After meeting at the Whangarei bus station on Friday afternoon and riding north for 1/2 hour, in her burgundy Toyota Hilux, Cushla, in uniform, said ‘you’re part of the family now’ when we arrived at her place. So now I have the security officer – Maori sister I’ve always wanted.
There are some mysteries to our assignment. First, there’s not much gardening to do at Cushla’s big compound.
On our first morning, Cushla’s brother came from his nearby farm to dowse the septic drain field with a piece of wire he bent into a fork. Watching John walk the field, the wire turning magically, was mysterious and awesome. Cushla wants people to stop driving over the septic field and for us to develop a barrier. Because we are wwoofing. There’s a bit of bamboo on the place, loppers and a machete, so: a trellis.
The Northlands coast line, a two hour drive north of Auckland, is really spectacular landscape. Another mysterious happening here is with Maori sacred sites and mermaids, on which I hope to report further. The coastline itself is very complex here, lots of inlets, dunes, bays, watery places, outcroppings, coves, forested mounds on the land-sea edge.
We wake in our outfitted garage, called a ‘bach’, pronounced batch, to the sounds of shore and land birds, and the surf-pounding-sand sound. A funny-looking bird with a shriek call, the pukeko, is a native and lives in abundance in the mangrove behind us. Lots of seagulls cawing and chasing each other.
Given the audio theme of our stay, I’d be remiss not to mention our resident teething toddler. We share a kitchen/ common space with a wonderful Swiss German family. Tina and Simon have repeated themselves with Ella, 4-ish and Len, nearly 2. Tina has a dream job offer, in Whangarei, in her specialization: urology nurse, and is studying for an English equivalency test. It’s a pleasure to observe Simon as lead kid watch, even as Len is loud and labile, needy with teething pain. Ella teaches me to count in German and we all paint, draw and collage together.
Julian and Hannah gave us a heads up from their Asian trip that the song ‘Almost Heaven West Virginia’ is widely covered in the Pacific Rim. When asked us where we’re from, we reference the song, and voila! – complete and super positive recognition. People smile warmly, as they look up and to the left, accessing memory. The song is like a cultural universal solvent here – it works for Kiwis, Maori people, Europeans, Asians. Fascinating.
Also mysterious – as I fell asleep, I heard, I think- a Maori chant, a loud bunch of deep voices rising rhythmically like a train gathering speed, for 20 seconds, then trailing off into laughter.