Saturday, March 3, 2012

Birdlings Flat

It was the summer of early 2010 when me and Ben took mum’s little white Corsa out of Christchurch. It was a semi-spontaneous decision, I guess you could say, being made only the night before amidst talk of Huck Finn, the romance of the outdoors (so fixated upon in New Zealand literature), and the art of bird-watching one of us had recently read about in a ‘How To’ manual borrowed from the library (possibly written by Steve Braunius[1], who we had a rather shameless Sunday morning crush on back then). All this because of a failed attempt at building a raft, an idea taken from Twain (the week previous we filled up the boot of the aforementioned hatchback with bits of wood, kitchen utensils, plastic shells once homes of lightbulbs perhaps or other breakable items – junk mostly obtained from the Supershed–a yard full of other peoples rubbish/second-hand treasures–with the intention[2] of a fully-fledged luxury liner[3], all of which still remained stuffed into that little boot, dismissed, albeit not forgotten[4]).

I picked Ben up at 10am. I parked in the driveway, tooted my horn twice and he appeared, closing the door, a mug of coffee in hand[5]. He was wearing his ‘adventure hat’: a straw hat frayed at the edges, missing some weaves at the top and on the rim so that in the sun, dappled light played at his feet; ripped blue jeans and a red plaid shirt.

“Hi. Sorry. Didn’t have time to finish this”, he said motioning to his mug.
“Or put on your shoes…”
“Heh. Yeah”.
            “I thought we could go out to Birdlings Flat.
            “Yeah. Sounds cool”.
            “Oh, and I brought this”, I said handing him a pocket guide to New Zealand birds. “It has the names of all these birds and the Maori ones too and the locations you can find them and the size and weight of each bird as well as info on their habitats”. (Though it’s not like we were particularly interested in the science behind the birds[6], we weren’t avid bird-lovers, it was more we liked to watch them walk, study their different gaits, the way they interacted with their environment, the way the Shag would dive into the water, the way the seagulls would shriek at each other and some, thinking they were particularly clever would often feign lepracy or an amputated leg in an attempt to haggle a chip or two).
 We passed two signs. One said ‘REAL FRUIT ICECREAMS’. The other said ‘LAVENDER FARM’.  
 “A lavender farm. I love lavender,” I said. “I like plants that grow aggressively”.
            “Oh yeah?” said Ben, “I like climbing trees”.
“Hah, you do too. (Once when I was a child (once with an entrepreneurial streak; once[7] intent on not being poor and really wanting a new Pokémon trading card deck), I cut the lavender that lined our driveway (and crushed the flowers in my hands). I wrapped the perfumated crumbs in small calico sheets I had painted purple and bundled them up (like dumplings), secured with a piece of sting at the top. I sold them on the street, a big sign “LAVENDER POSIES” taped to a desk and illustrated the health benefits of lavender to passersby[8]. Smiling cutely, of course[9])”.
“Cool. I made up planets and hybrids of animals and languages and drew them in my school books. I’m hoping that one day they will be worth thousands”.
“When will that be?” I asked.
“When they come true”.

We stopped at a dairy and got some coke. Ben looked out the windows and pointed at things; I stared ahead[10].

Ben told me about Gondwalaland, before the earthquakes that broke everything up. That Earth is always changing and that maybe we could evolve backwards one day when our resources get used up. That maybe we will grow gulls and live in the sea. That he still eats meat because life is too short not too and, that Birdlings Flat reminded him of Christchurch. Chirstchurch. As if it hadn’t been built on a swamp. As if it hadn’t been colonized. A virginal alter-ego. As if it hadn’t been. Of course this had no meaning to us then. Not as it does now, perhaps. Ben often described things like this. Idealising things that could never be. A sad romantic. We drew faces on the stones that quilted the shore. Faces that were tired, happy, bored. Faces that were grey. Faces that couldn’t feel when we skimmed them into the waves.

It was gusty out on the flat. The wind came off the sea. Goosebumps grew over Ben’s arms; the hairs stood up on mine. We ran over stone-dunes that licked our calves. Ben panted something about our feet getting eaten. There was a large rock in the distance. Ben raced ahead. A thin moisture grew from the centre of his back and wet his t-shirt.

When I finally caught up to him he was picking weeds from the base of the rock. He looked at me, crossed his legs, looked at a watch that he wasn’t wearing and leaned back laughing.

“Oh fuck off”, I said.
“You’re just jealous”.
“You’re a dick”.
“Well are we gonna do this?”

The rock was a lot bigger up close. I remember how the wind had picked up. Birds were finding it hard to fly against it. Climbing hurt my lungs. Ben stayed close to me.
       “Well, what do you think?”
       “It’s nice”.
       “This is just like The Lion King, don’t you think?”
       “Heh. Yeah”.
       “Yeah! There’s the Shadowlands over there”
“And this is Pride Rock, right?”
       “I can’t see any birds I haven’t seen before”
       “Just Shags”.
       “Heh. Just shags”.
       “Do you think people get more philisophical when they are high?”
       “Probably. Or at least they think they do. Depends how high”.
       “Oh ha-ha. I mean when people climb stuff. And they look out over the land. It’s a new perspective. It’s different. They start to think about life in a different way”.
       “Like, more objectively you mean?”
       “Yeah. No. I dunno. It’s just. This is really nice. I feel like I can do stuff up here. Like I left my life down there and up here I am something else. I’m a bird. I can fly”.
       “I’m not sure. I guess… You would be a pelican if you were a bird”.
       “Pelicans don’t even live in New Zealand. You would be a pukeko”
       “They’re carnivorous aren’t they?”

            We sat there for about an hour. Looking I guess at mainly rocks and sea. But it was something else gluing us there. Something sure. Something we shared, keeping us safe.

“They're protected”.

[1]  although maybe it wasn’t him. I just remember that he wrote one of those books.  Maybe it was the one on wine tasting. Or looking at the stars.
[2]  quixotic
[3]  the only lining being punctured, rubber tires
[4]  especially around tight corners at high speeds
[5]  and an old, worn Chuck Taylor in the other
[6]  I cant remember names other than Shag and Seagull and Sparrow
[7]  once
[8]  calming; aids sleep
[9]  I think I sold two posies. Maybe three. Made a total of $1.50
[10] I was driving, remember.