Sunday, July 6, 2008


It only seems as if moments ago I was going over photos of my annual summer trip, relishing the memories and that somewhat peculiar ability we seem to have in forgetting the hard bits, a sore hip, the sound of a helicopter arriving at a hut to drop off hunters, the relentless heat on steep climbs and descents with heavy packs, climbing over huge ancient log jams and boulders trying to find a route up a mountain river with sweat cascading from every pore. Instead I recall swimming in crystal clear pools, the beauty of the mountains throughout the day, the coolness of the evening when the sun moves beyond the valley, the sounds of laughter and discussion with a good mate, the crackle of the evening fire and a wee dram of whiskey in the tin cup. It is more soothing, and easier, to recall those aspects than the ones I know will still be there waiting for me once again.

Which is interesting, to me, as I am now busily planning and preparing for my annual birthday foray into the Ruahine ranges. Every year for the past 7 years now I will have spent a number of days in the mountains, sort of a mid year decompression I suppose. Mostly by myself, but accompanied on various trips with Gustav and twice with John. 0n all but one of those occasions I have gone into Maropea Forks via a number of different routes, and once to Triangle on my own, and another trip to Upper Makaroro on my own as well. John is flying in on the 22nd of July and we will head out that afternoon. Most likely to do our now familiar evening walk to Sunrise as it gives us an extra day, more or less, in the mountains. There is still a very strong pull inside my soul to the Maropea valley even though this will be my 15th trip down the river. We can then have 4 more nights based from Maropea Forks to wander around before heading back out on Sunday when John has to fly back to Auckland. In any case, I noticed in myself that planning a trip, or looking forward to one rapidly approaching of reasonable duration, that the slight feelings of trepidation, maybe even worry or fear begin to creep in. Even when traveling in an area I am intimately familiar with. I have gotten used to these feelings, and almost come to expect them, as if they did not appear I am either over confident, or have perhaps lost my passion and respect for the mountains in which I travel. I don't think this is the case, as I write this wondering if my fitness programme will pay benefits, wondering what the weather will bring, going over my gear and planning menus, the doubts swirl around me. Yet once the swag is hoisted and the feet start to move, those doubts always seem to slip away. The weather will be what it will be, the climbs tough even if I am fit, some forgotten item can be done with out, and I always take at least two more days food than I really need. Those worries melt away and I am just there, amongst this place that fills my soul.

" A man could be a lover and defender of wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, power lines, and right angled surfaces. We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to go there. I may never get there. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope: without it the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis."

Edward Abbey, Essays on the Journey Home

There are so many issues facing the world where I very quickly am out of my depth. World hunger, global warming, racism, religious fervor, intolerance, war. I can only offer vague opinions on such topics, more often over come by a feeling of helplessness at my lack of ability or knowledge to impact any of them, or wade through all the opposing views to get at the real truth.

Meanwhile, in the real world, there are people DOING things, really impacting the world in their own ways. Bob McKerrow, who has worked for the Red Cross for 30 plus years in some of the worlds most troubled areas. His blog at almost always leaves me feeling a bit humbled, yet grateful for the people who carry on working in areas like the Aceh province long after the news media lose interest. They have built over 40,000 homes, and provided fresh water sanitation for over 400,000 people, and yet the work still remaining is mind boggling. There are times when picking up a hammer has more impact than any politicians rhetoric, or religious pontificating, or self righteous indignation from comfortable vantage points. It gives me a bit of courage to perhaps impact the world in small ways.

More and more, like Abbey, I am coming to the conclusion that my passion, my focus, and my fight, is to be a voice for the Wild. Even if that voice only is heard by my own children then maybe that is a start. Even here in supposedly "clean and green" New Zealand the clamor for more and more ways to "sustain" our way of life presses forward. It may be pushing forth another rich fat cat developer project for a new marina in the Coromandel, in spite of it destroying traditional kai moana (sea food) grounds. As long as we have another marina for parking huge gas guzzling pleasure boats. Or worse, a proposal to dam another West Coast river, the Mokihinui. In spite of being the 7th ranked area in New Zealand for natural heritage value, including habitat for 12 native species of fish, two types of giant land snail, Whio or native Blue Duck, and numerous other threatened birds, our "green" spun power company, Meridian, is proposing an 85 metre high, 12 kilometre long dam in its pristine gorge by the river mouth and the Tasman sea.

