Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Wisconsin part 2... Lambeau Field

One of the highlights of our return to Wisconsin was to be able to attend a Green Bay Packers game at Lambeau Field. The day was flawless, perfect blue skies and a beautiful fall day. By the time the game finished in the early evening the sun had gone down and the night autumn air had become decidedly chilly. But the warmth of sharing this day and experience with Charlie, family, and so many friends made our smiles broad and our hearts warmed through...and a Packer victory at Lambeau of course helped a bit too!

Charlie and I before the game at my sisters house. 
To grow up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is to be a Green Bay Packer fan. Much like my current home of New Zealand, lives and dies by the actions of our rugby All Blacks, Green Bay is dominated by the presence of the Packers and the ultimate symbol of that is the looming forbearance of Lambeau Field. For a city the size of Green Bay, the population of which even now struggles to reach much over 100,000, to even have a professional team, much less a gem of a stadium like Lambeau, is an amazing story in itself. And if you have grown up there, suffered and celebrated the lows and highs, but have always loved and supported our team regardless, it is a story we actually feel a part of in our hearts. The team and stadium are without an actual owner and instead are an incorporated part of the city itself. It is a unique and special relationship between city and team.

Charlie had watched many a Packer game with me in New Zealand. I took him out of school when he was 7 in 2010. The Packers were playing in the Super Bowl. Far more important than a day of school in New Zealand. It was his heritage and history. He has seen me rant and rave at the television as I despair at times and delightedly roar at others. He has become familiar with his own favourite players, and tracking the results on his own. But for every story I can tell, and I can tell a few, for every game we can watch from over here, nothing speaks more than a trip to Lambeau itself on a game day. A world class sporting experience. The pageantry, the place, the people, the sights and sounds of 75,000 people in such a place. To be able to share that with my son from halfway around the world is a whole series of dots I needed to connect for him. For me.

Our tickets. 40 yard line behind the Packer bench. I sat in these seats on a snowy Christmas Eve with Charlie's momma in 1995. One those dots I wrote about above.

My sister, Trish, Charlie, Robb, and brother in law Steve in the Lambeau parking lot. What a day to tailgate!
The one part of this which I cannot explain to my son is how deep this connection reaches into the lives of those of us whom have grown up in Green Bay. Even those few whom are not football fans are certainly aware of the Packers and Lambeau, especially during football season, but also in our daily lives when our travels bring us down to the south west part of town and Lambeau comes into view. It is always there casting a giant but quiet shadow over the events of our lives....such as this event I commented on before the Super Bowl in 2010. An event that rocked my world and still does....

 1975 Bishops Charity Game Packers vs. Giants:
 It was summer 1975, I was 15 about to be a junior in high school and though school had not yet started two a day football practices had. My friend Kevin, who was born and lived across Tommark street from me his whole life, was out for football but was injured and had stopped attending practice. kevin and I had been best friends from day 1, but in the past year or more we had grown apart. Well more like he was just in a different orbit than me, a faster crowd, a better athlete, better looking, he had just moved beyond me in the stratified teenage world. SoI was surprised and delighted when he rang me that hot summer evening and said he had gotten to tickets to the Packer game that night and would I go with him. We walked from Tommark street to Lambeau Field , 15-20 minutes, one of the beauties of a small town having an NFL team. I recall now being almost overwhelmed at how happy Kevin seemed to be in my company, laughing and talking about old times, things we had gotten up to in the neighborhood with our mates, and how much fun we were having at Lambeau Field watching a meaningless exhibition game sitting high up in the stands. It is a beautiful place to watch a football game, and that night it was spectacular, warm, a gentle breeze, and in the company of my best friend. After the game we walked back to our street, and as I had practice at 7:00am bid Kevin goodnight. But he insisted I come into his house and we sat around his kitchen table, as we had so often done, and continued talking. I finally insisted I had to go, and it was almost reluctantly Kevin walked me to the screen door leading to the garage and street. As I walked out the door he suddenly grabbed his very cool brown denim jacket and handed it to me, telling me he didn't need it anymore and wanted me to have it. I remember walking across the street to my house, the street lights casting those golden shadows and thinking what a great night.
A couple days later the phone rang around 5:00 am. As my bedroom was downstairs and had an extension I picked up the phone at the same time as my mom did upstairs. All I heard was Kevin's mom screaming to my mom that Kevin had shot himself and was dead. I hung up the phone and went to sleep, as if refusing to believe what I had just heard. I went to football practice as if nothing had happened, and it was not until Coach Miller gathered us around as a team an announced what had happened ad he broke down, that the truth of it, the enormity of it hit me like a sledgehammer blow and I lost it. It is still hard for me to write this. I still miss my friend. The last time I shared with him was at a Packer game. My life unfolds and the Packers weave in an out as a constant presence, marking good times and bad. That is how it is when you grow up in such a place. It doesn't matter if you like football or not. The Packers mark time and events in our lives and that is one of the reasons I hold them so dear. I will think of my friend as I watch this game, and I will remember him.

the next generation

Or this memory...................
I was 27 when my dad died. Like all fathers and sons we had our ups and downs, he had his demons, I have mine. Sport was the one thing that always connected us, the Packers were always a big part of that.
He died a few months before Christmas on a holi
day with my mother in South Carolina. I had to fly from Minnesota where I was then living to SC to pick up my mom, make some arrangements, and drive mom back to Wisconsin, a near 20 plus hours drive, then go through the funeral. Before I knew it, I was back in Minnesota at work, and wandering around in a sort of a daze wondering what all that had been about. Christmas came, and it was a not a happy time as I recall, I was still not really together, it was our first Christmas without our dad, my mom's without her husband. For those whom have lost parents or loved ones you understand the difficulty of those first holidays - a representation of life ahead, of change, of moving on, of acceptance.
Christmas day came, and early in the morning there was knock upon the front door. I answered it sleepily, and probably a bit hungover, and there stood my old wood working teacher from West high where I attended school and my dad taught. I could see he was a bit nervous and uneasy. In his hands he held a great big package. He said, "Robb, I don't know how to tell you this, but this is a Christmas present for you from your father. He gave it to me shortly before he died to be made into this". He handed it to me with his eyes tearing as I stood there stunned, said "Merry Christmas" turned and left. I sat on the couch alone and opened it. Inside was a beautiful wooden plaque upon which was mounted half a genuine real Packer helmet, and below which was mounted two pieces of the original goal post from the very first Superbowl the Packers won in 1967 and that my dad had procured and saved all these years. It was if he reached out and hugged me, and I could finally let my tears go and miss my dad. I still miss him. It was the best present he ever gave me. Go Packers Go!

