Castle Hill, again

by Mary Beth

The rules for travel in New Zealand eased a little, two weeks ago. Previously, people were not allowed to drive anywhere – except to the grocery store, the doctor, or the pharmacy. Now, people were allowed to drive short distances, and to go on short, easy hikes that were close to home. This was a huge relief.

This past weekend, they went back to a favorite place, Castle Hill, where the erosion of the limestone rocks created a mysterious and exciting maze of bizarrely-shaped boulders on the side of a mountain. They went both Saturday and Sunday, because one day was not enough.

Cora had recently come to the conclusion that if Annie did something, she should do it, too. If Annie could climb a rock, Cora could climb a rock. If Annie laughed, Cora laughed. If Annie held out her hand to Cora, Cora took it and walked with her – even if she had been previously refusing to walk.

Annie did hold hands with Cora as they were walking up the long dirt road leading up into the mountains – some of the time. But she often got distracted and forgot, or had to dance around with her arms above her head, or suddenly had to sprint up the path a little way before stopping and staring dreamily into space. “Hanna! Hanna!” Cora would cry, reaching her hand out towards her sister. She would plant her feet firmly on the ground, making it clear that she refused to go any further without assistance. “Ennie!” Cora would call. “Ennie! Ennie!”

But by this time Annie had always absent-mindedly danced further on down the trail, totally forgetting her little sister. Cora would stomp her feet and open and close her hands in frustration. Finally, she would accept Daddy’s hand or Mommy’s hand, dejectedly, and trail after her big sister.

Seconds later, she and Annie would somehow be holding hands again, happily.

But the flat path started to creep upwards, and before they knew it, it had become steep. Cora tried to walk up but fell down. She stood up, took another two steps, then fell down again. She whimpered and held up her dirty hands to her mommy. “Booboo,” she said. She made a kissing noise. Her mommy leaned down and kissed her hands, then held her hand. They held hands for a few paces.

Cora slipped and fell down again, but her mommy caught her.

“Do you want me to carry you?” Mommy asked.

“Nope,” said Cora. This was one of her new favorite words. “Walk,” she explained.

“All right,” said her mommy. Annie was up ahead, bounding like a mountain goat, but periodically stopping and staring into space and singing to herself, before bounding off again.

Cora looked at her and took another step and fell down again. Her mommy slowed her fall again. She scrambled to her feet, and then tried to pull her hand out of her mommy’s grip. Annie, she noticed, wasn’t holding anyone’s hand. Her mommy did not let go of her hand.

“Yeggo!” Cora cried, frustrated. “Yeggo!” She gave a mighty pull and separated herself from her mommy, then tottered for a few steps along the side of the steep hill, and fell down. Her mommy grabbed for her before she tumbled down farther.

Her mommy picked her up and tried to carry her.

“Yeggo! Yeggo!” cried Cora, writhing in her mommy’s arms. “Walk! Walk!”

Her mommy staggered up the path, trying not to drop her. Finally the ground flattened out. It was grassy and undulating but not as steep. Her mommy put her down carefully and she started to chase after Annie. After about five more steps she tumbled down again. She pushed herself up and went on chasing Annie. Annie was climbing on a rock, dreaming of princesses, and didn’t notice. But Cora was free. And she was very happy.

The sunlight was glinting on her golden hair. She felt it. “Fuddy! Fuddy!” she cried, waving her hands above her head and grabbing at her hood, which she referred to as a Fudd, as she disapproved of words beginning with the letter H. Mommy came up and pulled her hood up over her head. Cora smiled and toddled off, then promptly tripped and fell over again.

The first time they found a cave, and Mommy suggested they go up to it very quietly in case there were bears, Annie considered for a little while. Then she decided that the risks were not worth the reward at the end. She would walk past the cave but would not actually go anywhere near the entrance.

Cora had no such fears. Cora was not scared of jumping off the mountain – something she had already tried to do – so why should she be afraid of a bear? She walked right into the cave and looked around. “Bear bear!” she said, bouncing up and down on her toes.

Annie cautiously came up to the entrance after her sister. She could see the whole cave. There weren’t really any hidden dark corners. She ducked her head down and crept inside, too.

“Any bears?” Mommy asked.

“Nope!” said Annie, after looking around carefully. Then, rolling her eyes a little, “There are no bears in New Zealand.”

Cora looked around anyway. One never knew when there might be a bear lurking.

“Cora thinks the bear is hiding. She thinks it’s playing peekaboo,” Mommy suggested.

“Peeka,” Cora agreed, continuing to look around.

“Wait. I KNOW they are in New Zealand,” said Annie, very seriously. “I know, I know, I know.” She pointed to the ground and lowered her voice. “They are under here.”

“What kind of bears?” Daddy asked.

“Polar bears!”

“Oh no! Those are the fiercest kind of bears!” Mommy cried.

“We are walking on them!” said Annie. “On the polar bears! They are under the ground!”

Cora squatted down and stared at the rocks her sister had pointed at. There were many things in life that mystified her. Watching her sister point to the ground and say there was a bear – that was mystifying. But so was brushing her teeth every night, and lately she had really been enjoying the nuances of that strange ritual. Maybe there was a bear where her sister was pointing, in amongst the gravelly rocks. Who knew? “Baby baby!” Cora suggested helpfully, pointing at the ground.

Annie nodded. “A baby polar bear.”

Cora looked very pleased with herself.

“Oh no! A baby polar bear? Is he going to eat us up?” Mommy asked.

“Crack! Crack!” Annie cried, stomping on the ground as if to break it open; then she swiped at the ground with her hand as if to grab something, and then put her hand to her mouth and made aggressive eating noises. “I ate it up!” she said.

“The polar bear baby? You ate it up?” Mommy asked, horrified.

