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The past few weeks, I have been asked when I was going to post on my blog again. We have been home outside Detroit for a few weeks, but I honestly don’t have much to tell. Today I raked some leaves, which I miss doing; however, I’m pretty sure no one really cares to read about yard work. We have been busy catching up with friends and getting ready for the holidays. I am also trying to get my writing rhythm back. Moving around is a curve ball to the creative process.

My neighbor asked if it was hard to come home to the Midwest. In a word, yes.

In New Zealand, I walked down my driveway right on to the beach, and the weather was really getting nice before we left. Everything was blooming, and it’s hard not to be uplifted by flowers. I had a banana tree right behind the house. Kiwis (the people not the animal) move a little slower and seem less stressed, and I liked that pace. I could feed carrots to the horses a block from our house, and they started to remember me.

In Detroit, I came home to rain mixed with snow, and lots of potholes. The traffic around Detroit seems insane to me, and the Christmas mania only adds to the already intense levels of hurriedness. I have wet leaves to rake, and a muddy road to navigate. And, there are no horses.

Which place would you prefer? I thought so.

Truthfully, I find myself happy in both places. Despite differences, each has its good points. I have a daughter in Auckland, and a daughter in Detroit and they both bring me joy. And our son seems to show up wherever we are to eat food and go on adventures. We now have friends in both places.

I had a beach but slept in a lousy bed in New Zealand, and I have no beach but a great bed in Detroit. (I am old enough that the bed matters.) I had peace and quiet in NZ, but few restaurants near our town. The Indian restaurant was the best but primarily did just carry out. I have great restaurants in Plymouth, but the traffic… well, I already covered that.

  Kiwis are nice but tough. They have t-shirts that say “Harden the F.. up!”, Which they sell with the utmost politeness. Kids in New Zealand seem to be born with a thicker layer of skin and are oblivious to the rain and cold. And everyone is happy to have a chat. I can see why my daughter loves the country.

Currently, the popular t-shirt in Detroit says “Detroit Against Everyone Else,” which is another way of saying “Harden the F-up.” People don’t put on winter coats here until it’s really winter; otherwise you are not really from Michigan. And Detroit is amazingly friendly. I can see why my other daughter has enjoyed living here.

At the end of the day, a place is not nearly as important as the people you love. For now, Detroit is home base. We will continue to move around and will be back to New Zealand. In the meantime, my husband and I fantasize about a large family compound in some mythical place, with all our children and their significant others and dogs and gardens and maybe … horses. We are calling it Polish Headquarters.


Not Joni Mitchell

  Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone- Joni Mitchell

We leave to go back to the states on the 20th, so I have just a week left in New Zealand. The time here has gone by too fast. My time in New Zealand over the past 11 weeks has been fantastic. A good day for me? When I know what is in front of me won’t last forever, and I need to relish the moment and celebrate how fleeting all of life actually is.

I’m going to miss:

The sunsets in Ahipara- Nothing quite like it back home. It is soul-healing to just sit, watch the waves rolling into the beach, the sky turning pinks and purples and all types of orange, and listen to the sea. If the world was required to spend a half hour on my deck (glass of wine optional), I know we would find world peace.

Bike rides through the countryside- Riding through pastures filled with cows and sheep and wildflowers is so zen. I don’t care that my butt gets sore, or that I get sunburned, or that I am exhausted. I am relaxed and breathing and it’s just the best feeling. Last night, John and I took our last beach ride before sunset. We are going to miss the expansive sense of riding on the sand, rolling through the River of Souls legs outstretched, and crunching seashells.  The ride back is always brutal against the wind, but still a great workout. We got home wet, full of sand, and happy.

Hiking through Kauri forests- Something about being in the middle of the forest, listening to birds, makes me feel like I am walking with God. The New Zealand forests hold so many beautiful surprises-  finding a hidden waterfall,  a river gorge,  being followed by a little fantail bird. Then you come around a bend, and a giant Kauri tree is silently standing guard over the forest.

The friendliness of Kiwis-  Half the time, I don’t know what is being said to me despite the fact that they are speaking English, but they sure are nice! Even when I obviously don’t know what they said, they are too polite and nice to point it out. When they ask “how are you?”, they literally look at you and wait for a real answer.