My friends Greg and Phils on my left. They had driven the two plus hours from Milwaukee without even having tickets. They were coming simply to enjoy the pre- game tailgate atmosphere and knew I was in town from New Zealand. great friends. I have attended many games over the years with these fine gentlemen. On my right is my old comrade Rick Parduhn. A fine man and I have shared many adventures with him near and far.

On the way into the stadium we ran into many old friends. This is James, and high school friend and former team mate at Green Bay West high school. He is now a teacher himself.

My beautiful sister Trish surprised Charlie, myself and Rick by getting us passes to actually go onto the field prior to the game. A pretty stunning development. I have been at many many games at Lambeau, seen some of the all time great players and games over the years. There has never been a time when I have walked from the stadium atrium to the actual field that I have literally not gasped at how incredible it really is in person. The fabulous green of the grass, the colours and sight of the chalked lines and uniforms of the players. The massive lit up scoreboard. It always feels like the first time. To share that moment with Charlie, and then be able to actually go onto the field was spectacular. A moment we will always have together. Lambeau Field!

Charlie with a couple of the Packer Cheerleaders. Look at that smile!

nephew Max and Steve  in their seats

In our seats with my other nephew Benjamin. Family and friends. What a spectacular day!
It was a great game! The Packers were not playing particularly well but stayed in the lead as the Chargers marched up and down the field. The warm afternoon faded into the slightly windy and growing cold of an early fall evening. The crowd grew restless as the game came down to final play from the Packer 3 yard line. See the video link below the last photo to see what happened....

A few days later we were privileged to dine with and meet the Packers coach, Mike McCarthy. I have been honoured in my time in Green Bay to meet such Packer greats as Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Ray Nitchske, Tony Canadeo, Charley Brock, Ted Fritsch,  Dave Hanner, Fuzzy Thurston and a host of others. It is always a pleasure and they have always been accommodating and kind. Must be a bit of a fishbowl experience for them at times so I appreciated the coach making my son feel a bit special. Go Pack!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Wisconsin Part 1...The Fall

 I sit here now in somewhat bittersweet contemplation of the journey back to my original place. Even Charlie commented to me while I was driving him to school, and me to work, this past Monday morning, on how it seemed almost unreal that time had passed so quickly. I am glad he made that connection and gets it. It seems a bit surreal to me as well. We had some amazing experiences which I will try to unravel in a series of posts here....

  The one part of this trip that impacted most significantly, and certainly more so than any of my past trips home over the last near 24 years was my sense of place. My Turangawaewae, my place to stand. As much as I love and feel connected to the Ruahine ranges here in Aotearoa, I am still manuhiri, or visitor, there. That does nothing to diminish the connection I feel when amongst them roaming, indeed, one of the gifts the Ruahine have given me is the Powerful sense of connection I felt to Wisconsin on this trip back. The Ruahine have bestowed within me far more awareness of my own place than I ever had when I was actually there. Wisconsin! I love just saying the word...

 One of the questions I am most frequently asked in Wisconsin is what do I miss most about America, about the states, about home. I think most people might expect me to say a kind of beer, or food, or the Packers, and so on. It is far deeper than that. It is the place itself, and unequivocally at a certain time of year. The Fall. The dramatic and stunning change to the seasons, the exchange between the lush greens and heat of summer to the subliminal softening of the landscape building into the booming crescendo of the full bloom of autumn. The heart is light and not yet grasping the reality of the long cold months ahead but rather delighted in the beauty and change. We caught it perfect and I spent a lot of time walking in the woods and forests with Charlie, other friends, and mostly on my own.

Above is a moment at Devil's Lake State Park, or Manitou (Spirit Lake), as originally named by the Indian tribes which lived around it. This is a glacial lake formed 12,000 years ago when both ends of an ancient river that flowed through were blocked off by glaciers depositing terminal moraine boulder fields on either end. The hills around the lake are thought to be over 1.6 million years old and though now called the Porcupine Hills were once mountains towering higher than the current Rockies. The lake is surrounded by quartzite bluffs up to 500 feet high. In the company of two fine and treasured friends we spent the whole day tramping, climbing, and taking in the splendour of such a place. These ancient hills seemed to be nudging me and reminding of the Ruahine, that how in comparison how youthful and full of vigour and restlessness they are in comparison to these eroded giants now melting back into the earth. Yet no less significant.

Indian Summer! Helped an old friend check out some new ground for the upcoming deer hunting season. Over 35 years ago I took my friend to land I was allowed to hunt on owned by family friends. 500 acres. Some a Christmas tree farm I worked at during summer trimming season, and then a beautiful hardwood forest and ridges running into a lowland bog. A lot of deer were taken there. Karl got to know the owners and hunted there for decades after I left. Eventually the owner died, and the land was sold. No more hunting. We are mere caretakers of the land. In any case we scoured this new public land for deer sign and trails. On such an amazing day it was easy and fun. The company even better. It reminded me how I discovered on that Christmas tree farmland that I never really cared that much about the deer. I just liked to be in the woods. Rave On!