“Yes!” Annie cried. “The baby!”

Cora watched her, then grabbed at the air near the ground and shoved it into her mouth, too. “Baby!” she echoed.

“We shared it!” Annie said proudly. Cora ate some more of the polar bear, and then fed some to her sister, making slurping noises as she fed Annie.

And then, somehow, for some reason, by accident or on purpose, we will never know, Cora shoved Annie; and then Annie had to shove Cora; and Cora had to shove Annie back; and Annie had no choice but to shove Cora. As it was a small, low-ceilinged cave this was a dangerous proceeding. Mommy tried to reason with them but they went on shoving until she physically pushed them both in different directions and advised they go explore.

Annie sauntered deeper into the cave. She was not scared of that cave any longer. She had shown those polar bears who was boss. Annie, in general, likes to eat scary animals that are aggressive towards her – she has eaten crocodiles in the past as well, and also lions. Now, armed with the knowledge that she could devour any bear she might meet, she disappeared into the back of the cave, where a crack of light suggested that there was a small connection with the outside world.

Her mommy was paying attention to Cora, who was having difficulty exiting the cave without bumping her head, and so no one was really paying attention when Annie said something about the cave being a tunnel. By the time her mommy turned around, all anyone could see of Annie was her feet, and then a few seconds later she was totally gone.

Cora had no choice but to reenter the cave and wander back towards where her sister had disappeared. She looked around. Where had Annie gone? Why had she left her little sister behind? What wonderful places was Annie exploring, what amazing discoveries was she making, while Cora was here in the cave? Oh, it was terrible to be left behind! Cora let out a wail as she thought and felt these things, and then tried to follow Annie.

Alas, alas, the tunnel was too low-ceilinged for Cora. Though larger than her sister, Annie was better at maneuvering on her stomach through the dirt without hitting her head on the jagged rocks above her. Cora tried, and hit her head, and cried. She persevered, and hit her head again. Her mommy was pulling her backwards but she resisted. She hit her head again. “Bonk,” she said through her tears. The pain was like adding insult to injury. She had been left behind! It felt like her world was ending. She cried and cried as her mommy dragged her out of the cave, and they left through the main entrance, defeated.

It took about a minute before she found her sister and was back to goofing off.

For Annie, Castle Hill was a magical playground. She could run around in the sunshine, and she could climb on the rocks.

She found thrones where she could be queen and beds she could lounge on. She rode a giant rock crocodile and fed it with a rock elephant. She got her daddy to lift her up to high places where she could sit and look down on everyone. She found more caves and tunnels to explore (after her adventures with the baby polar bear, none of these were scary), and narrow passages that they could barely squeeze through. She attended a royal wedding or two. She danced. And she couldn’t stop talking. Even when no one was listening, Annie talked. And sang. And talked some more.

Cora had no problem finding places to play in. She continued to fall over but did not let that stop her from having fun. She climbed. She fell, and then climbed some more. She explored the tunnels and caves as best she could. She ran around. In general, she ran away from her parents and towards her sister. When her sister was up high, she screamed and shouted as loud as she could until her parents put her up next to her sister. It was wonderful.

At one point, the girls found a natural rock slide and tried scooting down it, until their mommy produced a small ball; they rolled that down instead and saved their jeans. Daddy sat at the top and Mommy at the bottom. The girls were told that for safety reasons, only one girl at the top of the rock slide at a time. As usual, the girls felt a deep respect for rules and were very conscientious in following them.

Eventually, though, it was time to go home. The family all felt they had not seen enough after the first exploration, so they repeated it the following day, and saw more caves and thrones and tunnels. Even then it was hard to leave.

As they went on, their path meandered close to the edge of the hill, and there were many places with a steep slope to one side.

Cora was feeling grouchy. Her parents told her she was tired but she knew that wasn’t the real problem. She wasn’t tired at all. It was just that her parents were no longer doing what she wanted them to do. She was not entirely sure of what she wanted them to do, but it was certainly not what they were doing.

“C’mon, Cora, we have to go this way,” Mommy said in a sweet cheerful voice.

Cora wanted to go a different way. It didn’t really matter which way. She just didn’t want to go the way her mommy wanted her to go.

Her mommy took her hand and gently steered her in the wrong direction. Cora took a few steps and then veered off towards the edge of the steep slope. Her mommy pulled her back.

She stumbled, fell down, and then got back up. She tried to go back to the edge again. Her mommy held her hand tight and pulled her away.

“Yeggo! Yeggo!” she yelled, but her mommy just held her hand even tighter. Cora pulled and wrenched. She didn’t want to walk on the path. She wanted to go down the steep slope.

She threw her body weight out sideways, towards the edge, trying to throw herself off if she couldn’t walk off. She made the most unpleasant high-pitched whining sound that she was capable of making. Still she was not allowed the freedom to jump off the edge.

“Poke! Poke!” she cried, suddenly, mysteriously, and then poked herself deliberately in the eyeball. While this was a change from her usual custom – usually she poked her sister or mother in the eye when she yelled “Poke!” – it was not really an improvement. She started to cry. Her mommy picked her up.

“Wiggle! Wiggle!” Cora threatened, and immediately made good on her threat, writhing violently around in her mommy’s arms. It was very hard to hold on to her. “Walk! Walk!” she cried. Then she became so frustrated by everything that she forgot her entire vocabulary and switched back to screaming and whining. Mommy passed her to Daddy, who soon passed her back to Mommy. As soon as they got to a flatter place, they put her down and she ran off, looking for cliffs to throw herself off.

Cora stumbled and wept her way down the mountain, but once she got to the bottom it was much easier. Annie was too busy wandering around to hold her hand, but she got to do a shoulder ride, so she was happy again. And when she fell asleep in the car, everyone else was happy, too.

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