by little red pen
I will not lie, I worked myself up into a fair state of denial, loathing and grief over this birthday. Fortunately I started doing this about a year ago and have been getting steadily more reconciled until I made it to the birthday itself and it didn’t hurt a bit. I liked it, even.
The turning point was a conversation with a new friend who raised her wine glass, looked me in the eye and said, “Mary, you just have to do something to take the edge off. I went to Paris with my mother.” You have no idea how tempted I was, but neither aspect of that particular solution seemed feasible, so I went to Pūrākaunui with my family instead.
Pūrākaunui is an estuary about 30 minutes drive from Dunedin, over the hill to the north of Port Chalmers. The tides come and go, the birds and seals too, people stoop and reach after cockles on the mudflats, time runs at half speed.
We stayed in a small house beside the water. It was perfect. When I looked out the window, all I could see was water. A heron flew past while I was sitting on the loo. A seal chased a penguin onto the sandbar about 20 metres from our front door. They threatened each other; we covered the boys’ eyes, fearing bloody mayhem. The penguin prevailed, and the seal flounced back into the water. Shags sat on rocks, dove, surfaced, dove again. The Cat walked around saying, “It’s a bird lovers’ paradise. Well, all of New Zealand is a bird lovers’ paradise, but this is REALLY a bird lovers’ paradise.” He’s been reading Steve Braunias lately, as should everyone. We passed a penguin on the track at dusk, and I found myself saying excuse me as I edged slowly by. It just looked at me, noting my idiocy.
We had a night by ourselves while the boys stayed with family friends. It was our third night alone since the Cat was born nine years ago — the quiet was startling. We walked along the water for a few hours, watched kingfishers dart, made sidecars, watched a crazy film about Russians who find a window to Paris, ate lamb and grilled tomatoes and salad. By eight thirty, we were in bed.
The house seemed a little smaller in the afternoon and I collected cockles with the boys. The cold deepened outside, but we were snug. We ate the cockles and cobbled together a simple dinner. The boys slept on mattresses on the floor, one in the living room, one at the foot of the bed. The snow started to fall.