Jeanette Baalbergen was born in England and immigrated to New Zealand with her parents and brother in 1951. She attended Deborah’s first Life Writing course in 2006 and since then has hosted a monthly life writing group of fifteen members in her Mount Eden home.
I can still hear the gravel crackling under wheels of children’s bikes at Lake Tekapo in 1951, as we bounced over the temporary earth dam on our way to school, or, to the ‘Wee Trees’ - a young pine forest, where we constructed huts of pine branches. The breadth and depth of the Lake spread its primeval secrets far and wide, its glacial waters, mirroring, startling blue forget-me-not summer skies and towering snow-capped mountains.
The much photographed ancient bridge that spanned the river mouth near our swimming hole disappeared when the electric hydro scheme raised the level of the lake. I remember the bridge as a picture post-card backdrop to: children’s laughter; shudders and squeals before immersing ourselves in the ice-cold water, then, sprawling on huge, flat, sun-baked glacial rocks we warmed our freezing bodies amid much chatter and joking.
Just below the Church of the Good Shepherd, there were wild gooseberry bushes tangled near the water’s edge. We delighted in popping the berry’s furry, egg-shaped sour skins releasing an explosion of delicious sun-sweet fruit onto our tongues.
In December, summer blue, pink, and yellow lupins, dispersed their heady scent, pervading our wanderings over the vast, sparse tussock-grass wilderness where rabbits abounded.
On winter mornings, window ledges dripped with icicles that we broke off and sucked on the way to the garden gate. Each night we filled various water containers before the water was turned off to prevent the village’s pipes from freezing and bursting. In the morning the containers were often covered in two inches of ice.
I remember the fairy frosted pines beneath Mount John and glissading across the skating rink I glimpse the early morning snow beyond the lake as if it is my future lying clean and white, waiting for the footsteps leading to my present place.
The McKenzie Basin was a baptismal font that re-birthed the emigrant New Zealander.
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