I took a hike a couple weekends ago to Gillespie Pass. Though I mentioned the trip already, the epic scenery and ideal weather of the trip really merits its own trip report.
We had originally planned this one for February 2020, when my sister Susanna was visiting. But foul weather to the south dictated that we change our destination last year, leaving Gillespie still on our to-explore list. Our original group had been winnowed down by a broken ankle and a pregnancy, so it was just Carrie and me on this adventure.
Yes, we totally felt like softies stepping out onto that river bank after taking the jet boat with a crowd of seniors…but, hey, NZ domestic tourism needs our support after all. Only doing our part. Thanks Wilkin River Jets!
By then it was only about 4:30, and it was still a warm basking sort of afternoon, too hot even for sandflies to be very pesky. I decided to sit in the long grass and see if I could discover which type was pollenating so copiously. It’s amazing what you see if you sit still. Besides discovering that it was the purple foamy grass that was shedding pollen and reacquainting myself with grass flower morphology, there was a lot of other business to admire. There was an assassin bug hugging its sandfly prey, various solitary and bumble bees hectically visiting the yellow asters, and lots of orange and black butterflies with green fuzzy thoraxes and spiral tongues chasing each other in loops. I tugged at the grass leaves and examined where they grip to the stem–the structure of that sheath and the hairs on the leaf base would tell me which species I was holding, if I could have remembered the grass key. The light purple harebells had white downy stigmas, and they didn’t seem to mind their resident thrips. Down near the river miniscule coprosma plants were heavy with orange berries, and their neighbour plants held their bare black seeds cupped in a white fleshy receptacle. Turn over a river rock and creepy crawlies scuttered away, gills quivering (maybe mayfly larvae?). The undersides of the rocks shelter perfect pebble pupa cases too, glued on strongly to make safe homes for…? Occasionally I heard a kea, but never caught glimpse of it. The cicadas were loud, and I brought an empty moult in to Carrie to show her the thread-like trachea linings, and tell her about the rest of the gorgeous miniscule world. “You’re frothing!” she commented. Yep, I was. I spent an hour and a half exploring the petite, and next time I’ll carry my 10x lens.
I stopped into a local produce stand, and there was a box of soft stone fruit seconds (awaft with fruit flies) for five bucks. I snagged it. The pie has peaches, but also apricots, nectarines, three varieties of plums.
New Zealand grocery stores don’t stock Crisco, and I’ve been disheartened with oil crusts as well as my last attempt (4 years ago!) at a butter crust. This time I followed a recipe, including the recommendation to use ice water and refrigerate the crust before rolling it out. Voila! It tasted as good as it looked.
I’ve had half a dozen iterations of this surprising conversation with Kiwis, and it has really puzzled me. It was the same whether they were a friend who knew me well or a complete stranger I’d just met. In fact, looking back, I’ve yet to encounter a single negative reaction.
Why would anyone be offering their congratulations for doing what I cringe to admit I’ve done—voluntarily quitting gainful employment without securing another job first. Why does what seems like reckless irresponsibility to me sound so praiseworthy to them?
I finally started asking, and got responses like this:
“You didn’t like the situation you were in, so you’re making a change.”
“Rather than just putting up with a job that had become a grind, you’re working toward something better.”
Here’s the podcast synopsis: “To help us understand quitting, we look at a couple of key economic concepts in this episode: sunk cost and opportunity cost. Sunk cost is about the past – it’s the time or money or sweat equity you’ve put into a job or relationship or a project, and which makes quitting hard. Opportunity cost is about the future. It means that for every hour or dollar you spend on one thing, you’re giving up the opportunity to spend that hour or dollar on something else – something that might make your life better. If only you weren’t so worried about the sunk cost. If only you could …. quit.”
To my mind, I have a “sunk cost” of nearly 8 years of prime career-building years in ornamentals, when I came to the sad realization that here in NZ, within the company I worked for, there was no growth potential in that field. I can’t go back and remake the decision to spend 8 years there; that time is gone…..sunk in the ocean of time.
