When I awoke in the morning, I was sure it'd all been just a really awful dream, but with each passing moment of consciousness there came patches of clarity that painted a picture I didn't want to see. I wasn't sure how I was going to carry on for the rest of this amazing trip. How was I going to be able to truly appreciate this place over the next two weeks while my heart was in pieces? All I could do was my best to hold it together and focus on what was in front of me, but also respect the grief and yield to it when it became overwhelming.
On the saddest Saturday I can remember, this is who we started the day with. Margaret prepared a delicious breakfast for us and we talked about the day's plans. She told us about the baby seal caves we'd find on our way up the coast, just past the larger seal colony where their parents spent their days. But be sure to visit Kaikoura's little seal colony out at the end of the peninsula, too, she said. Nicky came in from her run and we all agreed that it was gorgeous out, the perfect way to start the day in Kaikoura. We only had the first half of the day before we needed to push north to Picton, where we were to catch the ferry across to the North Island that evening, but there was no sense of urgency to rush out that morning, and I think I needed that. Margaret and Nicky were both very considerate of how they brought up their condolences for our loss, and hoped we'd be able to enjoy their country despite the heartache. They were warm and kind, and even though I was likely only half-present, I appreciated the kind of hospitality they'd shown us. It may sound strange, but being in their home felt safe as I came unraveled the night before, and the space they gave us then, as well as the warmth of spirit in the morning was an amazing and unexpected support.
Thank you, Margaret and Nicky, for giving us a soft and secure place to cry.
We hugged our goodbyes and loaded up the car, ready to meet Kaikoura in the daylight, starting with her seal colony.
What's referred to as the Peninsula Seal Colony consists of beautiful, rocky coast and that day, a handful of sleepy seals sunning themselves in the early sunshine. With a feather light haze hovering over the water and small waves rolling in, it all felt rather gentle. Perhaps this is what I wanted to see.
There is a 10 meter buffer visitors are expected to keep between themselves and the native seals, so I walked as close as I could, then made good use of my zoon lens. I'd like to think this guy above wasn't just stretching, but posing for me. Lounging on rocks tilted just so for optimal sunshine sounded pretty wonderful to me.
Chris and I, along with a few other seal-seekers were so rapt with the ones out in front of us, we nearly missed the one who was making his way from the parking area back out to the rocks. Not sure what he was doing back in the shade of the trees over there, but it seemed to be time for sunning, and we rushed to snap his picture from a respectable distance, giggling at his inchworm-esque movements and amazed by how difficult it was to spot him once he found a spot among the rocks.
It was a rather large hill.
We drove into the town center to browse the main street, eager to check out one shop, in particular. The Sealside Gallery sold work exclusively by New Zealand artists, and had everything from pottery, wood, paintings, silk, sketches, sculptures, paper products, and jewelry created from silver, gold, bone, and the native paua shell. And books, and unique paper goods, too! Sadly, the gallery's advertisements said it was going out of business. Happily, there was an extra 10% off everything in the place in an effort to sell out before the doors closed. Being that we're suckers for local art, it was naturally our first stop after the seal colony.
The artwork inside was beautiful, and clearly the product of skilled hands. Her name is Elizabeth, and that day she was behind the counter, happy to answer our questions about the work and the artists. It soon became clear, however, how much stress Elizabeth was under as the closing neared, and our polite conversation about art changed to one that circled the economy, a little bit of politics, and the general public's desire for that which is cheap and quick. It was sad to see such an inviting and spectacular platform for artists be shut down because people would prefer to save money. While Chris and I save where we can, supporting the arts is something we like to support when we can. I wanted to buy out the entire store as I watched Elizabeth's eyes gloss over from the heartbreak of it.
After a rather stimulating conversation, Elizabeth answered a call and Chris and I went back to browsing the gallery, trying to figure out what we might be able to get back home in our luggage. Elizabeth walked over when she found me standing in front of the same item for a stretch, and explained to me the significance of the symbol hanging from the silver chain. It means new beginnings, she said, to which I replied, I'd rather not, then. When she asked why, my voice broke for a moment before I could answer her. I shared with her the previous night's events, and attempted to minimize the pain out of embarrassment, honestly. Some people don't understand the relationship a person can have with their dog, but Elizabeth did. Instead of just telling me how sorry she was (she did), and that everything would be okay, she said something to me that I didn't expect, and that surrounded me with the warmth of genuine compassion and love. She did understand that relationship and knew how devastating it was to lose it. Instead of turning and getting back to work, she focused completely on me for a moment and her tear-filled eyes told me she understood, and in a way, she took a little bit of my pain away from me. It was like a soul hug.
We concluded our visit to the Sealside Gallery with teary-eyed hugs - really. Elizabeth squeezed me the way my mom does. When Chris and I left, we did so with a small bag of pieces from the gallery, mostly jewelry and thoughtfully and cleverly-composed cards, along with a book Elizabeth gifted to us written by a woman she admires. But more than that, we left with a meaningful connection to another person, one I've not forgotten since, and don't think I ever will.
Thank you, Elizabeth, for your open heart.
We spent so much time with Elizabeth in her beautiful gallery there wasn't much time left to spend in Kaikoura, but that was okay. I'd gotten much more than I'd anticipated from this little seaside town. During a deeply sad moment in my life, something about this place embraced me and gave me comfort. As we pulled out of town on our way to visit some seal pups up the coast, my worries about forever associating Kaikoura with pain and sadness dissipated. Though the waves of grief came often, I knew right away that I'd be leaving a little piece of my heart here in this place, cared for by these people.
Thank you, Kaikoura, for the hug.