Little Details (4/9/09)

Have clarinet, will travel

April 9, 2009

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

The Karori Normal School orchestra glided through a rendition of Christopher Cross’ song “Sailing.” Smiling-faced middle schoolers raised voices to verses of “California Dreamin’” and “Hineraukatauri,” a song for the Maori goddess of music. My husband and I were among parents assembled in the school gymnasium, beaming proudly at our musical offspring.

I eyed a certain clarinetist, my 10-year-old daughter who had the foresight to pack her instrument along with clothes, books and a few select stuffed animals for our family’s sabbatical in New Zealand. She joined the school’s band and chorus, easing in with friendly, musically-minded, Kiwi kids. The concert, a rehearsal for a larger performance, coincided with Holy Thursday, offering a sweet prelude to the holiday break.

Shops and businesses closed on Good Friday. Only Starbucks and convenience stores opened for those desperately in need of milk or a caffeine fix.

We pulled on hiking boots, packed sandwiches and hopped a bus to Seatoun, on Wellington’s southeastern stretches. Our five-hour coastal walk yielded black sand beaches and unexpected glimpses of lizard-like creatures scampering between stones. We gathered sea glass and glossy bits of paua (abalone), glinting treasures to tuck into our pockets. When our daughter asked to stop to climb boulders, we acquiesced. We were in no hurry. Our slow, deliberate pace simply extended time along the magnificent, swirling sea.

We spied three young men on a cliff, fishing poles in hands. Distinctive facial features, etched in sunlight, revealed they were Maori, descendants of this South Pacific island’s indigenous people. We passed quietly, not wanting to disturb their meditative state amid water and wind.

Remains of World War II bunkers that once held massive guns emerged from the hillside near the entrance to the harbor. Wellington served as a major staging area for U.S. Marines shipping out to fight Japanese in the Pacific Theater. Men parted with this hilly, palm-covered landscape en route to places like Iwo Jima and the Midway Islands. I sat atop the bunker, feeling its gritty surface with my fingers, trying to imagine the soldiers who’d inhabited this space.

Traversing the landscape slowly, thoughtfully, often in silence, seemed a positive way to reflect on the upcoming holiday. Family time is sometimes just being together.

Our weekend continued with “Palm Cross” duty at St. Mary’s Anglican Church on Saturday morning. My daughter and I volunteered to transform leftover palms from the preceding Sunday into crosses to be distributed at Easter services. We entered the church’s vestibule and found folks gathered around a long table covered in greenery. A quick shuffle of chairs and room was made for us. An older woman, veteran to the task, patiently taught us her technique for folding, wrapping and tucking thin slivers of palm into near-perfect crosses.

As fate would have it, I sat beside a parishioner with an East European accent. We traded snippets of our stories. She emigrated from Russia 10 years earlier. It turned out she was half-Polish. Her father was a military officer caught in the U.S.S.R. after World War II. “We weren’t allowed to speak Polish outside of our home,” she said of Soviet times.

Task completed, my daughter and I road the #3 bus downtown to the Number One Shoe Store on Lambton Quay, Wellington’s main shopping thoroughfare. We bought a bright pair of plastic purple Crocs — in lieu of an Easter Bonnet — before heading to Queens Wharf to view an exhibit of contemporary mosaics. Jane Santos, a British émigré, deftly arranged multicolored bits of glinting glass into dazzling recreations of street scenes and island flowers. The promise of post-gallery gelato — cinnamon and tiramisu — flavored our art experience with sweet anticipation.

We met my husband hours later at Victoria University, where our daughter was performing with classmates in a special concert celebrating Karori Normal School’s 150th anniversary. Alumni travelled from across New Zealand to attend the concert and other festivities. My husband and I hovered outside to congratulate her when she emerged from the sold-out performance. The concert, planned months in advance, just happened to coincide with our visit. I guess you call that serendipity.

Easter arrived with a sense of spiritual renewal and hope. The Easter Bunny found our little house at 4 Wavell St., delivering locally-made Shoc Chocolates and a book entitled “You Go Girl!” to encourage a 10-year-old from Vermont to dream big dreams. As I look forward to Easter, I share a quote from the book reminding me that wanderlust never quite recedes:

“My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.” Diane Arbus (1923-1971)

Me too.

Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston. Reader comments are welcome at or