The house looked abandoned, but in Summer, it was the centre of our world.

I’d lie on the dense bed of grass that’d grown over the old stone floor, while my sister lent back on the boughs of a tree, chewing on a long strand of grass.

We’d make up stories – of knights and princesses. Of the crazy scientist whose potion had blown the roof right off. Or the mythical taniwha who guarded the river below.

I’d watch the warm breeze play over my skin, and listen to the symphony of birds, as they chattered back and forth. We’d pack picnics, making plates out of leaves, and knives from sticks, and stay out until it was way past dark, when we’d hear our parents calling for us.

We had a password for entry, and rules: definitely no adults. We thought we were like Peter Pan… never growing up.

The house looked abandoned, but in Autumn, it was home to patupaiarehe whose faces were like the wrinkled leaves that crunched beneath our feet. The moss that grew on the stones was a deep green, and we pretended the forest spirits would use it as their pillows, snuggling into its softness.

As we made our way through the woodland, we’d take heavy steps, and growl, banging our chests in warning – we were coming. The patupaiarehe had wild, rust-coloured hair, and their strong, sinewy bodies would melt into the bush as we arrived, becoming one with the mud, the mist, and mounds of leaves.

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In the depths of Winter, the stone walls were commandeered by a snow queen.

The trees in its centre were harsh and unwelcoming, and icicles barred our entry. The hoar frost left the bubbling brook silvery and still, and there were feathery crystals on every surface, glistening in the blue winter light.

We’d make snowmen, bringing carrots for their noses. And we’d face them towards the house, to make fun of the queen who wouldn’t let us in. But the sound of our laughter was dampened by the snow. The air was heavy and quiet.

Within a few months, we watched in awe as the bush awoke from its slumber. Leaves unfurled on the trees around the house – their rustling like a waiata paying homage to Tane Mahuta, the god of the forest.

The corners of the stone walls were filled with flowers and across them, ants marched in formation, carrying food for their feast. We made daisy chains for the fairies to wear to their parties, and decorations out of the flax nearby.

The new season was heralded by the golden petals of the kowhai, its sweet nectar fought over by all the birds in the bush. But the undisputed king was the tui – with his iridescent sheen of blue and green feathers, and his white tuft neck like a choir boy’s smock, befitting his heavenly song.

The house may have looked abandoned, but in Spring, it reverberated with life.

Written 15th March, 2021

Alexi O'Brien

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