Thursday, May 29, 2008

Inspiration, Mountains, and Music

I have read so many inspiring posts as of late it leaves me somewhat wordless. Ruminations on world hunger by Bob McKerrow, ecology by Pohangina Pete, the beauty and pain of life and death by both Beth and Patry Francis, amongst all the other beautiful and passionate writings and poetry on teaching, love, nature, art, and observation I have read. It is almost overwhelming as I seem to sense a common thread, a song on the wind, and I cannot quite put my finger upon it, except to write thank you to each and every one of you for sharing and helping to make my life better.

It makes me feel a bit self indulgent to write of my struggles as a man and my love for the mountains in comparison to these larger considerations. Yet last night it also occurred to me that this path I am on is only the start, and how necessary it is for me to not get ahead of myself. To tidy up my own back yard before moving on to these other issues now emerging out of the fog. These things cannot be rushed and hurried.

There are no lofty peaks in the Ruahines, no towering spires where mountaineers try to visualize a route up unclimbed ridges. Indeed, the highest point at Mangaweka lies at only 1733 meters. There is little need for ropes, crampons, ice-axe, and other equipment a mountaineer would consider essential. Perhaps in certain places in the dead of winter with heavy snow, but in general they are not a place those who seek difficult alpine climbs would bother with. I am not a mountaineer, I am simply a lover of mountains.

I have written before that had I grown up in New Zealand around the Ruahines I would have grown beyond them. I feel the dying spark of a mountaineer inside me that never was lit, and so I satisfy myself in this place offering for those content to walk, very steep climbs and descents, heading out onto mist covered ridges and tops which challenge navigation skills, and clear beautiful mountain rivers to travel upon in the valleys. It is not a place to be over confident in, no matter what level of skill one might possess. I have felt fear there more than once and maybe because I first looked upon these ranges when beyond my prime, I was able to see, feel, and slowly recognize my connection with the Ruahines in a far different light than had I been exposed to them in my youth. There was a part of me that felt called home to a place deep within my soul that I never knew was there - a place that enables me to look at myself and the world differently than I did before. When I was young the wanderlust would have called strongly, being older it instead called me home.

The simplicity of living amongst the mountains for periods of time has been a great gift. Carrying what I need to live and operate for a period of days on my back, free of any dependence or intrusion by anything electrical or even artificial, free from man made sound with only the delightful symphony of nature. And the sound of that voice deep inside somewhere which has slowly revealed itself to me, the real me, or at least the person I want to be.

Music has been a constant presence in my life, at least listening to music has been. My friend Adam gifted to me his guitar before he left to return to Ireland, and challenged me to be able to play with him upon his return. While I never could imagine myself playing in Adam's league, why should I not accept this gift and challenge and expand myself. Stay tuned!

Listening to, and appreciating music has always been essential to my being. A way to connect to the world when maybe I was not really connected in other ways. A few artists, particularly Van Morrison, have always struck a chord and connection with me, not unlike what I feel while in the Ruahines.

Two of the finest offerings I have listened to this year have been released by two former members of The Jayhawks. Perhaps the leading force behind the emergence of alternative country, along with Uncle Tupelo, in the early 1990's, the Jayhawks were a creative force until 2003 and their excellent cd Rainy Day Music. Gary louris and Mark 0lson were the primary writers and vocalists behind the distinctive Jayhawk sound, a blending of very unique talents. They also combined in another off shoot in Golden Smog, along with Jeff Tweedy from Uncle Tupelo and more recently the leader of Wilco. All under the radar music in todays strange world of "what is deemed popular, therefore is good" music culture.

Both louris and 0lson have released solo records this year. Both I have been listening to over and over, both impacting me greatly in their respective ways. 0lson's offering, The Salvation Blues, "is the culmination of a two year journey through the heart of loss and redemption", written after the break up of his marriage. Having traveled, and survived, a similar path I find such a strong connection to the songs and the journey. Strong songs of a man facing his darkest fears alone.

