The trail is a straight forward track up through sheep pasture to the summit. Every year it is closed for lambing August-October, right about when the weather is getting warmer and we’re wanting to plan such a hike, so we squeaked it in just before the closure this time. It really is a better track to do on a clear winter day anyway….there’s no water and no shelter, so it would be a scorcher in the summer.
Last week was the first time someone referred to me (in my hearing) as “middle-aged.” I thought I didn’t deserve that term until I turn 40, but I have to admit that the wrinkles around my eyes and propensity to retire early to bed under an electric blanket all point to the same direction. And, if I admit it, so do our conversation topics.
I remember when other people talked about cranky joints and the pleasure of taking a kid-less outing to the grocery store. I listened to them, smiling, comfortably bemused, wondering what it was like to get old. Ha.
We didn’t grow up with these–winters are too cold in upstate NY–so my first experience with their gaudy abundance was at a Planting Fields Arboretum on the northern shore of Long Island, when I was a student at Cornell’s Riverhead research station. The garden showcased dozens of varieties, with shades varying from white to pink to red, and they seem to really put their heart into the business of flowering, littering the ground with their chunky spent blossoms only to optimistically pop open more buds the next day. They are sometimes pruned to a single standard trunk topped with a ball of color, and they never fail to conjure up the old time Alice in Wonderland cartoon where the playing cards are frantically painting the roses red or white to assuage the evil queen’s whim.
I feel somewhat accomplished to have negotiated 15 years of marriage, including some major life stages.
“Negotiated” is a good word. It means we’ve come through a bunch of obstacles with varying levels of gracefulness, rather like kayaking a whitewater river. A river has stretches of challenging bits that are exhilarating when maneuvered successfully, stretches of wondrous calm bits in high-walled gorges with crystal waterfalls that you feel privileged to experience…. and then there are those rapids that you enter unawares and at the wrong angle, where you miss eddies and get trounced by unforeseen obstacles and you come out the other end drenched and tousled and in dire need of a chocolate.
15 years of marriage puts us solidly in the middle age category, along with hatch-marked wrinkles under our eyes, various joint aches, a mortgage, a decent sense of who we are, what we want, and an increasing skill set to negotiate meeting those needs when they differ. That last bit’s worth celebrating, so we planned a trip to the snowy mountains.
New Zealand is in a privileged position during the this global Covid19 pandemic, and we can travel domestically without restriction. So while we couldn’t jet off to Myanmar for our 15 year celebration (my private wish), thanks to our generous friends’ willingness to have our kids, we could head away to the mountains in New Zealand’s Southland for the weekend.
I have only down-hill skied a handful of times, and not once in the last decade. As kids we cross-country skied, our family not being as willing to spend the money on lift tickets as others might have been. But I’ve ice skated since I was a tyke and I’m a proficient roller-blader, so with a bout of uncharacteristic overconfidence, I declared that I could pick up down hill skiing for the day, no problem.
I still own a pair of snow pants, purchased decades ago, with the latest lift pass still attached (Kirkwood, Lake Tahoe, 2007), and Jeremiah surprise-purchased some shiny new goggles for the weekend. The rest of the gear I rented. I was ridiculously pleased that the boots were pre-warmed in the rental hut.
When I stepped outside to shove my feet into the bindings I was reminded that downhill skis are really only designed to go DOWN. I dusted off the old snow-plow stop and set off to the bunny slope, realizing that I’m not as nimble cornering in skis as I am on rollerblades! I must have looped the bunny slope 10 times before being ready to head over to the chair lift.
There weren’t many different trails down that had enough snow yet, but that suited me fine, I was happy to stay on the green one with the little kids whizzing fearlessly past me. Jeremiah waited for me at various corners, like a gentleman.
Probably race and economic class is more on my mind than usual because of the current US news, but I was struck by the fact that both the ski field and the lodge were nearly all white European-decent kiwis, and the price ticket of this type of recreation and the gear it requires takes it out of the range of many NZ families. It’s a very different scene than the beach, which is egalitarian in its accessibility.
We were having fun, but the wind was starting to pick up so much that the flinging snow made it hard to see and the chair lift was swinging vigorously, so we called it quits by mid afternoon and headed back down to Ohau Lodge.
If you had told me 9 years ago that I’d get good family dinner conversation in a DECADE, I’d have swooned. But now that we’ve been married 15 years, out of high school for 20, we’re starting to count life in decades and can take the longer-term view. May this coming decade be even better than the last.
Create one illustration to represent the following story:
Bongo the monkey woke up in the jungle to the sounds of birds cawing and the bright sun shining. He yawned and smiled and felt the hunger in his tummy, which was a bigger hunger than normal, so he climbed down his tree in search of breakfast. He passed the pineapples and thought, “tasty, but I’m tired of pineapple!” He came to the papaya tree and thought “tasty, but I’m tired of papaya.” He passed the banana tree but thought, “cliche?…as if I’m going to be caught eating a banana!”
What he really wanted was a big juicy orange but all the orange trees were on the other side of the alligator-infested river!
