22 August 2006


A week of illness leaves me feeling weak. But it feels good to be able to breathe easily again, to feel my legs working well, to exercise. Gently, though—I’ve felt as if I'm coming right only in the last few days. I'm sure I haven't recovered fully, and I have no intention of being killed by viral myocarditis. How often do you hear someone say, “Just a bit of a cold,” or, “A good spin on the bike’ll blow the bugs out,” or something similar? Sometimes it's good not to let ill health get the better of you, but if that “bit of a bug” happens to have infected your myocardium, a good spin on the bike might kill you.

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 [2]: 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 [3].

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 [4] 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):
. 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.

Photos and words © 2006 Pete McGregor


zhoen said...

My utter sympathies.

bev said...

Sorry to hear that you've been ill, Pete. However, good to hear that you're out and about again. I don't care much for hanging around indoors, so I'd probably be out tripping around a bit too. Still, do take it easy for awhile.

Emma said...

Egads, man. Take good care!

Nuthatch said...

Be well, my friend.

Mary said...

Take your time, Pete. Enjoy the "inbetween" state of getting your strength back.

And that last photo is extraordinary.

pohanginapete said...

Zhoen, thankyou. Compared to what you've been through recently, a minor dose of the usual winter ailment seems trivial.

Thanks Bev. It's another beautiful day here, so I will indeed be getting out and about in it.

Emma: instruction noted, but I'll take just enough care not to interfere with enjoying life ;^D

Thanks nuthatch. I'm pretty much fully recovered, it's just a matter of carefully regaining the fitness I've lost.

Good point, Mary — that 'in-between' period does have its own character. I like to think I usually appreciate how lucky I am, but after being run down like that, the appreciation of good health is certainly heightened.
I had fun with that photo. Nice to keep people wondering what they might find when they visit ;^D

robin andrea said...

Pete, I've been wondering what became of you when the blog had not been updated for so long. So sorry to hear that you've been ill, and quite glad that you are on the way to good health. Your slow and measured bike ride is a nice way to reintroduce yourself to the world. Take care, my friend.

KiwiSoupGirl said...

Hey Pete - so glad to hear you are on the mend, and approaching it sensibly. I am one of the "never push a viral illness to its limits" proponents also, and it actually scares me to know how many people do the "sweat it out" thing. Its a "but...why???" from me, everytime.

Your illness has certainly not dampened your talents, or your photography instincts. LUV that pic - it really intrigued me, and I spent a bit of time trying to guess what it was before reading the notes.... Thanks for the fun you gave me with it.

And yes, take care - and enjoy all facets of beings - you are so very good at it.
:-) KSG

Brenda Schmidt said...

Speedy recovery to you, Pete! Lovely work, as usual.

pohanginapete said...

Robin Andrea: thanks for the good wishes. I'm well over the bug now, and enjoying being healthy again. :^)

KSG: I think a lot of people aren't aware of the possibility of viral myocarditis, which is why I included the link. Tragically, that was what killed Rod Donald — one of the few positive things to come out of that might be the more widespread awareness that exercising too soon after illness is NOT sensible.
Glad you enjoyed exploring that photo. Thanks :^)

Thanks Brenda — for the thoughts and the encouragement. :^)

chuck said...


Glad your health is back on track and that we have the benefit of your reflections on the "here and now" and on "life in the slower lane"...stay well.

Remember: avoid medical conditions described with "big words"--e.g., myocarditis, endocarditis, agranulocytosis, thrombocytopenia, etc.


pohanginapete said...

I will avoid them like the plague, Chuck. Thanks!

Tracy Hamon said...

I'm happy to read you're well enough to write, and happy that you are getting back to a fine state of health. (Not very poetic, but sincere).

pohanginapete said...

Thanks Tracy — and I suspect sincerity is often either a form of poetry, or more significant. Whichever, both can have great healing power, and the good wishes of people I've never met in person have been enormously uplifting.

Anita Daher said...

My goodness, Pete, your illness sounds very scary! I'm glad you are on the mend.

pohanginapete said...

Anita, it was just the usual winter bug: a cold or 'flu, and I managed to fight it off within a week. Unfortunately I then contracted some kind of stomach bug, but it was shortlived. As for myocarditis, who knows whether it affected me, but the important thing in that situation is to recognise the possibility and act appropriately. I'm still kicking around, so I guess I did.
Thanks for the thoughts :^)

W.R. said...

Hi Pete,
You asked: “How long would it take me to walk to those mountains? One day?”
No Pete, it takes a lifetime. So keep on going…

pohanginapete said...

Yes, well said. And, I'm looking forward to a great deal of walking...

Hope you're managing to find time out from working to explore your new environment. Cheers W.

W.R. said...

...you can bet on it.
By the way: ...there is a glacier where the aliens have a meeting point, so do they say here. Was there today -looks like a huge snowy mountain- no aliens to see. haa ha ha
Trolls and elves everywhere...

Patry Francis said...

I have been struggling with time issues myself, particularly loving the past too much. Generally, I find I come to the same conclusions you do; it just takes me longer.

Be well, Pete.

pohanginapete said...

Thanks Patry, I'm well over it now. The illness, that is. And the past? I'd like to think I have some ability to choose which parts of that I'm over, and which are aspects I want to cherish. Maybe that's the trick: to choose, and not be controlled? And the trick to that, I suspect, has much to do with letting go and discovering how to render resistance not futile, but unnecessary. But I think you know that already.