Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Chathams

We are here! It took 27 hours of travel time, but we finally landed on the misty isle and ran directly from plane to van in the sideways rain and slammed the door shut. It's cold and wet, but most of all, it's windy. Just as I had expected! Our room is in an old inn built in 1870, but the windows and bathroom are new--which turned out to be good, since the wind howled and screamed and tried its best to sneak in through gaps. By morning, after a good, long sleep, we woke up to...fog and wind and rain.

Yesterday, our first real day here, we went to the Kopangi Marai (the meeting house of the Moriori). I had no idea it existed until on our way here, so I was excited and nervous. We were welcomed by the only Ieriki (Chieftain and Elder), named Mana, who first welcomed us, brought us to the long post in the center of the octagonal room, and began chanting in Moriori. He welcomed us to the House of Peace, as it is called, and then spoke to the ancestors on our behalf. The entire time, I tried to imagine him as an Ieriki in the 1830s, dressed in an albatross feather cloak, singing out a welcome. Then, Mana took us to a wooden plank hung vertically in one corner and told us about himself and the building. Then he gave us a chance to speak, and I told him about why we were there (for my book, naturally). Then he took us around the room to each plank in each corner, and told us about the styles of carvings and how each represented a long-gone ancestor (and in a few cases, some ancestors yet-to-be). We spent hours there, talking. Well, actually, Jim and I were listening, Mana was speaking, and Elizabeth was running around the place with a large plastic robot she found in the toy box.

Today, we rented a car and drove around the island. We had planned to go to Te Awapatiki, the mouth of the big lagoon, but it's a 6 km trek across peat, and since it was still raining, our hosts kindly suggested we forego that idea. So we drove around and saw the island. It's easier if I list what we saw:
1. rolling green hills, polka-dotted in sheep (and nearly half were lambs)
2. black swans (not native birds)
3. a tiny Anglican church built 150 years ago or so
4. lots and lots of wetland, peat, lakes, and streams
5. wind-beaten ocean waves in turquoise and lapiz
6. doubled-over evergreen trees
7. a grove of kopi trees, and a dozen or more dendroglyphs
8. basalt colums beaten by the sea
9. Hokopoi (a crucial hill in my novel)
10. Whangaroa Harbor (where my heroine is from), nestled by cliffs and protected from the wind a bit
11. a serene beach with sky-blue waves (too bad it's a frosty day)
12. a rusting minesweeper left to rot in the inlet
13. the grave of the last Moriori and his statue

Then we rushed back to the hotel and had tea. It's called tea, but it's actually dinner, which was a bit of confusion the first night.

Tomorrow, I plan to stay inside and read read read the historical books I've found in the inn's library. (They have out-of-print books with critical anthropological and historical info that I can't find anywhere else.) Then, with Elizabeth and Jim outside, I'll sit at my desk and write write write. There are some things I've got to change, now that I know better.


Monday, October 1, 2007


I wrote 2,000 words last night! (And they weren't all that bad, either!) This may not sound like a lot to the professionals, but it was a personal record.
And other good news: Jim just got a job! We'd been biting our nails, hoping he'd get something to tide us over until he starts Grad School, and finally, he got one. It's with the Navy, in Maryland somewhere. He starts in November, right after we get back from NZ. The job is temporary, and goes until the end of September of 08. We might even be able to afford some sort of part-time daycare so I can write at times other than middle of the night.
Now we're off to the store to find Elizabeth some rubber-soled shoes. She's been wearing Robeez, but she needs something more weatherproof and hike-worthy for our trip to the lower hemisphere. We already got her a bright-yellow raincoat from REI. (I was surprised they had something there her size.) She refuses to wear the hood, but maybe she won't mind so much if it's actually raining.