The boy is collecting watercress from a slow moving stream. He watches me unload my pack from the car that had brought me this far and when I look over he catches my eye, smiles and waves.
Peter isn't shy; he speaks first, invites me over, to stay. And he isn't creepy either; doesn't flirt or hit on me. He makes the yummiest avocado smoothies with palm sugar and crushed ice.
Peter took me to the unzipped house.
My experience of squats was limited to a succession of hovels up Aro Valley. Some of them lasted for a few months, others only a matter of days. They were all cold, filthy and kinda scary. I figured Aotearoa was too young, too small for anything beautiful to be magically forgotten; an owner was never far away.
The unzipped house however changed all that: it's magic.
Peter leads me up a steep bank from the roads edge and into a narrow gully; no path, no driveway or letterbox. Just the end of a rainbow, what every casual exploration deserves.
Yes, a house. All alone and forgotten.
After weaving carefully through dry wind-slopped bracken and fledgling Manuka the sight of concrete is a shock: vertical, horizontal, perpendicular, right-angles all chipped and scarred where mother earth has gnawed her frustrations. Peter laughs. “What were they thinking right?”
Ice that Peter had earlier collected from friends was rapidly melting and initiates the pulping of avocados in what was once the lounge. The floor space is filled with round stones: gray, white, speckled.
Except for two smaller rooms – one rowed with tomato plants, the other home to a large Kanuka tree – the house has all been 're-floored' in this fashion. When you walk the stones talk; a constant click-clack as if the house were full of ghosts with plenty to say.
Sections of the roof plus several windows and the front door we had stepped through were covered in clear plastic. The windows and door have large plastic zips installed but were rarely closed.
The house, Peter explained, is usually unzipped.
Peter rinses jars of sprouts while I sit in the sun; surf rumbles in the distant and I hear the occasional car pass out of sight below us. Dinner is mostly weeds with bread baked in a small earth oven. We wash it down with cold bottles of Mac's retrieved from a water trough
The shadows that grow with our conversation are sharp, angular, but are soon lulled by a rich moon that fills the rooms once more with gentle light and life.
I congratulate Peter: “How you have softened this ugliness, corrupted the arrogance of function to allow life back. To have put down the axe, the lawn mower, and to once more live with Aotearoa rather than against her.”
“So sad,” he replies, “that it can only happen in the forgotten places.”
Ruru call back and forth as mattresses are laid out. Peter has no lights, sleeps when it's dark and rises long before I do.