A Place to Stand
July 23, 2013
I wake up only a little sore from yesterday and am ready to balance out. I figure with the four hour kayaking trip, I will be just as sore above as below. I arrive at the Kahu Kayak center which is also based in Marahau, and meet Rene (like Renee, the girl’s name), my guide for the day. He is a happy, friendly guy, with a delightful gap-toothed grin. He is a little shorter than me but very solidly built. He told me later that “a very long time ago” he competed for the World Title in Thai Boxing and lost to the champion on points. He does look like he could kick some serious butt. It will just be he and I in a two man kayak. He helps me put together all my gear. I strip off my jeans and put a pair of waterproof pants over my woolies (long johns), a pair of neoprene booties over my socks, a big waterproof jacket over my two fleece tops, a neoprene cover that goes around my waist like a skirt and then attaches to the kayak, and a life jacket. This is serious business, the water is extremely cold and while Rene says that he promises not to dump me, accidents do occasionally happen and it’s best to be prepared. It takes nearly forty minutes to dress me out, get my essentials into a waterproof bag (camera and Michael’s ashes), teach me how to get in and out and paddle properly, and how to light the flare if something were to happen to Rene.
Now that I am slightly freaked out by the extent of caution, but ready to go, we paddle out into the Cook Strait, the divide between the North and South islands of New Zealand. It is a beautiful sunny day, the water is absolutely calm. Rene is a wonderful guide, I only have to paddle and he steers. He gives me tips on how to use my core to do the work, not just my arms. He tells me all about the wildlife, both in the sea and on land, the geology of the Park, and a lot about the Maori, the Pacific Islanders who first discovered New Zealand. His wife is Maori and he is learning her language, customs and beliefs.
We paddle around the headlands I walked over yesterday and it takes me a while to find my rhythm, to not splash water into the kayak and to remember to look up since I am concentrating so hard on paddling correctly. Rene gently gives me very useful tips for the first ten or fifteen minutes, then he stops. Either I’m doing it right or he has given up on me learning the technique. The beaches are quiet and beautiful and for now, Rene and I are the only ones on the water.
After about an hour, I think he realizes how hard I’ve been working so we beach at Coquille Beach and he makes me a cup of tea. While he’s working on the tea, I put some of Michael’s ashes in the water. We sip our tea, and I tell Rene about my journey, about Michael and spreading his ashes all over New Zealand. I cry with Rene, he is very much in love with his wife and very empathetic. He keeps patting my shoulder, and saying he’s sorry. He tells me of a Maori belief, a concept essential to who they are as a people. It’s called turangawaewae (too-rang-ah-why-why) and translates literally to “a place to stand.” When Maori women give birth, they bury the placenta in a special place and this is that child’s turangawaewae. It can also mean a place where we feel empowered and connected to the earth, our place in the world, a reflection of an inner sense of security and foundation. Rene says that because I’ve sprinkled Michael’s ashes all over New Zealand, this country is now his turangawaewae. My own inner sense of security and foundation, my place in the world was all connected to Michael, he was my home. I am recalibrating all of that, and New Zealand feels like a place where I feel empowered but that’s because I’m choosing to be powerful. I’m choosing life, adventure, opening to new people, new things. For me and my personality, I have to do something really big to get my sense of safety and foundation back, to prove to myself through experience that I am strong enough to be in this world alone.
We leave the beach and paddle across to a small island about half a mile away. It is a bird sanctuary, no people on this land. It is also a seal nursery, and as we approach, I can hear birdsong of every variety as well as mama and baby seals calling to each other. We see seals all over the rocks and in the water. The pups are curious and come right up to the side of the kayak, swimming under and around us, popping up to peek at us. My neck starts to hurt as I whip my head from side to side, trying to follow them and snap pictures. Before we leave to go back to Watering Cove where the water taxi will pick us up, I sprinkle some more ashes among the shallows where the seals play.