There I was, sitting cross-legged on that big stone in the middle of the creek.
The mountains were celebrating or something, cause the water barely lapped halfway up the stone; if I straightened my legs out they wouldn’t touch water at all. It was high summer, too, it being the southern hemisphere–ever felt a day this warm in January? Not me.
The trees lining the rocky stream were full to bursting with greens and yellows and pinks, and the pine trees backing them up looking velvet. Made me want to jump in the shallow water and towel off with a pine branch.
My feet were falling asleep, but I couldn’t leave just yet.
“Mat-urity,” I scribbled in my notebook, the colander through which I drained all excess, leaving what I like to call the truth. “Is-knowing-you-are-going-to-die-at-anytime.” I examined my work. Mhm-hmm. Very good.
Basis: children are quintessentially immature. And what do they do?
“Clara pushed me out of the swing today!” they whine, grubby fingers streaking grape juice, or whatever the chosen after-school snack.
“He tripped me on purpose,” they insist, presenting the shiny band-aid as a doctor’s note.
“She didn’t bloody invite me to her birthday party! Who does she damn-well think she is?” (Some children are more explicit than others.)
This is immaturity; getting upset at being pushed out of the swing, potentially tripped on purpose, and not invited. What is maturity, then? In true realization of imminent death—none of those things matter. It doesn’t matter that you were pushed out of the swing, because you’re going to die soon and to be upset is just pointless. It doesn’t matter whether or not the tripping was on purpose, because you’re shortly to die. And who cares? So it is with an invitation—who bloody cares?
The stones around me were casting long shadows; it was getting late. A summer sun in New Zealand sets half-past 9, or later, depending on how far south you go. I was sitting in a stream on the Coromandel peninsula, in the Kauaeranga valley where I had positioned myself so as to hike the Pinnacles tomorrow morning before driving back to Auckland.
I stood up from my perch, shook my dead feet a bit, and piddled my way from rock to rock back to the outcropping which I could scale like a champion to reach the Department of Conservation campsite. I had pitched Joan of Arc when I arrived, and there she stood all coffin-like next to Andrew’s red Mitsubishi station wagon. It was on loan to me for the week, while my boss(es) and family were soaking in the hot pools of Hanmer Springs. Ahh—look at her. Long shadows from the surrounding trees dimpled her grey and orange walls.
No-no, no-no went my heart beat; a man in cargo shorts and a dark green button-up was walking through the campsite entrance. A subconscious analysis of his gait, aura, and body language had shown that he was a Conservation’s man, a DOC worker; judging from the clipboard he held holstered to his hip like a baby, he was checking for camping fee payment. Of which—clearly, judging from my reaction, and from my interpretation of his walkie-talkie as a gun—I had not paid.
I had not paid intentionally, to my credit. Driving past the visitor’s center sign reading: PAYMENT IN HERE, was a very analyzed, symbolic proceeding.
Because I did not allow myself the opportunity of voicing that intention to the DOC worker, preferring instead to scamper back down the outcropping to the river and run away along the rocks, to seek political asylum from the trees upriver until dark enough to slink back, I give the speech to you. The speech I had prepared if the DOC worker were to sniff me out along the river like a bloodhound.
Here is my explicit excuse for not paying the $13 camping fee to set up Joan of Arc at this spot for one night in the Kauaeranga valley.
I had intended to camp at Stony Bay, the Northeastern side of the Coromandel peninsula, and had spent the previous two nights in such arrangement. I had booked, however, for three nights instead of just two, paying online and in advance, predicting a busy campsite because of the holidays. It wasn’t at all busy when I rocked up. I set up Joan, had an outstanding first night of just me and a long-range quartet of possums, and counted my chickens.
The following day, however, a group of fifteen “youngsters”—and all that connotation holds—set up their pickup trucks and Tent Mansions in a holy half-circle, enclosing me in their noises and smells. I could have just moved my tent amicably–but I could not be bothered. That’s the short of it.
On the morning of the third day, I decided that I had had enough of Stony Bay, that I had exhausted all of my desired pursuits, and was ready to move on. If the Mansion Brothers had not shown up, perhaps I would have left anyways.
I decided to go to this campsite, because it would give easy access to the Pinnacles walk, an 8-hour adventure I’d done before and was keen to do again. But I did not pay for this campsite: no, I just barreled my way past the PAYMENT IN HERE sign and set up Joan like an outlaw. Why?
I’ll tell you.
First, the obvious: I had paid DOC for three nights of camping, and was simply getting what I had paid for. It was all DOC-owned anyways, what did it matter that I had not spent three nights camping at the same place?
Now, the implicit: I am going to die. You are going to die. One day, some day, inevitably. And in light of this, I recognize that I am way too much of a stick-to-the-rules sort of person. If maturity is knowing you are going to die, and responding accordingly, is it mature to enslave oneself to all the manmade rules? No. Not all the time. Responsible, yes, but not mature in light of my new definition.
So I needed the practice of breaking a rule, fudging a technicality. Here, the opportunity presented itself.
I took it.
I’m not ashamed!
I recognize the irony in running away from authority in the name of maturity. I see that, really, I do. Perhaps the actual mature thing would have been to face the DOC worker with a shrug, explain, and accept the consequences. My way was definitely more fun, though, so there’s that.
I waited half an hour until the sun set and my belly started grumbling too loud for me to take. Then I slunk back, climbed over the outcropping, noted the absence of the DOC worker and climbed in to Joan.
I noticed too that there weren’t any messages tacked to either my tent or the car; clearly the presence of one little mono-tent wasn’t enough to cause a hullabaloo. Lucky for me. Had I really lived my life in a manner that getting caught for not paying $13 to camp one night in the middle of the woods made me into this? That’s giving too much control to the Man.
But it’s a practice. Continuous work in progress. No regrets. I’m not ashamed!
Peace and blessings,