Tuesday, April 15, 2008


On my last post I posed the question of where do we find the love of wild places? Is it something inherent inside of us we respond to, or is it something needing to be nurtured and that emerges with each exposure? I am inclined, at least in my own case, to believe it is a combination of both.

I always felt a certain response to the woods, the aromatic pines, the decaying mulch, and mostly to clear water. The sight and sound of a clear forest brook or stream always invoked something inside me. Yet I needed other guidance to bring me to that eventual recognition of it being important to me. Simply being in those places as a boy, meant someone taking me there, usually early on my father on our relatively rare fishing and hunting outings, and as I got older other friends with similar interests. Then there were boyhood magazines on fishing and hunting eventually leading to books and discovering certain authors, and suddenly a new world is opened.
Two of the people whom have influenced me most through their respective writings of the Natural world are John Muir and Edward Abbey. Which is interesting to me as they would lie on opposite ends of any spectrum other than their shared love of wild places. How they wrote differed, how they appreciated those wild places differed, even how they would have traveled amongst nature differed.
John Muir was a world class botanist, a man with a deep faith in God, a tee totaller who really preferred his own company when amongst his beloved mountains and forests. He thrived in conditions most would be put off by, relishing in storms, earthquakes, traveling in cold harsh conditions with not much more than the clothes he wore, a sleeping bag of some type, and dried bread and tea for sustenance. He loved nothing more than spending hours alone studying striations left on rocks by retreating glaciers, collecting plant life for further study, or simply sitting amongst the huge red woods and sequoias. His writings were testaments to Nature and God, imploring man to get out to wild places and through Nature find God. He ended up carrying the banner for the rudimentary beginnings of Ecological Awareness through his writings, was instrumental in helping to create the U.S. National Park system. He helped save the Grand Canyon from early destruction, brought awareness to the country of saving areas of big trees - influencing greatly the young Sierra Club, and creating a platform for his writings through the National Geographic magazine to reach a wide audience. Finally he gave his failing health trying to save Hetch Hetchy valley, a valley he considered the equal if not superior to Yosemite. He fully demonstrated alternatives for San Francisco to supply its growing need for water in other ways, but failed, and Hetch Hetchy is no more. He died that same year.
Edward Abbey once could not identify some basic desert plants outside a friends house, he was not interested in botany. He was a man of prodigious appetites for whiskey, women, music, and his beloved desert country. Specializing in rafting the rivers of the Southwest he was no light traveler, his rafting parties wanting for nothing, yet he spent much time, like Muir, traveling on his own and camping in the deserts. Abbey's devotion to the wilderness was not like John Muirs, he did not seek it out to meditate or pray. As he drove along highways he felt no shame in littering the detested roads with his beer cans. Abbey hated the cold, and his less than frequent ventures to Montana and Alaska could never end soon enough for Abbey. He was a man of the desert. He never wanted the label of being a "Nature writer", and indeed his body of work includes many other areas outside it. He wrote with great love for his environment in the desert and the need for wild places, but whereas Muir dug deep into finding meaning within the beauty around him, Abbey was content on the surface, there was enough there for him to relish in. Indeed, he himself considered John Muir "relevant, but dull". I am not quite sure I agree with Ed there, as I am somewhat of a below the surface man myself, but his writings are extremely witty and funny, an ecological Mark Twain really. Abbey became relevant in bringing awareness to a generation of America mired in corporate expansion and greed, over development of our park systems, and again, encouraged people to commune with nature on their own, on their hands and knees if necessary to actually "see" something, even if most often we would not. Even today, his 1968 classic "Desert Solitaire" is still relevant and inspiring, his "Monkey Wrench Gang" still a strong call to wilderness action.

I suspect John Muir would roam the Ruahine ranges with glee, relishing the rivers, forests, and open tops, browsing for new and interesting plants and seeing what I have never seen there yet. Abbey would find the Ruahine too restricting, lacking the wide open vista he preferred, too cold and green for his liking. Still, at the end of the day, in front of the Corker or camp fire, most interesting company to share the evenings whiskey ration with and converse.
There are many inspiring and spiritual quotes I could use here to demonstrate the writings of John Muir, a few I have used already in prior posts. Abbey offered little in the way of finding that connection to Something Else Beyond Here in wildness, it simply was what it was. Yet I find him, at times just as inspiring through his appreciation for the surface and his pragmatic approach to the wild. I quote Edward Abbey writing about how one should approach the desert,
"Enter at your own risk. Carry water. Avoid the noon day sun. Try to ignore the vultures. Pray frequently".
Muir would have us fight for Nature by being amongst it and finding a connection to our part amongst the whole, therefore, in Muir's view, God. If he fought for a cause it was legally or through appealing to the masses through his writings. Abbey would have us hurl a brick through the window of a developers office. I see merit in both.

