Another birthday. A year on already from that humdrum, stressed-out, deadline-ridden day last year – the day itself a non-event, but the milestone, of course, the excuse on which I’ve hung this whole wonderful adventure. Other recently passed milestones: one year since I started writing this blog; twenty years since I met Hapless, in a London pub, a few days before leaving for a road trip through Greece and Turkey (where I celebrated my 21st birthday in a campsite somewhere on the coast outside Athens).
A notable omission from my birthday this year is the scent of freesias, my favourite flower, which will be blooming wild all over Auckland right now and which every year I scatter throughout the house, using my birthday as a pretext. I’m reminded of all my autumnal northern hemisphere birthdays, which always felt a little wrong without the powerful Pavlovian association of freesia blossom. I haven’t seen a peep of one here either, just a few brave clumps of daffodils in little tamed pockets – wistfully aspirational cottage gardens, council-maintained verges – of the Otago wilderness.
Instead, spring is signalled by (fragrance-free) candyfloss clouds of cherry blossom and the white froth of wild hawthorn blossom all along the roads. There’s a flutter of pale green in the willows in Cardrona Valley, and new growth at the tops of the wilding pines. Even on our scorched-earth section, there are patches of grass that are almost green, though not enough to actually require mowing (which Hapless has only had to do two or three times this year).
We wake regularly to delicate dustings of icing sugar on the nearby mountains that melt by lunchtime under mild blue skies; there are days when we don’t even light the fire, and crack the ranchsliders open in the afternoons. I keep expecting an ‘Indian winter’, a return to the deeply subzero temperatures of June, to balance out this endless spring, but apart from the occasional storm, the weather remains steadfastly springlike. (Though that does still mean several layers of merino and long johns every day, and regular frosts, and a hot water bottle on my lap while I work.)
The locals remind us how lucky we’ve been to avoid any more than a taste of the freezing foggy inversion layer, which has been known to hang over Hawea for weeks at a time. I feel as if we’re having the exceptional, charmed year we ordered: the amazing summer, the fog-free autumn, the massive, marvellous June snow dump, the intense but short-lived winter, (the once-in-a-decade electrical storm last night) and all the skiing we could wish for. My year of 40 may be over, but our year of fun still has a season and a bit to run.