Day 33 of lockdown and though last night I dived down deep in the writing, today I ascended, literally and metaphorically, onto the slopes of Takarunga, where from the very top the panorama was spectacular. Not a breath of wind. The sea on all sides of the isthmus a smooth body of water the colour and texture of pale blue silk, with darker blue seams made by the wake of the one boat, the Waiheke ferry. I started on the lower path and began circling the spiral, first in dappled light along the corridor of tall trees that cling to the slopes on the eastern side, their autumn leaves coating the slope with a dense layer of gold. There was a sudden noise and a movement. Was it a bird? Not two metres away a brown rat was leaping away uphill, over the leaf mounds. It was too big to be a mouse but smaller than a fully grown adult rat. Maybe it was a teenager. I noted my bodily response, a tensing, a buzzing sensation of recoil. I spoke firmly to myself, ‘This is silly. When has a rat ever hurt you? Keep watching.’ And I was rewarded because there was movement again, a tunnelling under the leaves and then what do you know the teenage rat popped her head above the sea of gold and looked at me. They have good vision. It definitely saw me and then it was gone but in that instant it looked harmless, exactly like Ratty in the ‘Wind in the Willows’ cute.
Further round I saw two women raking leaves in the graveyard next to the catholic church of St Francis. Clearing the earth around the leaning headstones and simple stone crosses encrusted with lichen, they could have been figures in a Victorian painting, heads bent, engaged in timeless work. Circling higher and the doubling back towards Rangitoto, I viewed North Head/Maungauika a bright grassy mound surrounded by pale blue water the texture of liquid paint.
It was busy on the volcanic cone. Couples, runners, cyclists, lone walkers, people of all ages enjoying the day. The children had cardboard boxes they’d converted into sleds. I watched with interest as four of them squeezed onto a large piece of cardboard, two at the front, the boys, and two at the back, the girls. Pulling up the front edge they pushed off down the steep incline at such a pace there were squeals and cries of joy and fear, before they tumbled into a heap onto the path. Up they got and began scaling the slope again. I heard one say, ‘Ow, I think I’ve broken my foot,’ as she took her place on the cardboard for another go.
At the very top there was a seat where I sat for a time and contemplated the vista. From this vantage point, scanning city and harbour, the ranges in the distant west, the long curving coastline going north, I gained a sense of perspective. I realised that the dirty, low swirling cloud that had seemed to be my future three years ago, has lifted. There is house hunting on the horizon. A new book on the way. A grandchild coming soon. The drop in living conditions is no hardship. My life now is simpler and more modest and fits better. Yes it is lonely at times, especially when good decisions need to be made about where to put down roots but there is a new sense of freedom that feels unusual and interesting. I don’t know what comes next, who does, and how covid-19 will impact on our lives into the future but I think, like many, I’m finding valuable learnings to be had in this pause.