Monday, August 16, 2010

Whereabouts Unknown

1 August - In the Ruahine
Robb and Gustav

It does not take long to feel the mountain energy inside me. Meandering over the farmland to the Ruahine boundary brings warmth to my soul, and the easy stroll through the wide forest path seems effortless. The musical accompaniment of water and wetness all around, the insistent fast falling stream beside us, and the thumping muttering of the river further below and the thought of the next 3 days amongst this symphony fills me with joy. That sound will soon become part of the background, part of my existence, but I am always aware it is there, and how beautiful it is, and how fortunate I am to even be here. Last week I was up high, alone amongst the snow covered tops, the music of the wind on the tussock and the tupare, beeches and Kaikawaka, so to now to be lower amongst the life giving water released from on high somehow completes the journey.

That I am here with one of my oldest and dearest friends just heightens and brightens the smile upon my face. I am Home.

Getting ready for the light show at sunset

Sunlit beech after a rain shower

Always a bit of work to be done. Gustav resupplying the wood stock.

Back in November of 1991 I visited Gustav out in San Francisco where he was living at the time. We spent an entire day in the John Muir redwood forest, walking deep into the musty coolness and intense energy of the huge red woods. It was a day that moved me deeply, one that for told to me that change was upon me, that Nature was calling strongly. Six months later I met Tara, and 6 months or so after that I moved to New Zealand. I wrote the following poem later that day back at Gustav's Sausalito home. At the time we had known each other for over 10 years and I wanted to convey the beauty of the day and the depth of our friendship. When I came across it a few days ago I realized it is a poem that has grown with us. Gustav's first trip to the Ruahine was in 1998 when we spent 4 days in the Whanahuia's. Like the trip to the red woods moved me, the Ruahine impacted Gustav deeply as well. Not long after he moved to Tasmania where he still lives. To Old Friends!

"Tall statues of Nature's Domain
Their presence dominating yet gentle
The energy palpable
A timeless blanket of protection and strength
We walk in their midst
Silent, and awed
Unhurried and sure
My friend walks ahead
Noble and Thoughtful
And though we walk separate paths
in our lives
In our hearts
Our minds
May our footsteps remain the same."

19 years later, my friend walks ahead in the Ruahine.

Ruahine forest and river.

2 August
Deep in a Ruahine valley by the river

Gustav diligently chops wood, and drags more out of the forest. All is wet and saturated and will test our fire building skills. I tend to our steaks marinating in olive oil, a bit of garlic and black bean sauce, and just before cooking to be encrusted with crushed pistachios and almonds. It is, after all, a special occasion. We are here.

The forest walk sidling above the river, one of my favourites, was an invigorating and renewing experience. A year ago, on the same walk with John, my hip hurt so bad I was almost in tears. Looking back I am not even sure how I did it, and perhaps it was only the energy pulsating in this lush place that flowed into me and allowed me to continue. Today I walked and smiled, looking ahead at troublesome roots and slippery rocks, or steep climbs and descents that would suddenly be behind me. The forest was lit up in vibrant greens and crystalline droplets of water. The glowing mosses and lichens greeting me once again under the forest canopy.

At one stage I thought I would just forget about hopping from log to rock over a particularly muddy section, as I was already wet and muddy anyway. I decided to just walk through it so I did, only to find myself buried in mud up to my waist and struggling to with drawl myself from it's squelching embrace. I smiled at that too.

Winding up through the lush forest.

Sunlight through the canopy on moss, lichens and ferns.

The sunlit path ahead.

In the forest with the sound of the river close by.

2 Aug. late afternoon.

Being in the mountains over these past few weeks has been a revealing process for me. If it has reinforced anything within me it is to appreciate each moment I am able to spend here, and to truly recognize it very well might be my last. Though the Ruahine will always reside deep within my soul, the very real possibility of being unable to travel here hovers around me. And perhaps it should, for it is a constant reminder of the value these mountains have brought to my life, and the importance of nature and wilderness to us all. A fragile relationship at best. I finger the pounamu (greenstone) pendant which hangs around my neck, a beautiful gift given to me on my birthday by my wonderful friends. It's vibrant green and changing colours representing the lush forest, and the shape being the maunga, or mountain. I treasure it and I feel its warmth absorbing the energy around and of my own soul. We are one.


