When we arrived in the Far North of New Zealand, the first house that we bought was a humble house made of posts and beams with crumbling adobe walls.
Still, it sat on top of a charming hill, right in front of the Hokianga Harbor.
The views were breathtaking and the grounds were very lush.
Everything we planted multiplied a hundred times and spread wildly across the garden.
Gardening was more a matter of trimming and controlling plants from over growing, than a matter of carefully cultivating plants.
Inside the house, there was very little that was worth keeping.
We gutted the house completely with the intention of replacing the kitchen, the bathroom, all of the appliances, installing a new roof, a pellet-fired stove, all new electricity and plumbing, new floors, lighting, and much more.
The gutted house looked like a major construction site and it was impossible to live in it.
There was no electricity, no water hook-up, no toilet, no shower and no kitchen.
There was dust and debris everywhere.
But I needed to be in the village to make renovation choices, including what toilet and bathroom fixtures to install, what kind of wood to use for the floors, how to design the bathroom and the kitchen, what appliances to buy, etc.
On top of the house construction, my NZ residency application required me to stay in the country for at least six months out of the year.
So…. I asked around town to see if anyone had a house for rent for a few months.
I was referred to a woman named Tup Harris, who had a house on the hill above her house, which belonged to her son.
Her son was living in Australia at the time and his house was empty.
Like many New Zealanders, he went in search of work in the neighboring land of OZ, where the strong economy and larger scale, provided many more job opportunities than are available in NZ.
I moved into the house on the hill, above Tup Harris’ home.
The Harris family is legendary in this region.
They have lived in this area for many generations, and have many family members living across the Hokianga region and all over NZ.
Once a year, they have a family reunion, in which they all gather back in the Hokianga.
Hundreds of family members flock to the Hokianga, where they sleep with local relatives or in the big open Marae, and they celebrate the warmth of family together.
Some bring with them newly born kids to introduce to other members of the family, and some introduce a new fiancé or catch up on how everyone is doing.
My partner Jules stayed with me for a few weeks at the house that we rented from Tup Harris, but then he flew back to work in the USA, since our NZ residency papers were in my name, and he was not required to spend six months each year in NZ.
One week, I stopped at Tup Harris’ house to pay the rent.
I paid the rent weekly, with no lease, just a friendly agreement.
I was thinking that I would move back to our house as soon as the toilet was hooked up, and I had running water, a shower and electricity.
I could do without a kitchen for awhile…
When I pulled my car into her driveway, Tup was in her kitchen.
She shook my hand in a friendly manner.
Her hand was large and her shake was firm.
She was a strong woman of nondescript age.
I could tell she was a grandmother, but she did not look old at all… She had kind lines in her face and she looked like a woman who knew how to work hard, with a strong and gentle constitution.
She was a very enterprising women who worked all day.
She run a large dairy farm, and she also owned buses that were used to carry children back and forth to schools.
Her cheeks were rosy and her eyes were shy.
Her gaze was gentle and very kind.
She invited me in for tea.
I sat at her kitchen table, placing the envelope with the rent in the middle of the table.
Tup laid out a plate of biscuits and put the water to boil.
Her grandson Tai, came into the kitchen to grab a sandwich.
He was a handsome teenage boy, with beautiful sunburnt curls.
Tup introduced me to him, and instead of shaking my hand, he came closer to my face to greet me in the traditional Maori rubbing of noses.
I was not yet familiar with this nose-rubbing way of greeting, and instinctively I turned my cheek to him, and he planted a soft kiss on my cheek instead.
For months after this, I regretted not rubbing noses with him.
Nobody else mistook me for a Maori in our village again, and I was not offered another chance to rub noses.
Back in Tup’s kitchen, I could tell that she was curious about me….
A strange woman who came to this rural land from the big land of America, and who was renting her son’s house.
She asked me many questions….
Where did I live… What did I do…. Why did I come here….
After I answered all of her questions with openness and honesty, she leaned back in her chair and rubbed her hands together.
“Wow…” she said.
“New York… Miami… America,….All of this sounds so distant and almost unreal to me… Your life is like something out of a movie to me….
I had never even seen these places…. In fact, I have never been outside of New Zealand….
We are Maori, but my mother was from Ireland….. I have never been there either…
My mother was a gentle and kind woman…. I miss her so…….
And now, that I am a grandmother myself….I am not sure that I will ever get to travel and to see all these places….”
Tup let her gaze float into a distant invisible place on the wall behind me.
She sighed and added:
“But….. maybe it is all for the better….it is my destiny….
All I really needed and wanted was right here anyway…
Maybe I do not need to travel in order to live a full and happy life…”
I nodded my head in agreement.
I said that I did believe that she was right…
That traveling is good for some… But that it is definitely NOT necessary in order to find anything meaningful and real….
That this journey that we take in life…..is an INWARDS journey…. That everything we truly need, is WITHIN US……
And that foreign places just added excitement and stimulated us to think…. Nothing more.
I added that I chose to come and live in the Hokianga, in order to have a place to settle down between traveling…. A home by the sea….
I said that I chose this place, because it seemed to have more soul than big cities and neatly tree-lined suburbs, where everything is regulated and every house or apartment is the same…
I said that I chose this place, for its wild, rugged and untouched beauty……..For the way my heart expanded when I looked at the vast harbor…..
Tup listened to me attentively with her wise eyes, taking in every word I uttered.
She had an unhurried manners about her… A calm and almost timeless demeanor.
When I was done talking, I sat with her, and both of us just contemplated what had been said….
We sat and drunk our teas slowly, in the calm silence of her kitchen.
Then Tup added:
“You said that you CHOSE to come here…. But I believe……. that there is a much bigger plan… I believe……. that the Hokianga CHOOSES its own people… Those who NEED to be here.”
Today, I sit in front of my window, overlooking the Hokianga Harbor.
It is a rainy day, and the harbor is covered in a silvery mist.
The raindrops are sliding down my window and I think of wise Tup Harris…
Many years have passed since I shared tea and a conversation with Tup, but I now think that I get what she was trying to say….
I reflect on some of the mystical experiences that I had experienced while living in the Hokianga, the illuminating realizations that came to me…
And finally I agree with what she said…
I did not know it then…. But I do know it now…. I was suppose to come here…