Okarito - The Great Beynon

by Kiwi

Chapter 6

They spent the evening and late into the night; Dan watched TV while the boys played on the computer. He went to bed, about midnight, and told them not to stay up all night – they needed to get some sleep.

After Dan had gone, Logan asked, "Where am I going to sleep?"

"In my bed with me," Lorne grinned. "As long as you want to, of course. I could sleep out here, on the couch, and you can have the bed."

"Of course I want to sleep with you! No way are you sleeping on the couch. I'm not putting you out of your own bed."

"You're the guest here, so you get the best place."

"The best place is where you are, Lorne. Nowhere else."

"That's, umm . . that's good. Thanks, Logan. I love you."

"I love you too – lots and lots. Now your dad's gone, at last, I'll show you some stuff that will blow your mind."

"Porn stuff?"

"Well, yeah!"

"Cool. What've you got?"

They slept late in the morning, which suited Dan. That meant he could spend some time on the new computer. He knew he was being nosy, but he couldn't resist and he had a look at the History to see exactly what they were looking at last night.

He didn't suceed though. He noted, with a grin, that the browsing history, and also the temporary internet pages were as clean as a whistle – everything in them had been deleted.

'Oh well,' he mused. 'It's none of my business and I shouldn't be looking anyway. They must've been somewhere they didn't want me to know though.'

It was getting on for lunchtime when the boys emerged. Lorne came out first and had a quick shower. He then dressed and started cooking a late breakfast while Logan showered as well.

'Funny,' Dan thought. 'I'm sure I heard them showering last night. When did they get dirty?' He logged-off and stood up.

"Computer's all yours, if you want it. I'm going down to the lake – fishing."

"Thanks, Dad. But we don't want it yet. Logan wants a guided tour around the property today."

"Fair enough. Have fun but be careful if you go off the tracks. There are dozens of old mineshafts out there and the timbers over most of them are well-rotted by now."

"Dad! I know where the shafts are."

"Ah, but do you know everyone of them? There could be others that you haven't discovered yet. This whole area was worked over a hundred years ago and there are old shafts and exploratory diggings everywhere."

"Yeah, yeah. I know all that. I grew up here, remember?"

"Okay, Clever Clogs. You haven't finished growing up yet and you don't know everything. All I'm saying is – be careful out there."

"We will. Thanks, Dad."

They ate – bacon and eggs with fried green tomatoes, sliced gherkins and onion rings with thick slabs of coarse brown bread.

"Just great, thanks, Lorne." Logan sat back smiling and sipping his coffee. "A breakfast fit for a king."

"He'd be a fat king if he ate like that all of the time! But, once in a while is good for a treat."

"It would. I s'pose you'll tell me that everything was off your property here?"

"Well it was. Not the bread though. We baked it but the flour was bought in town. Everything else, including the bacon, was home-grown."

"I'm impressed. But the coffee wasn't, was it?" Logan raised his mug.

"Ah, but it was. That's not real coffee, it's a coffee-substitute made from dandelion roots and we grew them. The milk's from our goats. The sugar was store-bought though."

"You must live quite cheaply really?"

"We do, but it takes a lot of work."

"You're not working today though."

"I'm not. I've got better things to do today, and tomorrow too. Thanks for coming to stay, Logan."

"Thanks for having me."

"Oh," Lorne grinned. "I'll have you anytime, My Friend."

"Choice," Logan blushed and grinned.

They cleaned up, which only took a few minutes despite having no dishwasher. Logan was horrified. Lorne said that they'd never had one – they were too hard on the power.

"We used to generate our own electricity too, but a flood wrecked everything and Dad decided not to fix it. It was easier, and cheaper, to connect us to the national grid. So now we have unlimited power and bills to pay every month."

They went out walking and exploring. At first, Logan was delicately picking his way along the drier edges of the narrow, wet and muddy tracks, but Lorne laughed at him and called him a 'Real Townie'.

"Just plow through the middle of it. The puddles are only a few centimeters deep, you won't drown."

"But I'll get my sneakers all mucky!"

"So? A bit of mud and water won't hurt them. We'll wash our feet in the river when we get back."

"Oh, okay. I suppose you've done that before?"

"Hundreds of times. I'd go barefoot but you never know when there's going to be something sharp in there."

"Talking from experience?"

"Definitely!"

"Lorne, this is a big property you've got here."