The sound of the ocean-  I love the sound of the rainstorm on the roof, the birds singing every morning at the crack of dawn, and kids laughing down at the beach. But the rhythmic roar of the waves beats it all!

Horses- Several horses live down the road from me. I love watching them play and chase each other, and they like my carrots. The best week was when Eugene was born. We had an obese horse that always stood in this one pasture, and she was expecting. Her name is Josephine (named after Napoleon’s wife) and when she had her foal, the old man (Josephine’s owner) named him Eugene (Josephine’s first child). I hope they are here next year!

My prayer, when we arrived, was that I honor my time in New Zealand by appreciating everything. I think my prayer has been answered.

Biking

After back surgery a few years ago, I was advised to do low impact exercises, such as swimming and biking. Biking is not nearly as zen as swimming, although it can be on a bike trail without traffic.  I often lose my cares and worries pumping up a hill and gliding down the other side. While I could travel from A to B in a car, biking the same ground provides a chance to photograph flowers up close,  pet horses, and picnic on a hillside. Laying in the soft grass, exhausted from pedaling 25 miles, brings back my childhood.

New Zealand is not a country with roads conducive to biking unless you have a death wish. John hoped he could bike the 14 kilometers to work each day and leave me the loaner car. However, the road from Ahipara to Kaitaia is a two-way, two-lane road, with little to no shoulder. (Hikers coming off 90 Mile beach are warned to be cautious when hiking that road as hills and curves impact visibility.) In our quest to continue biking while here, we found great designated trails.

90 Mile Beach:

While not technically a trail, we have used the beach as a place to ride.  The beach at low tide is wide enough to accommodate a plane ( this is the emergency plan for Barrier Air flights that take off from little Kaitaia airport and need to make an unscheduled landing). With hard-packed sand and just a few water crossings, the beach is a nice, no-incline ride. We cross the River of Souls when it is barely an inch deep, and head north. Tua Tua (clam) diggers and torpedo fisherman are out, and if we are lucky, we get to see Josephine and Eugene, a beautiful chestnut mare and her foal.                                                                                                                        Disadvantages: 1) a great back wind going north turns into a wicked headwind on the return trip 2)Cleaning sand out of the gears

The Twin Coast Trail:

This beauty stretches from Horeke eastward across the Northland region to Opua, near the Bay of Islands. The trail replaced a now-defunct rail line and travels through Okaihau (no gas station and one cafe) and on to Kaihoke, which is a happening place in terms of bike towns. The town boasts of a Pioneer Village, a Countdown Supermarket, a New World supermarket (Kaitaia only has a Pack-N-Save), a KFC, and the Bank Bar! The latter is a renovated old bank building with an unusual assortment of characters, including an older Mauri gentleman in cowboy gear. The beer was cheap, but the food limited.  The scenery on the trail was fantastic and so peace-filled, except for the cow we encountered in the middle of the path.                                                                                                                                    Disadvantages:                                                                                                                               Every mile or so, sometimes more frequently, there are barriers to keep out the motorcycles. This means you dismount, pass your bike through as you walk around the barrier.

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The Hauraki Bike trail:

This trail can be taken from Auckland all the way to Te Aroha, a distance of 112 kilometers. Before you are impressed, we did not do the whole thing. We started in Paeroa, and did a section that heads towards Waikino, ending in Waihi. We think we did at least 40 kilometers round trip, although probably more. You can stop along the way to do the Windows Walk at the Karangehake Gorge. An old rail line for an abandoned ore mine features spots (“windows”) where you walk through an old mine shaft and look out on the gorge.  If the rain is good, the water rushing through the gorge can be thrilling. At Waikino, a small town on the trail, is a restored train depot, with train rides and a great cafe. A 37-kilometer addition to this trail is planned to be completed in 2019. South from Paeroa is Te Aroha, only 20 minutes by car, and we stayed overnight after a much-needed soak in the Te Aroha mineral baths.                                                                                        Disadvantages: None

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Kowhai Trail:

I think one of my favorite places in New Zealand is Kaikoura on the South Island. The town suffered a significant earthquake in 2016, yet remains very charming. Mountains behind you and the ocean in front of you- hard to beat the views. We biked this trail, which is truly mountain biking, through woods and backcountry. We opted to not do the actual mountain climb on bikes, as the trail to the mountain was challenging enough.  This trail is an actual loop that follows the Kowhai and Hapuku Rivers and ascends up the mountains. The forest we biked through was wonderful, and that part of the trail spills out into farmland.                                                                                                        Disadvantages: Just a sore tush from all the bumps.

