It only seems as if moments ago I was going over photos of my annual summer trip, relishing the memories and that somewhat peculiar ability we seem to have in forgetting the hard bits, a sore hip, the sound of a helicopter arriving at a hut to drop off hunters, the relentless heat on steep climbs and descents with heavy packs, climbing over huge ancient log jams and boulders trying to find a route up a mountain river with sweat cascading from every pore. Instead I recall swimming in crystal clear pools, the beauty of the mountains throughout the day, the coolness of the evening when the sun moves beyond the valley, the sounds of laughter and discussion with a good mate, the crackle of the evening fire and a wee dram of whiskey in the tin cup. It is more soothing, and easier, to recall those aspects than the ones I know will still be there waiting for me once again.
Which is interesting, to me, as I am now busily planning and preparing for my annual birthday foray into the Ruahine ranges. Every year for the past 7 years now I will have spent a number of days in the mountains, sort of a mid year decompression I suppose. Mostly by myself, but accompanied on various trips with Gustav and twice with John. 0n all but one of those occasions I have gone into Maropea Forks via a number of different routes, and once to Triangle on my own, and another trip to Upper Makaroro on my own as well. John is flying in on the 22nd of July and we will head out that afternoon. Most likely to do our now familiar evening walk to Sunrise as it gives us an extra day, more or less, in the mountains. There is still a very strong pull inside my soul to the Maropea valley even though this will be my 15th trip down the river. We can then have 4 more nights based from Maropea Forks to wander around before heading back out on Sunday when John has to fly back to Auckland. In any case, I noticed in myself that planning a trip, or looking forward to one rapidly approaching of reasonable duration, that the slight feelings of trepidation, maybe even worry or fear begin to creep in. Even when traveling in an area I am intimately familiar with. I have gotten used to these feelings, and almost come to expect them, as if they did not appear I am either over confident, or have perhaps lost my passion and respect for the mountains in which I travel. I don't think this is the case, as I write this wondering if my fitness programme will pay benefits, wondering what the weather will bring, going over my gear and planning menus, the doubts swirl around me. Yet once the swag is hoisted and the feet start to move, those doubts always seem to slip away. The weather will be what it will be, the climbs tough even if I am fit, some forgotten item can be done with out, and I always take at least two more days food than I really need. Those worries melt away and I am just there, amongst this place that fills my soul.
" A man could be a lover and defender of wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, power lines, and right angled surfaces. We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to go there. I may never get there. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope: without it the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis."
Edward Abbey, Essays on the Journey Home
There are so many issues facing the world where I very quickly am out of my depth. World hunger, global warming, racism, religious fervor, intolerance, war. I can only offer vague opinions on such topics, more often over come by a feeling of helplessness at my lack of ability or knowledge to impact any of them, or wade through all the opposing views to get at the real truth.
Meanwhile, in the real world, there are people DOING things, really impacting the world in their own ways. Bob McKerrow, who has worked for the Red Cross for 30 plus years in some of the worlds most troubled areas. His blog at http://bobmckerrow.blogspot.com/ almost always leaves me feeling a bit humbled, yet grateful for the people who carry on working in areas like the Aceh province long after the news media lose interest. They have built over 40,000 homes, and provided fresh water sanitation for over 400,000 people, and yet the work still remaining is mind boggling. There are times when picking up a hammer has more impact than any politicians rhetoric, or religious pontificating, or self righteous indignation from comfortable vantage points. It gives me a bit of courage to perhaps impact the world in small ways.
More and more, like Abbey, I am coming to the conclusion that my passion, my focus, and my fight, is to be a voice for the Wild. Even if that voice only is heard by my own children then maybe that is a start. Even here in supposedly "clean and green" New Zealand the clamor for more and more ways to "sustain" our way of life presses forward. It may be pushing forth another rich fat cat developer project for a new marina in the Coromandel, in spite of it destroying traditional kai moana (sea food) grounds. As long as we have another marina for parking huge gas guzzling pleasure boats. Or worse, a proposal to dam another West Coast river, the Mokihinui. In spite of being the 7th ranked area in New Zealand for natural heritage value, including habitat for 12 native species of fish, two types of giant land snail, Whio or native Blue Duck, and numerous other threatened birds, our "green" spun power company, Meridian, is proposing an 85 metre high, 12 kilometre long dam in its pristine gorge by the river mouth and the Tasman sea.
Are saving a few wild creatures, land snails, and a river that Meridian tells us, "not all that many people really use", more important than expanding and maintaining the ever growing need for power? Or is it time that we begin to look at other ways of stopping this destruction and ruination of our wild areas, if not simply for the reason Abbey professes above, but also for the protection of something for our future generations? Because once we start knocking off the most highly ranked wilderness areas because of their potential hydro value, no hillside, mountain range, or river will be safe here in New Zealand. And if they get around to the Ruahine in my lifetime I will be there.
Grasping that perhaps it is the system itself we have created that needs to change as to protect the earth and humanity, is a pretty heavy concept to get a head around, much less agree might possibly be true. Even beyond that, surely the most hardened (God put man on the earth to use it, never been in the woods city dwelling, non nature lover, concrete worshipper) conservative HAS to somewhere inside them appreciate the possibility of wild places, if only for their own imaginations of escape to anywhere else but here. Something beyond parking lots, steel and glass overlooks, even groomed trails and friendly uniformed park guides. And if they don't get it, there are those of us out here who do, more numerous than might be thought and the rumblings of change get louder every day. Men like John Muir and Edward Abbey told us this years ago, we need to start listening.
"Now I'm living in the desert but the towns are closing in
Those cracker box developments Ed would call a sin
We stole this land from the Mexican
And now we'll sell it back
And they'll live like mortgaged prisoners
In those god damn housing tracks
Tell me who votes for the mountain lion
Tell me who votes for the fox
Who votes for the Spotted Owl
Who hides there in the rocks
I wish that Ed would come againWith a chainsaw in his hand
And carve on up those housing tracks
And take on back the landLord I wish Edward Abbey
were walking around today"
taken from the last two verses of the song, "The Ballad of Edward Abbey", written and performed by Tom Russell on the cd Modern Art.
1. Lake Colenso
2. Main Ruahine from Longview spur
3. Waikamaka valley, typical of pristine valleys that could be endangered.
4. Below are storm clouds gathering at sunset over the Kawhatau head waters.