06 August 2006

Failure

I sit in the car at Burdan’s Gate[1], waiting for J to return home with the Christchurch crew. Dusk and the sound of the sea outside; the long swells sliding in smooth and dark, breaking and foaming only when they hit the shore. A sickle moon hangs in the sky among scattered scraps of cloud and the Kaikoura Ranges look like one of Hokusai’s prints; as I watch, the lights of an aeroplane cross the orange-tinted sky above those distant mountains. I’ve missed this place; only realised it fully when I drove here this afternoon from Wellington and stopped in at the Eastbourne village, looked up at M&I’s, at JK&A’s; walked out onto Rona wharf where bored gulls sat on the mooring posts and ignored me until I got to within a few metres. Of course, I’d left the big lens in the car. Not that I cared—photos weren’t a high priority, although I took a handful, inspired by the light; by the patterns of the white-painted flaking picket fence with its rust stains and rot; the sweep of a long strand of kelp undulating in the green water; the colours in the evening sky; the textures of wood weathered by the sea and polished by wind and salt.

The light’s almost gone now. Two people walk past, first in one direction then, shortly after, back towards Eastbourne. A ute crawls down the farm track and across the harbour, Wellington glitters, a constellation of sodium stars. A big swell rolls in.

A black, looming wall, racing towards me.

...

The following evening J and YH and I walk up the track behind the house. A strong wind beats at the manuka[2] and other mixed native scrub but the canopy’s high enough to shelter us from the wind and give sections of the track the impression of a kind of tunnel. The sound of wind roaring when you’re sheltered from it—a good feeling; one of those enormously comfortable sounds, like rain on a roof, or the sea lapping at the hull of the boat in some safe harbour as you drop off to sleep. I remember that sound from years ago, when we sheltered in the Bay of Islands on our diving trip to the Poor Knights Islands, so long ago now. Was it the day when, much to my amazement and the envy of the serious fishers, I’d caught the hapuku? Or the day we dived for scallops? I do remember it was the day we dived down to the Rainbow Warrior, still discernible then as the wreck of a ship, where we peered in through portholes and saw schools of fish sheltering in cabins that had once sheltered laughter and argument and passions to protect the world. I touched the seabed at 88 feet and returned to the surface with a head full of new memories and aching from the cold.

...

We drive to Burdan’s Gate; leave the cars there and walk along the coast in the wind, the Nor’wester whipping waves onto the shore, buffeting the gorse[3] and Melianthus and ngaio[4] and other scrubby plants; blackbacked gulls hanging in the wind, little shags peering at us from where they bob among the troughs and peaks of choppy water. On the shingle beach I pick up a cast up masking crab Notomithrax ursus, most of the weed gone from the hairy shell, like the vanished life, but on its left chelicera a white mark in the shape of a perfect ‘2’—so perfect I wonder whether it’s been put there by human intervention, the jetsam of a research project. Eventually I decide it’s coincidental, an accident of nature, but the possibility remains.

We struggle back in the wind, rugged up, enjoying the fresh air. Eyes watering from the wind, noses on the brink of running. Black oystercatchers and white goats; the shingle beach a mass of jumbled driftwood and old plastic bottles; a wrecked running shoe. On a stack just too far to reach without wading, I see a sodden jacket. I study it carefully with the binoculars, a vague insistent thought reminding me that not far from here a Chinese fisherman was swept overboard on that stormy night while I was looking after M&I’s house, and a handless, almost decapitated body was discovered recently on the beach at Owhiro Bay. The hands have not been found, nor the body of the fisherman. I walk closer to the stack, climb a nearby boulder and scan the saturated jacket, but it appears to be nothing but a lost item of clothing, something left behind, something returning to the elements—something containing nothing.

YJ and YH collect empty paua shells, as is the tendency of most boys in places like this. They’re still young, still struggling to understand how acquisition and ownership might be less important than appreciation. This a lesson that cannot be taught, only learned. Some people never learn it. The lust to possess—from where, and how, does it arise? So many of us never seem to realise that our dissatisfactions, our lack of contentment, our desires, cannot be satisfied by owning even more. I suspect it’s the converse: that those desires and discontent can usually be ameliorated best by owning less. Perhaps this is the buddhist concept of nonattachment? I can’t say—I’m not a buddhist—but why, when I hear the word “ownership”, does it evoke ideas of exclusion and encumbrance?

But perhaps I’m wrong; perhaps I’m the one who hasn’t learnt; perhaps I’m destined for failure. Perhaps I’m at risk of failing my lessons in capitalism.


Notes:
1. Burdan's Gate is the barrier,
beyond Eastbourne, where vehicle access along the Coast road ends.
2. Leptospermum scoparium. It may have included kanuka, Kunzea ericoides, too.
3. Ulex europaeus.
4. Myoporum laetum.

Photos (click on them if you want a larger image):
1&3. Jacob's Ladders (a.k.a. "God beams") over Paekakariki. West coast of the lower North Island, North of Wellington.
I stopped for these photos just beyond Pukerua Bay, while I was driving back to the valley last Monday morning.
2. Low tide at Waipapa Point, Southland. The weed is rimurapa, bull kelp, Durvillea spp. (antarctica or willana).
4. More Jacob's Ladders, this time over the Pohangina Valley, looking towards the Ngamoko Range from Takapari Road.
5. "And now for something completely different..." Steer (no bull...), Pohangina Valley, yesterday.


