The problem with going to New Zealand to write a novel, my goal for 2012, was that I had to mentally go where my characters were, think like they think, and submerge myself in their fictitious drama, of my own making! My characters were in India and in the US, countries that are approximately equidistant from each other and from New Zealand. Little wonder I was in a state of permanent disorientation.
I asked myself why I write, what was the lure, why not walk along the esplanade, or sit on a bench and watch the birds, instead of gaping at a computer screen, doing something that might never see the light of day. Such are the questions that writers ask, and to which I have no sane answer, other than to say I’d go insane if I didn’t write. But did it have to be a novel?
Well, I didn’t go to Manukau Harbor in 2012. But I did go in the summer of 2008, New Zealand’s winter, and here is a glimpse of the many walks I took. (Note: In all my blogs, the pictures are mine.)
Mangrove and tussock grasses, kowhai and pohutakawa trees (see earlier blogs) flax plants and all manner of beautiful foliage line the walkways. When the tide comes in, those magnificent black boulders and rocks are submerged, but as the tide goes out Manukau Harbor turns into a feast for birds and bird lovers. The land curves gently along the bay culminating in a bird sanctuary and the Ambury Regional Park.
Pressed to choose a favorite avian, I’d have to pick the Pied Oyster Catchers, even though they aren’t the prettiest girls in town. Their plumage is all black with a splash of white, but they have strong, orange-red bills to—well catch oysters—of course, (and other mouth-watering molluscs) and pry them open. At dusk, I’d watch them fill the sky and blow in like scarves of black silk as they came on shore, and descended in perfect order.Hundreds of them. Each wave settled on the lawn at the rear, row by row, never colliding or arguing, until the lawn itself was a black and orange blanket. And when they took off, they did so in the same order patiently inching forward as if there was an invisible “go” line. I found that fascinating. No one rear ended, or broke rank, or took the back roads. And I read that oyster catchers are monogamous; they have a no-frills nest on land; they share the job of incubating eggs, and in general, are model citizens worth emulating.
But to be fair, I admit they engage in “egg-dumping.” Much like the cuckoo, they sometimes misbehave, lay their eggs in other nests, especially the unsuspecting sea gulls, and expect someone else to raise their young. But that doesn’t happen often, I’m sure. I know because I asked them.
There are other beautiful visitors too— Pied Stilts, Sandpipers, Pokekos, Kingfishers and others. The mottled brown Bar-tailed Godwits and the Red Knots (with their short, green legs) fascinated me because they nest in the Tundras and migrate some 12,000 Km to this beautiful island when their homes freeze. I almost asked them why they’d ever return home to such an unforgiving land. But then—don’t we all?