Mental Vacation, Reflecting on New Zealand

At this time I think we could all use a little mental vacation. It is just about a month since we flew back to the states, but with everything happening in the world it seems like a lifetime. There is no better way to be transported than by a talented writer, and in my opinion my wife has the amazing skill to paint a picture with her words that takes you to another place. This is a piece she wrote about half way through our trip and is a reflection on how we spent our weekends, me exploring the rivers and her and Jessie road tripping around the South Island:

A cloud of dust travels behind us on this early afternoon and I have a ceramic cup with tea on the seat console and a few perfectly ripe apricots, for a snack on the road.  Jessie holds her own bottle now, but has learned to prop it up on a stuffed bird doll so she can recline, hands free to practice waving, while the gold hills and dark mountains with the rainy mist just breaking up, go by.

More than halfway through our time in New Zealand, this is how our weekends have been spent. Dropping John off with his fly-fishing gear for one, maybe two nights, in the backcountry then retrieving him two or three days later, sunburnt and full of stories of fish stalking. Jessie and I come back to the house we’ve been staying at if we are needing routine and quiet – a reliable napping schedule, good reading spots in the sun, and a kitchen sink view of Fiordland as cherries the size of small plums, blueberries, peaches, nectarines and kiwifruit are chopped up and brewed for baby food – or we day-trip around this region of the South Island to see friends, on farms with bleating, newly-weaned lambs or in the beach towns with the smell of kelp and coal fires on drizzly mornings.

For two weekends in a row, I’ve taken Jessie down to the beach where I used to run, where the sea is three shades of blue under a pretty consistently grey sky with lighthouse in the distance. She loves books now, and will alternately turn their pages and gnaw on the bindings. But at the pub where I used to get my mail, Jessie and I propped ourselves against bean bags with our books-of-the-moment: Emily Perkins’ The New Girl, for me, and God Made Friends and Peek-A-Boo for Jessie. I had a mug of the same cheap beer I drank there in my late 20s and battered blue cod. Jessie had her bottle and the carrot banana teething rusks that taste like cardboard. We waited for a friend there, the sound of the sea on the other side of the pub, enjoying the shade of the flax bush and cabbage tree above us, but there was the ghost of myself there too, when we all went for a walk down the street to the old crib I once lived in, which was now in the process of being torn down.

I feel like I’ve been taking Jessie on these backward journeys of nostalgia, while John is forging ahead through new and fresh adventures, learning something new every hour, it seems. When I’d see him at the end of a day of fly-fishing in Montana, I’d hear his stories, and care because it was what had happened to him during the day – and I love him and want to hear about his day. But really, fly-fishing for him in Montana got to be a little bit like hearing how someone went to a buffet. It is plentiful, there is usually enough for everyone to go around, and it’s just a question of what and how much.

Here, John comes back to us with epic, heroes’ journey kind of fly-fishing stories. There is struggle. There is heartbreak. Reserves of patience and resilience are called upon. Ninja-like skills are used when approaching a creek. Sometimes there is strange and fierce competition with other lone anglers. Sandflies. Soaring beauty. Storms. Flooded rivers. New fishing buddies.

When I pick him up, I have a few beers stuffed in the diaper bag, a plum or two, and a salty bag of chips. I’ve loved baking again, and sometimes I’ve had ginger crunch slices and lavender shortbread – the farm cooking that my aunt used to do for us – in a cookie tin that I’ll bring along. I set Jessie in the grass on a blanket while John unloads his pack and throws it in the back of the car, so she can wave her arms excitedly at him and roll around before the journey back to the house. Then we take off. John always sits back in the passenger seat, cooing at Jessie for a bit, before taking a bite of any treats I’ve brought him. I drive, letting him slowly start his story at his own pace. But I can’t wait to hear how it went. In the beginning of the summer, there were weekends like this that were a complete bust. As he’s grown to know these rivers and master a completely new way of fly-fishing – which is more similar to hunting – there is triumph and awe in these stories. He is in one of the wildest areas of a wild country and he is making it his own. His stories thrill me.

The South Island has always been a place in my own history. It is where I spent most of my 20s and 30s and maybe because of that, there is a lot of looking back in places that are weighty with memories, good and bad, on my own.

When I pick John up with Jessie, there is this freeing exhilaration of growing and learning in a place alongside them. It makes this land that I used to know like the back of my hand, fresh and new to me too.