Saturday, 6 April 2019

Everyone Was Somewhere On Friday 15th March 2019

Every New Zealander was somewhere on Friday 15th March 2019.

I’d woken to a new day full of new hopes. The sun was shining. Our resident Tui was chortling in the willow tree. It was my 55th Birthday. The usual morning activities were happening in the kitchen downstairs. The H preparing my little silver pot of tea. Two spoons of Dilmah Darjeeling with a pinch of Lapsang Souchong. I smiled inside as I waited for it to brew. The first cup-oh-cha in the morning is one of my greatest pleasures.

The H and Son-number-1, delivered birthday spoils to our super king, as is family tradition. The H’s card read: “Perfect match. Made in heaven”. Son No.1 wrote: "I love you so much". Awww. The only thing missing was my daughters.

That evening we were going out to dinner with a group of good friends. I was really looking for to it. I’d made no other plans. I sipped my tea, from my favourite china mug and decided I just wanted a simple day. A walk in the bush first of all, with The H and our young huntaway. Somewhere I hadn’t been for a while.

Then after our walk, I’d pick boysenberries from our burgeoning vine. I’d make jam. I was a 55-year-old jam virgin. But not for long! A friend going through cancer treatment was holding a fundraising stall for the local branch of the cancer society. I planned to keep one jar of my virgin jam and deliver the remainder to her on Saturday morning. I searched recipes and was alarmed when reminded that jam is equal parts fruit and sugar. 

The H chose The One Mile. The track starts at the tiny power station, (Queenstown sole supplier from 1924 until 1966) and follows the creek up through beech forest to the 12m high arch dam installed to make the whole thing work. Only when we got to the carpark, huge signs flashed warnings: “Track closed permanently due to major tree falls & slippages. Extreme danger - do not enter.”

We set out, pretending we couldn't read. English. What could go wrong?

The damage tbh wasn’t too extreme. But the track was invisible and testing in parts. This of course just added to the adventure. In some places, we had to crawl between damp fallen tree trunks and find footholds on knotty moss-covered vertical faces. I only thought a couple of times - Old farts Ignore Track Closure Signs and Fall to Their Deaths. Truth be told, I was actually more worried about our dog. She thinks she’s a mountain goat. Her misjudging her footing and slipping into a ravine would have made for a challenging rescue. She moves at a constant urgent pace in every direction. She was of course in heaven. As was I when we made it to the small but impressive damn and ate my morning tea. A tree-ripened Cox’s Orange from our six-tree orchard.

We chose an alternate loop track return. Not far along. An unusually loud and boisterous bird choir sang. We stopped to identify them, both of us keen birders.

After a time, I realised we’d stumbled into a Piwakawaka fledgeling flying school. The tree beside the track was overflowing with them. Twenty at least flipping horizontally through the leafy upper branches. We’re so used to seeing adult birds we don’t often recognise their teenage versions.

But on my birthday how cool was that! A fantail flying school putting on a display, just for me. I felt blessed. Like I felt blessed in February when I was walking the Lake Sylvan track in the Routeburn National Park with Daughter 1, and we came across at least seven Rifleman pecking insects from a moss-covered beech tree trunk. Seven teeny birds weighing seven grams a pop. New Zealand’s smallest native bird, with one of the whiniest, high pitch songs I've ever heard.

Back at home, by the time I’d added eight cups of juicy fat boysenberries and eight cups of sugar into my jam pan, Daughter 2 messaged that a mass shooting was taking place in a Christchurch mosque.

Within minutes, Daughter 1 rang from Sydney crying. “Multiple fatalities,” the news said. But how many is multiple? This is not New Zealand. We don’t go around shooting groups of people in public places here. I was numb. This atrocity was taking place 5 hours drive from my home town. In the sleepy and relatively unpopulated South Island. It felt surreal. Unreal. The fakest of fake news.

Surely, it could only be a few people ...

The next day when the figures came out I just kept thinking WHY so many lives. 50 kiwi Muslims dead. Why? Who could perpetrate such a crime? On such a scale. In our sleepy village. Our nuclear-free Pacific. Our peaceful Godzone. Our land of expensive milk and more expensive honey.

‘It’s why we moved here,’ an English born friend said to me. ‘It’s why we live here,’ I pondered. Steve Braunias wrote the day after the massacre for the New York Times, that the event 'Feels Imported'. It did. It was.

Midday Saturday, I delivered my jam. All six jars. Teams of people walked laps around the show grounds for the Relay For Life. Raising money for friends and family in need. A school choir sang on a portable grandstand. I bought two bunches of white hydrangeas for $20. My jam started selling immediately $10 a pot. 'I hope it's not runny,' I said.

Life was continuing on, as it does. And meanwhile, a perhaps naive country, was coming to terms with the extent of its loss. 

Today the son’s local high school had its first-ever lockdown drill. “Police may be present as observers,” the principal’s note said. All these security measures that New Zealanders felt smug about (well I know I did) never having to face, are our new reality.

All because of that lone, psycho Australian gunman. And Friday the 15th of March.

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