December 25, 2011
Snow in Summer
Maggie couldn’t wait to go camping. Tom couldn’t wait for the ice-cream half way there. Mum and Dad couldn’t wait till the end of the day. At the half-way dairy everyone sat on a bench, and Mum’s and Maggie’s hair stuck to their ice-creams melting in the heat.
“Quick, lick the other side,” Mum kept telling Tom. Maggie gathered nuggets of hokey pokey into her cheek for later. Dad ate his ice-cream with his teeth and it was gone in no time.
There was still a lot of driving after that. The hot wind rocked the car and the road went straight ahead … Forever thought Maggie. At a crossroad in the wide brown plains a sign on a red post said Red Post Junction. At the next crossroads a sign said Mouse Point. Maggie read it out for Tom and thought there should at least be a picture of a mouse to look at.
The road got fed up with the straight and narrow and started to wind just a little bit, as well as climbing. Dad felt that in the gearbox. Everyone felt it in their ears. The brown plains became brown hills.
“When will we get there? asked Tom, not for the first time.
“Not long now Darling,” said Mum. Maggie felt hopeful. This was the first time Mum had said “Not long now” instead of “A wee while yet.”
“Mummy, I want to go to the toilet.” That was to be expected on a long journey.
“Malcolm, we’ll have to stop.” Mum sounded anxious. Dad sighed.
“I’ll stop at the
. There’s a toilet there. Why didn’t you go at the ice-cream shop Tom?” Fairy Forest
“He did Dad, he did.” Maggie had taken Tom herself. But Dad wasn’t really mad; this was a good excuse to visit the
. The wind was cold up here. They were in the mountains now. Mum made them put their jerseys on and when everyone - not just Tom - had been, Dad led an expedition into the forest. Fairy Forest
There was a bog to cross, with dark pools of mystery, and then a path wound up into the trees. The strong mountain wind and the bite of snow kept these trees little. They held their branches out like upturned palms, their leaves arranged in bonsai layers. Their stunted trunks were patched white and black with fungus and lichen, and thick strands of moss hung down from the branches. Sunlight made dapples on the mossy hummocks under the trees and Tom saw a fairy.
“I think it was really a bush robin,” said Maggie.
“No,” said Mum, “This is a fairy forest; he must have seen a fairy.”
There was a bright flame burning through the trees.
“Tracey, kids; look,” called Dad from up ahead.
“Oh gosh, mistletoe, in full flower,” marvelled Mum. She and Dad hurried towards the big ball of red flowers clustered on a tree.
“Kissing time,” laughed Dad, and Maggie giggled to see him and Mum together under the mistletoe.
“Don’t look Tom. “She said covering his eyes with her hand.
“Let me see, let me see. I want to see the mistletoe,” cried Tom.
A bellbird chimed, and flew green and silent out of the mistletoe flowers where it had been sipping nectar. Nobody was quite sure where it was in the branches between their heads and the sky.
“Come on you lot,” and Dad flapped his hands at his little flock. “We’ve got a tent to pitch. Time to leave Fairyland.”
But before they could leave Fairyland they had to deal with the goblins. The goblins loitered in the car park; hiding their true colours under bellbird-green feathers and waiting for the gullible to leave their cars behind. Then when the coast was clear they attacked! They swooped, with flaming wings and hooked bills, to tear at juicy wiper blades and the tasty seals around car windows. How they cackled with glee when people returned across the bog into their realm.
“Shoo, you naughty keas,” scolded Dad. “Go and eat someone else’s car.”
They pitched the tent at the edge of forest. This forest was the normal size for a forest - and black. It smelt of honey; and bristled with giants and underlings jousting for space. Nearby there were hot pools in the riverbed and also inside wooden huts. After tea and before bed, everyone went down to sit in the pools in the river – “Under the stars,” said Mum dreamily, except that it was the middle of summer so the stars didn’t come out till after children’s bedtime. And because the sandflies thought it was still daytime, they were visiting the hot pools too. Sandflies ate mud - and blood if they could get it. Human beings were a festive treat for them.
In the night something came into the tent and woke Tom up.
“Mummy,” he whispered to Mum in her sleeping bag, “What’s that noise?”
Mum listened to the noise in her dream and decided that in real life it was the squeaking of mice.
“They’re fighting,” mumbled Dad, “In your hamper.”
