I passed a leaf on the path yesterday. Autumn arrived some time ago, but it’s a reluctant beginning. We’ve had an extraordinary summer. Long, dry and hot. And the first summer in years that I have been able to function like a well person. Trips to the beach most weekends, drinking from the scratchy edge of the thermos cup, eating squishy sandwiches and luke warm sausage rolls. Lying on the blanket looking up at the sky, deeply content that it no longer wheels around me. I have read books this summer, lying on my tummy on the picnic rug, or sheltered by the beach tent. The most memorable being Chappy and Being Mortal. And this summer, I have joined in, swimming in the surf, riding my bike, climbing the volcano that sits just outside my window. When I was sick I couldn’t make the walk up the steep track without the certainty that there would be payback. I couldn’t enjoy the views, bleat at the resident sheep or let the breeze push my hair back from my face, soothing the heat of my exertion. The few times I managed it, it was with teeth gritted, heart hammering, nausea rising. There is a seat up there, on the lip of the crater. It looks towards our house. It is a favourite spot, not least because I used to look at it from my bedroom window and despair that I might never sit up there again.
But now I can.
Yesterday, Zed joined me for a walk up ‘our mountain’. He was keen to burn off some excess energy, I’m trying to improve my fitness. Six years of an extremely sedentary, sometimes horizontal life, is hard to physically bounce back from. But now I have a personal trainer, a plan, and yesterday it was my homework to go for a ten minute walk; an as ‘hard as you can go’ kind of walk. The kind of walk that our steep sided volcano track was built for. So Zed and I set off down the road.
I am blown away by how beautiful this country is. We live right in the centre of this sprawling city, but there are green spaces and volcanoes dotted all across the urban landscape. And trees, so many beautiful trees. Trees fill me with calm. Look at this beauty.
At the start of the track my intrepid 8 year old darts off to the side of the volcano: “meet you at the top Mum!” he shouts, already shoulder high in grass. He’s climbing directly up, I’m taking the track. At the top he calls out that he’s going to run down into the crater and meet me up on the other side. He’s always been a ‘road less travelled’ kinda kid. I smile at him and relish the solitude. It’s gorgeous up the top here. Park benches dot their way around the crater rim, looking outwards.
Our national treasures of trees, the Pohutukawa, reach their arms across toward one another, high on the hill, circling the site that once was home to a Maori Pa. You can see evidence of their settlement in the kumara pits that still exist. In true Pa fashion, this crater would most likely have been barren of the grass it now wears. The ground would have been cleared around the whare. Now, the crater is resplendent with a thick carpet of grass. Around the outside of the volcano, untrimmed by grazing sheep, it is long, rippled by the prevailing winds. But in the shelter of this hollow it resembles an inverted paddock. Like a fish-eye lens has warped the contours of the land. It drops away and lifts again in a perfect bowl. It would have been a safe and easily fortified home for those Maori villagers. I wish I could go back in time and see how it was, see the cooking fire smoke and listen to the singing.
Too soon, I’ve reached the far side of the crater rim track. My boy is ascending the steep edge.
We hear voices, echoing through the natural amphitheatre, we are not alone anymore. A group of teenagers laugh and stumble through a gate that connects the volcano to the streets below. They take selfies and videos to upload onto their social media. One chases a sheep and another calls out “tackle him!”. The sheep has more wits about him than the boy, and is up the mountain faster than a goat. I smile and reach for Zed’s hand. “…it’s nice up here, hey Mum,” he says. His cheeks are rosy. We pass a stand of bamboo and slap the mosquitoes away. It is nice up here. Even with other people around, it’s beautiful and serene. We come across a few more groups of people. I take some photos and think about how I would like to share them with you.
The two of us stop for a little sit down and I notice for the first time, a plaque attached to the bench. It’s a memorial seat, placed there by the wife of ‘Michael’. A beautiful spot for remembering. I think about them, the people I don’t know. The words fill my heart. This is the song of my soul’s learning through all those years of illness.
We sit and think for a while before heading home. Of course, Zed makes off to slide down the slope of the hill, while I take the dirt track. Back on our footpath, I see the trees turning and notice the colours of autumn, slowly but surely transforming the streets.
I long for the cooler weather, but I have loved my first real summer in years. I realise I am half-heartedly welcoming my favourite season. And just as I think it, I see it, a half-hearted leaf, laid out on the footpath in front of me. Maybe, this year, nature feels the same as I do.
Full heart; half hearted.