Sunday, 11 October 2009

The view ~ inside looking out

Yesterday when I was sitting at my desk here busily typing away I could see that our new neighbours were moving in. We live in a block of three units and the one at the other end had been empty for some time. My workroom is on the upper level of the house and the desk faces the window which gives me a good view into the street where I see all kinds of comings and goings. Although I am mildly curious about the new people I didn't feel inclined to go across to meet them right away - we'll meet in due course, probably sometime in the coming week and that will be soon enough. I could see that they were making a fairly serious commitment to the place though, from the amount of stuff they were bringing: first the red ute with the tray-back heavily laden, then the red ute again with a further load. An hour or so later a really big truck parked right across the front of all three units and disgorged its contents. Later still in the day, and rather to my surprise, yet another truck arrived, smaller this time, but a truck nonetheless.

Not too much else happened, other than landlord Neil arriving home from his week whitebaiting on the West Coast. I saw him turn in the drive in his shiny black ute, and later unpack his fishing rod. I remarked on this to my partner, Rewi. "Did he go whitebaiting with that?" he remarked absurdly. For those of you who aren't familiar with what whitebait are, the term for both one and many is the same, and a single creature is of similar size and proportion to a modestly sized earthworm. Whitebait come in with the tide at certain times of the year and are caught in nets.

Where ever I am I need a view of some kind. The view here is very much one of people coming and going and pottering about. It's suburban but with pleasantly green surrounding hills which I can see through skeins of power lines. I've learnt to disregard the ugliness of the lines and enjoy the hills. Hopeless for photos though, except for along the street!

The building we live in sits at an angle to the bend in the street so from my workroom I can see well in both directions. From the other side of the house there is an expansive view of the rest of the property which includes the block of two units at the back, then the back of other properties beyond that which face the other way. Over the fence at the northern end I can see into the back yards of other neighbours in the next block of units. I know most of the people who live nearby by name and others by sight. They are all amiable in their way, which is just as well as we live at fairly close quarters, for New Zealand anyway.

Where I grew up we had a very different view from a very different setting. Our home was on a rambling tree-clad hill section with the view focused mainly on the estuary below and the ocean beyond. To the left we could see the distant city and beyond that the mountains. Above it all the sky seemed vast. I haven't lived anywhere else where the sky looked so endless, so high and so wide. We were fairly isolated from other houses and families so we were very much absorbed with each other and the semi-rural area in which we lived.

It wasn't until I moved to surburban Auckland that I realised how much the view meant to me and how ill-equipt I was for life in the city. I missed that long and restful view, and the garden with its glades. Whenever I was on a beach or hill I was aware that I rested my gaze on whatever was far away. And when I didn't have the distance to look at I still found myself habitually looking out the window. I still do. If I'm upstairs here I'm always aware of what it's like outside and what's going on. If I'm downstairs I like to sit and look out into the little courtyard garden at the front. It rests me. I planted the entire garden here myself with the exception of the tall hedge, and I am constantly looking at my garden and examining everything minutely, or simply gazing at it. My need for a view probably stimulated my interest in creating gardens in the first place. I don't want to look just at a fence - I want texture and beauty and growing things, life.

Living in this somewhat restricted spot hemmed in as we are by all these other households is not my first choice at all, but it was what we could get at the time, and there are lots of good things about it. And actually it's been good for me to have to relate to other locals up to a point. I'd so much rather live away in the country, somewhere that I can create my own forest groves and charmed gardens, and write and breathe undisturbed. Which is pretty much the sort of setting in which I grew up. I feel so fortunate to have had that experience, which may not come again.

But as things turned out I've had to learn to relate to people better, to rub along with them as if I belong, which I don't feel I do. I've always been an outsider and fairly solitary, a bit of a loner. Strange as it might seem, being a librarian helped me with this enormously, strange because you might think it would be the ideal job for an introvert, which it isn't: I learnt that I could get along in a friendly enough though superficial way, which is all most people are ever likely to want from me. My role as a service provider in a small community library meant that we had to interact and we got used to each other. I even enjoyed it to some degree. I learnt to like people better. It was good practice.

A number of people helped me learn more about living comfortably, even to enjoy living in a community, but one person takes pride of place: that person is author E. F. Benson whose Lucia and Mapp series continues to be a touchstone, always a reminder to get the very most out of every social situation imaginable, even the unpleasant ones, by observing everything closely, appreciating both drama and boredom, of conjecturing endlessly about all kinds of minute details and above all by participating in it as theatre in which one is both actor and audience. It's harmless, free of charge and wonderfully entertaining. Hence the state of my neighbour Samantha's clothesline becomes an important feature: how much of the washing is actually pegged on today and how much has simply fallen on the ground, and how long has it been there? Harry down the back, who is loves to tinker with his car, and can so often be seen replacing some part or other: last weekend it was the wiper blades; the weekend before that it was something to do with the power steering. Kevin over the back fence spends a lot of time cultivating a large vegetable garden; he has a weather vane which is useful to observe on a windy day, and a revolving clothesline which complains in the wind, but only if there's a load of washing on it, which drives me nuts. If there's a power saw going it's likely to be either Neil, who is often working on something or other out the back, or the man at the end property next to the walkway cutting up yet more firewood on his circular saw.

And I am part of this. How do the neighbours see me? Their chief impression is likely to be of a sun-hatted middle aged woman, moderately friendly, often to be seen doubled over in the garden in her oldest clothes, or - gazing out the window - again! (What can she be looking at?) Taking an interest in all these details means it's never dull here. People who set themselves apart from the little things in life miss out on so much. This discovery was a surprise to me. And through my view I am the richer.

No comments: