Endings and beginnings

“I won’t be able to sleep at night.”

The issue: the island bench for my client’s new kitchen was 4000 mm long and the reconstituted stone was manufactured in three-metre lengths. A join was required, an infinitesimal joint, near to perfect in this instance, using the filler that comes with the stone, made from the stone. The exact colour, except the joint was so tight there was nothing of significance to see.

“I can’t live with the join there. If there has to be a join you’ll have to move it here,” she was indicating a point 600 mm away, and looking seriously concerned. I probably exhibited a similar look on my face.

I nodded.

“Umm, okay. I’ll sort it,” from me.

I contemplated the technical problems of what she was asking now the bench stone was epoxied together, stainless steel dowels, sitting securely on top of the finished cabinetry, but then, the bench had been fabricated by the best craftsman in town. They didn’t even need to speak English to have an oversupply of work in stone. I just had to issue an instruction and authorise the payment and it would be resolved. The payment wouldn’t be an issue.

A few minutes earlier the joiner, the stonemason, the builder and the architect, ie, me, had been standing around admiring the new kitchen I had designed for the big house renovation. We were congratulating each other on how magnificent the snow-white bench looked against the rich colours of the Australian native timber flooring.

Now they were standing looking grim-faced, even the usually chirpy builder. He was used to the exacting standards of difficult clients but, well, this one had been something else. The project was months overdue and was starting to look as if it might never be finished. For some reason I noted he was wearing a new pink shirt, not his usual blue issue.

I smiled.

The builder smiled, but the others looked entirely devastated once the situation was explained.

The builder was smiling with the recognition that this was his lot in life. He liked working with the demanding designs, exacting materials and skilled craftsman. The demanding clients, umm, not so much, although you would never know from his engaging demeanour.

I was smiling for another reason.

My mind was made up to do something else.

The contradictions in my life were mounting up, and this, with hindsight, proved to be my tipping point.

No Golden Handcuffs for me

Outside work my relationship had been concurrently combusting.

Soulmates for a long while, sickening our friends with public displays of our soppy love on occasion, but things had slowly changed over the previous year. We were spinning off in opposite directions. Our time and place seemed to have been and gone, just the whole bucket of irreconcilable priorities, and a mutual recognition, mature and intelligent and sad, it was time to do something else with our lives.

One issue, amongst others, my partner had been insisting that I change my work, err, my life, get away from the roller coaster of self-employment. I was in radical agreement, at least about the change part, but not in the way she might have been anticipating.

Golden Handcuffs, where money and status and obligations shouldered lock you into doing things you don’t value?

No way.

I valued experience over possessions.

At the back of my mind my long-term plan had been to return to live in New Zealand on a permanent basis. There had been something special about the small town where I had grown up and been required to leave at the end of my schooling to continue my education. I had travelled to various parts of the world before deciding ain’t no place like home.

First, I thought I might as well look around Australia, my home for a couple of decades, get the continent out of my system.

Life was going by, time to notice the world beyond the screen.

Five months later I was disentangled from my responsibilities and commitments and finally left town. My travels ended up as six years on the move: a big four years snooping around Australia, and a further two years reacquainting myself with New Zealand, my family and friends.

Since my mid-teens I had been interested in the South Island landscape, exploring, taking an interest in the landforms, vegetation and bird life. As part of my transition back to living in Nelson, my home town, I spent a significant amount of time wandering the named tracks of the South Island as “research” for my new website: tramping.net.nz.

But somehow I felt that this particular summer might be my last opportunity to indulge in a big trip of the Te Araroa type, ie, walking the length of the South Island, before life’s realities once again crashed in.

Te Araroa | New Zealand’s Long Walk

The joy of a long trail like Te Araroa, an adventure that lasts many weeks, actually months, is that you can shed all the modern world’s distractions, expectations and responsibilities.

For much of the journey there is little in the way of standard civilisation, or even much cell phone connectivity. You end up being transported back in time to when life was more immediately appreciated.

Concerns are basic: getting up and eating breakfast, walking for much, or little of the day, setting up your tent or finding a spare mattress in one of the government provided huts, eating the food that you carried, sleeping, not so much else.

Oh, maybe talking about Life, Love and Meaning with like-minded strangers. For some reason the other long distance walkers you might encounter generally seem happy, grinning and ready for a chat.

You can step back from the usual frantic level of activity in life, take stock, and concentrate on basic and timeless things, and realise that not so long ago this was what existence was like for most people, before distractions turned our lives into a streaming blur of sensation.

You have the opportunity to notice time passing slowly. You can pay attention to things that would normally be drowned out by the background noise of Life in the Big City: the sound of raindrops, or wind, watching the changing clouds as they move across the sky, noticing the taste of your food, the smell of damp forest, the full moon rising, the sound of birds in flight or song, the crunch of your footsteps, your breathing, the beat of your heart.

You can find a balance between action and thought.

Plenty of action. Lots of thought.

Creating the time and space to find some perspective for your life, that is a treasure.

This is an extract from the e-book, soon to be a paperback, called, err,

100 Days | Walking Te Araroa

I recount my thoughts and experiences when I walked the South Island section of Te Araroa, from Bluff to Ship Cove in the Summer of 2015. Oh, and there were 16 days getting as far south as is sensible to walk in New Zealand, down on Stewart Island/Rakiura, as a pre-amble.

The book is based on a blog originally written for my tramping New Zealand website.