Are saving a few wild creatures, land snails, and a river that Meridian tells us, "not all that many people really use", more important than expanding and maintaining the ever growing need for power? Or is it time that we begin to look at other ways of stopping this destruction and ruination of our wild areas, if not simply for the reason Abbey professes above, but also for the protection of something for our future generations? Because once we start knocking off the most highly ranked wilderness areas because of their potential hydro value, no hillside, mountain range, or river will be safe here in New Zealand. And if they get around to the Ruahine in my lifetime I will be there.

Grasping that perhaps it is the system itself we have created that needs to change as to protect the earth and humanity, is a pretty heavy concept to get a head around, much less agree might possibly be true. Even beyond that, surely the most hardened (God put man on the earth to use it, never been in the woods city dwelling, non nature lover, concrete worshipper) conservative HAS to somewhere inside them appreciate the possibility of wild places, if only for their own imaginations of escape to anywhere else but here. Something beyond parking lots, steel and glass overlooks, even groomed trails and friendly uniformed park guides. And if they don't get it, there are those of us out here who do, more numerous than might be thought and the rumblings of change get louder every day. Men like John Muir and Edward Abbey told us this years ago, we need to start listening.

"Now I'm living in the desert but the towns are closing in

Those cracker box developments Ed would call a sin

We stole this land from the Mexican

And now we'll sell it back

And they'll live like mortgaged prisoners

In those god damn housing tracks

Tell me who votes for the mountain lion

Tell me who votes for the fox

Who votes for the Spotted Owl

Who hides there in the rocks

I wish that Ed would come again

With a chainsaw in his hand

And carve on up those housing tracks

And take on back the land

Lord I wish Edward Abbey

were walking around today"

taken from the last two verses of the song, "The Ballad of Edward Abbey", written and performed by Tom Russell on the cd Modern Art.

1. Lake Colenso
2. Main Ruahine from Longview spur
3. Waikamaka valley, typical of pristine valleys that could be endangered.
4. Below are storm clouds gathering at sunset over the Kawhatau head waters.



Unknown said...

Robb, I hope you are feeling better, you've been sporting the flu for almost a week now!

I had to laugh at how we remember the good things and not the bad. Thank goodness, or I would never hike again. My sister and I kept with our Monday tradition and choose another mountain path to take yesterday. It was hot, even in the evening, and I was dripping sweat and I was going quite slowly as it was a harder trail than we usually do (and my foot is still recovering from a car accident a few months ago), and then we encountered a rattle snake that put us on edge the rest of the hike and as I was scaling this huge mountain, I thought, "Why in the hell do I like doing this?!!!" I really couldn't remember until I reached the top. Then, the quite moments with nature greeted me, I did some meditation, and yep, I'm excited to go again next week!

As per the preservation of nature...this is tough. Really tough. How much difference can one little person make when so many are working against her? I don't think there is one answer that is right. This will always be a battle, as I don't see it healing itself very soon. But, it's a battle I will continue to fight in little ways.

One example of late, I use reusable bags at the grocery store and in malls and basically everywhere I go when I buy things. I can't handle when you get a pack of gum and someone wants to put it in a plastic bag! I get such weird looks from people, and it's a hassle to always remember them and get used to them and use them, but I just feel better when I do. It's a relatively minuscule thing to do for this big world, but I still keep doing it.

I wish this were an easy thing to fix.

I guess at some point we have to put our faith in humanity, do our part, and keep plugging away!

Beautiful post and beautiful pictures.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora D'Arcy,
I think my friend Bob would also agree that it is the smallest ripple that can really begin the waves of change. What you are doing is impacting your immediate world, just as your writing impacts a larger audience, and that is important. Voices and words count as well, but even the smallest action is so significant because that is what really impacts those around us, particularly our familes and friends. It really is a grass roots effort, no matter what cause we choose - and there are so many.
"Why the hell do I like doing this", is a thought that has crossed my mind many times in the mountains, yet those moments quickly fade. As John Muir wrote, "You must climb the mountain to see the view".
Thanks for your thoughts, and wishes with this bloody flu! Cheers.