I woke up before the sun
Which way is the way between heart and soul
You spoke my words
Tangled up inside"
Some people come here to die
We came here to live
There's a hope in our heart
There's a future in our souls"

Clifton Bridge, The Salvation Blues: Written by Mark 0lson, Hacktone Records

Vagabonds, by Gary louris, is also on my high repeat list currently. A little bit more hard edged than 0lson's effort, maybe more Jayhawk like with his high notes very much a signature of those albums. It was produced by Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, and in my opinion he does an excellent job. My son Charlie keeps playing track number 1, as I have it currently in my car, True Blue, and my personal favourite is track 3 To Die a Happy Man - again a connection as if singing to me directly. I love it when music does that!

It's not enough but then again
It's more than what I had
And if I died today you know I'd die a happy man

Torturous though it seems
Pouring forth bittersweet
Wrestling with good and evil
In ourselves, in our struggle
I want to laugh or say a prayer
I've never had a cross to bear so beautiful

Words by Gary louris, To Die a Happy Man, Vagabonds, Rykodisc Music

I read recently how good music lyrics do not translate to the written or spoken word, and vice versa. Both the lyrics written by louris and 0lson prove that is not always true. If you are into music check it out please.

I have shared the poem below once before but thought it was relevant to how I feel still at times, and the memory of when it came to me, where I was, how I felt, the vividness of the colours, the sounds of the river, seems to be tapping my shoulder right in this moment:

"0bservation on the River"

Your flawed elegance astounds me

Ramrod straight

As if proudly displaying your wounds

Scarred by Time

Battered by countless storms

Your very soul precariously exposed

Eroded by what also

Sustains and Nourishes

Yet possessing a strength

I cannot fathom

And you hold on living each moment

Until you are finally claimed to join

The Dance of the Endless Flow

It is me

written outside Ngamoko hut on the Pohangina river

November 2005


1. Gustav and I walking out of the ranges at Mokai Station, having just completed my first 5 day crossing of the Ruahines. We were in our own world. Nigel met us in the clouds with cold beer and food.

2. Gustav just below Puketaramea after climbing up from Maropea Forks

3. Gustav looking down the Maropea river below 0tukota hut

4. Gustav and I on the Mokai, cold beers in hand after a battle up from 0tukota

5. 0ne of my favourite Ruahine shots - Gustav and I just after emerging from a brutal bash up from the bush onto the Mokai Patea

6. A beech tree just across the Pohangina river from Ngamoko hut. Still fighting for survival



Midge said...

I look forward to hearing about your progress learning guitar. I brought home some piano-lesson books that I was tortured with as an unmotivated 7th grader. The books were so neglected for thirty years that no one bothered to throw them away. I have been "Teaching Little Fingers How to Play" for a few weeks now and it's kind of fun.
Love to you and T, Kate

Anne-Marie said...

"It makes me feel a bit self indulgent to write of my struggles as a man and my love for the mountains in comparison to these larger considerations."

I don't see this blog and your writings as "self-indulgent", Robb. I've never been much of a mountain person myself, preferring the flat plains of coastal land. But blogs such as this one have given me greater appreciation for mountains, particularly the Ruahine, so thank you for that.

I too look forward to your guitar journey! You have such an appreciation for music I can't help but think you must have some talent :-)

PS. Interesting you mention Mokai Patea. This week I'm doing a story on a partnership between the local hapu at Mokai Patea [Ngati Hinemanu] and DoC, on a programme for kiwi recovery and stoat trapping. Later in the winter I hope to go up there to do a feature story. I hear it's very rugged country. If I go, it will be for a few days, and I'll have to help out with the stoat trapping while I'm there. Woo-hoo!

Thanks for another thoughtful post. Have a great week, Robb.

Gustav said...

Kia Ora Brother

Another brilliant post my fine friend.

This post for me is very personal.

I shall never forget the feeling of crossing the Ruahine ranges for the first time and celebrating with my broken hand holding a cold beer that Nigel brought us out of the mystic (pic 5).

That trip changed my life and perhaps that is the effect that mountains can have on us. They force us to contemplate the meaning of it all, to challenge ourselves and our priorities.

I love the idea of you taking up guitar. Your older brother would be proud and will be looking down upon you with encouragement.

Do you remember that night in Green Bay when we hung out with him and his band?