A long walk in the fall woods today along a trail I used to cross country ski upon back in the day. 6 miles through the birch, pine, and maple forest. A real adult portion of Wisconsin woods. The leaves which a few weeks ago were brilliant oranges, yellow, and the colour of spice, cumin, cinnamon, and turmeric, now fallen. The trees now mostly bare except for the occasional splash of remaining fall hue. A stark and bare scene, different than the full bloom of fall, yet still beautiful and stunning in ways equally smile inducing. The trees themselves seemed to be sunning themselves on such a day. As if knowing the approach of the long cold months ahead. The leaves on the forest floor have accrued the crunch and papery sound of completeness. A fall walk in the Wisconsin woods.

The autumn carpet. On my first walks the leaves were still soft and resilient. The winds blew gently through on the Indian Summer breeze and the leaves floated to the ground. We tried to catch three falling leaves for good luck as they swerved, swayed, and danced to the ground. I never did.

Above Manitou on the bluffs looking below the southern moraine terminal. Just beyond here lies Parfrey's Glen...

Parfrey's Glen is a spectacular gorge carved out of the prevalent sandstone interspersed with quartzite boulders and rock from the retreating glaciers. Spent a lot of time here back in the day hiking around and through and cross country skiing nearby during winter.

That's the best thing about walking, the journey itself. It doesn't matter much whether you get where you're going or not. You'll get there anyway. Every good hike brings you eventually back home."
-  Edward Abbey

At Manitou Lake with my friends. A moment with Jeff, one of my oldest friends and one in particular with my relationship was built and continues to be through nature. We have walked, tramped, skied, paddled, wet lines, listened to music, and played an awful lot of basketball together. He, like Mike who observed this moment with his camera, have both come to New Zealand and tramped in the Ruahine. Days like this, even though overcast, still shine very bright. It felt like somehow the circle was now complete.

I enjoyed most just lingering behind Jeff and Mike and watching them walk and interact ahead of me. Gesturing, laughing, and earnestly discussing one subject or another. Even in my lingering I felt part of it, connected, knowing, and understanding it all. The smiles and hugs from that day still warm me. Kia ora!

Charlie loved this sign along another old cross country ski trail we walked one fine day. The possibility excited him. Me too. We never saw him or her, chances are the bear would have smelled or heard us far before such an encounter. Good to know they are out there. Charlie said on the way out the bear was me. I liked that...

Te hei mauri Ora!

Thursday, August 13, 2015


We have certain days in our lives that take on significance. They stand out from the others in either great joy, or like today, great sadness. The memories of them take on a certain hue, be it a brilliant lightness when we fall in love, or see the smiles and hear the laughter of our children. Or the dull grey and black stillness after a storm has passed with more dark clouds on the way. My cousin died today, and though the sun shines brightly outside and the skies are a flawless blue, all I see, all I feel is the grey. A shadow that has its hand upon my shoulder touching me with unrelenting grief and guilt at my distance from the unfolding of these events.

I had an older brother whom passed away over 20 years ago now, when I first arrived here in New Zealand. I never felt for him what I am feeling now inside for my cousin. The reality is I was far closer to Roger, far more of a brother to him than I ever was to my own brother and so the shadows of grief are far more consuming and mist filled in direct proportion to the love I felt for him. And although our paths physically only crossed a few times in the years since I moved here, he was always in my heart. We never missed a beat. We never judged, we never lectured, we never shook our heads at our flaws and our mistakes. We just loved each other and took the moments when we could. I think we both carried the same sort of melancholic sadness and searching that truly made us kindred souls. We understood each other completely and without need to explain. Today has left a deep hole in many hearts....

We were born six weeks apart. Those two little babies on the laps of our mothers would grow into very large men. How I wish I could sit in that lap and be comforted just one more time...

The most special times of anticipation for me growing up was when we travelled to Chicago, or when our people there were coming up to Green Bay. Waiting for those cars with Illinois license plates to pull in the drive and watch those people emerge...my grandparents, my great aunt and uncle, my aunt and uncle, and most of all my cousins! Be it Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, or a Packer - Bear game, it didn't matter, the fun was about to begin.

My dad, me, my grandfather and Roger, my Uncle Roger and older brother Steve. The men of my youth. I am the only one left from this moment, those men in their prime and we boys. A high water mark.

Families eh...Roger adored my older brother Steve. Steve was a pretty awesome guitar player and Roger was highly interested in that. He was probably closer to Steve than I ever was. He seemed to understand him and Steve had far more time and patience for Roger than he ever did for me. My sister Trish and I would be entertained for hours by Roger. He had that gift of just being able to look at you and make you laugh. We spent a lot of time teasing, or being teased by our older sisters as well.

Through the years we developed different interests and activities. Roger acquired a beautiful '57' Chevy and a biker jacket. I wore my letterman jacket. Yet it did not matter if we were on his turf or mine. Amongst his friends and their world I was included and accepted, just as he was in mine. I like to think of that as a quality in ourselves and the friends we chose. We had some interesting times as teens, and in our 20's. I will leave it at that.

  When I was in my mid 20's I graduated from college and moved to Minneapolis. Roger stayed in the Chicago area. We saw each other a bit less frequently. I got a call from my mom one afternoon, which surprised me a bit as I knew she and my dad were traveling out east. My dad had had a heart attack and was dead. My mom was in South Carolina and needed me to come and get her. I arranged a flight schedule that took me on 3 different flights to get to Charleston. I arrived there 12 hours later and found my mom in a hotel. It was the first time I ever saw age on her. We made whatever arrangements we needed about my dad and immediately began driving home to Wisconsin, I would stop and call my sisters to inform them of our progress and try to comfort them. We drove straight through. The next few days were a blur of activity and people coming and going and over that 72 hours I would have been lucky to have slept 5. I had not cried, I had not really thought much at all, I was numbed to everything. The funeral wake came and I recall my friends hugging me and people paying their respects as if in a dream. Then in walked my Chicago family. When I saw Roger everything cleared and the enormity of it all hit me like a sledgehammer. I collapsed into his massive frame and powerful arms and I wept and wailed. I felt like he and I were entirely alone, and that he was the only one whom could bear my weight, my grief, my sadness. He just held me. He understood. Until today I have always known those arms were still there for me and now they are gone. If I close my eyes and release myself I can still feel that hug.

