Oberammergau, Germany, has forever spoiled us in the cute little village department and we continuously seek its charm in small towns on our travels. We decided to spend four nights in Hokitika, a tiny beach enclave on the West Coast of New Zealand, and a name I cannot seem to spell, no matter how many times I type it and maybe that is because I cannot pronounce it correctly either. We chose this place because it looked like it had the potential to remind us of O’gau and it is billed as “the cool little town” both on the Web and in talking to people in New Zealand. Oh yes, and I saw a few web sites touting its great coffee. Who wouldn’t want to visit? We stayed in a funky little beach house that smelled distinctly like my Great Aunt’s house in Oklahoma that I visited as a child.
The house was comfortable, had speedy WiFi, which was especially nice after a week of limited access, and across the backyard and through some tall grass lay the wild and windswept beach.
The beach was beautiful, strewn with driftwood and rocks and the occasional fisherman. Hokitika had just hosted its annual driftwood sculpture festival and so there were many imaginative and wacky creations adorning the beach near the center of the little town.
The kids loved this beach and I mean loved this beach. They are still talking about the beach in Hokitika. They couldn’t wait to play in it every day. Scott said it was all gravel and sticks under your feet until the ocean floor dropped steeply away about twenty feet out. I could barely stand to watch their sweet little heads bobbing up and down in the swirling, washing machine waves. Of course, our children were the only people out in the water, the rest of the folks we observed serenely walked the beach and the occasional child played just at the edge of the water.
We visited Hokitika Gorge. Yes it’s beautiful and it’s number one on TripAdvisor’s recommendations for “things to do” in Hokitika, but I didn’t like it. It was one of those “listen to your gut” kind of things and Hokitika Gorge scared me. It was very blue and very deep and the current was strong and swift.
There were high and slippery rocks to climb and jump off of into the river below; the river with its swiftness and opaque blueness, hiding rocks below the surface.
There was the river, of which Ashley insisted on swimming back and forth across, back and forth, and then jumping off of everything. Her usual effortless swimming was tested as the current pulled her quickly downstream again and again.
Even the other kid had fun jumping into the river, but I must say that he cautioned the kids about the current and told Ashley to jump feet first before she did any diving. You would think that when Scott starts getting all “cautious and parent-y” it would make me feel less anxiety, but it just makes me more nervous because I am always in a heightened state and I assume that most of the danger is in my head. When he puts the brakes on the kids, I think that danger must be imminent, so then my imagination really has a field day.
We didn’t stay too long at the gorge, Scott took pity on me and so after about an hour we hiked back out to eat lunch away from rocks, currents and New Zealand’s infamous sandflies. This beautiful and peaceful dragonfly landed near our picnic.
Hokitika was not quite as cool as I had hoped, but the kids loved being there and that is so interesting to me and a bit ironic because the best memory that I will take from Hokitika has nothing to do with Hokitika. Ashley had to read Ann Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl for her history class and it was one of the days in Hokitika that we buckled down and finished the assignment. I read the diary a million years ago in middle school and all I could remember was that I didn’t like it, but this time through I had such a different perspective. I can’t imagine what the “Secret Annex” residents went through and all the while Anne was grateful and believed in the goodness of people.
I couldn’t help thinking about Anne’s father. We visited the Anne Frank House in September and there was some footage of Otto Frank playing, the only surviving member of the Frank family. He talked about the fact that you never really know your children, even if your relationship is good, like his was with Anne. I read the last fifty pages out loud to Ashley and with five pages to go I was having trouble reading through tears. We’d been working about four hours by this point and she thought my tears were those of tiredness and frustration with the length of the assignment (twelve paragraph minimum book summary and review) and I explained to her my tears were those of sadness that such a bright mind and true heart would soon be separated from her family and lost forever, and that I was also so inspired by her spirit.
I think Otto Frank was right, I don’t think I know my children, even as much as I love them and talk to them and spend time with them and want to know them. There are so many obvious examples that tell me this, Hokitika and Toledo, Spain to name two very superficial ones. There are a million more, but that is not the point. The point is that I don’t think you can ever really know anyone; your children, your spouse or your best friend. I wonder if people are even capable of sharing themselves in that way. I think one can only hope to catch glimpses of people they love and treat those tidbits as a gold doubloon or a sparkling jewel, each prize to be discovered and each adding to the treasure that is the person you love.
I am grateful to have spent those hours with Ashley reading, explaining and thinking about Anne Frank together. Just today Ashley quoted something to me from the diary and it made me smile. Scott is still feeding us healthfully and I as I was gagging down pre-breakfast orange slices (I hate fruit in the morning) Ashley looked at me and smiled and said, “the art of living.” Yes, “the art of living,” something Anne’s mother talked about and Anne practiced with a vengeance-doing things you don’t enjoy…with grace.