Mauao Finds a Doll - by Catherine Bell
My daughter’s toes stretch out from her small foot as she clings to a rock and pulls herself onto it using long elastic like fingers and monkey feet to secure her position. A little plastic doll with an excessive amount of blonde hair dangles precariously from her jean pocket as she makes her next move to yet another rough rock. Apparently, getting to the other side without touching the soggy sand is the goal.
The next leap is uneventful as she skilfully manoeuvres her way through the rocky terrain that welcomes the sea at the base of Mount Maunganui. The smell of the seaweed fills my nose as it bakes on the rocks left for her to conquer. She squats down to investigate one of the deeper rock pools and plunges her cupped hands into the frigid water. Pulling them to the surface, she watches delightedly as the liquid quickly runs through her fingers.
I observe her closely, ever fearful of an accident, and notice at some point during her expedition that the little doll has shaken loose from her back pocket. It has disappeared without notice from her either. Eventually, she feels the emptiness and pats her bottom quickly to make sure her doll really isn’t there. She panics and then cries out to me.
“Mom, Polly is missing!” she yells in her Kiwi-American accent, a little more Kiwi these days than American since we arrived here almost six years ago.
“Maybe she’s gone to be with Mauao,” I say lightly but she is not at all amused.
“No, she’s not, Mom!” she says, with a disgusted emphasis on the word mom, and storms off to search for Polly.
Before our trip to the Mount that day, I had found out about the story of Mauao when I Googled Mount Maunganui in hopes of discovering an interesting Maori legend. On the drive from Hamilton to the Mount, I told her what I read of the legend of the three mountains at the foothills of the Kaimais. According to the story, a nameless mountain (which is now the mountain we call Mount Maunganui) suffered unbearable heartache when he faced rejection from a neighbouring maiden mountain that chose another more ‘lordly’ mountain nearby as a mate. Feeling humiliated, he wanted nothing else but to escape to the sea and asked some local fairies for help in doing this. The fairies didn’t quite pull it off and he was left stuck just before he could be cast into the sea where he stays, named by the locals as Mauao.
I feel empathy for the mountain as I can relate to feeling stuck. My life, my family, is here and yet I miss my home. But as I look at my daughter’s little body competently navigating over all the rocks I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Listening as the wind’s breezes whisper past, I hear a soft voice seducing my daughter away from me. I do not climb the rocks or gravitate to the very cold sea compelled to jump in. I don’t collect seashells and certainly would never pick up seaweed just to see how it feels and yet she does all these things so naturally.
My heritage is deep within me and I am proud of where I come from, but she is one step removed. Just as the eagle is a symbol that stirs my heart, the sea and the beaches of New Zealand stir hers.
Just then she scrapes her leg up against a bumpy rock barnacle that causes her to cry out in pain and I go to her, thankful that she needs me at the moment. As we listen to the gulls’ taunting squawks, a sense of anguish comes over her and she feels the pain of loss for her doll, tears coming to her eyes. My eyes tear up as well but it’s at the thought of losing her – my little blonde-haired doll.
I remember climbing the Mount earlier that morning. Dodging sheep pellets and scrambling over large tufts of grass, she had marched up with Polly in her pocket leaving me behind as they claimed the top. With that image in my mind, I felt a renewed sense of strength and determination to find her doll.
We decide to go through the motions that began her rock-hopping game. Starting with the first rock she climbed, we search each pool in the area scanning all the nooks and crannies carefully. I am able to keep up with her quick nimbleness on the rocks with my clumsy strength as I stumble along behind her. Finally at the third pool she had investigated, we both spot Polly at the same time. She scrambles over to her and checks to be certain it is her doll and not some other little girl’s doll that Mauao had tried to lure away. She calls to me to grab a stick from the trail. Her plan is to use it to manipulate the doll’s body closer to her. Caught up in the drama, I jump at her request, bringing back a long, strong stick for her to use.
Leaning over the large pool, she fixes her feet between two weathered rocks and steadies herself with a hand placed firmly on another. She leans as far as she dares, poking and prodding at Polly until the doll finally breaks free from her prison.
“Got it,” she yells triumphantly as she holds Polly up high over her head like a trophy.
We head back to the car holding hands, our adventure over. I look back at the mountain, Mauao. I hear only silence. He seems to remain without judgment on us and perhaps he is patiently waiting, ever hopeful, for the next little girl to come along and drop a doll.
I tell him I am sorry but this little doll is mine, at least for today.