"It's big. 150 hectares is a lot of land, more than the whole of Okarito, and a lot of it is on hills – if you flattened it out it'd probably be about 200 hectares – there are smaller farms."

"Wow. That's a lot of land!"

"Yep. We don't use most of it. It's just regenerating bush and wilderness with a couple of plantations here and there."

"Regenerating?"

"Yeah. Hard to believe, but a hundred and something years ago this whole area was basically bare earth and rocks."

"It was?" Logan looked up at the trees towering above them. "Really?"

"Yes, really. I'll show you some old photos when we go back. The early miners weren't good conservationists and they made a right mess of things. They cleared a lot of the bush by setting fire to it and the land was dug-up and turned over, trenched and sluiced. There was even a dredge working along the river for a while, but not for long. They dug it all up, left long rows of boulders in their tailings, and then they gave up – not enough money in it, I guess.

They just walked away and left the place looking like a war had been fought here. They wouldn't get away with that today, and good job too!"

"Yeah, I guess so." Logan stood looking around. "It has recovered well though, hasn't it? You wouldn't know that this wasn't all virgin forest."

"You'd know if you looked close," Lorne grinned. "Ain't no virgins around here – not any more."

"No, there's not," Logan grinned back.

"Anyway." Lorne started walking again. "The land recovers. One thing that the Wet Coast is good at is growing trees – leave it alone and the bush will bounce back. The City Greenies who want to lock everything up never seem to understand that. Trees are just vegetables after all. Cut one down and a dozen more will spring up to take its place."

"Given time."

"Yeah, time, and that's what we're giving it."

"So, where are all these mineshafts that we have to stay away from?"

"Oh, here and there. There's one just here that I want to show you."

"What? In the hillside?"

"Yep. They're not all vertical, some are horizontal – like this."

He pulled back the greenery to reveal a dark tunnel in the cliff-face. It was narrow – less than 2 meters wide – and relatively tall – about 4 meters and arched at the top.

"Come in here, Logan."

"In there? Is it safe?"

"It's safe. The old-time miners knew what they were doing. This tunnel has stood here, with no support apart from its shape, for well over a hundred years and it'll probably still be here in another hundred."

"It's dark in there!" Logan protested.

"Only for a bit. Your eyes soon get used to it and it's not that long – it's a tunnel right through the hill. There's a secret valley at the other end and you've gotta see that."

"Um, okay." Logan followed him inside. "Are you sure this is man-made? I mean, it looks like a natural cave."

"Only around the entrance where there's enough light for moss to grow. Back in here you can still see the marks of their picks on the walls."

"You can! It's like time has stood still."

"Well, sort-of. There's no weather in here to smooth the rough edges."

"Are you sure it's safe, Lorne?"

"I'm sure. I wouldn't take you anywhere dangerous. Well, as sure as you can be – there could be an earthquake in 5 minutes time, and everything would come crashing down."

"Thanks for that thought." Logan looked up at the roof above them. "What's that funny smell? There's no gas in here, is there?"

"No, Logan, there's no gas," Lorne laughed. "It's not a coalmine. What you can smell is fresh air. I know that's foreign to a townie-boy, but it won't hurt you."

"Shut up, Country-Mouse!" Logan grinned.

They walked up the slight rise through the tunnel, it wasn't long, the other end was clearly visible and getting larger. Water trickled down the channel on the right of the path but where they walked was high and dry. Logan trod along carefully, the clay floor was a bit greasy underfoot and his sneakers were still coated in mud.

Over three quarters of the way through and nearing the other end, Lorne stopped so suddenly that Logan, watching his feet and the wet patch on the ground, bumped into him. "Whoops. Sorry."

"S'okay. Can you feel it – the air?"

"The air? Yeah."

They'd been walking into a gentle draft, but now instead it blowing in their faces it was coming straight down on them. Logan looked up and, "Whoah – awesome!"

They were standing below a circular shaft and the circle of blue sky, criss-crossed with branches, was high above them.

"Pretty cool, isn't it?" Lorne grinned.

"It is! Very much so. This is man-made too, I suppose? Were they digging a well, or was it a humungous long-drop?"

"No, it's not a dunny and not a well either – there's no shortage of water around here. Granddad said that the miners started digging from the top. It was an exploratory shaft for a start and the tunnel came later."

"Oh. Did they find any gold?"

"Not in here. It was all a complete waste of time and effort, but there was plenty of gold out in the valley ahead of us. It was worked for years and was one of the richest pockets around. It was worked twice actually."

