I am sitting by myself in front of a warm, crackling fire in a Backpacker’s Stay cottage at Waikata, New Zealand. I am by myself. There is no resident staff, and no one else has stopped here so far this evening. I do miss the wonderful conversation and interaction of Rosie’s, but I am taking this time as an opportunity to write. I had a Blue Cod sandwich with chips for supper from a lonely nearby mobile stand.
No, there were no apparitions or voices or supernatural events on the Kepler Trek. There were moments when thoughts and circumstances brought Mary Ann into my awareness as I walked.
During some of the times I was walking alone (most of the time), I thought about how much I missed having my arms around her to transfer from bed to chair, lingering in a mutual hug. It wasn’t so much a painful moment as it was a deep longing for the intimacy we shared at those times.
One of the most exciting moments that seemed to me to be a bit of a gift from Mary Ann happened just as I was approaching the last circuit before the scramble up the rocks to the very peak of Mt. Luxmore. I looked up at the peak. In the notch between the structure at the peak and another peak just a bit lower, right beside it, was a perfect image of the daytime moon. Even though the sun was blindingly bright in another part of the sky, the image of about a three-quarter full moon was clear and vivid. It was placed perfectly in that notch, beside the peak. I got a couple of pictures of it, which hopefully will make it online in some form or another the next time I have access to the Internet. Tonight I am writing on the word processor, since there is no Internet available here.
I decided to caption that picture, “You thought I was here to climb a mountain? I was reaching for the Moon!”
I consider that image of the Moon a gift from Mary Ann. To get to the very top, a Trekker needs to leave the Track itself and scramble up through some rocks on a fairly steep (for a non-climber) incline for ten minutes or so. I was not about to come that far and miss the experience of standing on that peak. When I arrived at the top, Mark and Agatha were there. They offered to take my picture, standing at the wooden structure on the top.
I pulled out the Family Doily and held it in front of me. I know it sounds trite and sappy, but I held it over my heart to remind me that in the sense that Mary Ann has become a part of me through our forty-eight years of love, she was with me on that mountain top. The beauty was hers as well as mine to experience.
I continued along the Track around the side of the mountain to a ridge that went for hundreds of meters. Before I moved up on to the ridge, I felt a need to move back to the moment of Mary Ann’s death. I played that video in my mind, Lisa calling me over, the last breath, reading the Commendation of the Dying Liturgy, starting to sob in the middle of the Benediction. I needed to feel it again, before setting out on the ridge. I don’t know exactly why.
I began to think of the Milford and Kepler Treks in terms of metaphor. The challenge of Milford was the pain through which I needed to come to experience the exhilaration of Kepler, the beginning of a new time in life. All of that sounds very dramatic when said that way. It is just a part of a journey I am on. Pieces of that journey have special significance. It is a long process and each event is just part of it, leading me another step along the way to wherever the journey is taking me next.
After that moment’s encounter with Mary Ann’s death, I moved up to the ridge and walked the next few hundred meters. The path was a little wider at the top of the ridge. Gratefully so! On each side there was a very steep decline extending a very long way. I am not sure when I would have stopped rolling had I moved too far to one side or the other. I stopped at various times, making sure I spread my feet apart and using my poles for stability. I just looked at the clouds beneath, the mountains, the valleys, the deep blue sky, the trees, the lake; I listened to distant waterfalls. The sounds, the smells, the warmth of the sun, the cool of the breeze, the expanse of the landscape made clear by changes in the color to mountains more distant than others, awareness of what it took physically and emotionally to get to that spot, even the fear, all of it combined to create the moment. It was an experience that can only be felt. It cannot be described.
The descent was long and very strenuous, in some ways more difficult than the ascent. There is such an appreciation of the marvels of the natural world when moving from above the timber line, where there are only scrubby shrubs and bushes and grasses, to areas of very small trees covered in stringy lichen looking like curls of white and gray hair hanging from the branches. The trees grew in size, and soon the ground was covered with moss again was the rain forest surrounded the path.
When I arrived at the hut, Christina said that in another half hour, they were going to send someone out after me. Actually, there were more who came in after me, but I loved that there was concern for me among those with whom I was trekking. We all marveled together at the experience we had just shared.
The last full day of walking to the final night’s hut stay was done again in perfect weather. There was some up and down walking, but nothing very challenging by comparison to what we had just done. The varied landscapes, the huge valley we went through, the birds sometimes pecking at our shoes as we walked, filled the day with interest.
The last night matched the rest of the walk in providing natural wonders. This time, instead of looking down, we looked up to see the wonders. First of all, we were all hot and tired when we arrived at the last hut. We were on the shore of a huge lake, small waves breaking on the sandy beach. With a bit of badgering, I also jumped in the frigid water – not for long. Then there were the sand flies that feasted on me when I got out. It was still a wonderfully refreshing plunge, worth enduring the cold and the sand flies.
Later that evening as the stars were beginning to become visible, Christina and John pointed out the Southern Cross, of course, not visible in the Northern Hemisphere. It was a little hard to make out, since there was still some residual sunlight from the horizon. After dark, I went out again just to see what I could see.
If you have been to a mountain top in Colorado at night (the Rocks, for any of you who have gone to LVR), you may have an idea of what I saw when I went down to that beach. There was no moon. The sky was a light show of bright stars, clusters of light, the Milky Way as vividly clear as I have ever seen it. I ran up to the hut, and soon, all of us were clustered on that beach, in awe of what we were seeing. I caught sight of a very bright satellite that moved through the panorama of stars at breakneck speed. The Southern Cross stood out brightly. Orion was on the other side of the dome, of course, upside down to those of us from the Northern Hemisphere.
Geoff had an iPhone with an app called Starwalker (if I remember correctly). He could hold up the iPhone and the screen would show the stars in that part of the sky. It could identify them. He could even adjust it to show what the stars would have looked like to Explorer Cook when he first came to that place a couple of centuries (or whenever) earlier.
It was a perfect end to four days of perfect weather and a powerful experience that will remain in my memory for the rest of my life.
That is enough for now. I am still alone here in this cottage. The fire has kept me warm and cozy. As soon as the Owner comes by to collect the fee, I will head for bed. It is a chilly night with the wind blowing outside. I will hunker down under a couple of blankets and, assuming there are no late arrivals, have a quiet night.