Day 43. What I really wanted to write about yesterday was a chance encounter in the park. The day began with washing, this time in a proper machine, not by hand. I will admit to having grown tired of wringing clothes with my bare hands and hoisting them soggy and heavy onto the line. It's an activity better suited to summertime. The weather these past few days had been rainy, squally, cold. Finally this morning it dawned bright and blue, a perfect day for drying clothes. When I’d pegged the last towel on the line I decided to go directly into the park. Normally I arrive there later in the day.
Over the weeks since lockdown began this beautiful reserve has been largely deserted. Shortly before we went into level three I came upon the gathering of dope smoking teenagers in the shadowy glade. There was Jude collecting mushrooms from the soggy ground that same day. Then the day before yesterday I saw a woman with a tall white dog with black spots on its coat, she was swaying and the dog was cavorting gracefully in the long green grass, the pair of them performing a slow dance.
This morning, as I was almost through my second swift walk around the perimeter and on my way up through the thicket of native trees along the path bordered by low rock walls, I happened upon a man on his way down. ‘Hello,’ we both said at once. And then I turned back and said, ‘I haven’t see you here before. Do you live nearby?’ He turned around and pointed further up the hill to the huge old Victorian house I’ve often considered from my seat in the rocky nook. There is one large, square bay window on the end of this building that receives the last of the afternoon sun. A kitchen is just discernible on the far wall and perhaps a table and seats nearer the glass. I like to imagine what it might be like sitting in the snug sunporch gazing at the view over the park and up the volcanic cone. Once or twice I’ve seen a figure, female I think, insubstantial and shadowy in the deep recess, but mostly the room stands empty.
The man I met, lives with his wife and two sons in a flat on the other side of the rambling two-storeyed house. I learned a lot in a very short space of time. I think this is an unexpected consequence of lockdown. Our enforced isolation has made us yearn for actual connection with other human beings. You forget, until you start a spontaneous conversation, how easy and pleasant is the process, with just air around you and lovely native trees, very different from staring at a screen and getting eye strain.
I discovered that the man on the path is from California, and oh joy is another writer, self-employed like me. He has a doctorate in philosophy and has taught critical thinking skills and Early Modern Philosophy at Auckland University. He also has a background in information technology and a past career as a computer programmer. Now he works as a copywriter, he’s written parenting articles too, and there is a big novel on the go. He runs a bicycle repair shop. I’ve noticed this about writers. They’re often highly skilled in several areas because the writing life doesn’t pay the bills.
The conversation roamed over different subjects mostly to do with writing. There was his reading of New Zealand literature and the enjoyment of comparing it with American literature. He’d just finished Janet Frame's 'Faces in the Water' the novel she based on her experience of life in a psychiatric unit. He commented on the ending, ’it was gripping. Just stunning writing.' We discussed Frank Sargeson as well, the bleakness of his stories. I can’t see beyond that. Pointing towards the Rangitoto channel I asked him whether he’d read the story about the two men who row out into the middle at low tide and one leaves the other stranded on a shallow bank, unable to swim, and rows away fast. Sargeson’s stories often end like that on a sinister twist.
We discussed the appeal of Devonport. His family loves it here. The children attend Devonport Primary School. ‘It's fantastic,’ he said. ‘What makes it fantastic?’ I asked. ‘It is on a volcano!’ And the teaching is very good too apparently.
We could have talked all morning but his wife was at home juggling her work with minding the children. He was carrying a hemp grocery bag. He considered it now and said, ‘I just hopped out to collect some kindling for the fire. I’m predicting a chilly night.’