Photos and words © 2006 Pete McGregor

23 comments:

KiwiSoupGirl said...

Hey there Pete - stunning photography as always, and beautiful things to ponder. :-)

"But perhaps I’m wrong; perhaps I’m the one who hasn’t learnt; perhaps I’m destined for failure. Perhaps I’m at risk of failing my lessons in capitalism."

Somethings are, I suspect, best not learned (or unlearned) - the concepts remain though. Sticking like glue. Part of our "set" in life, but not necessarily the "theme"...

Is the world really a stage, and all those in it merely players?

Hoping you are keeping well, Pete. take care out there :-)

MB said...

Your opening description and that third photograph especially, are stunning.

chuck said...

To fail to learn the 'lessons of capitalism' merely demonstrates one has learned the LESSON OF CAPITALISM: "MORE IS NOT BETTER."

As always, lovely writing...

Dave said...

Among the many strange things in this essay reminding me that you're very far from Pennsylvania: this notion of an end to vehicle access along a road. Sounds wonderful!

pohanginapete said...

Thanks KSG; yes, just got a lot to get sorted in the next couple of months. WS's metaphor of the world as a stage can be taken to imply life is superficial, which is why the metaphor has never really appealed to me, other than in the context of his play.

Thanks MB — displays of light like those are hard to ignore and compelling to photograph. Dealing with the often extreme contrast (photographically speaking) can be trying, but it's usually worth the effort.

Chuck, yes, nicely put, and it reminds me that the lessons learned are not always those intended. Thanks!

Dave, road ends are indeed wonderful, except when you're confronted by "Private Property: Keep Out" signs. Otherwise, where the road ends is where you leave vehicles behind and begin walking — a great feeling. Most of the roads on this side of the Valley eventually end at, or close to, the bushline. Then you enter the Ruahine Range...

robin andrea said...

I read something the other day that offered the opinion that there is really only one political party in the states, and that is the party of property. Perhaps this is true in NZ as well. Ownership and acquisition drives so much of the world, except of course, can never hold on to the light that breaks through those clouds. So, while you may indeed be failing those lessons, you have found how to observe and be moved by ephemeral things, and that is an incomparable richness.

pohanginapete said...

Robin, we have several political parties here, nearly all claiming to represent "mainstream" New Zealand or "most NZers", or "the average NZer". Most seem petrified that potential voters might think they'd question the hegemony of private ownership. The only party offering any substantially different political perspective is the Green Party, who face constant accusations that they're nutters and that their policies amount to economic suicide.

Of course, these are just my perceptions, not those of "mainstream NZers" ;^) But thankyou for the support, and I do feel, as you suggest, incomparably rich.

bev said...

Beautiful photographs of the kelp, the ocean and the skies. As for the lust to possess -- as I've grown older, most possessions have come to feel like anchors. I sometimes wonder how so many cultures became caught up in the the desire for possessions. Seems very odd.

pohanginapete said...

Bev: yes, "anchors" seems like a good metaphor. I wonder: perhaps the desire arose because in most environments survival depends on acquiring some possessions (at least collectively); unfortunately, it seems there's not the same selection pressure for the ability to know when enough's enough? Some interesting things to think about there. Thanks Bev.

zhoen said...

Photos to heal all pain. Such glorious light.

pohanginapete said...

Zhoen, yes, if a person's not moved by light like that, there's no hope.

Brenda Schmidt said...

Great stuff, Pete. Have you written or are you writing a book along the line of what you've posted on this blog? I hope so.

pohanginapete said...

Thanks Brenda! :^D There will be a book. Just what form it takes, when it arrives, and whether any publisher is prepared to take a risk, are things still to be decided.

DivaJood said...

amazing photos, Pete. Usually the images speak more to me than the words. The words become an illustration for the image, isn't that strange?

pohanginapete said...

Divajood: Maybe there's something in that adage about one picture being worth a thousand words. But sometimes pictures say too much. I do find that, most often, the relationship between words and pictures is strained — they either compete, or one becomes mere illustration for the other. Meanwhile, I just keep trying, with both.

Thanks for the thought :^)

Evanescence said...

Bonjour Pete ~ Yes... You offer a breathing space and i enjoy travelling on your words and your images. The moments of life you capture through your lenses are moving, the emotions you express with your words are poignant ~ I am touched. ~ Claudia from Quebec.

pohanginapete said...

Merci; thanks for the generous words, Claudia, and welcome. :^D

Eric said...

yes. a book! check out lulu.com (a print-on-demand publisher) . . . i don't recommend self-publishing for everybody but your stuff is awesome and needs to be in print.

pohanginapete said...

Thanks for the heads-up and the suggestion, Eric. :^D I'll check it out.

adagio said...

the steer photograph is pure magic. the head in profile. the texture of barbed wire. the unevenly distributed fence batons. a perfect b&w study.

pohanginapete said...

I'm very pleased you appreciated that photo, Adagio. It was one of those photos that seemed to take itself; mostly intuitive I guess. One of those moments.
:^D

yllstonewolf said...

hi pete...i've been gone so long, and now i'm trying to get caught up on my reading.
what a gorgeous image of light and storm on a rough sea. really, it is breathtaking! it feels good to get back in touch with all of my friends online. looking forward to catching up here!

pohanginapete said...

Welcome back, YSWolf, and thanks for the encouragement. :^D