The police roadblock caught me by surprise. It was on SH69 leading out of Reefton towards Murchison. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” the officer said, looking through my vehicle’s window. “There’s been a fatal crash on this side of Murchison and the road will be closed for hours.”
That was very sad news. I paused for a moment before questioning the policeman. “Is there an alternate route? If I drive to Westport can I get through from there?”
The answer was no, that route was also closed due to the accident. “I need to drop this vehicle in Nelson this evening,” I told him, “and I’m booked to fly home at 7:30pm. Is there any other way of getting up there?”
The officer stepped back and looked at the vehicle I was in, a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado. It belonged to a rental car company and I was relocating it north for them. “That a four wheel drive?” he questioned.
“It sure is,” I replied.
“In that case there’s a mountain pass you can use. It’s just a dirt track but will bring you out the other side of Murchison.” He gave me details of where to find the road and I turned the vehicle around.
I followed his instructions and a half hour later arrived at the Maruia Saddle Road. His description was accurate. It was indeed a dirt track, single lane in many places and full of twists and turns. What he hadn’t told me was how beautiful it was. Sunlight filtered through trees and ferns, and clear streams ran directly over the track, dropping away into small waterfalls.
I soon discovered that many people were coming through from the Nelson side of the pass, More so than the Reefton side. It was amazing how courteous everyone was. I think we were all mindful that someone had lost their life that day and that our problems were minor inconveniences in comparison.
People pulled onto shoulders to let others pass and a gentleman stopped and got out of his car to guide me around a treacherous corner. Everyone waved as they passed and there was no aggression or tailgating. This is amazing, I thought. If we’d all been on the highway, we’d probably have been jockeying for position, racing the clock and wrapped up in our own little worlds.
I stopped here and there to take photos and inhale the gentle scent of nature. I dipped my fingers in cool streams and listened to insects buzzing and sweet birdsong. I wished I could stay there all day but had to move on, aware that the detour had cost me time wise. I ended up cancelling the audits I had scheduled in Nelson, but made it to the airport, 20 minutes before my flight departed.
As the reality of COVID-19 sinks into our daily lives, my drive through the mountain pass came to mind. People are suddenly caring about each other again. Most of us are locked down at home, not allowed to work and confined to our neighbourhood. I’m one of these, and alone during the day as my husband is an essential worker. We’re allowed to go for walks and twice a day, I take our puppy out.
I’m amazed at the number of other people out on the streets. Mums with babies in prams, children with dads, retired couples strolling along, and individuals of all ages. Most of these people I’ve never seen before! We all keep at least two metres between us, but hardly anyone fails to make eye contact and offer a friendly greeting.
Why do we need a tragic event to pull us together as people and communities? I think the lock down has made us all aware of how much we need each other, even hardcore introverts like myself. My prayer is that once this has passed, that our connections with those around us will continue to strengthen and grow. That we will remember how it feels to be isolated - and that we’ll actively work on being inclusive and caring to those in our lives.
For now, stay safe, stay strong, and greet those you encounter on the streets with enthusiasm!
1 Peter 3:8-9 Amplified Bible
Finally, all of you be like-minded [united in spirit], sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted [courteous and compassionate toward each other as members of one household], and humble in spirit; and never return evil for evil or insult for insult [avoid scolding, berating, and any kind of abuse], but on the contrary, give a blessing [pray for one another’s well-being, contentment, and protection]; for you have been called for this very purpose, that you might inherit a blessing [from God that brings well-being, happiness, and protection].