Notes from a day on the bus – Palmerston North to Hamilton

As we board the bus in the 9 am hour, at Palmerston North, I think of clever, wise Mark Twain, ‘if I had more time, I’d have written a shorter note’. Because we’re in for an all day ride, to Hamilton at 5 pm, this entry could be miniscule. We are going to Hamilton for a tech conference.

Also very aware of the woman with the quite croupy cough two rows ahead. When we stop in 20 minutes, I’ll see if the emergency exit row seats have more leg room, or just the illusion of, plus- 6 more buffer rows from croupy cough woman. Speaking of illusory: my sense of agency around COVID19. Yikes, she isn’t stopping with the cough.

Yesterday and today we drive through some rough landscape, definitely not the sexy part of the country, clearly overlogged and under re-planted. Rural and not very populated- it’s the more-sheep-than-people part of New Zealand.

We drove our tall bus through an installation of wind turbines, next to the highway and on both sides, so imposingly giant I felt I should bow down on blended knee and worship them. A few people have talked to me about how NZ has abundant sustainable energy resources: hydro, geothermal, so I was surprised to see these monoliths, while technically sustainable energy sources, seem like a big drain on precious habitat.

It makes me sad to see this apparent casual disregard for a magnificent place of natural beauty, but hey, welcome to our world. Maybe: every where was so beautiful, we still have to eat, etc…..Maybe it wasn’t casual at all, but our survival instinct that nuded the hills of their botany. Perhaps the botany seemed infinite. Perhaps it is- Earth abides. As they say in New Zealand, “she’ll be right”, as in ‘alright’. Of course, once disturbed, you never get a native forest back.

What is heartening is that Michael and Gaye, our art residency hosts,  started planting trees twenty five years ago on their 16 acres and have now a haven of biodiverse life forms, full of abundant fruit, herbs, shade, water and wild eels that will eat from your hand. Literally, Michael pets Frank, the twenty year old eel who lives under a foot bridge in the stream behind the house. His hand around her girth, Michael pulls her out of the water for us all to ooh and ahh at her beauty and the man-fish rapport. Frank will leave one day to embark on her breeding journey, swim thousands of miles to a deep ocean trench near, it is believed, Tonga.

Interesting to me is what is not known about eel reproduction. No one has observed it. The tracker devices scientists place on eels end up bobbing in the chop. Eel breeding can not be replicated in captivity, although the Japanese have spent millions of yen trying. Each eel gets one round trip ticket. From near Tonga, they float, as little jelly beans, thousands of miles to New Zealand, to swim in to the clear streams, rivers, lakes and races to live their long watery lives. At a mature age, twenty-eight years or even eighty, they return, en masse, to breed and then die nearby. Another thing scientists don’t know- what triggers an eel to gather and embark that particular year, on their long journey, purging before, fasting for their 100 day marathon swim.

Update, from the emergency exit row – there is more legroom! And the coughing people in this zone don’t sound nearly as croupy. I have my cone of ventilation system air directed at my belly button, as advised by a directive from the New York Times continuous COVID19 update system.  Another upgrade- I’m now a few rows further from the Indian man cheerfully shouting in Urdu into a handheld device that I presume is a phone, although he seems to be the only one talking. All the talking in the world. 

We are stopped at Whanganui, and replenish our supply of croupy coughers. Someone seems to be playing a recording of a crying baby over and over. This simulation is quite realistic and gives us a real opportunity to imagine what it would be like to be on a bus all day with a crying baby.