07 April 2006

Being still

A car howls around the downvalley bend, drops a gear as it sweeps through the curl of the bridge, and growls up the hill. I step off the road and wait. The car hurtles around the blind corner, cutting the white line, and flashes up the hill. Red, shiny, trailing a stink of exhaust like a drawn-out, sulphurous fart from its large bore arsehole. I bet the car gets polished every week.

...

I remember Dirk hunting mice. He simply sat, motionless, on the kitchen floor, watching the hole in the wall where the pipe passed behind the refrigerator. Even when he turned his head to look at me, then turned back to the mouse path, he seemed so still, as if the movement emphasised its own absence.

...

Te Awaoteatua Stream rushes to the Pohangina. Always in motion. For all I know, this small stream has never ceased flowing for hundreds of years, perhaps far longer. I watch the water for a while, then look away and the boulders on the bank seem to creep back up the little valley. The distant roar of a stag. Poplar leaves hang perfectly still above the rushing water; one detaches, spirals down, and when it lands there’s a faint scratch and rustle. Then nothing but the sound of water.

No matter how quietly I tread, I sound cacophonous.

...

On the way back down No. 3 Line I stop to listen. I don’t know what I’m listening for—perhaps just the silence itself. It seems to infiltrate; the absence of sound becomes the absence of movement. I realise I’m hardly breathing. Nothing requires effort because everything has paused; the afternoon hesitates, relaxes, waits.

As I stand here, silent, perfectly still, a piwakawaka[1] appears and flits around me, so close I wonder whether it’ll settle on me. It’s so close because I’m so still I’m hardly here at all—I know this; there’s no question the encounter arises from the quality of stillness.

...

I look down from the bridge at the rushing stream, and realise that this flow has the same quality of stillness as the leaf when it settles; as Dirk waiting; as the silence that follows the stag’s roar. I wonder whether that same quality can ever be found in a red car with polished paint and a large exhaust, even when the oil’s run dry.


Notes:
1. Rhipidura fuliginosa, the New Zealand fantail.

Photo 1: Flow: Te Awaoteatua Stream, Pohangina Valley.
Photo 2: Raupo (Typha orientalis); No. 3 Line, Pohangina Valley.


Photos and words © 2006 Pete McGregor

17 comments:

Jim said...

Pete-

I've just come across your fine blog and have saved it to my favorites so I can come back and read some of your many fine entries.

The photos are stunning!

pohanginapete said...

Thanks Jim, and a big welcome.
:^>

butuki said...

It's amazing the differences in what one sees when either moving or standing still. So many people who visit the mountains here in Japan think that almost no animals exist, but that's because they are blundering through the trees and rocks all the time and never stopping to let the mood of the forest settle down. If they would just sit on a log and wait, the whole world comes alive, like refugees emerging from the shelters after an air raid alarm. While I know people who find a well-designed sports car a thing of beauty (and admittedly there is something undeniably sexy about a Ferrari), perhaps it is the place where such things are allowed to run that mars the complexion. Just as a bird should not be wandering around in a shopping mall, a sports car should not be billowing through a verdant forest or quiet hills.

Duncan said...

Aren't Fantails just the best little birds Pete? I've had that close encounter many times when being quiet and unobtrusive. It often happens when I'm watering the veges, one landed on the hose nozzle beside my hand last summer.
They love it when I adjust the flow to a fine spray, they'll bathe until they're wet to the skin.

pohanginapete said...

Butuki: Yes, the world does come alive when you're still, not just because living things come out of hiding, but because you notice more. And I think my disquiet about cars in those environments has much to do with the attitude that treats the land as a playground; it's the lack of respect, the lack appreciation of the land as anything more than something in which to have fun — the land is valued for what you can take from it.

Birds in shopping malls, though... even if they're scruffy sparrows or tired pigeons — I'm pleased to see them. NOT birds in cages. Thanks for the thoughts, B.

