Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Some days are perfect

It is winter here now. One of the warmest winters on record. The daffodils have been in flower for weeks now, and the first blossom has already been and gone . We've had our cold days, when I've sworn it is colder here than Vermont in winter. But really, it's been the mildest season.

We've been back in NZ now for almost exactly 6 months. It's taken some time to be reconciled to being home. I'd be driving out to work over the Manawatu Bridge and suddenly be filled with a longing to be driving along route 7, looking out for the guard camel. I miss the little things: daikon farm sausages, the normality of wearing a hat in the cold, chipmunks and squirrels, and the people, of course, the people. I've missed walking over to the lake - and in my imagination, I've watched the lake at Long Point change from deep ice, to slush, and now I imagine it, in high summer, with all the boats brought out of storage, and people all around.

Don't get me wrong: life has been full and satisfying. We bought ourselves a little taste of something we met in Vermont: an Italian spinone named Salvo, who has been a joy and a delight. The girls are settled back into school and happy: Em has lost her New England accent. Work is - well, it's a well worn path, and not without its pleasures. I've enjoyed writing, enjoyed my church communities, and being back among friends and family. I can't yet quite believe that my friend Anne has moved from Darwin to within easily travelling distance of Palmerston North - I haven't stopped marvelling when she walks in the door. Our friend, Sue, has found us a small cottage to move to the farm, and we are full of eager plans for it.

But I've missed the beauty of Vermont, the small pleasure of looking out of the window at the lake, feeding the birds, the quietness of Long Point. Recently, however, I was reminded of the beauty - the wild, remote beauty of New Zealand.

It was always going to be a busy day. I was preaching at the two morning services at Central Baptist, and then leading evensong at All Saints in the late afternoon. When I came home from church in the morning, I had a list of jobs to do. But I looked at the girls, still in their pjs, and at the dogs breaking out in badness because they were aching for a walk, and then out at the sky, and declared I had to go to the beach.

One of the odd things about where we live is that we believe we live a long way from the seas. By New Zealand standards we do: I read recently that nowhere in NZ is more than an hour away from the sea (see http://www.buzzfeed.com/jemimaskelley/things-you-did-not-know-about-new-zealand). In fact the trip is about 25 minutes on an easy road. so, we packed dogs and girls and water bottles and snacks into the car, and set off.

It was one of those days when time and all the responsibilities of daily life seem to fall away. The beach was almost empty - after all, it is mid-winter, and it had been threatening rain when we left the house.

The sea was low, and seemed to stretch out, like the sky, forever.

The dogs had the time of their lives.

As did the girls.

We played in the sand dunes.

And ran in the sea (Harris is teaching Salvo to chase seagulls).

And came home again, happy and relaxed.

We live in a beautiful country, Aotearoa New Zealand - and all I needed, to remind me, was sea, sand, dogs and my girls, and the clear, sharp winter air.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Coming home

As it turned out, my farewell to Vermont in my last post was somewhat premature. Fog delayed our journey back home, and we struggled to find flights for a couple of days. My prevailing anxiety was "but I have to be back and over the jet lag by the 26th!" Two days of waiting, including a trip to Montreal to see the astonishing Biodome, and finally we were on the long trip home.

Disneyland passed me by in a dissatisfied blur. I've been to Disneyland before and enjoyed it. But this time, I saw only the unreality of it all. I think part of the problem was this feeling of "if I can't be in Vermont, I want to be at home - just get me there!"  Another factor was that it was a school day, so the place was full of adults, and I couldn't get over the feeling that there was something very strange about adults choosing Disneyland as their honeymoon destination, or about elderly couples dressed in matching tshirts and Minne Mouse hats lining up for ice cream and Pater Pan rides.

But the girls had fun, and the warmth was very pleasant (winter temperatures in LA of 29 degrees - something of a shock after the arctic climes of Vermont!), and it was over soon enough. And then onto the last long flight through the night, and we stepped out into Auckland's morning rain.