The last time I saw Roger was in Chicago a few years ago on my last visit home. I was so pleased that he finally got to meet my youngest son Charlie. It was stifling hot and most of the last evening there at my Aunt Jean's house he and I sat outside on the porch. Me drinking whiskey, Roger smoking cigarette after cigarette. He no longer drank. We talked long into the night about our lives, about our families. Roger had finally found a real passion with photography but we didn't much get into the future. We never did much of that in our 50 plus years of each others company. We were always just in the moment. A blessing and a curse. I think we both always knew that as well. When I hugged him goodbye in the early hours of that hot summer morning I did as if at may be the last hug ever. You learn to do that with people when you live on the far side of the world away. As it turns out it was our last hug. But not my last tears. Those tears for that goodbye, for all the embraces, hugs, laughter, honest tears, sadness, Old Style beer, Elvis Presley, basketball camps, 57 Chevy's, Packers and Bears, up all night talking in smoky hotel rooms, getting me out of fights, for him loving my brother, for being tender when my friend Kevin killed himself, for picking me up at airports, and most of all, for that long beautiful hug when my father died....I love you cuz. I love you my brother. Keep the fire warm...

Friday, July 24, 2015

Sharing a fire with Wordsworth...

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.... Wordsworth, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

  My birthday approaches rapidly. Seemingly as rapidly as the years seem to slip by. I have spent the last 14 birthdays in the Ruahine, something of a tradition it has become for me to roam a bit and reflect. A few trips have been with other notable friends, but most on my own. The best Gift my lovely and understanding wife and family can bestow upon me. This year, my 15th, I am healing slowly from a knee injury and so the trip I normally take at or around my birthday will be delayed until mid August. Giving my knee proper time to rest and heal and then a few weeks to gain a bit of condition. So I sit back and am reminded of Wordsworth reflecting back on his wanderings. It is good to have memories just as to have dreams...
 I think of a few other trips, one in particular, when the true power of the mountains suddenly and brutally revealed itself. Had this little hut not have been there I would have been in serious trouble...

2 August, 2007 4:30 pm...Top Maropea

There will be no getting across the exposed saddle today. It is a full blown blizzard outside and the hut is rocking and shaking in the gale force winds. It is -7 celsius, in the hut! I arrived here around noon from Maropea Forks. The weather was eerily still when I left and began the walk upriver.The cloud that has hung over the valley the last 3 days still persisted. A slight foreboding feeling shadowed me as I walked up the wild river. By the time I reached the side creek after 3 hours the wind had picked up and the skies cleared. I stopped a few minutes up the creek in the first patch of sunshine I had seen and felt in four days and ate some beef jerky. Within 20 minutes the skies had blackened, the temperature dropped to a freezing swirl of wind and blowing snow. It sounded like a freight train was passing right next to my ear. I climbed up the creek, up into the forest, and up to Top Maropea. I could hear tree branches snapping off  like gunshots. The high pitched creaking and swaying of the trees played a frightful tune with the howling winds. I arrived wide eyed and thankful at the hut.

  I waited until 2:30 and decided to at least walk up to the start of the exposed tops and see what the situation was up there. It is not the route across the exposed 1 hour plus walk that is the problem, it is the wind and cold that is the worry. It is only 20 minutes climb through the forest into the tupare and then the tops. By the time I arrived there I must have resembled a snowman. The accumulated snow falling off the tawhairauriki onto me. The noise of the storm, the cold, the chill all around me was stunning. When I got to the very edge of the tupare and tops my jaw dropped and I just stared. What I saw just stopped me in my tracks. The entire scene in front of me was devoid of life, drained of colour. It was death itself and I knew it. I took some photos, and by the grace of the mountain God's I was able to get reception on my phone. I sent texts to Tara, her family, a friend. Several times. Then I retreated back down to the freezing hut....

The approach to the saddle, just outside the tupare zone and forest that very day. The sound, look and feel of it is far beyond what this photo manages to portray.

2 August continued....

   The water tank is frozen but plenty of snow to melt for a few hot drinks and soup to warm up. Though out of the wind the hut is like being inside a freezer. I have changed into all my dry clothes and a few still wet ones as well. I have the choice of crawling into my sleeping bag and trying to get warm, or busy myself and try to build a fire and get at least the illusion of warmth.
 I put my wet gear back on and went into the storm. I knew where some chunks of old tupare were and pulled them from the snow. I worked them into a box shape open on my end in the fireplace. Then used my saw to rend the driest beech in the wood bin into pieces of various sizes. Then I used my knife to shave off kindling into my billy and dried them over my stove. Using a candle stub I worked the shavings and kindling into a small fire and by patience and perseverance got it worked into a flaming crackling cauldron of warmth. At least when I sat directly in front of it. Once the tupare chunks warmed up and then caught like coal I have a real slow long lasting fire. A bit smokey at times but who is complaining. I am able to hang and dry my gear, or at least get it from wet to just damp, have removed a layer of clothes even, and warmed the hut to a balmy 3 degrees. This is the best fire I have ever built, and probably the most necessary...

