Te Rangi, on the outskirts of Otane, a short hop from Waipawa…

…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.

People kept mistaking me for Mary. Here we are, discussing which one of us is the Evil Twin and which is the Good Twin. The horse we're leaning on is named Nick the Pony.

People kept mistaking me for Mary. Here we are, discussing which one of us is the Evil Twin and which is the Good Twin. The horse we’re leaning on is named Nick the Pony.

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.


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At this rate I’ll forget where we took the pictures

Right outside the Hastings library. A whole garden full of contemporary Maori interpretations of Maori prototypes.

Right outside the Hastings library. A whole garden full of contemporary Maori interpretations of Maori archetypes. This one “got back.”

I thought September would be a slowish month, a good month to write a travel journal. Wrong! And October doesn’t look any too leisurely, either. At this moment, I’d rather fold those clothes in the dryer than focus on a blog post. This is me engaged in an exercise called “Showing Up.” Don’t expect to be riveted.

Flaxmere Library was my fifth stop on this tour. Flaxmere is a poor town. It’s pretty depressing. Not squalid. Just drab. Cheap and beige. The library is housed in a community center with great recreational facilities, and on the day I visited there, all the facilities were being utilized — the pool, the library, the rock climbing wall. I don’t know if it works like the YMCA, where you buy a membership, or if it’s free.

Grownups stayed with their kids for the library program. About half and half Maori / Pakeha. I begin most of my origami programs with a little spiel about where Origami originates. People are usually pretty evenly divided between crediting China or Japan. I weigh in and say that since China had invented paper hundreds of years before anybody else, I personally think origami started there. But…the Japanese named it. “And when you name something,” I say, “it’s yours; you own it in a special way.” To a person, every Maori mom looked straight at me and nodded. “And when you give it a story, it’s really yours.” Again, every one of them nodded. And then I tell the legend of the 1000 cranes, we go into storytelling and silliness and paperfolding…and again the Maori mothers, without exception, joined their children on the floor and learned what the kids were learning.

More Maori prototypes.

More Maori archetypes.


Flaxmere was the first of three programs this day. The second was Hastings, where the library and museum share a lawn, and there on the lawn was this intense, in your face sculpture exhibit of Maori carvings. I don’t know if it was a permanent installation or if it was just for the season of Matariki. Matariki is the name of the constellation the Japanese named my car (Subaru) after, the constellation I grew up calling the Seven Little Sisters, even though I could only ever see six of them, a.k.a. Pleiades. The museum walls were decorated with origami stars that visitors had been folding for the past few days.

This iconography slapped me upside the head in many, many places. As toys. As kitchen canisters. As fabric design meant for children.

And some stereotypes. This iconography slapped me upside the head in several towns. As toys. As kitchen canisters. As fabric design intended for children blankets and curtains.

From Hastings we traveled 25 minutes to Havelock North, full of galleries and boutiques. While I was doing my programs, Jack was out walking up and down main streets of all these towns. He’s talking about writing a little travel guide — 60-minute Walking Tours of Country Towns.

After Havelock North, we headed south to Otane, where our friends Peter and Mary live … with their children, children-in-law, grandchildren (“the grandies,”) several dozen sheep, a couple dozen cows, a score of chickens, Nick the Pony and one or two of his buddies, and … I’m forgetting something. Oh yeah. The dogs.



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