And each evening when I would wearily pull out the computer at 8:00 p.m. to try and search for other job options, I felt the “opportunity cost” of staying with my old job. I simply had very little time and energy to work on making a change.
So, while I don’t yet have new employment, let me celebrate the time reclaimed during January and February.
This was the first January where I wasn’t juggling childcare and work, and it was amazing. The kids and I had three golden weeks after we got back from our north island holiday when we slept in, cooked waffles for breakfast, went to the skate park/pool/beach, saw friends….and generally enjoyed one another’s casual company.
Now the kids have been back at school for almost three weeks, and I have been doing a deep dive into career networking, while also enjoying the best of summer.
Plus (and this bit isn’t as photogenic) I’ve been spending several hours each day on the job search front.
These experiences, in a nutshell, are the opportunity cost of working at my last job.
Now, I know that doesn’t count the whole cost. Some of those things I might have squeezed in while working, like the Murchison kayak trip. I’m also currently not earning any income, which isn’t sustainable….and now that the kids are back at school, I’m not even saving the cost of holiday programs. Jeremiah is being wonderfully patient with this leisurely phase of life (thanks, hun).
Still, I’ve noticed another big advantage of reclaiming the energy I used to spend at work. I’ve got a lot more patience to deal with the kids. I don’t actually have that many more hours to spend with them now that they’re in school, but when we do have time together, I’ve felt more playful, which averts a lot of conflict. And I’ve felt more creative and compassionate at resolving conflict when it does happen. I’ve discovered that there’s an opportunity cost (in the form of mental energy) to employment that I never appreciated.
So while I hope to soon be working in a challenging new field, I will still take a moment to appreciate the silver lining of this career pause.
I’ve finally left age 38 behind, good riddance. 2020 was hardly in the running to be anyone’s favorite year. Now I’m 39. A much more pleasing number, but we all know what looms next.
As I’ve been pondering aging, there have been a few incidences that pull my self-image one way or the other….aside from the obvious mirror, which shows my first grey hair and the deepening furrows between my brows (stop frowning, Molly!).
Old #1: Milo turned 10 last week.
Young #1: We went to Jellie Park, a Christchurch Council swimming pool, one recent hot day before school started. So did half the moms and kids in Christchurch.
We all wore our swim suits to the pool to avoid the changing rooms, me in my new pink-lined speedo which recently replaced my old sagging togs. I staked out a section of grass by spreading out our towels, and went to swim a couple laps while the kids did the hydroslides. Milo gets cold easily, and I found him back on the towels warming in the sun. He glanced up at me in surprise as I plunked myself down next to him. “Oh, I thought you were some teenager,” he exclaimed. Having spent the morning in close observation of body types of all ages, I’ll take that as a compliment.
Old#2: I recently hiked to Lake Morgan on the west coast, and my quads were sore for a week afterwards. Either I’m less fit than I used to be, or my body’s recovery time is increasing with old age….or both.
Fun fact: “greywackle” is the grey sedimentary sandstone I’m familiar with from much of the southern alps. When it is deeply buried and heated, greywacke is converted to a flaky rock called schist. The western side of the alps has been uplifted more than the east, so the deeper layers that contain schist are revealed there.
“My legs aren’t too bad,” I stated, optimistically massaging my quads. “It’s the down that gets me.” Even as I said it, I remember my grandparents saying the same thing, a fact that as I child I found frankly implausible.
Young#2: One day recently I was rounding the corner to meet the kids on their way home from school.
“Hey, careful with your old mazzer!” I protested. “You’re not old!” Naomi rejoined, exercising her appreciation for precision and love of contradiction at the same time.
Old#3: Milo was reading his library book when he picked his head up and fired out what seemed like a random question:
“Back when I was a kid—in the days before the internet, and before we all had cell phones—we used to have a book that you could use to look up people’s phone numbers by their last name.” Describing it that way, the phone book days seemed very very long ago.