 I had dinner of noodles and tuna. Left in my supplies are a full gas canister, a tin of smoked mussels, a packet of 2 minute noodles, 4 instant soups, cashews, chocolate, some porridge and powdered milk. Lots of tea. There are some old instant mashed potatoes here at the hut.. I have no idea how long this storm will last so want to know exactly what I have at hand. Seems enough for several days if need be...it has been good to stay busy and focused. In spite of everything I feel calm and content. The hut even seems to brace itself for the gales and gusts which reach down and make it rock. Then we settle back into our rhythm. There is a certain beauty to this day...I have my down bag ready, and my bivvy bag as well, time to ride out the dark night and try and sleep...

Top Maropea fire...not the fire from that day but the idea is abundantly apparent....

3 August, 7:15 am...Conditions are not improved at all, except the snow has stopped. The nor'west wind still howls over, occasionally blasting low down through here and I hold on. The roof blew off the dunny upsetting my normal morning constitutional routine to no end! It is now -2 here in the hut. What wood I have left I must preserve if I need to stay another night. All I can do is wait and hope the wind drops at some point today. Pen and paper comes in handy...
  You wanted solitude Robb..here is an adult portion. I come here because it is a place I feel whole and at ease with myself. Which is easy, I guess, when skies are blue, winds are light, and the rivers are clear. I am glad to write I still feel that. I feel in control of what I can control. There is no point in a tantrum or anger. The nor'wester will simply roll on, the mountains will just do as they do...time for a cup of tea and some porridge.

Next morning. Tupare and tawhairaurinui covered in ice and snow...

   Later in the afternoon I sensed a slight dropping off of wind. The severe gusts came less frequently. I made the decision to pack up and go for it. It was less severe up top but still very cold and windy. At the very top of the climb is a near razor back ridge of perhaps 400 metres or so. It was solid ice. A few times gusts came on and literally had me sliding forward pushed by the wind. My poles came in handy as brakes. After that I just hunkered down and hurried through the gusts and arrived at Sunrise hut. I was safe. A quick brew and I headed down to my car. As I got lower down the mountain it got warmer and by the time I got to my car I was sweating and stripped down, surrounded by mushy melting snow and green pasture below me. I looked back up at those hills high above where it felt not long ago I was in a fight for my life. I wondered if I would tell anyone or if I would even be believed if I did. What I knew for sure was that there was still a feeling a wistful regret I was leaving them and already looking forward to returning. I sit here now and pause and drink my coffee and feel this day again. My knee feels better already.

Self portrait in the hut at -7 celsius. The camera lens kept frosting over. About to build a fire...


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Early Evening at Top Maropea

"Early Evening at Top Maropea"

It is still and quiet within this misty coccoon
far below I can hear the endless murmur of the creek
punctuated by the occasional eruption of a stag's bellow
other moments it seems all I sense is the beating of my own heart
Warmly attired to ward off the southerly chill, wee dram at hand
I am in no hurry to move
My wood is chopped and piled high
the fire awaits only the touch of a match
water for my tea and thirst filled in billy and bottle
Warm down nest awaits with comforting embrace
Four days in the Ruahine makes my life
very simple.
Robb - Top Maropea 14-04-12. Early evening

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Day Ahead

 Early starry morn
steam rising off breath
off coffee
off damp clothes absorbing
my freshly un-bedded warmth
The day unfolds as a lovers caress
calling to go upwards and beyond
to distant places
mind free of other burdens
echoes of the past fade
as only footsteps in the tussock matter
leading to the rivers song
far below...

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Birthday

What was silent in the father speaks in the son, and often I found in the son the unveiled secret of the father.
Friedrich Nietzsche 

  The above photo is my most significant Ruahine moment spent with my oldest son Taylor. I'm not quite sure why, as it is slightly out of focus. Then again maybe that is exactly why. The whole scene fairly well represented our relationship at the time, and to be perfectly honest still does. A bit out of focus, a bit unsure and the ground just below very dangerous and steep. It is only a 10 minute climb from where he sits down to the stream below. Yet it is 10 minutes that requires total concentration and the consequences of a mistake are possibly quite severe. This was perhaps the 5th time Taylor would do this climb down, starting from age 8 until here at age 18. Yet this one had me nervous and tense and I was very glad when he made the final small jump from the steep bank to the stream bed.

  Getting from the stream to the river, and the river down to Maropea Forks is pretty straight forward, just a matter really of one foot in front of the other. I relaxed and started to just enjoy the day. The sun shining and sparkling on the water, the pools deep and clear with a tinge of green. We came across a pair of whio and I stopped to spend a bit of time watching them and getting a few photos. Taylor carried on ahead....I didn't see him for the next 20 hours.

   Getting Taylor down that steep cliff seemed easy when he was little. I am not sure why it felt so hard when was older. Or why I didn't keep a closer eye on him down on the river, that I simply assumed he knew the way or would wait for me. Much a metaphor for my being his father. And being smacked between the eyes with the reality that fatherhood, parenthood, never really gets easier. It instead gets harder. Our own worries and expectations never really wane. I see so much of my own self in Taylor yet the words choke inside me, or are spoke in vain when I try to express this connection. The fragility of it freezes me or brings the words in ways I do not mean. I cannot steer his ship.

  Today is his birthday. I will not see him for another few weeks yet, I wished him a happy day and that I loved him. We have a long way to go down that river yet...


Thursday, July 9, 2015

The End of the Road

I came across something yesterday on my Facebook feed that stopped me in my literal tracks. FB now shows us posts from the past, something I actually agree with in the very temporal sound byte social media world...it was a song an old friend had shared to my page back in late 2011. A Chris Whitley tune called the Cool Wooden Crosses. I listened to it again and felt tears coming and a lump gathering in my throat.

