Friday, January 8, 2016


One of the things I notice about friendships is that they are, almost always, a matter of happenstance: they could so easily NOT have happened.

I attended my very first conference in the US in Ann Arbor, 2005. It was a somewhat conflicting experience: while I had fallen completely in love with Ann Arbor, I was finding some of the people at the conference intimidating. On the first day, I was walking to the conference venue when an elegantly-dressed woman carrying a conference bag walked up beside me. "God!" she said, "I cannot abide this place. No decent shopping, no theatre to speak of, no opera, and we're miles away from anywhere. How do people bear living here? Why do they hold conferences in backwaters  like this? Don't you hate it?" There were a few moments of silence while I tried to compose a reply to someone who defined Michigan as beyond the outer perimeter of civilisation. "Well," I said eventually, "I come from New Zealand". She looked me up and down swiftly, relegated me to a cultural desert far, far away, and stalked off without a response.

As an empirical researcher, I found some of the papers at the conference baffling too. Then, midway through one particularly puzzling presentation, a man I had noticed earlier sitting by himself in the lobby gave me a wry sideways smile and the smallest shrug.  Suddenly it felt perfectly acceptable to think that this was all folly. And that was how I met my friend Pat. Happenstance. 

Pat and his beautiful sweet-hearted wife, Jo, have been to stay with us during our subsequent visits to the US, first to Michigan and then to Vermont. This time, after Boxing Day, we took the drive to Rochester, in New York State, to visit them.

the drive to Rochester was picture perfect - no snow!!
We had a wonderful time. We visited a forest where deer roam, flocks of Canada geese fly overhead, and chickadees will eat  out of your hands.

We visited the Strong Toy Museum, which contained a magical butterfly house, and an historical toy display.

Who knew that Monopoly was invented in the US???

It finally snowed!

And we really enjoyed being in a household with dogs: Syd the Wild Puppy and small, delicate Chloe, were tons of fun. 


The weekend was the perfect combination of exploring new places, talking with old friends, and reading in front of the fire. Thank you, Pat and Jo, for a wonderful weekend - and we look forward to catching up next time!

We travelled home through the snowy countryside.

And the family indulged me by stopping at the battlefields of Saratoga, where a decisive battle was fought in the War of Independence.

the girls get into the spirit of things....
We watched an animated display about how the battle happened. "So really it was just luck," said Em thoughtfully, " they could easily have lost." This led to a spirited discussion about luck vs strategy, and the various factors on which a battle can be won or lost. For example, in the Battle of Saratoga, the fact that the British were running out of supplies which had been delayed may have had an (immeasurable) impact on the outcome.  But as we drove home in the growing darkness, my thoughts turned to luck, happenstance, serendipity, providence - call it what you will - and its invisible imprint on our lives.


  1. Well, if we had lost that battle and the war, we would now be . . . Canadians. Actually, that wouldn't be a bad thing, IMHO.

  2. Greetings from the cultural desert of the Pohangina Valley, where I don't have to put up with opera. (Being far, far away beyond the perimeter of civilisation has advantages other than the absence of opera, too.)

    I've often thought about luck during my travels and consider myself, well, lucky to have had so much of it. I hope you all continue to have plenty of it.