3 August early morning by the river

The river has come down noticeably during the night, returning to the more quiet mood of clear and aqua green when she is not so angry. I sit with a cup of tea and wait for a whio to fly by. I heard one earlier, and Gustav saw one yesterday. As long as they are here. So I have had the mountains rivers and streams over the past three days, the music now deep within me. Last week was the tussock and snow high above. It's music dwells inside as well. Both so beautiful, and so moving, each with it's own special and unique song of Wildness. Go to the mountains and Listen to the Music, get their Glad Tidings. I am here, I am alive! Te hei mauri ora!

The mountain river.

Gustav climbing up another spur.

Above the river. This place and shapes reminds me of my pounamu. The Ruahine.



Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Kia Ora Robb, 3 am in sleeping Colombo. I enjoyed the posting and the trip you and Gustavo did. It echoes Aat Vervoorn's words in his book Beyond the Snowline, "once you go above the snowline, life is stripped back to its basic dimensions."

Donald said...

Nice one Robb. I could almost smell the bush in your post. Great photos too - you got the light.

What an amazing turn-around eh. It only seems yesterday you were struggling with pain, and wondering if there'd be no more trips.

As they sing in Hotel California "you can check out, but you never leave", but there is no substitute for being there and letting the ambiance settle in the heart and soul.



Wilma Ham said...

Kia Ora ,dear Robb, we have misunderstood nature for so long, we have so neglected the possibility of energy exchange, of the exchange of life vitality.
Nature is so beautiful, so powerful and yet so gentle and loving as you express in your poem.
What a place to be, what would we be without this place to retreat to?
Aroha, Wilma

Marja said...

Your words are getting more and more beautiful and passionate Although I couldn't live without my walks in the weekend anymore as they are so reviving and let me forget all the strains of live like dealing with teenagers ;)
I would never be able to enjoy it at your level though. With that I mean embracing rain and wind and not caring about being up to the waist in the mud Brrrr.
Your poem is touching and blisful
and makes me joyful as well. Great to have such a friend and that you can stil keep seeing each other.
Have a great time and many more joyful walks ahead
Arohanui Marja

Tim Koppenhaver said...


The sweet spot of your post for me is this:

"Though the Ruahine will always reside deep within my soul, the very real possibility of being unable to travel here hovers around me. And perhaps it should, for it is a constant reminder of the value these mountains have brought to my life, and the importance of nature and wilderness to us all. A fragile relationship at best."

Very well said.

Take care.


greentangle said...

A fine journey over trail and through life. Thanks for sharing.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
Glad to read you are back safe and well in your new home. Aat's book is one of my favourites and always a source of inspiration - I reread it lying in bed convalescing with my new hip back in April.
I agree with Aat and the freedom and beauty in "stripping ourselves back to basic dimensions" never leaves us once experienced. Maybe that is why the technocrats wants to destroy it all.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Donald,
I tried to let the camera experience that light. It had rained heavily just as we arrived there for a few hours and just before sunset it broke and the light was just gentle and surreal.
I recall a trip last Novemeber just sitting down by a stream and crying from pain, frustration, and realization the end had come with my hip as it was, so to be back out in the mountains 7 months after that, and progressing to more difficult terrain since then is pretty amazing for me. Still, I take nothing for granted and appreciate each interaction I recieve. I seem to be getting better as I get older at letting the mountains flow into me when I get amongst them, letting go of time, worries, and stuff out here. Like that burden is another pack I carry from the car to the park boundary and leave it just outside it. It is always there when I return waiting, and just a bit lighter when I pick it back up. Kia kaha my friend.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Wilma,
My friend was deeply moved on our return walk through the forest and "felt" the energy there. It is palpable, and when we slow down and allow ourselves to be immersed in it, it is as close to religion as I will ever get.
Edward Abbey wrote that eventually technocrats will want to eliminate places where people get that connection through wilderness as it allows us too much freedom and critical thought. When I look around at what we are doing with our consumerist society, talk back radio, mining plans, raping the earth for oil and rocks, all in the name of "economic growth" I can dispair. Geez, I better stop Wilma or I will have to gather my pack and head into the hills again. Though that is not a bad idea.... Kia kaha my friend.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Marja,
I don't think it matters where we appreciate nature and the "wild" just as long as we do it somewhere. Our backyards can be "wild". I took Charlie and his cousin on a small walk up a stream on the weekend, and I felt like I was floating over most of it. It was wonderful.
Mud is really part and parcel of the Ruahine, though waist deep was a fairly new experience.
Glad you enjoyed the poem. I stumbled across it in an old notebook from way back and it was quite moving for me to realize its relevance. Gustav is a treasured friend and though we have grown in different ways, in many our footsteps are indeed still the same. Such friends are hard to come by.
Teen agers!!! Kia kaha my lovely friend, I hope we can sit down with a cup of tea one day, or something stronger, and laugh at the trials and tribulations of parenthood.
Keep walking out there amongst nature Marja.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Tim,
Thanks for that observation. It probably is the crux of all my writing about interacting with the mountains and nature.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora GT,
My pleasure, thanks for stopping in. Hope things in Yellowstone are fine and well.