They walked outside into a green scene that could've come straight out of Jurassic Park. The steep-sided walls of the small valley rose high above them, all coated and covered with green moss and ferns. Slender-trunked trees rose from the valley floor. High overhead, their branches clawed for the sky and competed for the light.

It was a thin and broken roof above them and it definitely would not be waterproof on a rainy day, but it was a roof nonetheless. The whole valley was roofed with a network of slender branches and green leaves.

The path wound along, halfway up the side of the valley and sloping downwards. It was covered in a thick carpet of fallen leaves that crunched and squelched underfoot.

"So, this is your secret valley?"

"Yep. Very secret and don't you tell Dad about this. He knows nothing about it and that's good."

"Why don't you want him to know? It's his land isn't it?"

"Only for his lifetime. This is my secret valley and what he doesn't know won't hurt him."

"Just your secret place. Thanks for showing to to me."

"It's not just that it's a secret, there's more to it than that. You see all of these leaves on the ground?"

"Well, yeah – there's millions of them."

"There is, and look how thick they are." Lorne dragged his foot and scratched a trench through the carpet. "They've been dropping here for a hundred years, more or less. If Dad knew about this he'd strip the place bare again and he'd have the lot for mulch in the gardens. He's not getting them. He can get his mulch somewhere else, this is mine. They're like a bandage covering the land and helping to repair it."

"I see! You're like a Greenie then."

"Not really, but I'm the guardian of my valley. Grandad knew and loved it, and now it's mine."

"Good for you then. This whole area was worked over by the miners?"

"They made the valley. It was all carved out by high-pressure water-guns and washed away to get at the gold."

"Where did all of the dirt go?"

"Through the bottom tunnel, over the long-toms and riffle-tables and out into the river."

"A big operation!"

"It was, kind-of. Dozens of miners worked in here over the years and after they were finished, the Chinese were allowed in to work it again. You see all these stones along here?"

"Those stonewalls?"

"Yeah. They've all been stacked tidily by hand. That's how you can tell that Chinese miners were in here. The Europeans didn't stack the stones, they just flung them any old how."

"So the Chinese were tidier, and more thorough too, I suppose? There can't have been much gold for them if it had been worked over before."

"There wasn't much, but they worked hard and they made a living – scarcely."

"Why did they bother? There were plenty of other places that they could've had first go at, weren't there?"

"There weren't any. The Chinese were only allowed onto ground that others had already had before them."

"Why was that"

"Because they were all a pack of racist bastards!" Lorne was flushed with anger now. "Sorry, Logan, but I get mad every time I think about it. People came here from all over the world, mostly from Europe, Aussie and America, and they all treated the Chinese like shit. Bastards!"

"Didn't the Police and the Government have anything to say about that?"

"The New Zealand Government were the worst of the bloody lot of them. The Prime Minister made a public apology for the way they were treated – with extra taxes and quotas and everything – but it was too bloody late, a hundred years too late."

"Whoah. You get worked up about this, don't you?"

"I do. Sorry. I know it was a different time and the world's moved on, but it was still disgusting."

"I guess every society needs someone to put-down – like gays today."

"Exactly. Come on, time we moved on too. That's the bottom tunnel where the water ran out of here."

"I hope we're not going through there. It's small and dark and there's water in there."

"Some water, yeah. There used to be much more. They brought it in here on a wooden viaduct, but that's collapsed and gone years ago. We go back the way we came in, it's easier."

"Drier too – and that's good."

Back out on the track, they carried on up a hill and into a pine forest. It was very different in there, it was dark under the trees as the direct sunlight never reached the ground. The bare-trunked trees were all planted in straight lines, more or less, and there was hardly any undergrowth at all. Apart from fallen twigs and pine-cones everything was under a mantle of dead, brown pine needles. Even the few large rocks were shrouded in needles.

"This is like an enchanted forest," Logan exclaimed, "like the ones you read about in fantasy stories. It's magic in here!"

"Not really," Lorne replied. "There's no magic here – well, apart from these." He pointed to a cluster of red-capped, white-spotted fungi of various sizes, small to large.

"Toadstools? Oh, yeah, like pixies, or whatever, make their houses in in fairy stories. They're not really magic, are they?"

"Some people say they are. They often grow under pine trees and they're called 'magic mushrooms', but they're not really. These red ones are Fly Agaric. You can get high with them, but you can also die, they're highly poisonous.

