Flocking together to clear the air for the future

A pair of well-fed kereru, intoxicated on the abundance of feed on the tree lucerne amid the grove of native bush ringing the patch of lawn out front of the house, teetered and preened on the whip-thin upper branches.

When one alighted to swoop down and perch on the flowering cherry near the trestle tables set for dinner, the branch recoiled like a rod relieved of its catch.

The bird sat there for some time, like a benevolent bloated teal dove, come to join the party.

Around 7pm, as the last of the sausages sizzled and spat on the barbecue and the final rays of the evening sun fell upon the garden, and family members gathered to admire our feathered guest, the kereru took wing following the slope down towards the sea and the line of Tasmanian blackwoods near the boundary of the property, while its mate renewed its feasting seemingly oblivious.

But they wouldn't be parted for long.

They come and go these kereru, always a pair, most likely the same ones, and this year seemingly more plump and well-to-do than ever.

The next morning down below the rustic, deck-bordered pool - its narrow planks now blackening with a patina of age - a family of quail, mother leading, four or five chicks each barely bigger than a mouse following on behind, dad a few metres back standing guard, trickled and tumbled precariously down into the vegetable garden.

There they scuttled and picked, enjoying their own family outing.

The tui have been chirping birdsong in the eucalyptus and, periodically, a couple of blue heron wheel and dip over the nearby bush.

Last year, they nested flimsily and raised a couple of chicks in the pine tree that stands over the vegetable patch.

Pukeko peck at the ground in the clear field below the blackwoods and, as if to underscore the linearity of a fecund food chain, at the lower end of it, barely visible but ubiquitous, the sandflies have been making their presence felt in the muggy overcast conditions.

This year, various members of the whanau have come from far and wide to our summer gathering place in the north of the south.

Some are not with us this year, having spread their wings and moved offshore: one living in Melbourne, another spending the summer there working; one in Dublin, others not long back from Canada.

Some are about to go - to study, or travel - to Ireland again, or South America; and the rest are striving here at home to find gainful employment and pay off student loans.

I imagine we are not the only ones of our age to observe how tough it is for the younger lot these days.

Jobs are scarce; what jobs there are appear to pay little, especially when the cost of living, flats, food, travel, loans, are taken into account.

It is easy to see how the grass might appear greener elsewhere.

But they seem a hardy lot and generally inclined to take it all in their stride, and as we listen to cousins who have not seen one another for a year or three catching up, we hear snatches of a language foreign to our own: the lingua franca of the coming generations.

A night or two ago we took some of them down to our local, the Mussel Inn.

Celebrated in these parts for its rustic simplicity, unchanging menus, locally brewed beers and the congenial, casual friendliness of both the hosts and the gathering crowd, it seemed quieter than usual.

We acquired a table - large shaped slabs of native timber with benches along each side - almost at once, rather than waiting and watching and pouncing when one was vacated.

We sat beneath a cleverly constructed extension, light but providing shelter should it rain.

It had in fact cleared to become a warm evening and by the time I'd chewed my way through half of my pint of extra Bitter Ass (8.5%, thick, bitter indeed and with a fair old kick) the world seemed to have put itself to rights.

Elsewhere, families and friends gathered and reacquainted themselves, sloughing off the stresses and demands of the year gone by, recharging for the one to come.

It felt very good to be on holiday.

Simon Cunliffe is assistant editor at the Otago Daily Times.


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