kylie said...

no need to publish this one, given it's unrelated to your post, just want to thank you for your encouraging words at my place. events that day cut deep

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Kylie,
It's ALL related. Peace to you and Kia kaha.

baruk said...

kia ora robb,

rather touched by the idea of "we walk separate paths...May our footsteps remain the same."

your posts are an inspiration as i try to get back in shape, and are a constant reminder of *why i need/want to. thanks!

jack sender said...

I'm very happy to read your words and see of photos of your very lovely adopted country.

Best wishes, Robb.

Oh, and you reminded me.
My wife and I lived on a boat in Sausalito for ten years, until '95.

Minnesota said...

I love this landscape in these photos. I love parts North and will never leave (save to move further North), but this looks really intriguing. Though at the same time it looks so foreign. I wonder about the scents and sounds. I need to see this someday. Also, that river looks trouty.

KB said...

I love reading your words about your recent grand returns to the Ruahine. It is true, isn't it, that truly realizing that each visit into the wild might be our last makes the journey more intense. This uncertainty is present for everyone although most don't realize it.

I am SO happy to read of you walking pain-free on the trails of the Ruahine. It takes experiencing the excruciating pain that you felt to appreciate each fluid step.

I love your poem. I've walked inside that Redwood Forest and I agree that it's a moving experience. Although I've never seen any other trees so large, I now stop and notice the true giants of my forest and think about the eras of history that they've seen. It's even mind-boggling to contemplate the 100 year tree that sits next to my deck (my deck that didn't exist when that tree was young).

Kia Kaha!

Anonymous said...

The pictures are heart breaking, but heart breaking in a good way! I kinda know what it's like to be away from the places we love and then to be allowed back is an unspeakably good thing...

Ruahines said...

Kia ora baruk,
If I can get my old carcass back in enough shape to head into the hills, anyone can. I feel good about that. Your last line reminds me of why at times it is simply enough to know such wilderness is there, and why we need to keep it there.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Jack,
Wow! I had some very significant moments happen to me in Sausilito before 1995. The Redwoods, discovering the beauty of the Frisco area, making some big choices, and most of all finding out my first born son was on the way - a story in itself, but it happened in Sausalito, late 1992. Good to know you were there in a way. Rave on!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Minnesota,
The terrain here is not so unlike parts of the Pacific northwest, alomost subtropical rain forest in parts. Certainly different from our more coniferous forests of Wisconsin, Minnesota. To this day I miss the smell of those memories. Still, the forest and higher mountain areas are stunning and call strongly, more home to me really than even my original place. I can't really explain that. That particular river is a wee trout gem. Some big lunkers lying about spoiled rotten on their food of choice so hard to raise by all accounts. But that is where most of the fun lies eh? My friend is a huge fly fisherman and that is definetly one of his favourite Ruahine spots.

Cheers mate,

Ruahines said...

Kia ora KB,
My wonderful friend, if anyone knows what I have even remotely dealt with to return to the mountains it is you. In my convalescence you were a major source of inspiration, and I feel quite connected to your path through a love of wild places and dealing with pain.
And you understand the Redwoods, which does not surprise me, but brings a smile to my face regardless. So Quiet in There. Reminders of how we are here for such a brief moment in comparison to really big trees, rocks, rivers, and mountains. Rave On KB!
Kia kaha my friend.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Lost Coyote,
Tin cups were raised in your honour out there. And will be again. Kia kaha my brother.

Paterika Hengreaves said...

Kia Ora Robb

What a delightful post. Most enjoyable read. The poem is awesome I had to make a video of it for you. My birthday gift for you. It is so nice to be back after so much time away...but you are always in my thoughts.

Here is the link to the video I made for you.

Let me know if you would like to have the embedded code for this video.

