The road to Pahaoa

A day spent on the road to Pahaoa is no ordinary day; you will find beauty there, and you will not regret it

I January 30, 2010
The road to Pahaoa is for dawdling on. There is no traffic, and no hurry.

The road to Pahaoa melts and gasps in the sun. Anyone foolish enough to walk upon it will ruin their shoes. I am, and I do. After that, I drive barefoot.

The road to Pahaoa is painted silver and green and gold. The grass is waist-high, bleached and ripe; ash-coloured trees rise from it. A hawk defies the car, clutching his road-killed hare. A renegade lamb with less sense gallops and pants, undocked tail bouncing over her fat woolly bottom. Cicadas whine through the open window, a creaky country orchestra. I can smell pine needles baking.

The road to Pahaoa winds around and down in a hairpin, into the river valley. Then it turns to gravel, and disappears into the distance. One day I will take that dusty road, and find what lies at the end of it.

The road to Pahaoa has something magical about it, because home, when I return, is a shadowy prettier place than I remembered. A tui has come to visit. As I turn in at the gate, I find him helping himself to a drink, flashy in blue polyester and cravat, bold in his solitude, sipping nectar from the flowers.

It’s a blue moon that hot night, the night after the road to Pahaoa. I lie on the front porch, looking at the midnight sky, and the silhouette of my garden.

Here come the boys from the ‘hood, walking in the middle of the road, lank hair and precarious trousers.

“Hedgehog!” says one, running to it. “Dead already, man,” mumbles another, as they gather round. For long minutes, I cannot breathe, wondering what atrocity I am about to witness.

“Nah,” diagnoses the first, “‘s moving,” and he cradles the cautious ball of prickles, carries it to my fence and gently drops it on the side of safety, where it belongs, in my garden.


II April 2, 2010
I wake this morning vague and dissatisfied: something is awry today that will not be put right.

It dawns on me only slowly, as the day evolves, because I am not thinking very clearly, that it matters not how far or fast I drive today. I cannot out-manoeuvre this shadow riding pillion, or find what I am looking for. Yet I know enough to know that it is not wise to stay at home. So I prowl north and east, aimlessly, until I find the sign to ‘Dursley’.

I expect a modest cottage like my own, but ‘Dursley’ is a ‘Buxton’-landscaped homestead. It has seen better days -- when I open the letter box, to put my coins in a rusty tin, the whole box, tin, coins and all fall off their post in a calamity on the ground -- and the garden is disappointing. “I do not grow the best of anything, unlike Mother who is a perfectionist with plants,” says its gardener. But it has a foresty part that I like, with orange and white spotted toadstools, and an ex-rabbit laid out by a hawk: just a furry nose and back paws now, held by the intact spine.

In a pretty vegetable panorama in the kitchen garden, I find two bantam hens. One is petite milk-white, the other foggy grey. They have feathers all the way down to their five fluffy toes, and are truly ladies from last century, with swaying hoop skirts and gloves and plumy tails. They hold a chookeny confab, sotto voce, about the stranger; their perfection and solemnity steal my heart.

Apples punctuate the roadside on the country route back south, fruit of a hundred years’ cores, thrown from carts and cars -- old-fashioned, sweet, crisp, cidery, simply delicious apples, worth scrambling through dry country ditches for. I hurl their cores out the window, and send good wishes after them, on behalf of next generation’s wild apple lovers.

Then I come to the road to Pahaoa, and since none of the usual measures will do today, and remembering magic happens on this road, I take it.

The lamb is gracing an Easter table. The autumn light has faded; the hills are draped in chewed fawn velvet. But later, coming home, the setting sun will refurbish them in plush greeny-gold, shading black and olive in the valleys where totara stand.

There are half a dozen cattle-stops, and a trickling ford. There are frogs trilling at the river mouth, and driftwood piled bleak like bones. Then I find a crippled sheep, which seems to sum up the whole day really, and I turn back, to find someone to tell about it.

I like this man on the quad immediately: love for this salty, earthy, windswept place is written all over his face, and he knows at once what is wrong with the sheep. It has staggers, he says, which describes it exactly; he will check it, but it will be okay.

Before I leave Pahaoa I watch him for a while, wrangling the bike up a tricky hill, coaxing some bullish beeves, who do not want to climb. The dog’s big ‘huntaway’ bark echoes round the valley, late afternoon sun backlights his wagging tail in gold. Even from this distance I can see his throat swelling with sound and pride. It is such an exuberant tail, such a thoroughly happy dog, such a New Zealand scene; and I find that I am crying.