For the next five months, I will be working on what used to be Poronui Station—now sixteen-thousand acres, once and entire valley—of farm and woodlands. While the entire property consists of much more, I will be working for the luxury fly-fishing and hunting lodge as a waitress.
My first few nights at Poronui I stayed at the lodge managers home, about a mile away from the lodge. She'd returned home to Ireland for the week and I was set to watch her little fox terrier, Fleur. After the first shift, I closed up the kitchen and headed out onto the dirt road. I’d told my manager, Claire, that I’d be fine getting home. It wasn’t a far walk and I’m not afraid of the darkness of the woods.
And yet. On that journey home, as Fleur drifted in and out of the glow of my flashlight, her white coat iridescent and ghostly, I felt my heart rate quicken. Generally, I am not one to get spooked by the woods at night. Growing up, my grandmothers house used to terrify me because of the human noises it would emit—groans and creaks like a haggard woman adjusting herself in sleep. But the woods of Tahoe, or Upstate New York never frightened me. However, that mile on the winding dirt road left me nervous and on edge. In the distance I could hear the shrieking call of a Cuckoo, almost like a crying child.
That walk made me think about what it means to be afraid. People have asked me if moving to the other side of the world, a place I'd never been before, where I hardly know a single person, scared me. My answer has always been an honest "no". This type of unknown has always held and allure for me—the unknowable future. This species of adventure, to me, is brimming with possibilities and challenges. But the more tangible mysteries—the unfamiliarity of darkness, of hidden depths, makes me uncomfortable.
On the way to Poronui, my friend Erika and I drove through the Coromandel Penninsula and when we stopped at a rest stop we happened upon the Karangahake Gorge. Not only was it a lush, misty-green valley filled with the now familiar spicy scent of jasmine—it was also home to an abandoned gold mine. The two of us crossed a very Indiana Jones-type bridge and climbed up tracks into the hollowed out cliff-face.
Not far into the mine (illuminated by small windows in the rock), we came to a fork in the road—go straight, out of the window tunnel and into full sunlight, or turn left, deeper into the mountain. Erika stayed outside while I wandered left. I’m fine, I told myself as I walked. And I was, until I'd gone so far I could hear the faint trickle of water ahead in the darkness and my feet slide across wet rock. Heart-rate elevated I berated myself, “Do you think Harry Potter was this afraid when he went into the Chamber of Secrets—knowing Voldemort was there?!” (I often think of Harry Potter when I am freaked out--very nerdy, I know). But ultimately, I couldn’t forge ahead any longer and I ran back to Erika, making her return to the tunnel with me. Together we didn’t make it much further than I had alone.
Everyone is frightened by something—whether we want to admit it or not. I am not entirely sure if my fear of the darkness on the way to Eve’s house, or the darkness of the tunnel, is true fear of that particular breed of unknown or merely a manifestation of my fear of being so far from home, in another country, not completely positive about what I want to do with this life of mine. I’m not trying to psychoanalyze myself, though.
In the past I would have been ashamed to admit that I was afraid of the dark—thinking, "I’m too big for that, too strong." I’m not about that anymore.
There is literally no more benign an environment than that of Poronui and I was still fucking terrified to walk home. But I’m sure even Harry would admit to being scared.