The Heart of a Burglar Hobbit
Officially, this story never happened. I have to say that because the actions related herein are of questionable legality and because I would hate to someday be barred from following one dream as a result of having relentlessly followed another. The dream I want to follow: create films in New Zealand and/or become the chosen one, the protégé of one Sir Peter Jackson. The dream I followed: bask in the glorious presence of a set crafted for The Hobbit series. This dream happened to lead me down a dark path while giving me my first taste of criminal activity.
Before my seven months abroad in New Zealand, I was never much of a risk-taking dream-follower, let alone a rule-breaker. Perhaps it was the magic of New Zealand’s Middle Earth that wrought a change in me. Maybe my proximity to possible wish fulfillment infused my soul with new vigor.
I shift uncomfortably on the sofa, watching my white breath puff and dissipate in the air like the smoky gasps of a dragon. Zipping my scarlet jacket all the way up to my chin, I glance at today’s weather forecast: -1°C. Damn. -1°C outside and -1°C inside. Southern Kiwis don’t really believe in central heating. Or insulation. Or double-pane windows. Sometimes it’s actually warmer outside; the decrepit and vindictive university flats are good at trapping the cold within their walls. Here, warm and cozy winter mornings are as rare as wizards.
I longingly browse through Facebook photos of my stateside friends splashing each other at the beach. Washington’s lukewarm summer is looking enticingly toasty. Four more days. Four more days until I begin a series of flight hopping back to home, four more days until I once again lay eyes on my long-lost bathtub and my bones begin to thaw.
My mouse scrolls down and hovers over an intriguing article. I click it.
Eyes scan the first few lines:
A finite article with infinite implications offhandedly mentions that The Hobbit has taken ten final days to wrap up final shooting in Wellington. Is this what the grip of fate feels like? I’m in the right half of the globe during this most momentous of occasions – certainly it was meant to be? I’m just a small country’s distance away from the knightly Jackson and his aura of movie-making magic. I’m sitting perfectly still, but my film-geek heart is threatening to claw its way out of my ribcage. I take a few deep, meditative breaths and dial my father.
“Hey, Pappy,” I say, all cool nonchalance.
“So… I’m really looking forward to heading home in a few days. It’s fucking cold here.”
“It’s darn bloody cold here. Um, sorta exciting news. Sir Peter Jackson himself is finishing up filming in Wellington. I thought they were long done shooting, but I guess they needed some additional footage. Then they’ll just be working on post. This could be the last filming of a movie adaption of a Tolkien novel ever because the Tolkien estate hasn’t sold the other rights, so that could be a cool thing to see, yeah….”
“I mean, I’m basically so close to this thing. Even being in New Zealand at the same time as the filming is like a once in a lifetime opportunity. And it’s crazy cuz I finally have some solid intel – I know the general location and time of the final shoot ever. Wellington city. Ten days during the month of July. It’s not much, but it’s more specific than other rumors I’ve heard before. I wish I could witness some aspect of the whole filmmaking process.”
“That would be an awesome thing to see.”
“Yeah – and this would kinda be my last chance. So… I was wondering – I mean, is there any possibility that we could play with my flights and times so I could stop in Wellington just to… to be there. Explore. Drink in the mythical nearness. Possibly bump into some dwarves or Ian McKellan. Oh man, if I saw Ian on the street, I’d totally jump in front of him and scream, YOU. SHALL NOT. PASSSS. Or not. He probably gets that a lot. But yeah, just thought I’d mention all this to you. It’d probably be a logistical nightmare getting up there anyway. This is a crazy stupid idea. I just figured I’d get this dream off my chest before coming home. You know, so at least I can say I thought about it….”
Now, my father is a practical and grounded doctor – the kind of guy who, in 20 years, will make an excellent and curmudgeonly bridge player. Maybe I called expecting him to talk me down off my precarious cloud, to give me some realistic advice, and to be my gentle excuse for not stepping out of my comfort zone. Funny thing is, I’ve always been an avid and idealistic dreamer, but my dreams often remain just that: dreams.
This is what my dad said: “Linds, I want you to follow your dreams. And I want to help you follow your dreams. We’ll make this happen.”
Turns out I needed a little nudge from a realist in order to transform my dreams into reality.
A week later, instead of sunbathing on a porch overlooking the Hood Canal, I find myself in Windy Wellington. The city, though not as numbingly cold as Dunedin, lives up to its nickname. During my first night, the power goes out (and stays out for three days). Small raindrop missiles strike the roof and gales bow the windows to impossibly concave shapes. The next morning I head into downtown. I pass concrete power poles ripped from the ground and railroad tracks crumbling into the sea. Locals claim that it was the worst storm in 80 years and earnestly tell me that I am not experiencing the “true” Wellington. Seems like I picked a less than ideal day to go adventuring alone in the mountain woods, searching for my own personal El Dorado. But at least I can someday brag about how I lived through this disaster – over time, all the shit will succumb to extreme heat and pressure, emerging as a shimmering diamond of uniquely entrancing memories and unusual tales.