Mum had brought wicker baskets for the food, because this was a special occasion and she wanted the tent to look nice. She had made Dad put the big plastic camping crate outside. Still she didn’t trust the wekas so she had put food inside plastic containers all the same. Wekas would come in the night – or the day – and steal whatever they could lay their beaks on: apple cores, chocolate, tramping boots…
“The food will be okay.” said Mum sleepily, “Go back to sleep.”
The food wasn’t okay. Mum had forgotten that she didn’t have a tin big enough for the cake. The night visitors had had a good feed and left rich cake crumbs all over the place. But Dad had been right about them fighting. They’d been at it tooth and claw.
“Oh no,” wailed Mum, “They’ve bled all over the tablecloth.”
Mum had wrapped the cake in her second-best damask, tablecloth, though Dad hadn’t brought the dining table to go under it. Tom and Maggie were more interested in the other distractions of the morning. A night visitor had brought a new backpack for Maggie, and a bucket and spade for Tom.
Then it was time for a walk. Dad and Maggie were going to climb a mountain, and Mum and Tom were going to walk some of the way with them. They set off into the forest, following a path speckled with crimson leaves. It was the season for them to fall from red beech trees, and give the new leaves some growing room. The black-beech trees dripped honeydew onto greedy finger tips. But Tom was the first to see a mouse.
“A mouse, a mouse,” he cried, but no one else saw it because it hid itself from all the excitement. When the din had died down, it came out again, a white mouse.
“A real live sugar mouse,” said Mum.
“With red eyes,” said Tom. There were lots of white mice to be seen, once everyone knew to walk quietly. The path came out by the river and Dad got a bag of scroggin out to share around; nuts and raisins and chocolate for energy.
Dad, and Maggie wearing her new backpack, set off across the river, rock-hopping to the opposite bank before disappearing into the forest on the other side.
“Look,” said Mum to Tom, “That’s where they are going,” and she pointed high up on the mountainside, to a patch of snow, white on grey scree. “We… are going to the bath house for a nice hot soak.” Then she and Tom walked back through the forest to the camping ground.
Tom was puzzled by the bath house. There was no bath in it, just a swimming pool full of hot water. Mum floated on her back with her eyes closed and Tom kept close to her. The pool had a big window at the end with a view to the forest and the mountains, but there was only glass to stop the water flowing over the edge and down into the river. Tom didn’t want to float over the edge. When Mum had had enough of floating in a dream, she held Tom in her arms and swam with her feet, to the brim of the pool so that Tom could see the view.
“Oh look,” she said happily, “We can see the snow from here.” And there, high up on the valley side, was the same patch of snow that they had seen earlier.
“Are Daddy and Maggie there?” It didn’t seem possible for them to be in such a small place.
“I don’t think we would see them, even if they were there by now,” thought Mum. But Tom was pretty sure that some of the black dots around the edge of the snowy patch were Daddy and Maggie.
After lunch Tom played at the edge of the river with his new bucket and spade, until Mum called him to help her make dinner. She took a bag of pea pods out of the chilly bin and gave Tom two bowls, one for the empty pods and one for the peas; then she got on with scrubbing the new potatoes.
The mice came to see what Tom was up to, sitting so quietly on a fallen log. Peas! Tom was eating them as he went. He could tell that the mice would like some too. Peas didn’t grow in the beech forest, but peas are favourite mouse food. They carried them off in their mouths, and came back for more; preparing a feast somewhere under the ferns.
Mum folded the table cloth to its whitest side and spread it on the plastic camping crate. She laid out cold chicken, red currant jelly, new potatoes, some peas, boiled eggs, lettuce and salad dressing. In the zip-up sleeping compartment in the tent, Mum put a plate with a pavlova full of cream and strawberries, carefully nestled on top of the sleeping bags.
“We don’t want the mice to get that,” she said firmly.
“What a feast,” said Dad, when he and Maggie walked out of the forest just in time for dinner. Dad was carrying Maggie’s backpack on his chest. They both looked tired.
“Did you get to the snow?” asked Mum, as she helped Dad take the backpacks off his body.
“We did,” he beamed.
“And we’ve brought you a present,” giggled Maggie. Dad grinned at Mum, while Maggie rummaged in Dad’s backpack and brought out his thermos flask.
“Shut your eyes,” she said to Mum and Tom, unscrewing the lid of the flask. Dad helped her tip it into their cupped palms.
“Snow,” exclaimed Mum and Tom together, gasping at the cold surprise.
“Happy Christmas,” laughed Dad. “Can we eat now? I’m famished.”