Up until yesterday, I have walked alone and learned to trust myself on the trail.
This time my sister-in-law Eila stood beside me on the windy and cratered summit of Mount Eden, the tallest of 48 volcanoes dotting the Auckland isthmus.
"This is magnificent! It's your first time up here, isn't it?" I asked, lifting my voice to just below a parade-ground roar to counter the stiff wind blowing from the cloud-swept Waitakere Ranges to the west. When the combination of exercise, the elements and heart-stirring vistas enthrall me, I tend to forget that others may have different concerns. Eila nodded and shivered. "Yes, but can we get out of this wind?" she asked plaintively.
We staggered past other reeling sightseers to the lee of the viewing platform. While I got out my recently trimmed-down cookset to brew coffee, I commented, "It's certainly been a day of firsts."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"It's the first I've tried out my new shoes, carried this new pack and walked with a companion, for example. What's been a first for you?"
Once she got going, she felt surprised at how many she'd experienced. Walking 20 kilometres, following the beach from Milford to Devonport, meeting my friend Patrick and his Yoga teacher Brazilian friend, chatting to seven strangers on the way, borrowing a pair of shorts after ripping hers on a rock. "That was a first," she giggled. "I can't believe I walked down a beach without knowing my bum was showing!"
She watched while I spooned ground coffee into the boiling water and placed the steaming, battered pot into the home-made pot cosy for a couple of minutes to bring out the full richness.
"This is a first too," I said. "I haven't made coffee "cowboy style" before. I hope it's better than instant coffee."
Eila's eyes glistened when I poured the hot liquid into our shared mug and added a large dollop of sweet condensed milk.
I smiled. "A bit more?" I asked. I knew the answer added a bit more. Eila adores condensed milk.
She sipped and sighed, "That's delicious!"
I felt good watching her enjoy herself. In recent times, she had lost touch with her strengths and tended to say, "No" more than "Yes" to opportunities. She didn't trust herself as much as she used to.
She sighed again. "I wish I could go walking like you," she said, a despondent note in her voice.
"Well, now you can. Maybe not for weeks or months but certainly for a day or two. It's easy."
She looked thoughtful.
"Hey! Show me the leaves you brought," I said to break the despondent mood.
At the start of our walk at Milford Beach, I'd asked to find a natural object that attracted her. She'd collected several fallen pohutakawa leaves.
When I'd asked her what had been attractive about them, she'd said, "They've fallen from their tree. They're alone even if they're pretty."
Now, I asked her to show me the leaves again.
"They've changed," she said. "They feel stronger."
"How about you?" I asked.
She gazed down at the city skyline and then out to the west where the storm clouds streamed and shafts of light bloomed on the mountain ranges. She turned to the east, tracing our day's route from our Mt Eden eyrie.
She smiled. "Tired but stronger."
"Well, that's a first!" I laughed. "Nice one! Welcome to nature's therapy room!"
After Rosa collected us, I reflected that my "firsts" will continue. I'm heading south shortly to cooler weather, higher mountains, tougher trails and ever-increasing distances from Rosa, family and friends. I'm going deeper into the unkown and away from security.
So, thank you, Eila for showing me that change really is the only constant and that out of change comes strength. And for reminding me that although leaves may be blown from the parent tree by the winds of change, they are never lost.