Louder At Night

All my bags are packed …as the song says. Not to catch a jet plane, but for three writing days.

My tea requirements are very important to this whole process. Refreshing Kawakawa for an afternoon break. Standard Dilmah for the rest of the time.

This view over Moeraki harbour an inspiration in itself – the perpetual movement of changing colours on the water; the light sometimes as sparkly as a Rueben Paterson painting, and the boats, either heading out or ‘homing in’ (to steal one of my favourite lines by poet Cilla McQueen). Or simply sitting at anchor, aimlessly rocking and drifting.

This time dedicated to writing has now set me on the path of plot and characters for my novel Muttonbird Tree House.

Muttonbird Tree House will have some of the characters already introduced in my previous novels, Craggan Dhu and Quick Blue Fire, and will also introduce some new characters, all locals of the town these books centre on – Craggan Dhu (or Craggie as it is more commonly referred to in the books.) Craggie is a fictional, Western Southland town, very loosely modelled on my old hometown, Orepuki.

Over the three days, I didn’t move far from my desk; not even to take a photo – as seen in this photo, where you can see the reflections off the window’s glass. And is that the moon, or the light bulb, top right?

The changing sky above the bay was also a treat.

And as always the birds to watch – gliding gulls, sparrows, chaffinches, tauhou (wax eyes) and starlings with wings like luminescent fans, opened out to catch the light.

A lovely interruption for a couple of hours occurred when my daughter-in-law and granddaughter called in. R. was very excited to show me her school starter kit which Ngāi Tahu had posted to her. Her astonished comment upon receiving the gift in the mail was, “I can’t believe my ancestors did this for me!” She was so excited and thrilled with everything. Included was a cool top, schoolbag, pencil case, lunch box and drink bottle. Better yet, still to come, a pounamu.

While visiting, my granddaughter went on something that, back in the day, we would call a Nature Hunt, where we would find things to add to the classroom’s Nature Table. A favourite activity of mine, I seem to recall. The photo above shows R’s ‘found treasures’.

This is an extract from notes I jotted down while on my mini-writing retreat:

The Sea Is Louder At Night

A crazed killer is on the loose’ – words from the podcast I am listening to as I try to fall asleep in this creaky cabin so close to the sea. Every time I remove the ear buds I hear the ocean’s bash and growl, the sea close enough to hear the waves slurping among the rocks. I know I could never live right on the edge of the sea. Maybe it’s some kind of primal fear I house? Then again, it might have a lot to do with the Chile earthquake, 1960. At the time I was seven years old, soon to turn eight. I remember the talk among my parents and grandparents about the danger of a tidal wave (as we called tsunamis back then) hitting the coast of New Zealand. I also picked up that due to the high cliffs our town perched on, it would not be in as much danger as coastal towns farther round, with no high cliffs to protect them. Mostly I remember the fear I felt. Ever since, I have had recurring dreams of tidal waves.

In the morning all is calm. The gently swaying boats are innocence personified – or should that be, nautified? At the very least, bearing an air of nonchalance. A lone dinghy, a bobbing watchdog by a buoy, patiently waits for the return to anchor of both trawler and its owner after a day’s fishing.

I decided to do a bit of research on the 1960 Chile earthquake and resulting tsunami. Interesting to me was the fact that I do not remember any radio broadcasts – possibly because I was in school at the time this was happening as apparently we weren’t evacuated; which surely I’d remember. I guess Orepuki was deemed safe because of the high cliffs. As long as no-one was on the beach at Te Waewae Bay, everything would be okay. Also I note that the tsunami from the first earthquake (Sunday May 22nd) hit New Zealand at night with no loss of life. The tsunami that alarmed the country more, was the wave caused by after a large after shock and due to hit New Zealand sometime in the afternoon of Wednesday, 25th May.

There are accounts of a West Coast earthquake here in New Zealand, way back in pre-European days, that resulted in a tidal wave that swamped Te Waewae Bay and drowned a number of Māori who, because of the steep cliffs, couldn’t escape.

Notes ON CHILE EARTHQUAKE AND EFFECTS FELT IN NZ from Kotuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences Online

“Some people left their jobs, took children from schools and travelled to the
high suburbs. Others drove to the beaches or waited on the wharves—disaster.
… Some schools closed—Port Chalmers, Tainui and others—and many
parents called on schools on the flat to take their children away”. (NZ Herald

The decision to evacuate appears to have been made at a local level by local police, and
little national consistency is apparent. In many other communities, people from coastal fringes were merely advised to move inland. However, special attention was given to many schools in low-lying coastal areas, with many closing, and the children sent home or to higher ground.

The magnitude 9.5 earthquake on 22 May 1960 in southern Chile was the largest instrumentally recorded earthquake in the 20th century. It generated a tsunami that swept the shores of Chile and radiated out across the Pacific, with the major loss of life in Chile and, despite warnings being issued, in both Hawai‘i and Japan. The absence of a Pacific-wide tsunami warning system at the time meant that the tsunami struck New Zealand without an official warning being issued. Fortunately, there was no loss of life despite widespread damage to coastal facilities.

A large aftershock occurred in Chile 3 days later (25 May) and fears about a tsunami from this event resulted in the broadcasting of a nationwide warning on radio in New Zealand. Newspapers of the day reported that thousands of people around the country were evacuated, making this the largest and most widespread evacuation in New Zealand’s history. Almost the entire population of Whitianga, Waihi Beach, Whakatane, Ohope, and Opotiki were moved to high ground for several hours and, in many other communities, people self-evacuated from coastal fringes.

After the event, there was much discussion in the newspapers of the need to improve both warnings and public awareness of the hazard, and of the appropriate response to warnings. Over the 40 years from 1960 up to the 26 December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, public awareness of New Zealand’s tsunami risk and preparedness had waned. Since 2004, the renewed focus on tsunami has built on a range of improvements in emergency management policies and practices, and the lessons identified from the event paved the way for a number of new initiatives to get underway to enhance the New Zealand’s tsunami warning capacity and capability