Hey, I wanted to tell you about the last few days, because they have been good but they have made me think. Nothing new really, just the same thinks I thunk before, but it’s good to come back to the old places sometimes.
I went out on a boat on Thursday with some students to the middle of Wellington harbour and we clambered on to Matiu Island. I have lived in and nearby Wellington all my life and never been out to the island in the middle of its choppy blue harbour. It’s an island that has been used as a quarantine for a long, long time, and sometimes as a prison for people with foreign sounding names during world wars.
It was windy on Thursday and the little ferry slapped into the waves quite hard making the students sitting on the roof of the boat scream with delight (except for the girl who had to have a cuddle from a friend to sustain her on the boat ride not being a fan of boat rides).
We walked up from the whare kiore, where we frisked ourselves for rats and vegetation, to the summit of the first hill and I wandered off the track to the memorial for those who had died on the island a long time ago.
Such a sad sight to see those broken memorials, and the lichen beginning to form again on the stones where you can read of those who died at 18 months, or two years or at 26 in the years 1875, or 1883, and you can wonder what that means, to sail for months to the other end of the world and fall ill and die on a little island on a harbour far, far away from home. How heavy was the heart of the mother and the father who buried their little girl or boy here?
And on the highest point of the island the remains of the gun emplacements built for a war that never arrived.
But of course it arrived here in newspapers and telegrams. It arrived in the houses of my family where news was received of the death of first one son and then another.
On the weekend it was our tenth wedding anniversary. Cathy’s sister looked after our two daughters and we went and stayed in a hotel in town for two nights. We went to see a concert, and we had dinner out, and we wandered around the shops, and it reminded us of a time ten years ago when we were first married and unencumbered by children.
But then we came home again on Sunday to be encumbered by the little souls who are our daughters and I was rather glad to be with them; aware somehow of how quickly things pass. Things like ten years. Ten years, they pass in the blink of an eye. Today Eleanor became obsessed with finding a caterpillar. She made a little home for one in an empty ice cream container and made me promise we would go looking for caterpillars first thing in the morning. We read The Hungry Caterpillar for the hundredth time, and she asked me “where do caterpillars come from?” and I said eggs, but she said “no, where did the first egg come from? Who made it?” Which reminded me of meeting a dad the other week who told me his son had asked him how we knew that the big bang had happened.
All of which tells me not to kill the curiosity or creativity of my students. Life should be a wonderful pleasure shared with friends and love not a series of fruitless tests with which you acquire a job that removes a kernel and leaves a husk.
And what about your other daughter? What was she doing today?
She danced. Rosamund always dances. The merest hint of music sets her off. Today it was the Fleet Foxes. I have just bought their album of a few years ago and I am thrilled by it. The sound of it. Like it has been around for a thousand years but was invented again today. And the fact that they sound like Simon and Garfunkel. All of which makes me want to dance with Rosamund. May she always dance. May she always be unafraid to stand up in a room of friends and respond to the things she loves. Directly. Unmediated by a feeling of shame or a fear of condemnation.
At the start of the Thursday with the students we took to Matiu Island we went to look at what is left of Te Aro Pa, an old Maori village site that existed up until the early years of Wellington’s settlement by Europeans in the 1840s and 50s. You can go into a little room at the base of a tower of apartments and look down through the glass floor at the foundations of the huts that were once there. On the back wall is a large black and white photo of the area in the 1850s with the settler city obviously and aggressively rubbing its alloted and demarcated lots up against the vague communal land of the Maori.
The tour guide asked the students what they saw in the photo, and the students spoke vaguely about changing land use, and urban development. If the guide had asked me I would have said I saw life. The smoke rising slowly from the chimney of the building in the foreground coming from the fire in the hearth of a family home where the kids rolled around on the floor in the scullery and the mother held a bawling babe in her arms and wondered about the chores for the day and how her parents where getting on back in England (a place to which she would never return).
“Girls,” I should have said, “remember how important it is to be alive, how important it is to have a family and friends and notice the moment, because the moment passes. The smoke drifting out of the chimney in the photo we see here was once now, and that moment is now 160 years ago, and the child in the street and the dog in the yard are long, long gone underneath.
Remember, girls, what makes it worthwhile is taking the time to cuddle your friend on the boat when they feel scared, or dancing with your daughter when you have a daughter and she wants to dance, or walking the streets in the warm evening with your love, ten years after you married.”
After all, what do I know?