Willowbank, Christchurch

This was one beautiful day in Christchurch. Sunny and warm, it was apparently a great contrast to the preceding weeks of overcast and rainy weather. As it turns out the weather changed as we arrived and taxied to a stop, splashing the puddles on the ramp with the landing gear tires. We brought the good weather with us, as I have jokingly promised the people in Christchurch that helped me so much in organizing our work here. Again, it is not who you are, it is whom you know that make a difference. A project of this scale can’t be organized and operated successfully by any single individual without the help of a great many excellent people, and I am so fortunate to work with them.

Even if tainted a bit by our testing of Nikon optics in a way not intended by the manufacturer, the day was great. An issue with the instrument apparently got resolved; we paid a visit to KnitWorks, a place that sells the finest knitwear that I have ever come across, the Lothlorian’s merino-possum sweaters, among other wool products. I already brought home nearly 10 of them and still can’t seem to get away from that store without leaving a substantial amount of money there in support of the New Zealand’s wool industry. Unfortunately for my wallet I probably single-handedly keep the place in business, even though we are visiting only once or twice a year. However, the quality of the Lothlorians is such that my family have never regretted spending enough money on them to buy a mid size car. This year they have introduced a sweater in a new color so of course, I got in trouble again.

At home in Willowbank
At home in Willowbank

Later in the day we were able to break away from work and stop by the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. This place is probably my favorite spot in Christchurch, and took a very special place in my heart. Not all that much to the superficial observer, it holds a magic in it that is hard to describe. You just need to slow down (isn’t this sort of a common thread in many of my notes?) and quietly walk along its wooden planked paths, and a quaint and peaceful life of its inhabitants will accept you, relieve you of your stress and remind you that things are not so bad after all. Unkempt geese with feathers sticking out of them in all directions, as if recently electrocuted, rushed to us like escapees to a breach in the prison gates. As funny as they were, I got a bit worried about being pecked to death since it appears that Willowbank didn’t have too many visitors today and the beggars were all hungry. Narrowly escaping their clicking beaks we just about got within reach of the ostrich that nearly ate my fingers off the last time I visited and tried to do it again this time, with a better success actually. Two of the wallabies escaped from their usual area and were lazily walking along our path, picking up blades of grass. The rest of their compatriots were still penned up in their half-football-field size yard, where they curiously looked at us and tried to sniff our hands from a distance, figuring out if we had brought treats or not. Discovering that we didn’t the wallabies returned to their routines of grooming, blinking dreamily with their inch-long eyelashes and munching on whatever they happen to see around them at the moment.

The silly lemurs, monkeys, farm animals; peacocks and guinea foul walking on the same trails as you are; numerous birds, including the herons that always look at you suspiciously as if they are hiding something they just stole and are worried that you will discover it right here and catch them red-handed – all these wonderful creatures were there, and we walked through their world, thankful that we had this chance.

The magical kiwi
The magical kiwi

And then, of course, the kiwi. Brownish and fairly nondescript, the kiwis are somehow charming and win your heart without even trying. Maybe it is their unassuming manner with which they quietly move along in the dark, making subtle noises and poking their long noses everywhere they can think of. Or maybe it is their funny round shape of a football with two feet and a beak. Or maybe it is the fact that they lay eggs 2/3 the size of their body. Or that they are endangered and you know it. Whatever the reason, I can stand there for an hour without noticing the time and look and look at them, endlessly moving in the dark and purring, peeping, creaking and splashing in the little creek they have there and always sticking their nose everywhere. Do not take pictures with a flash: this scares the birds, harms them and is illegal and punishable by the law with a severe penalty and possible jail time. If you are patient, you can still take a decent photo with a fast lens.

We only had one hour to visit this evening but Willowbank again let me in its quiet small world. And I was very glad to visit, taking nothing away from it other than a little piece of happiness and sadness.

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