Wednesday, Mar. 3, 2010. 11:04 AM
Glenorchy, New Zealand
After four glorious days in the wild west of the Rail Trail, a retired rail line cum bike path that meanders through the dry and unique backcountry of Central Otago, I was back to the NZ I know, cruising up and down through windy green hills, alongside bright blue lakes and gorges, past bungee-jumping bridges, into fruit, wine and cheese country, bound for Queenstown, where I would meet up and recuperate in the home of a teacher from High School, Ms. Leslie. Connected through a mutual friend on Facebook who suggested I ring her up, I was welcomed with open arms and whisked away 50k further up the long and beautiful Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy, a village Pop. 200.
I was honored to learn that I was among the first house guests she’s ever had there, the house being just recently completed, along with another surprise guest, Ms. Carrie, another teacher from my hometown alma mater! The only home on the street, you couldn’t see another neighbor until you got to the edge of the property, (of which there were two, spaced real far apart in the secluded but wide open valley.) The single story design was spacious, clean, all wood and glass, no pictures on the wall, for in every window was a perfect slice of landscape. It smelled wonderful, of new house! I was happy to help warm it.
Further down the valley, there wasn’t much in terms of people or towns, but there were the usual naturally fantastic features: streams, colorful slopes, and a range of mountains as far as the eye can see, capped with snow. There was one thing down there, according to my map maker, labeled “Paradise”. In the morning I took off of my bike to find it.
I started down the road, which quickly became loose gravel, and saw the road sign: Paradise 37k. With only myself and a liter of water, I said what the heck, and continued. After 5k I saw one lone sheep out in one of the adjacent paddocks, and a bit further I found its flock. I imagined Paradise was among the really tall, light blue snowy peaks far down the valley, and soon it was apparent that the mountains were indeed very far off. The road was getting difficult to ride on, notched for traction I suppose, and I was vibrating like a tibetan throat singer. Hi-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i sh-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-p! I had had enough. Looking at the flock, I parked the bike and jumped the fence.
I’ve recently learned how to shear a sheep: basically you get a good hold of it, sit it down on the butt, hold it firmly between your legs, and shear away with a buzzer-like device. (One farmer I hitched with told me I can get work shearing sheep for $.66 each… and it can be accomplished by a skilled laborer in about a minute!) With this knowledge in mind, I set out to tackle one. Attempting not to scare them and create a domino effect of boundin’ sheep butts, I advanced slowly. All eyes were on me. One started to retreat, and a moment later there was a flurry of white heading towards the opposite end of the field. I ran, they ran, I laughed, they bleated, I ran out of steam, they collected far away. I admitted defeat, and the stared at me while I retreated back to the road, and got shocked hopping back out over the electric fence.
I went over a bridge which crossed some beautiful braided streams, clear and glacial blue. The sun was hot, and I saw a hovercraft downriver, so I waded out to try and catch a ride, but they were just finishing up, floating over to their truck and trailer. When my feet tired of plodding through the delta of sand and small grey rocks, I hopped into one of the deeper streams and floated back to my jandals, refreshed and invigorated.
I didn’t know Ms. Leslie or Carrie very well when we were at school in Demarest, but it was great to spend a couple days getting to know them a bit. Even though it was just a brief visit, it filled me with great joy and gave me much to process, which is evident in how often I’ve spoken of it since. For one, we are kin of sorts, coming from a common place (and all in NZ at the moment, coincidence or not?!) But I’ll be moving-on soon enough, Ms. Carrie will return in a week (back to part-time teaching at our school after a decade off, raising her two boys), and Ms. Leslie will be staying-put on the cusp of Paradise forever more, or so it seems. It was exceedingly fun to talk of international things, criticize our common ground and celebrate our findings of life beyond. It’s fun (and not without a bit of novelty) to dismiss the student-teacher boundaries and get to know each other as people.
I like Ms. Carrie a lot, in fact she reminds me much of my sister Cristina, and I just loved hearing hear her talk about her boys and Demarest these days. (Being on vacation from it all, she wasn’t too keen on talking about school too much!) Ms. Leslie is exceedingly interesting, quite accomplished in my estimation, a crafty linguist, full of witty anecdotes and shining with a light of accomplishment in both her professional and personal life. She just gets it, and it’s so refreshing and inspiring to compare notes and see her on her path.
On night when we took out the rubbish together (1/2km down the road!), she shared with me her story, prompted by a question I asked earlier in the evening, “where’s your husband?” The answer was that he died one year ago. At first I was a bit confused by her use of the present tense when speaking of him, but for the sake of consistency I’ll keep with it. Their story is absolutely beautiful. She and Kevin met ten years ago, had a lovely afternoon together at the end of which he asked her point blank, Now what about us? She didn’t know men still knew the meaning of “us”. He is Kiwi (which I’ll recommend to any woman out there, go find a Kiwi man! As Ms. Leslie would agree, they’re the *best*-), and for the last decade they’ve been spending summers down here, and the other half of the year based out of London, where they teach at Oxford. He took her to Paradise, and years later when they decided to move here they found this plot of land, designed and built this house, marking the beginning of the rest of their lives together. Kevin is wonderful – this is certain – which I can see from pictures scattered around the house and from Ms. Leslie’s stories. Sadly, he got a brain tumor and, just as the house was finished being built, he passed away. What’s so beautiful about it all is the love Ms. Leslie wears on her sleeve, which permeates the house, and still pours from her tender heart. One little thing I noticed blew me away, and somehow reinforced my sense of duty to make the most of all our good fortunes every single day. Late one morning, I woke up from the quiet living room couch and walked down the hall, peering into the open doors to see if anyone was around. I briefly noticed some photographs set down on the night table, unframed and few. I didn’t dare pick them up or look too closely, but I saw they were of Kevin, and it looked as if they might have been some of the last pictures taken of him. I imagined Leslie saying goodnight to him each night, and it melted my heart. Love…
Even if I don’t let on, I’m so emotional lately, especially when my mind and heart are clear. In this magnanimous valley I got to feel again how full life is, how absolutely busting at the seams with beauty it can be. (I reckon it’s especially easy to see this in Paradise.) My problems – what problems?! – are so tiny when such bigger things are at play. We have love, people, in us. All we have to do is let it out, and everything will sort itself. I’m sure Ms. Leslie has had one heck of a time to arrive here now, but she is definitely still here, still amazing, and getting sorted out. The biggest things are still at play. She knows where she wants to be, that she belongs here, by listening to her heart. She found Paradise, and willingly the peace and love in her will continue to shine.