Friday, November 21, 2008


It is always around this time of year I find my thoughts drifting back to the place I originally placed my feet (Turangawaewae). It is Thanksgiving season in the states, a signalling of many significant aspects to the year. Time to reflect on the year rapidly passing, the final throes of Autumn finally relenting to the onset of winter, time to gather family and friends close to us, and of course, as a child, the countdown to Christmas begins. Even as a kid growing up in Wisconsin it was always my favourite holiday, somewhat for the reason written above, but even then I seemed to have some innate understanding of the importance and temporal nature of these gatherings. That somehow contained in all this chaos of cooking, drinking, eating, not getting our good clothes dirty, and finally at some stage, my Swedish grandfather commanding the stage and telling us stories while wildly waving his hands about, that this was a moment of perfection in an otherwise very imperfect family. Now, I have become my grandfather.

We do not celebrate Thanksgiving in New Zealand, hence the reason for my drifting thoughts and melancholic meanderings. We have had a few, including a huge gathering one year when my mom came over, but moving into summer here they always seem to take on more of a Kiwi barbecue atmosphere, with the real meaning of the experience somehow being removed from the day. So eventually we just drifted away from recognizing the day, aside from perhaps me settling on the couch listening to music, looking at old photos, and having a quiet drink and toasting my far away loved ones.

I do not have a lot of photos of those times, but I have a treasure trove of memories in my heart.

That's me in the middle, and in the back my beautiful older sister Kathy, brother Steve, cousin Roger, my Great Aunt Ruth holding my still gorgeous baby sister Trish, and my Great Uncle Harry holding my cousin Nancy. My great aunt and uncle never had kids of their own so we always loved each others company. They lived in downtown Chicago in an upper of a huge old brown stone, full of nooks and crannies to play and hide amongst. Harry loved his drink, and would take us boys to the local taverns which was always an interesting adventure in the big city. They were both lovely and I miss them dearly. Harry taught me how to fish and shoot a rifle, he left me his Johnson outboard 18 horse power 1959 motor. I still have it, and it still runs perfect in the care of my great friend Carl back in Green Bay. One day I will give it to Taylor. I wonder if he will understand the significance of such an item.

An even earlier photo of Thanksgiving with my Grandpa Ivar holding me as a baby on his lap, Ruth, Nancy, my Great Grandmother, Steve, my Aunt Jean holding baby Roger, Kathy, and my Grandma Grace. Ivar came over from Sweden on the Lusitania, which on the return journey to Europe in 1915 was sunk by a German u-boat. He met my Irish grandmother and caused a near scandal amongst the very ethnic oriented communities of Chicago by falling in love with her. They were married for over 60 years. When she was dying in Florida, ravaged by dementia, he and I stood outside her hospital room and looked in at her lying there. She was smiling and he said to me, "look at her smile, she always had the most beautiful smile in the world. She is the only girl I ever kissed". Even writing that now still brings tears to my eyes. I miss them both dearly.

My dad in front holding Roger, Ruth, Nancy and Kathy, and in back my mom holding Trish, Ivar, Grace, Uncle Harry, and my Aunt Jean and my Uncle Roger, the neatest aunt and uncle a kid could have. Only my mom and Aunt Jean remain amongst the adults in this photo, and brother Steve is gone as well. My mom and my Aunt Jean are still living life to the fullest, and two of the most stunning women I know. The four men in this photo were the greatest male influences in my life, which most of the time is a hugely positive thing. They were wonderful men, beautiful and flawed in their own ways, and I loved each one dearly. How I would love for them to meet my sons Taylor and Charlie.

Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents in Chicago, little kids had to sit at the card table which would have meant Roger, Trish, and I. We still had fun. I can close my eyes and smell the turkey, hear the laughter, I can walk through each room of that house with unerring direction even though I have not been there for over thirty five years.

Being allowed my first crack at carving the turkey, a passing of the torch. The first left handed turkey carver in the family!

My mom and I in New Zealand , Thanksgiving 1998. The last time I celebrated Thanksgiving. I think perhaps I will organize a small gathering of family and a few friends here in New Zealand. My boys deserve to connect with, or at least be exposed to some of their culture and heritage. And even in a year such as this, with doom and gloom on every seeming horizon, there is still so much that I really need to recognize and Be Thankful for ..........

