Day 88 and the thing I thought might not happen for a very long time has occurred. I have returned to the island of my birth to visit loved ones, and to absorb the beauty of a very special landscape and thus replenish my spirit. I know I am very, very fortunate. Many people around the globe are still in lockdown and unable to cross borders and make their way home while still more cannot risk current job security in their country of residence to fly home for a visit as the exercise would entail spending two weeks in quarantine in the home country and then two weeks more in quarantine in the city of employment upon their return. My own son falls into this category living across the Tasman in Sydney. Unfortunately, because of recent lapses at our border, the Australian government is now reconsidering their plan to open up a trans-Tasman bubble soon.
Separation from offspring is something many parents across time have had to learn to accommodate but since the rise of globalisation it is an even more prevalent feature of family life — sometimes I wish we could return to a simpler age where we didn't travel and instead lived in closer proximity to our immediate family and wider community. Something critical has changed since the arrival of coronavirus. We’ve lost some of the civil liberties we took for granted and with this a sense of our own personal autonomy.
But I am here. My feet are on the ground in Canterbury for five blessed days. Once again I can enjoy the chill of its sharp winter air on my face, waking me up as it always does and sharpening my focus. I love this sensation, it’s something I yearn for when my brain turns sluggish on the sultry, sticky, humid days of late summer in Auckland. Yesterday I walked through the gardens of Mona Vale, along the river, admiring the impact of crisp temperatures on flowers and shrubs and trees, feasting on visual delights, on towering bushes of rhododendrons, the blood red flowers nestling amongst dark green foliage beneath the wintery tracery of a copper beech decorating a silver sky. The lily pond had disappeared in a carpet of nutmeg coloured oak leaves. Silver birches stripped of their leaves trailed fine, feather light branches downwards against a pale sky. Hellebores the ‘winter roses’ in two colour variations, antique cream speckled with green and a deeper pinky mauve plum nestled in a thick bed of autumn leaves. And what was that scent? I smelt it before I spotted it. 'Winter sweet' its glorious penetrating perfume a sensual delight like no other. Picking a twig I carried my scented perfume stick with me through the city.
It occurred to me today, on visiting my mother’s grave in Ellesmere, with my brother and my sixteen year old niece, that there couldn't be a finer way to spend a Saturday afternoon than this, communing with the dead in the company of the living. I took them to see the grave of our great-grandparents as well. ‘Have you seen the porcelain roses?’ They hadn't. My brother leant down and removed the coppery rusted wire covers so we could gain a better view of the porcelain shapes under the glass. Soft olive-grey lichen spores flecked the glass. Below were roses and a weeping angel, preserved like coral on an underwater reef. Miraculous. Pausing to consider the writing on our great-grandparents’ grave stone, my brother reflected on the young age of our great-grandfather when he died, 58 years, and then our grandfather, in the grave next to my mother, who died at 52. ‘I had the benefit of a stent and modern medication,' he remarked ruefully. Lucky, we all think.
The day was gentle. It had the feeling of my mother and her mother accompanying us, along with the fantails, the piwakawaka, softly looping round and round, as we meandered through the graveyard stopping to read names on weathered stones. Although cryptic often you find a brief, poignant passage of memoir encapsulated there. Everywhere we saw names we recognised. Speaking a thought aloud I said, ‘As I grow older, I find visiting this graveyard more and more enjoyable.’ My lovely niece looked surprised. What did I mean? The names reawaken memories of childhood, of people long forgotten who once belonged to families who lived down the road from you, or travelled alongside you on the country bus to school, or sat in church pews nearby, or were the pillars above you as you grew. They remind me we were part of something once, connected as a living organism, while living quite different lives of course, but living alongside one another nonetheless in a beautiful landscape with the Southern Alps, coated in pure white snow on one horizon, as they were today, and the soft mounds of the Port Hills, smudged mauve and grey on the other, and looking out for each other.