You and I were on stage with him and his band during the last few songs. I'll never forget his huge smile as we threw our arms up in the air in celebration and did viking high tens with everyone in the band.

I love you brother.



Bob McKerrow said...

Kia Ora Robb

I simply love your words "I seem to sense a common thread, a song on the wind, and I cannot quite put my finger upon it, ".

We are all growing, searching, listening, loving and learning as we live. You write so clearly about the path you have come and whre you are now.

Mathew Arnold wrote: A wanderer is man from his birth,
He was born in a ship in the breast of the river of time , Brimming with wonder and joy."

I sense and feel that wonder and joy you are developing as you tread beyond the last blue mountain barred with snow. We are wayfarers, pilgrims and wanderers Robb. Discovery is our game. Curiousity and searching almost kills us yet we come back time and time again. Mountains shape the people and people try to shape the mountains. But in the and mountains are.

Keep up the thoughtful writings as I am learning much from you.

Ka kite ano,


D'Arcy said...


I too am filled with thoughts about your post, and the trinity of words that titles this one hits home to me.

"It is not a place to be over confident in." A few days ago I was stuck in traffic behind someone who had a bumper sticker that said "I am better than you." I sat there for almost 30 minutes behind this car and thought about that attitude. I thought about the kind of person who puts that out there for others to see, I tried to surmise what the point of it was, and I tried not to feel a little saddened that this attitude is encouraged in our world today. This constant pressure and desire to beat others down to better yourself, to buy more, be more, spend more, do more than your neighbor. It made me just sit and wonder if this is what we are breeding here. Then I sigh, take a minute, refocus, and read your blog about the mountains...about nature...about leaving all the competitions behind and seeking the truth within, the finding of our true selves...without seeking definition from any earthly object. Thank you for giving me this today.

I love your music list. I am a music fanatic...almost to the point that if it is popular, I won't listen (I know, so snobbish!) I love all the indie bands, the undiscovered artists, and find pleasure in listening to people that rarely get played on the radio. It seems more personal that way, I rarely listen to anything other than NPR if I listen to the regular radio. I'm constantly on the lookout for a new song to add to the soundtrack of my life.

May I suggest a few tracks that have defined my days the last few months (and I am happy to send a CD of them if you like)

1. Gatekeeper--Feist
2. Orange Sky--Alexi Murdoch
3. Breakable--Ingrid Michaelson (actually, anything by her is amazing!!!)
4. Sunny Road--Emiliana Torrini
5. Falling Slowly--The Swell Season
6. Follow You Into the Dark--Death Cab for Cutie
7. Unless it Kicks--Okkervil River
8. Love of the Loveless--The Eels
9. Everything'll Be Alright--Josh Radin
10. Young Folks--Peter, Bjorn, and John

Ok, that's enough for now, I have way, way too many suggestions on music, and yes, Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" (and many others) defined my life on the east coast....that song is ethereal...completely celestial.

That final photo of the tree made me smile, so magestical, so grand, and yet, so on the edge of everything...but like you pointed out, still hanging on. I think we've all felt like that beech before, and we probably will again.

take care my friend!

D'Arcy said...

by the way, I just bought my Wilco concert tickets. They're coming to Utah this of my absolutely favorite bands!

D'Arcy said...


send me your address at

benincosa at gmail dot com

and I will send you and your fam an awesome music mix!!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Kate,
Well I hope I prove worthy of the guitar! Wouldn't it be nice if we could jam a bit, best of luck with the piano. Cool when those old books come in handy.

Tena Koe Anne-Marie,
Thank you for your words. I guess if people can take something about the mountains away from here, then I can be honest enough to write about them, and myself, as I am.
Reads as if your knowledge of the Ruahine will be increased very soon! I am not positive, but I know a lot of that activity on the Mokai is back in the Ruahine Corner area and 0hutu ridge, pretty remote and very rugged country! I have never been to the corner, beaten back by weather twice now. That will be an interesting experience and I lokk forward to reading about your journey. However, if you don't get there for some reason, you certainly know a few people who could guide you to places in the Ruahines just as cool! Kia ora Anne-Marie.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Gustav,
Yes that trip was a life changing 5 days for us both. Emmersed in something we did not quite understand, an environment both beautiful, yet tempermental and even dangerous. Yet we both responded to the challenge, and felt the whisper in our souls.
I wonder what the guitar journey will bring forth. I recall that night with my brothers band, howling the chorous to Louie Louie and dancing around the stage, the band unfazed by it all.
Synchronistically, Bo Diddley has passed away. My brother played with him many times. I hope they meet in Land of the Big Jam.
Arohanui my Brother,