“Could you tear on in half?” he asked, and suddenly I understood the context of the question in relation to the comic book. “No, not me, they were massive.”
Young #3: Actually, I can’t think of one. I suppose that puts me squarely in the middle of old and young. Embrace middle-age, baby!
“Wow, New Zealand really is mostly rural, isn’t it?” We were driving through small towns in the central North Island somewhere between Wellington and Taupo. More accurately, we were passing through acres and acres of green rolling hills with pastures and trees, where here and there a small concentration of houses and shops congretated to form a village. The downtowns of these little villages seemed bustling and healthy, colorful and full of clothing stores, restaurants and banks, like I imagine the small towns of New England were before strip malls and Walmarts drew commerce away from mainstreet.
I’m not sure what I was expecting of the North Island. Maybe because most of the NZ population lives in the north, I thought it’d be more urban. Maybe because the new David Attenborough documentary is on my mind, with the ballooning trajectory of the global human population, I thought there’d be wall-to-wall humanity out there. But I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t crowded.
The next day we drove from Wellington to Taumarunui where we launched on the Whanganui River Journey, a story told in a former post.
We spent 5 nights camping under red pohutikawa trees in a holiday park at Waitara, which is just north of New Plymouth. To my delight, when we moved the tent the outline showed in red needle-like flower petals, fallen from the trees above. It was a wonderful stretch of weather, and the formula was successful. Jeremiah got up early and took his kayak out fishing while mom and the kids slept in, read our books in bed, and generally had a lazy morning breakfasting and beaching. At midday Jeremiah returned, and we spent the afternoon doing something all together.
“But Daddy touches your butt,” Milo argued to me, demonstrating the sensual caresses remarkably accurately on his own body.
“Yes, but Daddy’s my husband,” I said, “and the way he touches my butt has a sexual connotation, so you shouldn’t do it to Naomi, because you’re not supposed to have sex with your sister.”
Milo was grinning in delight now. He’d gotten mommy at a matter-of-fact moment and was getting some juicy morsels of gossip on a rarely-mentioned topic. “Why can’t I have sex with Naomi?” He cocked his head and the buck-tooth grin challenged me to drop some more pearls of wisdom. The year 4 students started sex ed last year and he has an anatomical idea of what sex is (“You had to do that TWICE to get me and Naomi, didn’t you?” he has asked me recently. “Yes, Milo, twice…..”).
“If you have sex with your sister it’s called incest, and it’s considered taboo by society, and your children could have weird genetic problems.”
“What’s Taboo?” he asked, dancing around like a joker, considering, I’m sure, how scintillating a conversation topic this would make with his next door buddy. Naomi was also listening in delight, rubbing her bum and waving it around.
“It means you’d be an outcast of society and no one would talk to you or play with you! Now, GO TO BED!” I insisted, pointing to the bedroom.
They retreated, and I moved back into the kitchen where Jeremiah was making pasta salad. “I just explained incest to our kids, did you hear?” I said, fishing for a congratulations on doing some hard-yards parenting.
“Yeah, thanks, good job,” he grinned. Milo turns 10 next week. Explaining Incest is easy compared to the years we surely have ahead.
The last two Christmases we did bike trips. They were good, but I felt it was time for an easier (less kid whinge) activity. I have good memories of canoe trips with my grandparents on Adirondack lakes, and I don’t remember putting out much effort as a youngster….my infinitely patient grandfather taught me to paddle, but I was doing well if my whirlpools reached to the stern of the boat. And we spent significant time just watching the water trails we made as we dipped our fingers over the side of the laden canoe.
The Whanganui River Journey is classed as a “Great walk.” It’s a 5 day, 145 km route down part of the Whanganui River, one of 9 iconic journeys promoted and maintained by the NZ Department of Conservation. We figured a silver lining to Covid is a summer with limited tourists, a good time to visit the relatively “crowded” north island.
We rented a canoe and Jeremiah paddled his sea kayak. After a rudimentary kiwi-style safety briefing we shoved our gear into six barrels, two dry bags and a cooler, and launched from Taumarunui.
