…and a longish hop from Waipukurau.
That’s where our path meandered next. To a place called Te Rangi (“The Sky” — maybe “Heaven”?) the farm of our friends Mary Kippenberger and Peter Charlton-Jones.
Mary’s the reason I was in New Zealand to begin with. We met nine years ago at the Australian Storytelling Festival in Perth. (And the reason I was at the Australian Storytelling Festival is because of Elaine Muray, but that’s another story entirely.) On the last night of that festival Mary and I bonded over strong drink, bawdy songs, and a couple of chicken hats. It was a night to remember, and Jack still has some photos, lest we forget.
After Australia, Mary and I would lob emails to each other every few months. Facebook came along, and while I’ve got reservations about social networking, it does allow me to maintain casual contact with people I like immensely but don’t have that much to talk about with. A few years ago, she encouraged me to send promo to the library folks in her district, because they arrange two tours of performing artists every year.
This New Zealand gig was a nut I had been trying to crack for quite awhile, and finally, 2014 was the magic year. Instead of inviting me for the summer reading program tour in January, they asked if I’d do their program that happens during the July school holidays — “Winter Warmers.” (NOT tourist season. NOT swarming insect season. NOT heat and humidity season. Of course, I said, “Of course!”)
Sometimes you feel as though you’ve stepped off planet earth for a little while. You’re in a parallel reality, and it’s not all that strange, but there’s something luminous and dreamlike about where you are. That was Te Rangi. That was Mary and Peter’s big round kitchen table. That was the little transplanted railroad hut that serves as Mary’s office and the guest quarters. That was the extended family popping in and out — grown kids, in-laws, “grandies,” uncles. That was the frowzy agglomeration of homes and outbuildings and studios, the background of sheep and cows and chooks and horses. Peter playing his guitar in the background. The rain. The hills. The moon, stationary behind scudding clouds. It was as though I had stepped into my favorite children’s book — one that I had yet to discover.
That night Mary and I drank TEA, Peter played his guitar so we wouldn’t have to sing, and I gave her a new chicken hat. Hostess gift. I’m not posting that photo, in case I need to blackmail her some time.
So the next day, Jack drove me to the farm towns of Waipawa and Waipukurau, where the children’s areas of their public libraries were full to capacity. In Waipawa, they had TWO children’s programs going simultaneously — me and someone working with kids on math skills. In an artisan’s collective in Waipawa, a woman was teaching a spinning class. That was my first purchase of Merino/Possum yarn. The first of many.
Pronunciation guide: In Maori, ng is always soft, as in sang. r is a hybridization of the English pronunciation of R and L…not quite rolled like a Spanish R, but not way back in the throat like a midwestern U.S. one.