Entrainment is a scientific word used to describe the phenomenon of one organism rhythmically and internally adjusting itself to another, when life pulses coordinate. Van Morrison uses the same word to assert : "Entrainment is what I am getting at with the music...Its kind of when you are here...in the present moment - with no past or future".

Perhaps "Entrainment" is what I sometimes get to experience in the Ruahine ranges, and in a few very special moments out here in the world. This past weekend, for me, was one of Entrainment, by the standard of both definitions above. It was filled with music, friends old and new, and a sense of wonder and beauty - mostly me wondering how I could be surrounded by such beauty, calm, and wonderful people. It was a weekend I will remember forever.

Friday evening my friend Adam, see prior post Drinking Deeply, arrived for the weekend to play with a band he has hooked up with during his visit from Ireland, A Parcel of Rogues, whom had a two night gig booked at the Celtic Pub here in Palmerston North. Playing with Adam, on fiddle, were Andy on acoustic guitar and drum, and harp, Nick on mandolin, banjo and guitar, and Mark on drums. It was an excellent evening, one of the rare ones Tara and I get out together, and certainly rare to a pub! We had an excellent evening, meeting new friends, enjoying the beautiful mixture of Irish and Country Alternative music, as well as tunes by Wilco, Steve Earle, Bob Dylan, and Tom Waits. And so cool to see Adam playing with a band on his new electronic fiddle. Nick and Andy are rapt to have found someone of such quality, and in my opinion both excellent musicians themselves. Spent a bit of money! But well worth it in the big scheme of things.

The following morning I rang Tara's brother Davey, an accomplished guitarist himself. Davey has recently left a band, growing tired of playing pop music and has been concentrating on acoustic and searching for a sound. Not long ago I turned him onto a few blue grass bands to listen to and he has fallen in love with that sound. So he came over and met Adam and within minutes they were jamming, Adam running Davey through some basics and then off they went. Adam was highly impressed with Davey's technique, and how fast he picked things up. He was wishing he was staying in New Zealand longer to possibly do some things with him. Tara and I just went about our normal Saturday morning business while being serenaded by our own private little house band.

And if that were not an exceptionally fine gift, later that afternoon we were joined by Nick, and Tony whom we had met the night prior through Pohangina Pete. Tony plays in a local Irish band here named Slate Row, and along with Adam and Nick, we were treated to another lovely jam around the fire. The guys took turns singing and playing, joining in on each others songs. I had tears in my eyes a few times - and not just from my smokey fire! It was just a fine afternoon and I felt blessed by the presence of such people. Thanks to each and every one of you.

That's Entrainment

You by the countryside
0h you when you reach the sky
You and you're climbing that hill
Well you when we're listening to the little whippoorwill

You when the sun goes down
You in the evening, in the morning when the sun comes round
You with your ballerina dance
Well you put me back into a trance

That's Entrainment, that's entrainment, that's entrainment

by Van Morrison - Keep it Simple 2008 - Copyright extract lyrics reproduced with kind permission of Exile Music.


1. John just below Rangi saddle on the main range and Kawhatau valley below on a misty
Ruahine day.

2. High above Rangi saddle looking across to the Hikurangi's and Mangaweka, the highest peak in the Ruahine ranges at 1733 metres.

3,4,5. Andy, Adam, and Nick, and photo 4 left, Mark : A Parcel of Rogues

6. Robb and Tara

7. Tara

8. Adam

9. Davey and Adam

10, 11 Tony -from Slate Row- and Adam
12. Tara and Charlie

13. Amelie, Pete, Nick, and Jonno

14. Nick, playing Christmas in Washington by Steve Earle
15. Charlie and Adam



Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Kia Ora my fellow scribe

I am going to have to read this a second and a third time to extract the juice. Talking of juice, were you under influence of the juice of the barley ?

I like the balance between deep and profound thought, and music and fun.

Where do we find the love of wild places ? Interesting you quote John Muir who I read a lot when I was developing a love of mountains.

More and more I read Aat Vervoorn that great Dutch/New Zealand Australian mountaineer. Being a Professor of Chinese philospohy, and a wonderful writer on the mountains, he is able to draw on his Zen experiences and early Chinese teachings. He has written two books on NZ mountains and philosophy, Beyond the Snowline and Mountain Solitudes. Man, they will blow you mind away because what you and Muir write, are part of Aat's feelings about love of wild places. Let me digest yours a little more and I'll get back.