Whenever I arrive back in New Zealand, I'm always mentally transported back to 1974, and the first time, as a bewildered teenager, I watched the sun rise over the Bay of Islands and then stepped off the plane into the bright antipodean sun. Because it's always the light that tells me I'm home.The light in Australasia is so different to the light anywhere else - sharper, brighter, more defined than anywhere I've ever been. This time, however, the light was muted under heavy cloud and warm rain.

And so ten days passed in a fog: the sweet familiarity of my own home, delight in gleaming rimu floors (we had our carpets lifted and floors polished while we were away), days of moving furniture and unpacking, the loving hugs and smiles of my parents and sister, friends and colleagues. Finn was sadly missing, but Anne-Marie brought Harris home with her own sweet boy, darling Monty, for company.  Walks at the farm with my family, and a long walk with Eddie and the dogs by the Manawatu river reminded me of the beauty of this country, its golden greens, its flowing mountain ranges. But I'd look out at leafy trees and blue skies and see in my imagination soft white snow and a frozen lake. "You haven't finished your blog!" my friends here said, "you need to tell your friends in Vermont about New Zealand!". But I could barely speak, let alone write, in full sentences.

And I had to be able to speak in full sentences, because I wanted to do my friends proud, in my small part of their very special celebration, on the 26th. 

So, last Sunday, Emily and I travelled down to Wellington with Bill and Jan, to Digby's installation . And as we drove south to the city, I felt my mind calming and coming together.

Digby's installation as Dean of the Wellington Cathedral was a remarkable, joyous occasion.

And as I sat on the front row,  I thought how, despite all the pomp and ceremony, every moment of this celebration breathed New Zealand.

From the karanga (call) into the Cathedral.

And the congregation of Central Baptist bringing Digby and Jane and their family into the Cathedral

From Rewai's warm and challenging reply to the mihi

And our dreadlocked, barefoot bishop

To all the gifts that were given

We couldn't have been anywhere but Aotearoa New Zealand. It was a bringing together of the best of this country's heritage: the glorious ceremony and music of an English church tradition, the warm, startling quality of Maori protocol and culture, and an informality and humour that is entirely kiwi.

And I managed coherent sentences too

As I look back on that day, the theme that comes back to me is the idea of the graced journey. About 10 years ago, Digby, who was a baptist pastor in Tauranga, experienced a dramatic personal crisis that left him with no job, no prospects, and a requirement to do hours of community service.  He was allocated by the courts to do his community work at the local Anglican church, Holy Trinity.

At the time, it must have felt like the end of his career. Do pastors have careers? Don't know. End of his life's work, I guess. The end of everything. And yet, it was this catastrophic event that led to his eventual priesting within the Anglican community. Amongst the happiest people at the service  were the friends from Otumoetai Baptist, who seemed almost overwhelmed with wonder and joy: they'd been with Digby when all seemed lost, and now they saw embodied the miracle of grace as he walked down the long aisle of the Cathedral, flanked by friends and whanau, by Baptists and Anglicans, with Jane by his side.

One of these folk who had walked this journey with them, Melinda Stevenson, wrote: "it was astonishingly intimate and profoundly moving. I felt like bursting with pride, wiggling with happiness and crying all at the same time ....I just don't have a rich enough vocabulary to explain what ALL of Dig and Jane's friends felt being there with them". And we did, we all felt the wonder and awe. He was - and always had been - home.

Miracles take many forms. And perhaps our true home can be an unexpected place, arrived at through dark alleys and byways. But home is where the light is. The Cathedral in Wellington is filled with light. And as I sat quietly as the afternoon sun filtered through the coloured glass, I thought about the hazy light on the shadowy Adirondack mountains and glancing off an icy lake, and I thought of the bright-edged sun glinting over our farm with Mount Ruapahu appearing like a fairy castle on the horizon, and of soft misty light on an English meadow and a slow river. And I suddenly saw that, for me at least, home can be many places.

