Place of Legend by Joy Cowley

Like many love affairs, it began on a moonlit night. We were two adults and five children, on Fred Orchard's boat "The Glenmore", chugging across Kenepuru Sound. Easter Friday 1971, no idea of where we were going except that it was a long way from a Wellington suburb. We landed on a beach of wet stones in a darkness that smelled of salt and bush and sheep. Shrill bird calls echoed back and forth and a brown feathered thing scuttled in front of our torches. "Kiwis," said a child who knew everything.

We found the bach, lights, beds, and hours later, when the children were asleep, we found ourselves. A great round moon had lit the bay and we went out, coats over pyjamas, to walk a track between silvered manukas. We stopped at a point where the bay lay beneath our feet, moonlight across it like a ladder to the future, and I whispered in the awe of discovery, "One day we will own this place."

A few years later the farm came on the market to coincide with the sale of the film rights to my first novel. The sums of money received and required fitted exactly, and the love affair became a deep commitment. I could never say that I own this piece of Marlborough. Rather, it owns me and continues to shape me as a person and as a writer. Stories of land and water have formed themselves as I've waded up the creek to clear the water supply after a storm, or sat in the dinghy fishing for the evening meal, or wandered along the beach gathering mussels. "Beyond the River," "Sea of Peace," "Cottage by the Sea," "Tulevai and the Sea," "The Silent One," "Sea Daughter," "Captain Felonius."

Then there are the stories dictated by the brooding land and the animals that inhabit it: "Bow Down Shadrach," "Gladly Here I Come," "The Tale of Tarama," "Totara Hill." In an orchard that celebrates freedom with wild apple trees, overgrown plums and pears, lemons, figs, quinces, I installed an imaginary well that would become a prison to the mid-wife Death in the story "The Well.". The old blind rooster who used to follow my voice, lean against my legs and coo affection, would attack visitors in a frenzy of feathers. He went into his own story as "Rangi Tamahehe."

I plant a windbreak of flax and later ask permission of the bushes to cut leaves to weave a peg basket. There's a story in that. Cold from winter fishing, I relax in a hot tub and think, "Wishy-washy, wishy-washy." Another story. An albino eagle ray follows my dinghy. A pet pig develops a taste for tobacco and eats visitors' cigarettes - packets and all. In a screaming nor'wester, a willy-wall picks up two kayaks and shoots them high in the air like missiles, dropping them halfway up the hill. On a calm day. I stand in shallow water and small fish, soft as feathers, lie on my bare feet to warm themselves. Stories, stories, and not just the inspiration, either, but also the energy needed to create them.

For me, the Marlborough Sounds hold the stuff of legend, and away from this place, I lose something of my identity.

From Joy
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© copyright 2001 Joy Cowley
last update 10 May 2011