Friday, May 29, 2009

Raving On

This morning I walked across the street to the dairy to buy some milk, bread, and a morning paper before the family awoke. The headlines of the paper were about the budget put out by the government the day prior, no good news really and to be honest working away from home up in the Taranaki has kept me a bit distant from the news this week. An older gentleman was working behind the counter as the owners were away on a well deserved holiday - running a dairy, or local neighborhood market, is a time consuming and rather thankless prospect so I always chuck some of our weekly business their way. The older gentleman looked at the blaring headline in the paper and said, "not much good news there mate", to which I made some sort of perfunctory reply. I looked him in the eye as I took my change and I saw fear there, I saw the essence of so much of what is happening in our world, and I could see he needed to talk. So we did, and he told me how his business had gone south, how he was stuffed financially working in the dairy to supplement his retirement government pension, and how he felt even more sorry for people my age. Finally, another customer walked into the store and I walked back home. I wanted to give him a hug.

I have been seeing this often in my job, this uncertainty, this fear, this helplessness at certain parts of so many lives. The women I meet, particularly those whom have raised families, worked in the business, seen good times and bad, are much stronger than most men. There seems to be a calm wisdom in women, whereas most men exude anger and frustration. Not so different from what I consider the central theme of John Steinbeck's novel, The Grapes of Wrath, which in the midst of depression and chaos, it is the women whom hold it all together at the most basic family level.

As the old blues tune, What is the Soul of a Man, best version by Bruce Cockburn, states , "a man ain't nothing but his mind", which these days is pretty powerful stuff. So much of what we have been told is Right and Normal has been proved to be pure bull shit. The men with sharp haircuts and suits are liars and crooks, the career corporate ladder has been chopped off many rungs short of "success", so many of us listen to the lowest common denominator talk back radio hosts to vent our frustration in anger and racism, to express our need to Blame somebody, usually somebody of a different colour or religion. I would like to hug these men as well.

It is winter here now in Aotearoa. I drove back from Taranaki yesterday on a day so clear that, at times, I could see in the far distance snow covered peaks on the south island, and when I turned towards home the Ruahine glistened and shown in the sun with her peaks, glistening like white satin covering exposed and inviting flanks . It was beautiful. Soon I will be amongst them, first with Taylor, and not long after with John, both fine companions. It is the place I Connect, where the stuff that I wrote about above has no relevance, no place in my life. The simplicity of living amongst Wild Places is what we all need most right now. Or at least being able to drive down a highway, look over for a brief moment at Living Monuments, and even if never amongst them, simply appreciate they are there. If there is Anything I have tried to get across here at this meandering place it is that.

I was in Taranaki concluding some business with a client, a lovely lady running a small family business, and as she looked over the final contract to sign it, I looked outside her office window and saw the mountain in full glory right in view of her office. "That is just a fantastic scene", I stated, "It makes me want to go up there and climb it". She put down her pen and looked at me, then the mountain and said," You know Robb, I've never been on that mountain and probably never will, but at least once a day I look out my window and take in that view, even if I can't see it, and I just take a moment to appreciate it. So many people stop seeing it".

I wanted to hug her too.

View of Mount Taranaki from Stratford.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Troubled Waters

A few weeks back Charlie and I were a bit bored on a late Sunday morning and decided to rectify the situation. We jumped in the car and drove out to the Totara Reserve, which lies in the Pohangina valley as it emerges from the Ruahine ranges, still clean and relatively pure as it enters the real world of man and her ultimate destiny already foretold in the path beyond Charlie pictured above. It is a great spot to have a roam and a swim, though even here the danger of wild rivers still is present. Three years ago three beautiful children were drowned less than 400 metres from Charlie above, when some huge cliffs that lie beyond sent a fall down from above the river. A place where so many people have frolicked and swam for generations. It now lies empty, sign posted to warn against entry. It really should read - Swim at Your Own Risk.

I am not trying to trivialize the death of those kids. Losing either of my boys, even the teenager, would quite possibly damage me beyond all repair. I still will teach my boys to swim in mountain rivers, already have.

There was still a heavy feeling of unease that accompanied me on our little journey, this nagging feeling that came over me while Listening to the Song of the Pohangina. At one point Charlie and I came to a bend in the river with a huge amount of log jam gathered up against the true left shore, the side we were on. Which meant a deeply gouged out river below the jam and the possibility of getting mired amongst this tangle. We would have to cross it to get to a point where we could cross the river. To get across such a tangle of vegetation and logs slowly rotting means testing every footstep, at least for me and as I kept an eye on Charlie and his path, and chatted to him, constantly warning him and guiding him, he suddenly stopped and said, "dad, I know you are just trying to help me, but I am actually better at this than you". I realized he was far ahead of me, and picking my route carefully with my pole and bad hip, my beautiful son was only concerned with being six, and his steps much more confident than mine. That literally stopped me in my tracks.

