The fog takes over quickly up here, and today that added to the fairytale feel of the forest. Kasey was made “Rock Design Director”, I was named “Transplant Director”, and Brittany was named “Director of Landscape and Aesthetics”. Our resumés will be impressive.
Brittany and I were digging up beautiful flax that was on the trail, and replanting near the trail. Ross was using the ax to clear the way. Marion was moving rock and when he walked through the forest and saw our progress, he said, “This is storybook. This is exactly what we want. Unbelievable.” He was right. With the rocks outlining the trail in the forest covered in moss, it looked like where Hansel and Gretel got lost or where the dwarves saved Snow White or where Rapunzel ran away with her mate.
We work from around 8am to 5:30pm, with lunch and tea breaks in between. We earned our hamburgers on the grill, poached egg on top, grilled onions, potato wedges with REAL ketchup, and mixed veggies. Marion poured the red wine for our talk about religion and politics.
Tonight I showered with about 10 ounces of hot water boiled on the stove, just behind one tarp hanging on two tree limbs in the middle of nowhere. It was exhilarating and beautiful and freezing cold. I stood in the bucket of water to try to stay warm, but a breeze would swing by and remind me I was 4,000 feet high in the mountains of New Zealand. Naked.
We wake up in pain. Mostly my calves still, but now my back from the constant whacking away at the grass (using a tool called a grubber). The outsides of my feet hurt from the constant walking up and down the slope without proper ankle support. But what I’ve learned from this adventure in New Zealand so far, is that you just keep going. You keep going until you forget about your calf and knee pain and you distract yourself with the way the daisies have grown in the midst of rubble or the way the rain is falling miles away but you can see the downpour from 4,000 feet up. Or the sound of the tui bird flapping its wings in a panicky way. It often sounds like they’ve lost control and will crash near you, but they surely haven’t. Then before you know it, you’ve worked for three hours and look up at the trail that wasn’t there when you woke up. A feeling of accomplishment overwhelms the exhaustion and wins.
A lot of gravel is needed to even out the trail, so a crusher was delivered via helicopter today. We hiked up the unnamed hill and loaded literal tons of rocks in fadges. It was like a lifelike game of Jenga, but if you lose, you might die. One wrong rock moved, and several others fell with it. We had to wait thirty minutes after we heard the helicopter before Wayne would come pick up our rock bags. So I found a long rock for my back and a few flat ones for my tush and took a nap in the sun. When I woke up, I started singing the first thing that popped in my head, “Oooh, my name is Ticklish Reuben from way down in old Vermont. I’ve been tickled by almost everything…” I sang in a low voice, just like the puppet used to for VBS at NDBC. The memories flooded in and I laughed that this was the song from fifteen years ago was on the forefront of my mind. “I’ve been tickled by a feather, I’ve been tickled by a wasp. I’ve been tickled by a yellow bumblebee.”
My job was to run from the unnamed rock hill to the furthest part of the track so far, so the helicopter could drop a literal ton of rocks near me for us to use along the trail later. I ran to make it in time. I heard the helicopter and watched as it flew directly at me, with the bag of rocks hanging about 50 feet from it. It swayed back and forth in the wind and I thought, “Good Lord, this could hit me and take me out.” I decided to not look. I looked at the ground and saw the shadow of the bag of rocks coming right for my head. It dropped about two feet away from me. I grabbed the rope and unhooked it. Even the hook itself could’ve taken me out. Exhilarating.
Ross taught us his favorite card game called “Oh, Hell!” It’s full of betting and tricks and trumps and Ross kept trumping us. Instead of saying, “Oh, hell,” it was easier to say, “Damnit, Ross!” Then on the trail we kept it up. For example:
Ross: “I only brought apricot muesli bars for our break time.”
Ross came in from using the phone and announced, “My son is engaged.” We cheered and then we said,
“How did he ask?”
“Where were they?”
“What’s the ring look like? Princess cut?”
“What did she say?!”
Ross shrugged. “Damnit, Ross!” we exclaimed. Looking exhausted, he went outside to call back.
We love Ross. So this is said with all the endearment we can muster, never in anger.
Roger and Sara are NZ trampers who are on a six day hiking trip. They made it to the hut today, on Sara’s 66th birthday. Roger introduced himself to us while on the trail, “We’re your closest neighbors. It took us 15 hours to walk here.”
Kasey cleverly retorted, “That is good to know in case we need to borrow a cup of sugar.”
After our “showers”, Sara said, “You guys look remarkably clean for dirty bush walkers.” We poured Sara a glass of birthday wine, broke off a piece of birthday chocolate, and listened to Roger and Marion play tunes on their guitar and fiddle. I read the “Hut Book” full of notes while they played a song Marion wrote about this trail. This is a special place and it’s overwhelming to be a part of it.
It’s surprising how many trampers are already coming through to hike an unfinished track! We made new friends tonight. Phillipa (mid 50s, high school technology teacher), Greta (late 30s, my favorite, high school nutrition teacher), Bronwyn (early 40s, radiographer who ironically fell and needs an x-ray), and Joanne (mid 60s, doing the hike on her own, always forgets her headlamp is on so everyone squints and shields their eyes when she talks to them) have arrived and the Ghost Lake Hut has never heard anything like it. The little hut has been inundated with stories and laughter and card games and people talking over one another. Greta will ask Marion a question and Phillipa will ask another right as Marion starts to answer Greta’s. We stood back and watched in awe. But after five minutes, we joined in and I laughed until my stomach hurt. I have four new lovely friends that remind me of characters from my new favorite book, The Secret Life of Bees (has more to say about extraordinary people than bees).
We played Ross’ card game “Oh, Hell!” and had a blast. Tonight we played for the last chocolate fudge slice Ross’ wife made. The stakes were high so the competition was terribly fierce. By the last hand, we were playing by the light from Phillipa’s headlamp. Bronwyn won fair and square.
I taught the gang how to play cards like my dad does. It’s a nice way to feel at home. My smile was so big when I heard Ross make the sizzle sound when he set down a card he knew would win the hand. And Bronwyn said, “Sheeshkamooski” when she was losing.