Let me introduce you to Paul, he deserves an introduction. He is what kept me smiling while hiking in the steep humid bush, as well as the thought of a Galaxy chocolate bar. Paul’s face is canvased with wrinkles creating a topographical map of his emotions over the past 80+ years. There was no sign of any teeth in the front of his mouth, his upper lip sucked over his upper teeth-less gum and into his mouth and his bottom lip puckered out vulnerable to the world. Paul had been living in the Karaunga Valley for over thirty years and before that he lived in Auckland. He could rarely hear me because he was hard of hearing, he blamed his deafness on being tired from working all day, so he just kept talking. I first met Paul when I was walking down the valley road and had 7km to go until I reached my campsite. While walking up and exceptionally tiring up hill on the road that carves and weaves through the thick green landscape, I heard a pleasant “beep beep” it wasn’t a scary horn at all. I turned around and saw an hold man behind the steering wheel of an old truck. He hollered quite loudly that he’d drive me to the visitor center, which is right next to my camp ground. I hopped in, a harmless old man. I was right. He was the biggest sweetheart around.
A few minutes into our drive he said “Do you want to meet Frog Man? I think you want to meet Frog Man.” My heart skipped a little beat, maybe Paul wasn’t such a great guy and who the heck was frog man. We sharply turned into a drive before I had time to answer but my heart was quickly settled by a hand carved sign at the end if the drive way that read ” Frog Farm” there had to be a frog man for a frog farm. We drove slowly down his steep and pot holed drive way and pulled up to a beautiful home. A big fenced in yard, two gorgeous and wide eyed dogs smiling with their tongues out, and a house filled with windows and character. Paul and I jumped out of the truck, well Paul moved a little slower then a jump but my eagerness couldn’t stop me. He began to tell me how Frog Man was his neighbor and dear friend, they all meet up here and eat and drink most nights. He kept talking and I kept smiling and nodding. After a few minutes who I assumed was Frog Man came out. He too was cheerfully smiling and greeted me with a thick and mumbled accent. We all chatted over a cup of tea on his porch and I learned about his frogs, the stream near his house, how it connects to Paul’s. After our drinks were empty Paul and I departed and made way to the visitor center, but not before Frog Man said that there was always a cup of tea and a couch for me at the frog farm. It was such a simple offer, maybe he was just being polite but I felt overly delighted to have someone familiar just down the road.
We kept driving through the curving roads that hugged close to the cliffs where water ran down thick moss. He told me about his wife. She died a few years back of MS. She lived with it for six years. Paul was there every step of the way. He said plain and simply that he was the only one who knew how to take care of her so he did and when he had to send her to a place to live where she could get medical treatment he went there everyday, from the moment after his coffee in the morning until she fell asleep that night and repeat. As he spoke of her I could hear in his words and stories the amount of love he had for her, I could hear how it was hard for him the bring her back through stories, I could also see how it made him smile to remember.
We got to the visitor center just as the sun began to set over the farmed hills. We had begun to talk about literature. This made my heart swell. An old man who has used his hands in construction his whole life and has farmed the same land for 30 years, loved literature. Proper literature. The classics and he really knew about them too, he could not stop talking about the Beat Poets and how their work rung true to any man. Then his ramble led intelligently on about Faulkner, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Thoreau, all the classic authors he had read. Over and over again. He told me that he and a few guys meet up every week to write and read together. An old toothless man with his pants tucked into his rain boots and his shirt tucked into his trousers and hands aged with dirt, spoke poetically about a passion if his. I grabbed my heavy orange bag and got dragged towards the ground with it for a moment as I forgot in my drive how heavy it was. I straightened back up and clipped up my backpack. I knew I had to leave Paul but I didn’t want to say goodbye quite yet, but it was getting dark and I had no idea where the campsite was. Before I left I shared with him some of my favorite authors, mainly the women, to give him some diversity in his reads and as I spoke he diligently wrote them down. As he waved goodbye he said “I’ll keep thinking of books for next time I see ya.”
He drove off in his load aging truck back to his house that we had passed along the way. I walked towards a river that I heard to collect myself. I never did find a campsite that night, so I slept in a hole in the bush beside the river.