by Ron Marriott
I feel quite inspired today. I’ve been walking in the rain, with a mad woman from America. Normally walking in the rain with mad women from America makes me feel terrible. Something to do with wet socks, I think. Makes me feel I’m wasting my time. Do you ever feel like you’re wasting your time? I bet you do, sometimes. I hope you do, because I wouldn’t like to think that I was the only one who felt they were wasting their time by walking about in the rain with wet socks.
Last week I felt like I was wasting my time, and it wasn’t even raining. I was walking with this guy through the Ship Cove trail. He was seventy-odd years old, had some heart trouble. I was there in case he pegged out on the way. But it was me who nearly pegged out. And I’m twenty – well, nearly twenty … never you mind, I was younger than him and I couldn’t keep up. That was enough to make me feel like I was wasting my time on its own. What was worse, he didn’t seem to like the track. I like the track. I have to because I made it and if I didn’t, I would feel that I had wasted my time, wouldn’t I. And you know what that does to me, don’t you? Makes me feel like I’m walking about in the rain, with wet socks.
I don’t really know if he didn’t like the track. He didn’t actually say he didn’t like the track. In fact, he didn’t really say anything at all. He didn’t look at anything, either, at least not as far as I could see. He couldn’t with his head down looking at his boots, could he? I tested it out.
“That’s a beautiful tree, eh?”
“Humpf,” he said.
“Port Gore looks great today, eh?”
“Humpf,” he said.
Do you think that was a yes or a no? Anyway, I shut up after that, cleared a few ferns off the track to make me feel I wasn’t wasting my time and plodded on.
Later in the day he got quite talkative. “Why on earth do you live out here,” he asked.
That really cheered me up.
“Well, I’m letting the farm go back to it’s natural state and creating a wilderness park,” I said.
“What for?” he said.
“Well, so we can make a living by making the whole place a sanctuary so that people like you will want to come,” I said, a bit viciously.
“Humpf,” he said. “You’ll never make any money out of that.”
“Well, money isn’t everything, is it? As long as we make enough, we’ll still be living in a beautiful place where my family can bring up their children and live in peace,“ I protested.
“They’ll all leave,” he said.
“Well, if they do and if my wife and I don’t want to stay, it still won’t have been a waste of time. We had a very good offer for this place just recently. There are some people in the world who appreciate the natural values of this place,” I snarled.
“If I was you, I’d have taken that offer. It won’t always be there,” he said.
I shut up after that. The only good thing about that day was that I was so keen to get home and shoot myself, I beat him back to the home gate, by a yard, but then I suppose he did have a crook ticker.
But that was last week. Today I’ve been walking in the rain with this mad woman from America, and despite the wet socks, I feel good. It didn’t look that good at the start. When I met the boat at Ship Cove it was pissing down, if you’ll excuse me English. Pissing down like only Ship Cove can, and I already had wet socks, with six hours of walking to go.
“Lovely day,” I said. “Welcome to the land of eternal sunshine.”
Nobody laughed, including me – and I usually laugh at my own jokes. Except this American woman. That’s when I knew she was a bit strange. And I started to get this funny feeling. You know the one. It starts as a little tingle somewhere in your gut and then it sort of bubbles right up through your chest, till it gets to your heart. And then it disappears for a while, out through your shoulder I think. You must know the one. The one that you felt as a kid on Christmas Eve and the one you still do, on your birthday, if you haven’t turned fifty yet, like I have. That’s the one. Of course in this case it was probably just wind. But I’m pretty sure my socks were starting to dry out a little.
As well as Carol (the name of the American woman), there was also a family group of Kiwis who were going to take the walk, and they weren’t looking all that impressed with the weather. They looked at me expectantly, as though I was about to tell them that the rain would stop soon. I find a lot of people look at me like that. I don’t know why. I don’t even look like a weather forecaster, do I? I don’t wear natty clothes and drive classic cars. I do talk non-stop, I must admit, and tell stupid jokes, but not on TV. Anyway, like a real forecaster, I decided to tell them what the weather was going to be, even if I didn’t have a clue.
“I think there’s a likelihood of showers today,“ I spat through the torrent of water pouring off my hat. “If the sun comes out, the rain will probably stop” I added, wisely.
I tried again. “The weather is so bad that I wouldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to walk for hours through a lot of wet trees to see damn all, so, if you want, the boat can take you all direct to the lodge and a hot fire,” I said.