Lynda Lehmann said...

Robb, this is so well expressed. I share your love of the wild places. I often wonder WHY they speak to me so much, and I accuse myself of being radically "escapist" in my nature.

But really, deep in my gut I know it's more than that, though I can't really say just what.

"I am coming to the conclusion that my passion, my focus, and my fight, is to be a voice for the Wild. Even if that voice only is heard by my own children then maybe that is a start."

Yes, that IS a good start but you are also speaking to your readers and I hear the spirit of your journey.

Thanks for sharing this.

PS - One who doesn't feel that trepidation that you mentioned above, is probably not penetrating very far into the unknown. Nature is a blissful and mysterious refuge, but her power and frivulous turns command our respect!

I like your blog so I'm putting your URL on my page, Robb.

Marja said...

Love to read your inspiring stories
full of passion about the mountains
Yes Bob is doing such great work. I feel humble and helpless as well when I read his posts. We all got our own mission though. With your passion for nature to help protect it, is an excellent goal and their is so much work to be done and much awareness is necessary.
i always thought New Zealand was clean and green untill I heard that the most poisones spray and inseticides are used, many rivers are polluted and farmers are allowed to put all their rubbish in the ground.
I was surprised how behind they were here in recycling when I came here and had difficulty throwing batteries in the rubbish after being taught how poiseness they are etc. We can do a lot of things ourselves to make a little difference and every difference counts.

Ruahines said...

Tena Koe lynda,
Sometimes just that fleeting connection to understanding why is enough to sustain, at least for me. Thank you for reading and appreciating. And you are so right about respecting nature when we venture forth beyond the groomed paths, but would we have it any other way? I shall add you to my list as well for others to enjoy your writing, photos, and art. Kia ora.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Marja,
Yes, more and more I see how the myth of "clean and green" New Zealand is really nothing more than a money spinning tourist web. Indeed there are areas in remote mountains and valleys where this is so, but once those river appear on farm land forget it. There are areas here by the Ruahines where pristine rivers coming out of the mountains are unswimmable less than 10-15 kilometres downstream. That really saddens me, and angers me, thus this voice inside calls stronger. Thank you for your thoughts and efforts, you and Bob are always on my daily stops. Kia ora Marja.

Anonymous said...

All the best for heading out on the 22nd July Robb. Bet you couldn't believe you caught the flu when you had so much to think about and prepare.However it will be wonderful to spend time where your soul wants to be. I'm sure that soon there will be many more wonderful photographs to share with family and friends.Happy travels.By the way,to do my bit, when I vote, it is always a vote for the party where environmental issues are the key platform.I wish to be accountable to any grandchildren I might have in the future, by saying "I tried in the following ways"...even now I can think of more I could do.

ghreeblestaff said...

Ah. Good words.
For many, there is no real difference between escape and hope-
We are part of a long history of those who hope in escape, looking forward to the places empty of 'busyness' and those who would drag a chain or make a speculative buck or two.
The Romans weren't the first to tame the wild people, to subjugate their fellow humans to the cause of making their superiors more comfortable or upwardly mobile in way of life, but they codified much into culture, law and writing. It was they, really, who set in motion or gave license to those who subjugate on a mass scale. It is us who are able to speak up for the land and one another who know we really depend on wilderness (both traditional wilderness and agricultural ‘wilderness’) for everything that we are or hope to become.
I only hope our own Rome won't have to fall too far before we come into some sort of balance.
I am very glad to read your words and look forward to whatever comes of your trip, both within you and through your words.
Ripple on, my man.

Nature Nut /JJ Loch said...

What a lovely post and photos!!!

>>>You said - "Those worries melt away and I am just there, amongst this place that fills my soul." <<<

How beautiful. Hope you write an inspirational nature book one day. Let me know when it's out and I'll be the first in line to buy it. We could use another John Muir. I love his work too. :D

Thanks for posting on my blog. I am going to share your blog link with my NZ writing critique partner. She's going to love this blog. :D

How cool you lived in Wisconsin and know the UP region. Jeff and I are heading to National Hiawatha Forest tomorrow. Want to catch the Lake Superior sunrise.

