Day 53 and I have spent the entire weekend walking and talking, probably like many others, because there are weeks-worth of conversations to catch up on and people are making up for lost time. The mood on the streets, when I tuned in, seemed to be one of quiet jubilation, of people feeling a blissful sense of release from the abnormal conditions of these past eight weeks. And, I don’t think I am imagining this, there seems to be a subtle change in habit on the streets? There is a lot more exercise happening for one thing but more importantly there seems to be a new code of behaviour. I have been noticing an upswell in kindness and courtesy, that’s my observation.
I have walked on Cheltenham beach three times these past two days. I’ve been up Maungauika, North Head. I’ve walked to the pier at Torpedo Bay and out into the harbour for the pan shot from one end to the other. I’ve been up and down the streets of Devonport, through the village, past The Vic cinema and down towards the waterfront, the cafes open along the way, people spilling onto the street. I’ve walked along narrow lanes; colonial houses clinging to the hilly topography. I’ve admired sudden blazes of autumn colour, the cherry trees shedding their scarlet and camel coloured leaves in blankets over the footpath, the Virginia creepers clamped onto rock walls turning all the shades at the red end of the spectrum — scarlet, grape, burnt plum. I’ve seen water in flashes from the corner of my eye, like film rushes, blurry, while in deep discussion with a walking friend. I’ve stopped and marvelled at the pale blue liquid that wraps around Rangitoto and follows the coastline north in and out of bays. I’ve noted the ruffled water surface out from King Edward Parade a deeper shade of mesmerising blue-green.
I’ve returned to the park beyond this house as well, and today it was with newfound knowledge gleaned from a friend I saw only this morning, a local. She told me that the place where I have sought solace these past nine weeks is not the lower slopes of Takarunga, ‘the hill standing above’, it is a volcanic cone in its own right and its name is Takararo which means, I think, little Takarunga. Sadly the scooped out area in the middle that I had thought of as a crater is not that either, rather it is the remains of colonial plundering turning the cone into a quarry site to extract volcanic rock for road construction and garden walls.
Over the period of my writing in this lockdown journal I have often described my walks around Takararo but what I failed to mention was that the park was locked. Initially I thought I was the only law-breaker creeping in through the hole in the hedge. As the weeks passed however very occasionally I would meet one more person out there and finally there was the joyful conversation with the writer, carrying his shopping bag to fill with kindling for his fire, about New Zealand literature. His writing is featured now in the new repository of lockdown stories. This is how he described what had been going on: “The gates are locked, the park is closed except for those lucky residents of The Independent Republic of Cambria who have direct access; we took possession over lockdown.”
I remember the feeling on the first day of lockdown when I walked down Church Street and saw the gates to Takararo locked. The shock — park gates locked in our country. What?’ — it pulsed through me. Then when a writer, from an earlier course, described gates locked at Cornwall Park a similar sensation thumped through my body. Not in New Zealand surely. Did this mean we were living in a state of emergency?
The first time I broke through the hedge the sense of trepidation and guilt was running high. I remember hurrying for the cover of trees. In my mind I imagined police helicopters circling above and spotting the one offender, me, skirting the edges of the reserve. Would they shoot? Then in the weeks when people started reporting on their fellow citizens I became uneasy about sitting in the rocky nook quietly taking in the view of harbour and mountain. Somebody might blow the whistle on me. (I’m mighty glad that stage is over and that it didn’t escalate to the point of neighbours and acquaintances turning on one another.) I had no idea until I began meeting the occasional person that other residents living on the perimeter of the nature reserve were doing the exact same thing, that there were more ghosts darting round the edges taking cover under tree canopies, stepping in first thing in the morning before others were awake, or later in darkness with only the light of a torch to guide them.