A snapshot of childhood growing up in the Marlborough Sounds
Before the time of mobile phones and the internet I remember a childhood filled with adventure.
My parents moved to the idyllic Marlborough Sounds when I was nine years old. Having previously lived there for a couple of years when I was too young to remember, they decided it was time to go back, for reasons I won't go into. That's another story entirely.
I was reading the topic for a writing competition the other day, and my first instinct was I did not have the inspiration to write a children's action/adventure story, however something about the two words at the top of the page "Tread Barefooted" stirred up emotions that I had long ago forgotten.
I was eleven years old, a gawky pre teen girl who had just sprouted breasts enough to fill a training bra. It was the only thing that set me apart from the boys my own age, my lanky frame yet to form into the child bearing body I would later own. Having said that, the only boys close to my age in the remote farming area where we lived were two brothers. Nick and Daniel, related by blood, but so different by looks and in nature.
Nick was the eldest, with silky brown hair and clear olive skin who fast became my first object of affection. Even as he grew older he retained his boyish good looks and slight build, but we were never anything more than friends. Daniel, who was two years younger than his sibling, had auburn hair that glinted in the sunlight over deeply freckled skin. He had a devilish smile and a laugh that could charm you out of the darkest mood.
Of the other children about the same age as me in the five kilometre proximity of our house, there was Danielle Gerritsen and Sarah Henderson.
Again, Danielle and Sarah were very different. Danielle, two years older than me was the Head Master's daughter. At thirteen she was preparing to leave the bay the following year for boarding school. It was a fate we all faced, for the small community where we lived only hosted a tiny two roomed primary school.
Sarah, the daughter of a catholic raised farmer and youngest of a large family, had long flaming orange hair, which was just a hint of the personality you could expect. She had another year with us before she would leave to attend a Catholic boarding school five hundred kilometres away from her home. When I was twelve and she thirteen I broke her nose while we were playing field hockey at school. I will always remember the way her eyes swelled shut for several days, the sides of her nose mottled with brilliant shades of purple and green.
I don't recall how we all came together on this particular day, but I do remember it was hot. The emerald sea was like glass, reflecting a perfect picture of the lush hills which surrounded our bay.
Five children made their way down to a nearby creek. Rippling and summer fresh the water taunted us as it burbled down to the sea, over golden stones and into the rocky shore.
Once for a school project we had 'panned for gold' in these waters. Being a tiny backdrop school our teacher believed in a lot of 'hands on' learning. I think we probably spent thirty percent of our time in the classroom and the rest outdoors.
I took off my gumboots and stuffed my socks deep inside them, then rolled my jeans up over my knees.
Gently we waded into the creek, careful not to make too much of a ripple in the water, for we knew what we would find if we did not disturb the rocks too much. If you lift a stone carefully enough you will find tiny fish, Cockabullies, which float still under the water hoping their skin, which is the same colour as the creek bed, will fool you into thinking they're not there at all. And if you cup your hands carefully, so carefully and slowly, towards the Cockabully, then move quickly at the right time, you can catch one. Sometimes with a bucket we would see who could catch the most, but on this day we did not have any such equipment. The fun was in the catching and releasing, the splashing around, the beach combing and the mindless chatter of five carefree school children under the summer sun.
We wound our way down the creek. From the house my Dad built on the hill, up from the jetty and through the pines we would have looked like five coloured specks, but our voices would have carried clearly across the water to anyone who cared to listen.
Waitaria Bay and the surrounding Kenepuru Head is a muddy sound, banded by heavy brown rock. When the tide goes out you can still see the ballist heaps in the silty muck, left behind by ships that used to sail in and out, carrying goods and taking stock to the markets long before any roads were driven winding through the hills.
It's the perfect breeding ground for flat fish, namely flounder. It was on this day I discovered that as the creek neared the outgoing tide and left only fresh water trickling over thick grey mud, the fish were no longer cockabullies, but baby flounder. They too were the same colour as their environment, carefully guarded from harm by their own bland shape and colour. As our shadows passed over the water we noticed that tiny trails of silt darted away from us, and we squealed with glee as we realised the presence of these little replicas of fish our Fathers brought home from the set nets.
So we pursued these little creatures and we realised that while we had been wandering, time had marched on and the tide had completely receded. A blanket of mud was left behind, thick and grey and poked with little air holes that bubbled up from underneath.
I began to tread warily into the mud, its cool jelly oozing up through my toes and onto my feet. Delightedly we tramped over the mud, letting it squeeze onto our feet, some bare and some booted, as we left our footprints behind. Soon the mud was up over our ankles, and Sarah screamed in surprise as she lifted one foot and left her gumboot behind, trapped firmly in the gelatinous gloop. As I looked behind us the little tell-tale trail of footprints looked like a group of ants scrambling over the dirt.
Soon Danielle and Sarah were into the mud up to their knees. That's when I discovered something else about mud. If you dig into it, more than a foot deep, it's black. And man does it smell! The composition moves from a wet unset concrete substance, to something that resembles tar. And if you can imagine the smell of a nest of eggs left in the hot summer sun before bursting open, then that's the closest thing to the aroma we encountered that day. Of course we all screwed up our noses and expressed our horror, but all wore grins from ear to ear, completely delighted that we had found something so disgusting we could play in.
It wasn't until the tide started to come back in that we realised the time had gotten away from us, the sun quickly receding behind the hills in the west. The shadows of the tall pines had extended out onto the beach; cooling the mud and making us shiver in our wet encrusted state.
We traipsed back up the beach. Each step had formed a thick gooey hole that would only disappear with the high tide, leaving no trace that we had ever been there.
This memory always makes me think of the friends I had on this day. Although there is no evidence now that these people touched my life, I hold the faint impression of their friendship on my heart. Their mark is long gone from my life, but I will forever remember who they were, and who I was on that day when I treaded barefoot through my childhood.
Never forget what treasures you held as a child. Even if that past comes from mud, deep and putrid as it may be, the tide will wash it away eventually, leaving behind only a memory.
And if you're lucky enough the memories will collect and form, drying into a substance far different from what they were when they began. Then you can make something wondrous from your clay as it dries under the summer sun of adulthood.