Here we go: last despatches from Hawea. The trailer is packed, the surfaces scrubbed, the last anchovy and scraping of margarine eaten. The crap that came with the house is all carefully returned to its original positions, down to the last stained, frayed towel and framed piece of wool art (tableaux of farm scenes made from artfully arranged tufts of unbleached fleece), not to mention the fugly plastic toad clock.
The boys have had a few tearful wobbles, probably not the last, but are mostly back on an even keel, buzzing at the prospect of the flight and reunion with Auckland friends and whanau. Firstborn, solemnly kitted out in tramping boots and full survival gear, has had his last day of spiritual communion with his beloved patch of forest above the cemetery. Number Two Son sobs at bedtime and indulges in a little writing therapy, including letters of farewell to his friends and cousins in the street. Everyone agrees that these moments of grief are the eggs that must be broken to make the exciting gap-year omelette. Still, there is a finality to these adieux that is harder than the parallel au revoirs of a year ago; the things we put those poor little bâtards through.
We’ve had the last golden, miraculous days by the lake: hot stones, glassy blue, rugged circle of mountains. Also the last freezing gale-lashed days by the lake, the boys tossed in their neon lifejackets in the opaque pea-green water, me cowering from the chilly spray. I’ve had my last couple of runs, scattering the bunnies under the fragrant, resiny lakeside pines, past the alpacas, through the paddock with the wobbly new calves, now almost fully-grown, past the donkeys, through the dense pine reserve, back through the raw new cul-de-sac developments.
In the spirit of nostalgia, the soundtrack to my last runs was not my customary This American Life podcast, but ABBA and Simon & Garfunkel, allowing myself to be pop-hooked into a sentimental blurriness by the soundtrack to my own poignant childhood farewell, at around Firstborn’s age, to the little Himalayan village I loved in much the same way. Hasta manana, till we meet again… sniff.
As anticipated, my own personal heartbreak is the leaving of this landscape: the layered colours, the arrow-straight poplar-lined roads of the Flat, the table-topped river valleys, those vast, unphotographable hills, right there, massively close, out the bedroom window, behind the library, in the rear vision mirror, a looming, inescapable presence everywhere you turn. I gaze and gaze and try to sear it all onto my memory, but when I open my eyes it astonishes me all over again. You have to be here. And at some – many – undefined points in the future, I very much hope I will be.