Ps the wonderful photos were taken by Sam Prabhakaran, formerly crucifer at All Saints, Palmerston North, and now of the Wellington Cathedral. Thank you for letting me use these beautiful images, Sam!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Northern light

It's our last full day in Vermont. We've packed our suitcases, and the packing cases have gone.
This girls have walked to the school bus through the snow for the very last time. "I'm not going to cry all day," said Emily, as she wiped one gloved hand across her eyes. "Perhaps your tears will freeze!" said Lizzy, helpfully, "Cool!!"

I'm sitting at my desk, watching gentle snow fall on the trees, and it feels as if the whole world is white. Bruce is feeding the birds (and/or, consequently, the squirrels) and hiding corn for the little chipmunk we spotted out in the snow yesterday.

Last night we had a wonderful Italian meal with Jim and Peggy, and Gail and Bill. As we drove home in the dark and down by the lake to see if we could see the northern lights, I was listing in my head all the reasons why we have to come back to Vermont.
  • We haven't learned to ski to a level of competence (well, when I say 'we' I mean Bruce and the girls. Obviously. I haven't learned at all)
  • We haven't seen the maple sugaring
  • We haven't seen the ice fishing or the car races on the lake or the ice sculptures or the polar bear swim
  • We haven't been sledding at Shelburne Farms
  • We haven't drunk enough apple cider
  • We haven't been to Montreal
  • I haven't written the Robert Frost post I always planned for this blog
  • We haven't been to Shelburne Museum
  • We haven't been to Bennington to see the Grandma Moses paintings
  • We haven't seen a moose or a raccoon or a beaver
  • We haven't spotted a white owl or a bald eagle
  • I haven't finished the book
I could go on for a long time like that. I remember, before we came, Bruce was reading a book about New England and planning all the things we were going to do in neighbouring states. I suggested that we should just explore Vermont and he said "but it's just a small state - there's not enough to do there to take up a whole 5 months."

I quietly doubted that. But would I be so uncharitable now as to say "I told you so?" Of course I would!

We have to come back to Vermont because I can't bear to think, even for a moment, that we'll never see this again:

Or this:

In every way, Vermont has enriched our lives: in all that we've done, all that we've seen and lived among. But - it's a cliche, I know, but perhaps some cliches are repeated and repeated just because they're true - the real reason we have to come back to Vermont is because of the people, unknown to us just a few months ago, but now part of our friends and whanau.

We now count work colleagues as friends:

Susanmarie, Sue and Kristen - my wonderful hosts from UVM

With Susanmaire, Ellen and Sofia

Kathy, my fellow Fulbrighter, whose family dreams of returning to NZ
The sledding party - Sharon, Sonya, Karen and their families

Karen, our lovely neighbour at Long Point

We've been part of the Long Point winter community:

This sight has been a daily delight: Rolf walking the two spinones in all weathers

Bruce would choose to go home with one of these in the suitcase
The girls and I would also like to take one of these home (Peggy's perfect parting gift for the girls!)

And the girls would like to take one of these home, too. We spotted this brave little fella out in the garden today

We've already mentioned our wonderful church community:

Church family
And the school - Ferrisburgh Central - where the girls have thrived and enjoyed themselves so much that when we suggested taking them out of school for a day of skiing recently, they acted as if they would be taking themselves to the nearest consul and requesting asylum in the United States.

Lizzy's class, Ferrisburgh Central School

We will all miss darling, zany Tori
Emily says goodbye

Our stay in Vermont has been funded by the Fulbright Foundation. The aim of this Foundation is to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries,” and in so doing to promote peace. The idea is to fund people to spend time living in other countries, so that they are able to see that country in some way from the inside.

We can never claim to be Vermonters: you have to be born here for that. Heavens, if you live in the Northeast Kingdom you probably need to be able to claim residence across several generations.  But we have, in some small way, seen Vermont from the inside, in the way we have been welcomed into life here. We will take home new stories, and we hope that our stories will also remain here, that we will be part of the story of this beautiful place.

So, here's the thing: if you've been to Vermont, you have to come back. E noho ra, Green Mountain State. Ka kite ano. We will be back!