The social whirl

Monday April 3, aboard the Cook Straight Ferry, travelling from the North Island to the South Island.

Today is my “American Birthday,” since it’s April 2nd in the US. Yesterday was my New Zealand birthday, 2nd April here, and what a birthday it was and is, capping several days of intense and rewarding socialisation.

After a month of going it mostly by ourselves, Kathy and I are suddenly back in an enveloping human net of relationships and community building. Prior to this, we made nice conversation with fellow travelers, and laid what we hope is the basis for a continuing relationship with Yvonne and Wayne, but their absence for a few days at a trade show while we WWOOFed at Mara Whenua, and the sheer space and peace of their land, kept things much lighter than what we’ve been up to in the last few days.

The beautiful seaside Art Deco town of Napier was our stopping place for a few days of rest and recuperation from our brisk travelling around the far north and a too short a time on the Coromandel Penninsula. Napier was a great place to recharge, well described by our backpacker host Doug as a great place to do lots of things and a great place to do nothing at all. After Kathy crafted us a do it yourself San Francisco style stairway walk around the winding streets and lovely homes and gardens on the sheer bluffs of Napier rising almost straight up from the beach, I spent a few hours sitting in a public garden catching up on my science fiction reading. It’s great to go through used books stores while travelling, since each town brings up an entire fresh library of treats for the careful picking. The secondhand book shops in Thames and Napier had been quite fruitful.

That evening we met Mark and his partner Cory for a couple of rounds of Belgian Beer at a nice bar on the seaside promenade they frequented. We had met them through Scott and Anne, another American expat couple just a few weeks ahead of us in their timetable, and who seem more and more likely we will be spending some good times with them in the future since they have settled in Christchurch. What a great evening it was! The magic was once again working for us, as Mark, though currently a café owner, had been an early organic grower and stock rearer (beef cattle) here in New Zealand, and then gone on to be an expert in organic certification both here in New Zealand and in the US as well. He was very involved in the process of crafting the American national organic standards a few years ago.

Mark gave us some fundamental advice about buying property, organic methods, and the growing conditions in different regions of the country. He also had great insight into running a café (having had the worthwhile but demanding experience of creating a great environment and serving excellent food, he is now interested in selling his business and moving on to other things). Cory was full of great stories and perspective as well, having emigrated here from the Netherlands with four small children 20 years ago. We felt like we really bonded with them, and expect to see them in Christchurch in September. Mark then sent us to an empty restaurant on the second floor of a posh shop where we had some fantastically prepared, big fat tender super delicious venison and lamb steaks. Yummmmmm.

We drove into the beautiful Hutt Valley outside Wellington the next day after a quick stop at Norsewood for some high quality but inexpensive remaindered wool socks, the discovery of what we hope is a great gift for our friend Kelly’s 30th birthday, and a surreptitious ride on a side by side zip line in a children’s playground. Note to self: must have zip lines on the property once we have it established.

We stayed the weekend at the home of Yonder Man and family. Yonder is the New Zealand regional coordinator for Burning Man. In his alter ego as Mark Stirling, he’s a PhD seismic geologist. In a country where cheerful energetic friendliness is the norm, Mark stands out as an extreme example of these fine qualities, and an incredibly warm person to boot. There’s something about what happens when burners meet that puts some real substance into the phrase “Burning Man community.” The invocation of this incredible shared experience instantly bonds people who have never seen each other before, even here, 6,000 miles from the playa. The fact that I had already met Yonder Man on the playa and made myself memorable with my homemade absinthe didn’t hurt.

After our first true kiwi barby where our high speed chin wagging cost us some carbon on the chicken, about 15 kiwiburners showed up at Burning Man regional headquarters where we proceeded to have a party, complete with a whole arsenal of great fire toys and some really talented spinners, geeking out on tensegrity, a fabulous finale of amateur drumming to the tune of a remix of Carmina Burana, and a thoughtful denouement with Yonder and the amazing Myles about issues the local community is facing as it tries to establish itself and determine what Burning Man in New Zealand is, should, or could be about.

By the time we drove out of the Hutt Valley this morning, after a final chat with Mark at his workplace in a super cool modern building originally built for the government department of film, Kathy and I had apparently added even more to a plate which already seemed overfull—trying to coalesce the Christchurch burner scene, a possible event in those parts, Kathy to create a Kostume Korner installation for the next kiwiburn (props to Marla for the original), and, dare I say it, a possible center-camp like structural installation to be made by yours truly.
On the ferry ride over while I was already sketching possible ideas, I paused to reflect upon my state of mind. Until this string of socialization, I was full of ideas, our prospects were good, and the world seemed our oyster, but I felt quite disconnected and floating above everything, like my head was a huge balloon soaring over a beautiful landscape but I was airy and disconnected, radical changes in my direction subject to the slightest breeze. After this weekend I felt recharged in a way that several days of rest could not do. I felt connected, grounded, even fuller of energy, and suddenly the larger list of tasks seemed as doable as the smaller list before this weekend seemed daunting.

Judging by what my bodymind seems to be telling me, human connection, community, and social purpose are all an important part of a balanced life style. These are some of the seeds we started watering last year just now beginning to sprout, showing vigorous new growth. Even more than before, we are thriving in New Zealand.
And today we finally arrive in the South Island. Somehow we are both quite happy to be here. Is it that we are one step closer to what is now quite clearly home in our minds? Is it just that we have a house in Chrishchurch which, though we have barely seen it, is the closest thing to a nest for our nomadic selves, or is it that the South Island itself speaks to us somehow, makes our souls sing?