We gingerly made our way across the jagged rocks, in the hopes of finding a spot to watch the sun go into hiding behind snow-capped mountains. James, the Australian dude who ran the hostel for food and lodging, was walking with us. You stopped to admire a tree, smooth and dry in the dead of winter.
James noticed and told us: “Plants native to New Zealand are evergreen. The ones that look dead are intruders.”
“If I was a visiting plant, I would stay here too,” you mused.
By the time we settled ourselves on a piece of rock large and smooth enough for us to share, the golden evening was fading into a dusty pink night. We set down the bottle of Pinot Noir and drew our parkas up as the night grew cold. Behind, James was filling up the bird table with leftovers from the hostel kitchen. The harsh winter can be difficult for them, a sign near the bins explained the first night we checked in, so any scraps would be welcome. A few minutes later, we heard his boots rustle through the dead grass as he headed back.
We were not the only ones who noticed- a startled brown hare popped up a few feet away. It glanced at us nervously before disappearing.
Down the rabbit hole it goes, I thought, fascinated. It was the first time I’d seen a wild hare- larger than rabbits, this one a creamy wheat colour. “It’s exactly how Enid Blyton had described!” I whispered excitedly. I wonder how it feels to appear and disappear in the blink of an eye.
Apart from that disturbance, our surroundings were still. We sat with our knees tucked under our chins and I watched the lake change from a clear, brilliant blue to black and glittery and alive.
The wine was already half gone by the time we noticed the stars. You were busy looking at the scene through your viewfinder, and I was busy drinking in that rare and beautiful look of concentration on your face. While we were preoccupied, the stars had crept shyly out of the absolute darkness of the sky. The scattered pinpricks seemed to me the authentic version of what jewellers hope to achieve when they spill a bag of diamonds across velvet. I gorged on the dazzling sight. You were fiddling with the camera, but this can only be imprinted with eyes and heart.
My gloved hands sought yours out. “Just enjoy it now.” Your hands were warmer than the heating pads I had stashed in various pockets.
“I don’t want to forget this feeling,” you said, finally setting the camera down. I watched the white puffs of air snaking out of your mouth, and felt a strange sorrow.
I had suspected for a while but this was the moment I knew I had to do it. When was the last time you stared at me with such wonder in your eyes? A woman knows when someone has fallen out of love with her. The scenery is bewitching, and I knew that was all you would take away. Years from now, you won’t remember the feel of my shoulder pressed against yours as the cold swirled around us, or the way my eyes glittered in wonder and sadness on this night, because you don’t even notice it now. Travel shows us mesmerizing new places, and long-time love should beguile the same way. It is hard to love in the face of daily life, but from time to time, we deserve to be gazed at with wonder. And when was the last time you really looked at me the way you’re looking at this night?
Mount John was in the distance, and we charted the progress of a pair of headlights winding its way up to the world class observatory deck before we headed back in. Later that night, we tucked our bodies under a blanket that crinkled when either of us moved.
It was below zero degrees outside.
That was the night Lake Tekapo told me to let go of you, and finally catch up with time.
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