SO MUCH THE SAME . . . .
One bit of self discipline for this trip was to not say “This is just like home …..” I started to so often. “We have forests and mountains and volcanoes, salve and long stretches of ocean.” It was so tempting. And my nature is to find similarities wherever I can. “Your winters are mild like ours” – then there is always the “but.” Our winters are mild like yours, but not so mild. Most winters we don’t have flowers that last the season and flowers were blooming everywhere we went. Geraniums were not just potted plants or small summer color accents, but rather three-four foot high bushes full of blooms in mid-winter. We did, however, miss snow in Dunedin by one day, but I don’t believe any of it stuck.
It was so tempting to match Australian descriptions of rain forest on the coast and inland high desert country subject to massive fires—we have that too! But their forests are full of gum trees and eucalyptus of many varieties, so that while they are green all year, they are much more a dusty grey-green, and they have leaves, not needles, and shapes more like our deciduous trees. Their fires, as best I can tell, burn hotter because of the eucalyptus, and are even larger than what we get, but it is true that all of us will suffer more such disasters as the world gets hotter.
New Zealand at first sight is Oregon’s twin. The trees full leafed in mid-winter, the breezes dank and chill but not frigid, the hills rolling, the volcanoes almost everywhere you look and the expanse of white topped mountains across the South Island – the “mainland” of Maori lore, the body of the great fish that spewed out the North Island. Yet again, there are those distinctions, the ever green leaves –not needles–and trees more like oaks rather than tall pines and firs. The greens tinged with brown and grey, much softer and blending into the soil. Then there are the plants with no match I am aware of in the States such as the tree ferns that can soar as high as firs and the grass ferns which provide materials for weaving, for cutting, for making rain protection and much, much more.
The 45th parallel that runs just north of Salem bisects this nation, but even in Dunedin,
which is well south of the 45th, is sprinkled with winter blooms and mild afternoons. In fact I found I needed my sweaters more indoors than out as neither nation is as profligate with fuel as the U.S. What was most challenging was the almost universal absence of heat in the bathroom, and often small windows left open. I was proud of myself that I managed to take a shower in the morning at Silver Wattle in Australia as the snow fell outside.