The Pohangina valley is beautiful. It is even more beautiful up in those mountains, its head waters sheer grey wacke, so steep it allows little vegetation to gather way up there. After you get down the water falls and the forest emerges it is stunning. A few hours walk from there will bring you to Top Gorge hut, really just a good camp site as the hut is an old three bunk affair not in the greatest of condition and not being maintained, and due to lack of visitors is to be removed, but a pretty amazing spot in the Ruahines. It would take me at least two more days to walk to farmland, another good stretch to where Charlie and I were.

I would dip my tin cup in any part of the Pohangina river before it leaves the Ruahine ranges. I would not dip it in any part after that. By the time it arrives less than a few miles down river from where Charlie and I are, quite often the human fecal measurements should close swimming in areas where people picnic and perceive they are getting in touch with nature. How out of touch are We?

Every once in a great while we may get a chance to enjoy a mountain river. Above is me a few summers ago enjoying a water fall on the Maropea river just below Otukota hut. The day was hot - the river low, and I truly believe I am the first person to sit in this whirlpool Gifted by Nature for this one brief moment. How can water be so pure here? Why can I slake my thirst here just raising my clenched hand to mouth? What happens to this river, this water, between here and there?

Pool and waterfall on the Makaroro river.

Makaroro river.

Oroua river just above Triangle hut.

Just playing in the Pourangaki river.

The Waikamaka river.

Thoughts of rivers roll through my head, as they have recently. A sunny day on the Upper Makaroro. I take my bivvy sack and lay it down upon the moist green moss to enjoy the brief sunshine before it passes over the valley. I lie upon it and read John Muir, I eat dried meat and when thirsty dip my tin cup in the river. There never seems to be any reason to do anything except what I am doing Right Now in this Very Moment. The pureness of this river, the lullabye of her song and I soon drift off to sleep.

I was trying to come up with a point to make about these beautiful rivers as they flow out of the mountains looking for the sea, and instead are pressed into servitude to man, their water rights even sold as a product that someone is arrogant enough to OWN. My friend Anne-Marie from wrote a post last year called Healing the Tuki Tuki, and has allowed me to share part of it here:

One foot on the shingle
One foot gingerly in the river

A sudden leap

The clear green water closes over me
Nudges me downstream
To where the willows
Dabble their fingers in the river
And dragonflies hover
Like tiny helicopters

Across the river
Poplars dot the scorched hillside
And Te Mata rears like
Some ancient taniwha
Against the cloudless sky

I wallow on the water's edge
Eating peaches
And picking out bright stones
From the shallows
If it wasn't for my reddening shoulders
I could be in heaven

" I never intended to post any of my poetry on this blog, but just this once I've made an exception. I wrote this poem when I was 15. It's about swimming in the Tuki Tuki river in Hawkes Bay, something I loved to do when I was a kid. My family frequented several swimming spots that were perfect for cooling off in the heat of the day, or we'd take a picnic dinner down after work and school had finished for the day. This poem is about my favourite place to swim.
I wouldn't swim in the Tuki Tuki now. This once beautiful river is now a very sick river. Farming along its banks and the presence of two oxidation ponds at Waipawa and Waipukurau have polluted the river to the extent that last month the Hawkes Bay District Health Board issued a warning. Don't fish, don't swim, don't even touch the water. Any of these activities could result in serious illness, even death." - written by Anne-Marie 17 March 2008.

And we panic about the Swine Flu?

Nigel by the Tuki Tuki still protected by the mountain cocoon, at least for now. Anne-Marie writes about this very river perhaps less than 50 kilometres from here. The Oroua is much the same, unswimmable, unfishable before it reaches the sea. What are we doing?

I am not sure what can be done to help these rivers, to reverse the damage done already. We have come to view them as a commodity and the waste we dump in them, the dams we erect, the flow we alter are simply part of our way of life. How long will it be before we need to intrude further and further into more and more wild places to sustain our needs? The Mokihinui river, on the West Coast of the South Island, and ranked 7th in all of New Zealand in terms of natural value, has been lost to a Meridian energy hydro scheme, and now Contact Energy is after the Clutha Mata-Au river where it wants to erect up to four hydro schemes. The Clutha Mata-Au is New Zealands largest river, and a significant treasure to this land. Rather than write here I will direct those interested to the Clutha Mata-Au River Walkway project, whose mission is to protect and improve the Clutha Mata-Au by establishing New Zealand's largest regional river park, including a river length Clutha river trail. . Please visit as well Donald at , and go to his weekly blog where his most recent post is on the Clutha. It is his backyard.

The Pohangina. Photo by Pohangina Pete.

"Song of the Makaroro"

I lie beside this river
basking in the sunlight
I Listen to Her Song
Here where she is young and beautiful
sparkling like a jewel
Precious nectar which sustains Life
The crystal clear magnificence
of Her symphony lulls me to sleep
wrapped in Her embrace
Enjoy beautiful river
all too soon you leave this paradise
and your Freedom
Servitude and Slavery to man awaits
as we foist upon you
all we no longer need
we steal your song, your essence
and before you reach the sea
your soul
I lean over you
and let my tears fall down upon you
and create briefly
a Ripple
I become you
and my Voice is yours

7 April, 2009