Ka kite ano.


Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
There were indeed a few barley beverages of various types being consumed throughout the weekend. How cool you mention Aat Vervoon! I read his book Mountain Solitudes, which I checked out from the library, perhaps 6-7 years ago as I began my solo tramping period. How I came across I do not know, but it impacted me greatly. To realize someone with his skills also felt apprehensive, even alone at times gave me great courage during a period I needed it. I have not been able to find it since and would love to add to my collection. I must track it down! I should receive your book this week. looking forward to it. Cheers Bob! I shall look forward to your "digested" thoughts. Have a great day.


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Hi Robb,

On behalf of Lost Highway Records, many thanks for plugging Van Morrison's new album in your latest (and v.interesting) post ... .. if your readers want good quality, non-pirated, preview tracks, full versions of "That's Entrainment" and "Behind The Ritual" (along with album track samplers) are available for fans and bloggers to listen to (and link to) on Lost Highway's web-site at http://www.losthighwayrecords.com .

Up-to-the-minute info on Keep It Simple and Van’s 2008 shows is, of course, also available on www.vanmorrison.com and www.myspace.com/vanmorrison and, for a limited period, you can still hear Van's exclusive BBC interview and special concert at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio2/musicclub/event_vanmorrison.shtml and http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod/radio2_aod.shtml?radio2/r2_vanmorrison .

Thanks again for your plug and, whilst writing, it would be greatly appreciated (and appropriate in terms of protocol etc) if you could incorporate a courtesy credit in respect of the your use of lyric extracts (eg. Copyright lyric extracts reproduced by kind permission of Exile Music).



Ruahines said...

Kia ora Web Sheriff,
My apologies and I have corrected the proper credit. I have to believe I am the first person in Aotearoa, or one of them, to have gotten Keep it Simple, as I had it sent from England when it first came out. It is excellent, and Van's voice is the finest form I have heard in years. I feel qualified to say that as I have been a Van fan for over 30 years and the centrepiece of my cd collection are my 32 Van cd's - all legally bought and paid for. Glad to know you are watching!
Ka kite,

Paterika Hengreaves said...

Kia ora Robb

This is about the third time I have read this blog...just to see such awesome pictures of Aotearoa, the land I love so very much. Those pictures of the Ruahine Ranges took my breath away as I reflected on my memorable drive by car from Auckland to Whangarei. I had to capture that moment in time in a poem, "Simple Kiwi Pleasures".

Shall be back again soon.

Gustav said...

Dobber my viking brother!

Edward Abbey, John Muir and Van Morrison are all mentioned in your blog and are among the finest souls to bless this planet in my humble opinion.

You continue to grow as a writer, an artist and viking brother and thank you for all the gifts you have showered upon me and all your other viking friends including Booze Hound, Roaster in the Toaster, Gyro, Iron Mike, and Spike.

Until our souls are reunited I wish you a fine day and may the wind always fill your sails brother.

MB said...

Robb, Van Morrison was my first thought on seeing the title of your post. Here's to experiencing good music and beautiful country.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Paterika,
Please visit often! I would love to read your poem, but I could not locate it on your blog - found a lot of very cool other ones however. I love writing poetry, I am just not very good at it. I have to wait till it wells up inside me and cries out to be released and I hurriedly try to listen and write. Yes Aotearoa is a beautiful and special place. It is Home. Kia ora!
Ka kite ano,

Kia ora! Wild places are where we are best, and we have found wild places both in Nature and the city.

Kia ora MB,
Kia ora for stopping in. I see Van's album is his highest charted release ever, for him, in the US, being in the Top 10. He would find that amusing I am sure. It is an excellent album. I have heard Abbey only on Tom Russell's 2006 cd Hotwalker, reading a poem, it is excellent, and I know he did make a short film narrating some of his desert experiences. If you find a copy please let me know! I look forward to enjoying your blog.
Noho ora mai,

MB said...

Kia ora Robb, you'll be teaching me Maori yet. Thanks for your kind words. There is beauty here, too.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

You throw me into a quandry because I find myself liking both Nuir and Abbey. The outdoor puritan;s bore me for they are so spiritual, they overlook the fun to be had in the outdoors, and Abbey perhaps falls nearing into our camp Robb, as you describe him as "a man of prodigious appetites for whiskey, women, music, and his beloved desert country. Specializing in rafting the rivers of the Southwest he was no light traveler, his rafting parties wanting for nothing".
But as you say, his devotion to the outdoors was no less than Muirs. Robert Mcfarlane in his book "Mountains of the Mind - A history of fascination" writes of the expectations we take with us into the wilderness.

