The shadow passed directly overhead, no prior notice. No wing-beats or engines, just the temporary darkening of the sun. I squinted upwards. The return of the dinosaurs? Haast’s Eagle rebuilt from stem cells, on a maiden voyage to the coast?
Hardly. Just a plane. But right then, as I stood on the sand– stick in one hand, driftwood, ah, treasures, in the other– this was the long extinct airplane’ of days past. In a place like this, far from the cities, far even from the small towns, an airplane is by no means a common occurrence. And then flying in from the south like that, cutting close against the sea cliffs, low over the land, hard on my head…unbelievable! What was it doing, here of all places?
The walk would be cut short today. I plugged back along the beach, through the flaxes, the gums and the pine trees and patches of winter frost where it refused to melt in the shade. By the time I reached the airstrip the plane was ready to leave. I watched as it took a few small turns on the bumpy grass, and then–nose pointed into the westerly wind– it gathered speed running fast between the white tires marking the runway. Not much was needed for a small one like this. It took off, straight overhead as it had come, out over the ocean and away to the north.
For all it mattered, I could’ve been watching the brothers Wright, or Pearse, as we’d have it here. The sheer miracle of flight, the improbability of that small metal husk taxiing towards the Tasman Sea, and turning out over the lagoon and away. By evening, the light fading from the hills, a falcon sits atop a harakeke (flax) flower peering at the darkening sands. The wind sock on the airstrip hangs limply now, and the bird watches as I watch the sun sink a fiery retreat into the sea. In a single flap of wings the falcon cruises into the night. No tail lights, just feathers and a sharp sense of direction.