“If you don’t tip within the first hour, you won’t tip until the last day,” was the reassuring outlook from the canoe hire guy. The Whanganui has a couple rapids approaching grade 2 white water, mostly on the first and 5th days. While I’m happy to paddle that in a kayak, I’ve never paddled a canoe in any rapids. Odds are that one in three canoes takes to the drink during the trip, and my aim was to be squarely in the dry 2/3rds of that statistic. I was comforted by the fact that the NZ Greatwalks are suitable for novices; with a reasonable level of fitness I didn’t expect anything untoward.
The first couple rapids had me nervous, but they were straight-forward and I was able to direct the canoe where I wanted to go (basically a straight point and shoot, no fancy manoeuvres required). We splashed through with only a few gallons of water sloshing inside from waves, and my confidence increased. Unfortunately no photos, cameras and rapid navigation don’t mesh!
We pulled into our first tent site by mid afternoon, and managed to set up camp before the rain started. It rained all afternoon and all night, a steady gentle rain.
Next morning we dressed the kids in their wetsuits, wrung out the tents, and anxiously checked the river level. It had only gone up about six inches from the night before, and maybe another inch while we packed, but the water had gone from tannin-tea brown to milky capucchino. Milo surveyed the turbulent flow. “No logs or dead animals floating along, so it’s ok to paddle,” he stated, quoting our safety briefing. He’s a funny combination of worry-wort and bravado, that boy; he likes precision in the rules, and as long as they aren’t his parents’ rules, he follows them. We launched and sped along amid rain squalls and gorge sides cloaked with fern trees and waterfalls. Some time after noon the sun peaked out and the outlook improved.
“Whakahoro campsite, 400 meters upstream.” The sign pointed up a chocolatey brown torrent lined with treacherous willows. I raised my eyebrows at Jeremiah. “I can’t get up that with just the kids in front. There must be a trail up from the main river somewhere.” We scoured the bank—thick bush and no trail. We tied up the kayak and paddle all together in the canoe. Zigzagging up the current with willow branches clawing at the edges felt mighty precarious, and despite our best efforts we had to pause in a boily eddy. “I certainly didn’t expect anything this sketchy in a Great Walk,” I panted. Quite possibly our sense of river hazards has been heightened by our whitewater kayaking experience, especially my own recent encounter with a side-stream willow. A Danish couple had clawed their way to the submerged landing just ahead of us, and they generously came back to offer help with their bow rope towing from land, so we made it eventually. Hauling our barrels up the slippery bank, we saw a sign pointing another 300 meters uphill to the campsite. “Whakahoro” sounds like a swear word (it’s pronounced “faka-whore-o), and I’d certainly suggest giving it a miss in favour of a friendlier riverside site. On the plus side, we met Becs from Taupo at this campsite, and she very generously carried a pair of our barrels up to the camp each night for the remainder of the trip.
Next day we were staying in the hut at Te Keiki, where there’s a marae. Reading the informational panel at John Gould hut, we learned that we’d need to be prepared for a traditional maori greeting—the man of the group would need to say what mountain and river we’re from, along with the necessary family introductions and thank you’s. The woman of the group would need to sing a song, preferably a folk song from your country of origin. I spent the paddling day practicing Yankee Doodle, which seemed a bit irreverent but was a favorite with the kids. Alison Krauss’ “When I went down to the river to pray” seemed fitting, this being a river journey and all, but I doubted I could pull that off tunefully. I settled on the Amish song “Tis a gift to be simple.” In the end I was spared. Marilynn, the hostess/caretaker of the marae, suggested that the whole group sing one song together. The one kiwi family among the group was more familiar with the requirements of the occasion, and chose a maori song that the kids learn in school.
Marilynn’s husband is the DOC officer in charge of the hut, and Marilynn is the person in her iwi (tribe) who has taken on caretaker job for the marae, which includes welcoming visitors each day. Her dad did this role before her.