Take care and have a great weekend

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Paterika,
Thank you so much! It is beautiful and I love it. You are always in my thoughts as well, but it is always good to see your presence here. You have a lovely weekend as well, and I hope all is wonderful. Kia kaha.

Tracey Axnick said...

Lovely post, Robb. Beautiful pictures, beautiful words.

And such a wonderful friendship (close to 3 decades now?) between you and Gustav... that's a beautiful thing as well.


Joe McCarthy said...

The title of the post - "Whereabouts Unknown" - combined with your references to music, photos of rocks and moss, and your poem all combined to evoke the music / poetry of Bob Dylan (for me):

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone

Thanks, once again, for sharing the timeless beauty of the wilderness, and the timeless connection of deep friendship.

Nature Nut /JJ Loch said...

An EXCEPTIONAL post, Robb, with great imagery and inspiration!!!

The photos ROCK!!! Your poem has become your mantra. :D

You are truly blessed and how great to know your surgery is behind you and you are enjoying life again.

Blessings, JJ

Lynda Lehmann said...

ROBB, just heard of the earthquake in NZ and hoping you were not directly impacted, nor the places you so love.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Tracey,
Thank you, it was really a fantastic time in the mountains, and to be there with a treasured friend is beyond words. I lost a good friend this week, gone far too young at only 37 years old, so it makes coming here and reliving these moments with Gustav even more special. We truly need to find the significance of each moment, and I can honestly write that Gustav and I have maybe not attained that but we have certainly been aware of it. Hope your birthday was a fine one!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Joe e hoa,
Well, if somehow my words evoke being mentioned with Dylan, I gratefully accept! Ha ha!
As I wrote above, the meaning of friendship has been driven home to me very hard this week. Is it cheap to write that the cliches written about the things we do not say, or the hugs we do not give, or the conflicts we refuse to resolve, and the awareness of each moment are not truths? Because right here right now they seem very true. Much harder to adhere to I guess as the clarity of grief and awareness are scrubbed away by the everyday mundaneness we eventually return to living.
Joe, to have reconnected with you via this way, and to have re-established another friendship of 30 years ago has been a huge and distinct pleasure and honour. We do not get unlimited opportunities to meet people or to recognize the ones we should hold truly dear. I am glad I recognized the opportunity 30 years ago at Ripon to meet a friend. I held that true then. And I hold you dear now in this moment a far ways down the track. Noho ora mai ra e hoa Joe!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Lynda,
Thank you for your concern and inquiry. We are well. Palmerston North, where I live, is some 600 odd kilometres (350 miles), north of Christchurch and in the north island, as opposed to the south island where Christchurch is located. We felt a pretty good jolt here, but far enough away to have minimized any real damage. The fact no one was killed and the damage, though severe, was not nearly as bad as the recent huge quakes in less rich places. We have pretty world leading building standards, and road building techniques, ect., and the money to put it place, so we came off pretty good. It should be that way everywhere.
Aotearoa is a volatile land, but I can live no where else.

Gustav said...


What a special few days with a fine friend in a magic place.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Gustav,
A long ways from 727 East Johnson in Madison. My pleasure

ophelia rising said...

My God, the pictures here are just fantastic! I'm just absolutely in love with these trees. They are spirits, just as human spirits are - characters, with whole personalities and connected in full-force with us and one another. They are my favorite part of your journey, by far.

I'm so happy you can enjoy fully your beautiful home, without pain and distraction, within the moment completely. Much love to you, my friend, and your lovely family...


Anonymous said...

Everyone has expressed so well, the sentiments I feel in reading your words Robb, particularly those in the comment above. I add my best wishes for your continuing health and happiness as you pay homage to your beloved valleys,mountains and streams. I too, hope I can continue with my forays into the world of nature, but when constraints make this difficult I take your words to heart,"sometimes knowing that such places exist, is enough".

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Ophelia,
I know you get the forest and, the trees, the energy flowing there. Many might scoff at looking at such a presence as a living entity, a fellow being to be respected, loved and treated well. Sadly, it is a reflection of the continuing disconnection from the outdoors, wilderness, and nature. I am so happy I have this refuge, and wonderful souls such as yourself to embrace. Kia kaha my friend.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Pam,
Well, Ophelia does have a way with words! I know you enjoy nature as much as I do, and I always enjoy my visits to see your goings on. I am feeling very good currently and just returned from a mountain trip with Charlie which I have just posted. Thanks Pam, always good to see you here my friend. Kia kaha.