My friend Kregg and I go way back. From the last few years of Grade School and Junior High. It wasn't till actually in high school that we really began to hang out, part of the same small group of friends from those days whom I will always keep close to my heart. My best friend, Kevin, had killed himself at age 15, and for a year or longer I actually felt quite mad and dis attached. Nothing made sense anymore, nothing seemed important. I still battle with that from time to time, and having a small group of friends whom accepted me was literally life saving. And at age 16 highly important. I began to laugh and smile again. Kregg and I were never the best of mates, but we always had a mutual sort of understanding. A connection through pain. When Kregg was only 7-8 years old he saw his mother pick up a .22 rifle and shoot his drunken father 7 times and killing him. He was eating a bowl of cereal with his brother, it happened right in front of him and he saw he whole thing. His father had been abusing her, and them for years. She became, to my knowledge, the very first woman to begin the battered wife syndrome. She still served time in prison and the boys went to live with their grandparents. Kregg rarely ever even mentioned it, but a few times we shared quiet moments over seeing and being part of such darkness. We would talk and then suddenly he would just stop. I knew at times Kregg struggled much as I did. That was our bond.

After high school we went our separate ways, seeing each other during the summers and college holidays but more and more drifting into our own lives, our own paths. His keeping him close to our hometown, mine carrying me to far off places. Still when I returned home our little group always managed to catch up, have a few laughs and recall those moments way back when that even then grew a bit hazy. Except the ones based around pain. Those don't fade so easy. We spent a fair a bit of time at a cabin he owned with another good friend. He was an excellent hunter and fisherman. Very patient and very skilled. Those walks in the woods with him and our other mates were stirring something deep inside me. A view and a feeling of the woods, lakes, streams that ran deeper than just mere appreciation.

Eventually those occasional meetings dried up. I moved to New Zealand, got married, had kids, got grown up. Kregg too got married, though never had kids as he never wanted to and never did. I had heard he had a business that was flourishing, a big house, and by all accounts was doing very well. I saw him on a few visits back home but probably had been 10 years or so since we had last seen one another when out of the blue I got a Friend Request from him on FB. We began to exchange a lot of views, mostly in agreement, sometimes not. Mostly I was struck by how his taste in music was so similar to my own. So when he sent me that tune I, at the time, gave it a precursory listen and forgot about it really. Till it popped back on my feed a few days ago.

Back in the summer of 2012 we went back to the states for a visit. We arranged an evening celebration at one of our old gang's place. Everyone showed up and it was a wonderful time. The passing of the last 30 years pretty obvious, and the hugs and laughter seemed very genuine.

Less than a month later back in New Zealand I got a phone call one afternoon from the friend whom had hosted that gathering. He told me to sit down. He proceeded to tell me that Kregg had driven from his house, checked into a hotel, and had proceeded to kill himself. In his note he wanted no obituary, no funeral, and no grave. He was to be cremated and his ashes scattered as if he had never existed. I just sat there staring at the wall in front of me. Kregg was dead.

So to see his name pop up was a bit startling. To listen to that tune for the first time. To Listen To It! Hit me like a brick. I understood why he had known I would get it. The haunting, bare, and uncompromising sound of it was something we shared. Not just in music. It was like opening a gift from him. That hot summer night in Wisconsin I never really sat alone with Kregg and asked him what was really happening in his life. I didn't take his face in my hands and look him in the eye and ask him that. I don't write that from guilt. I know what lurked deep in there, and still does within me, wasn't going to come out in him just because I asked. Only the mirror tells us the real truth. My friend Kregg is dead. But he can't erase his presence here. He can't because he sent me a song....

From bitter to empty Go the bridges through town From valley to valley Before she burns them down Before she burns them down Well they gather by the river Many miles above the ground In a tower of mirrors Before she burns them down Hear the peals of opinions Weigh your words to waste no sound Cool wooden crosses on the mountain Before she burns them down......words by Chris Whitley

That hot summer night July 2012...Kregg is in the back with the red shirt. Keep the fire lit e hoa


Monday, July 6, 2015


             Ruahine trees

The bleached bones of the tawhairauriki
reach to the heavens
their lives spent on these forlorn
wind battered, thin soiled ridges
clinging on for sustenance and life
beseeching and moaning not for their own fate
they accept this, put your ear upon them
lean against the seemingly dead bulk
and feel the life within, the whole ridge sways
and moves as one
No, they do not bemoan their own fate
they bemoan ours
and what we so callously do to the places
we should be the closest too
they wail at how misguided, how disconnected
we have become from these truths
Look to the bones, see how they return to the earth
with such grace
They are not mournful for themselves
they mourn for us and how we will not Listen!
This is the wairua, the spirit, of the mountains.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Old Log

Jeff by the old tawhairaunui log.

"Tree Let Your arm's fall:Your sap shall not rise again
to the moons pull.
No more incline a deferential head
to the wind's talk, or stir
to the tickle of coursing rain".....From No Ordinary Sun by Hone Tuwhare

                 Charlie having a sleep on top of the old log. Natures perfect sun warmed mattress.

I have walked down the Maropea river, and back up it, many times now. At least once a year over the past 20 years and sometimes several. A good friend of mine once pondered the question of visiting and revisiting a wild place as either a lack of imagination or curiousity about other places as opposed to it rather indicating a love of place and building a gradual relationship with it so in a sense it becomes "home". I prefer the latter.

I came to the Ruahine a bit longer in the tooth than I would have preferred, or maybe it was simply perfect timing. Had I been a 15 year old kid I think the desire to stretch my legs in other places would have been strong pushing towards bigger and more challenging mountains and places. And I have hoisted my pack in other ranges and mountains in Aotearoa to be sure...it is simply the Ruahine stole my heart and for my life they fit perfectly.

