Prickly delight of the day

Perhaps it was reading about Mrs. TiggyWinkle as a child, or perhaps it’s because I respect porcupines and skunks and all peaceful, unhurried defensible creatures of the world, but I have a special place in my heart for hedgehogs. The English settlers brought them to NZ because they reminded them of home, and while DOC suggests that we trap them because they have been known to eat bird eggs and even chicks, I welcome them into my yard. They eat mostly bugs and slugs and snails, which I don’t begrudge them.  And they are SO CUTE.  For a person not easily moved by cuteness, I think they’re adorable.  They waddle-wobble as they trundle along at their own pace, pigeon-toed and snuffly.  Also, since they don’t hustle, they’re photogenic.   So here’s to our resident hedgehog, the Delight of my Day.  

And the mountains still remain…. especially Mole Tops

“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.

Here’s our hiking route: Pink is the first day, hike up the forested ridge to the alpine saddle, then stay at Mole hut a little way back down the creek valley. Day two hike up to Mole tops and have an explore, then walk down to Tiraumea Hut for the night. Day three walk over to Durville Hut at Lake Rotoroa, where Carrie’s husband would meet us with his dad’s boat and bring us back around to where we left the car. Winter days are short, same as in NY winter, but the distances were achievable with the daylight available.

The first bit of the walk was in lovely mossy beech forest, with old man’s beard lichen clinging to the branches as we got nearer the alpine zone. It was probably 10 C, perfect temperature for climbing, and our conversation ranged over all the important topics; relationships, kids, work, and the best color for a car.  

There was no wind when we popped out of the tree line and looked down at the hut in the valley below, so we loitered up there, brewed a cup of tea, and basked in the sun.

As we turned down the valley, the shaded bits had hard frosty ground, and we expected the hut to be in a cold pocket near the creek. But whoever situated this little hut had winter sun in mind–it caught the last of the afternoon’s warmth through it’s window and when we poked out heads inside it was toasty warm. Unfortunately, it was also occupied by three sleeping bags, and there were only 4 bunks. Shucks. We amused ourselves for a few minutes trying to guess the nature of the party who would return there that night–there were foot traps hanging in the porch, but also a bag of Hummingbird coffee, and a couple Harrington’s pilsners stashed below the step. Hunters, but not bogans, it seemed.

Fortunately we had a tent, so we set it up in a little flat space and started our dinner in the hut before the occupants returned. As hunters, we expected them back after dark, but they surprised us by trooping it around 5:00, having seen no animals on the tops all day. They were very civil though, and good company, but the hut had no extra space and we soon retreated to the warmth of the sleeping bags in the tent, a round of Quiddler by headlamps, and an early sleep.

It was a clear frosty night, but we stayed reasonably warm and waited to get up until the hunters had vacated the hut, so we could us it for breakfast. Taking down a frosty tent is cold-finger business, so we were relieved to climb back up to the warmth of the morning sun.

We left most of our gear at the saddle and climbed with light packs up to the alpine tops. Once you climb up it’s remarkably easy going, with low grass and tiny alpine herbs to walk on. With no wind and full sun it’s like strolling along on the roof of the world.

We kept remarking how dazzlingly lucky we were with the weather. Could have just as easily been blowing a gale and driving snow and ice….but we got lucky.

The tops there are like a big undulating plateau, pocked by tarns, with the mountains drizzling off in steep scree runs on the western side.

Despite the sun’s warmth, the tarns were iced over pretty solidly and they weren’t melting at all. Not strong enough ice to walk on, but still solid enough to make the watery world underneath absolutely still.   It was so clear that I watched a tadpole wriggling along, and wondered how it could be so seemingly energetic in such cold water!

We peaked through a window in the ridge at the mountains beyond, looking up the Durville valley to the south and planning future routes.

Sometimes the ridgelines are narrow and brittle with sketchy drop on both sides, but we found a simple scramble route up to an old trig point where we sat and observed other people walking about below us. It was remarkably busy up there; at least 9 other people besides us were striding around, taking advantage of the primo weekend.

We finally left the tops in mid afternoon, with just enough time to walk down to Tiraumea Hut before dark.

The frost was still crinkly hard on the low pockets of the clearing and the mist was creeping in, but when we opened the door to a very tidy little hut with several inviting stacks of dry kindling left by previous considerate trampers. We spread out the wet tent to dry, cranked the fire, and played a round of Quiddler after dinner.

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.

Social skills academy

Milo and I have been competing in Ticket to Ride for a couple years now.  Today he beat me, despite my best efforts, with a record high score of 480. As you can see, he’s chuffed.

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.

The temperature scan gauntlet

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.