" We carry expectation within us and to an extent we make what we meet conform to those expectations, as Freshfield did. A raft of largely undectectable assumptions and preconceptions affects the way we perceive and behave in a place. Our cultural baggage - our memory- is weightless, but impossible to leave behind. So perhaps the unknown exists most perfectly in anticipation, in the imagination. The journey, the climb, the expedition, the discovery, are most purely experienced in the future tense."
I read, but try not to intellectulise the wilderness as I have travelled in all guises, including naked without food and clothes. I have also been on expeditions with tonnes of food for 5 months.

Let the wild show for themselve and we who travel in them be humble and respectful, and do no harm to the environment or others.

Gustav said...


I note that you have added "Poetry Nest" as a link on your blog. Of course I had to check it out and was duly impressed.

Brother do you feel that your blog is growing like a Redwood Tree? It is brother...

Asta brother.

vegetablej said...

Very nice writing, Robb. I love this post and happy to hear you met up with Pete and enjoyed the music of your friends.

Also have to agree with you about Van Morrison, one of my perennial favourites. It doesn't get much better than "Moon Dance" for me. Haven't heard the one you mentioned yet, but now I'm back in Canada there's a good chance I can get it.

Oh, and have a great trip to the mountains! :)

Patry Francis said...

What a wonderful visit I've had to your beautiful country. In my life, all the wild places and much of the music is internal, so writings & photos like yours feed my soul.

pohanginapete said...

Nga mihi nui ki a koe, e Robb,

Well, apologies for not responding sooner to this wonderful post. The weekend was wonderful and you've captured the feel of it beautifully. Many thanks for the great hospitality.

The discussion about John Muir and Ed Abbey I found fascinating — both informative and moving. Both were familiar names, and years ago I read The Monkey Wrench Gang, but I knew little about them beyond that. Thanks. Coincidentally, I've just finished reviewing 84 feature films for Reel Earth, the Aotearoa Environmental Film Festival, cutting them down to a shortlist of 28, then a short short list of 11, then a final 5 which a small group of us assessed for the overall award. One of the final films (I'll say no more) has clips of Ed Abbey; he features prominently. This film (Brave New West will be shown at the festival, so be sure to get to that screening. While not flawless, there's much about the film I think you'll appreciate.

Thanks again Robb. Looking forward to catching up again soon. [Great to see other friends here too — welcome to Aotearoa :^)]

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
In a large context I agree with McFarlane, another book for my growing list!, in that much of the journey into wildness is appreciated throught the anticipation and imagination of the trip. I have just returned from a very short but satisfying journey to a favourite Ruahine haunt. Seemingly come and gone in the blink of an eye. Yet imagining that trip beforehand and now savouring the memory of it will last me a lifetime.
I agree about you, me, and Abbey. I hope we can sit down some time and discuss that over a wee dram! Kia ora Bob.

Kia ora Gustav,
It is brother, and at times I feel the same energy as we did in the Muir woods. Flowing through us!
Kia ora!

Tena Koe MB,
I am still learning Maori. I find it to be a beautiful language, and very fitting to the spirit of Aotearoa. Kia ora.

Ruahines said...

Tena Koe VJ,
Glad you got the message. It was a fantastic trip, though very short. I will be posting about it soon. So glad to read things are going well for you.

Kia ora Patry,
Haere Mai.
I am honoured you stopped by, kia ora. I see such a wealth of reading in your blog, and book, I just checked out briefly and look forward to doing so in greater detail soon. Please stop by anytime for a "feed". Kia ka ha.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Pete,
Cheers and my pleasure. It is very cool when moments like that come together in our lives.
Glad you enjoyed the words on Muir and Abbey. Both are worthy of reading. Your words and brilliant photography remind me a bit of Muir and I could easily see the two of you absorbed in discussion while roaming the Ruahine - and by "see" I mean if I were along I would be straggling far behind the likes of you mountain fit philosophers! Have a great day Pete, I shall look forward to the film festival and catching up. Kia ora Pete.
Ka kite ano,

Marja said...

Kia ora Rob, what a pleasure to read about the treasures we are exposed too here in New Zealand. I see that the North Island has a lot of beauty too we are still exploring the South but will one day hop over to your island. I find the mountains have something peaceful.
I was a scouting leader here for a long time and when we went tramping in the mountains all the boys became calm and friendly.
It also must have been wonderful to be surrounded by live music.
We went once to an Irish pub where a band played. The music flows through their veins.
Thanks for visiting my blog and have a nice day