Alps 2 Ocean:

A popular South Island trail, Alps 2 Ocean stretches over 300 kilometers from Aoraki(Mt. Cook Village) to Oamaru on the Pacific Ocean. We had a blast biking a section of this trail from Twizel to Lake Pukaki. While sections can be challenging, much of the ride was over wide open areas with great vistas. Lake Pukaki is one of a series of lakes in the region and is stunning in color and has Mt. Cook as a backdrop. We stopped by a freshwater salmon farm and watched locals catching fish on the Ruataniwha Dam. The pizza in Twizel at the end of the ride was the best.  I hope to complete more of this trail in the future.

Wishlist:

The list of trails left to explore is long, and choosing one to do over another seems impossible. I would like to to do a multi-day bike trip with tents and sleeping bags and complete an entire trail from start to finish. I just need to find someone to cook me a meal at the end of each day.  A glass of wine would be nice as well.

 

Can’t See the Forest Because of the Trees

Between Ahipara, where we live, and Kaitaia, where the hospital is located, is the Herekino Forest. The track through the forest is part of Te Araroa (New Zealand’s Trail), stretching fom the top of the country to the bottom, spanning both island masses. For the past few weeks, I have been on a search for the entrance to this trail as the Herekino is home to Kauri trees, the largest tree species in New Zealand. Kauri trees are not necessarily the tallest tree, but are an ancient species, dating back to the Jurassic Age, and their width is immense. As they develop, they shed not only lower branches but also bark, preventing forest vines and parasitic plants from clinging to them. They develop an enormous crown, apppearing to watch over the entire forest.

Early in September, John and I drove south to the Waipua Forest to see Tane Mahuta, a Giant Kauri tree, estimated to be over 2000 years old. It was just a small seedling when Jesus was born. In order to enter the walkway to the tree, we had to first scrape our boots on a boot cleaner, then walk over a sprayer that washed the bottom of our soles, and finally walk through a padded disinfecting area to eliminate contamination. To Americans, the measures may seem extreme; after all , it’s a tree. However, the DOC is battling Kauri die-back disease. The disease is spread from forest to forest by footwear of hikers, and the roots of the Kauri, which grow close to the surface, are easily susceptible and die. Sadly, I discovered last week that the Herekino Forest is closed to tramping until further notice. Many of the remaining tracts of trees are suffering from the die-back disease and limiting human contact may give the trees time to recover.

Beginning in the 1820s, Kauri trees were logged in excess by the British. (Didn’t this happen in Ireland?!) Some trees were used for local building, but much of the logging was shipped back to England or Australia. By the 1840s, large sections of Kauri forest were being destroyed. Additionally, ancient swamp Kauri were discovered, and their resin was harvested by “gumdiggers” for manufacturing varnish. Today, approximately 4% of the original forest land remains, most of it in the Northland where we live. And now, having survived the logging onslaught, the remaining trees are at risk from the die-back disease.

This information would be completely depressing except that Kiwis do seem rather keen on protecting what is left. One could argue that so much has been destroyed and then just as easily argue that much is being preserved and protected. I was bummed the forest was closed, but I found hope in a strange place. This week the Waitapu (Sacred Waters) Winery down the road opened for the season, and Eric, the owner, gave us a quick tour, a wine tasting and shared some stories. He and his wife, Sondra, built their house with walls so thick they don’t need a furnace. They use rainwater and have a self-contained sewage system. When his work day is done, Eric sits out on his deck, looks past the valley filled with cows and bamboo trees, pours a glass of wine and watches the sun set over the Tasman Sea.

The hope-filled part? Over the past 25 years, Eric and his wife have planted more than 100,000 native trees on their property, including Kauri trees. Over 4000 trees a year! Perhaps it was the wine, but I felt so inspired by his determination.

Maybe there’s a vineyard in Michigan.

