Return to Darfield

by Mary Beth

The majority of the trip was over, and it was time to think about our return journey home. There were miles to go – beautiful, noisy miles. We had one day of relaxation after all the adventure, which we spent walking around a bird park and going to playgrounds. We met some New Zealand parrots and New Zealand ducks, a bird called a takahe, and a sleepy owl. The native species of owl here in New Zealand was given different names by the Maori and the English, but both were inspired by the owl’s call. Both attempted to put the call into words. It is called Ruru in Maori, and Morepork in English.

The famous takahe: a more beautiful and exotic version of our friend, the common pukeko (otherwise known as the swamp hen). Pukeko are goofy blue and black birds that strut around the countryside of New Zealand. You see them everywhere and no one gets very excited about them. We love them for their goofiness. They don’t get special exhibits at bird parks. We were dutifully impressed by its exotic cousin here.

The next two days were devoted to driving. Feverishly hoping to avoid “Yo ho ho and a Bottle of Rum”, Peter downloaded albums, made playlists, researched songs, and went through old favorite songs of the children. When we got into the car, he smoothly started one of the songs – an old favorite of his, which the girls had liked in the past.

We couldn’t see Cora because she was facing backwards, but I saw her tiny hands shoot up into the air, her finger splayed out angrily. “Bottoo rum!” we heard. We pretended to ignore it. “Bottoo rum! Bottoo rum!” Louder this time.

“She wants to hear ‘Yo ho ho’,” said Annie, loudly.

“Bottoo rum!” Cora repeated for emphasis. Defeated, we succumbed.

“What is ‘stiff and stark’?” Annie asked after a moment. “What is ‘lips struck dumb’?”

It was going to be a long trip.

We stopped in Queenstown, and rode the gondola up a mountain, and had a nice lunch looking at a spectacular view. The girls took their gumboots off and ran around the restaurant.
We had the enviable experience of posing in front of a piece of Art depicting a scene from Lord of the Rings, made from over 20,000 jelly beans. This was after the gondola ride, at the top of the mountain. Annie was allowed to buy a very tiny bag of jelly beans from the gift shop and she was blissfully happy.

We also played some more Twenty Questions – or Seven Questions, as Annie continually referred to it. She was getting better at it, when she chose to be. We told some stories. Annie continued her current saga, the story of the crocodiles, which has been unfolding over the past few months now. She tells us little bits at a time. Apparently, there are a whole lot of crocodiles in the world, ruled by Road Crocodile, their king, and Rainbow Crocodile, his little sister, their queen. Road Crocodile eats roads, and Rainbow Crocodile eats rainbows. There are many stories (and a song) about them. Then there is Moon Crocodile, who is married to Sun Crocodile; their children are Cloud Crocodile (their only son) and the Star Crocodiles (their numerous daughters). Moon Crocodile eats the moon each night, and Sun Crocodile eats the sun each day (the trees have to remake the sun every night). Cloud Crocodile eats the clouds. During the car trip we learned more about Moon Crocodile and her day job as a doctor, and her side job, making money out of mountains to feed her family. We are not sure what this means – it sounds like a euphemism and I suspect Moon Crocodile is involved with money laundering but that was not part of the story. We also learned about Rainbow Crocodile’s father, Light Crocodile, and mother, Crystal Crocodile, who collects crystals (she doesn’t eat them, though). There is a lot of genealogy in the Crocodile sagas. It makes up a large portion of the stories. Annie was just settling in to tell us extensive stories around a new character, Chocolate Crocodile, when we realized that Peter was being lulled into a dangerously sleepy state by the stories. So we had to change the subject quickly, and did not get to learn the parentage of Chocolate Crocodile.

A nice photo of Cloud Crocodile over Lake Pukaki

We eased into other music, playing more sea shanties and vaguely pirate-like songs, and phasing out Yo Ho Ho, Drunken Sailor, Rye Whiskey, and Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya (the church song, according to Annie, since it sounds like they are singing “alleluia” at times). At one point Annie requested Phish, her father’s favorite band. Giddy with hope for the future, he put on Phish songs, which lasted about twenty minutes before Yo Ho Ho was requested again.

The sea shanties and other song alternatives were not popular. We were giving up hope, as the songs were shot down, one after another, like victims of a pirate attack walking the plank. And then we stumbled upon a new song – a song that was so wonderful, it soon rivaled Yo Ho Ho in the children’s affection. It was a mermaid song. Peter says it is classified as “Celtic punk” and notes that the band is from Ohio. This means there is a lot of shouting and exuberant guitar playing. The chorus goes something like this: “she’s a liar and a thief and a damned old fish, but she’s the only one I love, she’s my only wish”. This is an evil mermaid, not much like Ariel, with a penchant for drowning sailors. Annie fell instantly in love with this song. We haven’t quite figured out why, but she has been singing it ever since – or demanding that we sing it, while she lounges around pretending to be a siren. She initially justified her attraction to the bloodthirsty mermaid by stipulating that the mermaid only killed pirates. But we pointed out that it is clear from the song that she drowns all sailors, not just pirates.

And yet, “Sing Damned Old Fish, Mommy!” we hear, to this day. Or “Diddle fish! Diddle fish!” from Cora.

We are awaiting the day when Annie’s teachers (or, worse, Cora’s teachers) call from school asking us why our daughter is singing about bottles of rum, whiskey, drunken sailors, and damned old fish. But at least it’s better than “Baby Shark”.

We drove a little over four hours the first day, and three and a half hours the second day, which was absolutely the limit for the children. In between we slept in a cabin, driving on winding dirt roads into desertlike countryside, far from the nearest small town. This was in the heart of the Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, one of only a handful of Dark Sky Reserves in the world. These are places with minimal light pollution, allowing you to see the stars. At the suggestion of our hosts, we lay on the trampoline in the yard, using a comforter to ward off the chill of the frosty night air, and stared up at the sky. We foolishly attempted this first with the children. Annie was mildly interested but because it involved lying still, Cora was aggressively uninterested. So we put the children to bed and then lay out on the trampoline ourselves, in the pitch black night. The Milky Way paved a bright, cloudy path across the center of the sky, with the Southern Cross somewhere in the middle.

But it was nice to be back in Darfield, our home. The skies are big and often strange in Darfield, and we will miss them in a few weeks.

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