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
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
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