Duncan: I find it sad that so few people now have the privilege of that kind of interaction with wild things. It's one thing to admire from a distance; completely different to interact, close up. Cheers.

Clare said...

On of my favourite things about living up here is just how profound the silence is out on the land. Early spring, like now, when you stop your machine it is unlike anything else you've never heard.

Funny enough, last night as we walked back from the House, the town was amazingly quiet. Nothing was stirring and there wasn't a snowmobile on the move (trust me that is unusual). Leah, Travis and Hilary were ahead of me as I had stopped to adjust parcels while I locked up, and I stopped to admire the quality of the sky above the hills, glowing with the promise of 24 hour sun. It was then I noticed that the town was so peaceful. No machines, no dogs barking, no one moving outside and no voices or music to be heard.

I waited in vain for a fantail to land on my hand.

pohanginapete said...

Now that would really be one for the birding journals... ;^D

I can imagine what it must be like there (well, I think I can). Here, you're never far from the sound of rivers and streams or the sea; the wind seldom drops away completely and even a slight breeze is enough to set the leaves rustling. Thanks for letting us hear the silence you heard, Clare.

zhoen said...

(o)

Rexroth's Daughter said...

No matter how silently I tread, I sound cacophonous. Me too. I try to be invisible in the woods. I want everything to go on as if I weren't there, as if there were no humans or red-polished cars on the planet at all.

pohanginapete said...

Zhoen: thanks for the stone :^>

RD: yes, for me I guess it's the attempt to be accepted; as if I don't matter.

yllstonewolf said...

wonderfully soothing images. i've been contemplating stillness - or the lack of it - too. it is like our lack of real darkness at night - it seems to sneak up on you until it is not dark (nor still) at all. found you through via neg. can't wait to look around a bit!

pohanginapete said...

Thanks yllstonewolf, good to see you here :^> Actually, I've been surprised to find that stillness even in unlikely situations like cafes and parties. Encouraging.

Via Negativa's one of my regular visits; I must update the link in my sidebar now Dave's moved.

bev said...

Beautiful sketches of stillness, Pete. Yes, I don't know about the shiny, red car. I doubt that its driver knows much about being still. In truth, I think it's becoming difficult for many people to be either still or silent because they are so enveloped in a hectic, noisy world. We've discovered this when we're hiking on trails in parks where we might encounter others. When we hike, we tend to speak very quietly... really just in murmurs.... because we want to hear everything around us. Often, we notice snakes or frogs, not by sight, but by hearing them move through the leaves. Anyhow, yes, when we're out on the trails, we often hear people coming minutes before we meet them. That makes them a lot easier to spot than the snakes. Maybe the noisy ones drive shiny red cars.

Melinda said...

It is often good and joyous to be loud. But we have forgotten how to be quiet, still. And that's what's bad. No balance.

pohanginapete said...

Bev: I have to admit that on some occasions when hiking with others, particularly kids, anyone could have heard us miles off... Usually I'm quieter than that, though, and to become aware of a bird or other animal through one of the other senses confers something extra to the encounter. Perhaps the clearest example is catching a scent and realising there's a deer close by. It doesn't happen often, but it's intense.

Melinda: I agree. Very true. Mum always reckoned I was the loud one — perhaps that's why I'm so joyous? ;^>

Mary said...

Pete, this is just beautiful, a meditation indeed. You capture the contrast between the disruptive passage of the car and your awareness of the peace and silence around you perfectly.

I'm really glad you are putting the Maori names in your posts .. they have a poetry of their own as well.

pohanginapete said...

Hi Mary; almost missed your comment. Thanks for the thoughts; nice to hear you describe it as a meditation. Appropriate.

It was the euphony of spoken Maori that first encouraged me to learn a little of the language. I find it beautiful to listen to. Also, I realise now that knowing birds by several names — Maori, English, latin binomial — helps me understand different aspects of the bird and reminds me that the name is not the bird. Thanks for prompting that realisation, Mary.