23rd July, 2016
When I was showering this morning with the warm water pouring down my back I was suddenly taken with the notion of doing one last round of exercises in the pool before I go. The water temperature at the moment is between 13 and 14 degrees, like ice, and I had been forced to avoid my daily exercises not wanting to catch a chill before the trip. Now the departure is close I’m going to risk a quick session, so I can say goodbye to the water and goodbye to the garden.
So I swirled a towel around me, left my shower cap on, to avoid losing heat through my head, and rushed down the stairs, passing my husband on the way. ‘What are you doing?’ he asked. ‘Going into the pool,’ I said as I reached for my blue fins and yellow bells and began strapping the fins to my calves. His eyebrows lifted, that's all. Reaching the pool I stopped. The cherry tree has suddenly lost all its leaves opening up gaps and holes in the green curtain that gathers protectively around the pool. I looked up the hill to the neighbour’s house. He is a writer, too, for the New Zealand Geographic and has published deep and thoughtful books on nature and the environment. Was he in his kitchen? Could he see me through the holes? I climbed quickly down the wide steps into the pool and dropped my towel at the very last minute.
Then I opened the front door to take the path to the terracotta meditating woman with her white dove, now weathered and tinted pale green, by sculptor Jin Ling. I wanted to add a photo to this entry to remind me of peace and tranquillity and humility When I come upon her levitating above the ferns I always stop and press my hands together and bow my head. But at the front door was a large box with my name on it. My heart sank when I read, the message ‘Live Plants Handle with Care.’ These are the roses I ordered last September from Tasman Bay Nursery, following the sudden death of my friend. Arriving now! When my friend died her son gave me her book about roses and on one page she had noted the roses she grew in her garden. Seeing the names in her handwriting had seemed like a message and so I had placed an order for ‘Buff Beauty,’ two plants, the big sprawling ‘Albertine’ and another one called Crepuscule’ which means twilight in French. I opened the box and there inside a huge and thick plastic bag I could make out a tangle of rose sticks, like arms and limbs in an amniotic sac. The instructions said ‘Keep damp until ready to plant.’ But they would rot in the time I’m away. ‘Dig a deep hole, 30 cm deep, and dig further to free up the ground underneath. Give them plenty of room and plant.’ I hadn’t planned on gardening today. I was happy with my blow-dried hair and now it was drizzling. I needed more time to consider the ideal location for these precious speciments. The best plan would be to bed them into the soil on my other neighbour’s neglected back section. I’ve already spread compost in this area and begun another garden there because they never visit. They can’t climb down through the giant roots of the pohutukawa that cling to the slope above the watery boggy ground below.
There was a knock on the door. My friend from childhood on a Canterbury farm was there with a gift for my daughter. ‘I’ll help you,’ she said. It was companionable working together in the light drizzle. It’s very quiet in that secluded part of the garden. We chatted about work and partners and children. ‘What’s that?’ we both said at once. She had struck something pale and gray. ‘I hope it’s not the cat,’ I said. ‘Licorice?’ she asked. ‘No it can’t be he’s up the slope.’ What else could it be? Then I wondered about the Rosella that had flown into the bedroom window. We had held a solemn ceremony around about here and buried the bird in a shoebox. The next day I had noticed my son, eight years old, holding the spade, heading off in this direction with his friend. ‘Felix, what are you doing?’ I called. He looked back and said, ‘I’m going to show Tim the bird.’ They are such colourful gorgeous things. ‘No Felix, you can’t we do not dig up the dead.’ My friend nudged the rotting matter. ‘It looks like fabric,’ she said sweeping it aside.
When the rose sticks were planted we heeled them in and I pruned the ends and together we wished them well and said our goodbyes. When I come home they’ll still be here and I will find proper homes for the roses.
And now I’m ready to go.
Safely in the embrace of the turquoise mountain water I began the series of resistance exercises, stepping and lunging smoothly down the pool channel. I like to think of this flat channel, that reaches to my shoulders, as a moat, and the house with its high wall of chocolate stained weatherboard as a castle. When this deep pool was built, up out of the ground to the lounge level we added the channel at the last minute to provide a shallow end for children. It loops back along the back along the wall like a defence in a castle. When I am in the channel the feeling is of hovering above the garden and bridges down below. The nature writer Roger Deakin had a moat too, a real one in England. I read about him swimming in his moat in his collection Notes from Walnut Farm, although more recently I read in his Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey through Britain that it was not a proper moat, because it didn’t circle the property, it was just on two parallel sides of a square. My channel is not a moat either but in my imagination it is.
In the water I said goodbye to the kowhais that bend gracefully over the water garden, and to the Persimmon beside the driveway, and to the Karaka and Puriri, the Mahoe and ti kouka on the far slope. I looked at the grand old Pohutukawa that grows on our other neighbour’s section, its branchy outline, like fancy ironwork with a silver sky between the filigree. I noted the glossy green and grey green tree canopy, the furry and spiky forms, and thought how they have leapt up and flourished in the years since we planted them. Above my head I saw two Monarch butterflies cavorting together, looping the loop, in the silvery, wintery light. I had thought that it was the sapphire violet hues of the bright salvias in my garden that had brought the clouds of butterflies here but recently I discovered that hundreds of swan plants are growing, not far away along a grass verge opposite Meola Reef, providing food and a sanctuary for the beautiful creatures. I wonder who thought of that?
The day was going well. I went into the garden and picked Mutabilis roses and the strong sweet smelling flowers of the parma violets picturing women’s soft gloved hands reaching into a tall glass jar of the purple, violet tasting tablets that might be sitting on a glass counter in her boudoir. I arranged the flowers in small vases for the young woman who will look after our house while we are gone, a tiny offering from a winter garden. On the way back across the lawn I noted the tulips in their pots just poking through. I’ve planted the mahogany ‘Dark Night’ by the kitchen windows and further out in pots on either side of the lawn I’m trying out softer tulips in chalky pink tones for the first time. Maybe they will be blooming on my return.