The Catlins is an astonishing place. It was much, much more engaging than I had expected. I thought it was a formidable land of wind-battered, difficult terrain, hard to explore for a city wimp like me. What I found was something much friendlier and more accessible: as well as stunning rocky shores pounded by great waves (we had only one day of this), we spent our time exploring lovely meandering estuaries and bays and doing short walks through bush and rainforest to thundering waterfalls and tranquil lakes.
Plus, of course, the wildlife. Jenn, my companion and guide, stood in the bush and whistled to bellbirds, brown creepers and fantails. We saw only one yellow-eyed penguin (they're moulting now, they sit on land and can't go out to sea until they've replaced their feathers), but the sealions swam, challenged each other and dragged themselves up into the dunes right in front of us. (I took this with the zoom - we were a very safe distance away.)
I soon felt entirely at ease, and I realised after a few days that this was the first proper leisurely, low-key New Zealand holiday, not staying in someone's home, that I'd had for about three years. It was exactly the kind of holiday Harvey and I had really enjoyed, though we'd never done it often enough. I was so lucky to be able to go with Jenn - she grew up on a farm not far away, and knew the whole area really well, so we managed to see everything without ever feeling rushed or pressured. Working out holidays can be a dilemma when you're on your own, but this was a brilliant solution.
I'm going away again, this time to the Catlins - it's my neighbour's home territory, and she's showing me around. I find that I really like going to new places I've never been to before, either on my own or with Harvey. So no posts for another fortnight.
My next thing to look forward to is that in late autumn, my friend Ali is coming to supervise the makeover of the garden along the fence to her design. We're putting a whole new mulched bed around all the isolated shrubs and roses to help retain water and make it look much more garden-y. Meanwhile I did manage to enjoy my pots of flowers this week - the zinnias are still going and the portulaca has obligingly flowered in time. (I've discovered that slugs don't eat portulaca - very handy.) Marjorie will enjoy them while she looks after the house.
This morning I took Dorothy to the vet for the last time. She had been going steadily downhill since December, and though he gave her vitamin and steroid injections a few weeks ago, hoping they would perk her up for a little longer, they had no effect. By the time I got back from my trip to Auckland, it was clear that her kidneys had stopped working and she was barely surviving. Though it was the fourth time we've ended a beloved cat's life, it was the first time I've had to go through with it on my own. Still, I'm glad Harvey escaped the sadness of saying goodbye to her.
She was the only cat we've had who grew really attached to me, but only after Harvey became too frail to feed her or have her on his lap. Every night she would sit on me after I went to bed and require a thorough petting before she would settle down to let me read, with my book propped against her.
We got her and her brother as very small kittens over seventeen years ago. As Harvey explained in This Piece of Earth, we called them William and Dorothy after the Wordsworth brother and sister, because we'd recently been to the Lake District. Their names suited them perfectly. William had a strong sense of self-importance and miaowed a great deal, demanding our attention and service. Dorothy, with her pretty Victorian cat-face and her immaculate little white fichu front and paws, bustled quietly about, purred a lot but seldom spoke (when she did, she had a strange, rather grating cry), and loved being outside, preferably with Harvey. Here's part of a poem he wrote about her, when we were living in Farm Road:
Our foolish cat patiently
watched me cut liver into
catsized pieces, then as
I dropped it to her dish
sprinted out the open back
door to sit mewing at the
closed front door waiting
for me to let her in. Cats
rightly enter with style.
And she exited, if not with style, then at least with dignity, love and respect.
This is my nephew James and his wife Jaymie at their wedding on 5 March. I took heaps of photos, but I thought this was the best one - I wish I could have shown it to Harvey. I was so touched to see that they signed their marriage certificate with the fountain pen we gave James for his twenty-first.
It was very strange returning to an empty house, but I did feel I was coming home. I just have to get used to the fact that it's now my home. I notice that I still say "we" and "our" all the time.
This Piece of Earth: a year in my New Zealand garden
Harvey's memoir, now available as an Awa Press e-book - click on the cover to see how to buy it.
MY FOOD BLOG
Click on the lemons to go to Something Else To Eat
At my book launch - Lois Daish, me, Mary Varnham of Awa Press. Click on the photo to go to the book's Facebook page.
Harvey's last anthology, These I Have Loved: My favourite New Zealand poems, published by Steele Roberts, was launched on 10/10/2010. To see what Beattie's Book Blog has to say about it, click on the cover.
"I read for pleasure and that is the moment I learn the most." — Margaret Atwood