Hericlitus was really very astute in observing we can never set foot in the same river twice. Every time I come down the Maropea there are subtle, and sometimes not so subtle changes to the river. It is never the same though there are old familiar land marks, pools, straights and rapids that remain consistent. Like road markers I can gauge exactly where I am and how far I have to go. A huge bus size boulder come to rest in some ancient flood remains at the end of the biggest rapid between Top Maropea and Maropea Forks. I rub my hand across the grainy surface as I pass by. And what has become my favourite place on the river, an old tawhairaunui log. It's surface worn smooth as glass by weather and time. About 2 hours from the hut a perfect place to stop for a rest. Shed the packs, get out the billy, have some lunch and enjoy the work done to arrive with a bit more to go. On a really fine sunny you can set on it or against it and absorb the sun's warmth from it as if it was a living breathing animal. Of course if it is windy,rainy, or even snowing I just carry on by with a wistful backward glance...

                    John prepares a sandwich on a beautiful Ruahine late morning. A perfect table.

                               Even time for a bit of a kip before resuming the trip down river.

When I am on my own and I stop here the memories of the people I have been here with become alive and vivid. John and I rest here without a word as it has become just a natural stop along the way. When I am with someone new I always lag behind a bit and watch. It is almost as if this old log just pulls you in to it force. The pace slows and always a smile when they see me undo my pack straps. Not just a smile for the rest and snacks to come, but also the beauty of the place we are in. The song of the river gentle, the water sparkling and clear. In the big scheme of things a rather insignificant old dead tree on a river, but in these tiny moments and being the only ones in the entire world to BE here and see it all it cannot help but make one smile the heart to sing.

 Taylor on the other side of the old log looking down river. On this day he passed just by it and we settled on the bank instead. I should have known...less than hour later he went missing...

I have been here with both my sons. I have been here, or past here depending on the weather with good friends, John, Nigel, Jeff, Gustav. Rick, Steve, and my brother in law Scotty. Just a log on a river, but when a place becomes familiar, becomes a "home", it is an old tawhairauni log that takes on life, form, and substance. It greets us as an old friend. I miss my friend.....

Perhaps my favourite moment by the old log. The trip after I had lost Taylor I came down river alone. The river sparkled and the day was warm and lovely. Yet I struggled with my bearings, a feeling a discombobulation that stayed stuck in my head. I stopped at the old log and had a bagel and boiled the billy. A pair of whio flew by and landed at the end of the small pool right by me. This is them...My head cleared. I was home again....

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Summer Ramblings...

7 December 2014 Whanahuia tops of the Ruahine ranges...
For the 14th summer in a row John and I are on the first night of our "Ruahine Summer Tour". Each one adds to our experience and knowledge of these ranges, teaches us a bit more about traveling amongst them, and most importantly, how to enjoy them to the fullest. In spite of the other worldly burdens we carry. Worries and concerns that seem to weigh heavy upon us in he world. I have learned it is best to set them down before I enter this place. They will be waiting when I return. After all these years of roaming with John I know he understands that as well. It is good to have such friends.
Tonight finds us camped high on the Whanahuia tops, nestled into a small gully out of the gusty nor'west winds and replete with tarns for water and soft moss to pitch our tent upon. To escape the heat wave far below feels liberating and I write this sitting upon a comfortable lean of hillside tussock wearing wool hat and my warm gear. We have 5 days ahead to be immersed in the mountains. To roam high on the tops and climb down to the rivers below. As invigorating as that will be, a small part deep in my soul wants to just fold this golden tussock over me and stay here for always. Kia ora!

27 December late evening.... I scribble these words by headlamp in the cozy confines of our wee tent. John and I climbed up and along the gully and crossed over to the lee side of this long spur. There we watched the sunset over the main Ruahine range, Te Hekenga and Taumataomekura sharp on the skyline, the headwaters of the Oroua valley catchment lie before us. A fantastic spot to enjoy this bit of Aotearoa, a wee dram of Glen Morangie, and the company of an old friend with whom I have shared many a moment in these beautiful mountains. We seem to fall into old rhythms quite easily. When to let John walk ahead with his faster pace, when to rest, or brew up the billy, and mostly the unspoken words which often say the most. When silence is not uncomfortable but rather seems appropriate. That is a special quality. Taking some time with my quiet friend...

Sorrow and tears
smiles and joy
Layered upon me
until the difference
is no more
How do I share a grey cloud
Drifting by?
Or the difference between
The whio and a blue duck?
The distant jagged blue peaks
the muted green ridges climb to them
The spurs lit like golden flame
Drop steeply to the unseen river
The mountain layers
and the sinew that connects
each essential piece
Lies as well within me..

The last rays of the day fall over the main Ruahine range. A fine place to sit and appreciate the ending of another day in our lives.

John enjoying an after dinner dram. I like this moment as it gives a good indication as to the the steepness near our campsite. He is sitting straight up in the tussock. A cozy spot.

“Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.” ...W.B. Yeats

Back upon the Whanahuia from our campsite

The main Ruahine range as the light fades...

28 December, 2014 Triangle hut...evening...
 This is far from the first time John and I have arrived here at Triangle hut. In this, our 14th year of doing this summer journey at least three of those have included this lovely spot up near the headwaters of the Oroua river. Very few entries in the hut book are from those whom do more than merely pass by this place, a destination on the way to somewhere else. I do not write those words as a criticism. Years ago I too was in a hurry to see it all, to write I had been there and there as well. There was always this nagging feeling though as I packed up to move on that there was more here on offer, and eventually I learned to listen to the nagging. Now after 15 plus years I can sit here and observe the subtle changes in the river and landscape, and within myself. Boulders once there in the river and seemingly unmovable, now disappeared without trace. Pools I once swam in now gone moved else where. Or the little stone gorge a few hundred metres up river. You never notice these things passing by. You must sit here and observe.

