While passing the beach at Bruce Bay
On a rainy but still lovely day
Across rocks that were white
Some people did write
And piled the stones up in play.
Synopsis: I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. On sabbatical to dance back from the verge of burnout, I’m having adventures and working in out-of-the-way places. We’re touring after a month-long assignment an hour outside of quake-stricken Christchurch, in New Zealand’s South Island.
Tourist destinations outside the tourist season have a special mood. The crowds gone, the ratio of locals to outsiders improves. Lonely staffers seem glad to have company.
Sometimes, prices go down.
The transient crowds shrink.
Franz Josef, on the South Island, ranks as New Zealand’s most visited glacier, but we bypassed it for the next glacier south, Fox. The two maintain the distinction of being the only glaciers in the world next to rain forests. Huge snowfalls in the Southern Alps feed the rivers of ice that drop almost to sea level; the same forces that bring the heavy snows bring rains of Biblical proportions to the lowlands.
Thrilled by the vista in the car park as I exited the rental car, I started snapping digital photos that cannot hope to capture to emotional impact of looking across a desolate quarter mile of glacial debris and three hundred feet up a sheer cliff.
I donned my jacket and gloves to ward off biting black flies. We left the car park just as a tour busload walked back from the end of the glacier. Most looked tired; the children and adolescents appeared sullen and irritated.
Bethany and I walked across the lifeless, boulder-strewn valley bottom, tracks the glacier had left in retreat. The approach path used stepping stones across two creeks. When I arrived, I had the glacier face to myself.
On the way back we crossed paths with another busload of tourists, this bunch happier than the last, small children holding parents’ hands and asking unending questions.
Down the coast, the highway runs under treetop canopy blotting out the sun.
At Bruce Bay, I slowed the car and stopped to look at the surf of the Tasman Sea.
I motioned Bethany into the rain, to join me.
All up and down the verge between the highway and the beach, people had piled stones and driftwood. Bethany noticed before I did.
Human hands had jammed driftwood vertically between boulders, and stacked rounded rocks, one on top of the other. Flecks of gold glittered in the granite, and writing graced some of the cobbles; people left names, dates, and messages with permanent marker on the smooth white marble.
We had found a moraine of the universal human urge to travel and see and leave evidence of their passing, along a lonely stretch of highway, order imposed on chaos for two kilometers.
We are tourists in the off-season.