From Kaiteriteri, which is itself hardly the centre of civilisation, it's an hours drive over the Takaka hill into the Takaka valley. I once negotiated the last mile of the Motueka side of the hill in a VW Kombi with no brakes whatsoever, and my survival of that trip remains in my consciousness as one more irrefutable piece of evidence for the existence of God. On Sunday the journey was less eventful. Once we were safely in the valley we turned off beside the Anatoki river and followed the side road far past the point where the tarseal gives up in disgust. A rutted, scarred, one lane dirt road through a narrow valley gives out, after a while into a broad roughly circular basin in which are sited, side by side, two maturing communities: Happy Sam and Rainbow Valley. These both began life as hippie communes back in the early 70s. Rainbow Valley was the more organised and purposeful of the two. It now has a small collection of modest houses each built in varying versions of early 70's alternative style, but each now showing the patina of thirty years of habitation and thirty years of wear and tear. It looks a bit like an elf village, such as you might see in a Peter Jackson movie. Happy Sam's early history was perhaps characterised more by the word 'hippie' than the word 'commune'. It has a large, adventurous, visionary but still incomplete communal building surrounded by a number of small, and more or less finished houses. All around are mountains and forest. There is a cliff face with caves. There are wide paddocks with a few cattle and some horses. There is a river with a shingle bed and deep green swimming holes.
It was here, sometimes anyway, that my niece Tania grew up, and it is to here that she returned to be married. If you want excuses for failure, go ask Tania. Her early life was not exactly Enid Blyton, and she has plenty of excuses, but seeing as she has no use for them herself, I'm sure she'd be only too happy to lend you a few. She is a lovely young woman with a generous, expansive, adventurous personality. She's tall and is someone whom it is all but impossible to ignore if she's in the room. She notices people. Reaches out to them. Laughs a lot. She is a qualified chef and a committed mother who yesterday wished to publicly plight her troth to Aidan, lucky bugger. Aidan is a good man, and a fitting match for Tania. So we gathered:Tania's and Aidan's families; old hippies with their children and grandchildren; workmates and friends, all in this wonderful, strange, hidden place.
We men gathered by the river, down near Rainbow Valley, about 50 or so of us. All were given carnations to wear as button holes because we were, all of us, acting as best man. There was a bonfire, and some children playing on the flying fox. The women gathered at Happy Sam, and when the time was right, walked in procession with Tania down through the farm, through the gardens and past the sculptures of the Rainbow village, and down through a grove of trees to meet us. And there we celebrated this couple. A very young Church of Christ pastor led us all through this lighthearted but deeply serious event. Promises were made and vows exchanged. We held hands and prayed. Incense was put on the bonfire. The air was filled with irridescent soap bubbles. Earth, air, fire and water. Two lives were made a little more whole for finding each other and deciding to face the future as one.
And then it was back to the Happy Sam lodge. There was conversation and a huge feast. The feast gave me something of a dilemma. All the women in my life are making a concerted effort with my diet: no animal fat, no processed sugar amongst other well meaning but annoying rules. There was a whole roast sheep, and lots of other rule breaking tucker. I decided, in an enormous act of self discipline, to eat only the flesh of vegetarian animals, and because I was so diligent about the first course, to allow myself some leeway during the second. It worked for me, and I hope, for my womenfolk. There was music. Wonderful, skilled, joyous music: folk music from Armenia and Latvia and Poland and Israel played on a violin and drum and guitar and hang drum. There was a bonfire outside from around which came the smell of tobacco and other, more herbal aromas. The rain began to fall and the sun went down. Inside in the half dark with a hundred ancient hippies and their kin, I danced until my shirt was soaked.
Surrounding me were people who had chosen a very different path through the one life they had been given. Eschewing the things that many of us grasp to give our lives meaning, they had struggled with the same sorts of issues that are our inescapable challenges in this vale of soul making: relationships, earning a living, relationships, children, relationships, providing shelter, relationships, finding meaning and relationships. There were one or two walking shipwrecks, but by and large they seemed like whole people whose company was well worth the trouble of cultivating.
We left early, at around 10. My 81 year old mother could only take so much Armenian folk dancing and we had to get her home. My lovely niece and her husband embraced me and thanked me effusively for coming. I felt humbled. It was me who had gained from this exchange.