A 1000 words

 

Last week, it rained every day, although usually by afternoon the sun would decide to pop out, and Carrie and I could go for a hike. The season of spring seems to be turning into summer rather fast. Suddenly, I have geraniums and peace I lies and bird of paradise blooming along the driveway. We already turned our clocks ahead in our part of the world. Evenings are longer, giving John time to get home from work and enjoy the sunset. Each day more fisherman and families are out on the beach, as the rental properties down the shore become busy. Today, an excursion company unloaded 10 horses for a ride down 90 Mile.

This morning I am hiding in the shaded corner of the deck, watching the seabirds chase a small child down the sand and the horses canter through the surf. If I walk north on the beach, the hike is endless. It heads north to Cape Reinga. If I walk south, even at low tide, the sea rocks block a clear walking path, and it becomes more of a climb.

More backpackers arrive in Ahipara everyday, another sign that the summer crowd is arriving. A few days ago, Carrie and I picked up a hitchhiker, Jason, and drove him to Kaitaia. He was from Canada, near Vancouver, doing a walkabout by himself. He had backpacked the entire beach to find out that once you walk down from the cape to Ahipara, that’s it. No where to go but to hitch to Kaitaia, which is more of a crossroads.

I met Lea, another backpacker, on the beach at sunset. She was on her own with no room reservations or any idea where she was could get a meal.  It’s not all that unusual to meet someone on a journey, hiking about and exploring, with no hard set plans.

I headed back to the house after talking with Lea, thinking how awesome it was that she had no plans. She probably has life goals- walking 90 Mile is maybe one of them- but no rigid idea of what should happen next. She wasn’t worried about controlling her day. After 6 weeks of living here, I try to let the day just unfold and enjoy the sunset at the end.

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South Island

Our son flew into Auckland this past Saturday, so John and I hopped a flight from Keri Keri to meet up with Carrie and Mike and fly to Nelson on the South Island. Nelson is Carrie’s favorite city because it’s big enough to have a New World grocery store and yet small enough to still have a walkable downtown. The city has a nice laidback feel. If you drive in one direction from Nelson, you can walk the Abel Tasman Track and head to Golden Bay. In the opposite direction is the Marlborough Sounds, wine country, and the Queen Charlotte Track.

We reasoned Mike would be exhausted from his flight from DC, so we found an AirBnB outside of Nelson for our first night together. We loaded up on snacks at the grocery store, and ordered burgers from Burger Culture. Besides being quick, Burger Culture bakes all its own buns, has homemade condiments, and an extensive menu of out-of-the-ordinary burgers. The wings are pretty good too. A comfort meal after a long day of travel.

The past few days have not been writing days, but Rudzinski-family days. Each day we biked, hiked, kayaked and/or whale/seal-watched, cooked meals together, played cards, and collapsed in the evening listening to music. I sleep through the night from happy exhaustion.

View of the mountains near Kaikoura

Our first full day in Picton, we planned to take a half-day dolphin tour out into the Queen Charlotte Sound, but the weather was rainy and foggy. The tour company offered a shorter trip that basically included a two hour boat ride, drinking wine and eating mussels, all for the same price. We decided hiking in the heavy rain to the lookout point on the Snout would be more entertaining. Despite getting soaked and muddy, we spent the three hours laughing, joking and telling stories. And the views from the observation point were better than from a boat in one the coves. The hot shower back at the rental made the day.

We kayaked the following day out into the sound, and the weather started off sunny and breezy. After 3 1/2 hours of paddling we reached Mistletoe Bay, a campsite area in another cove. We devoured our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and bought hot coffee and tea from the little camp store. Heading back, the wind had picked up, changing not in our favor. In the morning, the water had been glass, but now we were batting significant waves. The late afternoon temps were dropping. By the time we beached the kayaks, our arms and hands ached and were stiff from the cold and wind. We declared the day a success, in that no one capsized and we all came back alive, and ordered a pizza.

Each day has been better than the day before, which is such wondrous thing in life. The past two days we have been in Kaikoura (in Maori it means “eat crayfish”), which just may be my favorite place in New Zealand. Snow- capped mountains rise behind us with the ocean stretching in front of us. In 2016, Kaikoura was the epicenter of an 7.8 earthquake, strong enough to shift the continental shelf and deepen the ocean gorge off the coast. The beauty of this coastal town remains untouched. The true highlight of our day was spotting a male sperm whale and watching it breach, spray, and finally dive, fanning its enormous tail goodbye.