My family here in New Zealand. Tara's parents, Tony and Val, whom have taken me in without question as part of the family, and loved my children unconditionally and completely. Tara's sister Karley, another little sister in every way. Tara for simply being who she is and our journeys, together and apart. Taylor, my oldest son, the catalyst of so much in my life, a challenge and sometimes a complete joy in listening to his questioning of what is around him. And Charlie, an unexpected gift, keeping the eyes of a child upon me.

To the friendships I have grown here in Aotearoa. Nigel, John, Chris, and Erika. I find it harder as I get older to cultivate friendships, yet I have been blessed here to include a few people whom I consider family as well.

To the people who read here and share this place, and allow me to share theirs. To have connected, literally, with a small group of people from all over the world in this way has been such a joy. Each of you has taught me so much, and I am honoured to have you here. I thank you all.

And, of course, I am Thankful for Wild Places. In particular the Ruahine ranges. I still relive the feeling of awe and wonderment I experienced with Nigel and John the very first interaction I had with them in 1994 on Gold Crown ridge. Almost in the same way I recall my grandparent's house. I just close my eyes and I am there. Each time I return to the ranges I am overwhelmed with a feeling of Being Home. I am blessed by this place and what it has brought to my life. May we all find such a place. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 10, 2008


Sitting outside Rangiwahia hut in the late afternoon after returning over the windy and clagged in Whanahuia's, I was enjoying a cup of tea and when I looked to the north east saw this cloud formation above me. The lenticular layer is called a hog's back formation, a harbinger of bad weather usually in the form of northwest high winds and a storm to come. Indeed it began to rain and gust heavily later that evening, and as I walked down in the misty grey dawn it was both windy and pouring rain.

It seems as if in a way here in Aotearoa we have our own hogs back cloud hovering over the islands. Our election here outed the Labour government to install a National one, or basically exchanging a left for right on the political spectrum. Made more threatening by the fact that under our MMP system that National in order to form a government has to go into coalition with a party called ACT. So for the next three years we have a conservative right majority being supported by a radically far right minority. This bodes well for the rich white fat cat developers, for the concepts of big business and progress, power companies, and generally the well to do. It does not bode well for the poor, or even middle class, for the Resource Management Act, for any state owned enterprise, and certainly not for any of our wild areas. There is a feeling of people rubbing their hands together in glee. The wrong people.

As a country the mood was to vote for "change". I was somewhat flabbergasted to talk to so many people who believed that Barack Obama was the catalyst for change here, almost a mandate to vote for a different government. Yet the change in the states was a vast swing to the left, to potential equality, possibility, and hope. To change to the right here simply for the sake of change rather astounds me, and people seemed unable to make that connection to what Obama is, and what John Key will never be. There will be little change to the make up of a National led cabinet to what it would have been 3 years, even 6 years ago. The same faces, the same agendas, made worse by the inclusion of ACT, whose simplistic "policies" I consider just left of Fascism.

Yet democracy has spoken, and we deserve the government we ask for. We seem unable to accept that in some ways, many ways, we have to change the way we live, our very systems of progress, to leave a better world for future generations. I suspect the fight for our wild places has only just begun.

On the other hand, to witness, and participate, in the election of Barack Obama was perhaps my proudest moment as an American. I hold no illusions that racism and poverty have ended, and that Obama and America do not face monumental challenges. The issue, for instance, of Indigenous Americans, seems to have greatly been overlooked and there is much healing and acknowledgement to be done there as well before we have real conversations about equality and opportunity for all races. And of course the economic issues facing not only the states but the world. I am inspired by the Possibility that we have a man inside the system who can bring the first steps of real change to that system be a reality. At some stage we have to stop stealing from our children. I can only write that it was a day we will all remember, a day of history and hope, a day America took a step towards being for all what it was supposed to be at it's inception.

I urge all who read at my place here to check out and read a post called The Rewrite, by Teju Cole. Actually all of Beth's writings are of interest, but this one for me really captured this moment of change in America.

Another place I would like to recommend is at and a post named One More American Moment by Tom Russell. Not only is Tom one of America's most talented and under rated song writers, but also someone who is on par with Abbey, Bukowski, and Hunter S. Thompson as an observer of the real under belly of America.

"Man is not built to vegetate or stagnate - we like to progress - zero growth environmental policies fly in the face of human nature".
Gerald Ford, former Republican president, 1974.

Tell that to these guys Gerald.

Charlie holding my new niece, Hazel Rose.