I had only ever visited New Zealand in late spring or summer, usually around Christmas when the beaches are warming up and the days are long. So before we moved, Isaac warned me about the winter weather. “It rains. A lot,” he said. Being from Oregon I promised him I had seen plenty of rain in my life. I love the rain. Especially after a decade living in thirsty California.
After plenty of warm winter sunshine our first week here, the rains finally arrived last week. The kids stared out the window, having never seen such a downpour, and the sound of it on our corrugate roof outmatched the sound machines I always turn on during their naps and bedtimes. It was the kind of weather where everything indoors feels damp.
We wanted to start up the wood stove first thing in the morning and stoke it all day. Unfortunately we hadn’t thought ahead when the first few days of rain arrived – we had no dry kindling, so starting it up was a challenge and filled the house with smoke. That meant we had to open the windows, which defeated the whole purpose of the thing. My in-laws advised us to stash sticks and kindling under the house for days like today. We’re learning all the tricks as we go.
The uppermost window of the old house we’re living looks down on the valley below, where a creek winds through pastures to meet the sea not too far away. We watched from this perch all day as the creek swelled and water filled the fields. Floods aren’t unusual here, but I’d never seen one like this during all my summer visits. We got the kids in their rain suits and boots and went down the steep hill to check it out, only to find the bottom of our driveway submerged in knee-deep water. The road was covered too. Thankfully I’d headed in to the little store here to pick up groceries the day before. There was no way we were getting anywhere until the rain stopped and the flood drained out to sea with the tide.
One of our family’s values is “adventure”, and I’ve personally always loved when things go a little astray like this. What an adventure! We splashed in the water and sent leaves flowing into the flood like little boats. Not too far down the road a newborn calf was huddled on a mound of dirt just inches above the waterline, its mother standing in the water beside it. We checked on it later in the day to make sure it was alright.
With two kids, we couldn’t afford to put off our laundry for too long, even with the rain. During a break in the weather I hung a load out on the lines. We forgot about it and went to bed. When the wind picked up in the night, shaking the windows and whistling in the chimney above us, I remembered – the laundry! In the morning it was soaking wet, of course. We squeezed it out and strung it up above the wood stove, which lent our clothes a nice smokey smell. It’s the same smell my clothes and sleeping bag used to have after a camping trip as a kid. I’d breathe it in nostalgically when we unpacked back home at the end of a trip. I have never wanted a camping trip to end, even as an adult. So when Isaac pointed out that, “living out here is like camping,” I smiled. It’s an adventure, that’s for sure.
Some days the rain has matched my mood this past week, with bouts of homesickness. I tucked our toddler into bed one night and snuggled his blankets – all of which we brought on the plane with us from home – up around his face. “This is just like your bed back home,” I said. He buried his face in them and replied, “they smell like home.” I quickly realised I can’t say that anymore – this is our home now, though I don’t quite feel that way yet. I still remember where every item was kept in our kitchen back in San Francisco; which shelf to reach for to make my tea in the morning. I can picture the inner contents of my dresser drawers and the arrangement of the pillows on my bed as if it’s all right in front of me. But none of that exists anymore. Someone else lives in our apartment, and all our clothes and cups and bedding are packed into boxes in a container waiting to be shipped to us from Oakland. We won’t get our things until Christmas, due to these Covid-related delays.
Thankfully the island is teaching me patience, with its life-halting rainstorms and all-around slowness. We’ve accepted that we won’t get any of our belongings from “home” for many months, and have adopted the contents of my in-laws’ old house as our own. I’ve accepted that the weather may cancel our plans at any moment, and that a flood might prevent us from going into town to get the mail or another packet of those cookies we just ran out of (something I wanted to do yesterday and couldn’t because of another driveway-blocking rainstorm).
And I’ve accepted that it might take some time to mourn the life I had back in San Francisco. Maybe a couple of months, maybe a year. I miss the playgrounds we knew like the back of our hands, and the cafe where we recognised all the baristas. I miss our bike rides, and people-watching. I miss my friends.
We traded it for adventure. At the end of my life, I know I won’t be sorry we did. The grass here is as green as I can imagine, and the daffodils are all coming up. The sky is broad and the stars are so bright. It’s all so different, so beautiful. But that doesn't remove the need I have for mourning what I gave up.
The rains stopped and the flood cleared just in time for our toddler’s third birthday. We made it to the post office, where a load of packages from family and things we had ordered for him awaited. All that was left in the fields were a few puddles. Nature is so resilient, after all. I’m hopeful that living so close to it will make me so too.