Today we are heading back towards Nelson, stopping in Havelock at The Mussel Pot restaurant. Mike and John demanded a second visit to this little cafe- amazing food, great beer selection, and a friendly staff. The kids have another hike planned for our break from the car ride, and rain is not predicted. No doubt, another good day.

Down Time

For the past two weeks, I have been writing an article to submit to a children’s magazine. Yesterday, I met my personal deadline, crossed my fingers, and hit the submit button. I celebrated by taking my second walk of the day on the beach.

Ahipara is at the beginning of 90-Mile beach and at low tide, the sand is easily a city block’s length from shore to water. Initially, I thought I might get tired of walking the same stretch of sand each day, thinking the landscape would not change much. I find I have to vary my daily walk at home because things look pretty much the same until the seasons start to change. But the beach is different.

I now have an array of shells on my picnic table, collected and rinsed, and it seems to get a little larger each day. I find it hard not to pick up just one more. Some of them are pipi shells- pipi is the Maori name for the edible clam that is found in abundance on the beach. Usually, locals find the clams digging at low tide locating air bubbles in the sand. We haven’t gone digging yet, but plan to do it when Carrie is visiting. Jordan, a high schooler I met on the beach, insisted the pipi could be eaten raw, just rinse off the sand. I think I will soak mine for a night, and cook them.

Yesterday, I found a small shark, less than 18 inches long, dead on the beach. The day before, a stingray lay embedded in the sand, probably dead for a while, but was gone the next day. The stingray lay not far from the “river of souls”, a large stream that winds through part of the beach and out to sea. Maori legend claims when a person dies their soul travels the river, out to the ocean, up 90 Mile beach to Cape Reinga. The Cape is the northernmost tip of the North Island and is the jumping off point for passage to the other side. Maybe the stingray was headed to the river.

Despite the occasional dead sea creature, the ocean is constantly in motion and alive. Earlier this week I saw a small blackish lump up ahead on the sand. Parts of the shore are fairly rocky, but this “rock” was isolated and in an odd place. As I got closer, the rock moved its head and the juvenile seal stared intently at me. I followed the locals’ advice to never get between a seal and the water, as any seal, even young ones, can move very fast and they do bite. I shared my seal sighting with John’s colleague, Sarah, and she asked if I had seen the white-bearded man who walks the beach. I had not, but apparently, he was now out of jail, having served time because one of his unleashed dogs killed a seal on the beach. The seal I saw was rather small and all alone, which surprised me.

Near the river is a large ground-bird nesting area, protected with numerous information signs. Spring is starting in New Zealand, so the dotterels are establishing nests. The dotterel is a plover, and at one time, nearly extinct. Only two places in New Zealand currently have populations, and this stretch of sand on 90 Mile near Ahipara is one of them. The other is Stewart Island off the South Island. I am hoping I get to see chicks before I leave in November.

Sometimes, horses are on the beach if the farm down the road has them out for exercise. The gulls are ever present, standing around, looking for pipi to snatch and squawking at the occasional beach walker. Their sound is usually the only noise on the beach other than the crashing surf. Yesterday evening, I took a walk further up the coast, just as the low tide was peaking and the sun was going down. Lost in thought, I was surprised to hear a cow mooing. Standing up on a dune above the beach were five cows, enjoying their grass dinner with the sunset.

Like I said, the beach is always changing.

Saturday Morning

We left Ahipara late Friday afternoon and drove the “twisty turny road” to Kerikeri, our name for the shortcut through the mountains. The hour and a half drive is a two-way, two-lane highway with lots of blind curves. Scenic and interesting in the daylight, nerve-racking in the dark. We stayed overnight at a small motel in order to catch the early morning flight to Auckland. Security for the NZ regional airports is non-existent so we arrived at 6:20 for a 6:40 flight. At 6:30, the flight was cancelled due to heavy fog in Auckland. After re-booking for an afternoon departure, we headed back to our motel for more sleep. Mid-morning, we wandered across the road to a farmers’ market for breakfast.

The jewelry tables were selling jade and shell necklaces, and the purse vendors had a variety of “possum” items. Vegetables on display included giant New Zealand pumpkins(gray/green and a brilliant orange inside), the world’s biggest leeks, and unshelled macadamia nuts. Orchids were for sale in a wide variety of colors, and the cutting boards were made of kaori wood. The local swim team was raising money with all things lemon: lemon curd, lemonade, lemon tarts- probably because almost everyone has a lemon tree in their front yard, and who needs another candy bar.

