Talking to Strangers

Talking to strangers

I love this autumn weather. The sea is calm, reflecting the cloudless blue sky and adding its own deeper notes, the air is fresh without being cold. As I set off towards the beach I notice a group of kayakers lifting their vessels into the water at the boat ramp. When I'm on my way back they are still in the water near the ramp, paddling just enough to maintain a circle. I take a seat in the sun and watch them.

They all seem young, mainly Māori and Pasifika, in matching orange kayaks – an outdoor pursuits class perhaps? An grey-haired man in a blue kayak paddles up and backs deftly towards one of the young men. I'm too far away to hear what they say but I see what it is. The younger man leans forward and lowers the blue kayak's rudder. It makes me smile. What comes to mind is a well turned-out woman in a romantic comedy turning her back to her lover with an intimate, 'Zip me up, darling.' The blue kayak makes a beeline towards the Boulder Bank and the orange one rejoins the circle.

They don't seem to be going anywhere. I'm disappointed. I enjoy and envy the smooth movement of kayaks in calm water. I get up to leave.

'Going back now?' asks a woman leaning on the railing with a camera in her hand, also watching the kayaks.

'Yes, going home,' I say, adding, 'Nice morning for a paddle,' gesturing towards the kayaks.

'But I wouldn't like what they're doing,' she says. I look puzzled. 'Going upside down.'

Oh, they're practising rolling the kayaks. That part of the circle is out of my line of sight. I laugh. 'No, I wouldn't like that either. I just want to paddle on that smooth water.'

I wave and turn to go. 'Enjoy your day.'

Apart from a few nods and 'morning's on my way to the beach, this was my second encounter along the waterfront. As I set out, I had paused beside a silver-haired man who was peering into the water and asked, 'What have you got there?' He pointed out a shoal of tiny silver sprats and I told him about the young shark I saw there in the summer.

It's worth asking. Sometimes there are rays, the occasional little blue penguin, diving gannets, lion's mane jellyfish and even, further out, dolphins and orca. In fact, when I was at the beach, after a 'nice day for it' to the man lifting his sea kayak on to his shoulder, I heard a woman saying, 'Look! A dolphin!' But she was chasing a small naked boy who ran giggling down the beach so she might just have been distracting him to gain the advantage. I looked, but the mirror-like surface was unbroken except for a couple of paddle boarders.

Leaving the waterfront, I walk home, thinking about the morning. I enjoyed the exercise and equally enjoyed those micro-contacts along the way. The rest of my day will be spent alone, gardening, reading, writing. So was that outing my constitutional or my social event? Does it matter when either way it has set me up nicely?