Streaming sunlight warms the crisp air while I wait to board the #24 bus to Mt. Crawford. I push up the sleeves of my borrowed Patagonia (or PataGucci, as we financially struggling and jaded college students call it). The grizzled bus driver assures me that he’ll make a stop at the top of the mountain and let me know when to get off. He forgets where the stop is and I end up traveling with him to the end of his round and through his break – at which point he radios the central station for directions before offering me a cigarette. I decline. I’m still not sure whether it would be cool or just kind of creepy to smoke your first cig with a middle-aged, directionally-challenged Kiwi bus driver. By the time we reach the prison (yes, prison) on top of the misty mountain, ominous gray clouds have accumulated in a windswept sky and I roll down my sleeves as far as they will go, wishing I had weatherproof armor.
Off the bus, I look for any sign of filmic activity. I stand alone in an abandoned-looking prison parking lot, atop a lonely mountain, in the fog, towards the center of Miramar Peninsula. I know that the set for the sacked and burned city of Dale has been temporarily built somewhere on private property near the mountain peak. How do I know this? My newfound talent for clue-hunting within newspaper articles, PR statements, topographical maps, accident reports, and Google Earth images – the sort of talent that could make me an average detective or an excellent stalker (of course, I’ve promised to use these powers for good instead of evil).
Walking down a paved road leading away from the prison, I quickly come across a tall metal fence marked with intimidatingly official signs: “DEFENCE AREA: NO ADMISSION EXCEPT ON BUSINESS” (I would’ve added “PARTY” before “BUSINESS”) and a red “Do Not Enter!” On another sign I see the words “film location” and my feet immediately begin to tingle. This is the place. If I had a film-detecting sword, it’d totally be glowing blue right now.
I size up the fence. There’s room on the sides to slip through, but my chest feels heavy when I think about the very explicit warning signs. Apparently, one does not simply walk into Dale. I picture myself sneaking around the fence and tiptoeing down the fog-covered road as the darkly menacing trees press in from either side. My muscles would be tense, my nerves zinging with energy, my stomach jittery. After God knows how long, I’d catch a glimpse of my golden (alright, wooden) Middle Earth Mecca. Time would be moving oh so slow, yet oh so fast. I’d imbibe the sight, nourishing my soul with the knowledge that I’d finally gone on a true adventure, finally collected a precious story of my own to tell…. But if a car zoomed up the road and spotted me, I’d be well and royally screwed. My breaths become shallow and labored at the thought: Two burly men in suits and aviators roughly grabbing my arms like the vile little trespasser I am. One of them scrawls my name in a dark, leather-bound notebook. “You have been blacklisted,” he says. “You will never work for any New Zealand filmmaker. Not even the most menial of tasks will be open to you. Now go, and leave our country in disgrace.” As the car speeds by, Peter Jackson casts a glance at me from the window, eyes glinting with loathing and disgust….
I cannot allow that to happen! I abruptly stomp away from the fence and wander around the surrounding woodlands. Not all those who wander are lost.… Perhaps I shall hike up slippery green hills and through overgrown paths, and perhaps I will discover the magic angle that grants me a partial view of the set. Or maybe I’ll wander so intensely that I will somehow find myself – oops – on the other side of the gate, having unwittingly crossed from public hiking trails to highly private property – And then who’s to say I’m not just a sweet, innocent, lost tourist hiker?
Spotting a meager track, I meander down it. Ahead is an old stone pool, surrounded by crumbling pillars and clogged by snakelike vines and lily pads. Beyond the pool is the doorway of an abandoned shack, strung with dew-spangled cobwebs. Beyond that: a sloping, grass-choked field. The glen is enchanting, but in a dark way – like a dismal and dangerous Secret Garden. On the other side of the green expanse, I find a stone path hidden in the tall grass. I follow it to a narrow road. Looking back up the road, I see a fence. The fence. I’m on the other side. Spinning lightly, I turn to scope out the curve in the road. Another fence. “Merlin’s beard!” I swear (I didn’t exactly use those words, but “Merlin’s beard” has the double honor of being both more palatable/appropriate and more medieval-sounding/mystical than the words I chose in the heat of the moment).
How many fences am I going to have to get around?! Maybe just knowing that I’m within walking distance from the set is good enough. Maybe I can turn around now and ride the bus back down the mountain, feeling that glowing ember of accomplishment. But, the truth is, this isn’t good enough. I want to actually see something that will soon be on millions of larger-than-life screens. I want an image of the makeshift city seared into my retinas. I want a goddamn photograph.
