Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Yuletide Depression

It is always a bit depressing for me this time of the year, my 15th holiday season away from my original place and family. Not that my blueness stems from not having all the traditional Christmas trimmings around me, and certainly not the religious aspects of the season. Rather, and simply, thoughts of home, the Wisconsin winter, gentle snowfalls illuminated by the admittedly over the top lights, but still etched in my mind from youth. As I get older the past seems to take on more meaning, the future less in some ways. I find little joy or excitement in Christmas, except perhaps in that of my son Charlie. Even those reasons evolve around false conceptions only waiting to be destroyed for him as well. Maybe it is because now I am the one trying to figure out how to participate, and pay for it all, or worse, accept gifts I do not deserve.
I drive by the local mall here in Palmerston North during work and see it loaded day after day with cars and people out in droves buying stuff and more stuff. I read daily updates in the newspaper about how the retailers are feeling "the season" is progressing. If I walked into the Warehouse, our local Shopko type store, I am sure I would run out screaming within a few minutes.
I feel a bit depressed just writing this, knowing my words are more or less for my eyes alone. My attempts to share thoughts seem to have gone mostly unnoticed, or acknowledged with vague, brief emails. Certainly not the conversation starter amongst family and friends I had envisioned. It may be time to return to the old fashioned notebook. Plus I have been reading a few blogs which only serve to point out my shortcomings as a blogger and a writer. My friend Joe from Ripon college and his blog Gumption, and a fellow I wrote earlier about in this forum, Pete, whom I met at Iron Gate hut years ago. Both far more observant, intelligent, and more capable of stirring thought and response than I am.

I need a trip to the mountains. It has been too long, and though I have a 6 day trip in early January with John, I need even just a solo night out by myself before too much darkness engulfs my soul. I don't know why I am feeling this way to be truthful. In terms of how the year 2007 has progressed I would state miles ahead of 2006, perhaps the most single stressful, and strange year of my life. My marriage is probably as stable as it can be, which does not exactly fill me with confidence, but maybe marriage is not supposed to automatically fill us with confidence. In any case sitting here writing this I am not consumed by a need to rush off and listen to Tom Russell's excellent 2006 cd Love and Fear as I probably was last year. It has been hard work to bring us back from the brink. It is always hard work to recognize weakness or faults in ourselves that might contribute to a break down of a marriage or ourselves, even harder for two people to even think it is worth saving anyway. Yet I have wrestled, and continue to, with my personal demons, and Tara has undergone immense personal changes, finding a purpose and great passion in her soul in simply caring about people no one else seemingly wants to care about. Her sense of out rage at the treatment of the worlds indigenous peoples has made my life better - is that not a strange conundrum. My problem has never been being in love with Tara, but more so her loving herself. Now maybe my problem is allowing myself to be loved so I can love in return.

These are things I should be thinking about at Top Maropea.

I don't know if I will continue with this blog in the new year. Perhaps I am just better off with my notebook and pen. My friend Joe might disagree, as his passion is using technology to connect people, as he has done, and does for a living. Yet I have only connected with myself, and I can do that just as easily with an old note book, a cold beer, and some photos, so it makes me wonder.

Indeed it has been an interesting year. I awoke very early this morning, consumed by thought and having dreamt about my friend Kevin for the first time in a long while. He killed himself at 15, I still do not why. Last year while in the states I had lunch with an old friend, Julie. I had not seen her in over 20 years. She suffered from cancer after high school, and is now battling hepatitis C, a virtual death sentence. When we sat down she took my hand and said the first thing she needed to talk about was Kevin. I was blown away and for the first time in 32 years I cried for my friend with someone who knew him. I have had 32 years Kevin could have never imagined. Thank you Julie for that gift you gave to me.

My favourite music of 2007 :

1. We'll Never Turn Back by Mavis Staples

Produced and arranged by Ry Cooder, perhaps the worlds finest slide guitarist, this album would most encapsulate the changes Tara has gone through, it is a powerful work by one the finest woman singers America has to offer. She can stand side by side with Aretha, Etta James, Billie Holiday, any of them. And these so called modern diva's, well forget about it. These are mostly traditional black American songs of longed for freedom, oppression, and desire for equality, human rights, and general over view of not just southern America, but all of it. Also included are a few tunes written by Cooder and Staples, and the highlight a stunning version of the JB Lenoir classic Down in Mississippi. The songs do not date because the cause and meaning behind them have sadly not dated either. A powerful statement upon America by Mavis Staples.

2. Leaving Paradise by Tama Waipara

An Aotearoa offering by a New York Kiwi. Not favoured by all I know, but I think it is outstanding, if not simply for one song alone, Leaving Paradise. It transplants me to the Ruahines and that says it all..

3. Mischief by Beoga

This an offering by an Irish band, which puts a somewhat different slant to traditional Irish sound, sometimes jazzy, sometimes bluesy, but all good. A very cool cover of Dirty Work by Steely Dan.

4. Dirt Farmer by Levon Helm

The wonderful Levon Helm's first offering in 25 years. Levon suffered throat cancer in the late 90's and resigned himself to never singing again. His studio burnt down, and his long time friend and brilliant musician Rick Danko died. Helm fought through the depression wrought by all this and rediscovered his voice - not the powerful timbre of The Band days, yet still wholly recognizable and fitting with his choice of music. That is mainly old timey music from his youth and the inescapable line drawn to the tunes world changing music of The Band. Sounds like The Band unplugged having a jam.