We sat down to eat our Thai chicken curry pie for breakfast and listen to the local band do the cover for some Creedence Clearwater songs. The sun was out, but the temp was in the 60s- perfect weather for killing time and reflection. John and I took inventory of how many people looked like they were from the 60s and 70s. Strong “hippie” culture survives here. Back in high school, I wore the same clothes- tie-dyed, loose dresses, and beads. That flashback conjured up Mr. Berkeley, my sophomore English teacher.

Mr. Berkeley was an opinionated, pompous man, who liked to pontificate about life during class time. He assigned the topic “The Good Life” for our class narrative essay. The assignment required us to list five things that we needed to have/do/obtain in order to say “I had a good life”. I don’t remember all five of my requirements, except that number one was travel, and having a family was number two. Today, I would reverse that order. I do recollect agonizing over the list and putting serious effort into the assignment.

Money, however, was not on my list. I reasoned that I knew some really unhappy people who had money, so I didn’t think it belonged in my top five. I still don’t. Money is essential but I don’t want it driving all my decisions. One thing I have learned this year is so much of what I think I need is unnecessary, and, yes, the really important things are truly free, like watching New Zealanders guzzle beer and eat mussel fritters at 10:30 in the morning sunshine.

Sitting at the farmers market was the perfect moment. I was totally delighted with my cup of tea and pies and listening to music and basking in the sun. We were so enjoying “the vibe” we decided that taking that morning hike could just wait. It’s not everyday that I get to hang out with fellow hippies and listen to “Kansas City” being played by a live band. I loved everything about this unplanned, accidental moment.

I got a “B” on that sophomore paper because, as Mr. Berkeley explained, my list was impractical due to my oversight of the almighty dollar. In fact, he admitted to the class that he downgraded anyone who did not include money on their list because he thought it was the most important element

to the good life. He also didn’t feel travel was all that great. The next year I dropped out of the regular high school, and enrolled in an alternative high school program. Mr. Berkeley probably had something to do with my decision- but, then again, here I am traveling, and full-of-hot-air Mr. Berkeley, who thought there was no need to ever leave Oak Park, is dead. Funny how that worked out.

Kaitaia

John’s working assignment for the next three months is at a twenty-eight bed facility in the town of Kaitaia (ki-ti-uh, with long i sound). The name means ample food in Maori, and the town is considered the “gateway to the north” as it sits at the beginning of the Aupouri Peninsula, the north part of the North Island. Population: approximately 5000 souls.

Kaitaia was the last major settlement on State Highway 1 going north, and a destination in the 1800s for missionaries hoping to convert the local Maori to Christianity. The town is not a high destination point today for most New Zealand visitors, although tourism is considered one of its major industries. One website referred to it “as the place dreams go to die”. That’s rather harsh, and not completely accurate. After all, the town has a 24-hour McDonald’s, a KFC, and a really good Indian Spice Restaurant for carry-out. And a Warehouse Store, which is like a giant Dollar Store on steroids.

We are not living in Kaitaia, however, but in Ahipara, a small coastal town 15 minutes from the hospital. Surf fishing and long board surfing are popular in the area, and tour buses come around for Shipwreck Bay. Ahipara is the beginning of 90 Mile Beach, and 4-wheel drive vehicles are a common sight by the water.

In the morning I drive John to work in our loaner car. Usually by 7:30, the horses down the road are out in pasture, rolling around in the dirt. The road is wet from the nightly rain, and the sun, rising over the ridges, makes the pavement sparkle. The drive has a meditative feel to it, with large shade trees and pampas grass lining the way. Such a change from the congested traffic in Michigan.

I’m starting to get the hang of driving on the left, with the steering wheel on the right. Ingrained driving habits are hard to break though, so I am flipping on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal and occasionally driving in the right lane before remembering to go to the left. At the vegetable market today I promptly got into the left side of the car before I realized I was sitting in the passenger seat. I got back out of the car and ambled to the driver side. The market staff no doubt keeps count of the confused Americans parking in their lot.