I had to hang on during this last bit because the boat was starting to rock, with all the heads nodding, including mine.
Except for this American woman. “I would really like to walk if I could, please, if you really don’t mind,” said Carol, in a small voice.
I told you she was strange. I felt another attack of wind coming on. “Of course I don’t mind, I’m a Kiwi. I never mind walking in the rain with wet socks,” I thundered.
Well, the upshot of it all was that soon Carol and I were sloshing through the calf-high lake that had developed on the Ship Cove lawn … with the parents of the Kiwi family. The kids took the easy way out and went by boat to the fire, but you can’t blame them. They’ve got more life in front of them so they really don’t have to walk about in the rain with wet socks. Not yet.
Actually, it wasn’t too bad in the bush under the trees, and Carol seemed to like it, and I started to like her. After all, it’s not every broad that laughs when she gets slapped in the face with a wet punga. There’s hardly any in New Zealand. I know that because I spent most of my teenage years looking for a woman like that. I don’t suppose there’s many in America, either. Anyway, things only started to get tough when we got to the waterfall. The gentle stream that we normally hop across was now a raging torrent, and we couldn’t get across. This is where my years of bush experience came into play.
“We’ll go downstream until we meet the sea, and then we’ll swim across” I said.
Carol seemed most impressed. Actually, we didn’t have to, because a few paces down river we found a tree trunk that had conveniently fallen between the banks.
Greasy little number that was. I showed Carol how a real bushman gets across rivers on trees. It’s easy. You give your pack to your partner, take two steps forward standing up, and then leap on to your stomach and wriggle the rest of the way with your arms wrapped round the trunk. After that Carol followed. I was a bit annoyed, actually, because she can’t have been watching properly. She just walked across. On the other hand, she had both packs to balance her.
From there, to link back up to the track was easy. Just 15 minutes through a waist-deep swamp, and a short 50-metre climb up a vertical and muddy cliff, and we were there. After I had got my pack back off Carol, I said, “That was a bit rough,” and she replied, “That was great.”
Things went even more strange after that. I’m sure Carol had never been there before, but she seemed to know almost every tree. Every now and then I’d hear this exclamation of, “Man oh man,” and she’d sort of skip ahead and give this tree a little hug. I understand a lot of that goes on in California. D’you remember Neil Diamond? He talks about tree people on one of his tapes. She seemed to be very interested in leaves too, and flowers and twigs. She would touch them gently and hold them up close to her face and give out a little squeak.
Of course, with all this going on, I quite forgot about the rain, and it seemed no time at all before we broke out onto the clear ridge above Port Gore. I do remember briefly thinking about the warning my mother gave me a long time ago: never walk in the woods with strange women. But it was quite nice, really, and I must admit, by the time we got there, I was feeling quite chipper.
All the time we were climbing, the rain had come down in buckets, but do you know, the moment we stepped out onto the ridge, the clouds parted, the sun came out and there was Port Gore below us, as blue as ever with its deserted green hills in the background.
“Thank Christ for that,” I said, and Carol started to pray. At least, I think that’s what she was doing. She was going, “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” and that has to be praying, doesn’t it?.
It seemed a good time for a bite, so after Carol had sorted out God, that’s what we did. And now that it was safe to open your mouth without getting half drowned, we had a bit of a chat.
“It must be great to get to live in a place like this,” Carol said.
“Well, I’ve always wanted to take a bit of land and create a wilderness park,” was my reply.
“I can easily understand that. What a wonderful way of making a living,” she said.
“Well, it’s not much of a living, at least not yet,” I complained.
“Money’s not everything,” she said. “As long as you can make enough you’ve got a beautiful place where your family can bring up their children in peace.”
“Yeah, I suppose so,” I said. “But they might want to leave one day.”
“I can’t see that happening, and even if they did, and you and your wife wanted to go, there would be plenty of people who would pay big money to have this. You’re very lucky to live here,” was Carol’s reply.
And that’s more or less how the whole day went. The weather stayed fine, Carol prayed a lot and hugged a few more trees and I tingled along behind. Like with the guy last week I beat her to the home gate by a yard, but only because I wanted to tell someone at home how lucky I was.
I quite like mad women from America. She’s coming back, you know. She wants to do the same walk again. I’m going to go along with her for a second time, and you never know — I might get to hug a few trees myself.