Monday morning’s steady rain perfectly reflected my somber mood. I didn’t want to go home. Not by a long stretch. I’d just found a whole new world, and already, I was going to have to say good-bye.
But I still had a trip through Nelson left, I reminded myself. Ulla had very generously agreed to accompany me on what can be described as a frenetic shopping spree. I still had presents to buy for all of my family and friends back home. And a million postcards to write. If I couldn’t bring New Zealand itself back, I would bring a few mementos.
We started in the center of Nelson at the giftshop across from the Information Center. My shopping almost immediately became less about finding some thing, and more about trying to limit how many somethings I'd found. There were tikis, paua shells, paua shell earrings and Christmas ornaments, wool products, socks, hats, shirts, just so much!
I haphazardly made a quick list in my head of friends and family. It’s going to be a very Kiwi Christmas this year! And then I began hunting and gathering. We had (for women, yes, this is a must!) to visit three more giftshops – with a short break at the Swedish bakery for sustenance to carry me through – before finishing up the shopping. It will be very…woolly in my house this December, but I think my family will like that.
Pleased with my shopping exploits, I was more or less ready to begin to take my good-byes when Oliver told me there was one last place we had to visit: Page and Blackmore Booksellers. My eyebrows shot up in amazement. New Zealand had one more surprise left up its sleeve.
A year ago when I’d begun my research for information on French Pass and Pelorus Jack - themes of my present young adult novel - I’d come across Oliver’s book about Arthur Elsmlie, who’d settled French Pass, in the New Zealand national library's online catalogue. A few hours of research proved that the title was, very unfortunately, impossible to get in the U.S. So, like a good researcher, I began scouring New Zealand stores online. Page and Blackmore, in Nelson, had the title. What’s more, the owner knew the author, Oliver Sutherland.
The path I’d been on for a year came full circle that morning when I walked into the store and met Peter Rigg. Peter had been the one who'd generously agreed to ask Oliver if I might contact him all those months ago. Peter had started my historical, then virtual, and ultimately, very real trip to New Zealand. And now, here I was shaking Peter’s hand. He acted as if it had been nothing, an every day event. For my novel - and for me - it has been everything but. It has taken me halfway around the globe to a whole new land, new culture, and most importantly, new friends. Here's a shout out to you, Peter. Thanks!
My head still reeling from this last great surprise, we turned and headed home for lunch, and then from there, to the airport. It had been a week of wonders in New Zealand. I’d experienced a lifetime of experiences in so little time, and now, now it was time to get back to my story, back to my characters, back to the world I’d created around this impressive stretch of New Zealand land and history, and weave in the details and delights I’d experienced.
So I wasn’t really saying goodbye to New Zealand that Monday afternoon when I boarded my plane in Nelson to make the long journey back to this side of the globe. As I sit here and write now, I know that it will be many months before I ever do that - actually, maybe never.
For now, my characters are knocking at the door of my mind, eager to get out into the New Zealand that I've seen and experienced. My mind is racing with ways to improve my story, nuances to add, flavors and textures that have come to life in full color since I've been there. But most of all, most of all my heart is buried deep in the rich folds and breathtaking peaks of the New Zealand I've come to know. I've had that rare experience we all happen upon now and again along this path we call life - I've been awed.
Haere ra, New Zealand. Until we meet again!