6. Five-finger—puahou, Pseudopanax arboreus.
7. "...greys..."—grey ducks, Anas superciliosa, are native in Aotearoa, but are becoming increasingly rare as the introduced mallards compete and hybridise with them.
8. The Maori name for silvereyes, "tauhou", means "little stranger", a reference to their recent arrival in Aotearoa. Presumably blown across the Tasman, they were first recorded here, near Wellington, in 1856.
9. "...the old hare.."—there's a photo of someone like him in this post, and another here.
1. Tauhou, the waxeye, white-eye or silvereye; Zosterops lateralis.
Photo and words © 2007 Pete McGregor