5. Try Me One More Time by David Bromberg

Another 25 year between drinks offering by a maestro acoustic guitar, violin, and mandolin player. David tired of the music scene in the 1980's and retired to Chicago where he took up mandolin and violin making. He became one of the most sought after instrument makers in the world before, as he says, finding his mojo again, and putting out this stunner. I was literally shaking as I put this on and was not disappointed, entirely Bromberg on his own and every second a gem. An American musical icon, if unheralded among us common folk, he is certainly revered by his peers, story teller and player extraordinaire.

I feel better just writing words about music. Well that is it from me. Might see ya again might not. Happy Yuletide to one and all. I leave with the words of Edward Abbey:

"May your trails be crooked, winding, and leading to the most amazing views. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds..." - taken from Tom Russell's amazing cd Hotwalker, song 10, Benediction : Edward Abbey. Anyone who thinks they understand, or should understand, or wants to understand, even a little bit about America needs to listen to this cd from top to bottom without disturbance. Ka kite.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


John gazing across Parks Peak ridge and Makaroro valley to main range

It has been awhile since I have ventured forth into the mountains. My solo journey to Maropea Forks and blizzard enforced stay at Top Maropea back in early August being my last adventure. I must remedy that and have felt inspiration from other places to do so very soon. Part of the reason for my absence has been a lingering and persistent pain in my hip, which has been now diagnosed as arthritis. At least knowing is some relief, and now I must simply learn to live with it. The only way for me to find out how much it will truly impact my life is to find out in the mountains. It has been bothering me for over a few years now, so it is not a new element for me to deal with there, just that I now know what it is. No doubt it slows me down a bit, but this has never really bothered me, as at the best of times I was no speed tramper, and I find a slow steady pace gets me there almost as fast anyway. Besides, what's the hurry?
For the past six years I have done an annual summer tramp of a more substantial duration, and having RTC member John Nash here last weekend - for Tara's birthday celebration, we began planning the 7th Annual RTC Summer Tour.
The first was 2001 when Rick and Steve came over from the states and we did a 5 night trip into the Ruahines, highlighted in an earlier post. Since then every summer has brought an extended Ruahine visit, one with Nigel and John, and the rest with John. We have it down pretty well by now, and the biggest decision to make is what route or destination to choose.

Last year we spent 5 days in the Makaroro valley and Parks Peak ridge. We planned to cross the main range to Ruahine Corner, but wicked gale force winds turned us back to Upper Makaroro hut. Which was no great hardship, it is a very cool spot to sit out gales. And our emerging philosophy is to enjoy an area fully, rather than just push through to another place. I suspect with my hip, this philosophy will be not only a wise one, but also a necessary one.

Above is photo of me standing on the open tops of the main range just above Totara spur. It looks like a beautiful day, and it was, except for the wind! I am leaning into the wind trying to stay upright. Hence our decision to return to Upper Makaroro rather than battle such winds for three hours or so. We saw no clouds for three days, and not until our last evening did the more customary Ruahine cloud and mist roll in. Just above is John tending the wood stove in Upper Makaroro hut. During the day we were sunning and swimming in the river, but when the sun moves beyond the narrow valley it cools down very quickly, even in summer. A very cosy hut. I have stayed here in winter when the sun goes past by three in the afternoon, but with plenty of firewood about and my trusty saw staying warm is not a problem.

I am going to head out this coming week for a couple of nights on my own. Looking at these photos again makes me think a return here would be a pleasant destination. I will give the matter due thought.

Summer Tour 2007's final days brought back more normal Ruahine weather. Particularly in the Parks Peak area, where in my 8 visits there the norm has been far more the misty grey shroud than clear blue skies. I will take it either way. At times I have seen zero visibility from the hut door. I love the mist and the silent blanket it invokes on the environment. On this day John and I stood silently in the forest and swayed along with the beech branches as they creaked and groaned with the westerly wind buffeting over us. I walked up from Upper Makaroro to Parks Peak on my own early in the afternoon while John remained to enjoy the ambiance of the river. It is also a way for us both to experience a bit of solitude and I am sure will be an approach we will again use. I wandered down towards the track turn off about the time in the late afternoon I expected John to arrive, camera in hand. I arrived to find him sweating and puffing, resting a bit so as to appear non plussed by his efforts when he got to the hut. Yeah right! We had a good laugh. It is a very steep climb out of the valley to the ridge top, leveling out in the middle section for a wonderful stretch of big beeches, then climbs again hard to the ridge. It is always good to see those green and yellow signs.

How pleasant it is to wander about in the mountain environment when the days walk is done. The gear is scattered about the hut, dinner waiting to be prepared, fire wood chopped and sawn, and nothing to do but be part of the moment.

Above John scopes the main range with map and compass and I am just enjoying the view as we watched the low cloud settle and drift about across the Makaroro valley.

The anticipation of another trip grips my soul. Just thinking of moments like above cause me to get up and gaze out towards my garage where my gear lies in wait. I will get maps out shortly to put together some ideas for a route. It has been too long.

My last journey to the Ruahines was this past August. I ended up having to hunker down at Top Maropea for an extra night after a blizzard rolled in while returning from Maropea Forks. Even the next day the wind was ferocious, and the above photos I took in protection from the wind in a gut on the route up the spur towards Top Maropea. I have done this route 23 times now and know it pretty well. I have been knocked over by gales along it, so even though it is relatively short it is not to be taken lightly. Cloud would never bother me on this route, but the wind has prevented me crossing it many times. I love this place, this is the first Ruahine spot I stayed over night, Top Maropea, and it will always hold a significant meaning to me. Returning there this coming week is a distinct possibility as well, for once in there I am home. And the amazing Maropea Forks lies not too far away! Stay tuned.