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
All these other writings have impacted me greatly. And as you have written, perhaps it is the small ripples which will change the world. I have taken much inspiration from your recent post, "How the Other Half Die", and also "Tea with Osama", and I encourage all who visit here to check all your writing out, via the link contained on the bottom of my page.
Exchanging words and views with people such as yourself has been a very rewarding and enriching experience, and so has sharing my own. Kia ora Bob.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora D'Arcy,
Cheers for commenting on that photo of the tree. I recall vividly standing there and suddenly noticing it across the river, clinging there. I felt a real connection to everything in that moment.
I am starting to really feel that if individuals such as those whom I read from can begin to implement small changes perhaps a ground swell will eventually emerge away from the crass consumerism, waste, imbalance, intolerance, and misplaced values our western culture has deemend worthy and the basis of so much of our self esteem. So I start with myself and am inspired by others, such as yourself. Kia ora.
Music! Yes, I would love to hear your tunes, and I will email my address to you. I much appreciate your offer and perhaps can reciprocate. A floating Tunes echange! Will be in touch D'Arcy, have a lovely day.
Ka kite ano,

Sugar said...

What an amazing journey on foot and within. Traversing New Zealand has been a dream of mine since I was a girl in high school... what you called "self indulgent" was a whisper to my soul to remember that dream. Thank you.

Forgive my ignorance... what is "Kia ora" and who is bestowed such a lovely string of sounds prior to their given names?

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Sugar,
I am pleased you enjoy the jouney. I too recall seeing photos of New Zealand when I was a kid and feeling a very strong pull for some unexplained reason. When I first went into the mountains that feeling returned and I felt at home.
Kia ora is Maori phrase, Maori being the indiginous people of Aotearoa - New Zealand. Kia ora is used both as a form of greeting, and also as thank you or acknowledgement. It is a lovely language and fits the spirit of these islands very well. Kia ora Sugar!
Ka kite ano, Till next time,

MB said...

Tena koe Robb, your title and that beautiful first photo drew me in. "To tidy up my own back yard before moving on" — what stronger approach could there be? All journeys begin at the beginning, wherever that may be. I'm so pleased to think you with a guitar in hand. For me, music is much like mountains — territory full of beauty and challenges to explore, play in, discover myself, and connect with others. Another way of travelling. I hope you may find it so as well. Kia ora.

Marja said...

Kia ora, Great post Rob Your poem is beautiful I love the words The dance of the endless Flow it is me
It tells you so much.
We are so lucky to live with such beautiful surroundings were you can quiet the mind and wander places which feel sacred. The picure with the water and the rocks is great. I love rivers and have crossed a few of them hopping over stones or with scouting just walking through it.
Good luck with learning the guitar.
A beautiful instrument.

Ruahines said...

Tena Koe MB,
I much enjoy your analogy of music being similar to the mountains, it is a form of travel
isn't it? I lie on my couch last evening, the fire going, Chet Baker quietly playing in the background, and Tara reading aloud to me from Desert Solitaire. I felt as if I might lift off from my couch and find myself in the desert staring at a blaze orange sunset with Ed himself. Kia ora MB!

Tena koe Marja,
I am glad you enjoyed the poem, and yes, we are very fortunate to live in this place. It is important to have places where we can Quiet our minds, as you so nicely phrase it. The Ruahine offer many such places for me, and Aotearoa abounds in them. I am feeling a strong pull to ensure those places remain relatively pure. Cheers for your good wishes with the guitar. My now departed brother was a fantastic player so I am hoping the gene pool might be kind to me in an undiscovered way! Kai ora Marja.
Ka kite ano,

Bob McKerrow said...