The land on which the DOC hut sits is a contested bit of ground; DOC built it without the permission of the maori group who historically controlled the land around the Whanganui River, so the iwi staged a live-in protest where they occupied the hut until a suitable arrangement was reached. Thankfully the arrangement allows for regular people to use the hut. I didn’t realize upon booking that the maori consider that to be their land which they graciously share.
In this delicate balancing act for control, Marilynn was most gracious, explaining our roles in the ceremonial greeting and making many allowances for us being from a different culture. Apparently there is no other marae that allows their visitors to speak, she told us proudly. Though they still hold the tradition that a woman must not speak and must enter behind the men. “That’s not very 21st century,” whispered the Danish woman. I heartily agreed; of all the traditions to bend, treating woman as second class citizens seems to be a logical starting point.
We started our last day’s paddle expecting the river gradient to increase; this last day had four named rapids to negotiate, as well as a few numbered ones between. We put the kids in wetsuits and tied every loose bit of gear to the boat. But the first long stretch was flat, with a wicked headwind, and I worked hard for every meter travelled, aware that our shuttle was booked for 1:30. We passed the first described rapid in puzzlement—where was the rock mid-stream that we were meant to go left of? We slowly realized that the water must still be high enough that the challenging waves were “washed out,” the term whitewater paddlers use to mean the features are so far under water that they aren’t tough to negotiate. The real challenge was the headwind.
We made our shuttle time, but another family were waiting for didn’t turn up on time. The canoe hire guy checked his clipboard. “Powell, that’s the group with two kids in front and the mom in back who’s a really good paddler, right?” I hesitated; we were waiting for a family with three kids and two adults; they had two canoes, but I wasn’t sure how their kids were arranged. Jeremiah chimed in; “No, you’re thinking about us. The family we’re waiting for has three kids.” Realization dawned sweetly. That “really good paddler” he was referring to was me. I let the accolade go to my head; I figured my battered self esteem needs all the help it can get these days.
Eventually the canoe hire guy organized a local jet boat to launch in search of the other family, but much to our relief they rounded the bend just before the boat hit the water.
Looking back on the trip, one of the major enjoyments was the little cohort of people who we spent the evenings with at the huts. Since Christmas morning the personalities had been the same, and the comradery grew day by day. There was the Christchurch family Milo called The Freckles, who kept strictly to themselves the first day but by day three had thawed sufficiently to be cordial. There was a friendly hippie German couple living in Golden Bay, as well as generous Becs and her paddling friend Andrew (not partners, she carefully clarified), who had spent two years teaching English in Armenia, and had interesting things to say about a wide range of topics. Then there was the nice aforementioned Danish couple, who had interesting things to share about Scandinavia. I find this with all the Great Walks that I’ve done, oddly enough. We plan the trip to get out into the wilderness, but the most memorable part is the people we meet along the way.
Back in Taumarunui we treated ourselves to a hotel room, soapy showers, and a nice Indian restaurant. Stage one of the family trip had been a success.
I know I’m not “supposed” to like broom, or gorse. It’s an invasive plant, and in NZ, non-natives are considered evil. (this may apply to non-native people too….not going there today) But I don’t care. I like it, as long as there’s a good path like this one cut through it. It’s gorgeous, and smells nice, and wouldn’t be a weedy problem anyway if the native forest was allowed to grow back.
I biked up Kennedy’s bush this afternoon, then over the Summit Rd and down through the Christchurch Adventure Park. It was a fantastic ride, not only because of the gorse, but because I had one earbud in listening to Dire Straits on Spotify. I encountered the old favorites, but also a bunch of songs I had never heard before. Listening to music has such a profound affect on mood. With Dire Straits I was a more aggressive rider on the downhill trails, and I’ve never enjoyed them as much as I did today. What a fabulous ride!
This pansy was covered in perfect spherical melted frost drops, glisteningin the morning sun. I passed it planter yesterday on my way into work, and actually doubled back to take a photograph. I wonder what microscopic characteristics of the petal surface make it so hydrophobic.