28 December...I think also of the people I have been here with. Most heavy on my mind my oldest son. He has been here twice. The last time when 12. He is now going to be 22. A burden I left behind perhaps. Yet one whom never leaves my heart. It sometimes seems places like this are where I feel closest to him. Yet I remain very far away.....I cannot walk steps for him or anyone, but perhaps it is my fault in not teaching him how. After all I nearly lost him here once as well. Thoughts and more thoughts...even here deep in the mountains I cannot escape the painful part of love. Like the river flowing by that is easy to love on a fine day such as this when the water sparkles in the sun and calls to me, on a stormy day when the same water becomes turgid, muddy, and dangerous it becomes much harder to love. Or maybe I just love it differently..

 " I too saw the reflection of the summer sky in the water, Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams, Look’d at the fine centrifugal spokes of light around the shape of my head in the sun-lit water, Look’d on the haze on the hills southward and southwestward, ..." Walt Whitman

29 December, Triangle hut, evening...
  The sun has poked in and out all day. When it appears it grows hot very quickly, and when it becomes cloud hidden we are reminded equally as quickly as to where we are. The sunny moments have led to a few "swims" in a few of the handy pools and we walked up the Triangle stream for an hour climbing over increasingly huge boulders and log jams and an ever narrowing stream. We were hoping to spot any whio ostensibly. Mainly we were having fun. We then did the same on the main river, climbing up and over the gorge and beyond. Same result. No whio today. We did hear one early this morning  so once again I must content myself with that.
  Later in the afternoon, led by John's sterling efforts, we emptied the entire wood bin, cleaning out the refuse, sorting the wood and sawing it up into useful pieces. It is a wood box I would love to come upon after a long hard day and in need of a warm fire. Creating karma.
 Late last evening as the last of the afternoon light was fading we were joined by two trampers. Gentleman in their late 60's. One whom a few months ago had heart surgery. They were on a massive Ruahine tramp and had come that from Howlett's hut. A long hard day in any person's book in these ranges. They literally had their tea and collapsed into their bunks. This morning they awoke, had breakfast, packed up and left. We were talking to them and one in particular was asking what John and I were doing this day. We said nothing. He looked at us, looked around this amazing spot, and I could tell he understood. Yet he and his mate shouldered their loads and headed down river towards Iron Gates and beyond. John and I just smiled.
  I linger now, writing in the last of the sunlight on this porch. I reflect on my many visits here. Taylor again enters my thoughts. We are both roustabouts. It is just this is where I choose to be one.

 John saws up wood at Triangle. We always carry a small pruning saw on these trips and it comes in handy.

30 December, 2014.. Iron Gates hut. Ruahine
John and I left Triangle mid morning to make our way down the river here to Iron Gates. We are meeting Pohangina Pete here later this afternoon as he making his way up river from the road end many miles away. It seems appropriate to reunite with Pete here. The very place I met him over 15 years ago. A very fine friendship has resulted from that chance encounter at a remote Ruahine spot. Or maybe it was meant to happen...I like that thought as I scribble these words.
The route is pretty much in the river for a few hours, then up and over a very steep spur to avoid a section of gorge and deep pools. The river is fairly low, though we still waded in places waist deep. We debated tackling the gorge. Plenty of time and it was only the grey skies starting to spit a bit that put rest to those notions. I let John climb up first and followed a while later. Pretty much a vertical climb up into a side stream then out of it and onto and up the spur. Repeat after reaching the top except in reverse. Very steep. At one point I could look out below and see the river twisting around other spurs, the mist rising around them, and hear the thunderous sound of fast water rolling through. We made the right decision I thought.
When I finally reached the side stream on the other side I saw John sitting there waiting and smiling. I joined him and turned back to see just a stunning scene. A stream falling gently behind us, the green mosses and lichens shining brightly, the water then gaining strength right before our eyes and falling over a noisy fall just below us. It felt as if we were part of this living breathing thing. The essence of the whenua herself. We got up and made our way to the river and here. We still had not spoken a word...

Done with the river about to climb up over the gorge. Good time for a rest...

“I tramp a perpetual journey.”
― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
The high mountain forest. Either way a fine place to be. Climbing up to see these windows and tops seemingly once so far away grow near. Climbing down into the forest and the cool earthiness of the high trees and the promise of a pristine river and the whio far below. I am neither coming nor going. I am simply here....Maungamahue on the Whanahuia...

John and Pete by the Oroua river outside Iron Gates hut.

This spot has always intrigued me. The precipitous drop, the rapid, the colour of the pool below. It reminds me of the pounemu, green stone, given to me by treasured friends which I wear around my neck.

The Oroua valley.

There are times in a vast Ruahine forest that within it's vast canopy a tiny sliver can stop me in my tracks. Sunlit moss consuming an old tawhairauriki tree, the leaves of others scattered golden, red and brown amongst it as if placed there individually and carefully by the gentle Hand of Nature Herself. I stop and stare and a lump rises in my throat. I walk on slowly, misty eyed and content.

Afternoon tea by the Oroua river with John and Pete. An array of fine nibbles squirrled along for just such an occasion. Olives, Kapiti cheese, biltong, pistachios, and fig newtons. What a pleasure to spend these moments in such a place with such friends.

30 Jan. Evening.... this trip, just as this year draws to a close. 5 days spent in the Ruahine. Though I have a fine forest walk to look forward to in the morning I can't help but feel a sense of regret right now. Wishing that John, Pete, and I were heading on to someplace else in the morning. And another part of me that is ready to shoulder what I left back there at the Rangiwahia car park. I am especially looking forward to seeing Tara. And Charlie.
 As always with John Nash, my old companion, a time we truly enjoyed to it's fullest potential. It is good to write that and mean it. We have been traveling in these ranges together nearly 20 years now. You learn a lot about someone doing such things. The words we have not spoken just as important, and just as understood, as the words we have shared. To be joined by Pete, even for this brief day and night, whom has become a treasured friend and mentor in so many ways, at the very place I met him 15 years ago just adds to another special Ruahine experience. Kia ora!