I’ve completed my pilgrimage to Taranaki. After flying in to New Plymouth, I took a shuttle to connect with the one bus per week that goes to Opunake, on the far side of the mountain. Taranaki is a circle, with the mountain in the middle. The first thing I do when I go back there is look for the mountain.
It was hard to find, but the many lahar mounds on that side were rising up thick and fast as the bus drove onwards.
Through the bus window, I kept searching for a glimpse of this beloved cone that inspired me throughout my childhood. But all I could see was its base. Its head was in the clouds, and I heard that snow was falling.
I wondered if my old teacher would be hard to find also, if he was lost in the mists of oblivion. Even the photo, shown to me by the Rest Home matron, could not be re-photographed successfully because it was behind glass. There he is, second from the left, the handsome young teacher whom I knew. He was one the the first Maori teachers to be trained for mainstream schools. Here he is amidst his fellow-trainees at Ardmore Teachers’ College.
My old teacher knew me immediately. We exchanged a long hongi (the nose to nose greeting of Maori), and with it the exchange of the breath and aroha (love) that we have shared for so long.
‘You were my favourite teacher,’ I told him, ‘and I will never forget what you gave me,’
He emerged from behind the clouds, with a mischievous light in his eye and replied, ‘well maybe you were my favourite pupil.’
The next morning, after an evening of rich conversation, tears and laughter with an old friend back in New Plymouth, I was driven to the airport. My friend caught sight of something in his rear vision mirror and stopped the car at the side of the road. ‘Get out and take a look.’ and there it was at last, my beloved mountain, Taranaki.
When I was with Jim, my teacher, I sang some of the old songs he taught me, and he joined in. We were together as the years and clouds rolled back. Arohanui. It was a big journey, in every way, and worth every step.