The Good Life: Pictures imperfect
Updated: May 13, 2020
Mundanity isn't boring, it's the stuff of the good life. By Michele Hewitson.
My friend Louise, who is an artist in New York, was planning a month-long visit to New Zealand in April. She has a great love of the country and has been many times before. Her long-term partner was my uncle Nick.
The first time I met Louise involved a mad-cap, late-night escapade across the Auckland harbour bridge which, in those days, had toll booths. For some reason we had no money to pay. What we did have was Nick, who could charm the birds out of the sky — and toll booth operators into letting us cross the bridge gratis.
Many years later Louise paid another visit, and we scattered half of Nick’s ashes under a kauri tree at my grandparent’s bach in Huia, in west Auckland. The other half she scattered on a beach in Montauk, in East Hampton in New York state. Montauk is sometimes called, by the people who live there, The End; it is the easternmost point of Long Island. My grandparents’ Huia bach was at the end of a road at the top of a hill. Both places are beautiful places to end up.
My oldest friend Lee-Ann’s dad, Wayne, died on Sunday, of cancer, in an Auckland hospital. She lives in Perth and had rushed here a week ago and went into the required two-week quarantine. She didn’t see him before he died. She was allowed out of quarantine, for one hour, to see his body. It is hard to know what to think about this, except that is so terribly sad. He was a good joker.
Louise’s visit would have been her first to Lush Places. We were going to put her up in what we grandly call the Crandell Suite because that is the room in which her brilliant paintings of light hang. We were very excited, and may even have had plans to clean the windows. Then the wretched virus took over the planet and so there are no prizes for guessing that the visit was off. At least the windows got washed.
To make up for the disappointment, Louise suggested we begin trading photographs of our respective lives in these strange times. It would give us glimpses of the other’s life in lockdown; of me, here, at Lush Places, where she has never been; of Louise at her Long Island farmhouse, where I have never been, and to which she fled from her New York apartment, with her cat The Winkster.
We call the photos The Mundane Series, and there are two rules only: no staging and no images of anything that is not truly mundane. It is a good game; the perfect antidote to playing the “look at my perfect life” that bores play out on social media. This does not mean that the game is not also highly competitive. We vie to send the most mundane picture, which is more difficult than it might sound: a laundry basket, The Winkster’s feeding station, a junk drawer, a block of yeast. Louise is the clear victor, thus far. It is hard to beat a bowl of cold oatmeal for mundanity.
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Meanwhile, the grass is growing at Lush Places. This sounds mundane, but it is not: it is thrilling. We go outside and marvel. The drought has been awful, but the sheep are fat again, partly with grass, and partly with babies which are hopefully getting fat themselves inside the mamas.
Do sheep know they are pregnant, I wonder? Or do they just get a terrible fright one day in spring when one or two or three lambs pop out? They don’t just pop out, of course. I have recently read a memoir, A Farmer’s Diary, by Sally Urwin, an English woman who accidentally became a sheep farmer. She writes of her hand being crushed when she had it up a ewe’s bum at the moment of a particularly violent contraction.
The ewes certainly seem to remember the experience. The first time mamas look in amazement at their lambs when they first emerge; the older mamas are old hands, and take the miraculous appearance of lambs in their sheeply strides.
All sheep care about is grass and scratching their bums on trees. This is oddly comforting in these sad times. As are those mundane things in our reduced lives.