As he was walking and deciding what to eat he saw Clyde the Alligator floating on the far side of the river looking for his breakfast too! Bongo was so hungry but he couldn’t resist teasing Clyde again, so he climbed the tree closest to Clyde. He crawled out on a branch overhanging the river and dangled his tail. Clyde’s eyes looked up at the tail dangling just out of his reach, licked his lips, and slowly swam under the naughty monkey. Bongo wiggled his tail and dangled it lower and Clyde’s eyes opened up more. Bongo kept lowering his tail more and more as Clyde raised his head out of the water.
Finally with one big surge Clyde exploded out of the water and gulped down Bongo whole and splashed back down into the river! Clyde got his breakfast!
But: Bongo was a particularly smart monkey so he waited for Clyde to swim back across the river. Then he started tickling Clyde’s belly from the inside. Clyde did everything he could to hold in his giggles but finally he couldn’t take it anymore and busted out laughing – and out popped Bongo!
Quickly Bongo climbed up into the jungle trees and found the biggest and juiciest orange to start his day off right. Now he just had to figure out how to get back!
In New Zealand, post Covid-19, our lives have largely returned to normal, though the economic toll will continue to be felt. I was putting a couple finishing touches on a bit of collage I started two months ago while talking to my sisters in the US today, and I was reminded of how deep in the thick of things they still are.
“Do you have plans for Queen’s Birthday weekend?” Carrie asked me, just after NZ moved to covid19 level 2. “Want to go on a tramp?”
Did I ever! The last time I was out on an overnight excursion was months ago, in that other lifetime of normality we had before The Pandemic.
NZ celebrates the Queen of England’s birthday the first weekend in June, always on a Monday because that’s much more convenient than her actual birthday. I feel a bit silly celebrating the monarch of England’s birthday as an American, but whatever, it’s a good three-day weekend mid-winter. Long live the Queen.
Because it’s winter, we planned two weekends and three tramps. Three different locations in case we had to switch around to miss the rain/snow/wind, and two different weekends in case the first one was entirely not suitable. It’s an insurance formula that works well for winter.
By principle, I do not check the weather maps for the weekend until Thursday. I hate looking at them early, waffling on a decision, and having to look at them and make a possibly entirely new decision on new information again later in the week. But this time I broke my rule and looked on Wednesday, and the weather looked calm and dry over almost the whole south island for most of the weekend. What luck! The forecast held, and on Saturday morning we launched up to hike Plan Number One: Mole Tops in the Nelson Lakes region. It’s a bit too far to drive for just an overnight, but having two nights out made it worth it.
I SHOULD have taken a picture of the Durville hut boat dock with Carrie’s husband, sister in law, and nephews there to meet us the next day at noon. Definitely boat taxi service with a smile. Also smiling up at us from the clear lake waters under the dock were half a dozen gigantic eels, and we shuttered to think that we had jumped in this same water just this past February after our Blue Lake walk. No temptation to do that this time!
The wilderness is a comforting reminder. A virus might run through most of the world’s population, the economies of the world may have groaned to a halt, and the fabric of human society may be ripping, but the mountains still rise, the moon still waxes, and the trees still grow moss-laden in the forest.
Milo is an interesting creature right now. He can be very responsible and capable, even quite pleasant company. Still, he’s egocentric as all get-out. He expounds upon the egregiousness of everyone else’s actions without a hint of realization that they might well feel aggrieved in their own right by his behavior. Tonight he had a long tearful moan about the unfairness of his mates and declared that he wants to move to Mars. I laughed and told him he should look under the playground slide for a Mars Portal, then gave him a hug and read him Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day. He took it in good humor. A little affection and empathy seems to go a long way with him, but he seems incapable of extending the same to others. Hopefully it’s all part of the growing up process. Whether or not he’s learning much academically at school (they seem to have taken it very easy the first week back), school is an academy for social skills.
Oh, and speaking of learning social skills, the kids have both been enamored of the earthier side of humor lately, expelling giant farts with relish and magnifying their burps with wide open mouths. As parents, we are less than amused. Naomi had a new friend over this afternoon, a perky little girl who is the middle child of 5, and Milo tried out his silly act with her. Apparently it went over well, because he reported “Amelia has a sense of humor that doesn’t occur in our house…..she laughs when I smack my butt!” Fantastic.
With the kids back at school this week, I’m back to work at my usual hours. Work pretty feels pretty close like normal now, after I run the temperature scan gauntlet.
Everyone must submit to the laser thermometer pointed at one’s forehead on the way in the door. I still cringe at this. I don’t like lasers pointed at my head because it looks like a gun. Plus I remain thoroughly American in my sense of privacy; the site manager is a tall man, and my internal body temperature feels a bit too….personal. I comfort myself with the fact that the thermometer only reads the outside, because while the average human body temperature is 36.5-37.5C, I’ve never heard anyone with a reading higher than 36.5C. Tomorrow I’ll wear a hat and crank the car heater to see if I can get up to 37, which is the “send home” trigger. Yeah…. because if I try to game the system I don’t feel quite so much like a pawn.
We still try to give our work makes some extra space and don’t pass through doorways simultaneously, but it doesn’t feel extreme…..except when it comes to tea and lunch breaks.
Oh, and I guess the other odd thing that remains at work is that the door knobs are perpetually damp from the thrice daily sterilizing. But I don’t really mind this.