If this gravel curve is supposed to be the road not taken, then I’m forsaking roads altogether. Two roads diverged in a gray-green wood, and I just barreled into the surrounding undergrowth because the hell with roads. I’ve got my backpack, my water bottle (3/4 full), and granola bars, and I’m going to slash, bushwhack, and hike (or as Kiwis say, “tramp”) the whole length of thatmountain until I find something promising, until I can force it to divulge its secrets.
A half hour later, I’m gripping loose tree roots as I climb down a hillside. Dirt has caked under my nails and my soaked, once-white Smartwool socks have been dyed orange by my moccasins. Despite the chilled fog, I have to wipe back the sweaty hair plastered to my forehead. I’ve passed what may have once been a hobo’s hideaway, and the path I’d been following had long since stopped maintaining any semblance of a real trail, dwindling into pure bush. I slide down the final bit of the hill and pause. The pattering of rain is muted, and dappled sunlight filters through the leafy canopy to brush emerald ivy floors and natural vine archways. I take a moment to revel in the peaceful beauty of this solitude. Then I hear a branch snap. Maybe I’m imagining things. A low growl. Belonging to what? An exotic bird? A grumpy bunny? A bear? A warg? Confronted with my own mortality, I think, “Oh my gosh. If I get eaten or mauled or fall down a cliff and break my spine, no one will ever be able to find my body.” I huddle down, pressing myself against the dirt wall, and pull out my cellphone. I’ll take that one bar of service, thank you very much.
I type up a quick text to my mom: “Hey mommy. Just for future reference, if I don’t check in tonight and go missing, please direct the police to search for my remains around the disused hiking trails west of Mt. Crawford Prison. Hope you’re having a nice day.”
Satisfied, I stow my phone and continue on. The search proves fruitless as I realize that the set must be further along the peninsula than I’d initially imagined. So, I drag my bedraggled body back to town for a pristine cappuccino and some mulled mead. I pragmatically decide to spend the rest of my time here roaming Wellington – a splendid and special city in its own right.
Three days later – my last day in Wellington – I encounter another hapless bus driver on my way to a renowned seaside café often frequented by filmmaking casts and crews. After asking for the stop nearest the old “Chocolate Fish Café,” my bus driver drops me a few blocks from the “Chocolate Frog Café.” Adamant about eating my final breakfast at the café previously known as the Chocolate Fish, I work up my appetite by tramping a few miles up, across, and down the Miramar ridge. The decision to walk was ultimately prompted by the fact that I was out of bus fare.
This crisp and sun-kissed morning, I eat breakfast al fresco. Right in front of me I have golden scrambled eggs, creamy pesto mushrooms, and an uninterrupted view of a fault line scored in the sand pointing out towards the azure sea. Inspired by this surreal landscape, I decide to take it in slowly by walking the few hours back to town around the peninsula. I glance up through the trees and know – having scoured the ridge side from the mirrored peninsula with binoculars the day before – that somewhere above me rests the city of Dale. I eye the crumbling cliff side – there are some handholds there. “I’ve had some rock climbing lessons…” I reason with myself. I’ll walk until I’m right below where the set should be, and then I’ll attempt an ascent. This somehow seems less illegal and less dangerous than walking through the front gate.
Nearing the spot where I guess I should begin climbing, I notice a trail – a rather prominent trail, not just a series of old goat prints. Hallelujah! The dirt steps lead up and northward into the jungle; I need to head south. Nevertheless, I accept the offered gift of the stairway. Up, up, up, up the stairs we go…. The narrow path opens to a white stone memorial, high in the air and overlooking the ocean. I skim my fingers along the marbled sepulchre walls as I walk through. I stand on the edge and let the wind tangle my hair. I search amongst the wall of trees for a path different to the one on which I entered. I find one that looks as if it leads back into the heart of the mountain, and I walk to it. The path is soon blocked by a fence. This time it is a gnarled wooden fence. I brace my foot against a ledge and leap to the other side. Clear, blue, open skies follow me as I tread lightly across the uneven and grassy terrain. As the trees begin to close in once more, I glimpse a domed roof through the branches. Around the hill and there it is: my precious city of Dale. The deserted city is a golden brown vision emerging from the dense green foliage. Snow – real or fake, I do not know – dusts stucco mantles and delicate archways. My vantage point provides me with both sides of the magic: the silent, sculpted city of the screen and the silver backbone structure that works tirelessly behind the scenes. When I turn to leave mountainside, I’m finally ready to summon the giant eagles and fly home.
[Story written for 2013 Creative Writing course]