Day 44 and more chance meetings in the green reserve, filling up the well of emptiness that sometimes oppresses me. It is not depression exactly, it’s more a vacuum, a hole that opened inside me in childhood when first my brother died and next my father and the losses that cut our family in half, sent my dear beautiful mother into a deep grief that lasted for some years. Thank goodness there was family — grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and family friends — who through all that time, still even now, gathered in close. I see them in a ring, holding hands around us, their shadows long on the grass, keeping us safe.
Most of the time this vacuum stays sealed but losses in the present, big changes, uncertainty, loneliness, any of those forces can trigger the feeling. Given that the condition of being human makes us vulnerable to pretty much all of those things, I fully expect the void will accompany me to the end. I’ve accepted that because there are riches too, all the creative pursuits which were nurtured by my mother for one thing and her love of the natural world and teaching me nature appreciation, her friendliness and warmth they have eased the path. I’m making it sound simple and it isn’t.
The park is getting busier. I had reached the bottom of the circular walk yesterday, when I saw a man across the grass, near the start of the rock-lined path that winds through the trees. He was standing very still eyes trained on something. I crossed the park quietly and a little uncertainly for he was dressed in rather unusual gear — old white overalls, clean but dull from lots of washing. They were tucked into dark grey gumboots. The frames of his glasses were dark and rectangular, the kind that a scientist might wear, or a professor and he had on a hat, made from soft cotton, the dark blue colour had faded to a washed out blue-grey. And this was interesting, he was holding about fifteen bright green beans in one hand. I wasn’t sure what to do so I asked him what he was looking at. ‘A partridge,’ he said, ‘over there.’ I looked but I couldn’t see it, anywhere. I wondered if it was real. There was a shade structure with a roof blocking my view though. By the time I reached him it had gone. ‘It was over there where that sparrow is now,’ he said, smiling at me.
I didn’t used to be this curious, or is it nosy, I’m unsure. Neither did I strike up conversations with strangers but it seems that in the time of coronavirus I throw caution to the wind and open my mouth and the questions fall out. I learned that he lives in the house beyond the karo trees on the corner of the park. a very pleasant man, a retired scientist from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland. He didn’t tell me this at the time, but I googled him later and discovered that some years ago he received funding to trace the origins of human influenza by studying traces of the virus in Adelie penguin dung samples in Antarctica.
‘You’ve been picking beans,’ I said. And that’s when I discovered he is one of four gardeners who tend the community gardens on the edge of the park. I’ve often looked through the mesh fence and admired the musky mauve flowers of the cosmos, the scarlet geraniums in their raised beds, the salad greens and herbs and I’ve wondered about the good people who grow things for the benefit of a community. Apparently I’m welcome to join. They need new members. I also learned he is a beekeeper. That’s why he was dressed in overalls and why they were tucked into his boots.
Later at home I opened my inbox and there was an email from the scientist. It had come via the contact page on my website. He’d sent me links to three writers, a Swedish journalist and a couple, both of whom write, who live further down the street from the park. Four writers in two days.