Having a wee dram tonight. I am helping a friend of mine who is working in a huge multi national corporation, but it is one of the better ones which acknowledges poverty and is trying to help poor people.

He and his mates have started a website called enriching life. The pay for it out of their own pockets and want it to really improve the world.They haven't quite got it right but they are trying and are really committed and genuine. I am guiding them to get more into political advocacy. Profit from advertising will go to help the poor.

The website needs more focus but is developing well. Have a look at it and you can post on it, and if you wish, link your blog to his.

If it is OK with you, I will invite you to join. The more we link, the stronger the message and the greater the diversity and unity.


Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
I will check it out in due course.
Everything, I am starting to feel, starts from the ripple. Kia ora for tossing the pebble! have a great week.

vegetablej said...

Hi Robb:

I love the pictures of you and your friends in the mountains, and the one of you fishing in the river surrounded by all the trees is beautifully evocative.

Now that I'm here where I have chance of getting some of the music you mentioned I will see if I can
download any.

Not sure if you know Ray LaMontaigne's music but you might like some on his original album "Trouble". They're all good but "Hannah" is one of the best.

Lovely that you have found your center of peace there in the mountains. A good solid place for everything else to radiate from.

Are you still cooking? Anything good?

Ruahines said...

Kia ora VJ,
I am so happy to read from you! It tells me things are settling in for you more and more after the move from Japan. I am so jealous of that stove!
VJ, Ray is one of my favourite discoveries of these past 5 years or so. Both his albums speak loudly to me. I think he has a very dark place inside him, which also allows him to write and sing with such a beautiful perspective. I identify with that srongly.
Yes, still cooking, we access your recipe section quite often. Tonite is home made pizza with fresh veges and your sauce! Yum.
Kia ora VJ, and kia kaha in your continued adventure.

Patry Francis said...

There is nothing larger than our love for the world around us, for mountains and music, and everything you share. We all express it differently, but I believe that is our common song. Thanks for another beautiful post. Now I'm off to learn more about the
Jayhawks. Sounds like my kind of music.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Patry,
I guess I am trying to keep it simpler and simpler. To stick with what moves me amd what stirs my soul. It really doesn't take much, but there are so many distractions I need to just avoid or ignore. I hope you enjoy The Jayhawks, they really are, were, an under appreciated band. Kia ora Patry.

PATERIKA HENGREAVES, Poet Laureate said...

Kia ora Robb

I have a broader take on this magnificent write in more ways than one. Also, you have shed some light on the inner you and what it is that propels you in your daily strivings of living. No doubt, your deep passion for the beauty of the natural environment; its wholesome gifts and the serenity of the mind it offers to all. We only have to seek and we shall find.

The visuals depicting landscapes, waterscape and skyscape meshed very well with your ruminations and underlying theme, which I dare say, is about the therapeutic effects and great lessons which well from the beauty of the environment around us and the glory of the sky above. You have shown that this natural environment provides inspiration, challenges, music and a place to find respite from the hustle and bustle of a mundane existence; a great escape from the cement jungle that has become part and parcel of our dwelling homes. Man-made beauty in opposition to the awesomeness of the natural beauty of the environment. So on this you have spoken quite eloquently when you said "The simplicity of living amongst the mountains for periods of time has been a great gift. Carrying what I need to live and operate for a period of days on my back, free of any dependence or intrusion by anything electrical or even artificial, free from man-made sounds with only the delightful symphony of nature..." And what do you suppose the writer is saying? Actually he is telling us that humankind has become too destructive of their natural home and very wasteful of its gifts. Humankind has turned deaf-ears to the soothing music that comes from flowing rivers, streams, brooks and the ocean waves; we frown on the chatter of birds, they disturb our sleep, and the musical notes of the forested land.

We have lost ears and eyes for the natural beauty of the environment.

Now the question is this. Have we lost paradise or can it be regained?

I'd say yes, we can regain the beauty that is left but we must act now or it will be too late.

Thank you Robb for sharing your profound thoughts. You have provided in this blog much fodder for the mind. The reading of it was most enjoyable.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Paterika,
You do me honour! Aroha! Please come and visit Aotearoa.