The sun is shining in that liminal space between summer and autumn as leaves carpet the ground after their last grasp, while bold blackbirds harvest the remaining shrivelled grapes and ants drain the juice leaving dry shells on the vine.

In my Cape Coast neighbourhood there are more people out than most pre-pandemic weekends, savouring the time before clouds and rain and shorter, darker, colder days. Neighbours, and those not seen before, walking, being walked by dogs, jogging, cycling, pushing pushchairs, trying to herd runaway children.

There is a strange and eerie lightness … nods, East Coast ‘waves’, conversations over fences and safe distances … and smiles, lots of friendly smiles. It’s ironic, like an enforced holiday that defies the terms lockdown, virus, pandemic … national emergency.

I like the term rahui used by some, including Ngati Kahungunu; a temporary order for protection or preservation often for conservation, to allow an area to recover from overuse or be restored to balance.

It might mean to remain separate from people, land or things that are tapu (sacred or prohibited). Maybe we, he tangata, are tapu until this passes?

It’s like someone hit the pause button on the big perpetual motion machine and many of us, but not all, get a chance to hop off for a while.

And yet there’s that insidious underlying concern as we try not to be fearful, perhaps placing a teddy bear in the window and believing the best in each other.

Old world upside down

That uncertainty is real … the messages are everywhere in these ghost towns created by our absence, with only essential workers and a reduced supply chain keeping the wheels greased so we don’t stall completely.

And the messages keep coming not to walk or cycle too far from your home. No hunting, fishing, swimming, surfing, tramping … no rugby or racing … but plenty of beer. It’s like the ‘traditional Kiwi way of life’ has been turned upside down.

‘This is a Covid-19 announcement … wash your hands … wash your hands … stay at home … stay…..’
And we get mean if we think someone isn’t complying. There’s a number to call and every other kind of help ‘please wait … you are number 20 in the queue’.

We near strung up the health minister for breaking the rules none of us were completely clear on when he drive 20kms from his home to a beach … then that cheeky paddle boarder off Perfume Point.

It’s a little different on the Cape Coast … we fly pirate flags, ride horses and quad bikes along the road, call newcomers ‘blow-ins’, double-park for a chat and expect other vehicles to understand that’s how we roll.

No-one mentions the six surfers at Te Awanga Point or those surfcasting along our shores … but we are watching. The sign between villages ‘Locals only’ was demolished within days, then resurrected. We’re still quite territorial and concerned for our elders and kids.

Tension tantrums

Over Easter the landscape cycle track meandering along the coast like a limestone Yellow Brick Road, was abuzz with activity even as we entered the third week of lockdown.

Our mid-morning Saturday breakfast on the observation deck confirmed that beneath the smiling exterior some of us are stretched.

A rumbling old classic V8 pulled up and inconsiderately parked on the track while the driver surveyed the landscape from the crest, minutes later a cyclist coming the other way sent out a string of abuse.

The retort was equally abrasive. In the distracted moment the cyclist hit his brakes, the bike over-ended and he bit the yellow dust. There were further blokish words and gestures of the kind that typically lead to fisticuffs.

“You @#$%, you’re clearly not a local … stopping for a redneck are you?”  “Actually, I was born here %$#@, I’ve lived here all my life.” The posturing continued nearly breaching the two metre rule as the unfortune meeting of neighbours ended with promises of pictures on social media.

Supply chain challenges

There was a long queue at the 4 Square waiting to stock up on essentials, where I noted the diminishing sections on otherwise well-stocked shelves. Flour always in demand, chocolate depleted, soap and cleaning items in short supply.

Conversations are philosophic – enjoying the pause, ‘we needed this’ – glimmers of life from bubble escapees. There’s an ease like walls of busyness and preoccupation have been breached.

The queues at Napier and Hastings supermarkets are much longer and the tensions and wariness more pronounced. Maybe appreciating each other in our own locations is part of the new normal; buy local, think local, work from home … drive less?

A lazy day catching up on messaging, weekend papers, picking the remaining tomatoes, sweeping the falling leaves for compost; sampling Paula’s damaged feijoa and date, nut-laden cake that fell from the cake tin.

Sometimes broken things are undervalued. Delicious. And no, I’ll have to wait until tomorrow for another slice.

An evening walk along the track where little gifts keep appearing; painted stones with messages left on larger rocks; some clearly children’s projects, others from artistic locals. A stone with an Emily Dickenson poem ….“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul…”.

And on the beach a series of driftwood poles in bright striped colours appeared overnight next to a bright yellow chair. Public art icons of neighbourliness like the hop scotch squares on footpaths and the left-over ‘Happy Easter’ chalk mosaic on the road in Te Awanga.

Made for connection

From our bubble, the beach and landscape and ever changing sky and all their moods are ours in this semi-quarantine. It’s hard when everything is about ‘don’t touch, keep your distance, stay in your bubble’. We were made for connection.

The technology is wonderful – smartphones and computers, email, social media (despite endless 5G conspiracy posts) and virtual meetings over Zoom, Skype, Facebook Messenger, where we can still be keyboard warriors seemingly still in charge?

Some of us are ‘very happy, thank you’ in isolation with loved ones, others a bit grumpy, maybe locked down with unresolved conflict, fretting about lost jobs, diminishing bank accounts and an unknown future.

Perhaps the challenge is to use this time post-Easter lockdown to wisely face our own little deaths and disappointments, re-balance, and find fresh ways to think about the odds that seem stacked against us.

Maybe we need to claim those Easter promises, that regardless of Friday circumstances Sunday always comes around and like the sunrise there’s new hope each morning whether we see it or not.

When the grape vine leaves have been fed to the compose bin, I have a choice to ignore the spindly branches or prune back hard in the hope of replicating this year’s bumper crop.

Life’s like that, we need to take stock and see what’s valuable for the journey ahead and whether there’s room for some literal and figurate pruning. Some suggest this an enforced Sabbath; time for a rest, to think wonder, ponder, read, reflect and reimagine?

I love my Cape Coast community by the sea under threat from compromised immunity; shut down but still feeling free with the rhythm of the ocean and sea breeze.  There’s something in this renewed neighbourliness that is good for the soul, amplified by acts of generosity, nods and colourful additions to the cycleway.

Kindness does not recognise distance; always finding its own frequency to transmit beyond the bubble.

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4 Comments

  1. Thanks Keith for your words . Yes this is a special place to live it’s good to be in a place where there is that sense of community and asking each another how we are. It’s ironic that I have had more conversations at a Distance than ever b3fore
    .Hoping that the lock down brings us all closer.

  2. That was fun to read Keith. Thanks. I’m in Napier South and everyone is out talking, biking, walking, and things are undefinably friendlier and slower even as we carefully make sure we have the required social distance. I’ve had leisurely conversations with neighbours that seemed not possible before this lock-down. I have particularly loved seeing the dads and mums exploring the neighbourhood, walking/skateboarding/biking with their children.

  3. Thank you Keith for a great article about our Cape Coast. Graeme and I so appreciate the fact that We live Here.

  4. Thanks Keith beautifully observed and capturing the undefinable sense that this is a very precious moment in time that I think many of us are feeling

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