Best Regards, JJ

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Pam,
The flu always seems to have a way of finding me in July. Though this year it seems not quite so severe which I am putting down to healthier eating. I am getting very excited to head out next Tuesday and will hopefully have an interesting tale to write about and photos to share. I really want to take my time going down the river and really "see" it, and hopefully some Whio as well.
Your point about voting is crucial. I take my right to vote very seriously and along with doing those small things we can hopefully make bigger things happe. Kia ora Pam.

Ruahines said...

Tena Koe Adam,
Kia ora for your words. Very thought provoking I must say. As I sit here with a mountain experience not far away some might say my excitement builds from the Possibility of Escape, from all that left over Roman vestige you write so well about. And that may even be partly true, yet I also know there is something almost undefinable waiting for me, the unknown embrace of Nature. Perhaps that is the Hope part of the equation, something to contemplate as I wander about. Kia ora Adam, enjoy the Wildness!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora JJ,
Hope you caught the sunrise. Those Great Lakes sunrises and sunsets are so amazing.
I spent large chunks of my childhood at a cabin in northern Wisconsin just by the Michigan border, and we ventured into the UP many times to hike, hunt and fish. It is really where I first heard this voice inside me. The clear waters of Lakes Superior and Huron always held me captive. I grew up in Green Bay, part of Lake Michigan, so the Lakes have always been part of me really. I hope they are doing well.
Yes Muir was an amazing man and writer. I used to spend hours at the University of Wisconsin where he attended, as did I, reading his works where he may have even contemplated himself.
I will look forward to checking out your photos and writings as well. Kia ora JJ.
Ka kite ano,

HWHL said...

I'm glad you've recovered from your flu bug. Sounds like you're getting ready for a relaxing and intimate foray into the mountains.... the solitude in the wilderness sounds heavenly.

Really a lovely post (and lovely pictures). I couldn't agree with you more that man has made quite a mess out of the magnificent creation that God entrusted us with, however, we certainly can't go back in time,,, therefore we have to 'bloom where we're planted' and you definitely are doing that. I applaud you for that, and for teaching your boys to respect their surroundings and to treasure the land.

I hope you have a rejuvenating and relaxing visit into the woods and enjoy your quiet time amidst nature and the Creator.

Take care. :-)
Happy Wife Happy Life

MB said...

Kia ora, Robb. I have always enjoyed your photos and often wished I could see them in greater detail. So imagine how pleased I was to note the first one could be viewed larger. Not sure how or why just that one, but I'll accept the opportunity. It was worth the look — beautiful! I believe you will find a way to make a difference; even small differences are important. Kia ora.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora HWHL,
Cheers, and I am feeling much better, though now my boys both are sick, which is almost worse than being sick myself!
The mountains are glimmering white and I am indeed anticipating my interaction with them. My pack is ready to go and so am I.
Ka kite ano,

Gustav said...

I have been coming back to see the pic of Lake Colenso often.

There is somethang that draws me to that sacred place.

All the pics are awesome and may you have another incredible journey into the mountains for your birthday.

Ruahines said...

Tena Koe MB,
I have no idea why that photo can be made larger and others not. It must be something very correctable. I must write after reading your comment I had a look at it larger myself, and it is a very cool photo. Lake Colenso is a very mysterious and spiritual place in the Ruahine. I also must give credit to my mate Nigel who took that photo and the 2nd one as well. Both taken with his fine 35mm film camera many years back. Nigel now lives in Korea so he will appreciate these as well I hope. But cheers for the feedback MB as that is a feature that is certainly really cool about your beautiful and detailed photos I love, and I will have to figure
out how to do that with all of mine. Kia ora MB, always a pleasure to read from you.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Gustav,
Ahh!! Colenso still calls strongly to you brother! We shall wander there together Gustav, relishing each moment, each ripple, we shall share the doubts of the journey, and celebrate the joys of leaving our fears behind. It is much more than just Being at Colenso that awaits us my old friend. We shall dance by the lake, the mist rolling over us. It's So Quiet in Here!

Amy said...

Robb, fantastic post. I've always felt reverence for the wild and bonded to particular areas. It's been interesting watching my kids grow up. I didn't think my older girl would ever get attached to anything outdoors, but a trip to the Rocky Mountains a few years ago actually moved her to tears. People need that connection to the earth, and when they feel it, they are changed forever.

