For the past two or three nights I've struggled to get off to sleep straight away. Images of places I've visited this week keep floating in and out of my mind. It seems I have a lot to process from the last two days when I travelled to the frontier of the South Island's south-west,
to touch base again with my favourite part of the planet; the place I will always call home,
a place famous for its twisted, bent-over trees fashioned that way by freezing, sub-Antarctic winds blasting them with salt.
The Princess Mountains, western backdrop to the South Island's south coast and Te Waewae Bay.
A very old house and once an Orepuki landmark; my great-great-aunty Mary's house. A house known by everyone in my childhood simply as 'Aunty Mary's house'. Apparently she would sit on the verandah that used to run along the front of the house, and converse with anyone passing by.
My family's ancestors in this area, go back to Kati Mamoe (one of whom is great-great Aunty Mary) plus some of my European ancestors lived here five or six generations back. Both my parents were born and bred in Orepuki, once a thriving, pioneer town - a gold-mining settlement - after which it became a robust, rural community. Now it is a 'ghost-town' and home to only a handful of families. It was my hometown for the first ten years of my life only, back in the 1950s and early '60s, but its impact as place - heightened no doubt by all those ancestors from there - has for me proved deep and lifelong.
Every two years (that's about all I can last without reconnecting) I make the pilgrimage south to greet the land once more and look down roads I looked down as a child - feeling like a giant in comparison to when I walked down them then.
So much has changed. Every year more of the roads and former homes and structures have disappeared back into the earth.
The land hasn't always looked as smooth as this. My father helped with the clearing and the transforming of the land from scrub and gully to pasture, but never lived long enough to see it looking quite this fine.
Every year more has been cleared and swept-clean, emerald-green paddocks (breathtakingly beautiful the day I was there on a clear, still day; the last day of autumn) fold and roll towards Foveaux Strait from the bush-covered Longwoods; a range of hills that run from Riverton in the east, to Tuatapere in the west.
Lately, a resurgence in the dairy industry has meant more of a push to bring the land back to the dairying area it once was in the 1950s and 1960s, when 'Puki had a local dairy factory; one that even made cheese. I can remember as a young child tasting a cube of the cheese from there, offered to me from a 'tester' tube. It was the first and last time I've tasted cheese so creamy and delicious.
There is now no trace whatsoever of our house, or of the many streets, shops and houses that used to be here. No more railway station, post office, bank, plunket, library ... the school is now a fisherman's private residence, draped with fishing buoys and nets.
After paying my respects to relatives in the cemetery with its five-star views, I drove up to the foothills of the Longwoods, taking the road through where my grandparents' farm was.
Where the road dips down into a gully and over a small bridge, I heard again the primal, secretive rush of the tea-coloured Taunore Creek (famous for its deposit of gemstones on the beach at its oulet).
I silently thanked my late Uncle Bill (McKenzie) for having the foresight to leave a stand of native bush as a reserve at the top of the farm he'd worked all his life. I can certainly vouch for the crawlies (fresh-water crayfish) that this creek is home to; although I haven't tasted one for over forty years now.
I re-visit this spot many times in my imagination. It is here that as a child I first appreciated how beautiful land meeting ocean could be. I remember summer days here, my Uncle Jack's shearing-shed generator chugging away in the background, a skylark shrilling above and foxgloves in the gully. I remember being here when my father was ploughing; the smell of earth, bush and creek ... life couldn't be any more blissful - and never has been.
As the afternoon unfolded, the feeling I carry of being some sort of a guardian of this part of the country, was being confirmed. That sounds very high and mighty and I don't mean it to be at all. There is no presumption intended, it's more a quiet, strong connection to the place that can't be denied. This is farther affirmed by a sense of the ancestors at my back, supporting and strengthening this connection.
I felt I was a purveyor of blessing and goodwill towards this land that so many have their eyes on for the potential it holds for off-shore oil-fields. It has already survived such ravages as forest-clearing and gold and coal mining; now it has this new threat to face. I can only hope that the reputation this place has for foul weather and icy gales will prove to be some sort of barrier to any rewarding exploitation.