The real magic mushrooms are Amanita Muscaria. They're a much stronger hallucogenic and you can eat them. They go well dried and chopped-up in salads – which can make for interesting barbeques and family dinners!

It's actually illegal in NZ to possess or purchase magic mushrooms, which is crazy because they're quite common, they grow everywhere."

"Just as well they don't grow here or you'd be possesing them."

"Yeah, just as well," Lorne grinned. "They don't grow here – they're growing over there." He pointed to a cluster of smaller, shiny and waxy looking, brown-capped fungi growing on a rotten log.

"They are the real thing?"

"They are. Told you, they grow everywhere. You'll find them in most pine forests and look how many there are!"

"So," Logan eyed the mushrooms speculatively, "You can just pick them and eat them and get high?"

"No, you can not! And we're not even going to try. I don't do drugs, Logan, and I really hope you don't too. But, if you were going to use them, you'd have to dry them first. Or, you could boil them and then drink the water. That works but gives a much milder effect. Eating them works best."

"Hey! For someone who doesn't do drugs, you sure know a lot about them."

"Sure I know. I grew up in a hippie commune remember? The remains of one anyway. Actually," he looked up, "these trees were here before the commune. They're all about 30 years old now and overdue for harvesting. They were one of the main reasons why they bought the place."

"For the mushrooms under them?"

"No, for the trees, as an investment. Shame it didn't work out. Dad and the others pruned and tended all these trees for years and years and now they're worth nothing."

"Because?"

"I told you – there's no local sawmill anymore and trucking them all the way to the nearest mill would cost more than they're worth.."

"That's a bugger. Couldn't you cut them up and sell them for firewood?"

"Could, I guess, but it'd be a lot of work and Dad's not interested. I think he's so disappointed he just doesn't want to know about them."

"Maybe you could make a job for yourself – get a truck, chainsaw and axes and you could be in business."

"Yeah, maybe. I don't know what I'm going to do. What are you going to do when you leave school, Logan?"

"Celebrate!"

"Shut up."

They carried on with their tour of the property. The monoculture of the pines ended abruptly and they were back in the native bush which was much more varied and tangled with the dense undergrowth of the rain-forests. They climbed a short, steep, rise and emerged into a rocky clearing where there was a commanding view down over the valley, to the highway and beyond.

"Wow!" Logan stood on a boulder and looked out. "I knew we were climbing, but never knew we were getting so high up."

"We've been climbing ever since we left the house," Lorne replied. "This is just about the highest point on our land. It's a lot easier going back, it's all downhill from here."

"I'm pleased to hear it."

They took their time going back, there was still so much to see, and it was late afternoon when the got back to the house. They couldn't go straight inside though, first they had to wash the cloying mud off their sneakers. Their clothes were muddy as well, they'd both slipped and sat down out there.

They clambered down the bank to the river. There was a small, flat and pebbly beach and a wide and shallow underwater shelf before the water got deeper. Well, as deep as it got, it was only a little river.

Logan was bending over, with his back to him, washing his feet in the ankle-deep water. Lorne grinned wickedly and said, "Your clothes are muddy too." And he pushed him.

With a startled yelp, hands flung out in front of him, Logan fell forwards and plunged into the deeper water. He came up spluttering, spitting water and glaring at him.

"Oh, you'll pay for that, Country Boy!" And he rushed at him.

Lorne took off, downstream, towards the road bridge, but was laughing too much to run. Logan tackled him from behind and carried him down into the water.

They came up laughing and stood face-to-face wrestling and both trying to throw the other down again. Lorne made the mistake of stepping back and Logan lunged and they both went underwater again. They rolled and wrestled and played in the shallow water like a couple of seal pups, laughing all the time.

Gasping for breath, face-up, when his head touched the shallows, Lorne hunched himself back so that his head and shoulders were up on the shelf. He was beaten. Logan was fitter and stronger than he was.

He didn't look very fit though. Logan crawled up out of the water and stopped, on his hands and knees and breathing hard. Their eyes met and they both grinned widely. It was a great moment.

Logan leaned across, lowered his head and he kissed him. Lorne wrapped his arms around him, pulled him down on top of himself and he kissed him back. "I love you, Logan."

"I love you more than that."

Lorne sighed as he sat up. It was the perfect end to the perfect day. He looked up and it really was the end. His heart sunk like it was made of lead.

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