My oldest son Taylor, above, and I used to be so close. When he was little he was my shadow, and at nighttime I used to think the best part of being a father was simply holding him while he slept, remembering how when I was a boy the safest place in the world for me was my father's arms. And while we perhaps are not much different than most teen age sons and fathers, this growing distance between us sometimes troubles me. It has been some time since Taylor has accompanied me to the mountains, his interests right now lie elsewhere. Yet I could see during this brief and easy trip to nature, that his early mountain wanderings have held him in good stead. He had a very assured and confident air, getting stuck into the setting up of the main tent, tying off all the knots, handling the kayak, swimming, and roaming the area, and it was refreshing to see these three teen age boys communicating with us through more than grunts and nods, at times they were positively ebullient. Taylor traveled at a very young age into the mountains, and from ages 7-13 he got to quite a few places not many those ages would get to, and maybe I pushed him a bit too hard. Perhaps the mountains are still lying inside Taylor, a gift given to him when he was very young that lies dormant waiting for him to Open. I could see the spark in his eyes. I just enjoyed resting my eyes upon him, watching him, that little boy, now a strapping young man. In the blink of an eye.
And what of little boys? Charlie and Mack played and swam, fought and made up, built dams and sand castles, found a "secret spot" and built a fort, all the things boys should be doing. It won't be too long till I take these two out to the Ruahines,though I will no doubt be a bit more testing of the waters than Taylor's full on immersion. A moment I relish the thought of is sharing Top Maropea with both Taylor and Charlie, a place so important to me, my Taurangawaewae in Aotearoa, a place I have already shared many times with Taylor, a place where I carried and buried Charlie's placenta in the Maori custom of Whenua, or Connecting to the Earth. It is there waiting for us.
Sitting around our brazier fire in the evening toasting marsh mellows and telling old stories and memories, Mackie and Charlie bravely decided they wanted to hear ghost stories, so I told my story of Brittain Brittain, the old Ruahine culler and his ghostly presence in the hut with John and I one night, the lonely howls of his dogs faintly heard on the wind. I could see Mackie mulling over that one when Taylor upped the ante with the infamous "Drip Drip Drip" tale. Just as Taylor got to the end bits, Mackie lost his nerve and came leaping into my lap clinging on for dear life and begging Taylor to stop. So he did, and as it was late for the little fellows I went and lay in the big tent with Mackie who was still clinging to me. When he fell asleep I pried myself away from him and went back to the fire to find Charlie still there with Tara waiting for me as Charlie wanted Taylor to finish the Drip Drip tale. Just as Taylor started to speak we heard a little shaky voice from the tent, "Plleeasse don't tell it Taylor, I'm really not asleep yet"!
I think that will be the one biggest memory I will have of Mackie in the years to come. Just delightful.
Charlie and I by the trailer, which allowed us to bring a large amount of gear including the Weber grill to the left, kayaks, a brazier for our outdoor fire, cots, chairs, a table and umbrella, it was all a first class set up. Tara even slept in here on the second night when the rain had settled in and her attempt to sleep with me in my mountain tent aborted when she, rather unjustly in my view, accused me of snoring too much! I also chucked a few arm loads of firewood from home on board, which Charlie and I rendered into use able pieces. So we had plenty for cooking and for our nightly fire.
And this is where this post takes a different direction. As I wrote earlier this place is a Council Reserve, meaning camping is free based on the assumption people will take out their rubbish, bring their own wood, and leave the place clean. The council has provided toilets and showers, but not bins for rubbish, nor wood for fires. Fair enough. Before setting up our camp Charlie and I filled up half a council rubbish bag full of cans, bottles, and lord knows what garbage. At around 6:00pm I began to hear thrashing from the scrub and bush around the river, like an army of possums deciding to invade. It was groups of campers in there pulling, cutting and hacking at the trees and bush for wood, and believe me there was little dead wood in there to be had. As it got dark we could see smoky fires of live wood flare up for a bit then settle into a haze making mess.
New Zealand prides itself on its "Clean and Green" image, yet for the most part that is a fallacy and it was more than driven home here in a spot we should be proud of and take care of for our selves and for our children. And I suspect these were not tourists we like to blame for our ills and stupid actions, these were home grown Kiwi campers destroying and rubbishing our own back yard.
"Be a Tidy Kiwi - Please Take Your Rubbish Home"
What can I write? Why is it more important for us to be able to drive away from nature with a tidy clean car than to leave it unspoiled? How can people actually turn onto the highway and leave this behind with a clear and guilt free conscience? Charlie and I walked by the river with a small rubbish bag and filled it with in 15 minutes full of crap, and by the time we left there was more rubbish stacked here waiting for it to become someone else's problem, someone else's concern. And the world turns.
It breaks my heart to even have to post the above photo, it brings tears to my eyes to even look at it. Every one of these big pine trees has been hacked at, chopped at, had all their branches within reach sawn off, and even desecrated further by graffiti. Each one of these huge sores weeping yellow sap, like pus representing the callous disregard by man. It is the complete representation of the brutal disconnection we have to Nature, to the Earth. I could hear these trees weeping and crying in the wind, could feel the muted song of the river as it sadly passed. It is of little wonder to me how we humans are capable of treating one another when I see this, how we can treat the Earth in a place like this. It wounds my soul and I feel a cloud of depression wanting to descend upon me. I can only fight myself, teach my children a better way, talk to my friends until I bore them to death, write to those whom read here of our need to Connect to the Earth. It is not a product, not a storage facility, not a pool of resources waiting for us to use and burn up, and it is certainly not a rubbish tip, She is our Mother, and She needs to be cherished and loved as we love our own children, family and friends. The Gifts She offers us in return are vast and beyond us, and so simple to Connect with. Go and stand in your own back yard and just let Her find you.
I can think of no better words to conclude this post with than words, the very last words, written by Sir Peter Blake before his tragic death. When I see photos like those above I realize just how important his message was, how much he was needed here, and how it is up to those with much smaller voices than his own to speak together and be heard :"We want to restart people caring for the environment as it must be cared for, and we want to do this through adventure, through participation, through education and through enjoyment... The top of the environmental awareness mountain that we are endeavouring to climb may be out of sight through the clouds right now. But to win, you first have to believe you can do it. You have to be passionate about it. You have to really 'want' the result - even if this means years of hard work. The hardest part of any project is to begin. We have begun. We are underway. We have a passion. We want to make a difference." Peter Blake, 4 December 2001