Unknown said...

Robb, I am not sure when you are leaving, but wanted to wish you a safe journey! I've been thinking about your journey with a bit of envy!

Be safe, be well, be thoughtful and come back to share with all of us the amazing offerings of New Zealand.

Sugar Jones said...

I'll have to come back and read later. For now, I was taking in all the pictures. Wow... clearly, God loves NZ. I hear he lives there...

Ruahines said...

Tena Koe Amy,
Interesting as well that often times we have to go away from our own places, Turangawaewae, to find that connection to Nature - and maybe the Turangawaewae we were meant to find. I am happy for your daughter and I understand that moment for her very well. I know the Ruahines changed me forever. Cheers Amy,

Ruahines said...

Kia ora D'Arcy,
That is incredibly thoughtful of you, kia ora!
My pack sits here beside me, heavy and full, six days in winter means cramming a few extra items in! My excitement grows. I pick up my friend John Tuesday early afternoon, your Monday, and off we go. Today my friend Adam arrives for the weekend to play fiddle with his band Parcel of Rogues at the local Irish pub. Which will mean a saturday drop in jam session here at our house, which is always very cool. I am happy you have decided to keep your violin. I will take and post some photos of Adam playing as he is a brilliant classical violin player, yet his passion is the fiddle.
In any case cheers D'Arcy, and I will share my journey when I return.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Sugar,
Stop by anytime and thanks! Some do call this place Godzone, and it certainly offers a large variety of nature's wonders, land, sea, mountains and air. Cheers.
Ka kite ano,

Anonymous said...

That second picture just sort of stuns me into silence. "How beautiful!" seems such an insignificant way to describe it - there are almost no words for it. But, I'll say it, anyway - how beautiful!

There are so many things in the world that I feel are injust, horrible, backwards, etc., and I feel so frozen and incompetent when faced with issues like starvation, war, and environmental issues, to name only a few. I like the idea of finding the one issue closest to your heart, and doing whatever you can do to solve it - anything is better than nothing. I would have a difficult time choosing where to focus, but would have to conclude that focusing on our environment is perhaps the most crucial (if one can evaluate these issues based on the relative importance of each, which I'm not sure can be done with any kind of objectivity). Anyway, our world is our home, and without it, we are, quite simply, lost.

I fear that greed is going to be our undoing - greed might be a major factor in the steady collapse of our ecosystems and wildlife, a collapse that cannot be duplicated or repaired, once the damage is done. We are in a crucial state right now, in many respects. I can only hope that somehow it can be turned around, and at times, I feel completely helpless and sad. But I know there are people who are out there, fighting the good fight, while I stand by and cheer them on. Not a great help, I know. I need to examine my life, and how I am living it. I need to come to a decision regarding what I can do to help.

The quote from The Ballad of Edward Abbey is wonderful. It reminds me - who does speak for the ones who have no voice? The animals, the trees, the forest, the oceans, and so on? It is up to us to speak for them; we are the responsible ones, we are the ones who have "captured and tamed" this earth. I think it's time to let it go; to set it free.

Thank you for a beautiful post.

Anonymous said...

Also, I just wanted to say that, whenever I'm in civilization, I MUST know that there is that lovely lake, that mountaintop, that vast ocean, maybe not right next to me, but here in the world. I think we all must be aware of this, or perish, literally, figuratively, and spiritually.

Just wanted to add in that small thought...(sorry)!

Ruahines said...

Tena koe Ophelia,
Cheers for that. I love that second photo as well, it has a very haunting quality to it.
I think growing awareness is the first step we all must take. When more and more of us start doing little things we can then hopefully begin to impact larger issues. Being less greedy as individuals for instance, living more simply as you are trying to do. All good things.
Tom Russell has become one of my favourite artists. He has had his songs recorded by Springsteen, John Prine, Johnny Cash, Steve Earle amongst others, and has a very excellent body of work on his own as well. One of America's most under rated song writers.
I am like you, in needing to know some wild like place is nearby. I think that is what Edward Abbey is getting at. We need to know and have these places even for just vicarious connections. Until we can get there! Kia ora Ophelia.

vegetablej said...

A birthday trek, how fine! Happy Birthday! May this be a joyful year for you (and your family).