Winter is ending in New Zealand. While the days are gradually getting longer, the sun sets around 6:30 p.m. Yesterday, after John was done with work, we hurried home to take a walk on the beach before the sun was completely gone. The beach is across the road from our house and an easy scramble over some rocks. Shortly into our walk, we discovered a young seal laying on the sand. He appeared to be dead. He was gone,though, on our return walk, with tracks to the water, so I’m glad we didn’t disturb him. In the distance we could hear our neighbors down the road calling in the horses from the field. Every place in the world seems to have its own bedtime ritual, and horses trotting off to bed fits New Zealand.

As we returned to the house, a copper-colored, Rottweiler-type dog befriended us, searching for his owner. Eventually, he ran down the beach to another evening walker. He clearly was lost. This morning I returned from taking John to work to find our new friend in the driveway. He followed me up to the house, tired and thirsty. I found a plastic bowl for water, and hurried back outside. He had disappeared. I called a few times, and was ready to give up when from around the corner, with a fresh kill of rabbit in his mouth, came “Copper”. He gave me a quick sideways glance, and pranced down the driveway to the road. Just doing his part to get rid of non-native species.

I’m sure he will be back- I have rabbits somewhere in my yard.

It’s All Happening at the Zoo

I made it to Auckland yesterday morning at 5 am New Zealand time after a long, but uneventful, day of travel. Well, almost uneventful, because what’s travel unless you find your heart racing at some point. I worried my bags on the Detroit flight would somehow not be off-loaded in Los Angeles and continue on to Hawaii without me. That didn’t happen, and even better, check-in at Air New Zealand went quicker than I anticipated. The eight-hour layover was a little tough, but I was able to complete work in the crazy LAX terminal. After sleeping more than I ever have on a plane, I arrived in Auckland feeling rather full of myself that I had crossed the ocean without incident. Almost.

Somehow I dropped my phone in Passport Control and didn’t notice until I arrived in customs and wanted to call Carrie. Here’s the heart-racing part. I know I put the phone in my purse- it’s not there, and checking the same pocket five times is not going to make it reappear. I check my carry-on, knowing full well that I did not stick it in the backpack. I can feel the panic start. I know my over-organizational nature is just a cover for trying to control my external world, and it backfires when things get out of place. I can feel a meltdown begin.

I would have retraced my steps, but once you are through Passport Control you have crossed the Styx River. Welcome to Hades. If this was Chicago, I would have little faith of ever seeing the phone again.

But this is New Zealand. Of course the Customs person will call the Passport Control office and, yes, they found the phone, and certainly they are bringing it down to me- no worries! Nothing short of a miracle. My angels were on the job.

Miracles two and three happened at the Auckland Zoo. Carrie had classes to teach all day at the college, so I walked to a cafe for lunch and then Ubered to the zoo. Thankfully, the Auckland Zoo is not as monstrous as Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, and it has great exhibits. My favorite is always the giraffes. The temps were a little cool, perfect for getting fresh air. Rain kept threatening and there was an occasional sprinkle that would quickly disappear, and then the sun jumped out, creating a full-sky rainbow. Full rainbows are good omens. I only remember seeing two other full-arch rainbows in my lifetime. Probably an everyday occurrence in NZ, but a small miracle to me.

Carrie has lived in Auckland for three years, been to the zoo before, and spent time in the “Night” exhibit, hoping to spy a kiwi. The kiwi is by nature extremely shy, nocturnal and easily scared. Even in captivity, it’s hard to catch a glimpse of them. Carrie has never seen one. I’m here just eight hours and I got an entire show of the kiwi mating ritual, including some rather hysterical running back and forth on the part of the male. It was awesome. Carrie declared this a miracle.

All in all, a great first day, except for one disappointment. Walking around the zoo, I found myself frequently crossing paths with a young Chinese couple, both of us taking pictures and lingering at certain enclosures. Many of the animals were sleeping in the mid-afternoon, so no tremendous activity, with the exception of the kiwi. After walking alone for some time, watching the capybaras in solitude, I noticed the couple ahead of me, at the Galapagos Turtle exhibit, intensely watching something through the glass. I hurried over. As I walked up, the young man turned to me, eyes wide and said “They just finish make love”.

What? And I missed THAT? It certainly would have been a miracle to see gigantic turtles breeding, and there definitely would have been photos. But, even though the day was still miraculous, you will have to make do with a rainbow picture.