So I crawl up the hill in the lowest three gears, often at no more than walking pace. I don’t care. It feels good, I’m enjoying the afternoon, the sounds, the clean air, the warmth of the sun soaking into my back, the smells of freshly graded clay by the roadside, and … oh yes, silage, and those other bucolic smells . Better than exhaust fumes, though.
Besides, I have as much time as I like. Since I can’t go hard out, I might as well go easily and for longer.
At the top of No. 2 Line I look out over the Pohangina Valley. Deep shadows, green hills, the afternoon sky a perfect blue, fading as it approaches the horizon hundreds of kilometres away. So pure, all I can see are the imperfections of my own eyes, drifting and floating, half thought, half perceived, reminders of who and what I am. Up North, snow on the Ngamoko, Ruahine, and Whanahuia tops. Fresh, white, clean; from this distance the snowline appears distinct, almost as if it’s been stencilled onto the summits. It’ll be melting fast, but will still be slow going—deep in drifts, a crust that sometimes supports your weight, sometimes collapses. I’ve trudged and waded through snow like that many times. It's tiring and frustrating. I’d like to be doing it now.
The sight of that snow reminds me of the words of Ishak the minstrel:
“We are the pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further: it may be
Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow…”
How long would it take me to walk to those mountains? One day? Two? Of course, no one thinks of walking those distances if a road goes there. You drive; if you’re keen, fit, and concerned, you ride a bike. If, for some reason, you have to walk, you do so with your thumb out, with your most harmless demeanour on display. In that philosophy, the object of travelling is to arrive, to get there.
But Ishak said, “Always a little further…” suggesting the pilgrimage would never end. This is like Arawata Bill’s prospecting : the gold he sought in the wildness of South Westland, he never found—or he lived with it, constantly. What would he have done if he had found the mother lode? What would Ishak have done if he had found, “…a prophet who can understand /Why men were born”?
Asked these questions, I suspect Bill and Ishak would have either given unconvincing answers or—more likely—would have looked away and excused themselves from further questioning on the grounds that the gold, or the prophet, still remained undiscovered .
Downhill’s fun but lacks the satisfaction of exercise. The only things working hard are my hands gripping the bars and my adrenals, pumping furiously as I hit a patch of loose gravel. I coast along a flat section and pedal slowly up a slight incline, taking time to look around before I have to concentrate on the next, winding downhill section. Time—to do what I’m doing. Much of the art of living, it seems to me, is to be able to focus on what’s happening; conversely, much unhappiness and dissatisfaction arises from the tendency to be engaged with something other than what we’re doing. Always something at the back of the mind; something we did or didn’t do; something we have to do when we finish what we’re not doing properly right now.
A pair of putangitangi  call in alarm from the dam as I speed past. The value of time, like that of money, lies not in how much you have but in how you spend it. The thought prompts me to wonder how much of the suffering in the world arises from two time-related insecurities: attachment to the past, and fear of the future. I think I'll keep working on a different aapproach: the past as something to be appreciated, and the future as possibilities to be anticipated.
1. J.E. Flecker: Hassan: The Story of Hassan of Baghdad and How He Came to Make the Golden Journey to Samarkand. In fact, I first found the quote in the 1953–54 edition of The Canterbury Mountaineer, the same volume in which my father wrote an article on mountain photography. It's a strange feeling to read something written by your father, in a time before you were born.
2. Arawata Bill is less well known as William O'Leary, and better known as the subject of Denis Glover's 1953 poem, Arawata Bill.
3. I might be wrong about this, as the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography points out that "He ... made no significant gold finds during his lifetime, but, as he admitted to a friend, his prospecting only rationalised his love for the back country."
4. Paradise shelduck, Tadorna variegata.
Photos (click on them if you want a larger image):
1. Farm track, Pohangina Valley, August 2006.
2. I heard from a neighbour recently that this ruined shed on No. 3 Line used to be a schoolhouse. Now, I suppose, it teaches us other lessons.
3. Sometimes even a common weed, caught by morning sun on a roadside bank, has the power to captivate. No—not sometimes. Often.
4. And now for something completely different (again). Just a bit of fun with a zoom lens and software. The underlying image is autumn poplars in Te Awaoteatua Stream. I think it's worth a closer look at this; I found it disclosed more than initially met my eye.