Socially distanced lunches feel so….antisocial. It sucks. The little light chit chat enlivens lunch breaks but one person per table isn’t conducive to banter.

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.

Back to School

“It takes so long to get dressed!” Milo exclaimed this morning as he stalked into the kitchen.  “For two months I’ve been wearing nothing.”

It does take a second or two to put on a tee-shirt, perhaps.  He has been basically living in undies and a bathrobe since March.

“Back to school….worse day of the whole year.”  Clearly he was channeling his inner Eeyore this morning, and he was not thrilled at the prospect of school.

I understand that.  I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of going to work either.

Yet this afternoon when I asked how the school day went, he answered “Good! Better than I thought it would be!”
Fantastic. Optimism triumphed.

Obscurity to Brilliance

No, that’s not my career trajectory, unfortunately.  It’s something much less important, but it gets my vote for Delight of the Day.

All around the edges of the garden, mostly hidden by the shrubbery, are these usually non-descript members of the lily family. They must have flowers, clearly, because they now have these awesome berries….but I can’t remember what the flowers looked like. Obviously not very impressive. But look at them now–WOW! “Voluptious” or “flamboyant” are two descriptors that come to my mind.

They are also fun to draw.

49th day of Social Isolation

Today is the 49th day of Social Isolation.  When we awake tomorrow, it’ll be the 50th day since we started the covid19 lockdown, and we will be in alert Level 2, with a lot more businesses starting back up, and a lot less isolation.  We didn’t know how long the lock down would last when it started, otherwise it would have made a nice symmetrical advent calendar.

This is an epic curve that has been flattened.  Only time will tell if it’s been flat long enough to have gotten rid of the virus in NZ.

Total confirmed and probable cases over time

Molly’s emotional curve has been, shall we say, a bit more curvaceous. And I still have a job, so does Jeremiah, none of our family is currently ill….I can only imagine the roller coaster being ridden by many other people.

And now, for the delight of the day.  This was one of Milo’s school activities this week, and I found it so alluring. Naomi’s fairy is on the left, then Milo’s horned beetle in the middle, then my bumble bee. It’s like concentrating the detailed beauties of a garden and reforming them into something else beautiful. Like paper collage, if you start with something pretty it seems so much more likely to end up with a pleasing arrangement.  Ironically, my favorite flower, a brilliant magenta primrose with a yellow centre, didn’t fit into my bumble bee.  Next time I might need to do a butterfly.

Changes afoot

I asked the kids to show me their school work when got home from work today and sitting next to Milo I kept noticing a peculiar smell.  I’m due for a shower, I know, but a quick snuffle under my arm and I was in the clear.  I began to sniff further afield.

I pressed my nose to Milo’s arm pit–there it was, the distinct smell of unwashed underarms.  I checked the other side. Nope, it wasn’t an anomaly.  He smelled on both sides!  My little 9-year-old squirt must be growing up!  “Smell me, smell me!”  Naomi never wants to be left out of the action.  But no, she was still sweet little kid, despite romping around and neglecting her school work all day.  She pouted.  “But I’m growing too, Mom!”

“Yes, dear, of course you are growing, you’re growing a lot….. but Milo just has a head start on being stinky.  You’re not missing out on a good thing…..  But getting smelly underarms isn’t a bad thing either,” I hastened to say, hoping Milo wasn’t going to feel self conscious. “It’s just part of growing up.”  Wow, I might want to practice this conversation when I feel a bit more on my game.

Oh, and speaking of changes, New Zealand is moving to Covid19 alert level 2 on Thursday.  That means almost all sections of the economy can open back up, but there are still significant safety precautions like limitations on numbers in gatherings, and distancing rules for busy social places like restaurants.  Most significantly for us, it means the kids will be back to school starting on Monday.

It’s been a hard season at home, but in many ways it’s been good too.  I’ve actually missed the kids the last two days when I’ve been at work.  Hopefully we can savor these last couple days in the home bubble before the business of life begins again.

Surprisingly delightful leaf

I went on a bike ride down the old TaiTapu Rd this afternoon and the weather started to close in on my way back with a light misty sprinkle.

Turning onto Sabys in the gloom I almost ran over a brilliant red maple leaf, startling on the grey shingle road.  There isn’t a maple tree in sight.  I don’t know where it came from.  Its red was intensified by the droplets of mist it had accumulated, and you could even see the slightly orange shadows where the leaf must have been tipped away from the sun when it grew.  I stared at it, soaking up its vibrancy.

I love red.  I always have.  It’s not a calm color; it’s INTENSE and I ADORE it.  It was so fun to run into this one, unexpectedly cheerful for no good reason at all.